From Socialist Voice, February 2011

Time to reclaim our natural resources


2010 was possibly the most catastrophic year in the history of this state, when the unthinkable became reality. A shell-shocked population watched as Cowen and his beleaguered cohorts clung to power, stumbling from one crisis to the next.
     Finally, in almost comedic fashion if it were not so serious, they fell flat on their faces. The opposition had what they craved: a general election. Driven by their huge sense of national patriotism, they took their chance to oust the gombeenmen and went for the jugular—didn’t they?
     The political landscape looked sparse. The Labour Party and Fine Gael were like rabbits in the headlights. They bent over backwards to allow Fianna Fáil to pass the Finance Bill before ousting them. One can only surmise that they support the Finance Bill and its “mechanisms.” They are interested only in populist nonsense, rather than real politics.
     We can expect to hear lots of promises and assurances from all the Dáil parties that they are best placed to renegotiate the EU-IMF bail-out and best equipped to deal with the so-called “crisis” and get people back to work. Unfortunately, people are desperate to believe this misleading nonsense rather than face up to the reality. The crisis is an intrinsic component of capitalism, which tinkering here and there will do little to alleviate.
     One issue that should take centre stage, but will be widely ignored, is that of our oil and gas reserves.
     Surely it’s realistic to believe that our oil and gas resources could play a huge role in Ireland’s long-term economic and fiscal future.
     It is unbelievable that no major political party is willing to place this on top of the political agenda, a certain election-winner, especially when you consider the precarious state of the public finances.
     Our oil and gas reserves off the west coast were estimated (by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources) to be worth a cool €540 billion in 2008—a staggering figure, which dwarfs even the various bank bail-outs—no mean feat. We are sitting on the proverbial gold mine; yet the Irish people stand to benefit very little.
     Why? For reasons unknown, between 1987 and 1993 Bertie Ahern and Ray Burke abolished state royalties and the right to part-ownership and reduced corporation tax for oil companies from 50 per cent to 25 per cent.
     Is it any wonder that a former director of Statoil, Mike Cunningham, stated: “No other country in the world has given oil companies such favourable terms.” Norway, for example, has up to 78 per cent tax for oil companies.
     The financial implications of these actions are best displayed by the Corrib gas field. Fintan O’Toole deserves some kudos for his article in the Irish Times on 4 January, which outlines the situation perfectly.
     “Corrib has a trillion cubic feet of gas. Its monetary value will of course depend on global gas prices over the next decade but on any sober estimate, Corrib will generate vast profits for the Shell-led consortium that controls it.
     “The cost of developing the field will probably have reached €2 billion to €2.5 billion before the gas begins to flow. Production costs will probably account for another €1 billion, making for a total outlay of €3 to €3.5 billion. Yet the lowest estimate I can find for the value of the gas is €9.5 billion. Industry estimates value it at about €13 billion.
     “That leaves a profit of somewhere between €6 billion and €10 billion—on a resource that belongs to the Irish people.”
So we get a raw deal, while Shell pockets the profits.
     There is a need for urgency on this issue, especially if documents obtained by Wikileaks and published by the Guardian are to be believed. Julian Cetti, head of commercial and business strategy at Shell Ireland, is quoted as saying that there “could be twenty or more Corribs out there—or very little—depending on how the exploratory drilling progresses this year.”
     The presence of so many more offshore fields would be a major economic boost to Ireland. It is imperative that this and other finds are not simply handed over to transnational corporations to exploit, with the people getting a few measly crumbs.
     Two options come to mind: rigorous taxation, and nationalisation.
     This revenue should be used for the betterment of all citizens of this island, to invest in much-needed capital projects, like schools and hospitals, and new sustainable state industries; and, more importantly, it could facilitate investment in renewable and sustainable energy—surely a vote-getter for any sane-thinking man or woman.
     It’s not the only natural resource that should be utilised for the betterment of all the people of this country but certainly the most lucrative at present.
[BH]

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