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Oppose Government Policies on our Natural Resources.

Kieran McNulty - Socialist Workers Party

Throughout the summer the Ross Port area of North East Mayo resembled something from a police state rather than supposedly part of a democratic society.  On June 10th for example, thirty people appeared in court in Bellmullet due to their peaceful protests against Shell’s gas project in Ross Port. 

Maura Harrington has been in prison four times and Niall Harnett at one stage faced spending up to eight months in prison.

Both are activists in the Shell to Sea campaign.  This is on top of the imprisonment of the Ross Port Five in 2005, one of whom, Willie Corduff was recently severely beaten by masked security guards. 

In anticipation of a protest against the Solitaire, the shell pipe laying ship, 350 Gardi, with Gardi RIB’s, a Garda helicopter and Shell’s private army of 200 Integrated Risk Management Systems’ security guards was mobilised.  Also two Irish Navel vessels have periodically been harassing local fishermen who are attempting to assert their right to fish.

All this is happening because the local community in Ross Port oppose Shell’s aim of laying their gas pipeline on land.  The pipeline connects the Corrib gas field in to the gas refinery at Bellanaboy nine miles inland. 

There is a considerable health and safety risk from this high-pressure pipeline, which passes close to the homes of many local people.  From the very start of their campaign, Shell to Sea has demanded that the gas be refined at sea but Shell refuse this option, as it would lesson their profits. 

In October An Bord Pleanala announced a deferral of the decision on the ‘modified’ Corrib Gas onshore Pipeline, citing 14 conditions, which cast huge doubt over claims from Shell that the project is safe.  There is also widespread local concern of the impact this project is having on local wildlife habitats and the quality of the local water supply.

One of the most galling aspects of Shell’s project in Mayo is that the Irish people will receive almost no revenue for funding badly under resourced public services especially at a time when they are expecting us to take cuts in welfare, health, education and public sector pay. 

It is estimated that there are approximately €350 billion worth of oil and gas off the Irish cost.  Private companies like Shell and Exxon Mobile for vast profits will now exploit all of this. 

Apart from their activities off the Mayo cost, Shell is also operating in the Doorish field off Donegal while Exxon Mobile is involved in extensive exploration and drilling in the Dunquin Field off the Kerry coast. 

In 1975 the Irish Government would have held a 50 per cent shareholding in any oil or gas discovery and the extracting company would have had to pay royalties of 8 per cent as well as a tax rate of 50 per cent. 

This revenue to the exchequer has been progressively eroded, most notably under Minister Ray Burke, to the extent that Colm Rapple now describes the present regime as “decidedly soft by international standards”. 

The tax rate for example is 50 per cent in Britain and 78 per cent in Norway.  The argument put forward by the government that they are insuring our future energy security does not stand up because we will be forced to buy back our fuel at prevailing market prices.  Even if the government took just a 10 per cent stake in the Corrib gas field it would yield €1 billion.

Ultimately Ireland should do what the governments of Bolivia and Venezuela have done and bring into full public ownership all our natural resources. 

One result of President Hugo Chevez’s policies in Venezuela is that an estimated 350,000 lives have been saved by the increase in health provision with the number of doctors rising from 20 to 60 per 1,000 people. 

Also public ownership of Ireland’s natural resources is the only way of ensuring that the environment is protected and that the health and safety and civil rights of the local communities is guaranteed. 

Eamon Ryan as the Green Party Minister with responsibility for energy and natural resources should be held accountable for the current situation in Mayo and shown up for his hypocrisy as a onetime supporter of Shell to Sea.