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Corrib Gas belongs to the people

THE coming year will be another difficult one for people in the Erris peninsula in Mayo who oppose the location of a major gas refinery in the heart of their region. For years now, they have been pitted against one of the world's most powerful and ruthless multinationals - Royal Dutch Shell - backed up in this State by the political establishment, the machinery of the courts, the force of the police and the propaganda of large swathes of the millionaire-owned media. Despite this, and despite the jailing in 2005 of leading opponents of the project - the Rossport Five - the campaign of active opposition will continue. Those opposing the Corrib Gas Project as it is presently configured are, in fact, defending the best interests of the people of this island. A major gas complex could wreak enormous damage on the pristine environment of northwest Mayo and this should not be risked when the gas can be recovered in a different way. Fears are greatly increased by the horrendous environmental record of Shell in other parts of the world. The campaign also serves to remind us that, incredibly, the entire gas resources of the Corrib field have been given over to a private corporation, with not a cent in royalties to the Irish people, with the State taking no stake in the project and not even negotiating a favourable price for Irish householders. Shell will be allowed to charge maximum world prices - and it can write off all its costs against taxes under the highly favourable taxation regime it enjoys. These terms were given to the oil companies with no independent investigation whatever by the State of the amount of gas and oil that could be in the Corrib field. The Department of Energy simply accepted whatever estimates the companies reported to it - and it is in their interest to underreport. Government Ministers justify their sell-out by saying they had to give the oil companies big incentives to conduct expensive exploration that might have proved fruitless. Even if one accepted this argument, why is there not a clause to say that, if the volumes went above a certain level, a significant take in royalties for the Irish people would apply? Could any corporation convincingly argue against such an arrangement? However, a profoundly different approach should have been taken. More than half a century ago. When resources and expertise were infinitely less than today, the State felt obliged to pioneer new industries seen as essential to develop the economy. Key projects included electricity generation, peat production and the manufacture of sugar. These companies played a huge role in providing employment and crucial infrastructure and products despite being hampered by bureaucratic mindsets, milked by capitalist institutions like the banks and abused by governments appointing political hacks to their boards. A publicly-owned Carbon Exploration and Recovery company could have put together the expertise and hardware to carry out exploration in coastal waters and bring ashore oil and gas. In this way, the full benefits of this natural resource could go to improved public services rather than flowing into multinational coffers in New York or Zurich. This should still be done. Of course, neoliberal capitalism is vehemently hostile to public enterprise. Increasingly avaricious corporations want all the profit for their shareholders and cringing politicians from all the main political parties do their bidding. The onset of climate change arising from human activity is changing the way society regards the burning of fossil fuels. This should mean, that, while investment should be poured into safe alternative energy sources, such reserves of carbon as remain should be publicly owned, rather than put in the hands of private interests to speculate with. SHELL does not have the consent of the community for either its pipeline or its refinery at Bellanaboy. Many opinion polls taken in Mayo and nationally have shown that a majority of people support the location of the project offshore. Shell, with massive yearly profits coming close to €20billion, should not be allowed to use the excuse of cost for refusing to consider this. The people of Erris who are opposing the Shell project should be seen as protectors of the vital interests of the Irish people. It is simply outrageous that a large force of Garda should be sent in like an invading army to beat them off the roads. While cowardly local politicians from the establishment political parties connive in this, ordinary people should rally to their defence. • A pamphlet written by journalist Michael McCaughan which very use fully summarises the key issues and events of the Corrib gas story has just been issued. The Price Of Our Souls - Gas, Shell and Ireland is available from publishers Afri (Tel. 01 882 7563) or various bookshops.

Posted Date: 
21 January 2008 - 1:57pm