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Who is Guilty of Economic Treason?

11/12/09

There has been media frenzy of late about the shopping patterns of hard pressed citizenry in the Twenty-Six Counties.

The economic recession has increased demand for hard liquor. Understandable given the circumstances: job losses, pay cuts, the report on clerical child sex abuse, widespread flooding, and, of course, Thierry Henry and that hand ball. Solace is unsurprisingly sought and whiskey is renowned for its medicinal powers.

Every Saturday, thousands take to the road. There’s cheap liquor to be had – in Newry. But, according to the Twenty-Six County establishment, newspaper columnists and radio chat show hosts, this amounts to a gross act of treason.

It never ceases to amaze how such non-stories come to exercise the minds of the ‘opinion makers’. Thousands of column inches have been devoted to these ‘treasonous’ acts. The media quite disgracefully suggested that the public sector strike was little more than a treasonous shopping spree.

The Irish Examiner went into over-drive: “Treason is not a word that should be used lightly but, in this instance, the phrase economic treason is entirely appropriate. This act of gross selfishness is so far removed from the communal response we need to resolve our difficulties that it will remove any doubts Government may have retained about introducing pay cut.”

The Examiner editorial’s call for a “communal” response to “our” difficulties is painfully ironic given the fact that it, along with the rest of the establishment media, has engaged in a relentless campaign aimed at pitching worker against worker.

éirígí participating in a protest at Leinster House on Budget Day

Meanwhile, the Dublin government has foisted the problems of capitalism onto the working class. The gambling debts of the property developers, bankers and stock brokers are being paid for by workers and those on welfare. In addition, the capitalist class has been bailed out to the tune of tens of billions of euro, paid for out of the pocket of Twenty-Six County tax-payers.

However, an extraordinary act of actual economic treason remains largely unreported in the corporate media.

The give-away of Irish natural resources to multi-national corporations, facilitated by two of the state’s most infamously corrupt politicians, Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern, is a story that the mainstream media has wilfully ignored.

The Petroleum Affairs Division of the Twenty-Six County Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources estimates that there are ten billion barrels of oil equivalent off the west coast of Ireland. Over the course of 2009, the average price of a barrel of oil was US$60; with ten billion barrels of oil equivalent, this equates to a total value of US$600 billion or €420 billion (£370 billion). To put that figure into context, total government spending in the Twenty-Six Counties in 2008 was €49.3 billion (£44.5 billion).

This vastly profitable resource will not, however, be used for the benefit of the Irish people. In an act that could only be described as treacherous and corrupt, politicians effectively handed over this bountiful resource to private corporations. Indeed, it was not enough to simply give the oil and gas away; the oil and gas companies received the most generous of terms: they pay no royalties whatsoever, profits are taxed at just 25 per cent and, to add insult to injury, companies can write off all of their costs incurred against tax. In essence, private corporations have 100 per cent ownership of Irish oil and gas resources and pay a pitifully low level of tax. Little wonder then that the former director of Statoil Mike Cunningham stated that “no country in the world gives as favourable terms to the oil companies as Ireland”.

éirígí participating in a protest at Leinster House on Budget Day

Over recent years, a series of exploration licences have been granted by the Department of Natural Resources to private corporations. In 2007, Shell was awarded the licence for the Dooish peninsula off the Donegal coast, where oil was discovered in 2003 and estimated, at that time, to be worth over €10 billion (£9 billion). Last summer, British corporation Serica Energy was awarded a frontier licence for a section of the extensive and resource rich Rockall Basin [117,200sq km, which is one and a half times the size of Ireland]. Serica also has a 50 per cent share in the licence for the Slyne Basin, where an ‘unexpected’ oil find was discovered when the company was exploring for gas. Last year, the company sold 15 per cent of its interest in the Kambuna oil field off the Indonesian coast for US$56 million (€38 million, £34.5 million).

Another company granted a licence under these most generous of terms is Providence Resources, owned by Tony O’Reilly. The company currently holds a 16 per cent share in the Dunquin gas field off the Kerry coast, with Exxon Mobil holding the major share at 40 per cent. This field is estimated to contain over four billion barrels of oil equivalent and 25 trillion cubic feet of gas.

While private corporations continue to profiteer thanks to the largess of the Dublin government, working class people in the Twenty-Six County state face an avalanche of cuts (Fianna Fáil/Green Party Declare War on Workers and the Poor).

In response to criticisms of his government’s attack on the working class, Twenty-Six County finance minister Brian Lenihan’s refrain has been to claim that “there is no pot of gold that can be raided from the wealthy that can solve our difficulties”. Well, there is, in fact, quite a substantial “pot of gold” lying off the Irish coast. Because of the decisions of the Dublin government, it currently lies in the hands of private capital and, but for the courageous actions of the Rossport community and the Shell to Sea campaign, the story about the giveaway of this pot of gold could, quite possibly, have remained buried.

Despite being vilified by the corporate media and establishment politicians, the community in Rossport has remained steadfast in its opposition to the project, with many of their objections based on serious health and safety concerns about a high pressure untreated gas pipeline running through their community.

Protest against the Shell refinery in Mayo

This stance was vindicated by the recent An Bord Pleanála decision, which rejected Shell’s planning application for the gas pipeline on a number of grounds; primarily because the pipeline posed an unacceptable risk to the public: it ruled that the proposal to “route the pipeline at a proximity distance from dwellings which is within the hazard range of the pipeline should a failure occur is unacceptable”.

This is An Bord Pleanála’s rather convoluted way of saying that, if the pipeline leaked, people would be killed. At a hearing back in June, Shell consultants admitted that, in the event of a leak, those living close to the proposed pipeline would have just 30 seconds to escape from thermal radiation if gas within the pipe was at full pressure and that houses within 230 metres of the pipeline could burn spontaneously from heat radiation.

The mobilisation of huge forces of Gardaí in an attempt to force through a completely unsafe and potentially fatal project is a reflection of where the priorities of the Twenty-Six County state lie. No expense has been spared in the defence of private profit, while members of the community who object to this project being forced upon them, and those who have travelled to the area in solidarity, have been beaten, harassed and imprisoned.

Yesterday [Thursday], tireless Shell to Sea campaigner and local resident Maura Harrington was again carted off to Mountjoy Jail after she refused to sign a bond restricting her right to protest against Shell in return for a nine month prison sentence being suspended.

It is reported that the Twenty-Six County state has spent in excess of €10 million on the pro-Shell Garda operations in north-west Mayo. In addition, Shell’s hired guns in the IRMS private security firm have been alleged to have been responsible for serious acts of violence against residents and protestors, including the sinking of local fisherman Pat O’Donnell’s boat and the beating of Rossport resident Willie Corduff.

Protest against the Shell refinery in Mayo

IRMS employees have also conducted video surveillance of people using the near-by beach at Glengad. Following these actions and given the complete unaccountability of this private security firm, those living in the area were justifiably fearful. The actions of IRMS employees who had worked on the Corrib project took an even more sinister turn last April and confirmed the well founded concerns of the local community in Rossport.

A recent RTÉ Prime Time programme exposed the involvement of Tipperary man Michael Dwyer and other former IRMS employees in attempting to organise a coup against the left-wing Bolivian government, which has nationalised that country’s oil and gas reserves. The right-wing mercenaries were funded by wealthy business people and oil and gas companies. The Prime Time programme showed footage of the men posing with an array of firearms and taking part in weapons training. At one point, Michael Dwyer was shown sitting at a table counting out thousands of US dollars. Their plans were ultimately unsuccessful and, this week, Bolivian president Evo Morales was returned to power following an election in which his Movement Towards Socialism won an overwhelming majority.

The give-away of Irish natural resources is a widely under-reported scandal in which corrupt politicians such as Burke and Ahern brazenly facilitated the interests of private capital. The refusal by the Dublin government to even countenance a review of the terms of the deal agreed with multi-national corporations along with the ongoing issuing of exploration licences to private companies indicates a continued commitment to profiteering above the interests of the citizens of the state. The political establishment and their cheerleaders in the corporate media repeat ad nauseam the Thatcherite mantra that ‘there is no alternative’, while, according to Brian Lenihan, there is ‘no pot of gold’.

The alternative to private ownership of Irish natural resources is nationalisation and the investment of the resulting wealth in areas such as health and education and the development of renewable energy. The people and not private corporations should be the ultimate benefactors of this wealth.

For this to happen, however, requires determined and organised opposition to the wider Dublin government agenda of attacking the working class and promoting the interests of private profit.

Securing the nationalisation of natural resources is an essential part of the broader struggle for the re-conquest of Ireland. Social, political and economic change will not simply happen: It must be organised. It is vital that workers and local communities, trade unions and left-wing political parties along with campaign groups such as Shell to Sea combine their efforts. In the absence of widespread resistance, this week’s budget is simply a harbinger of what lies ahead in the coming years.

The Dublin government has already announced its intention to install domestic water metres across the state as a precursor to attempts to introduce domestic water charges. The Stormont administration is currently implementing a programme of widespread cuts to public services in the Six Counties and is equally determined to introduce water charges.

The almost decade long campaign in Rossport indicates the imperative of action on the streets, while the Bolivian government has demonstrated that, where the political will exists, the privatisation agenda can be overturned.

 

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