Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Green's Wipeout Achieved in Two Years

I made a brief visit to Mayo this week where I discussed with men and women involved in the Shell to Sea controversy their battle to block the refinery there.

On my return I faced two events that bore on this visit and which I intend to address here. The first was the article in yesterday's Irish Independent by Kevin Myers, siding with the State on the Corrib issue, and claiming "due constitutional process". I disagree profoundly with what he says in the article and I sincerely hope that George Lee -- whom Kevin invokes as some kind of answer to the dilemma -- will not get himself involved since he does not have time to research properly the issues involved.

Kevin is fundamentally wrong in claiming due constitutional process. From the start the Corrib gas find has been back to front in almost every way. The political processes have been flawed. The State's handling of Shell and the other oil companies involved has been inept and juvenile. Worse still, the State's protection of its mineral rights and its balanced assessment of them has been little short of suicidal.

The fundamental duty of the politicians of this country is to protect the assets of the State and put them to the beneficial use of the people as carefully and as profitably as they can. They must also be mindful of the health and safety of the people. In respect of the Corrib Project, this is evidently not the case and the facts are widely recognised by the public.

For decades we thought we had no mineral rights. We gave away what little we had. No one clearly knows the extent of this state generosity and the recipients of it are understandably secretive. We seem prepared to go on in the same way into the future.

The Corrib deal is based on the convenience of the gas -- no mean part of its value -- rather than on its net value to the people of Ireland as a national asset. If we own an asset, then we should reap a reward in the profits from that asset as well as enjoying the use of the product. This is clearly not the case and is part of an absurd surrender of rights by the State which it would be quite proper for us to rectify and reverse. Whatever we do, we must be made fully aware of the circumstances. This did not happen with the Corrib Project. It was the first of many ditches where due constitutional process failed.
The planning procedures have been back to front. The map designating the optional places for bringing the gas ashore were, in the first instance, drawn by the oil companies involved in the find and were not subjected to comparable, equal and independent expertise in their assessment. Nor did that extend into other technological fields.

The process began out in the Atlantic Ocean under Enterprise Oil, operating as Enterprise Energy Ireland, subsequently bought by Shell. Others involved include Statoil and Marathon.
Shell has overall supervision now, but in a well-balanced partnership. Their responsibilities, quite rightly, are to their shareholders. This makes it all the more important that the strength and determination of Irish politicians, acting to balance the interests of the Irish people against this vested, capitalist interest, should be wary, subtle and effective. Clearly this has not been the case. It has been anything but.

The Green Party recognised this and took a clear position in favour of the protesters and against the hugely negative environmental impact of much that was being steamrolled through in Mayo. This was one of their strengths as a party and seemed to summarise their independent approach. It gave them one of their electoral pivots in the last election.

I examined this last Saturday and will not go into it again here, save in one important respect. This was that RTE, in the Sunday news programme the following day, carried an interview with John Gormley conducted by Gerald Barry. Since I had provided a reasonably comprehensive agenda for this, I stayed listening. For those who had read what I had written and were seeking to discover what the new electoral programme of the Green Party might possibly be, the opportunity was a good one.
Lo and behold, not a single question was asked based on my argument that the toxic effect of Fianna Fail had destroyed all semblance of the Green Party electoral approach by undermining their policies or causing them to reverse such policies.

This had the effect of causing Gormley to flounder in the face of an interviewer who had no major questions to ask. He was given, instead, a platform from which all political logic had been stripped. This would suggest that RTE has an agenda and it is less connected with confronting politicians over their shortcomings than it is with a wider set of circumstances that don't make sense as far as the interests of the electorate are concerned.

Mercifully, Kevin Myers is not so gullible. He at least recognises that the Corrib Project by Shell, and other oil interests, is the most important project in Ireland in terms of size and symbolism; the largest single construction project in the country; and of vital importance. He misunderstands why these things are important.

Corrib is all these things together with one more: that the real beneficial interests are not ours.
We seem embarrassed to own mineral rights and we seek to give them away. We are really less competent than the Nigerians and more gullible. Deviousness there is as well, but it has not yet been fathomed. Perhaps it never will be.

Shell has certainly handled the situation badly, but they have won. Our politicians have handled it ineptly, and have lost. But nothing quite equates with the self-inflicted damage of the Green Party on this issue.