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30 July 2009 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Lenihan’s patriotic duty – take state ownership of natural resources

ONE of the most partitionist comments made by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan during the economic crisis was his call to shoppers to do their “patriotic duty” by not shopping in the North.
Perhaps it is time that Brian Lenihan showed that his patriotism is more than hollow headline-grabbing rhetoric.
For example, instead of undermining frontline public services such as the health and education, or penalising farmers and fishermen, he should be exploring his options in securing Ireland’s natural resources for the people of Ireland.
He could demonstrate his patriotism by renegotiating exploration contracts to restore ownership of all oil and gas reserves to the state. By doing so, he would secure and safeguard the Irish economy against future economic difficulties.
In light of the present dire economic circumstances, the Irish Government should be studying international experience of renegotiating contracts that deliver negligible benefit to the people’s economic well-being. This has been done in other states. Here in Ireland, the Corrib gasfield off the Mayo coast would be a perfect starting point.
The fact that an Irish Government gave such sweeping and uninhibited access to our natural resources to a multinational conglomerate reflects the contempt that that Fianna Fáil-led governments have had for the people.
The Finance Minister now has an opportunity to redeem himself and his government by doing his patriotic duty by initiating the process of repatriating ownership of our natural resources.
Renegotiation of the exceptionally preferential conditions for exploration given to the multinational conglomerate of Shell, Statoil and Marathon could potentially yield far greater financial return to the treasury than all of the public spending cuts now being considered.

The Irish Government should be studying international experience of renegotiating contracts that ill-serve the people’s economic well-being

THE ‘deal’ with Shell first entered into by a Fianna Fáil-led coalition has been maintained ever since by governments that have included Fine Gael and Labour.
All three parties have sat in government since the deal was signed and are therefore equally culpable in the massive loss of revenues to the treasury that would have cushioned the effects of the current economic crisis. And by their acquiescence, the Greens are now also culpable.
This abdication of responsibility to safeguard Irish natural resources for the benefit of the nation and future generations is a scandal of similar magnitude to the corruption that unfolded in banking and financial sectors in recent months.
This deal gave away the national rights to a huge gas reserve (estimated between three and seven trillion cubic feet) at a minimum taxation rate which can be written off against costs, with zero royalties accruing to the treasury. And, just for good measure, an agreement that Bord Gáis would finance the pipeline from Ballinaboy, County Mayo, to the grid and interconnector was thrown in.
Then, after writing off all its taxes and paying no royalties, Shell can sell the gas back to the people of Ireland at market value.
It is time that the minister explained why a Fianna Fáil-led government allowed the national resource of Corrib gas to be given away with no apparent benefit to the Irish nation.
It seems that wealth creation for big business and multinational friends of Establishment political parties takes precedence over the financial stability of the state and protection of our natural resources for future generations.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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