Thursday, 4 May 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
—the meaningless public consultation process (strategic environmental assessment) announced by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources under EU Directive 2001/42/ EC (11 April 2006) (SI 435 of 2004 and SI 436 of 2004) with rushed timescale (25 May 2006) required prior to the next allocation of licences for offshore oil and gas exploration, and designed to exclude the public rather than include them;
—recognition of the fundamental principle that oil and gas reserves within the control of the State belong to the Irish people and must be recovered and used in a way that benefits the great majority of the population rather than powerful corporate interests;
—the establishment of an independent oil and gas inspectorate to monitor closely all multinational oil company operations to ensure that this State fully benefits from all oil and gas exploration activities;
—the establishment of a publicly owned gas and oil exploration and recovery agency to investigate the exploration and recovery of hydrocarbon resources without being dependent on multinational oil and gas conglomerates;
Nothing in this motion contradicts the reality of global warming and the finite nature of hydrocarbon resources making it imperative that the State invests massively in alternative sources of energy which do not damage the environment and are sustainable and available in Ireland.
—that the present fiscal terms for petroleum are based on the present perception of prospectivity in offshore Ireland and recognise that we compete with other jurisdictions for exploration investment;
—that the completion of a comprehensive (and expensive) work programme is a requirement of frontier licences and failure to complete such a programme will result in either relinquishment or revocation of the licence;
—that work is already under way by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on a review of the State’s present fiscal terms to ensure that the State receives its appropriate share;
—that the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is engaged in the monitoring of petroleum exploration and production operations to ensure that the State is fully informed and fully benefits from these activities;
—the need for any change in existing Government policy in relation to petroleum activities other than the review of fiscal terms currently under way and any changes which might be necessary following the publication of the Advantica and other reports.”
Mr. Durkan: I wish to emphasise again the important points to be borne in mind about the development of the energy industry and the recognition of the dependence of the industrial, commercial and domestic sector on the availability of energy supply. The Government amendment does not deal with the important and pertinent issue of security of supply, notwithstanding the fact it has taken on board most of Fine Gael policy on the matter. We will help the Government to develop that policy in the future.
The experience to date with regard to the Corrib gas field is not a good example for the rest of the world. The matter has been dealt with in a haphazard, unprofessional and roundabout manner. If the regulations had been observed and the matter processed in the proper fashion, we would not have had the embarrassing situation of having an offshore resource which cannot be brought ashore. The Government must focus on this area in the development of the energy industry for the future.
The Government needs to give the appearance of being efficient, in control and of handling the energy industry in a businesslike fashion. Much depends on this, including industry in this country and dealings with our neighbours. No reference has yet been made to the availability of an interconnector or to how we will avail of it or how it can benefit us. This area needs discussion as it will arise in the context of another Bill. In dealing with the energy industry in general, I ask that in future the matter be dealt with in a professional manner and that we do not have a repeat of the daft situation that has arisen over the Corrib gas field. I will not go into it further other than to express the wish on behalf of Fine Gael and, I am sure, every Member of this House, that the resource is developed to the best of our ability and that it is brought wherever for the use by and benefit of the country as quickly as possible.
Very little reference has been made to the development of the alternative energy industry, with the exception of the recently rushed out Government paper on this area. We are unlike other European countries in that we have a limited number of options of which to avail. For example, we do not have, nor should we have, nuclear energy but we have a number of other alternatives that we should develop. Even in the Government’s policy that it announced there are serious gaps which omit important aspects of the development of the alternative energy industry. I ask that in future, since it has not been incorporated in the context of this motion or amendment, that it be given a special status and serious effort put into research and development in that area.
Cuireann séáthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Is cuimhin liom gur labhair mé féin agus go leor Teachtaí eile, an Teachta Cowley ina measc, ag cruinniú mór i mBéal an Mhuirthead cúpla bliain ó shin ag a raibh muid ar fad ar aon tuairim go mba cheart an gás a chur ar fáil do mhuintir Mhaigh Eo. Níl aon athrú ar m’intinn ó shin, agus creidim go gcaithfidh muid próiseas ciallmhar staidéarach a leanacht agus an gás a thabhairt i dtír.
Chomh maith leis sin, tá fíorghá sa tír seo, má tá próiseas ann atá féaráilte agus cothrom, go leanfar é agus go nglacfar le cinnithe an phróisis sin. Seans go raibh mearbhall ar an bpobal faoi rud amháin. Nuair a bhí cead an Aire ag teastáil, cheap daoine gurbh é an tAire go teicniúil a bhí ag déanamh an bhreithúnais. Ní raibh sé sin fíor ar chor ar bith. Ba é grúpa comhairleoireachta teicniúil sa Roinn a rinne é. Bhí an chuma sin ar an scéal, áfach, agus tuigim gur tharla sé seo de bharr gurb é Bord Gáis amháin a thógann píblínte. Bhí cead an Aire ag teastáil, agus sílim go raibh cinneadh an-chiallmhar déanta ag an Aire go gcuirfí cead ó thaobh cúrsaí sábháilteachta go soiléir faoi chúram an CER.
Because of the confusion that arose as a result of ministerial consents for various aspects, and even though he was dependent on the advice of the technical advisory group, I felt there was room for confusion as to whether the Minister personally had an involvement in safety decisions. As a Minister I know that if one was given safety advice one could not go against it but I welcome the decision by my colleague to put this matter at arm’s length under the Commission for Energy Regulation.
At the meeting in Belmullet a number of years ago I made it clear, and I have checked the transcript, that it was my view that the decisions of the likes of An Bord Pleanála were independent and should remain independent. Whereas I might postulate on the likely decision, as Minister he had no input into it. Similarly, we must accept that the Environmental Protection Agency has responsibility for emissions and that it is not subject to political pressure or influence. Both sides of any argument should accept the decision and if we do not accept it we should proceed not to accept it through the appropriate channels put in place. I am delighted the safety issues will now be put at arm’s length because it will clarify an issue that those of us within the system knew there was clarity on but which I accept led to confusion outside the system. People will now know that somebody independent has made a judgment in terms of relative safety.
We must accept that life is dangerous. By definition, nothing is absolutely safe. If we were talking about absolute safety we would ban motor cars, aeroplanes and boats. To be honest, we would ban living because in most areas of life there is a risk. What is normally assessed by people when they are doing safety audits are relative risks, not zero risks. If we were to go on the basis of a zero risk policy very few human activities would be allowed.
On the main issue, a find has been made and terms agreed. The Minister will review it in terms of future policy but it must be said that on the open market we are not exactly awash with people prospecting in our waters. The position is that 85% of our gas is imported and we produce 50% of our electricity from gas, which is to increase to 60%. Of the fossil fuels, gas is the most friendly in terms of the environment.
We know that the United Kingdom is rapidly losing its self-sufficiency in gas and that we are facing the prospect of importing gas from eastern Europe. The people will not forgive us in a few years’ time if we have an insecure supply of gas from eastern Europe, and we saw what happened this year, when we had gas off our west coast that we did not take ashore. As I said, in taking it ashore we should follow proper procedures. I will accept the decision on the procedures but they should be, and will be in the future, at arm’s length. I am aware that even under the current arrangement, where the Minister’s name might be on it, there are clear procedures in place in terms of evaluation. I believe this gas should be brought ashore. I accept that Shell has planning permission for a terminal in Ballinaboy given by An Bord Pleanála, an independent agency.
One aspect about which I was concerned but which is now being addressed in a constructive way is that the gas would be brought ashore on the west coast but be of little direct benefit to the people of the west. As a Minister, I have to take a national view but we must talk about balanced regional development.
Éamon Ó Cuív: This is an incredible opportunity to balance regional development. I am delighted there has been a number of developments in that regard. A pipeline is being constructed, and those of us who travel through Claregalway, Mayo Abbey and elsewhere can see it crossing the country. That is a basic piece of infrastructure but there are those who will argue that it is being put in to take the gas out. I argue, with justification, that it is a piece of infrastructure that could be used as a main backbone for distribution.
I compliment the Western Development Commission for the incredible work it did in examining the CER terms regarding evaluation of viability of gas. The CER, which does the assessment and licensing of prospective operators, must be satisfied that such an extension is economically viable before granting its consent. I am delighted the CER has approved Bord Gáis’s new connection policy applicable to both the transmission and distribution networks. It now intends carrying out — I realise the process is slow but this is the way problems get solved — a study to examine the potential connections that can arise on foot of this policy. Based on the advice given to me by the Western Development Commission, this change is very strategic because it will enable a large number of towns in the west, particularly in Mayo, to be connected.
Éamon Ó Cuív: When examining a problem, I do not begin by examining where I would like to have been five or ten years ago, particularly if I was not in a position of responsibility at that time. I always begin by examining where I am today and try to solve a problem going forward. I have never witnessed anyone solve a problem going backwards.
Éamon Ó Cuív: This project is going forward at a very steady pace. Based on ongoing work, we will be in a position where it will be considered viable by the CER, which is the test, to put gas into towns in Mayo.
The other issue is the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Mayo to Donegal via Sligo. I understand the Minister is proceeding with a study on this issue. The specifications for the proposed study include a requirement to examine the feasibility of bringing gas-fired power station generation to the region. This will inform future decisions. There has been considerable debate in the west about whether a possible gas line should go straight from north Mayo to Sligo via Ballina and the Ox Mountains; via Castlebar, Claremorris and Knock; or via Claremorris, Ballyhaunis and Ballaghadereen. I, like all my colleagues from the west, would like the pipeline to go through all the towns, which is the objective of the exercise. I hope that by working through this process, we can maximise the benefit and the number of towns which can obtain the gas.
It is very important to recognise that a European framework is involved. There is a range of rules and regulations one must deal with and we must work within this framework and try to bring matters to a successful conclusion within it. The desired result is that as many towns as possible in the west, particularly in Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo, will get connected because of the advantages of having a gas supply. I understand that a large number of people are tendering to carry out this study, which I welcome.
I am pleased with the way in which the safety issues raised have been taken on board very carefully by the Minister, who commissioned a report. We are coming to the end of a very thorough analysis in which a decision will then be made based on the best advice as to the provision of the pipe to the highest standards and ensuring the risk is minimised. The second issue involves ensuring that when the gas comes in, which will undoubtedly happen, it is made available to as many towns in the country as possible. People in future will wonder what all the fuss was about.
The changes brought about by the CER have other considerable benefits. For the first time, there is a line going from east to west. Prior to this, the line was mainly confined to the south and the south west. The major advantage of this development is that under the new regulations and regime, towns in the midlands will benefit from receiving gas. This means gas will be received by many more towns. I hope that, in time, a comprehensive national network of gas will serve our towns. Such a network would act as a spur for further development.
Tá sé tábhachtach go leanfaimid leis an bpróiseas cúramach, ciallmhar atá ar bun. Tá sé tábhachtach freisin go dtiocfaidh an próiseas sin chun críche agus go dtabharfaimid an gás seo isteach. Nuair a dhéanfar chuile shórt de mheas, beidh sé mar bhuntáiste ag Maigh Eo, ag muintir an iarthair agus ag pobal na tíre ar fad go mbeidh gás nádúrtha aiceanta óÉirinn ar fáil ag pobal na tíre. In am atá thar a bheith éiginnte, ceann de na bagairtí is mó romhainn náéiginnteacht ó thaobh soláthairt. Réiteoidh gás na Coirbe cuid den fhadhb sin.
Éamon Ó Cuív: I would like, as I did before, to give the Deputy a detailed breakdown of that. Nobody has answered the following question. There is a 20-1 shot and €20 million to go. Is the Deputy suggesting we should use taxpayers’ money to become directly involved in this work or does he accept that one must go into the open market? The Deputy argues that the terms are far too favourable. Normally, if one goes to the open market with terms that are far too favourable, one finds a considerable number of bidders. We certainly have not discovered this. The Minister will review the policy into the future and as circumstances change and if the terms need to be adjusted, they will be adjusted.
Mr. Nolan: I wish to share time with Deputies Devins and Fiona O’Malley. Listening to the debate last night, what struck me most forcefully is that ten years ago, this country received 85% of its gas requirements from the Kinsale gas field. We are now dependent on outside supplies for 90% of our gas requirements. We need an indigenous gas supply because in the future, Ireland will be at the end of a very long supply chain bringing gas from Russia through Europe. It is worth repeating that we will be very vulnerable in such a scenario.
The Government and the Minister have bent over backwards to try to encourage international and indigenous companies, of which there are few, to explore and discover gas off our coasts. Certain speakers last night compared Norway with Ireland but this comparison is unfair. Any discoveries of oil off the coast of Norway have been in significantly shallower waters where it is much easier to extract oil and bring on shore and Norway’s strike rate is far better than that achieved off the Irish coast.
The Corrib gas field is a major infrastructural project which has the potential to play a significant role in the economic and social regeneration of Ireland, particularly Mayo and the west. My county of Carlow benefited from the supply of natural gas from the Kinsale field. When gas from the field was piped to Dublin, both Carlow and Kilkenny were able to take spurs off it to provide gas to households and allow industry to convert to gas, which was more economical at the time than heavy fuel oils. It is important to repeat that the Corrib development has received all the approvals and consent required by law. If we go down the road of introducing legislation and if the EU continues to introduce regulations and standards which we ignore, we will assume the status of a banana republic with which nobody in the international commercial arena will wish to deal. It is important because the eyes of the world, particularly those of Europe and the United States, are watching what is occurring here in this regard.
There has been talk about safety standards. I am satisfied that the best international safety standards are being afforded to this project and I compliment the Minister on bringing in an independent company to assess and do a risk audit of the development.
Mr. Nolan: Deputies are living in a fantasy if they believe we will ever reach a stage where someone will guarantee zero risk. In no project, be it road building, railways or telecommunications, would anyone say there is zero risk involved. I know this because we experience the same problems every time we want to build wind farms. Locals object and say there will be problems or difficulties due to radiation. There will be a risk in everything we do, but all we can do is try to reduce the risk involved.
Mr. Nolan: Last night, the Minister told the House there are 13 offshore exploration licences, including 11 frontier licences. We are striving to encourage people to look for gas and oil off our coast and develop that sector. As fossil fuels are depleted and expertise increases, we will find that companies will drill in deeper waters and be able to extract more oil and gas. I hope the significant costs involved will be met by a success rate. To date, costs of exploration in Irish deep waters relate to a 20:1 chance of striking something.
The private sector has the expertise. In recent months, comments have been made to the effect that this is an Irish resource and should be kept for the people of Ireland. We do not have the expertise that international companies have, to go into the wild Atlantic and look for gas and oil.
Mr. Nolan: Yes, but the costs involved are fundamentally different also. This project is worthwhile. It needs and deserves the support of not just the Government, but of the people. From what I hear, it also has the support of the vast majority of the people of County Mayo.
Dr. Devins: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topical private Members’ motion. As the Minister said last night, this motion reflects the disparate grouping of independent Deputies who composed it.
Dr. Devins: It is this thinking that has guided the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in his dealings with oil and gas exploration companies. It is important to remember that in Ireland, we have a one in 20 success rate when we drill a well. Norway has a one in eight success rate.
A balance must be found between attracting exploration companies to Ireland and ensuring that the interests of the State are protected. This is not and cannot be a fixed relationship — it must be dynamic as circumstances dictate. If more wells are found, the State can demand more in return. We want more exploration, but until the discovery of the Corrib gas field, exploration off the Irish coast had been fairly unproductive. However, we now have the Corrib field and I welcome the Minister’s statement that he will review the State’s present fiscal terms to ensure it receives its appropriate share in future.
Yesterday, the Minister announced that he would accept the recommendations of Advantica, the independent group tasked to review safety in the Corrib field. He also published and accepted the findings of his own Corrib technical advisory group. Hopefully, all of these recommendations, which are stricter in safety terms than international best practice, will be agreeable to both parties in the Corrib gas field dispute and the development of this large resource off our coast can be brought ashore and utilised for the benefit of Ireland.
The importance of using this wonderful asset is made all the more pressing when we witness on a daily basis the surge in oil and gas prices on the world market. As a country, we do not have many oil or gas resources and are very dependent on the importation of these fuels for all aspects of our economy. When we discover a substantial natural resource such as the Corrib gas field, it is imperative that we utilise it as soon as possible. I say this recognising that fossil fuels have a definite life span and many experts warn that we are coming to the end of their availability. Renewable sources of energy, such as wind and wave, are the way forward in conjunction with the use of agricultural crops for biofuel. I commend the Minister for recently taking important steps to encourage the development of natural forms of energy, such as grants for solar energy in houses. More of the same type of progressive and enlightened thinking is the way forward so that, eventually, we will be self-sufficient.
I will restate what all of the public representatives in the west and north west have been advocating for some time and to which the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, briefly alluded, namely, that An Bord Gáis should immediately set about providing a gas pipe from County Galway through counties Mayo and Sligo to County Donegal.
Dr. Devins: The people in counties Sligo and Leitrim have as much right as anyone to the benefits of gas, be it for industrial or domestic use. Connecting with the gas supply in Northern Ireland via a western connector will ensure that the people closest to the Corrib gas field will have the same benefits as those living along the east coast. It is only right and proper that businesses in such towns as Sligo, Manorhamilton, Tubbercurry, Ballymote and Ballina are able to avail of gas as an energy source if they so wish, which businesses elsewhere in this country can do. We are all citizens of the same State and Bord Gáis must recognise this fact and put in place a gas pipe supply network to the north west. I commend the Minister’s amendment to the House.
Ms F. O’Malley: It is a choice between reverting to the protectionist policies of the 1930s, which brought this country to its knees, or exploiting and bringing the reserves we know of to more citizens to provide opportunities.
Ms F. O’Malley: Deputies across the floor might have a fanciful notion that the State can hold the risk that comes with exploitation. Have they examined how much it costs to evaluate our reserves? A reserve is something about which one does not know. One is obliged to drill for it and it costs billions. Day after day and week after week, the Technical group Members come into the Chamber to ask the Government to spend money on X, Y or Z.
Ms F. O’Malley: However, the worldwide norm is one in ten. Previously, the Opposition Deputies were shouting about Norway. The rate there is one in four and Members should face the geographic realities of our country and the cost of exploitation.
Ms F. O’Malley: The Deputies on the other side are not doing their cause any good. At best, this is a request to revert to the protectionist policies of the 1930s. At worst, this is akin to a university Marxist society flyer. This motion does not operate within the real world. Last night, the Minister pointed out that if one wants to have 50%——
Ms F. O’Malley: Forgive the interruptions, because my time is limited, but I will correct the Deputy on one point. It is prudent for any Government, and perhaps the Deputy will get his chance to find out about it——
Ms F. O’Malley: As for the proposals before the House, while all Members have the best interests of the country at heart, the best interests of the citizens are served by the exploration of reserves and by developing our independence in terms of energy security. The only means available to us to ascertain what reserves we have is to encourage private companies with the money and expertise to so do. The returns will come to our State.
I wish to clarify the point I made to Deputy Nolan. As I understand it, Norway came to believe that there were significant resources off its North Sea coast in 1968. The Norwegian Government effectively told the oil majors to teach it everything they knew about exploration, discoveries and so on for two or three years. This is what happened as Statoil was established. When the Norwegian Government felt it knew enough to start making fiscal policy in respect of its discoveries, it began to issue licences for the massive resources that it turned out to have.
Mr. Broughan: My point is they did not know that at the time, any more than we do at present. By the way, the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, believes that Ireland has significant resources in our 1 million sq. km of sea.
As for the publication of the Advantica report yesterday, while this is welcome, significant problems remain regarding the Corrib gas pipeline itself. Yesterday I asked that either the Minister of State or the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, should come before the House in the next few weeks. Members should be given an opportunity to discuss the Advantica report, the technical advisory group’s report, as well as the other documentation published yesterday by the Minister. Moreover, Members might have a full discussion of the present level of mediation in respect of the Corrib dispute to try to establish a picture of its current status. As far as I can ascertain, there is no green light and the media have misinterpreted what took place yesterday. Significant and intense negotiations must take place in respect of the finalisation of the Corrib dispute.
The Corrib gas reserve is a vital national resource which provides a very important window of opportunity for this country to diversify from oil and to move towards alternative technologies. Hence, it is a critical national priority to get the Corrib resource ashore. However, this must be done in a manner which is agreeable to the local community. If that is not the case, while the Minister may issue as many green lights as he pleases, nothing will happen. Hence, I urge the Minister to inform the Government that all Members, including my colleague from County Mayo, Deputy Cowley, would welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue in depth in the House in the coming weeks.
As for the motion, under the Constitution, all natural resources within our jurisdiction and all associated franchises and royalties, belong entirely to the people and to the State. That is the factual and legal situation. One of the most annoying features of the current debate is that all our current discussions in respect of the Corrib field and the potential resources of this country are still governed by an Act that was passed in 1960, namely, the Petroleum and other Minerals Development Act. In the 1960s, when the first licensing was granted to the Marathon oil company — it received an exploration licence for the paltry sum of £500 — the Act still made it clear that all the reserves of natural resources remained vested in the Minister and the State.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is aware that the first comprehensive regime of licensing and royalties was established in 1975 by our great Labour predecessor, the former Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr. Justin Keating. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle served with him in that Government. It is interesting to reflect on Mr. Keating’s terms. They included an automatic 50% State shareholding in any oil or gas discovery, a royalties regime of 6% or 7% and an oil and gas tax of 50%. This system was placed in statutory and legal form in the mid-1970s and served, until 1992, as the basis of our licensing regime.
The shadow of the former Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr. Ray Burke, still hangs over the Dáil because these terms were first significantly amended by him. However, it must be stated in the context of the motion before the House that his royalty regime was still based on a 35% take for the State. The former Minister, Mr. Burke, spoke of the necessity for amending the changes made by Mr. Keating’s regime. He stated, using the argument still made by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources still uses:
The real changes and evolution of our current licensing regime came about during the 1992 Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, in which the present Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, served as Minister for Finance. The 1975 terms were significantly amended to produce the current regime, which effectively offers carte blanche. The present regime gives significant power to the Minister to license companies, as he has done in the north-western seas over recent months, and includes the key features which this motion deplores. These include the absence of royalties or production-based levies, the fact that any oil exploration activities are only subject to the 25% corporation tax, and that there are 100% write-offs for oil companies’ expenses. There is loss relief and 100% deductions for abandonment costs to encourage exploration. These terms have regulated our oil exploration ventures.
I commend the Independent group for tabling the motion. It is timely, particularly in light of the situation in the Corrib, which has been a wake-up call for people in regard to our natural resources. Those who support the current system argue that the potential level of natural resources in Irish waters is not sufficiently substantial to warrant a system on a par with Norway or to significantly change the current terms. Since the beginning of last year’s dispute over the Corrib gas pipeline, the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has consistently disparaged the notion that Irish waters are an attractive place for oil or natural gas exploration ventures. He claimed recently that very few companies are interested in exploration off Irish shores, and because of this, the antiquated and inadequate framework for regulating the exploitation of Irish natural resources must remain unchanged. As I said to Deputy O’Malley a few minutes ago, if one examines the amendment to the motion, he appears to be changing his tune because we are going to have new fiscal terms. The Minister signalled in The Sunday Tribune last November that he was prepared to examine the regime for regulating the exploitation of Irish natural resources. The current regime is often cited as a reason for the lack of applicants for the 2005 offshore licensing round when only two companies applied.
There are many other factors to be considered, the first of which is the massive market price of oil and gas, which may be heading for a $100 a barrel for oil. It recently reached almost $75 a barrel. At these prices, areas which were previously considered to be inhospitable or difficult to explore are becoming areas that all oil companies are beginning to consider. There is also the development in technology. There have been huge developments, particularly in offshore technology, for example, along the South African coast and Angola and up towards the middle of Africa. There are new ways of exploiting resources, which we are experiencing in the Corrib field which is effectively 60 miles off the coast. There is also significant interest in Irish exploration in recent months, which is a good effect of the Corrib crisis. A few weeks ago, when I showed the map of the north western licensing round to the Minister, he did not deny that there is a lot of very valuable territory which still has to be allocated. An Irish company, Grianan Energy Limited, must be commended because it is beginning to finally recognise a central tenet of the people of Rossport’s claim that any development should enhance the locality and this nation by offering it 10% of profits. Most of us in this House believe there should be a much more far-reaching system of ensuring that local areas, like Mayo, get real and long-lasting benefits from exploration. In October it was reported that Island Oil and Gas and Petrolia are to drill three wells off the Irish coast. This began a few weeks ago. We also heard that Providence Resources and a private Scottish-based company, Sosina Exploration, are getting an exclusive licence to explore and exploit the so-called Dunquin area off the south-west coast. There have been extraordinary claims that Ireland’s oil and gas needs for perhaps a century or more could be met by just that one field. Providence Resources estimates it could contain more than 25 trillion cubic feet of gas and 4 million barrels of oil. We use approximately 200,000 barrels a year.
All of these projects indicate there is real and deepening interest in exploration off our coast. The distinguished journalist, Mr. Colm Rapple, wrote some interesting articles in recent months when he argued strongly that perhaps the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, should talk directly to oil companies face-to-face in regard to exploration ventures. Some Deputies assume a country would have to invest money up-front to obtain benefits from exploration. However, if we examine other European countries which have a history of exploration, as well as Canada, including Newfoundland and so on, this is not the case. Generally speaking, the state gets involved in joint ventures on the basis of no foal, no fee, and states and communities are not liable for vast exploration costs.
Deputies referred to what other countries do in this regard. The experience of Norway is relevant. Deputy Cowley, members of the Labour Party and I found it extremely helpful when we liaised with Statoil when the five Rossport men were in prison. Some 70% of Statoil is owned by the Norwegian state. The Norwegians’ basic modus operandi was that they learnt what exploration was about, and when they knew what it was about, they issued licences, drew up fiscal terms and began to explore. Like our National Pensions Reserve Fund, Norway set up a massive trust fund for the Norwegian nation for generations of people who will obtain great benefit from the massive resources off the Norwegian coast. Norway’s corporation tax stands at 28%. It also has a special tax of 50% on income derived from exploration activities. There are some write-offs, but there is still a significant take for the Norwegian state, even in the current situation where Statoil is 30% owned by the private sector.
The Norwegians have a CO2 tax to protect the country’s environment. It also has an area fee. It is an interesting device, which is based on the amount of acreage provided, which the Minister is currently doing. It is intended to encourage return of acreage that companies do not wish to exploit. We could examine what our Norwegian colleagues are doing to make a profit from exploration ventures.
Denmark, which has been self-sufficient since 1997, has a significantly different regime. I commend my Independent colleagues on the motion. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, lashed out at them last night, which was unfair. One of the proposals in the motion relates to a State company. In fact, it is an exploration agency, which is a commendable idea. Denmark has such an exploration agency, DONG, an exploration and production company. It is a limited oil exploration company whose shares are owned by the Danish state. DONG has been a partner in all consortia awarded licences for exploration in Danish waters since 1984. It is also active in Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Norway. The Danish state also takes a very pro-active interest in the resources off its coast. It has a 28% tax, which is a little higher than ours, as well as a hydrocarbon tax and an oil pipeline tariff.
We could examine smaller communities, in particular the Faroes. The Faroe Islands became involved in the exploration area fairly recently. It awarded seven licences to 12 oil companies in 2000. The regime has three different components, including a royalties regime, a hydrocarbon tax and a special tax. Royalties are levied at a rate of 2% and the hydrocarbon tax is levied at 27%. For example, if a field has a rate of return higher than 20%, the special tax will be set at 10%. If it has an internal rate of return greater than 25% or 30%, the special tax will be levied at 15%.
In the 1970s, when the Labour-Fine Gael Government was in power, Deputy Fiona O’Malley’s father savagely attacked our great Minister, Justin Keating, on the exploration regime. He was talking nonsense then and she is still talking nonsense 30 years on. Other countries make better use of their natural resources, as we should be doing.
In terms of local benefits and benefits for the State, we should consider exploration areas such as Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada where there has been an extensive agreement with companies to deliver real benefit to local communities. The agreement includes pre-production expenditure, person-years of construction employment and person-years of operation employment. These are detailed terms set out by the provincial government of Newfoundland in regard to the exploration of its waters. Yet the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, spoke a lot of rubbish in the House last night for which he was commended by some in the media. Every day, some €14,000 or €15,000 is being totted up as a result of those famous voting machines which will never be used.
The platform used in Newfoundland attempted to maximise local employment. The Faroese and Canadian examples show us there are different ways of exploration, and there is logic in the general spirit of the motion put before us by the Technical Group.
On a number of occasions during the Corrib gas crisis, I appeared on Midwest Radio. One of the interesting examples of communities we considered, which got real value from their exploration was the Shetland Islands. The local authority there was given scope to negotiate for a share in revenues generated by North Sea oil production and invested locally in the fishing industry, economic diversification and approved social amenities for senior citizens. This is a small, isolated community which has done very well from direct negotiation on behalf of the British Government and the Scottish Executive which gave the community permission to deal directly with the oil majors and get the best possible deal for the Shetlands. How different it is for Mayo. We have not seen the same kind of autonomy given to the people of Mayo and the surrounding counties in the west to maximise the significant benefits for the national and local economy of petroleum production activities.
Various states have different regimes to suit their specific circumstances but in common, they have a proactive, serious, hands-on approach to exploration, unlike Ireland, leaving it to whoever, an offhand approach which has served us so badly and has resulted in five men going to jail over a simple exploration project.
For the past few months, the Petroleum and other Minerals Development Bill has been on the clár, and when I get a chance to introduce it, I hope our colleagues in Opposition can support it. Its main focus is to ensure greater accountability to Dáil Éireann in the regulation of the exploitation and production of Irish natural resources. It also provides for stronger measures to ensure health, safety and environmental concerns are addressed and emphasises the critical importance of establishing and outlining the proposed national and local benefits of any licensing regime.
The great value of the debate we had last night and are having today is that for the first time for ages — we last discussed the Corrib gas find for perhaps half an hour — we have had an opportunity over three hours to discuss in depth the issues surrounding licensing, exploration and getting the best possible value for the people. I urge the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to adopt the Labour Party Bill. The Bill would ensure that every time the Minister came forward with a round of licensing proposals he would have to bring them to the House and we would have to debate the matter and decide what to do about it. In the past, during the era of Ray Burke and the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Bertie Ahern, now the Taoiseach, very significant powers were granted to wholly draw up the regulatory and fiscal framework for exploration and production. The Labour Party Bill would require the Minister to present a draft scheme on the licensing terms which would have to be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas, and return to the Dáil at least every six years afterwards regarding any licence given. There would be a statutory basis for reviewing and debating the terms of regulation, ensuring that any licensing regime is suitable for the context within which it operates.
The Labour Party Bill would also establish that the Minister would have to bring before the House a report on any draft scheme setting out his or her views on the proposed regulations and outlining the general advantages likely to accrue to the State from such a licensing scheme. As far as we can see, very little economic benefit currently accrues to the State as a result of the present terms for exploiting reserves of natural gas. Profits generated in the industry are enormous by comparison with other states.
A key element of the Labour Party Bill would be that any proposed development would have to adequately incorporate local considerations, in particular health and safety issues. I commend the Technical Group for bringing the motion before us and support its general spirit. This has been a very useful debate.
The guiding principle with regard to Ireland’s natural wealth should be that whatever benefits accrue should be for the citizens of the State. This principle is currently not being applied because it is clear the main beneficiaries are multinational oil companies. I recognise it is not all one-way traffic and that multinational oil companies are not all lining up, jostling for position, to be granted licences. However, there is a view abroad that the Irish people are not benefitting to the extent they should. That view is reinforced by the fact that the route of the Corrib gas line, while running close to many towns and settlements in the counties of Galway and Mayo, is not serving any of them but taking the gas somewhere else. It is always somewhere else, as far as rural Connacht is concerned.
I implore the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to take immediate steps to ensure the Corrib gas line brings some benefits to the counties of Galway and Mayo. A spur to the towns along the route is required as a first step. There is no excuse for spur lines not being provided. This is a golden opportunity for the Government to give practical expression to its often stated aim of achieving balanced regional development. We are fed up with talk about saving the west. Let the Government stop talking and start working.
To illustrate the madness of not utilising the gas supply as it travels to somewhere else, one only has to imagine an ESB line travelling in excess of 100 miles through rural Ireland, passing by many towns along the way without servicing any which did not already have an electricity supply. That would be seen as madness, as being short-sighted, to be lacking in any foresight, devoid of strategic planning, the policy of a banana republic, to be undemocratic. In an exactly similar situation we have miles of pipeline running through a large part of Connacht but servicing none of it.
Some time ago, Bord Gáis announced it was revising its policy with regard to the possibility of connecting those towns subject to approval by the energy regulator. In the course of this debate, will the Minister set out his view on this issue? Will he say if he is in favour of connecting those towns and if so, what action he is taking to bring it about? What contact has the Minister had with Bord Gáis or other bodies to ensure this vital infrastructure for the development of the west is put in place without delay?
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Government amendment to this motion claims that the development of Ireland’s natural resources benefits the citizens of the State — if only that were true. It would benefit the citizens if the natural resources were properly developed and under proper public supervision. However, as other Deputies have pointed out this afternoon and last evening, neither of those objectives is being fulfilled. The absence of a State body, as proposed in the motion, that would actively participate in the research and development of our mineral resources, means our off-shore reserves are largely a mystery. They are certainly a mystery to the Department which has formal responsibility for them.
The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is completely dependent on the information supplied to it by multinationals. This has been made patently clear in ministerial responses to questions regarding exploratory drills and the scale of deposits in different exploration blocks. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, last night had the gall to accuse Sinn Féin of believing in a conspiracy theory. He claimed that my party is propagating the notion that “there are considerable quantities of oil and gas off our shores, the Government and companies know about them and we are intent on giving these supposedly large reserves to multinationals for nothing”. Of course, that is not what we are saying. What we are saying, and what many others also believe, is that there may indeed be such quantities but the crucial fact is that the Government does not know, either way.
The Minister does not know because the only information he has is that supplied to his Department by the private enterprise and exploration companies. We can have little faith in that information, given what we know of the record of companies like Shell, which has been caught on several occasions falsifying records including, most notably, one concerning its reserves. I understand that particular report caused considerable unease among the company’s shareholders. Perhaps it is the case that they are more concerned about such matters than the Irish Government, which does not even have the status, standing or influence of a minor shareholder regarding Shell’s interests in this State. Its role is more in the nature of a public relations consultant.
We know from Irish rig workers who were employed on the exploratory drills in the Corrib field that it is likely that the actual amount of gas there is larger than estimated by the consortium that controls it. Of course, the fact that there are now no Irish workers employed there means that even that sort of information flow has been closed off to us.
Unless the State has its own expertise and a dedicated body involved in this area, we are totally at the mercy of the likes of Shell. At the very best, I suggest that is naive. At worst, it amounts to a form of national derogation of duty, as a natural resource of potentially immense economic and social value is completely in the power of foreign corporations. This is an arrangement that has more in common with the way Mr. Cecil Rhodes or the East India Company operated in the British colonies than one suitable for a modern, democratic and so-called sovereign State.
My colleague, Deputy Ferris, last night referred to the release of the reports on the safety aspects of the Corrib pipeline. I reiterate his warning that, whatever spin is being placed on this by the Government and Shell, the issue is far from settled. Supporters of the current proposal, which will bring little, if any, benefit to the people of north Mayo or the people of Ireland, and at some considerable risk to the former, no doubt envisage that these reports will form the basis of a campaign to undermine opposition and to portray the Rossport objectors as unreasonable Luddites.
However, this will not work because the majority of people in this country know when they are being sold a pup. They can also recognise decent, honourable people who are standing up for what is right. A great majority of the Irish people empathise and agree with those protestors and campaigners. They also, despite the best efforts of the Government, Shell’s other friends in this House and in the media, understand the fact that the Corrib gas, along with other mineral resources, have been given away. They have been given away, in large measure, by individuals who gave many things away, but only when they were getting something in return. Such returns were not for the State, the Irish people or even, as they sometimes claimed, for their own party, but for themselves. Given all that the people know, therefore, it is highly unlikely that they will support the rail-roading of the Corrib pipeline against the wishes of the community in Rossport.
Perhaps the most concise and accurate summation of the reports released with such heraldry yesterday was that delivered by Dr. Mark Garavan, who described them as “irrelevant”. They are irrelevant because they do not address any of the real concerns of the people of north Mayo. They do not consider any of the alternatives including, crucially, the processing of the gas off shore. Nor do they get around the fact that opposition to the pipeline, if anything, has strengthened since the imprisonment of the five men from Rossport. One of those men, Mr. Micheál Ó Seighin, said yesterday, in the context of the Shell consortium’s attempts to proceed in the same manner as it did last year, that “we will be forced to resist the imposition of a dangerous regime on our people and on our place and that applies to the entire community now”. I assure the Minister of State that the Rossport community will continue to have the support of many other communities throughout the country in their just struggle and will continue to enjoy the unquestioned support of voices in this and the other House within this institution for their efforts. I support and commend the Independent Deputies on their Private Member’s motion.
I am interested to know if any of the speakers from the Government side have visited Rossport and seen the situation which has been exacerbated by the Government’s lack of consideration and proper governance. I have visited the area and the home of Ms Mary Corduff and other families, while Mr. Willie Corduff and the other four men from Rossport were in prison. I passed, going into the home of Mrs. Corduff, an invisible line on her driveway. That line is on the maps of the Shell consortium as the route for the pipeline, which will contain metals, other impurities and radioactive gases, travelling at high pressure. The Advantica report states the pressure will not be as high as Shell initially intended but, nonetheless, there are still risks associated with the pipeline. A similar pipeline in New Mexico exploded in August 2000, killing 12 people who were camping 206 metres away. The pipeline in Rossport is less than 70 metres from the Corduff family home. In that context, the Minister of State must understand that there is naturally going to be enormous resistance, and rightly so, to people being taken for granted and having their lives put in jeopardy in this fashion.
I also visited the site of the treatment plant in Ballinaboy. Strangely, that plant was refused planning permission in April 2003 but, following a meeting between the Taoiseach and executives of the consortium, was granted permission in October 2004.
We have a report, but a very narrow one. It is a narrow examination without consideration of the alternative routes or other options, such as off-shore processing. Before we go any further on this we need another report into the behaviour of Fianna Fáil, with particular reference to Ray Burke, in its role as oil company agent. Deputy Fahey also needs to answer a few questions. There is no doubt that the people of Mayo will not let this rest. When one sees the arrangements made one must ask what is in it for the people. The answer is little other than that we pay whatever Shell demands in terms of price, which will continue to rise as the market gives it the ability to rise.
The Advantica report makes recommendations and highlights the fact that the Government does not have a risk-based framework for decisions on proposed and existing major hazard pipelines and lacks the transparency and consistency of a decision-making process. That is a nice way of stating that the Government has been shown up by this process as not being able to ensure fair governance and act in the interests of the people. That must be addressed before we can go any further.
The Minister is in awe of the oil industry. He must take into account that the oil industry has also produced extremely clear evidence that we are facing a peak in oil production. That will mean that Ireland will be at the total mercy of spikes in oil prices which will ruin this economy, thanks to this Government. I ask that this be a clarion call to get over our reliance on oil and gas and move on. Government back-benchers are fixated on establishing how much oil and gas we have left. We cannot wait around for the last drops of gas and oil. We must move on. If this debate does anything, I hope it provides us with a launching pad for that more important and wider debate.
Mr. Boyle: Yesterday evening, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in his contribution stated that in his experience the motion before him was the worst he had the pleasure of having to respond to in this House. The Government’s amendment to this motion happens to be the worst I have had the pleasure of having to witness in my short time in the House.
The amendment is nothing but a series of back-clapping and false assertions about the Government’s position on the existence or otherwise of an energy policy. The amendment calls on Dáil Éireann to recognise “that the development of lreland’s natural resources benefits the citizen of the State”. It is hard to know whether that is a hope or an aspiration because it certainly is not a fact.
The amendment calls on Dáil Éireann to recognise “that the present fiscal terms for petroleum are based on the present perception of prospectivity in Offshore Ireland and recognise that we compete with other jurisdictions for exploration investment”. That is nonsense. That is to state that every country has oil and gas deposits and we compete on which gets explored first. We live in a world of fast-diminishing fossil fuel resources and wherever they can be found there will be prospectors. The cards have always been in the Government’s hand and it has always chosen to use them unwisely.
The amendment states that Dáil Éireann recognises “that the State is in receipt of royalties in relation to its major production facility at Kinsale”, at last a fact. However, it does not explain why any subsequent oil and gas find here has had worse royalty returns to the State than we had in the original gas find in Kinsale.
The amendment continues to state that we recognise “that the completion of a comprehensive (and expensive) work programme is a requirement of frontier licences and failure to complete such a programme will result in either relinquishment or revocation of the licence”. It seems to imply that at some time in the future, if the exploration companies have not done their jobs, the licences will be removed from them. The experience has been that not only have the licences been renewed, but that they have been renewed on a similar basis or a more favourable basis for the exploration companies.
The amendment recognises that “in practice Irish ports are widely used by petroleum companies but an obligation for the compulsory use of Irish ports would be anti-competitive and contrary to EU law”. That is open to question, and certainly should be challenged. Maximising distances of dangerous substances has an environmental risk as well as an application in terms of EU competition law. The Irish Government can and should make arguments on that.
The next point in the amendment is on “the need for the State, as part of its energy policy, to increase the share of petroleum to be provided from indigenous resources in Offshore Ireland”. That is the first news I received that this State has an energy policy. We seem to be making it up as we go along. To me, my party and many in society, increasing the share of fossil fuel use in light of a fast diminishing return seems nonsense that cannot be sustained in any energy policy which will eventually be submitted by this Government.
The Government’s amendment calls for us to recognise “the implementation by the State of its requirements under the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive”. This is the most insulting element of all. The experience of the State and the Government in terms of many infrastructural developments here has involved a scant regard for this directive. When one considers the options available for refining in terms of the Corrib gas field, such as offshore, directly onshore or inshore, the fact that the State constantly promotes, at the behest of the company involved, the least environmentally friendly of those three options, a facility many miles inshore, shows this Government either does not know what it is doing or does not care, which is a more damning indictment.
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Browne): The overriding fact is that Ireland has not yet established itself as a petroleum province. Our success rate to date does not match those of our neighbours in north-west Europe such as Norway, the UK and the Netherlands. Regarding Norway, it is obvious from this debate that the proposers of the motion have no answers to the reality that the Norwegian licensing and fiscal terms are a product of that country’s success in petroleum exploration and production.
While Ireland had similar terms to Norway up to 1987, as my colleague the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey, pointed out, that country made 60 commercial finds compared to one in Ireland. Several of those finds dwarf the Kinsale field in size. These successes enabled Norway to become for a time the second largest exporter of oil in the world, behind Saudi Arabia. It is also obvious from this debate that Ireland’s situation is different in that the prospectivity does not compare to Norway’s, its offshore waters are deeper and therefore more expensive to drill and the lack of infrastructure compared to the North Sea in terms of pipelines, terminals and platforms make a discovery more expensive to develop.
Exploration levels must be maintained and even increased. The 1992 terms are seen as the best means of achieving that. That is not only the view of the present Government. These terms and their rationale have been accepted and implemented by every Government since their introduction 14 years ago. Current energy prices have increased levels of exploration activity around the world. Consequently, Ireland hopes to see more exploration.
The recent news that a major oil company such as Exxon Mobil acquired exploration interests in offshore Ireland is extremely welcome news. If Ireland is to reduce its present dependency on imported energy, it must promote exploration to find and develop its indigenous resources. The current state of under-exploration of offshore Ireland, particularly the Atlantic margin, can also provide opportunities.
Regarding the Corrib gas field, the Deputies will be aware that the Corrib safety study was published by the Minister yesterday. The Corrib gas field is a major infrastructure project, with the potential to play a significant role in the economic and social regeneration of Mayo and the north-west region. It will facilitate the improvement of the region’s infrastructure and increase local employment in both the short term and long term. The development will also increase Ireland’s security of supply by providing a reliable, secure and indigenous source of gas.
Some time ago, the Minister appointed Peter Cassells as a mediator in the Corrib dispute. Mr. Cassells is a former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and was one of the main architects of the social partnership agreements. I share the Minister’s hope that the ongoing mediation process will allow all those concerned to work together to resolve the difficulties that have arisen. It is crucial that the project proceeds with the agreement of all the interested parties.
Mr. Connolly: I propose to share time with Deputies Gregory and Joe Higgins. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, which affects the entire country, both land and sea. In my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan we have our own natural reserve of gold.
Regrettably, there is a sad history to our exploration rights and how we, effectively, gave them away. In 1967 we sold the exploration rights of shallow water finds of oil and gas for a princely sum of €625 to a company called Marathon Oil. All companies seeking to take up the current round of licences must sublet them from Marathon Oil, which is based in Texas. I do not know what we can do about having sold the rights and almost given them away some years ago, but we should be fit to look at the terms and conditions under which companies operate.
At that stage it was envisaged the companies would pay 50% tax on the finds and the country would automatically inherit 50% of the shareholding of the find, along with 6% or 7% of the royalties. That struck me as a fairly good deal which the country could benefit from. It would also benefit from the spin-off industries associated with any such find.
In 1985, the terms and conditions were modified and a sliding scale of royalties was put in place. Perhaps this was the beginning of where we find ourselves today. In 1984, a gentleman called Denis Thatcher who had an interest in a company called Enterprise, was among a group which lobbied the Government. Shortly afterwards, the oil company succeeded in making the royalties disappear, in a move which went against senior departmental advice. The agreements were abandoned and the 50% stake disappeared. This was a giveaway of our natural resources. One would have to ask what happened in 1984 and the three following years. Why did the Government go against departmental advice? This was where the rot set in, and we should examine the issue again.
In the early 1990s, the tax take on the oil was reduced to 25%. However, the companies could write off this 25% against investments made in previous years and money spent in waters which were not Irish. We had given away any interest or benefit we would have as taxpayers. We also had the matter of frontier licences that were introduced. They allowed oil companies to hold licences for a long period, perhaps 20 years. The companies could sit on the licences and watch world market trends in oil prices. Along with 100% write-offs, this left Ireland in a very vulnerable position to be plundered. Even with a tax take of 25%, Ireland had the lowest rate of its kind in the world. We are giving away many of our resources.
Mr. Gregory: I understand the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, regards this motion in the names of Independent Deputies to be the worst motion to come before this House. Coming from the Minister, I regard this as a compliment.
Mr. Gregory: The general public throughout the country would regard the worst proposal to come before this House in recent times to be electronic voting machines, which came originally from the Minister. I will not call it a brainchild as it may be a misuse of terms.
In the context of this debate on the sell-out of this country’s natural resources by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, I condemn outright the decision yesterday to grant permission to the Shell multinational oil company to proceed with a planned pipeline on the original route in County Mayo. I offer my absolute support to Micheál Ó Seighin and his courageous comrades at Rossport for their re-statement of their intention to oppose that pipeline on safety grounds. I also support their determination to continue with the Shell to Sea campaign.
The intransigence of the Shell multinational oil company, which was all too evident on radio this morning, in refusing to consider any alternatives has again resulted in a countdown to conflict in Mayo. In this instance, not only are this country’s natural resources being handed over free gratis to the multinational oil companies, but the same multinationals are being empowered by the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government to take over the land of local people compulsorily to facilitate the passage of a highly dangerous production pipeline, with its volatile cargo close to people’s homes.
All of this is a scandal of immense proportions. The fact Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats are getting away with it has been facilitated by the dismal failure of the main political parties in successive Governments to safeguard our natural resources for the benefit of those who own them, the Irish people.
Since November 2004 we have the unpardonable case where a licence granted to Providence Resources, headed by the billionaire Sir Anthony O’Reilly, means the company can now benefit from a 20% stake while all the exploration costs are covered by Exxon Mobil. Instead of even a 20% stake for the Irish people, we get nothing from this speculation and exploitation of our own resources.
Mr. Gregory: It is gone past the time to say stop. We demand a total freeze on the issuing of any further exploration licences. We demand the establishment of a publicly owned gas and oil exploration and recovery agency, independent of the multinational gas and oil conglomerates. We demand the recognition of the fundamental principle that the oil and gas resources off our coast belong to the Irish people and must be recovered and used in a way that benefits the majority of the Irish people.
Mr. J. Higgins: I will not waste any more time. The motion recognises that oil and gas are finite resources, and that the burning of oil and gas for energy is a crucial factor in global warming, a threat to our environment which nobody can ignore. Therefore, the motion calls for massive investment in alternative sources of energy, which this Government has been pathetically laggardly in doing over the past nine years.
The motion is based on the principle that while we are dependent on hydrocarbons and alternative sources are being investigated, the exploitation of those hydrocarbons should take place in such a way as to benefit the majority of the Irish people rather than feed the insatiable greed for profit from major transnational oil and gas corporations. It is undeniable that this Government, which claims to be in control of the State and is therefore charged with using the State’s natural resources for the benefit of society, has a policy of abject capitulation to corporate interests and puts those resources exclusively in the hands of those corporate interests. It beggars belief that this Government hands control of all our gas and oil resources to the major corporations, with no independent assessment. It is entirely dependent for information on the amount of wealth there is in the major corporations who seek to exploit it. It is akin to the Garda Síochána asking a thief to put a valuation on the swag from his most recent burglary, but that is what the Government’s hydrocarbon policy has been reduced to.
The greatest expertise of these corporations is not in recovering oil from Nigeria to Iraq and East Timor to South America, but in stealing the natural resources of indigenous people at huge cost to them. The Government is addicted to its subservience to big capitalist interests and, like most addicts, it denies it. The blustering denials of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey in the House last night were an example of that, as he dripped with contempt for this motion, the fundamental principle of which is that resources should be recovered for the benefit of the people. As has been mentioned, this is a Minister who has monuments to him in every county in the State, not to his achievements but to his arrogance and incompetence, in the form of clapped-out electronic voting machines, mouldering in warehouses up and down the country to the value of €62 million of taxpayers’ funds and a further €1 million in storage costs. The same Minister dared to come into the House last night and tell us that exploration for oil and gas wells by the State was not feasible because each well could cost €20 million. The people would infinitely prefer €60 million of their funds to be devoted to exploring for oil and gas, harvesting our natural resources, than rotting in warehouses around the country providing rental income for enterprising sheriffs and the returning officers who house them. We should alter the maxim “beat the swords into ploughshares”, a very wise saying, to “beat the voting machines into oil exploration rigs” to bring natural resources ashore for the benefit of our people.
The billions of euro this Government has squandered in tax forgone to millionaire tax exiles, speculators and big corporate interests would have enabled all our offshore areas to be explored and hydrocarbons recovered. Instead we had to listen to the nihilism and pessimism of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dempsey, who trotted out argument after argument as to why it was not possible. He said that assembling the know-how, the machinery and the technology was too difficult. If his Fianna Fáil predecessors, though they were capitalist politicians, had followed those arguments 50, 60 or 70 years ago we would have had no electricity infrastructure in the State because that was what they had to do to harness that resource.
The spinelessness, cowardice and subservience to corporate interests of this Government are manifest, providing us with the grotesque spectacle of billionaire tax exile, the squire O’Reilly himself, speculating on frontier licences given to him by the Government, doing a deal with the corporate giant Exxon Mobil whereby he can sit on the Dunquin field without raising a finger. Exxon Mobil will incur all the costs but he will get 16% of the profits. The squire junior said they applied for the Dunquin licence in the belief that the geology indicated a very serious prospect. The Irish Government could and should have foreseen that.
It is ironic we are talking about the Dunquin field. I am sure the people of Dunquin and the former residents of the Blasket Islands will cast a wry eye over this, considering how Fianna Fáil sold them out in the 1950s. Yet again the area off the shore of the muintir an Bhlascaoid is the subject of a major sale. When I hear of frontier licences I reflect on how apt the term is. We usually associate the term “frontier” with the wild west. It is cowboys, political and corporate, who have been involved in these shabby deals to sell off our natural resources.
The Minister made a big deal last night of the onerous task these major corporations have in holding a frontier licence for 20 years. What do they have to do? They have to drill two wells in 20 years. They will buy up the area and stay there as long necessary to prevent anybody else from having it, while they exploit oil all over the world. Then they will drill in this area when it suits their corporate profitability requirements.
Mr. J. Higgins: I will make my final point. The attitude of this Government is clearly seen in the treatment of the community of Rossport. It refuses to compel Shell, to whom it has given the fabulous wealth of gas and oil off the Mayo coast, to extract oil and gas in a way that does not threaten the community. It was scandalous that five residents had to go to jail to defend their community. Now the Government is giving Shell the right to go ahead after a little bit of window dressing.
Mr. J. Higgins: Shell will again be in conflict with the people of Rossport and north Mayo. The sympathy of the Irish people will be with the residents when they again resist these predators to who the Government has handed our entire fabulous oil and gas wealth.
|Ahern, Noel.||Andrews, Barry.|
|Ardagh, Seán.||Brady, Johnny.|
|Brennan, Seamus.||Browne, John.|
|Callanan, Joe.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.||Cowen, Brian.|
|Cregan, John.||Cullen, Martin.|
|Curran, John.||Davern, Noel.|
|de Valera, Síle.||Dempsey, Noel.|
|Dennehy, John.||Devins, Jimmy.|
|Fitzpatrick, Dermot.||Fleming, Seán.|
|Fox, Mildred.||Gallagher, Pat The Cope.|
|Glennon, Jim.||Grealish, Noel.|
|Harney, Mary.||Haughey, Seán.|
|Hoctor, Máire.||Jacob, Joe.|
|Kelleher, Billy.||Kelly, Peter.|
|Killeen, Tony.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Tom.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|Lenihan, Conor.||McEllistrim, Thomas.|
|McGuinness, John.||Moynihan, Donal.|
|Mulcahy, Michael.||Nolan, M.J.|
|Ó Cuív, Éamon.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Connor, Charlie.||O’Donnell, Liz.|
|O’Donoghue, John.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Flynn, Noel.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Malley, Tim.||Parlon, Tom.|
|Power, Peter.||Power, Seán.|
|Roche, Dick.||Sexton, Mae.|
|Treacy, Noel.||Wallace, Dan.|
|Wallace, Mary.||Walsh, Joe.|
|Allen, Bernard.||Boyle, Dan.|
|Breen, James.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Burton, Joan.||Connaughton, Paul.|
|Connolly, Paudge.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Cowley, Jerry.|
|Crawford, Seymour.||Cuffe, Ciarán.|
|Durkan, Bernard J.||English, Damien.|
|Enright, Olwyn.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Gogarty, Paul.|
|Gregory, Tony.||Harkin, Marian.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Higgins, Michael D.||Howlin, Brendan.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||McCormack, Pádraic.|
|McGinley, Dinny.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McHugh, Paddy.||McManus, Liz.|
|Mitchell, Gay.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Murphy, Gerard.||Neville, Dan.|
|Noonan, Michael.||Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.|
|Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|O’Keeffe, Jim.||O’Shea, Brian.|
|O’Sullivan, Jan.||Pattison, Seamus.|
|Quinn, Ruairí.||Rabbitte, Pat.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Eamon.|
|Ryan, Seán.||Sargent, Trevor.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Timmins, Billy.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Last Updated: 03/11/2010 23:46:31||Page of 201|