IRELAND is traditionally careless with its natural resources — gifting about €1bn worth of fish a year to other EU countries — and is making the same mistakes with oil and gas, according to new film Atlantic.
The documentary asks why Ireland’s original Norwegian-style gas and oil policy was dismantled by previous governments with a US government report finding that Ireland had the second lowest tax take of 142 countries studied.
The film, now in its final stages of shooting, exposes what it says is a national scandal and shows how Norway and Newfoundland are getting the most out of their fish, oil, and gas and compares it to what is happening in Ireland.
Internationally acclaimed filmmaker Richie O’Donnell hopes it will create a national movement, forcing the Government to act in the best interest of citizens. In advance of the film’s release, he is putting together a roadshow to help raise awareness of the issues.
He has also come up with a novel way of paying for the film through crowd-funding online at fundit.ie.
“It means we are only answerable to our audience who take ownership of the film and it gives us great freedom to tell the story”, he said.
So far he has been filming in Newfoundland where poor management wiped out cod stocks, turning once well-to-do fishing communities into paupers.
But, he says, they learned their lesson and when oil and gas were discovered, their provincial government took a hard look at the resource to make sure the local economy benefited from it.
Norway too has lessons to teach, being one of the biggest exporters of oil and gas in the world — and having used the revenue to build up a massive €620bn national reserve to sustain its citizens for generations to come.
The Government is revising the law and tax rules on oil and gas exploration, promising to ensure a better return for the Irish people.
But they have said they won’t change any agreements already made with oil companies, and unlike the Norwegians, they won’t set up a national oil investment vehicle.
Despite the pending changes, there is very little public pressure to ensure a better deal for the State says Mr O’Donnell, and time is running out.
“Exxon Mobil and other major oil companies will have rigs off the Irish coast this drilling season and if the story is not told in the next year, it will be too late.”
The Dáil was told that companies are returning to wells capped 20 years ago where it was thought the indications were of substantial oil finds and the technology has now made realising them much easier and cheaper.
A report in 2006 for the Department of Energy and Natural Resources said there was oil and gas at current day values worth about €540bn off the west coast — but with companies able to write off 100% of costs against tax backdated up to 25 years, and a tax of just 25% on net profits, very little would go to the State.
When making the documentary The Pipe, Mr O’Donnell said it opened up the wider issue behind Ireland’s oil and gas. “Why should a small sovereign state put all its resources, both security, legal, and political at the behest of the world’s most powerful oil companies?”
The Pipe, which has been acclaimed at festivals in Galway, London, Amsterdam, and Toronto, tells the story of how Rossport in north Mayo became the most heavily policed area perhaps in Europe as the small community objects to the State, Shell, and Statoil failing to consult them about the immensely high-pressure gas pipe that is to run close to their homes and through their lands and fishing grounds.
The Rossport five gained international attention when they spent three months in jail. Shell and Statoil have modified the design, even though the State did not ask them to, and after budget overruns and delays, the first gas is due to land later this year.
The Government is now considering a report on the country’s future oil and gas policy amid promises that it will strike a fair balance between making it worthwhile for industry to invest and giving Irish citizens a fair return.
But we were here before, says Mr O’Donnell. The late Justin Keating in 1975 brought in a Norwegian-style policy but it was dismantled by Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern. “We are looking into any link there may have been between awarding exploration licences for political favours in the 1990s and set out a realistic picture of what is happening, and what’s to come for the Irish Offshore.
“There is something very wrong with the way we have valued our resources over the decades — perhaps it’s a cultural thing. When we joined the EU we ended up with less than 18% of the fish caught in Irish waters. People value property but when it comes to the offshore, it is not valued, and yet nine-tenths of the Irish territory is under the sea.”
Similar questions need to be asked about current fishing policies. In Killybegs, shooting for Atlantic, Mr O’Donnell said that while Marine Minister Simon Coveney was opening a fish plant, the whole Killybegs fleet was tied up because of quota restrictions as two Spanish trawlers unloaded their catch at the same pier and European super-trawlers were towing for weeks on end within 30km of the Blaskets. “We need to find out what is happening in this massively lucrative Irish offshore, right under our noses,” he said.
The filming venture has turned out to be much bigger than originally planned and they have spent €12,000, raised through crowd funding, on filming on location in Norway and Newfoundland. They have taken on more crew and are extending the filming which includes telling the Irish story through three fishermen and their families.
They are working against the clock to raise the extra money to complete the work — and if €25,000 is not raised by June 6, then whatever is raised goes back to the donors. They are also offering incentives to donors which Mr O’Donnell hopes will involve people in the venture.