By Patrick Brogan
Some years ago, I spent a weekend away in Amsterdam. (Not to do anything illegal.) Upon returning, on the way back from Dublin Airport I got chatting to the taxi driver. It turned out that he had lived in Amsterdam for the best part of a decade. He told me that “if the Dutch lived in Ireland they could feed the world, if the Irish lived in the Netherlands they would drown.” I thought this pretty much summed up the attitude I had towards Ireland at the time; that we don’t make the best of what’s available to us.
Indeed, nearly eight years later, it appears we haven’t moved on. Ireland is looking to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Part of the new process of awarding the tournament is an evaluation of the potential host countries. Ireland did well on the vision and hosting concept element, but fell down badly on infrastructure. On accommodation we were miles behind the South African bid. The transport plan was scored out of a maximum 15%. South Africa and France both received 11.25%, Ireland got 9.38%. When it came to use of information technology services it was even worse. South Africa scored 13.13%, France 11.25%. And Ireland? Way behind with 7.5%. The bid isn’t over, the voting still has to be done, but it highlights how infrastructure has been our Achilles’ heel repeatedly.
This illustrates we are way behind other industrialised nations when it comes to developing infrastructure. It is this technological handicap that has prevented us from making the most of the natural resources that surround us. And they are abundant, believe it or not. What is worse than this is there is no political will to develop any of it. The motivation to do this will have to come from the people as the politicians and financial systems at the moment are very happy with the status quo and don’t want that changing. So, what are these natural blessings and how can we use them to benefit society rather than handing them over to multinationals like we do with everything else?
Anybody familiar with this website will know I can be a bit of a Euro skeptic, particularly when it comes to Irish fisheries. Ireland is often depicted as the poster child of beneficial EU funding, but what is never pointed out is how much we have lost out on. Between our entry into the EU and 2010, €201 billion worth of fish was caught in Irish waters. Only €17 billion of that was fished by Ireland, the rest going to other EU nations.
We received €72 billion in EU funding over roughly the same period, but gave €31 billion back, leaving a net of €41 billion. Take this away from the fishery money and the Irish are left with a €140 billion deficit blackhole. Think of what that money could have done for this country. This is just the value of raw catches. This doesn’t include the economic knock-ons if the fish were processed and packaged here. As a way of saying thanks, we were stiffed with a ridiculous bailout. Norway and Iceland have similar fishery conditions to Ireland, even if they vary in size, and they manage, generally, their stocks in a way that it has benefitted them economically. More details on the Irish fisheries can be found here.
And speaking of Norway, they have managed their oil reserves with a hugely positive outcome for its population. The Norwegian pension fund is worth $1 trillion. The oil money has also had enormous benefits when it comes to providing social services for its people. Norway along with Britain are Europe’s biggest oil producing countries. The tax revenue in Scotland from oil in 2012/13 was £6.5 billion and worth £57 billion overall up to 2018. They have extracted 40 billion barrels with an estimated 24 billion left.
But, Norway is the shining light when it comes to oil and gas production. It produces one third of gas used in the EU. All of this from a country that ruled out oil production off its shores in the late 50s. Producing such massive quantities of oil and gas is pointless to a country if it is mismanaged. Look at Venezuela, for example. Proper planning was needed and this came from Jens Evensen. He sat down with oil producers and said they could explore and develop oil off the Norwegian coast but only if they agreed to the criteria that would benefit Norway as a whole. Anyone that disagreed was free to leave.
Norway has managed to fund projects that help the majority of its people. This is down in big part to clever management of its oil. Norway is alway top of those lists we see for the best of whatever it is being measured, the World Happiness Report being just one.
So, why mention Ireland and oil in the same breathe? Geography. We are on the edge of a continental shelf and that could prove very important. According to researcher Richard Wrigley; “The Irish Atlantic Margin Basins share similarities to prolific Atlantic Margin hydrocarbon basins in the UK and Norway where commercial discoveries are being developed.” The Government has estimated that there is at least 10 billion barrels of oil off the Irish coast. The potential is definitely there. The problem is, will we just hand it over to large oil companies without seeing some financial advantage? More can be read here.
Gold is not something people automatically associate with Ireland, but we do have a rich history with the metal. (Pun intended!) There have been more Bronze-Age gold discoveries in Ireland than anywhere else. There are also a number of place names with the word gold in it on the island. Slieveanore (Mountain of Gold) near the Clare-Galway border, for example. This website suggests one of the reasons relatively little gold has been mined in Ireland is because knowledge of where it is has been lost over the generations due to migration and famine.
That’s all past, what about the present and future? Currently, there is gold being mined in Tyrone and between Wicklow and Wexford. According to Tellus surveying, there is more gold, platinum and other precious metals in Ireland than previously thought, especially in the South-East. Not enough to start a Klondike Gold Rush, but it could be a healthy boost to the economy. The most recent report (2013) by the United States Geological Survey on Ireland stated that ” the gross value- added contribution of the mining industry to Ireland’s GDP in 2012 was $350 million, with economy-wide expenditures by the industry of $1.03 billion.” This isn’t huge in global mining terms or even as part of our GDP, which was roughly €250 billion last year. This does go to show, it is an other economic option we have not tapped. Like oil, in theory, the geological conditions are right for gold.
Our neighbours and Celtic cousins in Scotland are well on their way to producing 100% of their energy needs by renewable sources for 2020. Ireland, again, geographically is in a position to take advantage of something similar. Why not go beyond this? Why not sell renewable energy abroad? Solar energy would be a bit of an issue in Ireland, obviously, but it could produce sizeable amounts during the summer months. Where Ireland could really excel is in wind and wave energy. And macro-algae. On a video I posted up our Facebook page it claimed that if 9% of the Earth’s ocean surface was covered with macro-algae we could produce enough biomethane to replace all current energy provided by fossil fuels. This could also lead to an increase in sustainable fish production and feed 10 billion people. Not only that, if we could catch 0.1% of the kinetic energy generated by the Earth’s waves we could supply global demands five times over. That video can be viewed here.
Ireland couldn’t produce all this as one small island nation. However, we could be the starting point and it would be good for our economy also. The crock o’ gold over the rainbow is Ireland’s geographical location. Time to embrace it.
Join the debate. Feel free to comment. You can also subscribe to the site and follow us on social media to stay in touch (on occasion, we are funny):