Gas and oil are pivotal to the functioning of modern societies, yet the ownership, control, production and consumption of hydrocarbons often provokes intense disputes with serious social, economic, and political ramifications. In Gas, Oil and the Irish State, Amanda Slevin examines the dynamics and conflicts of state hydrocarbon management and provides the first comprehensive study of the Irish model. Interpreting the Corrib gas conflict as a microcosm of the Irish state’s approach to hydrocarbon management, Slevin articulates environmental, health and safety concerns which underpin community resistance to the project. She emphasises how the dispute exposed broader issues, such as the privatisation of Irish hydrocarbons in exchange for one of the lowest rates of government take in the world, and served to problematise how the state functions, its close relationship with capital, and its deployment of coercive force to repress dissent. Analysis of these issues occurs within an original account of decision-making and policy formation around Irish hydrocarbons from 1957 to 2014. Slevin traces the development of the state’s approach in tandem with occurrences in Irish political economy and examines the impact of global trends on different approaches to hydrocarbon management. A detailed case study of Norway reveals ideological, political, social and economic forces which influence how states manage their hydrocarbons and the author uses those factors as the basis for a rigorous critique of the Irish model. Examining subjects that are simultaneously empirical and ideological, historical and current, the focus of this book extends beyond decision-making processes within the state system to their impacts on people’s lives in communities. Slevin uncovers the social, environmental, economic, and political consequences of current policies and offers a blueprint for an alternative framework for hydrocarbon management.
Understanding the Irishstate’s approach
Nearly every country in the world has asserted ownership over the hydrocarbons
within its territory (Easo, 2009) and Ireland is no different. Ireland’s approach
to resource management, however, is dissimilar to many other countries with
outcomes that include the transfer of ownership and control of state resources
to private interests and one of the lowest rates of government take in the world.
The Irish model has also resulted in a prolonged conflict which has engulfed the
lives of many people for over a decade. In
Corrib gas conflict, revealing the environmental, health
and safety concerns initially underpinning resistance. It also highlights how the
dispute exposed wider issues surrounding the Irishstate’s management of its gas
and oil. Problematic elements of the state’s approach include the transfer of control and ownership of state owned hydrocarbons to private companies; lenient
fiscal terms which result in minimal economic returns to the Irishstate; and the
use of state and private actor coercive force against citizens. As a microcosm of
the Irishstate’s approach to the
the functioning of the Irishstate and society. As discussed in the preceding chapter, social hegemony or consent within society is constructed through civil society with institutions such as
education, social welfare, parliament and the legal system pivotal to consent formation. Intellectuals, in the Gramscian sense, play a key role by espousing the
dominant ideas and values of their social group, with those in influential positions in Irish society tending to perpetuate the interests of the ruling class (those
who control capital). One seemingly subtle endeavour
trends in resource management, involving study visits to locations as dissimilar as back roads in west Mayo,
Dáil Éireann and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, this book has examined
how and why the Irishstate developed its model of hydrocarbon management.
Conflicts and contradictions inherent to the state’s approach reflect the dynamics of states functioning within capitalism. Imbued with neoliberal ideology, the
Irishstate enjoys a symbiotic relationship with capital and state power is simultaneously minimised and maximised to maintain a capitalist mode of
industry. However, ‘the [Irish]
state never thought that it had any oil or gas so [when] a bunch of Americans
turned up and said “we’d like a licence for oil and gas”, they [the state] didn’t have
a clue’ (Peter, CEO of an oil company). Learning about ‘the obtaining of foreign
concessions and what the terms might be’ took time as the necessary systems did
not exist (Collins, 1977, p. 9).
On one hand, the state’s lack of a licensing system was connected to an
absence of interest in hydrocarbon exploitation; while on the other, opportunities for foreign companies to invest
in the Dáil with substantial media coverage on the subject,
particularly The Irish Times. When the JCCNRA began to review Irishstate
hydrocarbon management in September 2011, Ken (a Fianna Fáil TD) said
he’d advised the Committee’s Chairman ‘we should bring in the Norwegians’.
Consequently, the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland and an Assistant Director
in the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) played a key role in the
JCCNRA deliberations with the resulting report containing a section on the
Given the historical and contemporary relevance of
venture, even though the potential rewards could be significant. In Ken’s
opinion, this was quite unlike the early days of the Irishstate when ‘state entrepreneurs’ took chances to establish and develop state companies such as Bord na
Mona (the peat board), the Sugar Company and Aer Lingus (the country’s first
airline),with civil servants and politicians taking risks to build indigenous capacity, knowledge, technology and industry.
History of Ireland’s oil and gas experience
Robert, a former INPC CEO, took a more black and white view on the INPC’s
, the Irishstate played an integral role in this sea-based battle
with the navy supporting Shell’s actions in the bay while the police force maintained a solid presence onshore. Despite his constitutional right to fish in the
area, there were ‘seven navy boats in Ireland and you had three of them here for
Shell. So you had 50 per cent of our naval defence forces and to me, to put the
navy against its own citizens on the sea, to protect a multinational company like
Shell is the same as putting … the army around your house’ (Joe, fisherman).
Even when faced with armed
think there was the general view that the state didn’t have an interest in it. As long
as there was a refinery there, it didn’t matter who was running it. And there’s … a
general move in the 80s or 90s, towards privatisation of state assets such as Eircom,
the Irish Sugar and Aer Lingus and all that sort of stuff.
From Robert’s comments, one can see a connection between wider trends in neoliberalism and Irishstate policy – tendencies which were earlier manifested in
the licensing regime. The privatisation of those infrastructural assets in 2000 signalled a decisive break