In December 2014 I addressed 50,000 people at a Right To Water protest at Leinster House in Dublin City Centre. The protest was one of a series of massive events that were organised by Right To Water in opposition to an unjust Water Tax and the privatisation of our water resources and water infrastructure. Over one million families took part in the fight to defeat the Water Tax, by joining protests, by peacefully blocking the installation of water meters and by refusing to pay a tax for water they were already paying for through other taxes. The Right To Water movement showed the power that the people have when they work together to oppose injustice.
My involvement in the fight to keep Ireland’s natural resources in public ownership began almost ten years earlier in 2005, when five Mayo men were imprisoned for taking a stand against Shell and the giveaway of the Corrib Natural Gas Field. The jailing of the Rossport Five, at the behest a Shell-secured High Court injunction, brought the Corrib Gas Field scandal to national and international attention.
I was still a member of Sinn Féin at that time and visited one of the imprisoned men along with Gerry Adams and Martin Ferris. I was struck by the quiet dignity and absolute determination that Micheál Ó Seighin showed as he spoke to us in Cloverhill Prison that day. After our visit I used my position as Sinn Féin National Organiser to ramp up pressure on Shell through the organisation of protests at Shell petrol stations and other locations across the country. As a result of the efforts of thousands of people Shell eventually buckled and withdrew their High Court injunction. The men were released after 94 days in jail, unbowed, unbroken and unapologetic.
The battle for control of the Corrib Gas Field kicked off again in 2006 when Shell re-started works on the ground in rural and isolated Erris, Co Mayo. The local community put out a call for assistance and hundreds of people responded. By then I had left Sinn Féin and helped found Éirígí for a New Republic, which then aligned to the Shell To Sea campaign.
Hundreds of people, including myself and other Éirígí activists, answered the call for help from Mayo. On many occasions we traveled to Mayo to join peaceful direct actions to prevent Shell contractors from proceeding with works that would allow them access a natural gas field worth billions of euro.
Unfortunately the Fianna Fail and Green Party government were determined to crush all opposition to the giveaway of such a valuable natural resource. Hundreds of Gardai were deployed to the area to physically break the blockade of the Shell site.
After years of protest, legal battles, peaceful direct action and public meetings Shell eventually succeeded in extracting the first Corrib Gas at the end of December 2015. Despite this the resistance continues in Mayo due to the determination of people like Maura Harrington, Terence Conway and others.
Today, many of us are using gas from Corrib for cooking and heating, gas that costs us the same market price as gas that comes from Russia, Britain or Norway.
The hard lessons that were learned from the Shell To Sea campaign were to prove very valuable a few short years later when Fine Gael and Labour attempted to implement a new domestic Water Tax that had originally been announced by Fianna Fail and The Green Party.
For me, the campaign to defeat the Water Tax began in 2012 as I helped produce some of the first stickers, posters and videos encouraging people to resist the privatisation of our water resources. The video below from February 2013 was viewed by over 110,000 people. Public meetings soon followed and by 2014 the resistance to water meter installations was in full swing.
At a local level in Hillview, Mountain View, Bearna Park, Broadford, Llewellyn and other estates I stood with local residents to peacefully prevent water meter installations. Similar protests in communities across the state played an important part in defeating the an annual Water Tax of up to €800 per household.
Drawing on my own experience of both the Corrib and Water Tax campaigns as well as other research I developed a presentation how Ireland’s oil, gas, lead, zinc and virtually every other natural resources of value were handed over by successive governments to private corporations.
I subsequently delivered The Great Natural Resource Robbery to hundreds of people in communities across Dublin as well as in Wicklow, Wexford, Galway and elsewhere. Below is a photo of a meeting in The Mill Theatre in Dundrum on October 28th, 2015.
The battle for control of Ireland’s natural resources is far from lost. Our most valuable natural resources are actually renewable - resources related to food production like farming and fisheries, resources related to renewable energy like wind, solar, tidal and wave and resources related to tourism and leisure. The battle for who benefits from the wealth they generate is essentially never-ending.
These are not abstract ‘national’ issues that have no bearing on individuals, families and communities. The last ten years have shown how a battle lost in Corrib has resulted in higher energy prices for and a battle won with the Water Tax had resulted in one less tax for those who use mains water and sewage.