We don’t own our natural resources under Article 10 of the Constitution. It needs to be repealed, but is there anyone with the bottle to take it on, asks Eddie Hobbs
Atlantic, narrated by the feral voice of Brendan Gleeson, is the second in a remarkable series of evocative films by Risteard O’Domhnaill who, starting with The Pipe, charted the story of Rossport tucked behind the dunes amid the sentinel cliffs of Erris Head and Broadhaven Bay.
Pulling the camera lens high above the dramatic coastline and its Corrib gas pipeline, Atlantic brings the audience the story of the North Atlantic itself and the battle between local and international corporations — a struggle, at its heart, between individuals and closely bound communities and those who are lobbied, in national government and in Brussels.
The film, now screening to audiences throughout the country, hits deep, interweaving the common issues between the peoples of Newfoundland, Norway, and Ireland, and telling the story of how each fared in the struggle to retain ownership and control of natural resources, against the backdrop of the huge decline in fishing stocks from industrialisation by massive fleets and the tension between sonic booming from oil explorers and the marine ecosystem.
It brings the wild, beautiful and bountiful Atlantic to the viewer in a manner not achieved on film before, rekindling a sense of stewardship, lost since Ireland chose to join the EEC and, it appears, sacrificed its fishing grounds and coastal communities, to protect its inland.
The territory of Ireland extends nearly half ways across the North Atlantic. It is an area six times our land mass within which we are entitled to fishing stocks in low digits and under which we’ve given away the rights to hydrocarbons, ever since Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke, unaccompanied by civil servants in meetings with oil and gas explorers in 1987, reversed the actions taken by Justin Keating in the 1970s.
The Labour minister had mimicked those of far-sighted Norwegian politicians in their struggle against multinational explorers. Atlantic revisits the clash between the people’s rights to a fair share of rents from natural resources and powerful business interests aligned against them by telling the story of how Newfoundland stood up to the landlocked Canadian capital of Ottawa and the big oil lobby to secure the type of share Keating had once won.
Despite the fury surrounding the water debate, few in Ireland still grasp how the Irish people are, uniquely in Europe, alienated from their own natural resources — in short, we don’t own them.
That means the fish in our seas, the hydrocarbons underneath, the wind that blows across the land and the fresh water that flows through it, are not owned by the Irish people.
In what is, arguably the largest act of larceny in our short history, Dev’s 1937 Constitution, reversed the 1922 Constitution and passed ownership of all natural resources from the ancient Irish people to the recently founded State under Article 10, then made its trusteeship unchallengeable in the courts.
The divide between the self-preservation of the State and its privileges and the Irish people only comes into sharp focus when there is an existential economic crisis, such as the last one which we entered at a low debt of just 23% of GDP.
A fresh global economic crisis, the likelihood of which currently is probably about one in seven, would catch Ireland, this time, at debt levels four times higher, while governed by a minority administration now holding all of its water in a single corporate entity.
At a fundamental level, the decision facing Britain in June is about whether the British people wish to regain the right to eject all those who govern them every few years or to continue to deposit many aspects of sovereignty to an unelected EU Commission, a decision in many ways about what modern citizenship means.
Stop anyone in the street today and ask them to describe how EU government works or to identify its key leaders and you’ll be met with blank stares but show a photo of two TDs dancing on a Pajero outside Leinster House and they’ll be identified in an instant, one set unknown but with huge powers, the other well known, but with none.
Until and unless the Irish people demand the return of all our natural resources by overturning Article 10, we remain captive not just to the uncomfortable trade-offs in the ongoing EU existential struggle, but also to a State polity that will do just about anything to preserve its privileges.
Irish viewers leaving Atlantic do so, invariably, angry but still not grasping that they’ve just watched a film, not about their natural resources but those of the State. RTÉ, who chose not to broadcast the multi-award winning The Pipe, may yet decide that Atlantic is safer fare, but will the state broadcaster then commission a series of current affairs treatments about the whale in the swimming pool, the alienation of the Irish people from their natural resources? What do you think?