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Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action

By Sinéad Mercier - New Labor Forum, May 17, 2021

For thirty years, governments have been promising climate action. They seem incapable of undertaking the necessary major shifts in their energy systems required by the 2015 Paris Agreement. They also seem incapable of delivering on climate targets in a manner that both “leaves no one behind” and “reaches the furthest behind first,” as required by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also agreed in 2015. In Ireland, we fall continually to the bottom of the rankings in climate action, with the current Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Green Party coalition government failing to achieve a mere 16 percent target of renewable energy by 2020.[1]

There are lessons to be learned from the past. One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties—Fine Gael (then Cumann na nGaedheal) and Fianna Fáil—were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value. Irish state electricity generation started out in 1929 as being from almost 100 percent renewable sources.[2] The historical development of Ireland’s own energy system can be a model for a successful, fast paced national delivery program for a just transition and energy democracy. Ireland has previously made sweeping changes to the energy system, in a time of far greater difficulty, fewer resources, and almost intractable political fragility. The example is the establishment of the country’s—and the world’s—first state-owned national energy company, the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and its roll-out of universal access to affordable electricity through the Rural Electrification Scheme (RES).

Administering Dreams

The Ireland of the 1920s presented unlikely circumstances for ambitious national projects of any kind. After three years of guerrilla warfare against the British Crown forces, a form of independence had been achieved by 1922. The young Irish Free State government of freedom fighters and idealists was to set out on its own with little source of economic development beyond the sale of cattle to Britain and with much of its populace in extreme poverty. In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, giving independence to twenty six counties and leaving the six counties in the north east of Ireland under British rule. The signing of the Treaty caused a split in the founding Sinn Féin party between those opposing and supporting the Treaty. This sparked a bitter civil war from June 1922 to May 1923 that has marked Irish politics for a century. The pro-Treaty element formed Cumann na nGaedheal, today the centerright (Christian Democrat) party Fine Gael. A group of republicans led by Éamon de Valera broke away from Sinn Féin in 1926 and formed Fianna Fáil,[3] in protest at the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, which all members of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) were obliged to take. The Cumann na nGaedheal party was in office from 1922 to 1932. Laissez-faire economic and commercial orthodoxies of the 1920s, inherited from the British administration, and a reinstated civil service were largely the global order of the day.

One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties . . . were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value.

However, the young state took on a number of major interventions in the economy. Most notable were the Land Commission and the creation of Ireland’s state energy company, the ESB, and its primary power source, the Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Power Station on the Shannon River—also known as the “Shannon Scheme.”[4] To deliver Ardnacrusha’s energy to the public, in 1927 the government established its first Irish state company, the ESB, through the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927. This was to be the first national electricity service in the world, with full responsibility for the generation, transmission, distribution, and marketing o electricity.[5] From its beginnings, the aim of the ESB was not-for-profit, universal, and affordable access to electricity; “strong on technical expertise, with set targets and with the muscle, dynamism and freedom to achieve these targets.”[6] Attempts had been made to attract foreign investors, particularly from the United States, but “most of the big corporations objected to the government’s stipulation that unprofitable rural lines might have to be built without any guaranteed government subsidy.”[7] The Irish electricity industry had been in existence for forty years, yet the vast majority of the population had been left in darkness and drudgery. As a result of these failings, the fledgling Department of Industry and Commerce concluded that confining the ESB to mere distribution of the energy from the Shannon Scheme was likely to place the whole enterprise in “immediate jeopardy.”[8] The government therefore nationalized what was a piecemeal mess of three hundred expensive, “badly run,” inefficient private and local authority undertakings.[9]

Unions and Youth together: A Just Transition for climate ambition

Defend Our Sperrins Not Toxic Gold Mining

By staff - IWW Ireland, May 11. 2019

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) have issued a call for support and solidarity with communities in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains who continue object to the poisoning of our environment by Canadian based multinationals, Dalradian Gold Ltd.

A spokesperson for the IWW General Members Branch in Ireland said in a statement: “At a time when communities in lockdown are dealing with the Covid 19 crisis, some will intend to use such a period of uncertainty to deflect attention away from events happening elsewhere to shamelessly promote themselves and their own agenda.

"To date we have witnessed the behaviour of multinationals such as Dalradian Gold Limited attempting to use such a climate to befriend local community organisations with financial incentives and windfalls as advertised in the press. This is yet another under hand attempt by a tarnished company to embellish themselves as a type of 'saviours of the community' at a time of increasing hardship.

"Again for anyone approached by or offered to be garnished by financial rewards from multinational companies with an atrocious environmental legacy, we would urge them to firstly question their own conscious and of course their own ethical policies of the organisations to which they belong. Recent moves should be viewed as nothing shy of a community grooming exercise.

"Let's be clear, this is an attempt to sow seeds of division within and around the north west which will ultimately fail, like their ongoing plans to mine and destroy our environment in the pursuit of profit will fail.

"As an international union we would urge community and environmental groups both locally and internationally, as well as the wider trade union movement to acknowledge the many groups challenging the destructive consequences of gold mining within a location such as the Sperrins. An area of outstanding natural beauty.

"Any attempt to view Dalradian Gold Limited as a some type of 'financial saviour' much be challenged. A multinational gold company who plan to create a toxic gold mining plant, an act that will impact upon all our lives throughout the entire North West for future generations to come.

“It is vital at this time we remain vigilant and vocal about what is actually happening. We believe that it is up to all of us to protect and defend our environment and our rights as workers. The right to live in an environment free from toxic pollution and environmental destruction. Free from the greed of scrupulous multinational corporations who try to divide communities.

"Our message today as all ways remains, an injury to one is an injury to all!"

Protect the Sperrins From Pollution and Profit

By Derry IWW - (via facebook post), November 17, 2018

Earlier today members of the Industrial Workers of the World have taken a delegation of local activists to visit the Greencastle Peoples Office (GPO) in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains where the community continues to oppose the destruction of their environment by multinational Dalradian Gold Ltd.

Last week, several hundred people rallied at the site in solidarity and support with the ongoing campaign. The size of the demonstration clearly showed the extent of anger felt within the community and beyond at the activities of Dalradian Gold in the area. For the past number of years residents in the village of Greencastle, county Tyrone have continuously objected to any development of a gold-mining processing plant in the Sperrin Mountains due to the huge catastrophic impact which it will have on the environment and the health of people throughout the North West.

Following today’s visit, a spokesperson for the IWW said, “Today was a chance for activists to learn first-hand of what the Greencastle community are facing and have faced over the past number of years and the impact gold-mining will have on all of us. We wanted to show our solidarity with residents who have set up the GPO protest camp at the site of the proposed Dalradian Gold mine.

“Following on from today’s visit we would urge the wider trade union movement to acknowledge the destructive consequences of gold mining within a location such as the Sperrins, an area of outstanding natural beauty, as well as the impact it will have upon the lives and health of our communities throughout the entire North West for future generations.

The Irish water insurgency: no more blood from these stones

By Andrea Muehlebach - ROARmag, February 6, 2017

Cobh, the “Great Island” located just off Ireland’s Southern Coast, can be reached only via Belvelly Bridge, which was of strategic importance in 2014 when it became central to some of the most coordinated mass mobilizations that the island had seen in a long time.

When it became clear that the semi-state water company Irish Water was going to install household water meters in Cobh as it had done elsewhere already — meaning that Irish Water would come in with trucks, dig up sidewalks, hook up individual households with water meters and begin charging people for water — people revolted.

Standing guard on the mainland side of Belvelly Bridge, activists would text others standing guard at the other end of the bridge, alerting them to the approaching trucks and tracking the direction the trucks were taking. Many of the organizers were women, the elderly, and the unemployed — those who were at home during the day.

By the time the trucks arrived at their locations, people were often already waiting for them in groups, blocking the trucks’ entry into the estates, or crowding around them and imprisoning the workers. People simply would not budge. Women, men and children locked arms and sang. Blockages lasted for hours, sometimes even days, which meant getting organized into shifts and holding nightly meetings about everything from what to wear to who would collect the children from school and make food.

People set up tents and the estates started to compete with each other about who could make the best stews and sandwiches to feed the protesters. Striking red and white posters were stuck in windows that said “No Consent. No Contract. No to Water Privatization. No Water Meters Here.” As one water activist put it to me:

People had each others’ backs. Many of the working-class estates, not just in Cobh but all over the country, were in complete lockdown. We simply wouldn’t let Irish Water in. Communities, so alienated from each other and broken by poverty, evictions, unemployment, came together. It was magic.

Building Workers’ Power in the United Kingdom

By New Syndicalist - Industrial Worker, July/August 2015

A few months ago New Syndicalist (a group of Wobblies from the United Kingdom writing about worker-led, anti-capitalist theory and strategy) was approached by the Workers’ Power column with a request to write a reflective piece on the recent growth of the IWW in the United Kingdom. People who have been following our online media presence will know that the U.K. IWW hit an important milestone this year—exceeding 1,000 members. This was celebrated recently at our annual conference in Bradford, England. An older member recalled attending the 2005 conference in the same city that had just seven members in attendance. In 2015 most branch delegations were larger.

We have seen fantastic growth over the past decade, particularly in the case of some of our larger branches that now have between 100 to 300 members. What is it like to have branches of this size and how did they get built? These were the key questions posed to us. These are obviously very big questions and have by no means simple answers, particularly in terms of attempting to represent the dedicated and patient work of IWW organizers across the United Kingdom over the past 10 years. Nonetheless, we did put our heads together at New Syndicalist and decided to focus on what we thought were the five most important factors in helping to grow our branches in the North (where we are based), some of which have doubled in size over the last year.

The list is by no means exhaustive, and some more experienced Wobs may feel we may be trying to teach them to “suck eggs” here as they will recognize many fundamental concepts within our existing organizer training program. We nonetheless present them in the hope of solidarity, shared dialogue and spirited debate.

A Modest Proposal (For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being Aburden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public)

By Jonathan Swift - 1729

Ecology.IWW.ORG web editor's note - The following piece is a satire, written in response to the British aristocracy's claims that the Irish Potato Famine was the fault of the Irish Working Class's simply having too many children (a nonsensical Malthusian dismissal of class warfare) as opposed to the fault of the British ruling class's deliberate policies of imperialism and colonialism. It is reposted here as a reminder of the utter inanity of Malthusian dogma:

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed beggars; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them as those who demand our charity in the streets.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in the computation. It is true, a child just dropped from its dam may be supported by her milk for a solar year, with little other nourishment; at most not above the value of 2s., which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner as instead of being a charge upon their parents or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall on the contrary contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands.

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

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