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Seaweed – another natural resource sellout

De Facto

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

Ireland is a great country for natural resources. From fish to gas and slivers of gold to grass we can compete with the best. Farmers harvest a wonderful agricultural bounty thanks to our grasslands but the same cannot be said of our fishermen. Some claim they were sacrificed on the EU altar to benefit the farmers and we cannot have it both ways. Tell that to the fishermen whose livelihoods have been decimated.
What lessons did we learn from the fisheries sell-out? We repeated the mess with our oil and gas. Corrib Gas benefits Norway. Joe Blogs rather his Irish counterpart. We are set to walk headlong into another catastrophe with another natural resource, seaweed, whose species are worth €6 billion in the health food sector alone.
We are all familiar with local people harvesting seaweed along the shoreline. That is now under threat, thanks to Údarás na Gaeltachta. It centres on the sale of Arramara Teoranta, set up in 1947 by the state with a 51 percent shareholding. Arramara was sold to a Canadian company, Acadian Seaplants in May 2014. The deal is subject to a ten-year confidentiality clause. The only information released was that Acadian would invest €2 million in Arramara. In the 1970s, Arramara employed 700 people in seaweed factories along the west coast.
Údarás is reported as saying, “There was no requirement to publicly advertise the sale or to seek Government approval,” and “the sale was not contingent on price only, or on the harvesting rights that Acadian is seeking.”
The People’s News reported: “On 4 November 2010 the chairperson of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee, Bernard Allen TD, asked why €30,000 was spent by Údarás na Gaeltachta on seven different trips by senior officials to look at seaweed projects in Halifax, Canada, between 2007 and 2008. Acadian Seaplants later confirmed to The Irish Times that it was ‘first approached by Údarás na Gaeltachta in 2007’ but that it was not until the middle of 2010 that it was formally invited by consultants, acting on behalf of the Údarás, to submit an expression of interest in acquiring the Irish concern.”
One must ask about local Irish interest in the sale, especially as several Irish people depended on Arramara for raw material. Tralee based Bio Atlantis made a bid for Arramara when it became aware of the sale. Bio Atlantis MD John O’Sullivan made an offer of €5.7 million (€1.5 million up front and €4.2 million in the post-investment phase.) He was given 12 days to prepare the bid.
Yet, he claimed that Acadian Seaplants and the French based Setalg were given more than a year to prepare their bids. With the company (Arramara) now sold to Acadian the confidentiality clause is being cited as a reason for not making information available.
On top of that is the decision by Arramara to apply for seaweed harvesting licences all along parts of the west coast from Clare to Mayo. This will directly impact on the livelihoods of local people who have harvested seaweed on the shoreline for years. Some of these ‘traditional rights’ can be traced to the Foreshore Act (1933) while many local people cite a traditional right that can be traced back for generations.
This is the privatisation of the seaweed industry. Another natural resource grossly undervalued has been sold out to the (highest?) bidder. This will impact on coastal communities. It is another stab at rural Ireland. Simon Coveney was Minister when Arramara was sold and he is also the Minister responsible for a current review of seaweed harvesting licensing.
Acadian CEO, Jean Paul Deveau, told the Oireachtas subcommittee hearing (July 2014) that he had met Marine and Environment departmental officials in 2007 in relation to “licensing, the regulatory framework and the process by which one could apply for a licence.” It was later reported that the company denied that the purchase was dependent on securing harvesting rights. Bio Atlantis MD John O’Sullivan says that the new owner now employs two former Údarás executives.
No one likes taking responsibility in a crisis. We have heard very little from any government minister on this issue? Even the opposition, also known as the ‘political wing of the Government,’ is very quiet. A new form of Government…?