Taking the Fast Track to Nowhere (originally published on Indymedia.ie October 2010)
In its desperate attempts save money our government seems to be taking backward steps instead of moving forward in a progressive way that will prepare the country for inevitable changes. In the last few weeks I’ve become aware of moves to cut the country’s forestry investment, a short sighted move that may save money in the short term but will have long term repercussions for Ireland. Instead of trying to emulate countries like Finland that have a successful and sustainable forestry industry, the government has opted to starve the fledgling forestry industry of funds, which will mean that forestry and spin-off industries like bio-mass energy will be negatively affected.
In addition to this the government has axed the subsidy on E85 which has in turn led to the main forecourt seller (Maxol) withdrawing from the market. Having invested heavily in this fuel, which is taking off in other European countries, I imagine that Maxol and Emo (the other main seller) are rightly furious with the government. The knock on effect of this is that suppliers of conversion kits will go out of business, those who have converted their cars or own the new flexi-fuel cars will most likely have to return to using petrol. In addition to this, the Irish E85 producers that make it from whey (a by-product from Irish cheese making) will either have to find export markets for their E85 or go out of business. Further bad news is that as a result of this decision the government will struggle to hit its EU targets for biofuel usage, petrol usage and hence pollution will increase and tax revenue from E85 related business will undoubtedly drop off.
This is a typical case of the mouth saying one thing and the hands doing something completely different. The government has made a commitment to protecting the environment and taking steps towards preparing the country for the transition into a post-oil global economy, however the reality is very different from the hyperbole.
This recent debacle reminds me of Bertie Ahern’s promises of a vibrant Ireland on the leading edge of technology - this promise was never delivered on and in reality Ireland is still a bit of a joke in comparison the rest of Europe. What technological investment that has been made here was mostly from outside and has been quick to leave again as cheaper options appeared on the horizon. What was needed was home grown investment, home grown R&D and utilization of Ireland’s educated and innovative people.
Ireland was bypassed by the industrial revolution, through no fault of its own, but it has never really tried to catch up in the way other countries around the world have done. Ireland missed the rise of the automotive industry, it has failed to capitalize on it’s agriculture industry in the way that the Netherlands has done, or forestry as the Scandinavians have done, it failed to become the European IT Hub and with the current fools at the helm it will fail to become a leading light in the emerging green energy and biotechnology industries.
Ireland is not lacking in resources, even if it is lacking a large population or large budgets. Other small countries have succeeded in developing niche markets and areas of specialization so why can’t Ireland do so? I believe it is a question of leadership – our government (and most of the opposition) looks after itself and its business friends; it has no vision and no real interest in the long-term future of its citizens. What Ireland needs is a revolution in thinking that goes beyond the tired political dynamic that still lingers from the beginnings of the Irish republic. We need new people, political reform and perhaps new political parties; without a major shift that encourages innovation and vision to prosper then our best and brightest will continue to leave and the country will accelerate on its current course – the fast track to nowhere.