The controversy about massive taxpayer losses in the semi-state Western Seaboard Exploration Company (WESEX) has continued with the publication of the Smythe Tribunal report yesterday. The tribunal’s sole member, Mr. Justice Archibald Smythe, has concluded that close to ten billion euro of taxpayer money has been spent exploring for oil and gas in the Corrib field, and that given the amount of oil and gas discovered, after extraction costs, the amount spent will almost certainly never be recouped by the taxpayer. Judge Smythe was particularly critical of decisions of successive governments to insist on the taxpayers carrying the cost of the exploration when the risk could have been passed onto private operators in return for tax write-offs.
Sinn Fein and the United Left have been quick to criticise the entire WESEX affair, accusing the government of nationalising the liability and costs of exploration in order to shield “their Golden Circle friends in the oil industry.” A ULA TD told us: “It’s the same old story. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour could have forced private companies to pay for the exploration themselves, but instead they forced the taxpayer to carry this massive white elephant, transferring billions of taxpayers hard earned cash to the oil industry, for nothing in return. How many schools or hospitals could have been built for that money? Dublin could have a light rail system or a Port Tunnel now if they hadn’t insisted upon the taxpayer nationalising the exploration costs.”