Tony O'Reilly Jr, head of Providence Resources,
which discovered oil off the Cork coast.
Last week we had the delicious news that an Irish oil exploration company had found a commercially exploitable oil field off the south coast of Ireland. The high price of oil and new technologies used in the discovery and recovery of oil make this oil field 30 miles off the coast just the first of what is hopefully many Irish oil fields.

It's exciting news, but I can't say I'm shocked by it because it always struck me as a little strange that the seabeds off the coast of Scotland should be full of oil and ours barren. Not barren, however, just a little trickier to get at. Presumably that's all changed now and Ireland is about to go into the oil production business.

One of the least discussed factors in the rise of the Celtic Tiger was the low price of oil in the 1990s. Ireland is heavily dependent on oil. Our small population means most of what's produced here has to be exported and there is also a high level of imports. Transporting goods in and out of our small island is a very oil-dependent exercise. In addition, tourists all have to travel here on fuel-hungry jets and road transport is the primary means by which people get to and from work. All modern economies are dependent on oil, but Ireland is particularly so.

The Celtic Tiger ran on cheap oil. It's no coincidence that our economy weakened as the price of oil shot up during the the last decade.
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Sure I know. We are heading towards 'peak oil' and we're all supposed to be planning for a future without oil. Great, fine. If that's true, then that makes last week's news all the more exciting because for too long the cost of oil has been a one way street here. When oil was plentiful and cheap Ireland boomed. Now that it's scarce and expensive we're in deep trouble. What last week's find possibly heralds is that Ireland can, at least, hope to cushion the blow of rising oil prices by (a) cutting imports and (b) maybe even selling some oil on the open market. That would be special.

The same company that made the Cork discovery, Providence Resources, wants to explore the seabed off the east coast of Ireland, four miles off the coast of Dalkey, Co Dublin to be more exact. That too must happen, although the drilling will be a lot closer to the shore.

The usual the forces of 'No' can count on the support some of the wealthiest people in Ireland in their bid to prevent the drilling. Dalkey is a millionaires' enclave and many of those who own mansions with see views worry that their views will be spoiled by the sights of oil rigs along the distant horizon. "C'est la vie." My interest in their view is less than minimal.

As my mother used to tell me whenever I mentioned Ireland's beauty, "You can't eat scenery." Too true and if oil really is going to continue to get more expensive then it would be nationally irresponsible at best not to get from the surrounding seas what we so badly need: oil. A few rigs dotted along the coast will be a small price to pay.

A rendering of what the view of the Irish Sea will be like with
an oil rig on the horizon.
Besides, how spoiled will the view be? I remember a few years ago someone called to me door asking me to sign a petition against a massive wind-farm proposed for the waters off Wicklow, where I live. Our view would be ruined. I remember the look of horror on his face when I told him that I loved looking out over the sea, but it was really more interesting when there was something to break the monotony of the endless sea: something like a ship or a lighthouse. Then I added "or a wind-farm or even oil rigs." He scurried off without saying good-bye.

I won't mind the sight of oil rigs on the horizon and that's with me being skeptical that they'll be as unobtrusive as they're rendered in the oil company's prospectus.

I know the green folks are going to rant, rage and scream bloody murder. Their shrill voices will ring out in desperation, pleading with us to install solar panels in our roofs, to eat only locally produced produce, and to travel by bicycle. In other words, they want us to live the lives that the subsistence farmers enjoyed here in the 1950s.

Well, you know what? There's a good reason why that lifestyle was shunned by the very people who were living it: it's hard. Most Irish people prefer the variety, the comforts and the opportunities that our oil-based economy provides. If there is oil off the coast of Ireland and this oil can help maintain our lifestyles then there is only one thing to do: drill, baby, drill.