Book Review

Imperialism in Ireland

Guests of the Nation:
The People of Ireland versus the Multinationals

By Robert Allen and Tara Jones
London: Earthscan Publications
310 pp.

Reviewed by Holley Knaus

BETWEEN 1960 AND 1982, multinational corporations invested more than £3.25 billion in Ireland, with U.S. companies alone investing £1.25 billion. In 1981, U.S. corporations' investment in Ireland equaled 42 percent of their entire investment in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Over one third of the manufacturing workforce in Ireland works for foreign multinationals.

"The reasons why these companies come to Ireland is straightforward," write Robert Allen and Tara Jones in Guests of the Nation: The People of Ireland versus the Multinationals. "Aside from the lack of safety and environmental regulations, multinationals choose Ireland as a manufacturing base because of [its] high productivity, labor flexibility, low labor costs, low or non-existent taxation, political stability and a highly attractive package of government-funded incentives."

Guests of the Nation is a series of case studies of grassroots, primarily rural, movements against multinational power in Irish communities. Allen and Jones focus on resistance to the chemical and pharmaceutical industries but note that electronics corporations - "a traditional industry for export processing zones in peripheral countries" - have moved into the country as well.

Allen and Jones argue, in fact, that Ireland in many ways resembles other "peripheral countries" in Southeast Asia and the Pacific which are used by multinationals as export platforms. "It is a peripheral, dependent country, with the majority of one province still a British colony under military occupation. It shows the normal pattern associated with dependent development, including a massive public debt, an economy dominated by foreign capital and a local state and political establishment that has colluded in the country's dependent development. ... In some ways Ireland functioned almost as a model for export-oriented, dependent development, just as in earlier days it was the first British colony, the first country to be subjected to the new wave of European expansion."

 Ireland set up the world's first export processing zone, the Shannon Free Airport industrial zone, in 1958, the year the country opened itself up to foreign capital through its Programme for Economic Expansion. Since then, national and local authorities, and the semi-autonomous Industrial Development Authority (IDA), have worked to attract and protect foreign investment and development.

Organized labor has had a more complicated relationship with multinationals in Ireland. While there has been some opposition to multinational control of what labor considers national resources, particularly in relation to the mining industry, most of the major unions have, for the most part, welcomed foreign investment for the jobs it brings to Irish communities.

The multinationals, however, have not given much back to these communities or to the country in general. Over 80 percent of multinational profits from Ireland are repatriated. And most goods manufactured by multinationals in Ireland are consumed outside the country. In 1985, for example, more than 90 percent of all goods produced by U.S. multinationals in Ireland were exported, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with Japanese corporations maintaining a similarly high rate.

What the corporations have brought to Ireland are huge increases in air and water pollution, oil spills and oil tanker explosions, toxic dumping and ecologically harmful mining practices. Concern in Ireland is now growing about the effects of these practices on the health of individuals and on the long-term economic health of traditional farming and fishing communities.

 Until recently, the people of Ireland had little experience in combatting the environmental degradation of their communities. Most of the struggles that Allen and Jones examine developed as responses to specific local threats and were led by previously unpoliticized men and women. And, as the authors point out, "the type of toxic development the communities were opposing was in fact state policy." Rural communities could expect little help from a government that was "pro-development, pro-industry, pro- science and technology and pro-foreign direct investment."

 Allen and Jones report that the IDA promotes Ireland as a country that "missed out" on the Industrial Revolution and therefore still has plenty of "greenfield sites" ripe for exploitation by chemical manufacturers. Multinationals are attracted to the country's lax environmental regulation and enforcement standards. Effective water pollution legislation was only introduced in 1977, and effective air pollution legislation in 1987. (Prior to the introduction of this legislation, environmental regulation was in the hands of local authorities, who had little expertise in identifying hazards and few resources to insure that polluting companies were penalized.) Workers exposed to toxic hazards still have limited legal recourse and there is little control over the transport of chemicals.

 Guests of the Nation focuses primarily on the fierce and bitter debate among various members of Irish communities sparked and encouraged by multinationals' activities. Trade unionists and local council members are pitted against farmers, fishing communities and others concerned with environmental degradation. Multinationals play on community divisions by threatening to pull out if they meet with resistance; and the IDA exacerbates tensions by warning that new industry will not locate in communities that have expressed opposition to multinational development.

 But grassroots movements against multinationals have won significant victories, even in the face of corporations which refuse to give them information, overpowered and therefore hostile labor organizations, a pro-development left and local and state governments that disenfranchise them from the planning process. Local groups have posed significant opposition to mining interests in the west of Ireland, to the Swiss pharmaceutical multinational Sandoz, which hoped to locate a factory on Cork Harbour, and to the Electricity Supply Board, which attempted to dump asbestos waste at the Laois County Council dump. The Environmental Health Protection Group in Limerick defeated an attempt to locate the National Toxic Waste Incinerator in its city. A highly organized coalition of groups in Cork launched a major media campaign against Merrell Dow (a Dow subsidiary) and the IDA which eventually prevented the chemical company from opening a factory in Killeagh.

 Guests of the Nation documents how multinational intrusions have politicized several rural Irish communities. Allen and Jones concentrate on tactics used to fight specific corporate actions and proposals and to counter state indifference or hostility. The final chapter of the book, which discusses more generally the political and economic factors which contribute to the near stranglehold multinationals maintain over Ireland, would probably serve better as an introduction to provide an analytical framework for the book's case studies.

The case studies themselves, however, do provide encouraging accounts of the effectiveness of grassroots organizing and of the willingness of communities to stand up to powerful and threatening institutions when their well-being is endangered. Allen and Jones write, "What these movements have shown is that, when a local community unites to oppose a proposed toxic development, only through coercion and violence can that development be forced on them. These groups are responding to what appears as a form of internal colonization. Thus their opposition provides examples of local community power, not revolutionary, to be sure, but not to be sneezed at in a time when all power seems to have migrated to the center."