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Ireland wanted to sell water to Saudi Arabia for $5 a barrel in the 1980s

There was one problem… Japan also wanted to.

Image: Shutterstock/S_Photo

WATER HAS BEEN a contentious issue this year for Ireland, but in the 1980s the Government were also looking to make a buck off our resources.

State papers released under the 30-year rule reveals that the Irish Government pitched selling some of Ireland’s water from Whiddy Island, near Bantry Bay, to Saudi Arabia, in 1983.

Water for sale 

The Minister for Industry and Energy John Bruton made an official visit to the country by invitation of Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Petroleum and Minerals.

Bruton said the visit was “very useful” and that due to Saudi Arabia producing 17.5% of the world’s oil and that it has 25% of known oil reserves in the 1980s building a “long-term relationship with the Kingdom is important for Ireland which still relies heavily on imported oil for her energy needs”.

90140894 John Bruton on the plinth in 1982. Source: Photocall Ireland

He said that during his meeting, he also took the opportunity to discuss the possibilty of a commercial arrangement for the supply of fresh water from Ireland to Saudi Arabia.

$5 per barrel 

The idea was that the back-load of tankers returning from oil deliveries in western Europe could return with the water shipments. The clean tankers would transport the water and the price would roughly be set at $5 per barrel at first, but the trade department said the price could fall back in subsequent years.

Studies were carried out found that the deep rock wells on Whiddy Island could provide an ample supply of pure water of high quality.

He said that the trade relationship had to be built on as Irish exports to Saudi Arabia had risen rapidly.

There was only one problem getting in our way with a deal with the Saudis. Japan. They too had made an offer to Saudi Arabia to sell water to them.

A document from the trade section said that a proposal by the Irish Government had been made, but the reaction had been negative. The department speculated that the reason why was because Saudi Arabia didn’t want to become dependent on another nation for their water supply, as well as the fact that countries that purchase large quantities of crude oil from the Gulf region were “in a better position than Ireland to sell water”.

The possible deal was also discussed by the Irish Ambassador in Saudi Arabia at the time, but he outlined the same position:

IMG_2851 Source: The National Archives

Can’t see the letter, click here.

The deal was dead in the water (excuse the pun) when the embassy received the following letter from Riyadh.

IMG_2857 Source: The National Archives

Can’t see the letter, click here.

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