Power Relations (2021)

Performative Action and Installation

Power Relations is an artwork that explores the impact of capitalism, neoliberalism, globalisation and environmental destruction by bringing to light the direct links between a coal mine in Northern Colombia and Ireland.

The People of the Sun, Sand and Wind

The Wayúu indigenous people have lived in Northern Colombia for over a thousand years, and are known as the people of the sun, sand and wind.[1] For hundreds of years, they have fought colonisation by the Spanish and religious crusaders to preserve their own indigenous way of life. They live in deep spiritual connection with the land, with many of their gods and spirits coming from nature. However, their way of life and very existence is under threat. In 1985 Cerrejón coal mine opened on their land. Since then, it has continuously expanded to make it one of the largest open cast coal mines in the world. Its expansion has come at the cost of human rights abuse, environmental destruction and negative health impacts on the Wayúu people and other communities in the region.[2] Whole towns have been bulldozed and cleared to allow for an expansion of the mine.[3] In 2020, Cerrejón’s activities were denounced by a number of United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs, including David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment who stated that it was ‘one of the most disturbing situations that he has learned about’ in his role.[4]

Business Links

Almost 100% of the coal mined by Cerrejón is exported worldwide, with 60% going to fuel Europe’s coal-powered power stations.[5] Ireland has direct business links with the Cerrejón mine. Cerrejón coal is distributed solely through a company called CMC Coal Marketing which is owed directly by the coal mine company.[6] The company has based its global sales offices in the Liberties, Dublin.[7] All coal from Cerrejón mine in Colombia is bought and sold through this office. The most recent available data shows that CMC Coal Marketing had revenues of €1.4 billion in 2019.[8] By basing its sales office in the Liberties Dublin, it benefits by exploiting Ireland’s 12.5% low corporation tax and diverts millions in tax from Colombia.

Moneypoint Power Station

However, Ireland’s link to the coal mine go much deeper. Moneypoint power station, Co.Clare is a coal powered, state-owned, electricity station. At its peak it accounted for 25% of the electricity generated in Ireland.[9] For years Cerrejón mine was the main supplier of coal used in Moneypoint. In January 2021, Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) lodged a formal complaint against ESB through Ireland’s National Contact Point to the OECD.[10] The complaint which was supported by a number of International human right organisations, related directly to ESB’s role in the importation of coal from the Cerrejón min in Colombia. The complaint alleges that ESB – a semi- state body – has breached its human rights responsibilities by importing coal from the mine. It claims ESB failed to take the necessary actions to identify, mitigate and prevent human rights abuses linked to the mine, despite the existence of well-documented evidence. Furthermore, the filing alleges that ESB’s use of the ‘Bettercoal initiative’, which aims to improve the sourcing of coal for impacted communities, is defective, industry-funded and lacking transparency.[11] The case is ongoing, and if successful the ESB will be recommended to take a number of actions including permanently ending its relationship with the mine and issuing a formal apology to affected communities for its part in causing harm.

Continuing the Ideology

In line with Ireland’s National climate action plan, production of electricity at Moneypoint has reduced significantly over the past few years and is due to close in 2025. Last year ESB stated that it has not imported coal from the mine in 2019 or 2020, but did not rule out purchasing from Carrejón in the future. However, demand for electricity continues to increase with the growth of new Data centres in Ireland, which have increased by over 25% in the last year alone. Could this now threaten the closure of Moneypoint, as the country struggles to maintain energy supplies?[12] Ireland’s data centres account for 11% of all electricity used in the national grid,[13] compared to an average of 2% in other countries. By 2030, this could rise to over 70% consuming over half of all renewable energy produced in the state.[14] Eirgrid has warned that the expansion of Data centres is now placing Ireland’s electricity supply under such pressure that it could lead to power cuts this winter.[15] This extra demand for power by the Data centres is also contributing to a rise in electricity prices, and as a result every household energy bill in Ireland will increase this winter, pushing more people into fuel poverty. Ireland carbon taxes which continue to increases year on year, also disproportionally affects disadvantaged and marginalised communities though out the country. Carbon tax is levied against private households while many business sectors are largely exempt.[16] This October, the Irish government voted down a climate emergency bill that would ban future data centre planning permissions and prohibit any development in fossil fuel infrastructure except in limited circumstances. These are all worrying indicators that Irelands climate action plan is not being informed by a climate justice approach, which would safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable in society in Ireland and internationally for communities such as Wayúu indigenous people in Colombia.

Future Direction/People Power

At COP 26 this year, the fossil fuel industry was the single biggest delegation, sending more delegates than any single country to lobby on behalf of their industry.[17] However, an opposing force was also evident on the streets of Glasgow – a mass movement of people power from across the world. It is a movement that insists that the voices of indigenous people, women, workers, activists, and students are heard. This movement of people power and solidarity across the globe has the potential to challenge the current capitalist power structures, to fight for a different way of organising the world, to create a more socially and environmentally just society.


Performative Action

Power Relations is an artwork conceived as a performative action. It entails the act of turning the electrical power off in the exhibition building for an unscheduled and unspecified period of time, on a daily basis for the duration of the exhibition. Gallery visitors are encouraged to use this ‘power down’ in the exhibition space to reflect on the context of the work and to reflect on how we might challenge and build a movement of people power that offers alternatives to the capitalist system and the ideology that currently prevails. This conceptual work aims to draw attention to the power relations that allow powerful multinationals to exploit financial systems, and destroy communities, ecologies and cultures for profit. The ‘power down’ acts as a moment of solidarity with the Wayúu community and the movement of people power that is rising up to challenge the power of these unjust systems and ideologies.

1 Steven L. Danver. Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures and Contemporary Issues. London: Routledge, 2013: 168.

2 Sorcha Pollak. ‘Coal “stained with Colombian blood” is bought and sold in Dublin’. Irish Times, 11 May 2019.

3 Noel Healy. ‘Blood coal: Ireland’s dirty secret’. Guardian, 25 Oct 2018.

4 ABColumbia. ‘Digging Deeper David Boyd UN Special Rapporteur’s video Statement: El Cerrejón & need for TNC Treaty’. YouTube, 28 Oct 2020 (quote begins at 1:30mins] https://youtu.be/ WTT9Q69g8 accessed 16.11.21.

5 Oliver Balch. ‘Cerrejón mine in Colombia: can it address its human rights risks?’ Guardian, 25 Jul 2013.

6 Global Legal Action Network. Non-Compliance with the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: ESB. Jan 2021: 7-8. https://media.business-humanrights.org/media/documents/Complaint_before_OECD_Electricity_ company_Ireland.pdf accessed 16.11.21.

7 Its full address is Fumbally Square, New Street, Dublin 8 D08 XYA5. See https://cmc-coal.ie/contact/accessed 16.11.21.

8 Daniel Murray. ‘CMC Coal’s revenues plummeted by €1 billion in 2019’. Sunday Business Post, 29 Mar 2020.

9 Cathy Halloran. ‘ESB to propose €5bn transformation plan for Moneypoint’. RTÉ News, 8 Apr 2021. [https://www. rte.ie/news/2021/0408/1208579-esb-moneypoint/] accessed 16.11.21.

10 See https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latest-news/non-compliance-with-the-oecd-guidelines-for- multinational-enterprises-esb/ accessed 16.11.21.

11 For more on the ‘bettercoal initiative’, see https://bettercoal.org/.

12 ‘ Last month the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities predicted that if electricity demand – from all users
– continues to increase we will have to delay the closure of coal- and oil-burning generators at Moneypoint, Co Clare, and Tarbert, Co Kerry.’ From the Irish Times, 30 Oct 2021. https://www.irishtimes.com/business/energy- and-resources/the-government-heads-to-cop26-under-an-embarrassing-emissions-cloud-1.4714378accessed 16.11.21.

13 Tommy Meskill. ‘Data centres could use 70% of electricity grid by 2030 – expert’. RTÉ News, 28 Sep 2021. https://www.rte.ie/news/politics/2021/0928/1249505-data-centres-oireachtas/accessed 16.11.21.

14 Ellen O’Regan. ‘Call for moratorium on new data centres until benefits are fully examined’. Irish Examiner, 28 Sep 2021.

15 Seán O’Driscoll. ‘Explainer: Blackouts looming — How data centres are causing a shortage of energy.’ Extra.ie, 3 Oct 2021. https://extra.ie/2021/10/03/news/irish-news/data-centres-energy-explaineraccessed 16.11.21.

16 Department of Finance. Climate Action and Tax Paper Tax Strategy Group – 21/09. https://assets.gov. ie/198270/61142180-955c-458e-a7fb-695768ddd8e4.pdf

17 Matt McGrath. ‘COP26: Fossil fuel industry has largest delegation at climate summit’. BBC News, 8 Nov 2021. https://www bbc.com/news/science-environment-59199484 accessed 16.11.21.