For the first time in its long flirtation with prospectors, Ireland looks to be on the verge of securing some revenue from oil.

Providence Resources Plc, an Irish and UK listed company, has confirmed that its Barryroe site 30 miles off the Cork coast, should yield 280m barrels of oil.

Depending on the market value at the time of extraction, which is expected to take two years to begin, and on variations on licensing arrangements, the volume of oil could be worth billions of pounds.

The chief executive of Providence is Tony O’Reilly jr. Until recently, he and his father headed the International News and Media empire.

He described it as a huge success story, following decades of exploration around the Irish coast.

Providence intends to attract multi-national energy giants to “farm in” to its license, which it bought from the Irish Government for a nominal fee.

The company has already secured the expertise of the world’s leading multi-national, Exxon Mobil to explore its site at Drumquin.

However, campaigners say that Ireland’s relaxed laws with regard to its natural resources ought to be overhauled.

Ireland takes 25% of all profits, rising to 40% depending on the volume extracted.

Ireland’s Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte concedes that the take is much lower than the UK, or Norway, both of which have much greater resources of oil and gas.

But he says that the rate must remain attractive to foreign companies as Ireland does not have the expertise or revenue to exploit the reserves itself.

Others point out that all exploration costs can be off-set against any tax liable, and that a claim can go back as far as 25 years.

Providence is believed to have spent £0.5bn exploring Irish waters.

Campaigners like William Hederman of warn that the oil from Barryroe may never be landed in Ireland, taken instead for refinement to Europe or beyond, meaning fewer jobs on Irish soil.

The Irish Green Party has also expressed reservations about the oil.

In July, its leader Eamon Ryan said he was wary of quoted figures over oil resources which had not yet been tested.

“Oil may be there but there is a limit on how much you can get out, and this is still only a tiny fraction of what would be used,” he said.

“Like any drilling at sea, there are risks to it – the highest standards need to be applied.”

At that time, James Robinson, RSPB’s Northern Ireland director, said he would be “really worried” if oil extraction were to go ahead around Rathlin Island.

“Rathlin is a Special Area of Conservation, (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) and the RSPB would like the UK government not to license oil and gas exploration in these areas, as they are too important for wildlife,” he said.

He said the potential impact of oil drilling on Rathlin Island had not been fully explored.

Meanwhile, Providence says its intention is to bring the oil to Cork, but that it is a decision that will be made on a commercial basis closer to the time of extraction.

Some 25% in revenue of what is potentially billions of pounds worth of oil will, however, be a huge boost to a country which has never successfully extracted a drop of oil in the past.