Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
EU Telecommunications and Energy Councils: Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
The purpose of this meeting is to engage with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, on the forthcoming meetings of the EU Council of Telecommunications and Energy Ministers. On behalf of the committee, I welcome the Minister and his officials. I will skip the housekeeping rules on defamation because I think we are all aware of them at this stage and there will be no problems in that regard. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.
I am glad to appear before the committee. We can leave the defamation to the weekend. I do not think we need to go over that here. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the forthcoming Telecommunications and Energy Councils on 6 and 9 June, respectively.
I will begin by dealing with the Telecommunications Council. I understand the committee already has a copy of the draft agenda and I understand COREPER is expected to finalise an agreed agenda later today. The Hellenic Presidency will provide the Council with a progress report on the proposal on a single telecoms market, also known as the connected continent package. There will also be a progress report and orientation debate on the Commission proposal on the network and information security directive, which deals with the very topical and important issue of cyber security. Under the any other business part of the agenda, the Presidency will provide the Council with information on the files relating to the digital agenda scoreboard, electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions, measures to reduce the costs of deploying high-speed electronic communications networks and accessibility to public sector bodies’ websites. Since the last Telecommunications Council in December, the Hellenic Presidency has overseen agreement being reached on both the regulation on electronic identification and trust services and the directive relating to broadband cost reduction. Both of these legislative proposals have also been signed off by Parliament.
The directive on accessibility to public sector bodies’ websites has not been discussed in any detail since the Irish Presidency and it is expected that the incoming Italian Presidency will begin a re-examination of this proposal.
No discussion or debate is anticipated on these issues. There will be a lunchtime discussion devoted to the issue of Internet governance.
The Commission’s connected continent package was proposed in September 2013 as a further measure to achieve a move towards a single market for electronic communications. It has provoked a widespread and strong reaction across the full range of players in the EU telecommunications market. This was the subject of a political debate at last December’s Ministerial Council meeting where the vast majority of member states raised concerns regarding various aspects of the proposals, including the lack of consultation by the Commission prior to drafting.
The Greek Presidency initiated an indepth examination of the proposals in March last at Council working group level. The working group is still only involved in a first reading of the full text and progress to date has been laborious. A number of key concerns have emerged, many of which mirror concerns outlined by my officials when they briefed this committee on the proposal in October last year. In its contribution to date on the Council working group discussions, Ireland has highlighted its concerns regarding the overall thrust of the package and focused in particular on the need to safeguard national competence in critical policy areas such as spectrum, which, as we have previously outlined to the committee, we see as a valuable and strategically vital piece of national infrastructure. As of now, the Presidency does not intend to have a debate on this measure at Council.
The network and information security directive relates to cyber security and proposes that member states be required to adopt national network information security strategies, designate national competent authorities and establish computer emergency response teams, CERTs. It sets out standardised procedures for dealing with the increasingly sensitive area of cyber security and proposes an enabling power for the Commission to specify mandatory reporting obligations in relation to security breaches on public administrations and on critical infrastructure operators. While the Hellenic Presidency has proposed a debate on this proposal at Council, it has not as yet indicated the orientation of the debate and has not framed any specific questions to help guide the discussion. It is likely that the debate will focus on outstanding areas of concern in order to allow the incoming Italian Presidency accelerate the examination of this proposal.
In principle, this proposal is to be welcomed from an Irish perspective. We are seeking clarifications on the precise scope of the directive and we want to ensure that all relevant market participants are included within the scope of this directive, including those in the public sector. One concern we share with a number of other like-minded member states is that the operational co-operation through the proposed co-operation mechanism is too ambitious given the different levels of capability that exist in individual member states. Operational co-operation, involving the provision and sharing of sensitive operational information between member states is best facilitated through trust and confidence building measures.
At Council, I will reiterate that Ireland would favour a regime of voluntary reporting of cyber incidents as opposed to the mandatory reporting envisaged in the proposal. There is concern that a mandatory approach could amount to a compliance oriented approach by industry with a focus to merely report what is legally necessary with adverse implications for existing voluntary arrangements. It could also result in a regulatory burden with implications for the competitiveness of European industry. Improving member states’ capacity to effectively deal with network security is essential for a secure digital single market and we will continue to contribute to the discussions on this directive at the Council working group to ensure the final directive is best suited to achieve this objective.
The Presidency proposes to hold a lunchtime debate on Internet governance. Internet governance has long been taken to mean the setting of rules and principles that govern the operation of the Internet. In recent years, the debate has become more politicised and contested, due mainly to the growing centrality of the Internet in the daily economic, cultural and political lives of citizens. Earlier this year, the European Commission published a communication on Internet policy principles, which reflects the Commission’s growing interest in this area and its belief that an EU position is required. Considerable work has already been done in this area by bodies such as the OECD, the Council of Europe and the EU, and much can be learned from what already exists and has been agreed by member states. Ireland has and will continue to maintain a strong line on the pressing need to preserve a free and open Internet. As Internet governance encompasses a wide range of subjects, including content, data protection, intellectual property law and network security, it is important that all relevant stakeholders are brought on board at a national and EU level.
One would want to have a degree to understand the technicalities of the Internet and so on. I have a couple of questions for the Minister in relation to Internet safety. The Minister will be aware of the committee's report in this area. One of the issues flagged during our discussions on this issue was that of international law in this area. Perhaps the Minister will say if issues such as cyber bullying and so on are on the table for discussion by the Council.
The Minister referred to the directive in relation to broadband, which is a major issue for parts of Ireland. Perhaps he would elaborate further on what is contained in that directive and on progress in relation to Internet governance. The committee when drawing up its report identified a gap in this area in the context of Irish law versus international law. Are there proposals at EU level to address this issue?
The discussion to which Deputy Moynihan refers will be a lunchtime discussion of the type which almost always occurs following a Council of Ministers meeting and focuses on a particular subject. In this particular instance, the subject is that of Internet governance. In my view, we are a long way from being able to define trans-European law on the issue of Internet governance. We have an Internet content governance advisory council chaired by Dr. Brian O'Neill of the Dublin Institute of Technology, the report of which is due to be submitted this month. That report will be published. Up to now, it has been the disposition of Europe to leave this to domestic sovereign law. However, as the Deputy said there are issues that arise that are common to pretty much every country in the world. The advisory group, which comprises a number of specialists under the chairmanship of Dr. Brian O'Neill, is the first place to which I would look for new guidance on this issue. It has the repository of knowledge and experience required and understands the international literature and European experience.
I will publish the report. I do not have the freedom to say that he and the group may be willing to present to this committee but I suspect because the man has been so generous with his time and in doing this job pro bono- it is his field - he may be willing to do so. That might be helpful after the committee gets a chance to read his report. As Deputy Moynihan has stated, apart from the issues of concern to the European Union, there are more local and domestic matters related to the question, which concerns parents, teachers and others.
The reason I asked Dr. O'Neill six months ago to chair this group of experts was precisely to give us up to date guidance on that. I am a bit sceptical about our ability to give expression in law to measures in this area and it would have to be very carefully evaluated. If there were simple answers to this, other countries would have produced them by now. There are no simple answers and sometimes very simplistic answers are put forward, including by some of our own profession, sparking dramatic headlines and all the rest. Implementing these processes is much more challenging in the world of the Internet today.
I thank the Minister for the presentation. One element discussed is the reduction of cost in deploying high-speed electronic communications networks. In light of the announcement made recently regarding bringing fibre to communities throughout the country, will there be implications arising from what we are discussing today; could it help the initiative or is there the possibility that it will delay us because we must agree this before we decide to achieve what we want in rolling out fibre to different communities throughout the country?
Will the Minister flesh out the voluntary versus mandatory position on the reporting of cyber incidents? I do not know if it is related but we heard last week about the global eBay issue and surely there should be some reporting of minor incidents that always seem to occur. Will the Minister outline why he is taking the voluntary course of action rather than a mandatory approach? There are to be computer emergency response teams, like cyber SWAT teams, to deal with some of these issues. It is the right concept if we can get our heads around it. The matter of trust in networks is a big issue so why are we adopting a voluntary approach?
The short answer to the first question is that the discussion will be helpful in what we are seeking to do here. We would like to think that many of the measures we highlighted in the broadband task force presaged much of the debate happening now in Europe. We brought together the main players in the industry with Department officials, chaired by me, with the regulator and representatives of Forfás also present. We highlighted a number of measures and it was the first time the industry chief stated that we had this kind of sustained engagement about Ireland's needs regarding quality connectivity. A number of the issues highlighted, such as the better leveraging of State assets to facilitate the roll-out of broadband, constitute exactly the kind of approach being used in this debate in Europe.
The Deputy is right in his second question as we must comply with state aid rules. The broadband plan acknowledges that the commercial sector is not going to be able to provide the kind of quality connectivity that rural Ireland is entitled to and the State must intervene but that can only happen once it complies with state aid and competition rules, etc. As I told the committee before, that involves a very detailed and painstaking mapping exercise now well under way for presentation to Europe. We have had an enthusiastic response because of a decision to roll out fibre, notwithstanding the additional investment that will inevitably be involved. European Commission people see that as a solution that is future-proofed, and solutions we thought of before pale in comparison. We have no way around this and we must go through the state aids process, etc. We are well on the way in preparing for that.
The issues are remarkably similar, especially for countries where large geographic tracts of the country have low density population. It is all right if a person operates in an entirely urban society but where there is low-density population throughout large tracts of a country like Ireland, others encounter the same problems as us.
I thank the Minister for coming. Progress to date has been laborious, and that is probably an understatement. It is difficult to see how anything has happened and whose interests are being protected in this approach. Is it the interests of companies or people who use telecoms? Has any initiative been taken to get companies talking to each other, as that will ultimately be required? It would be frustrating to attend a meeting with effectively no agenda, no identified issues and where questions will not be addressed and no discussion, effectively, will be had. I call into question the purpose of the meeting. What can the Minister do to ensure more progress in the area?
Is it in order to refer to the Minister's letter to the committee from 19 March regarding the Energy Council meeting in Brussels on 4 March 2014?
I am very concerned that from the correspondence dated 19 March, following the Energy Council meeting on 4 March, it appears that the meeting was more concerned with the well-being of energy companies than with the interests of energy consumers. Second, I am concerned that a couple of references to fracking on page 2-----
I do not wish to interrupt Deputy Colreavy but we are talking about two different Councils. I am happy to deal with the Deputy's first question. I will take his energy question under the Energy Council, but they are two separate meetings.
On the telecommunications side, this proposal from the Commission, called the "Connected Continent: Building a Telecoms Single Market", is a package that emerged as recently as September last year. It is phenomenally complex, very comprehensive and, from the point of view of the Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, deserves urgent attention. It is not fair to say there is not an agenda. There is very much an agenda and a focus, but the issues thrown up are of great complexity, given the variations in different member states and the different considerations that we would have ourselves. Indeed, I believe the committee received a presentation on this from my officials shortly after the publication of the report and the committee members noted an opinion after that in which they expressed reservations.
Without committing myself to it in full, they are reservations that we would broadly agree with. For example, as I said in my introductory remarks, we regard the issue of spectrum as a public good and a national resource. We regard spectrum as strategically vital and that we ought to maintain as much sovereign direction over it as we can. The last tranche of spectrum auctioned a little over a year ago resulted in a very healthy interest by the big players in the market and an investment of some €855 million, which I take to be a vote of confidence in the economy for the future. It was very significant. I am all in favour of co-ordination and so forth of spectrum policy as well as every other policy within a Single Market and a Union, but I believe we should make haste slowly and protect our national interests to ensure that they are not eroded in any way.
Apart from that, the reason for the laborious progress is that the working group must tease through a measure such as this in line-by-line detail. Given the divergences within the Union at present, the different perspectives and the view of the sector itself, it is inevitable that progress would be slow. We are all in favour of some aspects of it. For example, Germany and the United Kingdom have latterly suggested that we might consider abstracting out some of the elements, but the attitude of the Commissioner to date is that it is a package, as she sees it, and we must consider it in its totality. There are welcome aspects. The committee would welcome the changes that are imminent in roaming charges from 1 July, for example. They are quite significant in terms of the decreases for consumers and so forth.
You are correct in your interpretation. We did have a reasoned opinion and if progress is laborious, it is good in some instances if it threatens our national interest should other decisions be taken. That would be the Deputy's feeling as well.
The heavy lifting on this is being done by the working group. There is a working group of people who have expertise in the area. As Deputy Moynihan said earlier, we cannot all have masters degrees in the high tech aspect of some of these decisions and so forth. That is the reason we retain experts to guide us. The heavy lifting will be done by the working group, but there will be a progress report by the Presidency. I have not seen that progress report yet, but there will be one and we will discuss it. There are some good things in this package that I would like to see progressed, but there are some matters in it that raise quite profound and fundamental questions. They are questions on which we would have to make haste slowly, and I will say that.
The Energy Council will be held on 13 June. We have made the agenda available to the committee. It includes completion of the Internal Market in energy, international energy relations and, in particular, the value of multilateral frameworks to promote climate and energy policy goals. To outline the context, the recent informal meeting of energy Ministers which I attended in Athens on 15 and 16 May provided an opportunity for Ministers to discuss the following: energy security; fuel import dependency; completion of the internal energy market; the southern gas corridor; construction of the necessary infrastructure and interconnections, including projects of common interest; development of indigenous resources, including renewables and energy efficiency; a level playing field with regard to third countries; a strong external dimension with member states speaking with one voice; diversification of routes and sources for gas; continued efforts towards decarbonisation, that is, the 2050 roadmap and 2030 framework; and consistency between energy security and the 2030 framework policies that are mutually reinforcing. A good deal of this has been prompted by the Ukraine crisis and the implications of that for energy security. Ministers also considered the issue of financing energy efficiency, financing projects of common interest, PCIs, and governance under the climate and energy 2030 framework.
As I mentioned earlier the Energy Council will be held on 13 June. Ministers will consider a report on the completion of the internal energy market by 2014 and discuss the value of multilateral frameworks to promote climate and energy policy.
With regard to the European Council meeting on 26 and 27 June, the focus of discussion is expected to be on energy and security, and the Commission's expected European energy security strategy. A comprehensive plan for reducing energy dependency is a key issue which has arisen because of the situation in Ukraine. I understand that this strategy is due to be adopted today. In this regard, discussion will also focus on new routes, including potential new discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean. In addition, there will be discussion on Poland's proposal for an energy union which stresses the importance of investment in energy connectors. The Council will take stock of progress made on 2030 framework for climate and energy with a view to adopting a final decision at the October European Council.
I wish to refer to a couple of issues. I ask the Minister to explain what is proposed and has been spoken about in terms of projects of common interest.
The issue of energy security has also been brought into focus. Perhaps I misunderstood, but there was some indication, to me, that there might be a discussion at one of these meetings regarding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. I am not sure whether that is the case, but if it is, then I ask the Minister to outline what has been said across Europe on the matter. In certain parts of the country the issue is very important. Deputy Colreavy will be more familiar with it, but there is great concern about fracking in Clare and Leitrim.
PCIs are projects of common interest. In terms of the policy objective of realising the completion of the internal energy market, a great deal of it has to do with network codes and such issues, but obviously the physical infrastructure is important. If all of the legal regulatory and other work can be done in respect of concluding the objective of an internal energy market, we then have to get on with the business of how to connect the continent and the member states in terms of physical infrastructure. There is an amount of finance available under the recent budgetary conclusions for the financing of, or financial assistance with, projects of common interest between member states and so on.
The North-South interconnector between Meath and Tyrone has been designated a project of common interest. That is an example of what I am talking about. Whether it will qualify for funding is a separate issue, but it is a project of common interest. Let me give another example. If we were building the interconnector again between Wales and north Dublin, that would be the kind of thing that is envisaged in terms of the Deputy's question on what are the projects of common interest. There are much larger physical interconnector projects in other countries and between member states. In terms of the domestic scene, I have given the best example that I can give to the Deputy.
When we held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, at our informal energy Council in Dublin, we put on the agenda the issue of unconventional gas and oil and other technologies. Since then, there has been a debate going on in the European Union about the issue. The Commission has issues and some thoughts on it, mainly from the point of view of the competitiveness implications of what has happened in the United States. The price of gas in the United States has dropped dramatically, and obviously that has implications for European industry and competitiveness. There is no prescription being handed down. A number of member states are doing what we are doing here, as the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, will tell the committee, in terms of asking our Environmental Protection Agency to carry out a thorough examination of the technology and its safety and assess whether there are environmental risks and all of that kind of thing. We have managed to put together and provide a great deal of money to carry out the study, which is under way. I am sure the Minister of State will answer any particular questions that Members may have.
As regards projects of common interest, I understand that all of these questions are with regard to security of supply, competitiveness of costs, streamlining operations and all that sort of stuff. Sometimes it seems to me that the focus is not on the consumers - the people who use the energy. It seems to me to be more about support for companies than protecting the right to an affordable supply for customers. Does the Minister think the debate needs to be adjusted? Is there any mechanism for member states to work with the EU in getting supports to develop the potential for energy independence?
I will focus again on costs from the consumers' perspective. Is there enough debate on such costs at Commission level? Is there more we could and should be doing about the matter?
Finally, I will comment on fracking. The perceived wisdom is that because there is fracking in the United States, the price of gas has fallen. However, that was largely accidental. What operates in the States is, I am afraid, a large Ponzi scheme. They have to drill more wells in order to recover the initial investment made.
A letter dated 19 March and signed by the Minister was included in the minutes of the meeting. Having read it, I am concerned that hydraulic fracturing was addressed as a normal option. Where I come from, fracking is not normal. He said that the State had invested a good bit of money in the EPA and was carrying out a study on the environmental and unquantified or other impacts of hydraulic fracturing. To my mind, that study should not be going on. It is a self-evident truth that the landscape in Fermanagh, Leitrim, Clare, Sligo and Donegal will be an industrial wasteland if we allow fracking to go ahead. We should be exploring every option other than hydraulic fracturing. Frankly, it is an outrageous abuse of taxpayers' money that we are getting the EPA to carry out the study.
It is the same as the Government considering whether the maternity services should be consultant-led in Sligo regional hospital. It is a question that should not be considered.
Is there too much focus on the needs of companies in respect of energy as compared to the focus on consumers? There is a reasonable balance. It is important that small and large energy users have access to energy as competitively priced as they can source because they give employment. Wearing their other hats, consumers are workers in these companies and it would be damaging to employment if there was not emphasis on competitively priced energy for industry and for companies. I agree with Deputy Michael Colreavy that we must bring available instruments to bear to ensure energy is as competitively priced for consumers as can be. That is more difficult in a country that imports 96% of its gas and 100% of its oil. There is so much we can do and are doing. This morning, I opened an Engineers Ireland seminar and workshop on performance contracting. The impetus we have given to developing a new retrofit industry, stemming from the new efficiency fund where up to €70 million is available for exemplar projects with the engineers of Ireland meeting today to discuss the implementation of it, means there can be considerable savings in energy costs as a result. It is a question of balance. Consumers' consumption is determined by their income and employment and if they do not have jobs in companies they will not be able to consume a great deal. There must be a balance. The thrust of policy is towards the completion of the internal market and it is a two-way street. Where there is interconnectivity and quality infrastructure, there is better security of supply and there is also an impact on prices. It is a two-way street. We have seen this in respect of the interconnector's first year operating between Britain and Ireland. It may not be an ongoing situation but where we import energy, it brings downwards pressure on prices in the domestic market and that is a good thing.
I cannot agree with Deputy Colreavy with regard to wasting taxpayers' money because the EPA is doing a definitive study on hydraulic fracturing. The EPA is acknowledged to be an independent expert professional agency whose integrity is not questioned and it is imperative we get the best advice available. At different stages of history, new technologies have emerged that initially frightened people or in respect of which people had concerns. In the case of hydraulic fracturing, as articulated by Deputy Michael Colreavy, citizens have concerns about environmental implications and it is absolutely the duty of Government to ensure the concerns of people are examined by the best professional advice we have available. I do not know what will be in the report of the EPA but I am sure it will stand up to scrutiny when it emerges. In the interim, there is no fracking going on in this country. It is bad enough listening to complaints about things that are going on in the country and I do not think we should be imagining complaints. No fracking is going on and we will have a definitive scientific study. When available, it will be published and I am sure the committee will go into it in detail.
It does not address the point made about Government correspondence, signed by the Minister, which is normalising fracking. Where I come from, fracking is not normal and will never be regarded as normal. Will the EPA report measure the level of public resistance, should there be any attempt to introduce fracking in the north west? Does the Minister know the area? Has he seen it? Can he envisage the area, even if there is no threat to health, with 100 lorries transporting water to fracking sites up and down the narrow roads of beautiful north Leitrim?
My apologies for arriving late. The Minister has touched on projects of common interest, PCIs, and funding. Who decides on that and what are the criteria? Cost has been a major factor in respect of the EirGrid North-South interconnector. They are trying to do it as cheaply as possible so that it does not appear on people's energy bills. Will the fact that the project has not gone ahead, and is costing money every year, help us in that respect? What are the criteria and who decides on it?
If Deputy Michael Colreavy permits me, I will answer the question of Deputy McEntee first as she must leave the meeting. I have described the projects of common interest in the lingo of the Union. Each member state puts forward what it thinks are projects that qualify as projects of common interest. Then, the battle takes place to access funding. Even when it is designated a project of common interest, it does not automatically follow that every member state gets funding for every project. That would very soon exhaust the resources available. A committee meets in Brussels and we have national representative on it. It goes through the projects and the process, with the committee going through the criteria that ought to apply. We do not yet know what will come out of it in the end but work is under way. A person from my Department is on the committee.
With regard to Deputy Colreavy's question, there is not a week of the year that we or the sector are not engaged in the evolution of new technology and new innovation in terms of the energy landscape.
We are heading down the road towards smart metering, for example. New innovations in terms of energy efficiency and storage are being worked on. Technology is developing all the time.
I do not think one could say from the discussion at European level on hydraulic fracturing so far that it is regarded as normal. Member states come to it with totally different perspectives. Several member states, like ourselves, are engaged in detailed studies of the issue. It is an area in which one needs to know the science as well.
Defoliation in a scenic area like that from which the Deputy comes is an entirely different matter but I repeat there is no fracking going on in this country currently. All we are doing is using the expertise available to the State to give us best advice on what is the position. I would have to disagree with the Deputy on his description of what is going on in the United States inasmuch as I am not challenging whether there is discomfiture among some communities about hydraulic fracturing but I am talking about its economic impact in the United States. If Commissioner Oettinger was here rather than me, he would say that as European Union Commissioner for Energy, this has competitiveness implications for Europe and that he cannot avoid it.
In regard to what we are doing, I will read the following to the Deputy. Such an assessment would entail consideration of the potential impacts of the project on population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the interrelationship between the above factors. I think the Deputy will agree that is a pretty succinct but none the less comprehensive review.
On the Deputy's question about whether I can tell what size the protests will be, I cannot do that but the Deputy can see from the-----
The Minister should not dismiss or misinterpret what I said. I said the EPA study will not incorporate the level of resistance there will be at local level to these proposals. I live there, my family lives there and I hope my children and grandchildren will live there. The EPA study will not take into account the impact on the daily lives of people who live in and love that region. That is the point I was making and not the volume of resistance or the number of people on the picket line. People live in and love that area.
As soon as the EPA report comes out, I will propose a special meeting of the committee in a conference room in Manorhamilton so that members will be able to see for themselves the area about which we are talking and in which we are going to cut open the earth.
I am not dismissing anything. The Deputy is dismissing the planning process. Suppose we had the EPA study and it said the technology is perfectly safe, a developer came along and there was a project. It would have to go through the whole environmental impact assessment, including the impact on human life and the human impact. The hoops that have to be jumped through are extremely rigorous and demanding. I have no wish to do anything other than preserve the natural beauty of the area in which the Deputy is fortunate to live, and he knows that. All I am saying to him is that it is my duty to take the expert advice available to me in preparation for European Council meetings where issues come up on the agenda and where we need to put an Irish perspective. I have explained in Europe that we are not engaged in any hydraulic fracturing and that we are doing a professional scientific study on the safety of the technology and its environmental impacts and so on. That is all I am saying.
I think the Department is extraordinarily sensitive in respect of this debate and that we have proceeded with great caution. The Government which preceded this one approved some very basic desk top studies, and no more than that. There has not been any fracking. We are engaged in examination and the environmental impact assessment which accompanies this measures the social impact as well as the environmental fall-out and so on. I would have confidence in the agencies of the State and in their independence and integrity in terms of assessing this.
A debate is going on in Europe whether the Deputy likes it or not. There are member states in which Ministers will argue that shale gas is a big advance in terms of meeting their climate targets and so on rather than reliance on dirty coal. If one talks to the Polish Minister, he will have a different view from that which I expressed. One can go through the member states and different member states have different views on it. I do not think the Deputy is advising me to step aside from the debate.
No. What I am saying is that if the planning process is to be followed as normal, we would not be considering hydraulic fracturing in an area where one cannot get permission to build a family home because a septic tank might damage the water.
The points have been well made. Obviously, we will revisit this issue. I have been in Manorhamilton many times and I have no problem going there again. I thank the Minister and his officials for briefing us on the Council meeting. I look forward to the debate on the Green Paper on energy next week.