Wednesday, 15 November 2006
Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Report Stage (Resumed)
I am a little confused, although not for the first time in my life, needless to say. It seems that perhaps the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan and Deputy Broughan are, in fact, on the same wavelength, except that they are running along parallel lines.
They could converge at some later stage because we are all into interconnection nowadays. Eventually those parallel lines might cross an interconnector. The Minister has confirmed that an interconnector will be built and will be State controlled. I do not have any problem with that. There might be some merit in having a second interconnector, as most people in the business believe that one will not be enough. We might need a second one, depending upon the degree to which we propose to sell off excess power supply and may have to import power in certain circumstances. Any observer of the system will know that can vary dramatically but I feel that something has been missed. I do not see anything wrong with competition between the public and private sectors, although that has disappeared from the horizon in recent times. In this House, we tend to be idealistic about it and either go for one or the other, whereas a balance needs to be met somewhere in the middle. This is so, where a utility service is in control of one sector, such as with Eircom. I mean no disrespect to the people involved in that company but it got away from all of us. Some of us predicted it would happen, although that meant nothing. It got away from us for a variety of reasons. It is a volatile industry, it has a short technological lifespan, similar to the generation of electricity, and it is hugely attractive to investors, particularly when interest rates are low. There is a similar situation here. Again a utility service is in question. It is vital to the domestic economy on a daily basis and the only thing that concentrates people's minds is a blackout. When the lights go out there is a serious problem and heads roll, if they can be found.
The integrity of the grid will be of critical importance in the future and it must remain under State ownership. Equally, it must be kept completely separate from the generating companies.
They have been two long minutes that will come to an end shortly. As Deputy Broughan suggested, in a totally privatised situation the transmission, as part of the grid, could be controlled by the same people, which would not necessarily be in the best interests of all concerned. The ideal is to generate competition between the public and private sectors and ensure the fundamental infrastructure is controlled by the State so it cannot be hijacked and sold to another party which, in turn, will hijack the whole population and the economy.
Is it not the case that the ESB makes the vast majority of its profits in the transmission network area? Regarding the transmission and distribution systems, is there not a real concern that the company's profits are being sheltered in a non-competitive area? This is another reason separation of ownership would favour open and honest competition and my colleague Deputy Broughan might find this interesting.
Regarding social justice, does the Minister agree the high cost of transmission and distribution, which apply as a fixed cost to low energy users, typically those on lower incomes, is the real scandal in the current high cost of energy? On the grounds of social justice it is essential we separate ownership to help those experiencing fuel poverty. Regardless of ideology, nobody in this House, even the most rabid Progressive Democrats existing within Fianna FÃ¡il, is talking about the sale of the transmission network to the private sector given the disastrous consequences of the sale of a similar wired network in telecommunications.
I will return to my original question, having posed some questions on the side. Why does this legislation not provide for EirGrid's ownership of the transmission network? If it cannot apply to the existing transmission network it should, at least, apply to the new transmission network under construction.
A number of points have been raised that are similar to those raised in the first round of contributions on this aspect of the Bill and I will try to deal with them again.
EirGrid is vested, established and will own the east-west interconnector due to be completed not later than 2012. It is important that we made this start in the area. Everyone in the House accepts EirGrid will act independently, though I accept the Deputies' point that without ownership of the transmission system there is a danger and a public perception that it will not work independently.
I was slightly lost in the argument made by Deputy Broughan before lunch relating to competition and the ESB. Unions and management at the ESB see the ownership of the transmission wires as a kind of Holy Grail. EirGrid currently controls the transmission system. Whether the thinking behind that is ideological or strategic, in the hope that in the future it will be privatised, I do not know. The transmission system does not need to be owned by the ESB.
In answer to Deputy Ryan's question, little profit is made from the transmission system, as opposed to the distribution system, which is lucrative. It is not accurate to say high energy costs arise largely from regulated returns from these two systems, though I accept they are a factor. Deloitte & Touche shows that 70% of these costs arise from external factors, mainly the prices paid for fossil fuels and so on. Approximately 30% arises from domestic factors, one of which is the operation and maintenance of the systems.
I think Deputy Broughan was accusing some in my party and the Progressive Democrats of trying to sell off the network, but that is not on the cards.
The Labour Party has done several things at different times that it might not repeat. We have the benefit of being able to learn from things that have happened.
I agree with Deputy Ryan that it is a bit much to complain about energy prices and fuel poverty in one breath while in the next breath saying "not an inch", "no change" and arguing that the ESB must be kept as a vertically integrated unit, with no competition in the market.
That is where the company should be but I did not say I would move it there. The Deputy is basically saying he will cry for consumers and those being hit by high electricity prices but we should not ask him to upset members of the trade unions in the ESB by asking them to shift a little ground and allow the competitive market we need to come about. As Deputy Eamon Ryan noted, a competitive market can be achieved in generation by allowing more operators into the system, making the market sufficiently attractive and increasing efficiency in areas of the ESB that have been slow to become more efficient.
I do not propose to accept the amendments as they would be in conflict with the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and Statutory Instrument No. 445.
The Minister did not satisfactorily explain the legislative device he is using with regard to the position of interconnectors in the transmission system. The new section 2A(1) states that an interconnector owned by the board is part of the transmission system, while section 2A(2) states that an interconnector not owned by the board is not part of the transmission system. This would apply to EirGrid's ownership of the proposed interconnector. However, section 2A(3) states: "Notwithstanding subsection (2), an interconnector owned by a person other than the Board shall be considered to be part of the transmission system for the purposes of calculating charges and imposing charges for use of the transmission system." In that case, is an interconnector owned by EirGrid part of the transmission system? What differences will apply to EirGrid's management of this facility versus any other facility? What purposes are involved other than calculating and imposing charges?
I do not understand the legislative ploy being used in this section. Is it a mechanism to get around the political difficulty the Minister has with the Taoiseach or ESB trade unions? Why will the Minister accept not the amendment to enable EirGrid to own a transmission asset? Given that the interconnector in question is new, this would not create any historical difficulties. Why is the Minister using this complicated and contradictory legislative device?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 36 (Dan Boyle, Pat Breen, Paul Connaughton, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, John Gormley, Tom Hayes, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Michael Lowry, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John Perry, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey)
Against the motion: 88 (Dermot Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Martin Brady, James Breen, Séamus Brennan, Tommy Broughan, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, Donie Cassidy, Michael J Collins, Beverley Flynn, Joe Costello, Mary Coughlan, Jerry Cowley, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Michael Finneran, Seán Fleming, Mildred Fox, Pat Gallagher, Eamon Gilmore, Tony Gregory, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Séamus Healy, Máire Hoctor, Brendan Howlin, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Tom Parlon, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, Peter Power, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Seán Ryan, Mae Sexton, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Emmet Stagg, Noel Treacy, Mary Upton, Jack Wall, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Boyle and Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 63 and 65 to 68, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 62 and amendments Nos. 63 and 64 are technical alternatives to the same part of the Bill so amendments Nos. 62 to 68, inclusive, will be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 62:
In page 19, line 38, after "Commission" to insert the following:
", sanctioned by the Minister, and approved by a motion of DÃ¡il Ãireann".
I wonder if the Minister would examine the possibility of taking this amendment on board. It would be a painless exercise in the sense that it would be a meeting of minds in the House. It would recognise a principle we have spoken of quite a bit with regard to this particular piece of legislation.
Ironically, when I tabled this amendment we did not have the debate over price rises and decisions taken by regulators etc. that has taken place in the past few weeks. The relevant section of the Bill reads:
Section 16 of the Act of 1999 is amendedâ
(a) by the substitution for subsection (1) of the following subsection:
"(1) A person shall notâ
(a) construct or reconstruct a generating station for the purpose of supply to final customers, or
(b) construct an interconnector,
unless an appropriate authorisation has been granted to the person by the Commission.",
I propose to add ", sanctioned by the Minister, and approved by a motion of DÃ¡il Ãireann".
This area could become very controversial at a later stage. The commission is independent in making decisions, but the approval should come from the Minister and the Houses of the Oireachtas. In that context, it would lend authority and strength to the Bill. It would not in any way interfere with the independence of the commission, but it would, importantly, give political direction to what will essentially be a political issue, namely the availability of adequate supply, be it gas, electricity etc. It would be useful to add that particular amendment and this was the most appropriate place I could think of inserting it. I hope the Minister consider to what extent he can accommodate it.
I do not wish to revisit the previous debate on Eircom. We should have been able to do something, but we were unable to do anything because it was all outside our control. It was outside the Minister's control, and nothing could be done about it. He could not reach out and get hold of the part of the infrastructure, the main framework of the communications section.
This section states:
(1) A person shall notâ
(a) construct or reconstruct a generating station for the purpose of supply to final customers, or
(b) construct an interconnector,
These are two very important areas. I would like to hear the Minister's views on the subject.
I have some sympathy for Deputy Durkan's proposal. It is a bit like the discussion we had last week on NORA, the National Oil Reserves Agency. The Minister wants to give reasonable flexibility to the Department and to CER, in this case, with regard to the development of the generation system or the possibility of an interconnector. Clearly it could have a fundamental impact on our infrastructure down the line.
I am not accepting the amendments because providing that the Minister sanction a decision of the CER and granting the authorisations being spoken about would undermine the statutory independence of the CER. The existing provisions for CER to grant an authorisation to construct a power station, consent to construct a natural gas pipeline or license an energy undertaking do not require any ministerial consent. Moving in this direction with this Bill is not an option, certainly not one I will exercise.
There is also the question of consistency with the provision for the Minister to give policy directions to CER, which we have just discussed. It is explicitly stated that the Minister may not issue a policy direction in respect of a person who has applied for or holds a licence, authorisation or consent. Therefore, sanctioning a decision of CER in granting an authorisation to construct an interconnector is not an appropriate role for the Minister in this.
The amendment on the issue of competitive tendering seeks to remove the option of the CER securing the construction of an interconnector by any means other than by competitive tender. Nothing is envisaged other than this process occurring through competitive tender, which is clearly the preferred option. It should not be the only means open to CER to secure the construction of an interconnector.
Circumstances could arise where the process would need to be done in a manner other than through that method. Therefore it is not proposed to amend the provision. In particular, where an interconnector is part of the Irish transmission system and owned by the ESB, it would fall on the ESB to procure or carry out the works to construct it.
Deputy Durkan has also tabled an amendment seeking to specify that any authorisation to construct an interconnector without prior competitive tender must be approved by DÃ¡il motion. As I have indicated previously, there are legitimate reasons an interconnector may be developed by a means other than competitive tender. In any case, the Minister's consent is required before the final decision is taken. Therefore, I do not propose to accept that amendment either.
The Minister might outline some of the circumstances he envisages whereby an interconnector might be constructed without a competitive tender. As he has hinted, I presume the ESB might be directed to build one without a competitive tender. However, years ago in the local authorities, if a particular project was going for private tender, the local authorities would tender themselves in order to test the framework for their own contract. By doing this, they could see if they could do it as well.
I do not wish to be obtuse. It might be somewhat beneficial to have that safeguard there and not slow the process down. I can understand that in an emergency situation, the process might go ahead without a competitive tender. One should remember that according to all reports, even in an emergency situation it would take a number of years, or at least one year, to build an interconnector. I am wondering what kind of emergency situation could arise that would force everybody to avoid the competitive tendering process and proceed on an emergency basis where it could take five years for the emergency to come about? I am not sure the idea is soundly based.
With reference to amendment No. 63, the Minister is following the 1999 Act closely with regard to the interconnector and the terms laid down for the generation stations previously. I have some sympathy for the general position outlined by Deputy Durkan. In the past there has been concern about the beauty contest route being used with regard to public infrastructure. I recall the 3G licensing system. While the British used a competitive system which resulted in great and substantial revenues for the Exchequer, we used the beauty contest route and did so late in the day. It could be the case that benefits to the State could be maximised by always using the competitive tender route.
The Minister will have to take a decision on Eircom. We will be asking questions next week about whether the Minister will have a competitive tender for enabling the 10% or 15% of the country that does not have broadband. I ask the Minister to explain the reason for this provision about generation stations both in this Bill and in the original 1999 Act. My amendment No. 63 seeks to delete the provision and to go the competitive tender route.
Both Deputy Durkan and I know from our experience in local government that the competitive tender process would bring the best benefits for the community and the Exchequer. I ask the Minister to outline the reason for retaining that section in the Bill. In this regard it would be preferable to give CER reasonable autonomy regarding the provision of interconnection.
Three or four years ago, CER tried to get the market to provide an interconnector but was not successful as there was no interest shown. People wanted to go down the route of getting an interconnector with a regulated rate of return as they were not going to operate on a market basis. Had the interconnector been absolutely essential, it would have been useful for CER to have been in a position to direct, for example, the ESB which would be the most competent at that stage, to provide the interconnector, without a competitive tendering process. We should not confuse that kind of direction in an emergency situation. We should not assume if that were to happen, that the ESB would not be obliged to go and seek competitive tenders themselves for aspects of the competition. It is not a free hand with an option to spend as much money as possible. There would be competitive tendering specifically for the building and so on.
It is always prudent to leave oneself as much latitude as possible with regard to legislation. I acknowledge that the courts increasingly decide we must narrow everything down and spell everything out and try to foresee every possible situation. It is prudent that this provision remain in this Bill to allow for maximum flexibility.
The Deputies asked me to provide examples of circumstances in which it might be used. The ESB owns the transmission lines so it may be the body that has to do it. I cannot envisage the circumstances where it might arise but it certainly will not arise within the next five or six years because we know what we are doing regarding the North-South interconnector and the east-west interconnector. It is not likely to emerge until sometime after 2012 if we go down the route of further interconnection either to the UK or Europe.
I move amendment No. 69:
In page 22, line 14, after "threatened" to insert ", with the approval of DÃ¡il Ãireann,".
This is the old favourite triple lock system, with the approval of DÃ¡il Ãireann, which has been discussed ad nauseam for the past week with regard to this and other legislation. We are losing sight of this provision as time goes by. There are those who say it is a good thing that everything should be independent but I do not agree. Legislation produced in Parliament should be subject to Parliament and its operation, within reason, apart from the day-to-day administration, should have some reason to resort to Parliament for approval as time goes by.
There is far too much development taking place in this country. The late Brian Lenihan, a former Member of this House, used to say that the formation of quangos was coming with such rapidity that one would be dizzy looking at them. It is regrettable and a sure sign of Governments and Ministers opting out of responsibility for being in the firing line when a decision they do not want to make arises. However, this does not stop them from talking to RTE or various other radio stations whenever it suits them. This is not a personal criticism of the Minister. It is a fact of life that whether we like it or not, this House is moving further away from giving approval, especially where large corporations are concerned. This means Ministers need not get involved not only on a daily basis but hardly ever. If there is a crisis, the commission will handle it and there will be no reference to anybody else. If there is good news and oil has been found and gas is spewing out of the ground at some location in some part of the country, the Minister naturally will become involved. The amendment is useful and I ask the Minister to consider it.
As Deputy Durkan said, this amendment seeks to amend the 1999 Act. It stems from our experiences in recent years when we noted the crisis between Russia and Ukraine which threatened European gas supplies. Until gas from the Corrib field comes ashore, we are at the end of a long pipeline. This is clearly a key area that the Minister has rightly inserted into the Bill.
I am not sure if the Chair was in the House during the infamous and harsh winter of 1981-82. My late colleague and party leader Michael O'Leary was TÃ¡naiste at the time and was responsible for the operation of all the systems, including the energy system, in the immediate aftermath of a huge storm. There is also the ongoing threat from terrorism, including the recent worrying reports to the British authorities on nuclear terrorism. There is clearly a huge role for the Minister to play, and Deputy Noel Dempsey has to be commended for including this in the section. I am sympathetic to the Fine Gael amendments as they allow for this House to be called into session in such an emergency. It seems reasonable to add "that the approval of the DÃ¡il" might be required.
It is right that an elected Minister should take responsibility for a serious crisis. That is why I have tabled amendment No. 72. It reads: "In the event of a sudden crisis in the energy market the Minister is responsible for the maintenance and full functioning of the national energy system." If such a crisis were to happen and the Minister was in opposition, he would no doubt say that the Minister of the day must be responsible. However, the experience of recent years is different. The public will ask us why the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has not resigned over the issue of long-stay elderly care. The public instinctively feels that the political head should be responsible. This goes outside the remit of this Bill. It does not specifically refer to the CER, although the Minister can direct it and the generating companies and licence holders.
While the Minister might say that it is understood that he is responsible, he refused to answer a question I asked him yesterday about standing gas charges. The Chair will often shoot down my questions and say they are a matter for the CER. The operation and maintenance of the energy system itself must be the Minister's responsibility. He must take responsibility in a time of crisis and were he to fail to discharge that responsibility he would have to resign. Notwithstanding the CER or any other agency or organisation, such as EirGrid or the ESB, the Minister and his successors must be responsible at a time of crisis. In the deep winter of 1981-82, the TÃ¡naiste was regarded as being responsible, and rightly so.
I spent my five years in the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Every time I visited a local authority they wanted to tell me how poorly off and cash-strapped they were. They would produce the books to prove this to me and refer to the loss of rates and other sources of income. In the middle of it would be "snow money", the money that the then TÃ¡naiste, Michael O'Leary, promised local authorities from his office in Dublin. He told them to do whatever it took to clear the roads and the Department would look after it. They are still waiting for the money.
The Minister's memory is not as good as he thinks it is. There was not too much money left in the kitty in 1981 when his party left office. It was like Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard, only her cupboard would have been full by comparison.
Amendments Nos. 69 and 71 deal with recalling the DÃ¡il in an emergency. I understand the purpose of Deputies tabling amendments, including the formula "with the approval of DÃ¡il Ãireann". However, in an emergency when the House was not sitting it would be ridiculous to force the Minister to seek the approval of DÃ¡il Ãireann. I cannot accept either of those amendments.
We discussed the substance of Deputy Broughan's amendment No. 70 on Committee Stage when I told the Deputy that we would try to incorporate this. We have managed to incorporate the spirit of it in the Bill.
Arising from amendment No. 72, I hope Deputies realise there is a distinction between safeguards and taking full control of the energy system in the event of a crisis. If I was put into the national control centre I would not have a clue what to do. I do not think that taking full control of the energy system would be a good ideaââ
That might have the opposite and unintended effect of becoming an impediment to the swift action required in the normal function of these bodies in a crisis.
Issues arise on the system on a fairly regular basis â the Deputy referred to 57 amber alerts last year. I know the Deputy does not intend this to mean that it should happen in the normal course of events, but it would be counter-productive to require the Minister to take control of the system even in an emergency.
We return to the distinction between being accountable to the House and being responsible. I will take responsibility for all my actions from the day that I can walk into a Department, pick my own staff and take action against people who perhaps do not do things the way they should. I will take responsibility for all my actions. From that time I am accountable to this House. I explained to this House what happened rather than taking responsibility when it is somebody else's responsibility due to how he or she handled a situation. While it is important we are accountable to the House, and I do not mind this, there is a significant difference between accountability and responsibility.
I forgot to refer to amendment No. 70. The Minister accepted the phrase completely and it improves the section because it clarifies that when the Minister orders a person to do something, that person is responsible to the Minister. This issue of ministerial and Cabinet responsibility has been discussed way back by Mr. Walter Bagehot and various political philosophers in the 19th century. This issue has been discussed for 200 years and it goes back to British rule. These are unusual circumstances. The Minister is right to include this in the Bill. We have talked about this, and although we hope it will never happen, we fear it will because of a problem with supply, pricing or geopolitical events, hopefully not due to a major terrorist action. It is also right to say that in a crisis the Minister would take the decisions. However, would it not be best to say the Minister must bear responsibility if, for example, after the relevant committee investigated it, we were not happy with the outcome or we felt it could have been different? This might arise if a future Minister made a hames of an emergency. That is simple enough. One might say general Cabinet and Government accountability and responsibility would apply. Maybe collective responsibility would apply and the entire Government would resign. I have been examining this because it is an issue on which we have asked the Minister many questions. It should specify that the buck stops with the Minister. That is why I am tabling this amendment.
We could have a philosophical discussion on responsibility and accountability. One of the issues about which we are all concerned during the winter is the availability of plant. We do not want a blackout or a red alert.
It is tight and will be tight all winter. I do not want to overstate my concern about this issue, but I raised it with CER, EirGrid and the ESB last May. I asked them for written reports on it and asked if they were satisfied that we would be okay for the winter. I received assurances from them in September and further information a couple of weeks ago. I had a meeting with them two or three weeks ago during which they assured me everything would be all right. I had a meeting this morning and received categoric assurances. Those two bodies, particularly the CER, are responsible for advising me and when they tell me the system is okay I have to accept that they are the experts. While I accept their word that it is not going to happen, suppose we have a blackout during the winter. As a member of the Opposition, Deputy Broughan would call for my resignation, as would everybody else; I am not picking on the Deputy in particular and I do not seek to make a political point. However, what more can I do than ask the experts who are responsible for advising me and get their assurance, as I have done? I should not resign if there were a blackout. I have a clear idea who should resign in that event, and it would not be me.
I move amendment No. 72:
In page 22, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:
"(4) In the event of a sudden crisis in the energy market the Minister is responsible for the maintenance and full functioning of the national energy system."
I move amendment No. 75:
In page 23, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
"2C. Where there is more than one member of the Commission the Minister may direct that the position as Chairperson of the Commission may be held by different members of the Commission on a rotating basis as determined by a direction from the Minister.".
The current chairperson is in office for approximately another two years and that arrangement will apply following the expiry of his term of office. That does not need to be included in the amendment but I want to inform the House.
I was going to ask Deputy Eamon Ryan, who originally proposed this amendment, whether the Minister could appoint another chairman or continue with the same one if he did not want to operate that system. We are operating a similar system with ComReg. Would he still have that flexibility?
I move amendment No. 76:
In page 23, line 38, after "and" to insert "the Public Accounts Committee".
This amends the Schedules of the 1999 Act. This relates to the accounts and the submission to the Comptroller and Auditor General. We had an esoteric discussion on it and the Minister contended he has covered my point. The Minister, the Fine Gael spokesperson and I were all members of the Committee of Public Accounts. The Ceann Comhairle probably was too. Although I wanted to specify it because it is of constitutional importance, I accept what the Minister has said and I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 77:
In page 24, line 36, after "Minister," to insert "who shall report to the Oireachtas,".
I apologise for my absence from the House for a few minutes. We are back on the same track of bringing the Minister and the Oireachtas into the equation. The Minister can take this on board and I will not spend too much time on it. It is not intrusive. The Minister can report to the Oireachtas anyway, and it is a question of being doubly sure and keeping the Oireachtas informed on what is happening. The Oireachtas may not normally have access to this information, be alert to it or aware of it. There are so many directives, generated in Europe and nationally, coming through faxes, e-mails and all types of sources at present that a meitheal is needed to monitor their value, extent and impact. It would be no harm if the Minister reports to the Oireachtas.
Amendment No. 80 is related and correctly so. It is very similar, and states "provided the Minister and the Oireachtas had been informed". This is a similar debate to those we have had in respect of the last number of sections. There is a necessity to inform the Minister and the Oireachtas. Amendment No. 81 is similar and is self-explanatory.
I move amendment No. 78:
In page 24, line 44, after "pipelines" to insert the following:
"including all pipeline terminals and refineries associated with the recovery, bringing ashore and processing of Ireland's onshore or off-shore natural gas resources".
These are again the amendments of the 1999 Act relating to natural gas safety and the functions of the commission thereby, by the insertion after subsection (1)(f) of the 1999 Act, where the commission, having consulted with the Minister, shall establish and implement a natural gas safety regulatory framework and report annually to the Minister etc. It will include a system for the inspection and testing of all natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines.
I sought that this should be extended to include all pipeline terminals and refineries associated with the recovery, bringing ashore and processing of Ireland's onshore or off-shore natural gas resources. I thought this might be a useful contribution to the debate we had last week, which I do not wish to return to at length on this occasion. However, we again witnessed unfortunate events last Friday as regards the ongoing dispute at Corrib Gas and the concerns of north Mayo, Erris and that whole area. The safety concerns people had with the pipeline route were vindicated by the Minister's technical advisory group, TAG, by Atlantica and by the centre for public inquiry. Because of that it would be wise to have a reference in the legislation to terminals and refineries. Given that this is obviously a development that the Minister has suggested will lead into an exciting new time for Irish exploration, surely it is something that could be included, to give CER a fundamental role.
One of the reports at the conference opened by the Minister last week, from Island Gas, I believe, suggested there might be approximately 130 to 140 years of oil supply lying in certain tranches off our western shores. If that bears any remote relationship to reality, it is quite clear that this type of development is something that is central to recovery of those resources for our nation. Obviously, next week we shall ask about the Indecon report and other matters referred to by the Minister. However, it would be a useful contribution to call on the Minister to try to have those matters resolved, even at this late stage, so that we may have the recovery of our natural resources off the coast of north-west Mayo by agreement instead of the appalling incidents we witnessed last Friday. The ongoing stand-off will produce appalling dangers in the future for the people of the area as well as the Garda SÃochÃ¡na so I urge the Minister to take a leading role in that regard. If the current contacts which are being developed with Shell, Norwegian interests and others lead to anything fruitful, I call on the Minister to give his immediate support. Specifically in this case, however, it would be helpful if we included terminals and refineries.
On a final point, anyone who had been dealing with this very difficult issue, such as the Minister, and spokespersons in the House, have all learned enormous lessons for the future about Irish natural resources, their exploration and what must be done. It would be an important step forward to give CER a role as regards terminals and refineries.
Amendment No. 79, after line 9, relates to how the commission would carry out its safety functions so that procedures for the investigation of any incidents involving natural gas "including all onshore and off-shore exploration and recovery facilities", are provided for. This means that at the heart of this will be a reference to the exploration programme, to try to avoid the disasters of the Corrib saga over the past ten years. It would mean a system is in place that the public could have great confidence in for any part of Ireland which might be a reception area for major off-shore resources. As I said, the Department's conference last week seems to indicate our territorial waters and maritime economic zone is the home of great natural resources. We shall press this point in the House in coming months and hopefully we will have the chance to have an input, after the general election, to introduce measures and a regime that will ensure all our natural resources are exploited for the benefit of the Irish people. As regards safety, first, I ask the Minister to adopt these two amendments.
The Deputy will appreciate that the gas safety provision which is under consideration in this Bill relates to downstream facilities only. On the issue raised by the Deputy, as regards the specific types of infrastructure he describes, we are examining the matter in detail with the co-operation of CER, with a view to providing the appropriate legislative framework to ensure that such functions are properly transferred. The Deputy may recall that this was among the recommendations made through our technical advisory group and in the Atlantica reports on the Corrib gas field. It is agreed that there is no problem and that CER will look after this. We are in a consultative process with CER, the petroleum industry and the Health and Safety Authority with a view to progressing the whole matter, having regard to the current requirement for analysis of regulatory impacts. As the Deputy knows well, once regulations are being introduced and new standards are being imposed, a regulatory impact assessment must be carried out and that is taking place in consultation with the various bodies referred to.
The process is much more complex than I had envisaged when we first set out on this route. In line with what Deputy Broughan said, it has to be done correctly and we are taking a cautious approach. I thought we might have been able to spell it out in this Bill, but because we want to do it correctly and need to consult widely, that has not been possible. We might be in a position to amend the Bill in the Seanad to take account of the Deputy's suggestions and he might alert the Labour Party spokesperson there about that. However, if that proves difficult for us, technically and legally, we shall have to do this via separate legislation and that is the intent. However, I would prefer if it could be done in this Bill given that we have taken this route. I assure Deputy Broughan that either this Bill will be amended in the Seanad or a separate Bill will be published once talks have concluded.
There is nothing to be gained by returning to last week's debate. It is not accurate to state that worries about the pipeline and its route were vindicated by TAG, Advantica and CPI. That may be the case with the CPI report but I do not hold much store by it. The TAG report did not make any adjudication but Advantica made it clear the pipeline, as proposed, is safe. A number of recommendations were made to allay fears. Mr. Peter Cassells accepted the report. He would be the first to state he was not technically competent to second guess world experts in the area. In a bid to meet the genuine concerns of a number of people in Mayo, he recommended a change in the pipeline. All this was accepted by Shell and by the Department but spurned by Shell to Sea.
I welcome the optimistic scenarios regarding what might lie off the west coast. I hope the predictions are correct. The more people exploring, the better chance we have of making finds. Currently it is only speculation. While it is wonderful to speak of 10 billion barrels, we must first discover them and then bring them ashore. Before the end of the year I hope to be able to discuss the terms of the next set of licences and explorations.
The scenes we saw last Friday were appalling. No useful purpose is served by rent-a-mob or by anyone stoking up feelings. I defend the right to peaceful protest but others have the right to work. If everyone respects the rights of others we will not see the scenes we saw last week.
I welcome the Minister's comment that this Bill may be amended in the Seanad to include the pipeline terminals and refineries. It would be helpful in the resolution of this. Last Friday's events make it clear that a problem exists. My colleague Deputy Michael D. Higgins stated the people we walked with on the Monday before and on Friday were muintir na hÃ¡ite.
Journalists spoke to these people. I was not there on Friday but I attended on Monday and I spoke to muintir na hÃ¡ite. Grave concerns continue and I urge the Minister to take a pro-active role to resolve this because of the danger of the stand-off. It should not fall on the shoulders of Opposition Deputies to resolve this. It is the Minister's responsibility. I welcome the Minister's acceptance of the principle of my amendments and his willingness to possibly include them at the next stage. These amendments warrant a new Bill.
The Kinsale exploration gave some of us domestic household gas for the first time. Streets in my area were dug up in the late 1980s and early 1990s to supply gas for the first time even though the area is only ten miles from the GPO. Legislation should have been published in that regard. It is necessary in view of the impasse with Shell, which we have an opportunity to discuss next week. The Taoiseach seems to have closed his mind to the possibility of considering the fears and proposals of the local people. One should be open to resolutions of this matter.
I concur with my colleague and the Minister. None of us wishes to exacerbate the situation. Original positions that were relatively easy to resolve have become mountains. As legislators we must encourage those involved to accept that the use of a natural resource is imperative to the nation's economy. We must address areas of common ground with the objective of achieving credibility in the use of our natural resources. At some stage we must decide if we have won or lost without making it a life or death issue. If issues such as this become life or death, no progress will take place. We will not be able to build roads, factories or buildings.
In the initial stages there were genuine concerns. We spoke of how structures will be in place in future as a result of this legislation. Notwithstanding the best efforts of all concerned, we arrived at an unsatisfactory situation in respect of development of the Corrib gas field. We must learn from this. The Minister should avail of the opportunity to make amendments in the Seanad. The amendments tabled by my colleague are in order.
There is a perception, stated by the Minister and contradicted by Deputy Broughan, that these objections come from people outside the area. While it might be convenient for the Minister or others such as Deputy Kenny to believe this and to make such statements, it is completely wrong. How could the Minister know when he never came to the site to examine what was happening? He believes people who tell him what he wishes to hear. Local people have a problem pertaining to the installation of an operation in a pristine 400 acre area that is to become what people view as a centre for the petrochemical industry. The area is completely undisturbed and has everything going for it. However, the proposed development will destroy the entire area to produce 50 long-term jobs.
Some issues, such as cold venting of the gas were not addressed in the planning process. Potentially, such issues are extremely damaging for the area. The Minister continually speaks about the pipeline, which is dictated by the location of the refinery and that issue was never addressed by either Advantica or Peter Cassells.
The Minister could not be more incorrect if he believes this has to do with outsiders. It pertains to local people. People nationwide are upset and annoyed that the Government, including the Minister and the Taoiseach, is washing its hands in this respect. This is an extremely important matter for the people of the locality. They are passive people who would do nothing other than protest peacefully, as they have been doing. However, something must give when hundreds of people and hundreds of gardaÃ are present and Members are witnessing conflict between many people on the ground on a daily basis. If he is interested, the Minister can come and see this reality.
The price of gas has risen by 30% and the Minister is aware that were Corrib gas to be brought ashore tomorrow, it would make no difference in this regard. As for Deputy Durkan's idea regarding security of supply, the biggest pipeline in the world links the United Kingdom with Norway and that pipeline has provided an assured supply of gas to the market, which is global.
I do not understand why the Minister will not at least identify the optimal potential site for this refinery as this issue has never been considered. The Shell to Sea campaign proposed an independent commission to consider the issue of the location of the refinery. Although the Minister incorrectly dismissed it as being completely irrelevant, it provides a practical solution to this issue. For all his talk of sorting out all the concerns regarding safety issues and so on, the Minister has never considered the location of the refinery. He should do so and the best way is to accept the idea of an independent commission of inquiry. Otherwise, this problem will simply persist. The people deserve more.
I wish to be associated with Deputy Cowley's remarks. He has put forward a reasonable response to much of the recent emanations regarding decent, ordinary local people who have protested peacefully in order that their concerns and safety are addressed. I stress there has been a deliberate attempt to create a perception that events in County Mayo are being orchestrated from outside, but nothing could be further from the truth. I visited the site a number of months ago and learned at first hand of people's concerns, fears and worries. I have also heard them articulate their position from a very reasonable standpoint. Basically, local people want to talk to those who are prepared to listen with an open mind, rather than entering talks with a fixed position to ride roughshod over their rights. I cannot blame people with such fears for protesting as they have been doing. They genuinely have the interests of the country and its resources at heart.
As Deputy Cowley noted, the presence of hundreds of gardaÃ in an area probably results in a community that lives in fear. However, the Minister is not prepared to talk to these people. It reflects a closed-minded approach on the part of the Government.
When refineries, the amount of gas off our coast and similar issues are discussed, it is suggested that this will be of great benefit to the economy and to the people of the west. Apart from the initial creation of jobs, the gas, which will come from our resources, will be bought at market value. There should be honesty in this regard. A spin is being placed on commentary, most of which emanates from those with a vested interest, as well as from the Government. Local people are being demonised accordingly, as are people who support them from around the coastal communities of Ireland. Throughout this island, genuinely concerned people who support them are being falsely accused of orchestrating deliberate violence, which is not the case. I fully support Deputy Cowley's contribution in this respect. No one has more authority to speak in this regard than a man who comes from the area and is one of the people.
If I have not managed to say what I want within two minutes, I hope the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will indulge me a little, as he did the previous speakers. Members have digressed considerably from the amendments.
As for Deputy Cowley's comments, I have never denied that some local people are concerned about this project. I have accepted this and have done everything possible to try to meet such concerns. Although the Deputy continually berates me for not listening or not hearing what people say, I listen carefully. People told me they had concerns regarding the pipeline running so close to their houses and wanted those concerns addressed. Instead of taking action myself, I asked an independent body to examine the issue. It was to listen to the local people and to record their views carefully. When that was complete, it was to use its expertise to tell me whether the concerns and fears were justified. I set no parameters in this respect. If the pipeline was a problem, it would be so considered and I stated that I wanted to know whether this was the case.
The independent body spent its time listening to the people. As proof, a number of people raised the issue of the type of soil through which the pipeline would go. The independent group informed me that this issue should be considered and offered to so do, although it was not included in its terms of reference. I agreed and told it to go ahead. As a result, recommendations were made in this regard. However, I stand accused of not listening.
Hence, concerns existed and were expressed. I am uncertain whether Deputy Cowley lives in a different world. When the National Oil Reserves Agency Bill 2006 was debated in this House last week, a colleague told me he overheard a conversation involving a man on a mobile phone on Grafton Street last Tuesday or Wednesday. My colleague heard mention of the word Rossport and listened to the rest of the conversation, which basically involved the man telling the other person to be ready to go down on Friday because a riot would take place. I have no reason to doubt the honesty of the Deputy who told me this story.
Yes. He told me about this conversation last Wednesday evening in the House. The local people protesting on what I would call the "non-media" days have, by and large, engaged in peaceful protest. They have had no problems with the gardaÃ on the days on which they have been protesting. However, one can see calls for days of action every day on such websites as Indymedia and the website belonging to the Shell to Sea campaign. On such days, people from outside the area come in and cause problems with the gardaÃ and local people. Both Deputies Ferris and Cowley know this is true and I hope they will not state that nobody outside of this area was involved in the events which took place last Friday because it is not true.
It is correct to say that the issue of the terminal, which is slightly related to the amendments before us, was not addressed by Peter Cassells and Advantica because the issue was dealt with by An Bord PleanÃ¡la and the planning authorities. Environmental issues like cold venting will be dealt with by the Environmental Protection Agency.
We have reached a stage where people who accuse everybody else of not being prepared to listen are themselves not prepared to accept what people are saying. When one brings in outside people who are independent of all sides and produce reports, there must be an end to the matter at some point. As Deputy Durkan pointed out, this matter cannot run on and on.
If Deputy Cowley wishes to make threats, that is fine, but he, as a public representative, should be trying to lead people, rather than engaging in some of the activities in which he is currently engaged. It is not helpful for him to engage in such activities. There is independent verification of the safety of this project and this is as far as we can go. It is not a case of us not listening, but of us having exhausted every single avenue that we could to try to address people's concerns and convince them that they were unfounded. If people do not want to accept this, they do not want to accept it and there is nothing I can do to change their minds.
I have a particular role to play in respect of matters like consents and permissions. It is not my role to mediate between Shell and the local community or anybody else. If Shell was to decide, as it has indicated, that it will change the route of the pipeline or do something else, I would have a quasi-judicial role in deciding whether that route was acceptable and safe. I would prejudice that particular role if I was involved in negotiations or talks between Shell and the local community. Legally, I cannot do so and I do not plan to do so.
The Minister made an unfortunate accusation. He made allegations about some of the activities in which I am involved. These activities involve me standing up for my constituents who elected me. Both before and after I entered the DÃ¡il, I spoke about the difficulties I have with the total giveaway of our natural resources and the need for the terms to renegotiated. In fairness to the Minister, he said he would look at this, in response to our Private Members' motion, and he has assigned a group to do so. As I understand it, he said this would take place before the end of the year. I greatly welcome this announcement.
Everything I have since done has involved standing by people who have genuine concerns. I acknowledge that the Minister set up the Advantica review and assigned Peter Cassells as an independent monitor. However, the difficulty lies in the fact that the pipeline's location is dictated by the location of the refinery. There is a major problem with this and certain issues were not addressed by the planning process. There was no code of practice in respect of the pipeline, which is required under EU law. The issue of coal venting was not examined by the planning process. These are very important matters which people find very upsetting.
I walk with the people in peaceful protest and do not condone anything other than peaceful protest. My views on this matter are well recognised. The Minister has made allegations about some of the activities in which I am involved but I am merely standing with the people and if this is wrong, I do not know what to think. This protest will continue. This is not a threat; it is a reality.
People come from outside the area to support the campaign but the people involved in protests, including the one that took place the last day, are invariably local people. Many local people who do not come every other day come to support the protesters on open days. Problems and conflict occur every day, which is very unfortunate, and the sooner it is ended, the better. The solution lies with the Minister. An independent commission is one way forward and I urge the Minister to take this option.
If amendment No. 78 had been part of this Bill and CER had been given this safety role, it is possible that all of the sad events of the past six years would not have happened. People have grave concerns. Someone made a fair point to me last Monday and others from Erris and north Mayo have also made certain points to me about the entire history of this matter when they have visited this city, including the original consensus in the run up to the 2002 general elections and the change of mind by An Bord PleanÃ¡la. I have never before come across such an occurrence.
Deputy Durkan's point about what usually happens when Bord PleanÃ¡la makes a decision is correct. For example, a new city is being built in my constituency. My colleagues in the Labour Party and I have fought the high-density nature and height of the development, which involves the ubiquitous tiny apartment-like structures, all along the line in the planning process. An Bord PleanÃ¡la then made a decision. One does not suddenly come along and get another decision. The developers have lost a number of battles along the way because of the way in which we pursued them to get the best possible environment for our constituency.
Deputy Cowley made a very useful point about the wonderful, pristine nature of north-west Mayo. It compares to possibly four or five other areas. I often think of the Beara peninsula, with which I am very familiar, and possibly parts of west Clare, Connemara and parts of Donegal. These are among the most pristine and unspoiled environments on the island of Ireland. It is striking that this enormous industrial project is taking place in the heart of this community and the province of Connacht which has never had gas. There is a long history of gas being produced and brought into Dublin. We know how dangerous gas is and this is the fundamental reason for the Bill. We know of people who almost died from gas leaks and these fears are understandable.
Reference was made to the refinery. I commend my colleague, Mr. Peter Cassells, on his work in this respect. However, the refinery was not examined. The Deputy representing Mayo made the point well that given the consents, concerns and so on, the authorities did not zero in on the refinery.
We spoke about power generation earlier. There are a number of power stations, generators and other forms of industrial production in Dublin Bay. The people of Dublin balked at the location of a refinery in Dublin in the past. A man from my region was a Member of this House for a brief period. I refer to Deputy SeÃ¡n Dublin Bay Loftus who represented Dublin North-East. He became a representative because he and his community in Clontarf objected to the siting of a petrochemical refinery across the road from where they lived. The Minister will recall they won the debate. However, concern about such developments is an ongoing issue.
The safety issue is paramount. The Government should play a role in that regard. It would be beneficial if the Minister could bring CER and Bord GÃ¡is Ãireann into the heart of this debate to try to get a resolution and so that we will not have to rely on foreign companies and multinationals which will benefit primarily.
On the point raised by Deputy Cowley, we both had a debate on this issue last Thursday following which I was of the view that the commission of inquiry proposal could be used as a reasonable basis for serious final discussions on this matter to resolve it. I am happy to meet the chief executive of Shell, as I will this Friday, to put that point to him face to face. He, his team and associated companies should meet the people of Erris, Deputy Cowley and Shell to Sea and its representatives face to face with no preconditions to try to resolve this matter. That is what everyone wants. We do not want any more scenes such as those of last Thursday. Muintir na hÃ¡ite were far and away the preponderant people participating in the protest on that day and they were the people who walked beside me. It was interesting to meet people whom I only had made contact with by e-mail and telephone, such as Ms Imelda Moran, who has powerfully raised the cold venting issue.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 56 (Dan Boyle, James Breen, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Joe Costello, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Olwyn Enright, Martin Ferris, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Seán Ryan, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Against the motion: 70 (Dermot Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, Donie Cassidy, Michael J Collins, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Mildred Fox, Pat Gallagher, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael McDowell, Tom McEllistrim, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Peter Power, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 52 (Dan Boyle, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Joe Costello, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Martin Ferris, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Fergus O'Dowd, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Séamus Pattison, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Seán Ryan, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Liam Twomey, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Against the motion: 65 (Dermot Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, Séamus Brennan, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, Michael J Collins, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Mildred Fox, Pat Gallagher, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Tom McEllistrim, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, John O'Donoghue, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Tom Parlon, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.
I move amendment No. 82:
In page 25, between lines 45 and 46, to insert the following:
"A9F.âIt shall be a function of the Commission to establish standards of training of heating and plumbing contractors in relation to the safety of home heating and plumbing installations.".".
This amendment concerns the introduction of safety standards for all home heating installations. The Minister said on Committee Stage that he would re-examine this matter. In tabling the amendment, however, I did not have sight of the Bill as amended and recommitted to the House. Therefore, I had to table something in order to engage with the particular section.
The mechanical element of the installation of central heating systems â whether they are based on oil, gas, electricity or solid fuel â all have a safety requirement. There have been a number of explosions in houses in which people have been injured. More seriously, emissions of noxious gas have caused death. One such incident occurred in Greece in recent weeks, which was caused by a gas burner. The same safety principles apply to solid fuel central heating systems, particularly for private homes. I have had discussions with a number of installers who say that standards need to be put in place governing home heating installations. These standards include principles dealing with the health and safety aspects involved as well as the efficiency element of such heating systems.
There are three elements to this matter. The first is efficiency and the need to deliver in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and EU directives. The second is the safety element, which is what the Bill is about in many respects. The third is a regulatory or supervisory element, which involves having a particular standard as well as the need to apply it to the installation of all home heating systems, regardless of whether they are run on gas or electricity.
We must ensure that the Kyoto aspirations, health and safety standards and efficiency guidelines are met. There is a world of difference in terms of delivering efficiency in heating systems arising from the way in which they are installed. One can do it in a number of ways. There is a theory that any fool can do the job, but that is not so. Only those who have acquired a particular standard are capable of delivering the kind of efficiencies and safety requirements to which I have referred. It would be good for the industry and the country at large if the Minister were to accept the amendment. The Minister may wish to modify it as the case may be but I would be interested to hear what he has to say about it. I am sure he has received representations from the industry, as other Members of the House have, which indicate a necessity to introduce this kind of standard.
I support the Fine Gael amendment moved by Deputy Durkan. The key point of his addition to this part of the 1999 Act is to require the commission itself to establish standards for heating and plumbing contractors, particularly as regards the safety of home heating and plumbing installations. As Deputy Durkan said, there is also a concern that heating should be as efficient as possible and meet the highest installation standards, thus preventing heat loss.
There are references in the Bill to combined heat and power factors. The amendment refers in particular to installers and the important new role CER will have in this regard. In the earlier stages of the Bill, most of the Deputies on the select committee met organisations such as RECI and others representing professionals in the electrical trade. We discussed designated works and other types of work, as well as the requirements that will apply to the safety of electrical and gas heating installations.
In the past we did not have apprenticeship-type recognition codified sufficiently in the national training and education system. We now have the Further Education and Training Awards Council, FETAC, a system which provides training benchmarks across the economy. Deputy Durkan has tried to copperfasten this so that the Commission for Energy Regulation would have a specific role in training standards.
The National Standards Authority of Ireland, through its gas technical standards committee, establishes the Irish technical standards and codes of practice for the safe transmission, distribution and utilisation of natural gas. These standards are based on international best practice in the sector and underpin the content for the training syllabi of gas installers. In addition, Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, has programmes promoting the improved training of central heating installers with particular emphasis on energy efficient technologies. The scope of the amendments proposed by the Deputy is far too narrow.
The proposed additional functions of the commission regarding downstream natural gas safety, including the regulation and certification of installers and the proposed regulatory framework, are set out in section 12. The Bill meets all the Deputy's concerns in this regard.
Notwithstanding the Minister's comments, I believe there is a necessity to introduce a standard in this area that is not provided for in the rest of the Bill. All sides of this House support the production of alternative fuels and some of these will not involve gas, oil or electricity. If we are to achieve the targets set regarding the alternative fuels industry, it follows that we can support a series of alternative fuels, including biofuels and the burning of wood pellets. Standards should be introduced that relate only to the alternative fuels sector.
The Minister correctly refers to the gas industry and I wish to raise a different kind of gas that can emanate from incorrect installations. I know SEI has set out advanced standards, but the representations I received are from well-established installers in the industry who believe it is time to set out standards for the installation of home heating facilities. There is a variety of facilities now available that are more sophisticated than those previously available. We are now achieving a higher level of insulation in our homes, which causes a greater safety threat if carbon gases leak.
We are achieving higher standards of insulation and aspire to higher standards still in the future. We should copperfasten our position on alternative energy in this Bill by accepting this amendment or one like it. The Minister said previously that he would consider it but he is not well disposed towards doing so at present. Perhaps his disposition will change as the day, or night, goes on. If an amendment of this nature is not incorporated into the legislation, we may find ourselves back here asking ourselves why it was not accepted in the first place.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 48 (Dan Boyle, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Paul Connaughton, Paudge Connolly, Joe Costello, Jerry Cowley, Seymour Crawford, Seán Crowe, Ciarán Cuffe, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Bernard Durkan, Martin Ferris, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Tony Gregory, Tom Hayes, Séamus Healy, Phil Hogan, Enda Kenny, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Paul McGrath, Paddy McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Breeda Moynihan-Cronin, Catherine Murphy, Gerard Murphy, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Fergus O'Dowd, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, Michael Ring, Seán Ryan, Joe Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Mary Upton, Jack Wall)
Against the motion: 64 (Dermot Ahern, Barry Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Johnny Brady, Martin Brady, John Browne, Joe Callanan, Ivor Callely, Pat Carey, Michael J Collins, Beverley Flynn, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, Martin Cullen, Noel Davern, Síle de Valera, Noel Dempsey, Tony Dempsey, John Dennehy, Jimmy Devins, John Ellis, Michael Finneran, Dermot Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Mildred Fox, Pat Gallagher, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Seán Haughey, Máire Hoctor, Joe Jacob, Cecilia Keaveney, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Tom McEllistrim, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Donal Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Liz O'Donnell, Denis O'Donovan, Noel O'Flynn, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Fiona O'Malley, Tim O'Malley, Mae Sexton, Brendan Smith, Michael Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Ollie Wilkinson, G V Wright)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Gerard Murphy and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.
I move amendment No. 82a:
In page 28, lines 5 and 6, to delete "(in this section referred to as a registered gas installer)" and substitute the following:
"(in this section referred to as a 'registered gas installer')".
I move amendment No. 87:
In page 31, line 17, after "may" to insert ", with the approval of the Minister,".
I want to reintroduce the presence of the Minister to the Bill and to elevate him to the important role he deserves. Although he has not been accommodating in accepting our amendments, and we had to attack the Bill from various angles due to its truncated and disjointed style, he could take this amendment on board. As he walks down the street, he will be able to look at passers-by with a gleam in his eye knowing that he had accepted an amendment from the Opposition that was both laudatory to him and that strengthened the Bill.
Despite the Deputy wanting to empower me even more, I will not accept the amendment because it would undermine the statutory independence of CER in carrying out its functions. It is an unnecessary interference in an area where it possesses the requisite expertise.
I move amendment No. 90:
In page 34, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
"(6)(a) Notwithstanding anything specified in regulations made under subsection (2), nothing in this section shall be construed as placing an onus of responsibility on a gas installer to ensure that a natural gas fitting which he or she has correctly installed in a dwelling, place of business or any common area is safely maintained after the point of delivery of natural gas, unless a contractual obligation exists obliging the installer concerned to do so.
(b) Unless specified in any other enactment, the person responsible for ensuring that a natural gas fitting is safely maintained after the point of delivery of natural gas shall beâ
(i) in the case of a dwelling:
(I) where that dwelling is the subject of a tenancy, but is not the subject of a lease between a landlord and tenant, the person entitled to receive the rent;
(II) where that dwelling is the subject of a lease between a landlord and tenant, the landlord (subject to the responsibilities of landlords and tenants as set out in sections 12 and 16 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004); or
(III) where that dwelling is not the subject of a lease or tenancy between a landlord and tenant, the person who would be entitled to receive the rent if the dwelling were the subject of a tenancy or lease,
(ii) in the case of a premises used as a place of business:
(I) where that premises is the subject of a lease between a landlord and tenant, and a covenant (whether express or implied and whether general or specific) exists that the tenant, as lessee, shall keep the premises in repair, the tenant in occupation; or
(II) where that premises is not a premises to which clause (I) applies, such person as the Commission may specify from time to time in the framework published under section 9(1F), following consultation with the Minister, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and such other Minister of the Government (if any) as, in the opinion of the Minister, appears appropriate, and
(iii) in the case of a common area of land which includes any dwellings the subject of subparagraph (i), or any places of business the subject of subparagraph (ii), or both, and which area is being managed by a management company, that management company.
(c) For the purposes of this subsectionâ
(i) the term 'business' is to be interpreted in accordance with the meaning given it by section 3 of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1980,
(ii) the term 'dwelling' is to be interpreted in accordance with the meaning given it by section 4 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004,
(iii) the terms 'lease', 'landlord', 'tenant', and 'tenancy' as they are used in paragraph (b)(i), are to be interpreted in accordance with the meaning given to them by section 5 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, and
(iv) the terms 'lease', 'lessee', 'landlord' and 'tenant' as they are used in paragraph (b)(ii) are to be interpreted in accordance with the meaning given to them by section 3 of the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1980.".
This arose from a discussion on Committee Stage. There was general agreement that we needed to clarify this provision. The purpose of the amendment is twofold: to ensure that a natural gas installer who correctly installs a natural gas fitting is not responsible for ensuring it is kept in good repair or replaced and to specify the persons responsible for ensuring such a fitting is repaired or replaced and for contracting the services of a gas installer to carry out this work.
Members agreed following discussion of a number of amendments on Committee Stage that clarification was necessary and this amendment attempts to achieve that aim.
Bord GÃ¡is Ãireann contractors are upgrading the network in Dublin city. Confusion has emerged about the responsibility of householders and BGE over the safety of fittings. When the work has been done and problems then emerge with the supply structure, no one is sure who is responsible. This work is not carried out by Bord GÃ¡is Ãireann staff and the Minister says the onus is on the installer where it has been correctly installed. I presume it is up to CER to determine but the upgrade has caused problems in my areas where BGE contractors do not want to take responsibility where fittings were safe before they went in but when they left the premises gas was escaping. Has the Minister covered that point?
That should be dealt with in section 12 and this section. This section deals with the point of contact in the dwelling, while section 12 deals with the upgrade works mentioned by the Deputy.
I move amendment No. 97:
In page 39, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
16.âThe Act of 1976 is amended by the insertion after section 7 of the following sections:
"7A.âIn this section and in sections 7B to 7Gâ
'approved scheme' means a scheme or schemes relating to the Board which is or are approved by the Revenue Commissioners, from time to time, pursuant to Part 17 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997;
'capital stock' has the meaning assigned to it by section 7B;
'company' means a company within the meaning of the Companies Act 1963;
'employees of the Board' means the officers and servants of the Board;
'net assets of the Board' means all the reserves contained in the balance sheet of the Board.
7B.â(1) By virtue of this section, the Board has, as part of its functions, the power to create stock ('capital stock') subject to such terms and conditions contained in any capital stock scheme made pursuant to section 7E, in amounts that, in aggregate, are equal to the net assets of the Board.
(2)(a) The Board may, in accordance with an approved scheme, make available to employees of the Board or trustees on their behalf up to 5 per cent of the capital stock in return for transformations in the company of at least equal value carried out by the employees of the Board.
(b) The Board shall issue 10 per cent of any capital stock to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources without payment and the said capital stock shall be treated as fully paid up.
(c) The Board shall issue the remainder of any capital stock to the Minister for Finance without payment and the said capital stock shall be treated as fully paid up.
7C.â(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Minister for Finance may, in respect of the capital stock held by him or her, exercise all the rights or powers of a holder of such capital stock and, where such right or power is exercisable by attorney, exercise it by his or her attorney.
(2) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources may, in respect of the capital stock held by him or her, exercise all the rights or powers of a holder of such capital stock and, where such right or power is exercisable by attorney, exercise it by his or her attorney.
(3) The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources shall not sell, exchange, surrender or otherwise dispose of all or any of the capital stock in the Board held by him or her without the prior consent of the Minister for Finance.
7D.âIf further legislation is enacted after the passing of this Act to reconstitute the Board as a company, then the capital stock shall be converted into ordinary share capital in the company in a manner so that the new share holdings in the company equate with the capital stock holdings in the Board immediately before the reconstitution of the Board as a company.
7E.â(1) The Board may make a scheme (in this section referred to as a 'capital stock scheme') as respectsâ
(a) the terms and conditions relating to the creation of capital stock, and
(b) the rights and obligations attaching to the capital stock,
and any such capital stock scheme shall be subject to the prior written consent of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Minister for Finance.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), a capital stock scheme made under subsection (1) may include provisions relating to dividends, voting rights, Board representation and the limitation of the transfer or alienation of beneficial ownership in capital stock.
(3) Every capital stock scheme made pursuant to this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as may be after it has been made and, if a resolution annulling the capital stock scheme is passed by either such house within the next 21 days on which that House has sat after the scheme is laid before it, the capital stock scheme shall be annulled accordingly but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder.
7F.âThe Board shall have the power to establish an approved scheme.
7G.âAll amounts representing dividends or other money received by the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in respect of capital stock held by either of them shall be paid into or disposed of for the benefit of the Exchequer in such manner as the Minister for Finance may direct.".".
The amendment is covered under section 16 of the Gas (Interim Regulation) Act 2002 and the point does not need to be included in this legislation. The point is valid but it is covered.
I move amendment No. 101:
In page 44, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
AMENDMENT OF TURF
19.âSection 22 of the Turf Development Act 1998 is amended in subsection (1)(b) by the substitution of "â¬400 million" for "Â£100 million".".
Amendment agreed to.
Bill reported with amendment.
Amendment No. 103 in the name of Deputy Broughan arises from committee proceedings. If the question on amendment No. 103 is agreed to, amendment No. 104 cannot be moved. These amendments overlap, are addressed to the same part of the Bill and must be discussed together, although they are not related. Otherwise, amendment No. 104 would fall with the decision on amendment No. 103 and there would be no opportunity to debate it.
Amendments Nos. 103 and 104 are technical amendments to the same part of the Bill. The amendments will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 103:
In page 45, lines 19 and 20, to delete all words from and including "with-" in line 19 down to and including "Finance" in line 20.
This relates to the 2001 Act and the amounts of capital stock, as well as the exercise of the powers of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in that regard. I originally tabled that amendment to ensure the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources would have the key powers in this regard. I am simply seeking, in that particular subsection, to withdraw a reference to the Department of Finance.
I know it is the usual modus operandi in State agencies that the Minister for Finance is given the key role in this regard. I was thinking in particular of the experience of the ESB some years ago when one of the Minister's predecessors, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, was in office. In order to fund the renovation of the transmission and distribution networks, the ESB raised its own finance. The reaction of the Minister at that time, as well as the Minister for Finance, was restrictive of the operation of the company. That was my primary impetus to seek to amend subsection (3).
It is a standard clause that the line Minister requires the consent of the Minister for Finance, as a majority stockholder in any of these companies. It is fairly standard across all the legislation. The proposal to remove the requirement for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to consult with the Minister for Finance would not be acceptable to the Department of Finance, and it certainly would not be acceptable to me.
This matter comes back to the fundamental issue which has been a background to many of the amendments put down by Deputy Durkan, and one or two of those which I put down myself with regard to this Bill and the NORA Bill. Ministers can act to sell shares in a State body as long as they have the permission of the Minister for Finance.
My original thought was if we left out the reference to the Minister for Finance, I believed that if the matter was not referred to the Minister for Finance, the matter would have to be returned to the House for further legislation. I am just looking at a note I made in submitting the amendment. That would mean this House would have to be involved. That was what I was trying to achieve. I was hoping the Minister would have to come back one more time with it, rather than the Minister making the decision about the sale of a semi-State body, for example, without our permission. That is the background, and it is a significant amendment.
The only point I will make is even if I accepted the amendment, I would not have to bring the matter back here. Deputy Durkan's would be more appropriate in that area. I will not accept the amendments.
I move amendment No. 105:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
EFFECT OF CERTAIN AMENDMENTS
20.â(1) In this sectionâ
"Act of 2000" means the Planning and Development Act 2000;
"Act of 2006" means the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006.
(2) In subsections (3) to (5) a reference to a numbered section without qualification is a reference to the section so numbered that has been inserted in the Act of 2000 by the Act of 2006.
(3) No approval shall be required underâ
(a) section 181B,
(b) section 182B, or
(c) section 182D,
in relation to development referred to in section 181A, 182A or 182C, respectively, ifâ
(i) in the case of development referred to in section 181A, a notification in respect of the development has been published, before the commencement of this section, in accordance with regulations under section 181(1)(b) of the Act of 2000 (whether or not the development has been commenced or completed before the commencement of this section),
(ii) in the case of development referred to in section 182A, the development has been the subject ofâ
(I) a grant of permission under section 34 of the Act of 2000 before the commencement of this section and that permission is in force immediately before such commencement, or
(II) an application made, before the commencement of this section, in accordance with the Act of 2000 and regulations thereunder for the grant of such a permission and that application does not stand withdrawn before the commencement of this section,
(iii) in the case of development referred to in section 182C, the development has been the subject ofâ
(I) a grant of consent under section 39A or 40 of the Act of 1976 before the commencement of this section and that consent is in force immediately before such commencement, or
(II) an application made, before the commencement of this section, in accordance with the Act of 1976 and regulations thereunder for the grant of such a consent and that application does not stand withdrawn before the commencement of this section.
(4) Nothing in section 182C or any other provision of the Act of 2000 shall be read as meaning that, notwithstanding the permission granted under section 34 of the Act of 2000 in respect of that terminal before such commencement, a permissionâ
(a) under section 34 or 37G of the Act of 2000, and
(b) granted after the commencement of the amendments of that Act made by the Act of 2006,
is required, either in circumstances generally or in the circumstances referred to in subsection (5), in respect of the terminal referred to in subsection (6).
(5) The circumstances mentioned in subsection (4) are that an application is made under section 182C in relation to a development which, if it is carried out, will consist of the alteration or modification of the terms of the strategic gas infrastructure development referred to in subsection (6) other than the terms of that development that comprise the terminal referred to in that subsection.
(6) The terminal mentioned in subsections (4) and (5) is a terminal comprised in a strategic gas infrastructure development (within the meaning of the Act of 2000) the pipeline comprised in which development has been the subject of a consent referred to in subsection (3)(iii)(I).".
I move amendment No. 106:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
REHABILITATION OF MINES
20.âIn this Partâ
"local authority" means a county council or city council within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2001;
"mine" means any mine or quarry within the meaning of subsection (1) or (2), respectively, of section 3 of the Mines and Quarries Act 1965 and includesâ
(a) any place to which subsection (3) of that section relates, and
(b) any place used for the deposit of spoil or other refuse taken from the mine or quarry,
and a reference to the site of a former mine shall be read accordingly;
"mine rehabilitation plan" has the meaning given in section 21(1);
"Minister" means Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources;
"rehabilitation, in relation to a mine, means the treatment of the land affected by a mine in such a way as to restore the land to a satisfactory state, with particular regard to soil quality, wildlife, natural habitats, freshwater systems, landscaping and appropriate beneficial uses.".
I move amendment No. 107:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
21.â(1) Where the Minister or a local authority is of the opinion that, in respect of the site of a former mine, the rehabilitation of the siteâ
(a) is wholly or mainly necessary for the purpose of public or animal health or safety, for the protection of the environment or is otherwise in the public interest, and
(b) it is not feasible to expect that the site will otherwise be rehabilitated within a reasonable time having regard to paragraph (a),
then the Minister, a local authority as agent of the Minister under section 23 or a local authority acting on its own behalf with the consent of the Ministerâ
(i) may prepare a plan for the long-term rehabilitation of the site ("mine rehabilitation plan"), and
(ii) may implement the mine rehabilitation plan.
(2) A mine rehabilitation plan, whether or not implemented, may be revised from time to timeâ
(a) by a local authority acting as agent of the Minister under section 23(1),
(b) by the local authority concerned with the consent of the Minister,
(c) in any other case, by the Minister.
(3) Nothing in this section shall be read as affecting any obligations ofâ
(a) the person who operated the mine, or
(b) the owner or occupier of the site of the former mine in respect of the former mine, or
(c) any other person who otherwise has obligations in respect of the site of the former mine.
(4) In preparing a mine rehabilitation plan, the Minister or a local authority (as the case may be) shall consult with each of the following, if reasonably ascertainable:
(a) the owner or occupier of the site of the former mine;
(b) the owner or occupier of any land which is affected by the site of the former mine or over which access to the site might be required;
(c) any other person who may have obligations in respect of the site of the former mine,
and may consult such any other person, including any group or association of persons, as the Minister or the local authority (as the case may be) considers appropriate in the circumstances.
(5) In revising a mine rehabilitation plan, the Minister or a local authority (as the case may be) shall, where appropriate, consult with the each of the persons referred to in subsection (4).
(6) Nothing in this Part shall be read as requiring the Minister or a local authority (as the case may be) to implement a plan prepared under this section.".
I move amendment No. 108:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
22.â(1) For the purposes ofâ
(a) a mine rehabilitation plan, or
(b) a mine rehabilitation plan which forms part of a project under section 46 (which relates to advances by the Minister for the purpose of marine or natural resource based tourism or heritage projects) of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000,
the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, from time to time advance to a person (including a local authority acting on its own behalf or as agent of the Minister) out of monies provided by the Oireachtas such sums, by way of grant or loan (where appropriate), as the Minister may determine and upon such terms and conditions as he or she considers necessary.
(2) Where before the passing of this Act a local authority undertook work as an agent for the Minister in respect of the site of a former mine, which work was undertaken in accordance with a project similar in nature to a mine rehabilitation plan, then such work shall, for the purposes of subsection (1), be deemed to be work under a mine rehabilitation plan.".
I move amendment No. 109:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
23.â(1) A local authority may be appointed by the Minister as agent of the Minister to do one or more of the following:
(a) prepare a mine rehabilitation plan;
(b) revise a mine rehabilitation plan; or
(c) carry out a mine rehabilitation plan,
on such terms and conditions as the Minister may decide.
(2) After consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Minister may appoint a local authority to discharge functions under this section in respect of so much of the site of a former mine which is within the local authority's functional area.
(3) Nothing in subsection (2) shall be read as affecting any appointment, made by the Minister before the passing of this Act, of a local authority as agent of the Minister to carry out a project similar in nature to a mine rehabilitation plan.".
I move amendment No. 110:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
24.â(1) For the purpose of deciding whether or not to prepare, revise or implement a mine rehabilitation plan in respect of the site of a former mine or in preparing, revising or implementing such a plan, the Minister, a local authority acting as agent of the Minister or a local authority acting on its own behalf (as the case may be) hasâ
(a) at all reasonable times a right of entry and a right of way to the site of the former mine, subject toâ
(i) except in cases of urgency, advance notice to the owner or occupier (in so far as such owner or occupier can reasonably be ascertained), and
(ii) if requested, the payment of compensation of an amount for any loss or expenditure incurred by the owner or occupier of any land affected by the exercise of the right of entry and the right of way by the Minister or the local authority concerned, but only to the extent that it is just and equitable in the circumstances after having had regard toâ
(I) any improvement in the land to the benefit of the owner or occupier as a consequence of the mine rehabilitation plan,
(II) any obligation that the owner or occupier of the land concerned has in respect of the site of the former mine,
(b) all such powers as may be necessary or expedient for or incidental to its functions in relation to a mine rehabilitation plan.
(a) before the passing of this Act a project, similar in nature to a mine rehabilitation plan, was commenced in respect of the site of a former mine by a local authority, whether acting as agent for the Minister or otherwise, and
(b) the project continues to be implemented or, having been implemented, the site or any part of it requires monitoring for the purposes set out in section 21(1)(a),
then paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) shall apply in respect of the site.
(3) (a) The functions of the Minister or a local authority under this section may be exercised by one or more persons on behalf of the Minister or the local authority.
(b) The owner or occupier of land to which subsection (1) relates may request evidence of identity in respect of a person exercising functions pursuant to paragraph (a).
(c) For the purposes of paragraph (b), evidence of identity may be proved in one of the following ways:
(i) if the person is an officer or employee of the Minister or the local authority, an identity card or such other document issued by or on behalf of the Minister or the local authority which identifies that person as an officer or employee (however expressed) of the Minister or the local authority, as the case may be;
(ii) in any other caseâ
(I) where a notice to which subsection (1)(a)(i) relates is given in writing and identifies the person given the power of entry, sufficient evidence to identify that person or that the person to whom the evidence relates is an officer or employee (however expressed), or is acting as an agent, of the person given the power of entry, or
(II) evidence in writing from or on behalf of the Minister or from the local authority that the person has been given the power of entry, together with sufficient evidence to identify that person or that the person to whom the evidence relates is an officer or employee (however expressed), or is acting as an agent, of the person given the power of entry.".
I move amendment No. 111:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
25.â(1) In connection with the implementation of any mine rehabilitation plan, the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, do either or both of the following:
(a) purchase by agreement such lands, or rights in, under or over such lands or any substratum of such lands, as the Minister considers necessary or expedient for the purposes of that plan;
(b) by order acquire compulsorily lands, or rights in, under or over lands or any substratum of lands, that are specified in an order made under subsection (2).
(2) (a) If for the purposes of any mine rehabilitation plan the Minister thinks it necessary or expedient to acquire compulsorily any land, or rights in, under or over land or any substratum of and, then the Minister may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, by order declare his or her intention to so acquire such land or rights. Every such order shall operate to confer on the Minister power to acquire compulsorily in accordance with this section the land or rights concerned.
(b) Before making an order under this subsection, the Minister shallâ
(i) deposit and keep open for inspection at some suitable place (public notice of which shall be given) such plans, specifications and other documents as will show fully and clearly the land or rights intended to be acquired by virtue of the order,
(ii) give notice, in such manner as he or she may consider best adapted for informing persons likely to be affected by the order, of his or her intention to consider the making of the order and of the manner in which representations and objections in respect of the order may be made, and
(iii) if he or she considers it expedient so to do, cause a public inquiry to be held in regard to the making of the order.
(3) (a) Where, immediately before an order is made by the Minister under this section, any person has any estate, right, easement, title or other interest in, over or in respect of the land acquired by the order, the person may apply to the Minister at any time after the making of the order for compensation in respect of that interest and the Minister shall, subject to subsection (4), thereupon pay to the person by way of compensation an amount equal to the value (if any), on the date of the order, of that interest together with interest at such rate as the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, may determine from time to time, on the amount from that date to the date of payment thereof.
(b) The compensation to be paid under this paragraph in respect of any estate, right, easement, title or interest of any kind in, over or in respect of land shall, in default of agreement, be determined by arbitration under and in accordance with the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act 1919.
(4) (a) The Minister may by regulations, in such cases (if any) and to such extent as he or she considers necessary for the purposes of compulsory acquisition under this section, apply all or any of the provisions of sections 69 to 83 of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act 1845 as ifâ
(i) such compensation were purchase money or compensation under that Act, and
(ii) the Minister was the promoter of the undertaking, together with any other necessary modifications.
(b) Where money is paid into court under section 69 of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act 1845, as applied by the Minister under this subsection, no costs shall be payable by the Minister to any person in respect of any proceedings for the investment, payment of income or payment of capital of such money.
(5) The following applies to any public inquiry held under this section:
(a) the Minister shall appoint a fit and proper person to hold the inquiry;
(b) such person is hereby authorised to administer oaths to persons appearing as witnesses at the inquiry; and
(c) any person with an interest in or affected by the subject matter of the inquiry shall be entitled to appear personally or by counsel or solicitor and to adduce evidence.
(6) Nothing in this section shall be read as restricting the powers of a local authority to compulsorily acquire the site of a former mine, or any part of such site, under the Derelict Sites Act 1990 or under any other enactment.".
I move amendment No. 112:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"26.âAny expenditure incurred under this Part by the Minister or a local authority in the rehabilitation of the site of a former mine may, where considered appropriate in the circumstances, be recovered by the Minister or the local authority (as the case may be) against any person with a contractual or other enforceable obligation to rehabilitate that site to the extent of that person's obligation to rehabilitate the mine.".
I move amendment No. 113:
In page 45, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
27.â(1) This Part is in addition to, and not in substitution or restrictive of, any other requirement or obligation imposed by law.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) or in any other act or in any instrument made under an act shall be read so as to restrict the exercise of functions under this Part.".
I thank the Minister for his contributions in recent days. The first time we saw this Bill it was a significantly different Bill. I thank all our Fianna FÃ¡il and Progressive Democrats colleagues for coming into the House to listen to the penultimate Stage of this debate.
He has also brought forward a number of very timely and important amendments relating to Bord GÃ¡is Ãireann, Bord na MÃ³na and the general administration of the energy companies for which I commend him. I hope the Minister will consider a number of the issues, in particular the issue relating to refineries and pipelines, when the Bill goes to the Seanad, and produce an amended version if it would help to resolve the Corrib gas situation and get the gas flowing, which is what we all want to see happen as soon as possible.
I thank the Minister for accepting some of our amendments. I thank all those who contributed in one way or another on both sides of the House to this important and topical legislation. It was unfortunate the Bill had to come into the House in a truncated version because events were unfolding. It would be better practice in future to anticipate the full scope intended in this legislation. It would be far better from the Minister's point of view and from the point of view of those discussing the Bill to bring it into the House in that fashion. It is very difficult to discuss a Bill when one has not seen the full version of it and one must table amendments to something that one has not seen. It is like boxing in the dark, which is a very difficult process and a very dangerous practice. Notwithstanding the fact that he did not, in a wave of collegiality at the end, embrace our amendments in a welter of enthusiasm, we will forgive the Minister. We hope the Bill will do the job it was intended to do and I thank the Minister.
I thank all those who contributed to this Bill. I thank the Ceann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Acting Chairman for assisting the passage of the Bill through the House. I acknowledge the help and assistance I have received from Deputies opposite. We have had robust debate on a number of occasions as the Bill passed through the House. It has undergone a number of significant and important changes as a result of this consideration, which is how it should be.
The Bill started out as a regulatory Bill. Deputy Durkan is correct that it is better if we could anticipate things as they unfold. It is a better practice that the completed Bill is before the House from the outset. It now touches on a number of other key areas, including gas safety, mine site rehabilitation and strategic infrastructure. Despite the fact that I did not accommodate all Deputy Durkan's amendments, the Bill gives a key role to Members of the Oireachtas in the development of policy in the future.
I refer to the public safety issue which was raised by Deputy Broughan. I reiterate my response to him that it will be dealt with either in the Seanad or in separate legislation in the coming year.
I thank my officials and the staff of the House for all the assistance and co-operation received in the passage of the Bill through the House.