Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The following motion was moved by Deputy Liz McManus on Tuesday, 12 October 2010:

That Dáil Éireann, noting that:

— electricity prices increased by almost 5% from 1st October, 2010;

— there is a significant pressure from this electricity price increase on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) experiencing financial hardship and households dependent on low incomes;

— electricity disconnections have increased to an alarming level of approximately 2,500 every month;

— similarly gas disconnections have risen to 20 disconnections a day with approximately 90,000 customers experiencing debt difficulties;

— there is a changing demographic of those in fuel poverty as indicated by research that shows that approximately 60% of gas disconnections taking place are in owner occupied housing;

—€35 million in grant aid set aside for crucial insulation schemes in 2009 was handed back, unspent, to the Department of Finance;

— the cost of disconnections and reconnections as levied on the customer is prohibitive in many cases;

— the Minister for Finance stated that the revenue from the carbon tax would, in part, be used to alleviate fuel poverty yet he has failed to deliver on this promise;

— the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has so far failed to enable the allocation of funding promised by the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Act 2010 to large energy users; and

— the Minister for Finance has failed to implement a vouched fuel allowance scheme, as promised in Budget 2010;

calls on the Government to:

— publish a fuel poverty strategy as a matter of urgency in view of the Programme for Government commitment that it would be 'published by the end of 2009';

— adopt the Fuel Poverty and Energy Conservation Bill as published by the Labour Party in 2008;

— scrap the plan by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) to insist on the rebranding of Bord Gáis and ESB, which Bord Gáis alone estimate will cost it €40 million, a cost to be borne by the consumer;

— direct the CER to implement a zero disconnection policy through the use of prepayment meters and to develop an acceptable policy in relation to disconnection fees;

— implement a National Retrofit Programme as a matter of urgency, with payment plans which will ensure participation from all sections of society, not just those with disposable incomes and to ensure that all moneys allocated are actually spent;

— ring-fence funds raised through the carbon tax to combat fuel poverty in line with commitments given by the Minister for Finance;

— consider extending the carbon revenue levy to SMEs;

— implement a vouched fuel allowance scheme to offset the financial pressures on low income households following the introduction of the carbon tax on 1st May, 2010, as promised by the Minister for Finance; and

— extend a National Retrofit Programme to public buildings, including schools and hospitals in order to bring unemployed construction workers into the workforce and enable apprentices to complete their apprenticeships, in line with Government commitments for 33% energy saving across the public sector by 2020.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"recognises that:

— Ireland faces particular challenges in terms of energy cost competitiveness, including significant dependence on volatile imported fossil fuels, particularly gas and a requirement for major investment in energy infrastructure, following two decades of under-investment;

— the implementation of Government policies, along with falling natural gas prices, has led to significant reductions in Irish electricity prices in recent years, bringing them closer to and in some cases below EU and Eurozone averages for both domestic and business consumers;

— Government policy to foster competition in energy markets is working, with multiple suppliers offering a range of products to all segments of the market and that significant discounts are available to households and businesses who simply switch their supplier;

— the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy in place for this year accounts for the entirety of the rise in electricity prices from 1st October, 2010, that the Government has decided to cover the full cost of the levy for those households in receipt of the free electricity allowance and that a significant number of domestic and business customers could reduce their electricity bills and more than offset this cost by availing of reductions offered in the competitive electricity market or by engaging in Government supported energy efficiency programmes;

— improving energy efficiency has been widely agreed internationally as a key mechanism to offset energy price rises, enhance security of supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions;

— increasing the contribution of renewable energy in the Irish fuel mix is the best protection against further fossil fuel price rises;

— the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Act 2010 commenced on 1st July, 2010, that the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and the Department have put in place the necessary administrative procedures and arrangements and that the CER has been administering the scheme since 1st October, 2010; and

— re-branding is a necessary part of deepening the EU internal market liberalisation process and enhancing competition in the national market, in the best interests of consumers;

commends the Government for:

— its comprehensive actions to deliver a secure, sustainable and competitive energy supply, including its commitment to increasing competition as the best means of exerting downward pressure on electricity prices in the long term, and improving the regulation of energy markets, with resultant benefits to consumers;

— its policy of enhancing security of supply and reducing our exposure to volatile international fuel prices through increased fuel diversity, with particular focus on indigenous and renewable resources;

— its continuing commitment to those most at risk of energy poverty, through the creation of a cohesive and coordinated approach to energy affordability issues overseen by the inter-Departmental/Agency Group on Affordable Energy;

— its commitment to produce a comprehensive Affordable Energy Strategy which will outline actions to protect vulnerable households with a view to ensuring that existing and future measures are targeted at households where the risk of energy poverty is greatest;

— its commitment to 340,000 fuel allowance recipients by providing over €231 million in 2009/2010 via the fuel allowance and smokeless fuel scheme as a contribution towards a person's home heating costs;

— its commitment to 380,000 Household Benefits Package recipients, which will cost in excess of €200 million in 2010;

— committing to domestic and non-domestic energy efficiency programmes including for social housing, including:

— its continued commitment to the Warmer Homes Scheme, which has supported community-based organisations and private sector contractors to provide nearly 51,000 energy efficiency improvements in low-income households over the past nine years; This year alone will see energy efficiency expenditure near €30 million in vulnerable homes;

— its commitment towards improving the quality of private housing for vulnerable groups through the provision of €80 million in 2010 for the operation of the housing adaptation grant schemes for older people and people with a disability; and

— its commitment to providing incentives for domestic retrofits through the Home Energy Saving (HES) schemes, which was launched in March 2009 and since then has processed over 86,000 applications resulting in expenditure of over €48 million;

— its commitment to introducing a new national retrofit programme in 2011 on foot of the most recent consultation exercise which closed in mid-September 2010 and which aims to deliver energy efficiency upgrades to one million residential, public and commercial buildings in Ireland, involving energy supply companies, energy services providers, construction workers, energy auditors and policymakers;

— the provision of significant programme supports for all businesses, including an energy efficiency tax incentive under the Accelerated Capital Allowance scheme; Over 1,600 businesses have already availed of this programme, all of whom have identified immediate savings, typically greater than 10% of costs; Total business cost savings from the programme already total close to €60 million a year;

— the creation in June 2010 of an Energy Efficiency Fund, which supports exemplar energy efficiency projects in the public and commercial sectors; 43 projects have been approved to date which will deliver lifetime savings of over €70 million; and

— its comprehensive package of measures to mitigate energy costs for large energy users, including the taking of windfall gains from the electricity industry, the provision of rebates and the rebalancing of network charges."

- (Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources).

6:00 pm

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Ring.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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This is a very timely debate as we are beginning to move into autumn nights with the cold winter ahead. We had a very good discussion a number of days ago on disconnections with the stakeholders in the industry, namely, Bord Gáis, Airtricity and the ESB. The regulator was also present. We were presented with options for a number of solutions, one of which is a system of paying upfront, which is being used by the ESB. Airtricity proposes a swipe card, a little similar to a pay-as-you-go card for call credit.

I would like to see the industry ensuring a level playing field between all of the companies. At present, there seem to be different standards for different companies and the fact that we have two State companies does not mean that people should be given a free licence not to pay their electricity bill. Some people are using the recession for debt hopping. I made the suggestion that the regulator should get involved or find out whether it is permissible to allow information to flow from one company to another regarding any outstanding amount on a bill if somebody changes from one operator to another. The main issue that came out of that debate was to ensure that we have in place structures to facilitate people who are unable to pay their electricity bill rather than those who choose not to pay. We all accept that if we facilitate those who do not want to pay their bill for the wrong reasons then everybody else will end up paying more. That would be particularly unfair. We were told last December in the budget for 2010 that the Minister would put in place a structure to facilitate those people through a vouched system. This has not happened and this is wrong.

Another matter with regard to disconnection and reconnection is the charge involved which comes in at approximately €400, including VAT. The Government is getting its slice from people who are misfortunate enough to find themselves in the difficult circumstances of not being able to pay their bill. We have to ensure these issues are resolved.

The installation schemes are a big help and the ESB must be commended for providing €3 million in this regard. Bord Gáis also operates installation schemes. Amazingly, the Government returned €35 million to the Department from the insulation grants made available.

I know I am jumping about, but I have only five minutes and I want to refer to the carbon levy. Introducing a carbon levy at this time is madness. We in this country have an obsession with process and we will now charge elderly people and those experiencing fuel poverty a levy to stop them using fuel which they require to remain warm. I view this as Dickensian at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. This is not 1810 or 1820; it is 2010 moving towards 2011.

For anybody to consider forcing the ESB or Bord Gáis to spend approximately €40 million each changing their name and brand is the highest form of madness in this economic climate. It is something to which no sane person in this Chamber could put his or her name. I call on whoever made this decision to cop on and stop this process. We should not waste money. It is hard won and we will find out in the first week in December how hard that is. Let us not waste it.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I compliment my colleagues in the Labour Party for bringing this motion before the Dáil. As a colleague of mine from Mayo, I am surprised at the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary. The Green Party element of the Government is destroying rural Ireland and is having a serious effect, particularly on elderly people. First we had the carbon tax, followed by the PSO levy. The Fianna Fáil Party, particularly its rural Deputies, must have gone yellow because it is allowing those in the Green Party to do this. We all love to have a green country and to have everything green but a big price is being paid for it. Those paying this price are the elderly, the sick and the weak. They will have to turn off the heat and will only be able to afford to turn on their fires at certain times of the day. This country does not have a climate which will guarantee three or four months of summer weather. People in this country need their fire every day of the week, 52 weeks of the year, particularly during a harsh winter such as we had last year which was shocking.

Is the regulator living in the real world? I know the regulator is on €300,000 or €400,000 a year and he will not depend on the €20 a week fuel allowance. This country is in a most serious economic crisis and he allowed the price of fuel to increase. First of all we had the Green Party and Fianna Fáil carbon tax and then we had the PSO levy. The price of a bale of briquettes has increased by approximately 7% and the cost of oil and fuel has increased by approximately 8% as a result of the new levies.

What is wrong with the Fianna Fáil backbenchers? Are they not going to stop the Green Party people? Do they want people to leave the country? The Minister announced that in the past week he increased the units with regard to the ESB. However, the fuel allowance will have to be increased if the prices of briquettes, coal and oil have increased while people's incomes are decreasing and social welfare has been cut back. We have to do something to protect these people.

I wish to address those on the Fianna Fáil wing of the Government. I know they have gone yellow. The Green Party has gone green but we can no longer afford the Green Party. People in rural Ireland cannot afford it. The carbon tax affects rural Ireland more than urban Ireland. It affects us because we depend on our cars. We do not have Dublin Bus or the Luas. The new charges on fuel are having a big effect.

Elderly people have to be protected. Fuel is essential. If one asks older people what they want, they will answer that they want security and a bit of heat in their home. The Government must protect the most vulnerable. We must protect the weak and the elderly. I say to everybody involved in formulating the budget that the fuel allowance of €20 is not enough. We need it increased to protect the most vulnerable. These people must be protected.

The regulator has to live in the real world. He cannot be allowed to dictate policy in economic times such as these. It was fine two or three years ago when we thought we were awash with money. We are not awash with money now. That guy is making decisions but he was not elected; he was appointed by the Government. I blame the Minister, the Government and the Taoiseach because this Government has set up quango after quango, none of which is responsible to the House. The regulator stated that the PSO levy was necessary but it was not necessary at this time. It has put further pressure on businesses and the elderly and this cannot continue.

We must protect the most vulnerable and those who need a bit of heat. The increased charges on fuel introduced in recent years are wrong. Some 110,000 people are now making weekly payments to the ESB and Bord Gáis. These people have mortgages and are in jobs and they are doing so because they cannot afford their fuel. There is an outrageous situation in this country where people must ring up Bord Gáis and the ESB to enter into arrangements because they cannot afford to pay their fuel charges. Something has to be done. These people have to be protected. I say to the green wing of Fianna Fáil not to be so yellow and to stand up for the elderly people of this country who need to be protected.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I understand Deputy Micheál Kitt is sharing time with Deputies Charlie O'Connor, Timmy Dooley and Thomas Byrne, the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and Deputy Peter Kelly.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I am very happy to have an opportunity to speak in this Private Members' debate.

I, too, am very concerned at the reports of high levels of disconnection of electricity. I saw a figure of 2,500 disconnections and many of them would be in rural areas. I have made a case for many people who have come to me on this issue and I hope that there will be some improvement in the situation. I appeal to the ESB to engage in more discussion with those who have difficulties paying their electricity bills. I have seen figures for gas disconnections at the rate of 20 disconnections a day. Those disconnections probably are mostly in the city areas.

In tonight's short debate, I want to look for more investment in energy infrastructure because there has been under investment in that area for a number of years. I was heartened when I saw funding provided for the Tuam water and sewerage scheme over a year ago that at least we were putting in gas mains and pipes along with the work that was done in the town. In fact, the gas pipes went in with telephone lines and broadband. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, played a pivotal role in ensuring that happened. It would not have happened without his intervention. That is an important point on infrastructure.

I am glad that there has been a fall in electricity prices in recent years and there have been falling gas prices. I understand our prices are close to the EU average which is a positive development, but I would like more competition and more reductions in electricity prices.

On the question of the PSO levy which Deputy Ring mentioned, the Government has decided to cover the full cost of the levy for households in receipt of the free electricity allowance and, obviously, that is something I very much welcome. The energy efficiency programmes are also very important. I would hope that we will get the funding for renewable energy. There is a great deal of talk about it but I would like to see more action on it. Indeed, we in the west all know the great potential for wind power.

There have been many references to those who are most at risk of fuel poverty or energy poverty. I am certainly one who will be pushing very much for an increase in the fuel allowance. Last year there was a particularly bad winter and we needed funding for that scheme. There are now 340,000 recipients of the fuel allowance and €231 million was provided in the period 2009-2010. Those schemes, both the fuel allowance and the smokeless fuel scheme, were very important to them. The household benefit package, which has been improved in recent years, is a good scheme. There are 380,000 people in receipt of that package and the costs involved are approximately €200 million for this year.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy has one minute.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Briefly, I would hope that in the budget, which is very relevant to what we are talking about, that scheme will be improved.

As well as the fuel allowance, another issue that has been raised often with me is the question of those in receipt of the widow's pension who are under 66 years of age and who do not qualify for those packages. I hope the Minister will address that aspect.

I welcome the warmer home scheme and the housing adaptation scheme. Of course, if we had more money for the retrofit programme, as I hope we will next year, we would be able to deliver for 1 million residential, public and commercial buildings in Ireland. I welcome this debate. I am glad of the opportunity to say my few words in it.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. At the outset, I compliment the efforts of Deputy McManus, who has given us all an opportunity to speak about matters we want to raise.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle allowed my colleague, Deputy Micheál Kitt, to mention Tuam and on that basis I presume I can mention Tallaght, Templeogue, Greenhills, Firhouse, Brittas, Bohernabreena and all of the areas that I represent along with my colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan and Deputies Pat Rabbitte and Brian Hayes. I try to bring to these debates the points that are made to us on the doorsteps, in the supermarkets and on the streets. People are talking about this issue and although I am on the Labour Party benches and am comfortable here for the moment, I am a Government Deputy and I will not be afraid to speak out for issues that are of concern to people. I hope - I say this directly to the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan - that the Government will continue to honour its commitment to deliver a sustainable, secure, competitive energy supply because that is very important.

Deputy Ring made a number of points. I can never rise to the level of debate he can-----

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Deputy O'Connor need not worry, and neither can anyone else.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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-----but I will do my best. He made some sense. Many of these issues, as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be aware, are raised on a regular basis at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection, formerly the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, where, as far as possible, we take an all-party approach. I believe strongly that we all can echo what he said, that the Government must continue to protect the vulnerable.

Over the next 55 days we all will be lobbied by all sorts of groups. Even today, if one looked around the corridors, there were several groups in lobbying. The USI students were across the road, and the Carer's Association and a number of other groups were here in Leinster House. Everybody has a point of view to express to all the Government Deputies and to all the Opposition spokespersons and Deputies as to what should be done on 7 December and, indeed, beyond, and it is important that we would take that into account. Certainly, I have no hesitation in saying that I have always believed - it is where I have come from politically - that the Government, irrespective of who is in power, must continue to protect the most vulnerable.

I made the point at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection meeting this morning that we are dealing not only with people who were traditionally in that situation, but with people who now constitute a new poor who find themselves having to seek assistance in a way they never did previously, and it is important that we would support them in every way.

The committee I mentioned has taken on board a number of issues in recent times. We demanded and sought assurance from the energy suppliers on disconnections, and I noted that other Deputies mentioned this. We must be careful to note the distinction between those families who cannot pay and those who will not pay, but there are families that are struggling and are challenged. This t is the same in every constituency, not only in the Dublin region, and not only where I live, work and represent. People are finding it difficult.

Some of the companies' policies on disconnections and associated issues need to be questioned. They have claimed to the committee that they are looking at this in a caring way, but there is evidence available to all of us that sometimes they act in a way they should not, and I believe there is a responsibility on us to speak out in that regard. The Government should protect those people and as far as possible ensure that disconnection is a last resort.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, for example, which we all know in every one of our communities, also made the point at the committee that a level of acceptance will have to be reached by the companies and they will have to, as I stated, try to work with those families who are in difficulties.

The key message we must put out is that customers should contact their suppliers in every case to make arrangements before it gets to the point where they are forced to disconnect, and I would hope that they would do so.

I also take this opportunity to wish my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, well in his brief. I will not rise to all of this stuff about bashing the Greens. As far as I am concerned, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has done good work. I have heard Members from the Opposition benches say that. I would like to wish him well also. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his forbearance.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is always difficult to speak in the House having heard the eloquence and colour of Deputy Ring. It is always interesting to hear his point of view but it must be difficult for the leader of his party to listen to him and still bring some coherence to the policy, presentations and matters which his party seeks to advance when we hear the tribalism and playing to the local gallery in which Deputy Ring engages. Unfortunately, he has painted a rather negative picture of the Government's approach but I argue it has been one of forward thinking.

Like Deputy O'Connor, I would be very much of the point of view that one tries to protect the most vulnerable and one does so at all costs and on all occasions. In doing so, one must identify the most vulnerable and that is probably the most difficult thing to try to establish in the current environment. The groups in society who were vulnerable in the past are no longer vulnerable in comparison to those who have suffered most as a result of the downturn. There is little doubt of the necessity to keep a home warm; providing for one's family in that regard is an absolute requirement and the State must ensure that is possible.

One cannot be blind to the approach the Minister has taken in encouraging people to better insulate their homes under the warmer homes scheme, which has been successful. I spoke to a contractor recently who told me the number of homes to which his business had carried out external cladding, which is suitable for insulating older houses, the walls of which are not suitable to pump with insulation beads and in which houses the normal type of insulation common in many other homes is not suitable. The advances that are being made in this area are truly the way forward.

This approach is about ensuring that we do not continue to consume a resource with a finite existence. We need to promote that idea in a way that grips people's imagination and attention, rather than relying on the old adage that it is the Government's duty to effectively ensure that everybody's home is heated through the conventional methodology. We must examine the alternatives. In the current tight financial constraints in which we find ourselves, we must be smart about how we spend money in this area while the underlying policy must be to protect those who are vulnerable and need our assistance. However, the only way to do so does not have to be a direct payment on a weekly basis. If we can assist people with some capital moneys to ensure that their long-term requirements are significantly less than they were heretofore, then that is the way forward.

We must also invest significantly in the security of our energy supply. I am disappointed Deputy Ring did not make greater play of the characteristics of his county, particularly in regard to the harnessing of wind and the development of the generation of electricity through wave and tidal power. Much of this technology is at an embryonic stage but it is at a stage where Ireland can be a world leader. If we invest money in research and development in this area, we can provide for the future.

If Deputy Ring and others suggest that being in government is all about nearsightedness and looking in on oneself rather than having a policy platform or an agenda for the future, they need to reprogramme their thinking before they face the electorate whenever that be. The approach being taken requires a much broader level of thinking and a much better understanding of what the future holds, recognising that carbon fuels are finite resources, whether they are used to provide heat or generate electricity.

The Government has grappled with, mastered and effectively controlled a twin-track approach in this area while keeping a focus on those who are vulnerable, where they are at and who are the emerging vulnerability groups.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted to have this opportunity to take part in this debate on a Private Members' motion on electricity, energy and fuel, broadly amended by the Government. I am glad that the Labour Party tabled the motion but I am more glad that the Government has amended it to reflect the reality of the good work that has been undertaken by agencies on behalf of the State.

Perhaps the Labour Party has selective memory or perhaps its elected representatives are not aware of the good work that has been and is being done across the country under the warmer homes scheme. I am astounded that it failed to mention it in its motion. Then again it is always easier for the Labour Party to complain and be against everything than to be constructive or for something.

It is on the topic of this scheme that I wish to spend most of my allotted time, as it is one that works and one that is of great benefit to my constituents in Meath East. The warmer homes scheme was set up by the Government to systematically address the poor heat efficiency performance of low income housing. The scheme provides attic insulation, draught proofing, lagging jackets, energy efficient lighting, cavity wall insulation, energy advice and, in some cases, even new central heating systems. Many people are surprised to learned that central heating is provided under this scheme in certain circumstances.

The scheme is targeted at householders who are in receipt of the fuel allowance under a scheme operated by the Department of Social Protection. In addition to the works carried out under the scheme, information is also provided to the householder on energy awareness. We know of many examples of how this scheme benefits people. We had a discussion on fuel poverty at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Social Protection and I battled to have the warmer homes scheme discussed. We were given the figures for the reduction in energy bills that results from works under this scheme. I have seen people across my constituency overjoyed with the work carried to their houses under this scheme and with the difference it makes. As the winter approaches, the number of telephone calls to my office about this scheme have increased and interest in it is peaking as we approach the colder months. Some 99% of people are extremely satisfied with the work under the scheme and if an issue arises, it is easy to get the contractor to come back to deal with it. By the end of this year more than 22,500 homes will have benefited from the scheme. It is making the lives of constituents better on a real basis and it demonstrates the commitment of the Government to tackling fuel poverty, not just by way of a handout but by way of reducing energy bills for individuals and for the State and creating employment among the contractors who carry out these works. Constituents in Kells, Ashbourne, Duleek, Navan, Drumconrath and places like that have all received a fantastic service under this scheme and they will see considerable reductions in their heating bills this winter. Ultimately, they will have a better quality of life.

Members of the Carers Association were in the precincts of this House today to present the association's pre-budget submission. Carers and the people they look after are often some of the people most in need of ensuring they have fuel efficiency. Some of them have the highest fuel and heating bills in the country. The warmer homes scheme directly addresses some of the issues affecting this crucially important sector of society.

I hope that in the next budget the Government can increase the allocation for the warmer homes scheme and progress further with the national retrofitting programme. Not only does it reduce fuel poverty, it increases local employment opportunities for people who otherwise might be out of work. Perhaps the scheme's eligibility criteria could be expanded. It has to have some kind of a test and the test is whether one qualifies for the fuel allowance but, unfortunately, that excludes people in receipt of jobseeker's allowance or jobseeker's benefit. It would be worthwhile to have those groups included because they face substantial heating bills. While this would cost additional moneys it would no doubt be recouped through PAYE and PRSI paid by the contractors carrying out those works. The scheme serves the twin purpose of reducing fuel poverty and increasing local employment. Anyone who is not aware of the scheme, is in receipt of the fuel allowance and wants to find out if they would be eligible to have works carried out under this scheme will get a positive answer from the Government that this Government is prepared to improve their homes, the fuel and heat efficiency and, ultimately, reduce their bills by the most effective means possible.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I call Deputy Peter Kelly. I advise the Deputy that I understand the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, is to speak but if he does not there are ten minutes left in the slot. The Deputy will be flexible the Minister arrives.

Photo of Peter KellyPeter Kelly (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Leas-Ceann Comhairle the Minister?

The Government has introduced a wide range of comprehensive actions aimed at delivering a secure, sustainable and competitive energy supply. The Minister outlined these actions in some detail last night. However, I will touch on some of them this evening.

I will first examine the issue of pricing. We must keep our electricity and gas costs down. The fact remains that Government policies, along with falling natural gas prices, have led to significant reductions in electricity prices. In some cases, prices are below the European Union and eurozone average for both domestic and business customers. Given that the Minister cited statistics from EUROSTAT when he spoke on this issue at length last night, I will not repeat his figures.

One of the reasons for the improvement in prices has been the opening of the energy market. A host of suppliers offers a range of products to different segments of the market and significant discounts are available to domestic and business users who switch suppliers. Immediate discounts can be as high as 14%. Competition is the way forward and in that respect and I welcome the opening of the market.

At all times the Government has remained committed to protecting those who are most at risk of energy poverty. We are in the process of producing a comprehensive affordable energy strategy which will outline actions to protect vulnerable people. When published, the strategy will significantly influence energy affordability for years to come. As the Minister stated last night, while it has taken longer than expected to bring the strategy to Government, it is important that we get it right. After all, it will influence our approach to energy affordability for years to come.

Recognising the difficulties that can arise from fuel poverty, the Government provides various supports to low income households. The warmer homes scheme, for example, has helped community based organisations and private sector contractors to provide nearly 51,000 energy efficiency improvements in low income households over the past nine years. This year alone we spent close to €30 million on energy efficiency in vulnerable homes. I compliment and congratulate the staff working on the warmer homes scheme in County Longford on the magnificent job they have done. They are pleasant and courteous and have visited homes at short notice and strive to help people to the best of their ability.

A further 380,000 people are in receipt of either the free electricity or free gas allowance under the household benefits package. The Minister for Social Protection recently announced that this scheme will also cover the cost of the PSO levy. In addition, 340,000 customers receive fuel allowance payments of €20 per week to help with home heating costs for 32 weeks from September to the end of April. More than 20% of domestic electricity customers are in receipt of some form of direct financial support for their energy costs through the Department of Social Protection.

On the issue of disconnections, I favour the use of pre-pay meters. I compliment the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Money Advice and Budgeting Service in my constituency on the great work they are doing. While some people support the Commission for Energy Regulation's proposal to rebrand Bord Gáis, I cannot justify or support such a rebranding if it will cost money.

I share the concern expressed by many people at recent newspaper headlines concerning an increase in the number of disconnections. I was somewhat heartened to learn, however, that all suppliers are required to put in place codes of practice setting out the steps that must be taken before initiating a disconnection. Protections are also in place for vulnerable customers to prevent electricity suppliers from disconnecting elderly customers in the winter months. I appeal to the Commission for Energy Regulation, as a matter of urgency, to bring together the various stakeholders and publish a review of disconnections shortly. I await the commission's document with interest.

If we have learned anything this evening, it is that criticisms of the Government's energy policies do not stand up to scrutiny.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle as ucht deis a thabhairt dom cúpla focal a rá ar an gceist seo. Is í fadhb an bochtanais breosla ceann de na fadhbanna is mó lena bhfuil mé ag plé mar Aire Coimirce Sóisialaí. Is ceist an-chasta í, ar ndóigh, os rud é go gcaitheann go leor daoine go leor airgid ar teas ach go dtéann an teas sin amú orthu. Creidim go bhfuil fíor-thábhacht ag baint le déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil tithe te teolaí ag daoine - a tithe féin nó tithe atá ar cíos acu. Cé go bhfuil go leor oibre ar bun faoin warmer homes scheme, creidim go bhfuil sé thar a bheith tábhachtach dlús a chur leis an obair sin, go mórmhór trí na scéimeanna fostaíochta atá faoi chúram mo Roinne. Tá sé i gceist agam díriú isteach ar an obair sin. Chuige sin, bhí cruinniú agam le gairid leis an Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, féachaint an féidir tuilleadh oibre a dhéanamh maidir le tithe nach bhfuil clúdaithe ag an warmer homes scheme.

While I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words on fuel poverty, I will not be able to do justice to the issue in the five minutes available to me. I will briefly discuss a number of issues of concern to me. If we want people to be warm in their homes, it is vital that we tackle the issue of energy efficiency. I recently had a meeting with officials from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to discuss using increased numbers of scheme places to do extra work on the warmer home schemes through voluntary bodies. The schemes are operating very successfully in some areas, while in others the SEAI has private companies doing the work, which is also fine. In other places, however, adequately trained people are not available to do the work required under the scheme.

I also discussed with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland the need to continue to increase the quality and sophistication of the work. While this work is being done correctly, it is reasonably basic.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Will Deputies be supplied with a copy of the Minister's speech?

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have a script.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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The Minister appears to be holding one.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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I have notes, which the Deputy may have.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Ministers do not always use scripts when contributing on Private Members' time.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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With all the swapping of scripts that takes place in the House, I often believe we could all stay at home and save ourselves a great deal of time.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Ar aghaidh leat, a Aire - níl ach dhá nóiméad go leith fágtha agat.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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The Minister is underselling himself.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Private Members' business should be about debate.

A second issue I have been considering is the fact that a high percentage of those who suffer fuel poverty live in rented accommodation. As Deputies are no doubt aware, a high percentage of rented accommodation, especially that rented by those on low incomes, is paid for indirectly through the rental subsidy scheme. In conjunction with the Private Residential Tenancies Board and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, I have been examining whether it is possible to ensure that people who rent accommodation could be sure of the BER rating of their accommodation.

To cite an example, 2% of owner occupied households versus 14% of accommodation rented below the market rate and local authority rent-free households reported that their accommodation was not comfortable in the winter. Similarly, 2% of those residing in detached houses versus 9% of those residing in apartments, bed-sits and flats reported that their accommodation was not comfortable or warm in the winter.

In addition to the warmer homes scheme, which is of great importance and in which my Department can play a central role, it will be necessary, through the rent allowance scheme, to address the issue of rented accommodation because all the evidence points to the effect that those in rented accommodation are suffering grievously from fuel poverty, despite being in receipt of the free fuel scheme. A large body of work remains to be done in this area and I will direct my attention towards this phenomenon in the coming months to try to ensure that this specific highly vulnerable group is dealt with.

Every statistic available to me shows that one parent families are the most vulnerable cohort in society. All the poverty statistics, when done analytically, including those on fuel poverty, show that this group always comes out on top in terms of deprivation. I will focus my attention on ensuring that this particular cohort is not left behind when fuel poverty is being addressed.

Photo of Jack WallJack Wall (Kildare South, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Jan O'Sullivan, Kathleen Lynch, Penrose and Costello.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Jack WallJack Wall (Kildare South, Labour)
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No Member on either side of this House is unaware of the problems emanating from such a high percentage of family homes at present. I have listened to Members refer to the warmer homes scheme and I agree that the number of people in towns in south County Kildare such as Athy, Newbridge or Kildare who have installed a system is highly positive. A drawback to the scheme is that many people who have a small pension, etc., do not qualify for the fuel allowance scheme and consequently do not qualify for this grant. This is to the scheme's detriment because it is doing such good work in making provision for families. However, someone with a small post office pension or small occupational pension and who did not qualify for the fuel allowance scheme does not qualify for this scheme. Consequently, those who wish to avail of the grant must make down payments. Hopefully this will be addressed.

In his contribution, the Minister for Social Protection spoke of one-parent families and the major problems they encounter in life when trying to provide for their loved ones in the present economic climate. This is one sector of the community that requires assistance at present. Moreover, according to the stories recounted by the director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, such problems can emanate right down to local branches of that society nationwide and each branch has its back to the wall when trying to provide for vulnerable people within their respective communities. We have learned of the energy regulator's proposal to make people pay their energy bills by imposing a reconnection fee of €200. Who will pay that €200? This is the amazing thing about regulators and their wonderful flair for developing theories in their own mind. Such reconnection fees will be paid for by either the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or a community welfare officer and in the case of the latter, it will come from State funding. These families will be put through the mill while trying to get that €200 to ensure there is light and heat in the house and that something will be ready for the kids when they come home from school. While the regulator has been wonderful in his assessment of what he has done to ensure they will suffer, it will be the kids in those families who will suffer and not the regulator in his big high office.

In the context of the difficulties arising from our present economic difficulties, I refer to the insistence by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, that Bord Gáis and the ESB must spend €80 million to rebrand and rename themselves. When one considers what could be done with such an amount for one-parent families and senior citizens with regard to the matter under discussion, it is a sacrilege that the energy regulator should be allowed to get away with this proposal. I appeal to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to invite representatives of the commission before it. They should be put through the mill to explain why this should happen at a time when the energy regulator is making families suffer because they are unable to meet the reconnection payment requirements. The children of those families will suffer because of the fine - which is the only way one can describe this fee - of €200 being imposed on families to be reconnected to gas or electricity supplies.

I note that a statement regarding Bord Gáis talks about how 59% of the households being disconnected are in private estates. However, that figure is not relevant because many local authority estates are not connected to the gas lines. It is merely a figure Bord Gáis came up with itself. Only Members of this House are familiar with the hardship being experienced by families nationwide while trying to ensure there is heat and electricity in the house. Consequently, Members should stand up and be counted in opposition to the expenditure the regulator is imposing on every family in this country both to rebrand the ESB and Bord Gáis and in respect of the proposed fine to have one's electricity or gas supply reconnected. The aforementioned joint committee should invite representatives of the CER before it and should ensure that these two matters will be addressed in order that funding and facilities will be made available to families to ensure they will not be scapegoated by the energy regulator's high-flying ideas.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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I am disappointed by the response thus far from Ministers to this debate. In particular, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, spoke a few minutes ago and went off on all kinds of tangents but did not address the central importance of the issue raised in the motion tabled by Deputy McManus on behalf of the Labour Party. Although the Government clearly promised that a vouched fuel allowance scheme and a strategy would be put in place, no one appears to be taking this matter seriously or giving it the sense of urgency it truly needs. Deputy Wall is correct to note that public representatives know what this issue is about. This is about people who are afraid their kids will not have heat, light or electricity in their homes. All Members have encountered such people and I was particularly struck by a man with three kids who had been made redundant fairly recently. He was so worried about the prospect of being disconnected that he approached me and pleaded with me to make contact with the ESB to ensure he would not be cut off. This mirrors the experience of many Members.

When bills build up, people approach community welfare officers or the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In some cases, they already will have received help for something else and therefore help may not be forthcoming in this particular instance. They are terrified that they will put their children into a position of going into the winter without heat, light or cooking facilities. This is the reality that exists at present and knowing this, the Government should be acting with a sense of urgency about these issues. It should be dealing with them and responding to the commitments it has made, instead of putting them on the long finger or going off on tangents, as did the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív.

In her contribution last night, Deputy McManus noted that Bord Gáis conducted a survey of a sample of 500 disconnected households, of which 59% were owner-occupiers. Therefore, this does not simply pertain to one small category or section of society with which somehow, someone else must deal. This pertains to people right across the divide who are truly worried about their position. Another particularly striking statistic cited by Deputy McManus is that for Bord Gáis, debt management problems have multiplied by a factor of 40 over the past year. This is the stark reality for those people who now face this problem, and for their families.

Another issue that many Members have raised is the crazy initiative proposed by the energy regulator. While I do not know who regulates the regulator, the idea that €80 million will be spent on rebranding Bord Gáis Éireann and the ESB is absolute madness in the current economic climate. Someone should tell the regulator that the country simply cannot afford it. I assume the Government is in charge of the country and can do this. As for the reconnection fee, a person who cannot afford to pay his or her bills certainly cannot afford an additional €200 to be reconnected and we should follow the example of Britain in this regard and abolish reconnection fees. This fee has also been imposed by the regulator and it must be abolished immediately.

In the time that remains to me, I wish to address a particular issue to which the motion tabled by the Labour Party refers. It pertains to a national retrofit programme to public buildings, including schools and hospitals, to bring unemployed construction workers into the workforce and enable apprentices to complete their apprenticeships in line with Government commitments for a 33% energy saving across the public sector by 2020. Such a proposal makes sense as homes are already being retrofitted and grants are being provided for such work.

Many of our public buildings, including buildings in which children and sick people spend a great deal of their time, need that type of attention. Such an initiative would also provide employment at local level. I have in mind in particular some of the older hospitals and nursing homes, both public and private. We have seen public nursing homes under threat of closure because of the physical condition of the building and the difficulty of complying with HIQA regulations. This would be a perfect programme for older community nursing homes which are greatly appreciated by their local community and against whose closure people are protesting throughout the State. The scheme might also be suitable for private nursing homes which are based in large old houses. Those nursing homes are often closest to their own communities because they may have been developed by local families rather than by a conglomerate which operates private nursing homes throughout the country. This is a positive proposal for the sick, elderly, children and the large numbers of unemployed.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I thank Deputy McManus for introducing this timely and thoughtful motion. Nobody can argue with the desirability of retrofitting; of course it should be done. The difficulty is that the insulation should have been undertaken when the houses were built. Record numbers of houses were constructed in this State with virtually no insulation. People can hear their next-door neighbour turning on the kettle, assuming the neighbour still has an electricity connection. The lack of regulation in regard to insulation was another scandal this Government allowed to happen.

The chairman of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Mr. Brendan Halligan, told the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security that it costs €20,000 to retrofit a standard house, including the condenser boiler, attic, walls, new windows, flooring and so on. Who in this age has €20,000 to retrofit their home? It is pie in the sky thinking unless the Government is willing to provide reasonable grant aid. Such a scheme would also create employment.

I do not normally stand up in this House and kick any particular party. One's politics are one's politics and we all must stand up for what we believe. However, the Green Party has no concept of poverty. Its Members have never been there and never will be there. If one questions party Members, one is subjected to a lecture about how we must save the world. A person sitting at home in the dark and cold with three small children is bound to conclude that the world can take care of itself because he or she is having difficulty enough taking care of his or her family. That is what people are facing into this winter.

Three years ago a friend of mine built a large new house. She was delighted with her new home but shocked to discover that her electricity bill was double what it had been in her previous house. Her larger home included a lot more lights. I wish to share a story I used to tell my children. The story is funny in itself but I used to tell it on the basis of my conviction that the times it depicted would never come around again. It involves a neighbour of my mother, a woman with six children, whose husband was in England working to support his family at a time when work was also scarce in England. Hearing a knock on the door one night she opened it to discover a man dripping wet in the rain that was dancing off the ground. Being a very kind person, she invited him inside. When he asked for a chair she hurried to the kitchen to fetch one, afraid he might faint. The man stood on the chair and cut off her electricity. When I asked her what she had done she responded that in those days there was nothing one could do. I told her that if it were me, he would have been hanging off two bare wires, as wet as he was.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I believe the Deputy.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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We are facing into those times again. As children, we could tell walking up the street the families whose electricity had been cut off. Those houses would be in darkness or lit by a few candles.

The regulator acts on instructions from the Government; he is not a free agent. He tells us he is imposing a 5% surcharge on fuel even though people cannot pay their bills as it is. The regulator has also stipulated that the two main energy suppliers must rebrand their businesses. ESB is the most recognised brand in the country, a brand that is recognised internationally as a state-of-the-art quality company. The regulator is living in 2006 and needs to be told, "Honey, that ain't happening" because we cannot afford it.

Whatever else we do with the proposed €80 million, it will not be rebranding. We should begin investing it in fuel poverty which is a particular issue for the elderly, people with young children and the many unemployed who have never experienced times like these and who do not know what it is to walk down a street and see every house in darkness. Moreover, in the past people did not have a television in every room and mobile telephones to plug in every night. We cannot live without electricity in this day and age. We cannot live without heating because our homes are not sufficiently insulated. We are living on an island off Europe where it gets cold and it is damp. The Government is a disgrace. It must begin to give consideration to those for whom it is responsible, the poor and the newly poor. The Green Party will never think of them because they do not know what it is to be poor. I had hoped to say different of Fianna Fáil.

8:00 pm

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in support of this motion on fuel poverty which was introduced by my colleague, Deputy McManus, on behalf of the Labour Party yesterday. I thank Deputy McManus for her well thought out and provocative contribution. Every percentage increase in electricity and fuel prices for consumers, whether domestic consumers or SMEs, imposes a further burden upon sectors that are already fighting hard to make ends meet.

In response to the hidden crisis of fuel poverty the Government must be proactive in implementing the policies and promises to which it has committed. It is particularly striking that it has failed to date to publish a fuel strategy. This is somewhat mind boggling in the context of the introduction of a carbon levy alongside a marked failure to protect the many people put at risk by the imposition of that levy. I appeal to the Government to act cohesively and consensually in this respect. It must increase the fuel allowance to compensate those affected. We need a comprehensive strategy to deal with fuel poverty. The Labour Party was ahead of the curve in 2008 when we published the Fuel Poverty and Energy Conservation Bill. The Government should examine that legislation in line with its talk of consensus. We must have a concerted effort to ensure all households will be able to heat and power their homes during the winter period at least.

The difficulty many people are experiencing in discharging utility bills to the ESB, Bord Gáis and others is an increasing problem in the current straitened climate. It is important that new payment plans are made available to customers who are struggling to meet their commitments. Utility companies must be facilitative of and responsive to customers who find themselves in trouble. How can the reconnection fee have been set by the regulator at €200? These people cannot be expected to meet that payment when they could not afford to pay their regular utility bills.

I support Deputy McManus's call for a zero reconnection policy in order to arrive at fees that are more reasonable and manageable. I have spoken to a constituent of mine who was in personal difficulty and who fell behind with ESB payments. Somebody called out and explained the difficulty.

However, an €80 call-out charge was imposed. This person does not take things sitting down. He fought the matter tooth and nail and the charge was eventually waived, but he was disgusted that anyone would contemplate imposing an €80 call-out charge.

The plan by the Commissioner for Energy Regulation to insist on the re-branding of Bord Gáis and the ESB at a potential cost of €40 million, which will ultimately be borne by the consumer, must be scrapped. It is ludicrous, especially in the current economic environment and when the brands are already well established.

I and the Labour Party have always supported a national retrofit programme. We were the first party to initiate this proposal. Payment plans will ensure participation from all sections of society and not just from those with disposable income. Deputy McManus has emphasised this and it is alluded to in the terms of the motion. This is important in view of the need to curb climate change. The world is in transition and a low carbon society can only be achieved by a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We are approaching the end of the oil era and of energy inefficiency. The shift from the brown to a green economy is well under way.

We know the formula for a low carbon society is threefold: improving energy efficiency; switching power generation from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources; and electrification of all surface transport. We must have a plan for the next 40 years. This is important in the context of employment.

I cannot understand why the Government was so reluctant to bring forward a stimulus package that would have created a number of jobs, particularly in this area. A retrofit programme would facilitate many people finishing apprenticeships. This is a high labour intensive industry. Many apprentices are just one year short of finishing their courses. All existing houses will have to be retrofitted to A1 standard and that implies an increase in energy efficiency of ten to 15 times the present levels. All new buildings will be energy positive. Retrofitting will require the two million houses built before 1965 to be brought up to an A1 building energy rating and 200,000 commercial units will have to be brought to the same standard.

The cost of retrofitting to this standard is between €20,000 and €25,000 per unit. That is huge. We will have to put in place an appropriate grant system that will facilitate achievement of that laudable objective. That will involve a spend of €50 billion over the next 40 years, or €1.25 billion per year. At present, €100 million is being spent, so we can see how far we have to go to achieve this objective.

We will have to create a new industry of retrofitting. The importance of this industry is that it is highly labour intensive and requires a significant supply chain. It will create approximately 10,000 jobs in building and 5,000 in the supply chain. We all assume the 1:1 ratio of direct to indirect jobs which the Government announced in its own policy last week so we could be talking about 30,000 jobs in all. Some 30,000 jobs could be created in retrofitting commercial buildings so the programme would create between 50,000 and 60,000 jobs. This would represent a significant benefit to the State in the form of high tax and PRSI payments into the State coffers and a decrease in social protection payments. There would also be significant savings on the import of hydrocarbons. It would serve as a stimulus to the economy, something the Government seems reluctant to embark upon, and would allow apprentices to complete their courses. This would be part of a complete package.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I compliment Deputy McManus and commend her on bringing forward an excellent motion. The motion deals with the harsh realities of people's lives in the middle of a recession. We are in the cold winter of a recession, and we are coming into the seasonal winter and facing a number of budgets where this situation will be aggravated.

People are not able to heat their homes. Their electricity and gas supplies are being disconnected. Suddenly, tens of thousands of people are at risk of fuel poverty. The situation will not get better. It will continue to deteriorate.

We have seen social welfare cut-backs in the past two years as well as levies on taxpayers. Home owners are moving into negative equity and homes are being repossessed. We have seen the difficulties faced by small and medium sized enterprises in dealing with their energy bills. This is only the beginning of it. The Greens do not understand what is happening in the real world.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Deputy Costello should not be so presumptuous.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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That is part of the problem. There is no proper understanding of the harsh realities of people's lives as they struggle with the income coming into the home. People are saying they are just not able to meet the bills that are coming through the door, and the biggest bills are the energy and fuel bills. This is a recipe for disaster. For people who are disabled, elderly or ill this will create a disaster in the coming months and, if the austerity measures continue, years.

Last year, the ESB disconnected 2,500 householders and Bord Gáis disconnected 4,000. Approximately 20 people per week are being disconnected by Bord Gáis at present. Is it not incredible that disconnection should cost €200 and reconnection a further €200? How can that be allowed by the Minister? The Minister authorises the Regulator. Without the Minister's permission the Regulator would not be in a position to impose those charges. They bear no relation to the cost of the disconnection or reconnection. What is the justification for them, other than that the Minister has no interest in the matter and is disregarding his position of responsibility in this area?

The Minister seems to be hell-bent on imposing his carbon tax. This is an excuse for a policy. There is no policy on climate change but there is a tax on carbon. That seems to be as far as the Minister can think about the matter. Other than that, his emphasis is on competition within the energy sector. The end result of this policy has been an increase in energy prices. Competition is supposed to mean a decrease but he has brought about an increase. Our energy costs are above the European average rather than below it.

In last year's budget the Minister for Finance promised the opposite of what he is doing. He said €50 million of the carbon tax yield would be used to fund measures such as help for households at risk of fuel poverty. What has happened to that? He went on to say local authorities would receive additional funding to retrofit the social housing stock. That is not happening. Local authorities are not getting money to conduct a proper programme. They are merely dealing with the voids. The building energy rating has to be dealt with when the voids come up for repair. In Dublin City Council, for example, that amounts to only a couple of hundred houses. Where is the programme to deal with retrofitting social housing? It is not there. The Minister then said this represents a significant boost to the plan to retrofit more than 1 million homes by 2025. That is not exactly the target that has been agreed with the European Union.

Re-branding is another indication that the Minister is totally out of touch with reality. The Minister's amendment describes re-branding as "a necessary part of deepening the EU internal market liberalisation process and enhancing competition in the national market, in the best interests of the consumers". Is €40 million for Bord Gáis and €40 million for the ESB in the best interests of the consumers? It is ludicrous to think about those utilities that are well branded as it is. I would expect no more from the Greens in matters of this nature because they have always been out of touch with reality but I would have thought Fianna Fáil would have had some cop-on. One would at least expect that given its tradition, it would have some concern for people in the less well off categories of society. Sadly, this is not happening at present.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate on energy poverty and to outline the steps that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Government are taking to ensure a positive and lasting impact on the health and well-being of vulnerable households.

The Labour Party is so comfortable sitting on the fence that it can no longer climb down. We have prioritised green energy systems and abatement of climate change remedies and tonight we are prioritising fuel poverty.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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At what cost?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Allow the Minister of State to continue. She only has five minutes.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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An important first step in addressing this issue was the establishment by their Minister, Deputy Ryan, of an interdepartmental and inter-agency group to cut delays and drive policy in the area of affordable energy. This group's wide membership reflects the complexity of the issue and recognises the need to identify those who are at risk of energy poverty.

The forthcoming affordable energy strategy will be an essential tool in building upon the many measures already in place to protect households at risk from the effects of energy poverty, which vary from financial supports like the fuel allowance and household benefits package to thermal efficiency-based measures such as the warmer home scheme. There has been considerable discussion about the need for a national retrofit programme and I am delighted to see support from both sides of the House for the new efficiency programme which will commence in January 2011, following the successful consultation exercise that concluded in September.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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Forthcoming 12 months later.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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They will not be thawed out by then.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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This Government has demonstrated its commitment to enhancing energy efficiency and prioritising conservation, with unprecedented funding for energy efficiency programmes, including the home energy-saving schemes, industry support programmes and the energy efficiency retrofit programme. As all speakers agreed last night, energy efficiency is not only the most cost-effective means of permanently reducing energy use but it also delivers considerable health and well-being benefits.

The new retrofit programme will seek to significantly increase the pace of the uptake of energy efficiency measures by radically changing the way householders are incentivised and supported. One of the most commonly identified barriers to retrofitting is that the upfront costs can appear prohibitive. Under the new proposals energy efficiency measures will be made more accessible through upfront discounts which will alleviate the need to wait for retrospective grant payments.

Ensuring that customers have the appropriate information to make informed energy use decisions is an important element in reducing energy demands. We will continue to develop the wellandwarm.ie site and will distribute a further print run of the very popular Well and Warm booklet.

The promotion of competition is essential to ensuring that alternative suppliers are available. I do not think Labour Party Deputies have acknowledged that customers can switch providers at no charge.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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It cannot be done if a customer is in arrears.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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The value and choice offered to consumers demonstrate that the Government's policy to encourage competition in energy markets is working.

I recognise that the carbon levy will pose a challenge for people in difficult financial circumstances who depend on fuel allowance to make their payments in the absence of alleviating provisions. I am confident that additional moneys will be made available to those dependent on the fuel allowance to stay warm this winter. I advise Deputies to watch this space.

We advise those who are in difficulty with their bills to contact their suppliers in order to make revised payment arrangements before they reach the point of disconnection. The Commission for Energy Regulation has announced that it will review the regulatory policy on disconnection in the context of improved customer protection, with a specific focus on how costs are allocated across the industry and to the customer. I acknowledge that some of the information we have heard regarding disconnection has been crude in the extreme.

I welcome Deputies' support for onshore renewable energy generation but I emphasise the importance of a stable regulatory environment for the investment needed in our energy infrastructure.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I propose to share time with Deputy McManus, by agreement.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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I commend the Deputy on putting forward this motion and highlighting yet another broken Government promise. As we near the end of this debate, it is important to remind ourselves that we are discussing the issue of fuel poverty in the first place because the Government failed in a number of key commitments. In the renewed programme for Government, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party committed to a fuel poverty strategy by the end of 2009. We have not yet seen that strategy.

The programme stated that the Government would introduce a carbon tax in budget 2010 and cited one of the guiding principles governing the tax as protecting those most at risk of fuel poverty. We got the tax but those most at risk of fuel poverty received no compensation.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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They will.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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When? We have been waiting nearly 12 months.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Very shortly. Watch this space.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Labour)
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In his budget speech last December, the Minister for Finance committed to a vouched fuel allowance scheme for low income families to offset the carbon levy. No such scheme has materialised. In a reply to a parliamentary question asked on 19 January, the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, stated: "Before the tax is applied to fuels for home heating, arrangements are being made to assist those most at risk of fuel poverty." She clearly stated that assistance would be provided before the tax was imposed on home heating and not just on solid fuels, as the Taoiseach mistakenly claimed this morning.

During Question Time on 20 April, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, indicated that he would receive a report from the interdepartmental group by the end of April. Six months later, there is still no outcome. On his own website, the Minister declared that the interdepartmental working group was to report to Government by the end of June to allow for any proposed measures to be implemented when the heating season starts again at the end of September. We are now beyond that point, and still we have heard nothing. What is taking the interdepartmental committee so long?

Even today, the Government's amendment to the motion does not mention fuel vouchers. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources did not refer to them last night. This morning the Taoiseach stated that vouchers will not be introduced until the carbon levy is imposed on solid fuels. The goalposts are being moved. Ten months after the budget day announcement, the Government has not yet developed a plan to help the poorest in our society deal with the cost of the carbon levy.

The fact of the matter is that budget 2010 was littered with half-baked measures announced without first working out how they would be implemented, chief among which was the carbon levy. The Government should not have introduced the levy without a plan to offset its effects on those who cannot afford to heat their homes. It was the act of a stubborn and reckless Administration. The failure of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to even mention the matter in his amendment reveals how out of touch his party and Fianna Fáil have become. Some 340,000 households in this country receive fuel allowance. As it is a condition of the scheme that recipients must be on social welfare payments, we are discussing the poorest cohort of people in the country. For the thousands of households that are reliant on oil and gas for heat, the carbon levy has resulted in a significant extra cost. The households are not just paying extra via the carbon levy because, owing to some inane EU ruling, they are also paying VAT on that levy. For many, it has come at a time when their basic social welfare payment has been reduced.

The cost of home heating oil, which was already on the increase, rose by nearly 9% as a result of the carbon levy alone. The Taoiseach should note this has contributed to a 27% increase in the cost of home heating oil in the past year and a staggering rise of 124% since the start of 2007. Perhaps the Taoiseach will correct the record in view of his misinformed comments this morning.

Many more poor families, including thousands who would be considered the working poor, do not qualify for a fuel allowance because they are not in receipt of a social welfare payment. Since they do not get a fuel allowance, they are also excluded from the warmer homes scheme. Their income is generally too low to be able to afford the works under the home energy savings scheme so they are caught on both fronts. These are the people who pay for everything but get very little in return. The Government is not interested in people in these circumstances.

When the Government is coming to a decision, whenever that may be, I urge it to consider a proposal put forward by Active Retirement Ireland to the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs earlier this year. At that meeting, it was suggested that home heating oil should be added to the categories covered under the household benefit package. The current structure of the scheme disadvantages people who rely on oil for their home heating. Allowances under this package are currently available in respect of electricity, gas and bottled gas, but not oil. Given that the carbon levy has impacted most on users of oil, this suggestion really is worth considering.

It is time the Government delivered on its promise to produce a fuel poverty strategy. The litany of missed deadlines and forgotten commitments is the reason we are debating this motion. The measures have been agreed by Cabinet and were to be introduced long before now. We are not asking the Government to do anything it does not agree with or anything it cannot afford. We are simply asking it to do what it promised it would do. We have yet another reason to ask why this Government is still in power. It has clearly lost all interest in the people it is meant to be serving. Sadly, the promise to produce a fuel poverty strategy is yet another broken promise.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I thank my colleagues in the Labour Party and all the other Members who contributed to this debate. I sensed across the House concern about people at risk of fuel poverty. Winter is setting in. There are people alive today who will die this winter because the conditions they live in are too cold or damp. Winter mortality levels in Ireland are particularly high but we can do something to save lives if we deal with the problem in a coherent way. Regrettably, the Government is not doing so.

There have been between 2,000 and 2,500 electricity disconnections per month this year and 4,000 by Bord Gáis. The most extraordinary aspect of this is that VAT is paid on every disconnection. The coffers of the State benefit from what is happening.

The Minister of State, Deputy White, is speaking tonight on behalf of her party. The Green Party has been subject to some criticism to the effect that its Ministers are out of touch. That is a little unfair in that the Government as a whole is out of touch, regrettably it is not just the Green party. This happens when Ministers are in warm offices and driven around - the Greens are very good at being driven around - in heated cars.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Pure plant oil cars.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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One becomes desensitised, nor does one have direct experience of the circumstances of those who are literally unable to stay warm.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Rubbish.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Let us not be emotional about this. The Minister of State should look to the program for Government and consider how she has failed to live up even to her own promise. Every Minister made a direct commitment that there would be a fuel poverty strategy published in 2009. There is nothing more telling of the Government's disdain for those living in fuel poverty or other forms of poverty than the fact that it did not deliver on that commitment.

When Ministers from the Green Party lecture us in the House about renewables, changing our ways and climate change, they should note that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security published today a draft Bill on climate change. The Government should prove itself on climate change by debating the Bill in the House. It has all-party agreement. Let us do what needs to be done to meet the big challenge, which the Green Party preaches about but on which it does not deliver.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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The Deputy should wait.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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I am tired waiting. For how long must we wait? That is the whole point.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Unlike Deputy McManus, we-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister of State should allow Members to speak without interruption.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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If the amount of hot air that comes from the Government could be channelled into the poorer households, we would be doing very nicely, but it is not.

The issue of the fuel allowance must be dealt with quickly. The Minister for Social Protection talks of his wonderful rambles through Éireann and refers to 4% here and 5% there, and to the fact that some people are uncomfortable in their homes and that lone parents tend to be poorer than everyone else. We know this. We want to know why the promise made in the budget has not been delivered upon. Why is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government talking up the increase in fuel allowances while the Taoiseach is trying to slap it down? The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, is not telling us anything at all although he is the Minister responsible. That is not coherent government. Let us be practical. Given that taxes announced in the budget are always imposed, let us see the commitment to which I refer honoured.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked who regulates the regulator. It is very simple to answer that question, it is the Minister. I am very uncomfortable with the abandonment of responsibility evident when I hear the Taoiseach or Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Ryan, talk about the regulator as if he were above the clouds or God the Father. It is implied that the diktat comes down and we must all understand this is the way the world is and that it cannot be challenged. That is not the way it is. Under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, the Minister has the power to direct the regulator on any matter that he considers appropriate. It is clear in the legislation that the regulator must report on how he has implemented the directive of the Minister.

If this debate has but one result it should be that the Minister should tell the regulator to stop acting the way he is doing, as a little god, in terms of directing the big utility companies to misspend their customers' money by way of a rebranding exercise that nobody needs or wants and which will cost a lot of money, be it €40 million or €80 million. That money could be ploughed back. Utility companies are in a position to direct at least part of that money towards benefiting people who are living in fuel poverty and in terror that they will no longer be able to turn on the cooker to cook the dinner to feed their children or turn on the electric fire to keep themselves warm. These are people who are living in fuel poverty and are terrified they will no longer be able to turn on the cooker to cook food to feed their children or to turn on the electric fire to keep themselves warm. That is a reality we all thought was part of our past. We are now back to the future. Let us get real and let us ensure this debate produces results.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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As it is 8.30 p.m. I must now put the amendment in the name of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Amendment put:

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 74 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Martin Mansergh, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 70 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Noel Grealish, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe

Amendment declared carried

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

Amendment put:

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 73 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, John Cregan, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)

Against the motion: 71 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Noel Grealish, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe

Amendment declared carried

Question declared carried.