Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010: Committee Stage (Resumed).
" 'bioethanol' shall only be deemed to constitute a biofuel in the case of ethylalcohol ex CN (Combined nomenclature) sub-heading Taric code 2207 1000 with an alcohol content of at least 99 per cent volume the properties of which comply at least the requirements set in document EN 15376:2007 or any subsequent revisions to this document by the EU Committee for Standardisation CEN;".
I trust I will be allowed to comment on the disappearance of Senator Keaveney from the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny. On a more serious note, I support the group of amendments in the names of Senator O'Reilly and others. The Minister will agree that the thinking behind the amendments is at the core of the legislation and in line with what he and everyone else is seeking to do in the promotion of a bio-fuels industry. During the interesting debate on Second Stage, Senators were at one concerning the desirability of ensuring that the maximum possible amount of alternative fuels, including bioethanol, would be in use in every mechanised vehicle in this country. It is obviously good for the economy and the environment. The missing piece of the legislation, however - and particularly for those of us who want to see the development of a native bio-fuel industry in our own constituencies - is the provision of domestic obligations. The 4% target is achievable and quite modest, but under the legislation as drafted, presumably the 4% will be made up almost entirely of imported fuels. Whilst that may be important for getting bio-fuels into the system, it will do nothing in the long-term to develop a native industry. We must therefore tweak this legislation however we can to provide opportunities and incentives thus promoting the growth of a bio-fuel industry across the country. This is particularly the case for areas that hitherto had a strong sugar beet industry, including Mallow, Carlow, Thurles and Tuam. Generations of farmers were involved in the production of sugar beet for those sugar plants. There is a great opportunity for many such people or their successors to turn their land, farming skills and machinery into the production of bio-fuels. The Minister has been discussing this aspect of the energy sector with various farming organisations, but this is the first legislative opportunity we have had to lay down a marker and try to put incentives in place for the development of a native bio-fuel industry. Previous attempts to do so have not succeeded to a significant degree. In the former sugar beet areas, many people have proposed project ideas to introduce crops and process bio-fuels. While the Bill does not shut the door on that prospect, it does not open it either. I hoped this legislation would open a welcoming door for native bio-fuel production. If it succeeded in doing so, it would transform the rural environment and economy by creating jobs.
From his discussions around the Cabinet table, the Minister is aware of the current plight of Irish agriculture. Options for farming families are shutting down weekly, yet here we have a genuine win-win situation to develop new farming opportunities to grow energy crops and satisfy our environmental obligations, while generating real jobs, income and hope for rural Ireland. I appreciate that we are on Committee Stage, but hopefully some time will be given before Report Stage for the Minister to consider this range of amendments. He may also wish to develop his own thoughts and table his own amendments to that effect. As the House of the Oireachtas which gives greatest deliberation to legislation and which sees most amendments accepted, it would be opportune for the Seanad finally to put in place legislation which included obligations on bio-fuels. It would support Irish farmers and, by extension, the agricultural industry and rural areas generally. I hope the Minister will heed what we are saying. We made the same points at even greater length on Second Stage. The Bill presents a once in a decade opportunity for such legislation to have a meaningful and positive impact on rural life and the agricultural sector in particular. The Minister should give our arguments careful consideration because we would all gain as a consequence if he responds positively to these amendments.
I welcome the Minister to the House. This is an issue close to his heart and I know that he has been openly committed to what we are doing here. This legislation is welcome and while we have tabled amendments, this is a serious attempt to open up the debate. I hope he will see his way to meeting our point of view on the Bill.
Since the debate last week on Committee Stage, I put some of the points that arose to those working in the industry and others. It is important to put those matters clearly on the record. In his statement, the Minister of State said that we must remain compliant with EU regulations and WTO guidelines on trade, which means that we cannot unfairly restrict imports. It is crucially important to recognise that nothing that we are proposing here in any way goes against either the EU regulations or the WTO guidelines. I think the Minister of State threw in a red herring at that point. As we understand it, the proposed amendments are fully consistent with EU trade guidelines and do not restrict imports unfairly or unduly. In addition, they have been proven to be WTO-compliant, as evidenced by their implementation in other EU member states. Both Germany and France import Brazilian ethanol, but not for fuel use. It is important to recognise that as a direct response to what the Minister of State said in his reply to the debate on Second Stage. He also said that the amendments from us largely suggest that Ireland should mimic the fuel standards in place in other member states, including Germany and France, which serve was an effective barrier to outright competition.
Essentially, the Minister of State was saying that there are two separate tariff codes - one for denatured or industrial, and the other for food grade or agriculture. One is significantly higher than the other. It is important therefore to recognise the impact of what we propose for price increases. The Minister of State was a bit disingenuous, but I will not go any further than that. He said the latter is significantly higher at 19.2 cent per litre versus 10.2 cent per litre. Someone who was not listening closely would come to the conclusion that what we are proposing would increase the price by 10 cent per litre. To put this in context, however, it should be explained that bioethanol will constitute only 5% or 10% of petroleum blend, whether one goes on the E5 or E10 regulation. Putting it all together, with the difference between the existing and proposed tariff, the equivalent price increase to the consumer, if any, would be less than 1 cent per litre either way. That is crucial to our argument. When we come to a conclusion on all of this and have put it all together, we need to be sure about what we are doing. Let there be no doubt about it; there is no evidence from other EU markets, which have implemented the 19.2% duty on the 2007 tariff code, that there is any impact on pump prices. If we are wrong about this, I would like the Minister to revert to us on it. We are putting these amendments forward in good faith, having undertaken research, including talks with industry representatives and others.
I do not think the Minister of State was fair in his response to us concerning his points on compliance, guidelines on trade, and the cost per litre. He also said the European Commission would have to be notified under the 1998 directive, as this type of initiative would be deemed a technical regulation. There is no doubt about that. However, notifying the European Commission of the change in a technical regulation is no more than a formality. If it is more, we should know. The European Commission is, and has been for some time, familiar with the German scheme and with similar schemes in many other member states. Therefore, it is a distraction to introduce this argument.
I am disappointed with the response of the Minister to the three points I have made. I know the Minister a long time, but this seems a completely defensive response. We did not put our amendments forward in order to have a go at the Department or the Minister. They were put forward in good faith. The Bill is a good one and helps us move forward in a progressive manner. However, this House examines legislation, sees what is good in it and makes suggestions. I had hoped there would be openness towards our suggestions. Where we see problems with issues, we suggest another look should be taken at them. I will certainly evaluate closely the response from the Minister.
The Minister said that from a national perspective the only substantial problem with the course of action proposed is that the United Kingdom has not adopted such a measure and given that we import 60% of our road transport fuel from the UK, such a measure would have the potential to increase costs to Irish consumers substantially as they would have to be supplied with a different blend of bioethanol. That is probably the most challenging of all the points made. I would like to put on record the industry's response to us on that. If what I say misleads the Minister or the House, please correct me, because we put forward our amendments in good faith. I recognise that this is a technical issue, but the reference to the UK as not having adopted this measure is misleading and does not pose an issue as inferred. Indeed, it demonstrates a lack of understanding in differentiating between two very different products, sourced from different parts of the world and technically handled in very different ways.
Most Brazilian fuel ethanol is transported to Europe in bulk tankers in an undenatured state. Normally, it is only denatured at the point of receipt into the member state to benefit from the lower tariff and technical requirements. Most of it is brought into Rotterdam and subsequently broken down and then distributed across Europe. Best practice recommends that blending takes place as close as possible to the point of distribution. Hence, the point of blending tends to be the destination member state. Currently in Ireland, bioethanol blending usually occurs at the point of receipt in the bond - whichever bonded facility it goes into. With regard to petroleum, we currently import approximately 50% of our requirements from the UK, 35% through Whitegate and the balance from Scandinavia, through Derry. We have been reliably informed that all the oil majors in Ireland will have blending capacity and undenatured ethanol at their facilities by the end of the year. This has been confirmed separately to me as being correct. Topaz, in Whitegate, already has full capability. Even if oil companies opt to blend in the UK or mainland Europe, these are pan-European suppliers that already supply some member states with a product similar to the Irish specified product. All that matters is that the bioethanol coming into Ireland satisfies the definition under the bio-fuels legislation, which must comply to Taric code 2207 1000 and EN 15376. I want this on the record because when the Minister of State came back to us on the points we raised, he did not deal with the issues.
What I am doing here is coming back to the Minister on the issues. I believe everything I have said is technically correct. I am relying on other information, but I have tried to confirm its sources and believe it is true. If it is true, it confirms what I said last week, namely, that what we propose has many attractions, for the Minister and the State. It increases tax revenue to the State, is a boost for the agricultural industry, leads to carbon dioxin capture and therefore reduces our need to offset or invest more money in offsetting. I recall that before the Minister came into office, he took a strong view against the provision in the 2007 budget for the €270 million being put aside for offsetting. I agreed with him at the time and said that here. Another attraction is that the measure creates employment in various parts of the country and provides support for the agricultural industry, rural development and various processing facilities, including the one in Waterford-Kilkenny. The arguments against it do not stand up.
The Minister of State made an unusual statement. He said he would listen to our arguments and try and bring some measures forward to meet our needs. That was a positive response. However, it was not very positive of him - we found this difficult to understand - to say he would not do that until Second Stage in the Dáil. I am now aware amendments can be introduced on Second Stage. The Seanad is the anvil on which the arguments have been hammered out. Therefore, we should mould, shape and conclude the Bill here. We need to bring the argument to a conclusion now. If the points I have raised are incorrect, we need to argue the case again and come to a conclusion on it here. We can do that on Report Stage. I do not feel the need or desire to bring this to a vote here, because the House should not divide on the issue. We should convince each other through argument and through providing plausible and cogent responses to each other's positions and in that way find a compromise position.
I do not want us to be arguing about the issue. I want the Minister to recognise that what we have said was said in good faith and to respond to it as positively as he can. If there are reasons what we propose is in some sense bad for national policy or not in compliance with national or international policy, or WTO or EU regulations, let us hear that and then let us deal with the issue again. In the meantime, I urge the Minister to accept our amendments or agree to bring forward similar ones on Report Stage. We put them forward with the best of intentions to support what is good and important legislation. I look forward to a positive response from him.
I welcome the Minister. As he is probably aware, we had a very good debate here last Thursday on this legislation. We have all been well informed by the industry, which has taken a keen interest in the legislation as it is of tremendous importance to it.
With regard to the points raised by Senator O'Toole, I listened carefully to what was said here last week by both Members and the Minister of State. I do not agree with the implied criticism of the Minister of State with regard to points 1 and 2 of the e-mail on ethanol. He was fairly honest and straightforward in that regard. However, point 3 needs clarification. The e-mail stated that with regard to notifying the EU Commission of the change in technical regulation, under directive 98/34/EC, this should be a formality. It went on to state the EU Commission was very familiar with the German scheme, along with similar schemes implemented in many other member states over a considerable period of time. We need clarification from the Minister on that. I understood after debating the issue last week that it would take approximately three months to go through the process of recognising the change in technical regulation and that this was a factor that might delay the Bill. I understood it was for that reason the suggestion was made by the Minister of State that the amendment would take place in the Dáil.
I fully subscribe to, and have heard the Minister emphasise on occasion, the need for a focus on job creation. All legislation should now be employment-proofed across every Department. That is the challenge facing us at least for the next decade. The Minister, in other legislation he has introduced and initiatives he has taken, has been positive in making such a contribution and creating a climate for the creation of jobs in the short to medium term. I support the change in the definition of bioethanol to provide for an alcohol content of at least 99% by volume. This would at least encourage the emergence of indigenous industry and production, which would be to our benefit. It is important that this be implemented. Based on what I heard on Miriam O'Callaghan's programme on Saturday, there could be a lot riding on the outcome, apart from the actual jobs, before the next presidential election.
Belview Port, the site of the proposed bioethanol plant, is close to my own home town, although not as close as it is to Senator John Paul Phelan who, I am sure, would correct me if I said it was. I am within 20 km of it. Much closer to me, in fact, is Green Biofuels Ireland Limited, which is the only up-and-running bio-fuels project. Others have received licences but I do not think they are anywhere near production or have even commenced construction of their facilities. Perhaps I am wrong; I may be corrected on that. What is special about Green Biofuels Ireland - which would appeal to any supporter of sustainable practices - is the extent to which it reuses and recycles. More than 80% of the company's raw materials, which are cooking oil and tallow, are sourced in Ireland. Thus, it is taking waste products and turning them into bio-fuels, which is to be commended. It is producing 34 million litres of bioethanol. If I remember correctly from the previous day, we were saying that 4% of all our fuel use, which is the amount required under the bio-fuel obligation, would amount to somewhere around 220 million litres. The company has plans, assuming the climate and the legislative and commercial environment are amenable, to double its capacity in the not-too-distant future. This should be encouraged.
The company has a real difficulty with this amendment and the delay in the passage of the Bill. Its consultants have been in touch with Senators O'Reilly, Norris and O'Toole and, it is to be hoped, Senator McCarthy, because I provided it with the names of all four Senators in order that it could bring them up to speed. The company's difficulty is that its excise relief is to run out on 1 July and should the bio-fuels obligation not be in place by then, it will find itself unable to trade, which will have drastic consequences. I ask that we consider this complication together with the Minister. Perhaps, as has been suggested by Senator O'Reilly, an amendment could be made in the Seanad to enable the Minister in due course, having obtained EU approval, to introduce a statutory instrument. I ask the Minister to indicate whether this course of action would be suitable and whether any such statutory instrument in the future will incorporate this amendment with regard to the alcohol content of the bioethanol product.
We have had a good debate, which is testimony to the scrutiny that Bills receive in the House. I hope the Minister will be able to respond positively to the points being made.
I also welcome the Minister. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and his advisers did a good job when the Minister, Deputy Ryan, was not here the last day, but it is particularly important that the Minister with direct authority in this area be here.
The Minister is highly intelligent and diligent so I will not rehearse all the arguments. I imagine that either his advisers have acquainted him with the arguments made or he has read the debate. It was quite technical and some of us spoke at considerable length. The point was generally agreed by both the Minister and his advisers and by all parties in the House - which is important - and there was a general consensus that we had won the argument. The only obstacle was a technical difficulty. As Senator Walsh has said, we wish to work together in this regard.
The arguments revolve around two issues, the first of which is Irish jobs. It is important we maximise the capacity to produce employment. The other is the impact on the environment, both domestically and, to a smaller extent, in countries such as Brazil. I will not go over the arguments again. I was obliged to leave the House to take a telephone call so I hope I am not reiterating too much of what has already been said.
I accept the good will of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and of course the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan. In what I say I am not implying any malign intention, but it does appear that some of the statements, especially in light of the briefings we have subsequently received, may have unintentionally misled. For example, the amendments are in fact completely consistent with trade guidelines for the EU. They do not unduly or unfairly restrict imports. The provisions have been proven to be WTO compliant, as evidenced by their implementation in other EU member states. During the previous debate I and other colleagues read a list of the other European states, of which there are at least eight, that already have such provisions. I also put on the record the fact that an international committee was established with representation not only from the United States and the EU countries, but also from Brazil itself, and it was positive in this regard. I do not see where there could be any objection. Germany and France import Brazilian ethanol, but not for fuel use. In 2009 Germany imported 4 million litres of undenatured ethanol from Brazil.
The statement that suggested there might be a price hike at the petrol pump that would be unwelcome to Irish consumers could also be held to mislead. This must be put into context. Bioethanol will constitute a 5% or 10% petroleum blend - E5 or E10 - and the difference between the existing proposed tariffs is 9 cent per litre. Thus, the equivalent price increase, if any, to the consumer would be 0.45 cent and 0.9 cent per litre for E5 and E10, respectively. There is no evidence from any other European markets, following the introduction of exactly the same kind of tariff legislation, that there was any jump in price at the petrol pump. This argument needs to be ruled out. I am not suggesting any malign intention, but I suggest there is likely to be no impact whatever at the pump. The main driver of petrol prices at the pump, in any case, is the international oil price.
The notification to the European Commission of the change in the technical regulation should be just a formality for the reasons I have mentioned. There is a suggestion that this might be a diversionary tactic by the Minister's Department. I am sure this is not true. Everybody in this country is seeking the creation of jobs. I would like to ask specifically, if my colleagues have not already asked, whether the notification has already been submitted, because there are lead times involved. In addition, there are a whole series of arguments about the United Kingdom not having adopted this measure, but these are also unrealistic and I am sure the companies involved have already made this clear to the Minister.
I believe we won the argument on Second Stage and there was general agreement on the issue. The Minister signified he would consider the meaning of the amendments, but at a later stage. Senator O'Toole has dealt with the question of whether it would be technically possible or appropriate to introduce it on Second Stage in the Dáil. My colleagues and I have worked hard on this and it would be appropriate for this to be done in the Seanad, which is possible.
I know there must be formal notification. The problem is the regulation must rest with the European Commission for three months and other member states have an opportunity to object, which might cause another three-month delay. The process has already been delayed from 1 January to 1 July, which is approximately six months, and a further delay would have serious consequences in possible loss of employment and a possible closure of the firm, which has a capacity to deliver. That would be a disaster. The excise relief is running out under the mineral oil tax, MOT, scheme II. The bio-fuel obligation must be put in place no later than 1 July 2010, as indicated by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources already.
I am serious about this and will table an amendment on Report Stage which might resolve the issue. I would be very happy for the Minister to introduce it. Very often in legislation passed by this and the other House, there is the equivalent of the unenumerated constitutional rights. We have a broad outline of the Bill and we also have reserve powers of the Minister to introduce further measures by regulation. That means the Bill can be passed but we make clear that the power to make regulations is implicit in the Bill, setting out certain quality standards that might be applied. Once the Bill is passed, we should draw up a statutory instrument setting out the requisite standards and present that to the European Commission under Directive 98/34/EC. That would allow the changes to made, as requested, on Committee Stage and also allow the Bill to proceed as planned.
The Minister should respond directly to that technical measure. Will he accept that kind of amendment or will he introduce it on Report Stage? This meets both requirements of the European Commission and the urgent necessity for the Bill to be passed in a form that makes the necessary changes allowing for the development of this important industry. It would also allow the possibility of perhaps 1,000 jobs in what is an economic blackspot.
There are two questions for the Minister. What is the current state of play with regard to notification and has this already been submitted? The Minister has already agreed that the arguments in the Seanad have prevailed so will he accept an amendment in the Seanad on Report Stage which will allow the Minister to make the appropriate changes by regulation and the creation of statutory instrument?
I will not repeat the arguments that have been made by Senators Norris, Walsh and O'Reilly. They have raised the specific issues relating to Green Biofuels Ireland in New Ross and proposed a mechanism by which the difficulty can be resolved. I would like to hear the Minister's response to that proposition.
I spoke at length during the first debate on Committee Stage of the legislation and documents from Ethanol Ireland and this company in New Ross have been circulated, to which Senator Walsh has referred. They outline some of the difficulties with the current position. I do not see a reason for a division in the House as it is often the case that the Government cannot accept Opposition amendments because they may not have been drafted correctly, etc. I do not see why a Government amendment could not be made on Report Stage to encapsulate what has been proposed in previous discussions in the House and pertinent to the group of amendments we are now discussing.
The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, indicated towards the end of his contribution that he was becoming more positive on the idea of amendments being accepted on Report Stage in the Seanad. He spoke about accepting them in the Dáil but I do not see why they could not be accepted at this juncture in the Seanad.
Senators previously spoke on the need to accept these amendments as proposed and I am particularly interested in them. The facility proposed for the port in Waterford is very close to where I live and the south east is and has been an unemployment blackspot, even through the Celtic tiger and especially since the collapse of the construction sector in this country. There are significant difficulties with employment across the country and especially in the south east.
The region was home to the sugar beet factory in Carlow town and it only recently closed. There is a ready source of product which can be processed into ethanol from the agricultural community in the hinterland which exists in the south east. For those reasons, I hope the Minister will be in a position to give a positive indication to the House in his response and to accept the proposed amendments.
): It is always very nice to come to the Seanad. The Senators have said the Minister is very intelligent, most accommodating, wise and magnanimous. I cannot remember the ancient Greek name but there is a land where sailors had to be very careful because they were lulled into a sense that they were brilliant and bright. One must wake up from that occasionally and realise that these fellows are sharp.
I will answer a couple of the direct queries before tackling the nub of the issue. Senator Burke asked about licences but there are no licences for bio-fuel production currently. Under the mineral oil tax relief scheme there are 18 companies which are able to facilitate production of bio-fuels. A large number of them have gone into production and five have plants here. One of these, Green Biofuels Ireland, has been mentioned by a number of contributors and it is an excellent example of how we can produce bio-fuels from waste. It employs 23 people and is a perfect win-win solution. It solves a waste problem and is assisting employment in an area where we have had difficulties. We all have a common and agreed sense that we must increase employment potential, protect existing jobs and create new opportunities. We can do it.
The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, was listening and indicated that we had to consider different options. He did not rule anything out and we have not done so in this debate. We have looked at overseas examples and the UK regime was cited on a number of occasions. As I understand it, one of the considerations there is that it will have many plants producing ethanol from wheat which would already meet standards we are talking about.
It has been a very useful debate and in the Seanad we have been able to tease out an important issue. I am very happy to come back to the Seanad having considered the arguments. On the basis of the discussion we have had, we can agree to act to promote indigenous industry.
My priority is to encourage growth in the use of bio-fuels in Ireland and specifically in the development of the indigenous bio-fuels industry. The main premise of our obligation is to underpin the developments of the Irish bio-fuels market. I wish to ensure those who have already made a foray into bio-fuel production continue to develop their businesses, such as the one in New Ross. We wish to protect those jobs and see other production facilities set up with a sound business case from the very start.
I confirm on that basis that the Bill when presented on Report Stage in the Seanad will contain an amendment which will allow for the introduction of this type of measure by order. Making the type of amendment put forward by a number of Senators previously is not straightforward and as the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, outlined last week, inserting a required standard for fuel is effectively a technical regulation as set out by Directive 98/34/EC. This requires us to amend a copy of the draft regulation - the legislation in this case - to a detailed form and send it to Brussels for comment. The waiting period in this regard is three months. During this time we cannot pass or enact legislation containing this text. If another member state objects, a further three months is automatically added to the waiting period while the Commission examines the complaint. Were we to attempt to insert the explicit provision in this Bill, it would substantially delay the coming into force of the obligation because it would most likely be October before we could hope to have the legislation passed. This could have caused considerable commercial difficulties for some of the companies to which reference has been made and which are already operating here.
I have indicated that the bio-fuel obligation will be introduced by July and I do not wish to impede progress further by going down the route of inserting fuel standards at this point in the legislative process. Instead, I propose to amend the text of the Bill on Report Stage in order to provide the Minister with the power to make an order specifying the fuel standards that will be required to apply under the obligation. We will move ahead with the Bill on that basis. When the legislation is enacted, I can draw up a statutory instrument in which will be set down the measure required around specifying a Taric code. This can then be put through the notification procedure in due course. My officials are working with the Office of the Attorney General with regard to preparing the text of the amendment for Report Stage in the Seanad.
While I do not accept the amendments tabled by Senators, we have come up with a mechanism which achieves the same effect. I hope Senators, in their wisdom, with their great intelligence, breadth of knowledge, understanding, human glorification, etc.-----
I welcome what the Minister said. He has done exactly what Members on all sides have urged him to do. This is a very good day for Seanad Éireann. I also welcome the fact that he has given a commitment to introduce on Report Stage that for which those on all sides have argued, namely, a provision relating to dealing with this matter by way of statutory instrument. That is an extremely important development.
The Minister referred to our extraordinary technical knowledge. I am not sure I could claim any such knowledge. However, one thing I am good at is taking a brief on the hoof. We were provided with clear and specific briefs by various interests, particularly those representing the industry. I thank them for this because, with the help of the briefs to which I refer, it was possible to master a number of highly technical issues, as well as the broad sweep of ideas.
The fact that Seanad Éireann has acted in a united capacity and has not been antagonistic or imputed false motives to the Department, the officials or the Minister has been of assistance. We have behaved in a constructive way and our business has been accomplished as envisaged under the Constitution. The Seanad is normally seen as a venue where constructive amendments which will improve Government legislation can be mooted. I am glad we were able to convince the Minister as to the veracity of our arguments. It is possible, even likely, that he already had this change of mind. At least, he was faced by a united front within the Seanad urging him to introduce the change. If its introduction was not always so firmly on his agenda - which is always possible - then the Seanad has done a good day's work.
Members on all sides spoke passionately and convincingly in respect of the amendments. I welcome the fact that the general thrust of the amendments tabled in my name and that of Senator O'Reilly, in respect of which he and Senators John Paul Phelan and Walsh argued, has been accepted. Senators John Paul Phelan and Walsh have a particular interest in this matter because it relates to their home base. I do not believe this was an electoral gambit or that the Senators were merely doing this on behalf of the constituency in which they live. This is a matter of passionate concern for all people, not just Members of both Houses. To be able to do something to provide jobs at a time when the position on employment is so difficult is extremely important.
I was somewhat bemused by Senator Walsh's reference to presidential elections. I am not sure if he was referring to the election of the president of some farming organisation or a somewhat more elevated office. I do not see what we are discussing as having any great relevance to presidential elections, although we may be rewarded for having done a good day's work.
I welcome the Minister's intervention and record my appreciation of the fact that he has not adopted a defensive posture in respect of the very worthwhile and practical suggestions made. The objective of our amendments is to secure existing jobs in the processing and agriculture sectors and to create further employment. I am happy that this objective will be achieved, albeit via the use of a statutory instrument. In the context of protecting jobs in Wexford, it is important that we meet the deadline relating to the legislation. Senator Walsh has an immediate concern with regard to these jobs. However, the creation of new jobs or the retention of existing ones is a matter of interest to every Member of the Houses.
I am glad that the matter will, as the Minister indicated, be dealt with by way of statutory instrument and that our objective will be achieved. All we are doing is creating a level playing field for Irish producers. That is a reasonable position to want to advance and I am satisfied it will now happen. I share Senator Norris's pleasure about the fact that the Minister has taken our arguments on board. That is gratifying for us because we invested a great deal of effort in drafting and discussing the amendments. That is our job and is what we should be doing. It is good to know, however, that there has been a positive outcome to our work. In such circumstances, I will be happy to withdraw the amendment in my name.
I concur with what has been said. This is a matter of both local and national interest. Promoting the indigenous sector in respect of the production of the 4% specified is something to be applauded. The Minister has not only shown common sense, he has also again shown that he is prepared to listen and accept sensible amendments, for which I commend him. His actions are not unique but neither are they common.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, line 32, to delete "the internet" and substitute "its website".
I welcome the Minister's indication that he intends to accept this amendment. In recent days he indicated that he was of a favourable disposition when it came to these amendments and I do not intend to say anything that will result in him changing his mind. I thank him for taking on board the genuine intention behind the amendments which are designed to improve the legislation. It might be open to a narrower or broader interpretation which I know would not be the Minister's intention. I thank him for his work with other parties in the House to ensure the legislation is improved. That is what the parliamentary process is for.
(2) Every oil company and oil consumer liable to pay the levy (in this Part referred to as an 'obligated party') is required to ensure that in each obligation period a specified amount of its relevant disposal of road transport fuel to which this section applies is biofuel (in this Part referred to as the 'biofuel obligation').
This revised section has replaced the original one proposed as concerns were raised about a potential lack of clarity in the original drafting. I hope it will be accepted on that basis.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 10, line 30, to delete "the internet" and substitute "the Minister's website".
Again, this has to do with interpretation. We feel the phrase "publication on the Internet" is too vague. The Internet is a very big place. Someone could put up a notice on an obscure page. Granted it would be published on the worldwide web but it would be in an obscure place so no one would see it. If it is published by the agency it should be published on the agency's website. The terminology "of the body's website" is used in other legislation, for example in the definition of "relevant Internet website" in section 3(c) of the Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Bill 2010 which was published by the Minister and recently passed by the Seanad. The spirit of this amendment is reflected in previous amendments.
I suggest to the Senator that we will return to this on Report Stage when we will be able to see its effect on the amended Bill. If the Senator withdraws it and resubmits it on Report Stage I will happily consider it on that basis.
"(3) If all or any part of the buy-out charge notified under subsection (2) is not paid on or before the date specified in the notice as the date by which the buy-out charge is to be paid, interest on the unpaid amount accrues at the rate prescribed under this section from that date to the date of payment.".
These are technical amendments required to reflect best practice with regard to the setting of fees for late payment. I hope they will be accepted on that basis.
"44R.—(1) If all or any part of the amount specified in a biofuel levy assessment notice is not paid on or before the date specified in the notice under section 44Q as the date on which the amount becomes payable, interest on the unpaid amount accrues at the rate prescribed under section 44T(g) from that date to the date of payment.".
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 30, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:
"(b) by substituting the following for the definition of "Minister"
" 'Minister' means the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources;",".
I thank the Acting Chairman for her strong presence of mind in those confusing deliberations. This amendment seeks to update the principal Act by inserting the Minister's up-to-date title, which has changed since the principal Act was passed. The amendment is not strictly necessary as the title was changed by regulation but it is good practice. We do not expect the Minister to divulge any knowledge he might have on the ministerial and departmental reconfigurations but none the less I hope he accepts the sprit of the amendment.
The definition of "Minister" is already outlined in the principal Act and therefore there is no requirement to repeat it. I do not propose to accept the amendment.
This is a technical amendment which clarifies that both subsections (4) and (5) of the Fuels (Control of Supplies) Act 1971 will be amended. I do not believe the amendment affects the overall policy and I hope it will be accepted on that basis.