Estimates, 1984. - Vote 48: Energy (Revised Estimate).

I move:

That a sum not exceeding £10,056,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1984 for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Energy including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain loans, subsidies, grants and grants-in-aid.

Although this is my first time to present an Estimate for the Department of Energy, I have already been able to indicate to the House, when I availed of the opportunity given to me by an Adjournment debate last December, those aspects of energy resources policy which I believe to be particularly significant. I welcome this further opportunity of going into more detail in describing the role which I see for my Department, and of hearing the views of Deputies in the matter.

Despite the fact that the Estimate for my Department is quite small, my Department's role in the public sector is one of considerable extent. In addition to the activities for which my Department exercise direct responsibility for expenditure from the Vote, I am answerable for the plans and overall operations of the four very important State agencies in the energy area — the ESB, Bord na Móna, Bord Gáis Éireann and the Irish National Petroleum Corporation. I will, therefore, advert in my speech to the work of these agencies so as to give Deputies an opportunity to discuss all aspects of energy policy.

Before dealing with the expenditure requirements of my Department I am glad to be able to say that my Department are making an increasing and, by now, very significant contribution to the revenues of the State. Over the years determined efforts have been made to use our natural resources for the benefit of the whole community. The utilisation of our natural gas is now contributing substantial amounts of revenue. This contribution however is not reflected in the Estimate before you, as it is presented in the traditional form. Some £54 million will be remitted by BGE direct to the Exchequer on foot of receipts for natural gas and BGE will also fund from its own resources an estimated 30 per cent of projected capital expenditure on the gas transmission network, a further £5 million. It is expected that Marathon will pay about £5.6 million in royalties to the Exchequer in 1984. I would also like to draw attention to the fact that availability of natural gas to the ESB has reduced the fuel bill of that organisation by the order of £100 million, as against the position where no natural gas was available. We have, of course, to offset against this capital charges associated with the provision of gas burning plant. In its continuing licensing activities, my Department have secured interests for the State in exploration consortia which have been estimated to be worth of the order of £4.5 million.

I will now begin with some general observations on the Estimate itself. Deputies will note that the Estimate for this year is just over £10 million and shows an increase in net expenditure of approximately £1.2 million over the outturn for 1983. The increase in gross expenditure is much the same since the estimated total receipts from Appropriations in Aid for 1984 show very little change from the 1983 outturn. There is increased expenditure in ten subheads totalling £2,791,000 offset by reductions totalling £1,542,000 in other subheads. Most of the increased expenditure arises from subhead P. — FEOGA — Western Aid Electrification — on which an estimated £1,870,000 will be spent from the Vote. This is a capital service. The largest reductions in expenditure are in Subhead L — State Support for Mining Operations (£521,000) and J — Town Gas Subsidy (£390,000). About a quarter of the gross expenditure is provided for capital services. As well as FEOGA, £1 million has been provided for private bog development (Subhead M) and £97,000 for investigation of new and renewable sources of energy (Subhead N).

Following the two oil shocks of the seventies, all Governments and the public came to realise the economic and security implications of energy supplies. This has now become a major issue for domestic policy and international collaboration through agencies such as the EEC and the IEA (International Energy Agency). The major objectives of most energy policies are to reduce excessive dependence on oil and other imported energy, to improve security of supply, to diversify fuel sources, to improve efficiency in utilising energy and to reduce its cost to consumers. Success in achieving these objectives takes a considerable number of years and, in some cases, requires heavy investment. A major effort has been made in Ireland and I am glad to report that our progress has been recognised in, for example, a recent review of energy policies carried out by the EEC Commission. While much remains to be done we can say that our energy structure is today a great deal more secure and diversified than it was some four or five years ago.

There has been a significant transformation of our energy utilisation including the flexibility to use different fuels, and undesirable trends have been reversed. Up to 1979 energy consumption had been growing rapidly at a rate of 6-7 per cent per year based entirely on imported oil. In that year — 1979 — we imported 80 per cent of our energy, and oil made up over 70 per cent of the total. A policy of utilising our own resources of natural gas and peat and increased efficiency in utilising energy has changed this. The growth in energy consumption has been stopped and it is now falling slowly. Domestic production of energy has almost doubled and imports have fallen correspondingly so that today about 40 per cent of our requirements are now produced at home. A more dramatic change has occurred in oil consumption which has fallen by one-third over the past four years and now supplied just under half of our total usage.

This improvement in our vulnerability has not been achieved without cost. The production of energy and its diversification calls for heavy investment. The capital investment programmes of Bord na Móna and the ESB have been particularly large and are now approaching completion. Substantial investment in natural gas distribution has also occurred and will continue for some years to come in order to exploit the market for gas in our towns, cities and industries. I will now deal with the major State agencies in the energy sector.

The Electricity Supply Board's capital expenditure for 1984 will be of the order of £249 million. Since the two oil crises of the 1970s, the thrust of the ESB's generation strategy has been to diversify away from imported oil as a fuel source and make maximum use of native fuel resources.

The most significant change in the ESB's fuel mix in the past five years has been the replacement of oil by gas for a substantial amount of its electricity generation. As recently as 1979, nearly three-quarters of our electricity was generated from oil. Natural gas had just become available. Today, oil-generated electricity is down to its lowest level of just over 20 per cent and gas-generated electricity is now more than 50 per cent of the total. This dramatic change was achieved through investment in new plant at Aghada, County Cork, and North Wall in Dublin, and conversion to gas burning of existing oil-fired plant at Marina, County Cork, and Poolbeg in Dublin.

This investment of about £100 million has already brought significant benefits, both nationally and to the ESB customer as compared with continued reliance on oil. At end March, 1984, it had saved the ESB customer about £262 million compared with oil generation and it had reduced the balance of payments by £355 million through the replacement of expensive imported oil by indigenous natural gas. In addition, Bord Gáis Éireann had been able to contribute £109 million to the Exchequer, largely from sales to the ESB.

This rate of gas usage could not be continued indefinitely and, timed to coincide with the phasing out of natural gas, the ESB are planning to commission a coal-fired generating plant at Moneypoint in County Clare. This is scheduled to come on stream in three phases in 1985, 1986 and 1987. With the plant fully operational the position will be that, by the end of this decade, the ESB should be producing 50 per cent of all electricity from coal, a further quarter or so would be provided by hydro and milled peat and the remaining quarter would be provided either from gas depending on future availabilities, imported oil, or further development such as conversion of existing oil or gas-fired plant to coal burning. This will mean that we will be largely dependent, in the long term, on imported fuel for electricity generation. It is essential, therefore, that we should diversity our fuel sources for electricity generation to the greatest degree possible in order to ensure security of supply and access to the most economic fuels available.

One further point in relation to the Moneypoint coal-fired project is that, as Deputies will be aware, completion of the third phase has been reviewed in my Department in the light of reduced demand for electricity, the board's present over-capacity and the need, in present circumstances, to re-evaluate all capital projects. I have given the fullest consideration to the out come of this review and have brought my conclusion to the Government. I am glad to be able to inform the House that the 3rd phase of the Moneypoint project will now be completed.

The ESB's capital expenditure on construction projects, that is new generating plant, will amount to £153.6 million in 1984. £146 million of this sum will be spent on work at the Moneypoint site. The balance of £7.6 million relates to residual expenditure, on recently commissioned extensions to the peat-fired stations at Lanesboro and Shannonbridge, the new gas fired combustion turbines at North Wall in Dublin and the conversion of Poolbeg to gas firing. Combustion turbines have played an important role in allowing the ESB to switch quickly to using natural gas. Their flexibility derives from the relatively short lead-times required. Other types of generating plant require lead-times in the region of seven or eight years, as opposed to three years for combustion turbines. This shorter lead-time enables early adjustments to be made in the generation plant programme to cater for variations in electricity demand, for whatever reasons such variations might arise.

The expenditure figures involved are, of course, very large and it is appropriate at this point to mention that, in all its activities, the ESB does its utmost to avail of Irish industrial and commercial resources. It is firm ESB policy to promote and support Irish industry as much as possible. ESB assistance to Irish firms has taken the form of technical support, including product design help in the early stages of production. Generating station construction contracts are sub-divided to facilitate Irish firms and the success of this approach is indicated by the fact that at the Aghada station 60 per cent of the total investment was channelled directly into the Irish economy. The corresponding figure for stations built in the fifties was 10 per cent. The board have assured me that they will continue to do their utmost to avail of the services of Irish industry.

The board's expenditure on premises and general equipment is expected to amount to £8.6 million in 1984. This includes £4.35 million for completion of the new head office complex in Dublin which will incorporate the new national control centre. Other items of expenditure include computers, office furniture and tools. When the head office complex is completed the ESB will not be embarking on any further head office or district headquarters developments until after 1990 while other premises developments will be limited to absolute priority cases.

There will also be substantial expenditure by the board on transmission and distribution projects. These will account for expenditure of about £89.5 million in 1984 with expenditure on transmission projects alone amounting to approximately £30 million. This amount includes £21.5 million for the Moneypoint to the east transmission lines and £8.5 million on the maintenance of standards on the existing transmission system. In addition, there will be expenditure of £2.5 million on the board's new national control centre which is expected to achieve efficiency savings of up to £2.5 million per annum in their fuel bill. Expenditure on distribution projects will come to about £51.33 million in 1984. This expenditure is required so as to maintain an acceptable level of service to existing customers and to strengthen electricity distribution networks for the connection of new customers. The activity is essential and has a high employment content.

A development of significant importance during the past year was the ESB Strategic Plan 1983 — 1988. The plan, which has as its primary objective "to make major changes to achieve substantial price improvement", was drawn up by the board and management of the ESB on their own initiative and responsibility. The plan has already been the subject of debate and question in this House, principally because of its far-reaching implications for future energy policy. Members of the House are aware of the Government's decision on the peat generation aspects of this plan; I feel sure that the House accepts that the future of Bord na Móna has been sensitively cared for and that full consideration has been given to the social, strategic and regional implications of the proposals — as well as the economic aspects. The ESB carries responsibility for the other proposals of the plan under its statutory obligations.

Another development in the provision of electricity has been the western package electrification scheme. Expenditure of £1.87 million and receipts of £.936 million are provided for this scheme in the Vote. The scheme is part of an EEC funded package of measures designed to alleviate the special problems of agriculture throughout the west of Ireland. As well as the electrification element of the package, aid is also provided for the development of water supplies, roads, land improvement, forestry and training services in the agricultural community. The counties to benefit include Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Monaghan, Longford, Cavan, Roscommon, Clare, Kerry and parts of west Cork and west Limerick. The aim of the western package electrification scheme is to improve the viability and competitiveness of farms through the extension and improvement of electricity supplies to farms throughout the region. Thirteen million pounds in aid is being jointly provided by the State and the EEC over a ten year period. Aid is available towards the provision of electricity to farms previously unsupplied, increased and three-phase supplies to farms requiring additional power for their agricultural needs and also aid to a number of marketing and processing plants involved in the agricultural sector. Finally, aid is provided for the improvement of the networks thoughout the region.

Eligibility is in accordance with EEC Regulation 1820/80. Those who qualify for aid must be principally dependent on agriculture for their income. The State and the EEC each contribute 40 per cent of the cost of connection, the remaining 20 per cent being borne by the beneficiaries. To date, 2,735 applications have been approved under the scheme at a total cost of £5,607,828 and it is anticipated that a further 1,434 farms will benefit under the scheme in 1984.

In May of last year, the Government announced the setting up of an inquiry into electricity prices which would identify and analyse the reasons for our high electricity prices and make recommendations to achieve lower prices. The membership of the group includes representatives from industry and Government Departments and is under the chairmanship of the former chief executive of the Danish electricity utility, Elsam.

The inquiry commenced in September 1983, and is expected to complete its final report for the Government towards the end of this month. It has already furnished an interim report to my predecessor.

Provision has been made for the sum of £75,000 in my Department's Estimate in respect of the price inquiry. This sum is being provided to cover expenditure on fees and expenses for the members of the group and, principally, on expert back-up services for the Inquiry.

In regard to turf development, for almost 40 years Bord na Móna has been at the centre of energy policy in this country in our efforts to develop and utilise our own energy resources. Today, Bord na Móna contributes approximately 15 per cent of our national energy needs, has developed considerable expertise in exploiting this traditional native fuel and is at present pursuing a vigorous policy of expansion. At the end of the 1982-83 production year turf accounted for 866,000 tonnes oil equivalent in our national energy bill and will expand to 1.1 million tonnes oil equivalent when the present development plans are in full production. The overall Bord na Móna capital estimate for 1984 was originally for £37 million which was mainly for the continuation of bog development work under the board's third development programme. Significant provisions include £5.5 million for railways, £4.8 million for machines, £4.2 million for drainage and £1.6 million for buildings.

Included in the total estimate of £37 million was a provision for £15.4 million for the Ballyforan briquette factory. Early in 1983, the board had it indicated to them by the then Minister for Industry and Energy that it should undertake a full review of the Ballyforan-Derryfadda briquette factory and bog development project. Several factors combined indicated the need for this review; the costs of the project had significantly increased from the time of earlier approval; the price of oil had eased, the solid fuel market was seen as noticeably more competitive at a time when the board itself was implementing in phases, the Government approved price increases for turf and for briquettes. The price for milled peat to the ESB had been increased. By mid-1983 it became evident that greater attention needed to be given to the marketing projections.

The result of this review led the board to conclude that it would not be prudent for it to continue with the project and, accordingly it took the decision in May 1984 to defer the project for one year. The board, by way of comment, also added to its decision that if the Government were to make moneys available, development work could still continue on the bog, thereby saving the jobs of approximately 156 people. The board itself is continuing this development work for this current season but could not see it possible to carry on this work for longer than approximately one year unless restart of the project as a whole were foreseen. The total expenditure now envisaged on the Ballyforan project for 1984 is £4.6 million rather than the £15.4 million originally estimated for. That entire position is to be further considered in meetings between the board and the Department. Full assessment of the position is being made. Some minor impact on Bord na Móna will result from the ESB strategic plan.

In 1984, production will consist of just over half a million tonnes of sod peat, four and a half million tonnes of milled peat and about a half a million tonnes of briquettes. Production of moss peat will rise from 1.3 million cu. metres in 1983 to 1.4 million cu. metres in 1984. Much of the additional milled peat will be used for electricity generation which would otherwise have to be generated by oil. The remainder will be used for the production of briquettes in the Littleton factory which, it is anticipated, will come into full production in 1984-85.

The Private Bog Development Scheme came into effect in June 1981. The scheme is administered by Bord na Móna and is funded by an allocation from the Department's Vote. It provides for payment of grants to individuals, qualified groups or societies towards the cost of private development for the production of turf for fuel. Bog development comprises the cost of access roads, drainage and the cost of purchasing, hiring or leasing equipment to carry out the development work. Grants payable may not exceed 60 per cent of the cost in the case of qualified groups or societies and 45 per cent in the case of individuals. The scheme was introduced to increase the volume of indigenous energy being produced, that is, mainly sod peat. It is an effort to bring dormant resources, that is, a very large number of smaller bog areas which would not be of interest to Bord na Móna, into turf production. The scheme has had a wide welcome and to date, £2.4 million in grant aid has been approved in respect of the development of some 25,000 acres of bog under this scheme. I intend to review the scheme at the end of this season.

Of all the types of fuel in use in the modern world today oil is probably the most important and certainly the most versatile. Deputy Eddie Collins, the Minister of State at my Department, dealt with a number of issues relating to oil supply when addressing the House on the 1983 Estimates last June. I consider that further comment is now warranted on these issues.

The first such issue is that of Whitegate Refinery. The refinery has been in operation in State ownership since September 1982, a period of just 20 months. Over much of that period it has been the focus of much critical comment, not all of which could be considered to have been well-informed, in relation to its efficiency and the economics of its operation in terms of the disparity between petroleum product prices ex-Whitegate and the prices of alternatively sourced supplies into the Irish market. The refining industry worldwide made huge losses but integrated companies strove to recoup these losses in the downstream market. In its first six months of operation there was a market disparity between Whitegate product prices and import/transfer prices, that is, the prices at which the oil companies import 65 per cent of their product requirements. Improvement in crude contract supplies, judicious spot purchases and operational efficiencies have resulted in a marked improvement.

Most of the bad comparisons were made on an assumption of 100 per cent spot product the price of which was then particularly low but no company and no country could depend to any appreciable extent on such sources. The current magnitude of the "diseconomy" and the improvement in economics over the past year were contributory factors to the reaffirmation of the Government's commitment to the continuance of operations at Whitegate as expressed in a Government decision of 31 January last. Oil prices in current world circumstances and the relationships between spot and official prices will of their very nature remain volatile. It is not possible to assure anyone that further changes in prices ex-Whitegate may not occur, whether downwards or upwards.

Deputies will be aware that the mandatory off-take regime, which the Government were left with no option but to introduce and to defend, successfully, in several injunction proceedings, in order to ensure disposal of Whitegate's production, and thereby secure the continuation of refining there, is the subject of a legal challenge by a grouping of the smaller oil companies which is being contested by the Government. This challenge was initiated in the High Court, which referred certain questions in the matter relating to particular provisions of the Treaty of Rome to the European Court for ruling.

I mentioned some moments ago that the Government were left with no option but to ensure the disposal of Whitegate production by a mandatory, statute-based system. This is not and has never been the preferred approach. Just as in 1982, the preferred option of Government remains the disposal of Whitegate production by means of voluntary off-take arrangements entered into by the oil companies marketing in Ireland. The oil companies themselves had difficulty with or were not amenable to formulating such arrangements in conjunction with Government in 1982 but I would hope that a number of developments since then will make progress possible. In this connection I entered into negotiations with the oil companies with a view to reaching agreement on such suitable arrangements for disposal of the refinery's output as would enable the Government to phase out or dismantle the current mandatory provision. It is my hope that if the industry approach the discussions with a willingness to be constructive then significant progress can be achieved. I can, for my part, assure the industry that the Government are committed to a constructive approach to this dialogue.

One area of oil supply which continues to be the cause of concern is that of oil stock levels within the jurisdiction. Current events in the Persian Gulf, while not an immediate cause for concern, show the continuing uncertainty about disruption of oil supplies. There continue to be less than 65 days of stocks actually held on Irish soil and this constitutes an inadequate level in the event of supply difficulties. I am following up with the oil companies the question of raising stocks on Irish soil with minimum delay to an acceptable level.

I have had a further discussion with Gulf Oil in regard to the Whiddy terminal and await further response from them. I am concerned to protect the State's rights as regards storage and also as regards restoration of or compensation in lieu of the damaged condition of property on the leasehold.

Overall, therefore, there has been, in the past year, relative price and supply stability on the international oil market. Although one can never predict with any degree of certainty future events insofar as oil is concerned, it is to be hoped that this stability will continue and that this will allow us to build further on the progress made. The unstable and threatening situation in part of the Middle East indicates clearly that the need for care and the utmost prudence on security of supply is as great as ever.

The development and transmission of our natural gas resource is the responsibility of Bord Gáis Éireann. The Government's policy is to broaden the use of our existing natural gas reserves, to underpin the security of essential energy supplies and to maximise the net return to the economy and to the Exchequer from gas revenues. The successful completion of the Cork-Dublin pipeline marks the first stage of the Government's strategy for natural gas development. This will be followed by the provision of supply to town gas companies capable of disturbing natural gas safely and efficiently, when a supply can be provided on an economic basis. Deputies will be aware that a major agreement was reached last year with the Dublin Gas Company on the distribution of natural gas in Dublin. The conversion, development and marketing programmes are all major undertakings designed to maximise and expand the use of natural gas as a competitive premium fuel. The State's investment in this project is largely by way of rebates off the price of gas to the company. Some of the State investment is in the form of interest bearing loans. All going as planned, it is estimated that revenues in the region of £740 million in today's money will accrue to the Exchequer over the life of the project. From the time my predecessor took office the draft supply agreement with Dublin Gas was the subject of in-depth review. The company itself has very considerable work to do on its cost estimates and had a real need to deepen its conversion survey in order to copperfasten the cost estimates. While the company and its banking advisers were involved in aspects of the review essential for their own reasons, my Department very fully re-examined several aspects of the scheme and this resulted in major improvements which could be summarised as an increase from 50 per cent to 56 per cent of the profits, provision for the appointment of four directors, including the chairman for the initial period by the Minister to the board of Dublin Gas and, above all, a major improvement in that, allowing the need to pay off the bank debt and to repay State loans, the company would be subjected to a control on its margins so that its buy-in price would rise whenever the selling prices of the company afforded profit margins higher than a level which is defined in the supply agreement. After the bank and State debt envisaged in the financial parameters on which the whole project is based are repaid, normal price control applies. These measures have significantly tightened control by the State over a company into which State finance in the first and front line of exposure has been invested. In addition to that, once the agreed capital expenditures are repaid, there is adequate provision against excess profits.

Policy in the area of further extensions to the grid is not yet finalised. I am currently reviewing organisational and financial aspects of gas distribution generally and the role of Bord Gáis Éireann. It is my intention that there will be a major public sector involvement in the distribution process. Such a policy has to fit appropriately into an overall national policy for the utilisation of the Kinsale Field, the positioning and pricing of natural gas in relation to alternative fuels, and the commercial and cost factors involved.

With regard to particular utilities I hope to announce a decision on a supply to Clonmel shortly. Limerick has already made progress in preparing a project. Waterford and Kilkenny have also made some progress in this regard. The extension of supply to other population centres which do not have an existing town gas system will be considered at a later stage as well as supplies to industries. I must emphasise that the critical factor is a viable gas utility project, equitable for the seller, BGE and the buyer without excess dependence on State support and without exposure to excess transfer of the benefit away from the State and the consumer.

BGE will be surrendering £54 million of its profits in 1984 for the benefit of the Exchequer. The board's capital programme for 1984 amounts to £16.9 million, 30 per cent of which will be funded from their own revenue and the remainder from borrowings. The project to extend the Cork-Dublin natural gas pipeline to Northern Ireland will account for a major proportion of this money. The construction of the first stage of this pipeline, which will also act as part of the Dublin Gas network, is scheduled for completion by autumn of this year. Contractors have been appointed and the engineering design work is completed.

A provision has also been made in the Estimate for preliminary expenditure on Stage 2 of the project which will bring the gas from North Dublin to the Border and for some work in connection with extension of the grid to provincial centres.

It is a matter of some concern, then, that problems have very recently been raised by the British side relating to the arrangements agreed last October for the sale of Kinsale gas to Northern Ireland.

The memorandum of understanding approved and signed on behalf of both Governments contained all the key elements of the proposed contract — quantities, price escalation and currency provisions and a contract incorporating these provisions has been concluded and initialled by BGE and NIGAS.

The memorandum of understanding was entered into by both Governments with the express intention that the understanding would be fully implemented and work is proceeding on an agreed basis since last October. Negotiations for EEC aid are well advanced. In view of these facts the Government are looking forward to an early implementation of the agreed arrangements.

I now turn to the very important area of offshore exploration. In Irish offshore exploration attention generally continues to be focussed mainly on the Celtic Sea area following the 1983 Gulf discovery on block 49/9, and appraisal work in connection with that find is proceeding. Even though the first appraisal well related to the discovery was disappointing, the hydrocarbon flows achieved in the discovery well which is, after all, located in shallow waters and only 25 miles from shore are very encouraging. Needless to say, no decision can yet be taken on whether or not the find is commercial but I will be pressing for an appropriate appraisal programme. As regards this year's exploration programme BP have recently completed the drilling of a well in the Porcupine and Gulf are currently drilling a well in the Celtic Sea. Occidental will shortly drill in the Fastnet Basin and, later on, Gulf and Conoco will drill exploration wells in the Celtic Sea. All of this is apart from any further appraisal work related to the Block 49/9 find. There are possibilities that other wells will also be drilled.

Following the Gulf discovery, many exploration companies throughout the world expressed interest in acquiring acreage in the Celtic Sea. With this in mind I decided to initiate a new round of offshore licensing on 29 February this year. A total of 76 blocks, predominantly centred on the Celtic Sea but including a smaller number off our east coast, are being offered for licensing under the round. As I indicated when I announced this licensing round, arrangements were made by my Department in anticipation of the round to have very extensive seismic surveys undertaken over the blocks which are included in the third round. These surveys utilise the very latest seismic techniques and, hopefully, will produce data for the industry of a much higher technical quality than the older, previously available seismic data. In addition, the Celtic Sea Report, which was produced by my Department and comprises a comprehensive examination of the geology, geophysics and geochemistry of the Celtic Sea, is again available for purchase by the oil industry. The closing date for the round has been fixed for 15 February 1985. I believe that this will give companies sufficient time for evaluation of the available data and the blocks on offer.

I look on this third licensing round as a major step in promoting our ongoing policy of securing the thorough and expeditious exploration of our Continental Shelf. While oil exploration is a high risk business for the oil companies exploring offshore Ireland, nevertheless we must do all we can to ensure that as much exploration drilling as possible is undertaken. Every well drilled improves the chances of discovering commercial reserves. Even dry wells provide a great deal of information on the petroleum geology of our offshore basins. I, therefore, hope and expect that in the wake of the 1983 oil find, this third round will lead to a greatly increased level of exploration activity, particularly from 1985 onwards.

In the Irish offshore to date a total of 79 exploratory wells have been drilled — 32 in the Marathon-Esso leased areas and 47 under exclusive licences issued under the 1975 licensing terms. Arising from this, we have at present only one producing field—The Kinsale Head Gas Field. While no commercial discoveries of oil have yet been declared, we have had, nontheless, some significant flows and shows in a number of our offshore basins.

In the context of its extent I believe that our offshore is under-explored. While our designated areas extend almost all around our coastline and far into the Atlantic, only 79 exploratory wells have so far been drilled. We must, therefore, continue to promote and encourage exploration in our offshore. Every oil company will assess carefully and closely the relative advantages which it perceives in electing to undertake exploration in one region as opposed to another and we have been singularly successful in attracting the most respectable oil companies in the world to engage in exploration offshore Ireland.

One of the most important factors to be taken into account is the anticipated level of State take. The degree of flexibility built into our licensing terms gives assurance to the companies in this respect. The levels of royalty and State participation set out in the terms are maximum ones, and it is open to me to settle for lower levels where this is necessary to ensure a reasonable return on investment, so that production can go ahead. Our aim, like that of the oil companies, is to secure the discovery and commercial production of hydrocarbons. The overall objective of the 1975 terms, in short, is to provide from a commercial development the maximum benefits for the Irish people, while ensuring a fair return for the developers.

The House will be aware that the 1975 terms to which I have referred do not apply to a certain part of our committed offshore area — that part which is held under lease by Marathon, either alone or in conjunction with others. The provisions of an agreement entered into in 1959 apply to these leasehold areas. This agreement contains provisions which in current terms are exceptionally favourable to the licence holder. In particular, they provide an extended period through which the company could hold petroleum leases without pursuing an active exploration programme beyond that set out in the agreement and also it provides a framework which sets limits to the sum of royalty and tax payments.

The agreement provides that in certain circumstances certain payments might fall to be made to the leaseholder under the provisions of the agreement. These provisions may have to be acted upon in the next few years. The level of activity by Marathon-ESSO in the area exclusively leased to them is extremely disappointing to me. The acreage, which is considered to be of good potential, is under-explored. I will be looking for a significantly accelerated exploration programme in the Marathon-ESSO acreage.

Because of my concerns with the third licensing round I have concentrated on the Celtic Sea area so far. However, other basins in our offshore should not be ignored, particularly as there have been significant shows and flows of oil and gas in those basins. Our "open door" policy continues to apply to blocks which are not included in our third round and which are not already committed.

Mainly because of soft oil markets, many oil companies have temporarily shelved plans to explore the more expensive deep-water areas throughout the world. However, BP drilled a well in the Porcupine Basin this year, their fifth well in the discovery block 26/28. Unfortunately, no significant shows of hydrocarbons were encountered. BP will now evaluate the geological and other information obtained from this well, in conjunction with previous data, to enable them to decide on their future plans. Because we believe this basin has considerable potential, my Department are currently working to produce a report dealing with the Porcupine Basin similar to that produced for the Celtic Sea. Constraints on staffing, however, have delayed that work. On shore exploration is continuing in the North West Carboniferous Basin where non-commercial quantities of gas were discovered in 1962-63. The present licencees have carried out extensive geological field-mapping and seismic surveys and in April started drilling the first of two wells to be drilled this year. This first well has been completed and has been temporarily abandoned having encountered some background gas shows at some levels. The second will start very soon and we await its result with great interest.

In a period of plentiful fuel supply there may, on the face of it, appear to be less need for expenditure on energy conservation. However, I feel that this would be a very shortsighted policy and a sum of £400,000 is being provided in my Department's Estimate this year for the promotion of energy conservation.

The domestic sector was well catered for in the past with publicity campaigns and the attic insulation grant scheme. We have continued our concentration more on the industrial and public sectors. This does not mean that the domestic sector has achieved its potential or that the public do not need reminding of the benefits of taking energy-saving actions. The Department's "Hotline" is available for advice on any energy conservation queries and I would urge people to take advantage of this expert service. I would hope to consider having further publicity campaigns when funds allow this.

Meanwhile, my Department's programme for the industrial and public sectors, has been, with the help of the IIRS, coming up with worthwhile results. Since 1979 total energy consumption fell by 7 per cent while there has been some growth in the economy. This is a reversal of the previous trend of a strong connection between growth in energy consumption and growth in economic activity. While other factors, including prices, have undoubtedly had an impact on consumption, conservation and increased efficiency in using energy were major factors and can be expected to continue contributing to lower demand in future.

My Department, with the help of the NBST, have encouraged the widest participation by Irish applicants in the EEC Scheme of Aid for Energy Demonstration Projects for 1984 following on our success last year in achieving contracts involving aid of IR£2.4 million.

An initial assessment of my Department's steam plant audit service has shown potential savings of IR£3.6 million per annum and a further assessment will be carried out towards the end of this year. No matter what way Ireland's energy scene changes in coming years, the need for vigilance in getting the best value out of that energy will not change and so, I will continue to encourage energy conservation for all our sakes.

As in the case of energy conservation a short-term judgment based on present conditions might suggest that expenditure on the investigation of new and renewable sources of energy was not really necessary. Nevertheless, I suggest that a long-term view should be taken and my Department's Estimate for 1984 contains a provision of £97,000 for this activity. This sum will be used to continue the existing policy of assessing the potential for use of natural energy sources, demonstrating well-developed technology in action and supporting research to a small degree.

During 1984, studies of the size of wind, hydro and geothermal resources will be complete. It is hoped that reports will be available to the public by the late summer.

This year will also see the commencement of an EEC contract, under which the EEC will contribute to the cost of monitoring, maintaining and, where necessary, modifying five of my Department's wind machines.

The Nuclear Energy Board which has a very small complement of staff has some very important statutory responsibilities designated to it by the Government. These responsibilities involve such actions as regulating the import-export, transport, use, distribution and disposal of radioactive substances and irradiating apparatus. The licensing involves some 200 licensees covering medical, industrial, research and teaching areas within the country. The board carry out inspections on the licensees to ensure that the conditions of the licences are fulfilled. The Nuclear Energy Board are responsible for the National Radiation Monitoring Service, N.R.M.S.. The main service provided by the NRMS is the assessment of doses to people involved in radiation work. The service processed and reported on 64,000 personal doses badges during 1983 which represented the monitoring of over 2,500 individuals. The Nuclear Energy Board also advise the Department of Health through the board's Radiation Advisory Committee on matters connected with radiation safety, for example in the design of Beaumont, Tallaght, and other new hospitals planned.

The board carry out a programme of monitoring to check the levels of radioactivity in the environment and, in particular, in the Irish Sea. I have placed the board's latest report on the Irish Sea in the Dáil Library. The Irish Sea Programme involves the monitoring of radioactivity levels in fish samples, seawater, seaweeds and sediments. Other environmental monitoring deals with measurements of radioactivity in drinking water, food, rainfall and in the atmosphere.

My Department, through the Nuclear Energy Board, are kept in touch with important international research and development work in radiological protection and nuclear technology. The Nuclear Energy Board participate in working committees of the EEC, the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Atomic Energy Agency, where discussions take place on the disposal of radioactive waste and the elimination of discharges and dumping of radioactive materials in the sea, which are matters of particular concern to Ireland.

I now turn to minerals exploration. There has been a significant drop in the level of minerals exploration activity in Ireland. This is not unexpected, given the poor metal prices which have prevailed for some years and the worldwide economic recession. Nonetheless, the level of investment still being maintained by a number of companies confirms the longstanding confidence of the minerals industry that further commercial base metal orebodies remain to be found in Ireland.

An improvement in some metal prices during the past year and the modest improvement being recorded in the world economy now gives some cause for optimism although any upward trend will take some time to work its way through to substantial new investment in minerals exploration.

My Department keep in close contact with the representative bodies of the industry and there are ongoing discussions on ways of stimulating interest and investment in minerals exploration. Following consultation with the industry I introduced, in September 1983, an open-file system for minerals licence data on file in the Geological Survey of Ireland. Up to that time, even though a prospecting licence was surrendered, data resulting from operations under it were treated as confidential.

I am aware that concern has been expressed, over the years, by some members of the industry about the absence of pre-determined mining lease terms. The argument put forward is that the absence of such terms makes investment by international mining companies in minerals exploration in Ireland unattractive. However, no clear evidence in support of this argument has been put forward to my Department. This matter has been looked at a number of times over the years. Bearing in mind the variety of hard minerals being sought in the land area of the country and the variety of settings in which such minerals can be found — which have a significant bearing on the profitability of such finds — there are serious practical problems about determining mining lease terms, in advance of discovery and evaluation of each deposit, that will give a fair and reasonable return both to the State and the operator. Furthermore, it would be reasonable, if lease terms were to be pre-determined, to take account of a highly profitable mine development situation and to indicate what the level of State "take" in such a situation would be.

Bearing these considerations in mind and, as I am satisfied that the terms of State mining leases granted to date have been at least as attractive as those obtainable by mining companies in other countries, I have been reluctant to fix future lease terms into a standard mould which could result in the State getting an inadequate return from the leasing of State-owned minerals.

Nevertheless, the industry was invited early this year to furnish their ideas as to how a leasing regime could be devised which would reasonably meet the concerns of the State and of the industry. I have received a limited response in the matter from the industry but it is my intention that further discussions should take place between officials of my Department and of the industry to see if the matter can be progressed further.

My Department, in consultation with the industry, have been vigorously pursuing the early adoption of an EEC scheme to aid minerals exploration within Community territory. Unfortunately, although the major share of the produce of Irish mines is sold in the Community — its natural market — a number of our partners in the Community do not share our urgency to get the scheme under way. Nonetheless, I am hopeful of an early resolution of the difficulties experienced by some countries with the scheme. While the total amount of money to be made available, £7.3m, is quite small, nonetheless, it could provide a useful stimulus to minerals exploration activity. Recent years have seen the closure of some of our largest mines, mainly due to exhaustion of their minerals reserves. The Tara Lead and Zinc Mine is now operating in a more satisfactory climate than in the difficult years after start-up in 1977 and Bula Ltd. is involved in discussions at present with a number of parties with a view to operational and financial arrangements which would permit commencement of development of the Bula orebody.

Gypsum mining and processing operations continue at Kingscourt and the barytes mine at Clonakilty has been taken over by new developers. Coal mining operations have expanded in the Leinster Coalfield and in Ballyingarry, County Tipperary. While the coal mining operations are small in themselves, they are serving to provide employment in a critical time for our economy in areas where employment opportunities are limited and they are contributing to a reduction in our dependence on imported coals.

Studies are proceeding with a view to development of the talc magnesite deposit at Westport, County Mayo, but it is too early yet to say when development will commence.

The Vote for my Department for 1984 amounts to £10 million. This is small in comparison to other areas of energy activity so, I have also outlined for the House the wide range of my responsibilities as Minister for Energy and the extent of the non-voted capital expenditure involved, £303 million this year, in the supply of energy by the State companies under my aegis. It is clearly vital that my Department have good working relationships with all of these companies. It is essential that we get value from this investment. As Minister for Energy I must also look to the optimum development of our indigenous sources of energy, peat and natural gas, to further promoting explorations for oil and gas, to enhancing our security of supply, to improving our energy efficiency, and to examining new sources of energy. This is a formidable and continuing task.

I recommend this Estimate to the House.

We are to finish at 12.30?

I see. There are a few Deputies who would like to make a short contribution this morning so I will not over-extend my time. There is a certain amount of lack of energy here this morning after the 4 a.m. finish.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to try on behalf of this side of the House to deal with the Estimate for the Department of Energy. Indeed it should be noted that during the year there has been a reversal to what the original positions were in relation to the Department of Industry and Energy. Some people were of the view that they were better separated, so as not to try to make little of one more than the other. In the short time that I was there as Minister there was a significant co-ordination that could be carried on between an energy policy and an industrial policy and the effects that an energy policy can have on industrial development in the country. However we are back to where we were originally and this is an opportunity to deal with them separately.

Listening to the Minister's address there seems to be a lack of planning in relation to future energy policy and the co-ordination of energy policy. It is a very serious matter that has to be tackled but it is not being tackled. We will give the Minister the opportunity at the end of the day to inform us if, in fact, there is a fully-thought-out co-ordinated energy policy between the various suppliers of energy into the economy at the moment. We are too well aware of the situation that exists in relation to the ESB, Bord na Móna, Bord Gáis Éireann. It is time we sat down and planned exactly where we are going in the future, not to mention what is going to be the future of the peatlands when Bord na Móna have finished developing them.

That is an area to which I must first refer the Tánaiste. From what I heard here this morning there is a total lack of energy policy for the future and I will refer to this in more detail later on when I get around to dealing with the various agencies that are under the control of the Minister for Energy.

Other aspects of the Estimate that certainly strike me quite forcibly indeed are lack of action, lack of progress, lack of decision-making in relation to the energy area. Decisions are very badly needed here and this is also symbolic of other Departments and indeed of the actions of the Government in many, many areas. As I said earlier this year in the House, it is my view that what I can only describe today as the paralysis of action and the frightening lack of decision-making in vital areas that are hindering the development of the economy and stopping progress towards tackling the problems that exist in various aspects of the economy today.

The decisions that are not being faced up to — and they are not being faced up to in this particular area of energy either — all contribute to a further slide down the slippery road. Everybody looked forward to the implication of the Joint Programme for Government by the present Government when they came into office. Time and time again we have had to record in this House that not a single line of that policy has been implemented.

We are now approaching mid-term in the life of this Government and we have not had decisions. The Minister will recall that only some three months ago at Question Time here I tried to get some idea of decision-making in relation to the peatlands of the midlands and indeed in relation to the Ballyforan project also. Time and time again we met with the very same response —"the project has been under review" and the Ballyforan project has been under review, for about 18 months. The strategic plan produced by the ESB is also under review, and under review and under review. I had to remind the House three months ago that when I tried to get information about it, it was not forthcoming. But I then said that there would be no problem when it came to the time of the Laois-Offaly by-election in getting a decision, whether it was the right decision or the wrong decision. It so happened that that was the case. We got a decision midway through the Laois-Offaly by-election, a decision which I described then, and which I repeat today, as more than a get-me-by decision.

It was a get-me-by decision to get out of the problems of Laois-Offaly and the results show quite clearly that it did not get the present Government out of the problems of Laois-Offaly because the good, honest-to-goodness people of Laois-Offaly did not believe for one moment the seriousness of that decision. They did not believe for one moment the seriousness of that decision. They did not buy it. It was a get-me-by decision. It has been said that if this Government are long enough in office the name of a parish down there, Welsh Island — I am sure, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you are familiar with it — will be changed by them to Desert Island. Unless the Government, the Minister and the Department of Energy sit down and work out what is to be the long-term future of the midlands, then that change of name of a particular parish will undoubtedly take place.

I am glad the opportunity was given to the Minister, to his party and to the other party in Government, to go down to the midlands and see the stupidity of the things that were being proposed. That gave them the opportunity to see the foolishness of what would happen in relation to the midlands if they had allowed the ESB to proceed with the strategic plan that had been outlined. We all know the peatlands are going to be cut away sooner or later, but between the ESB, Bord na Móna and within the realms of the Government, where is there any sign of a start being made for economic planning to replace the jobs that sustained the economy of the midlands? The whole economy as we all know, is sustained by the ESB and by Bord na Móna.

Time and time again members of the Government have said they do not interfere with decisions of semi-State bodies; do not have anything to do with them. When it came to the strategic plan of the ESB the Government were glad to announce a kind of good news decision for the Laois-Offaly by-election. However, not many miles towards the west when it came to taking a decision in relation to the Ballyforan peat briquette factory, the Minister for Energy, with hand on heart, and the rest of them stood up time and time again and said, "this is a Bord na Móna decision. We do not interfere. The board of Bord na Móna run their own business. They tell us the project should not go ahead, and that is the end of that."

I will ask the Minister to look me straight in the eye and tell me that it was not a Government decision in relation to Ballyforan and it was not a Government decision in relation to the ESB. Nobody would believe it. I do not believe it. Nobody outside this House believes it and certainly the people of Laois-Offaly did not believe it either. Not wishing any evil on the poor constituency of East Galway and Roscommon, but if they had had the same unfortunate and regrettable opportunity as Laois-Offaly, they too would probably have got a clear-cut decision.

It is part of the overall, bad performance of the Government. We have had a review, a review and a review; a committee, a committee, a committee; a task force, a task force, a planning board and what have you. These are no substitutes for Government decisions in relation to the problems of this country. The Government are nearly half way through their term of office and unless a drastic change is made in the area of decision-making, in the area of planning and in the area of giving some hope, not alone to the areas that I have just spoken about but indeed to areas——

The area of energy.

The energy is very scarce this morning, I can assure you.

Vote 48, Energy Estimate.

We are all talking about energy all morning. The ESB is part of the energy set up and Bord na Móna is part of it.

You are energising in other areas.

We are not able to energise too well this morning. We are not great at all, I can tell you. The water is being consumed at an enormous rate to try to keep the show on the road.

To get back to energy, as I said, Bord na Móna do their own business, the Government do not interfere. I know as well as the Minister knows, it is his decision in relation to Ballyforan, nobody else's. I am sure there are Deputies here from these constituencies. I will not dwell on them in detail. I am delighted to see my young colleague in the House this morning showing his concern for his own midland region of Laois-Offaly. He will also take the opportunity of saying a few words.

In relation to the ESB itself for which the Minister has responsibility, we are all keenly aware of the over-capacity that exists. I am not blaming the ESB in relation to the decision taken back in the mid-seventies. We all know long-term planning is involved in relation to the provision of power stations. But we must also face up to the fact, and the Minister said it here today, that stage 3 of Moneypoint is going ahead. We must face up to the reality of the situation. I am sure that produces approximately 900 megawatts on its own. We have approximately 950 megawatts of excess capacity at present. Surely that poses the question what is to be the long-term plan in relation to it? It is not good enough to come in with half decisions. From the point of view of the development of the economy we need clear-cut decisions in relation to that situation. We are all keenly aware of the cost of electricity and the impact it has on cost competitiveness and manufacturing costs in this country. Time and time again we hear lectures from the Taoiseach and members of the Government in relation to competitiveness. And yet who is contributing more to the non-competitiveness of Irish industry than the ESB itself, and the Government by their own actions are adding to it. A reduction of ESB charges by 12½ per cent could generate 6,000 new jobs in this country. This has been shown in two surveys that I have studied in recent times. Surely if the Government have any objective in the area of job creation they should be moving towards that area.

Before I left the Department of Industry and Energy in 1982 the then Government had already taken a decision to set up an inquiry into the ESB and announced it publicly. That was in October-November 1982. We are now in June 1984. We have not got the results of this yet. If it takes two years to do a simple job like that where are we going in relation to the major problems that have to be solved and the impact of electricity costs on industry in this country?

It has been said time and time again that electricity costs to industry here are approximately 25 per cent higher than for our competitors in Europe. The inquiry which was set up then has, unfortunately, not finalised its work yet but I am sure it will give us the answer. I am not prepared to say until I know that we are comparing like with like but certainly there is a serious discrepency between the cost of electricity in Ireland and the cost to our competitors in the market place. We have to level it up if we are to continue in the international market place. I think it is time the Minister looked at the concept of a two-tier price tariff in this country because we appear to be seriously out of line in relation to industrial costs. I would also ask the Minister to say whether he has given any consideration to what I believe is an application from the Department of Industry in relation to a reduction of ESB costs to Irish Steel as the Government grapple with the problem of the future of Irish Steel. What is the response likely to be? I know the ESB will probably make the case that, if they give a reduction to Irish Steel, which the Department of Industry are seeking I understand, in looking at the overall position and future of Irish Steel, the new large consumers of electricity like Alcan and others will also be looking for the same treatment. The Minister might let us know where he stands in relation to this. We will have an opportunity next week to go into the other areas of the future of Irish Steel. Again I say in relation to the tackling of ESB prices there is the same lack of action and lack of progress and lack of decision-making by the Government.

I have to concur with what the Minister and indeed many Members of this House have said time and time again, that Bord na Móna have been a very successful semi-State body in relation to the development of our natural resources and in the provision of jobs in areas of this country where alternative employment would not be readily available. What will replace the jobs on the development of milled peat and sod peat in the midlands? If planning has not started is it not time to start it and to look at what use is to be made of the cut-away bogs, whether they are to be grassland or used for horticultural production or whatever. A policy should be drawn up for the cut-away bogs of the whole midland area. There are opportunities to be grasped there through research, planning and getting on with it in time.

I would also ask the Minister to try to explain his decision in relation to the part of the strategic plan of the ESB to which he referred in his speech. The workers in those plants are wondering what is to be the position. I have been asked by Deputy Calleary in relation to Bellacorick, by Deputy John O'Leary in relation to Kerry and indeed by others what does the ESB and the Minister mean when they say that the situation will remain open subject to plant availability? What is that supposed to mean in simple language? Does that mean that if the boiler breaks down tomorrow the plant is not available and the station could close or does it mean that if the boiler breaks down you are going to provide the money to fix the boiler so that the plant can go again the following day or the following week or whatever? Everybody believes that is the thin end of the wedge, the foot in the door.

What I want is a clear and unequivocal statement in relation not alone to Bellacorick but indeed to the rest of the plants. Are they going to be closed by stealth? Are the stations going to be run down? Is money going to be provided for maintenance? If not, come clean and say: "We are closing and that is it" and do not try to close them by stealth. That is not the way to do business and that is not the way the people of this country want to have business done on their behalf either. If that is going to be the decision let them say it and there will be a lot more respect for the Government which is fast losing respect and credibility in many areas because they are not dealing with the problems or pursuing the policies in this and other areas as they promised.

I am a bit dubious when I see that the grant money for the private sector bog development is being reduced. That is not new. In 1982 I recall distinctly the Department of Finance wanted to do away with the scheme altogether. What I am afraid of is that they are beginning to get their way in reducing the amount of grants available to the private bog development scheme, a scheme which was introduced in 1981, which has been very successful and has provided jobs in the off season. It has resulted in a substantial reduction in imports. More important, it has got people back to working for themselves and developing the work ethic that had gone out of rural Ireland but which this type of scheme has brought back. In my view it would be a serious and retrograde step to abolish this scheme but it would be typical of the decisions which have come from this Government where Pale politics is pursued religiously to the exclusion of other parts of the country. That scheme has been highly successful and has made more than its fair contribution to the Exchequer. It would be penny wise and pound foolish to allow some bureaucrat to abolish that to save £1 million. It would not surprise me. I feel it is going to be put under the hammer again. The statement says it is going to be reviewed. "Review" means one thing and that is, that there are preparations being made to scrap it. That would be a retrograde step but it would not surprise me. Pale politics is all that matters to the Government and this could be another one for the hammer.

To turn to the Irish National Petroleum Corporation for which I was preparing legislation at the end of October 1982, this State company is operating without a legislative statutory basis. In 1984 there has been no further development. We took the controversial decision in relation to Whitegate and I am glad that that decision has been proved to be the correct one. Despite all the money on various PR agencies around this country by the people who would love to see it closed and leave it closed, they were not successful and despite the fact that I was ridiculed and told I could not do my sums and there was a controversy as to whether Whitegate was going to cost this country 1p or 1½p on the price of petrol in the short-term. We explained that we were in a contract situation. Nobody was interested in that. I recall the hullaballoo and all the talk and the time that was wasted both on the airwaves and in newspapers about whether it was a ½p or 1p, while this Government could let £800 million drift out of this country unknown to them. What did we hear about it? Just for a day, that is all. It disappeared very quickly — news management, good handling.

Is that on the Energy Estimate?

If we had that money we would be able to pay for Moneypoint and many other projects. All I am illustrating is the contrast between the small amount involved in one decision by the Government at a particular time and the large amount of £800 million or £900 million which is gone out of the country, and which has been forgotten. I know, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that it hurts you too.

I am sure the 1,800 Labour votes that were returned in North Tipperary in the European elections hurt you as well and I can only sympathise.

You are generalising again.

That is Whitegate. When are we going to see legislation to put it on a proper statutory basis? Are there any plans for development of the Whitegate Oil Refinery to improve its cost effectiveness in relation to the product it produces? It can be done with a small enough investment and I hope the Minister will deal with that at the end of the debate.

I cannot understand why we have had no progress or action in relation to the future of the Whiddy oil terminal in Bantry. When I left the Department in October or November 1982 I remember distinctly an offer being on the desk. The Whiddy oil terminal was being offered free gratis to the Government of the day on condition that the storage of the million barrels of oil that are kept there would be released forthwith. I held the view then and I still hold the view and I am glad the Minister appears to hold the view that this company should either put back the foreshore lease property they have in the condition in which they found it or else compensate the Government of the day for doing it. There has been no progress or development in nearly two years. I am not pointing all the fingers at the present Minister. He had a predecessor and we did not see any action taken by him. We will not condemn this man. He is not there long enough yet. There is no development or action being taken in so far as I can see — I am open to correction — in relation to the Whiddy oil terminal and its future and indeed to the contribution it can make to the economic development of that area if the people down there knew where it was going.

The natural gas area is an area which is near and dear to my heart. The first area I will refer to is the apparent problems that exist in relation to the supply of gas from Kinsale to the North of Ireland. It is difficult to know what to say in relation to it except that when I left the Department the agreement was ready to be signed. Now, nearly two years later, the British Government, through the Minister of State in the North of Ireland, Mr. Butler, are thinking of backing off the whole deal. I am not privy to the information the Minister has but I want to put it on the record of the House that when the first talk about renegotiation arose, and this is the second time there is talk of renegotiation of this agreement, I told the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Bruton, and I want to tell him here today that I will fully support his action in not renegotiating that deal. I can see this quite clearly as a negotiating tactic. I went through those negotiations on two or three different occasions and we came to a resolution and an agreement in Stormont Castle. That same Minister who now talks about problems and renegotiations is the man who said in front of the television cameras that agreement had been reached on delivery dates, on quantity and on price. Why should any Irish Government or any Irish Minister allow that Government to come back and renegotiate a deal like that? Now they have the hard neck to come back and try it again. It is a time worn practice with those people when they feel that they have an opportunity of getting a better deal. As far as I am concerned the first deal they got was a good one. When Ministers announce in public that agreement has been reached that should be that. I will not for one minute ask the Minister to renegotiate that deal. They had their advisers and their opportunities. If you make a bad deal in business you put up with it, if you make a bad deal in Government you put up with it as well. What I am saying is that I do not want the Minister coming back to this House and to the Irish taxpayers and I know he will not do it, because already a renegotiation has taken place. I tried to get information on a few occasions as to what extent renegotiation has affected the taxpayers who are the ultimate beneficiaries of this contract. I know the price per therm was reduced somewhere in the region of 1p to 1½p over the term of that contract. By my simple calculations that could mean anything from £23 million to £29 million. This is the original negotiation. If that adjustment was made I do not know the basis or the reasons for making it. I certainly would not have done it if I was there. The man was ready to sign the agreement when I left office. There was a change of Government and because of the political volatile situation in which we found ourselves advantage was taken of it, but to what degree I do not know.

I gather, from reading the Minister's speech today, that contracts have been entered into for the building of the pipeline from Dublin to the Border. If that is the position who is going to pay for it? I know there was a provision in the original agreement, and I am sure there is in the second part, for a contribution from the North of Ireland authorities to the building of that pipeline. I would like the Minister to state precisely the position. Is the building of the pipeline project going ahead? If so, has he any reason to believe that the British part of it will not be paid for? Does the Minister think there is any legal basis for their getting out? I do not know what the understanding means in legal terms. Perhaps the Minister will give us the opportunity of hearing his own legal assessment of it and that of his advisers.

However, I must ask the question as to why, after 18 months, there has not been a legally binding contract in relation to this? We are not talking about small money. We are talking of a contract in the area of £500 million. Is this the slipshod way we do our business? Why was this not put on a full legal contractual basis? Then they could not come back and try on a re-negotiation of the contract. It is a bit much to suggest two years after the calculations and negotiations have taken place that just because the dollar has strengthened there is a basis for renegotiation. The advisers from the Treasury in London sat around the table when all those facts and figures were dealt with. They had the same access as we had, and what we would normally think better access, to information and better negotiators than we had. If they were not able to do a good deal then it was just hard luck. The Treasury man from London in Belfast did say when I was there that he felt the Minister had given away too much. However that is a long time back. There is no reason, in my view, why any renegotiation should take place.

The sincerity of the British Government in relation to the Northern Ireland people should be tested once and for all. I believe this project was a flagship in North-South economic development. I believe their sincerity should be tested. I have grave reservations about the sincerity towards this project because they have allowed the price of gas to be increased substantially on two occasions since they started negotiating this project. If they were interested in acquiring the customers they require for the success of this project they would have done as we did down here, that is, subsidise the price of gas until natural gas is brought in. They could have done the same thing in the North of Ireland if they were sincere about it. It is one of two things: either they are not sincere or they were trying to get it up to a situation where they could hive it off to private investors and there would be a huge return. That, in my view, is not sincerity towards the North of Ireland people. I think they are entitled to more than that. I had doubts myself at a couple of stages during the negotiations as to whether they ever intended or they ever wanted to deliver that gas beyond Belfast. They had very little intention of taking it over to Derry and other areas. Perhaps they could put the responsibility and the blame on us for making it so dear that it would not be a feasible proposition to go over there.

This is very important in relation to the good relationships that we hear of and have heard of time and time again between the British Government and our Government. This is a case in which the Minister should say, "You either believe in your agreements that are made between Ministers and announced in public or you do not". If we lose that contract then so be it, we will use this gas ourselves, but no longer should we adopt the weak-kneed attitude and bend the knee towards the pressure that comes when they think they can embarrass us into changing an agreement. I will fully support the Minister and he will have the full support of this side of the House as well.

I think we dealt with natural gas for Dublin to some degree late one night. We had very different views on whether the resignation of former Labour Minister, Deputy Frank Cluskey, was justified on the basis that he said the deal which had been done by the previous Fianna Fáil administration, of which I was the man responsible, was far inferior to his own deal. I think I showed pretty conclusively that night that such was not the case, a deal which costs the taxpayer an additional £27 million, which gives away an option on 25 per cent of the equity of Dublin gas and conversion rights of £5 million, but in the meantime until those conversion rights are taken up there is up to a 30 per cent possible return on that investment of £5 million and the State, for all its investment, can only get 29 per cent of the voting rights and 25 per cent of the equity and the profits of 50 per cent increased to 56 per cent. I am sure the Minister, myself and the shareholders and directors of Dublin Gas would all love to think that it would be so successful that there would be such excess profits. But as we all know excess profits can be controlled by increasing the price of the raw material in the first instance. This magic formula of excess profits I do not buy for one minute. It does not mean a thing.

It is a paper exercise, a cosmetic exercise. It is only trying to dress up what was a much inferior deal to the deal negotiated because we got no return from an extra £27 million except the 6 per cent of the profits. When we look at the equity of the company and all the money we were putting into it we see what the private sector could get. Good luck to them. They did a good deal and they were able to pull the wool over everybody's eyes. This happens but not for one minute do I accept that Deputy Cluskey's resignation was in any way connected with that arrangement. He resigned for the reason that he tried to get a seat in Europe. Unfortunately he did not. He is an excellent representative, and we will have the benefit of his contributions here in future weeks and months and indeed we will all benefit from them. It is time we saw honesty in politics. We are not seeing much of it at the moment and it is time we saw a little more of it. We should give the answer to the Irish people and try to come clean with them and not hide behind smokescreens of sincerity, integrity and honesty. The sooner we realise that the better. The sooner the Government realise that they cannot get away with the cosmetic exercises that were done in relation to either energy or industry, that they cannot succeed and cannot go on indefinitely the better.

The first problem is the gas supply to Limerick, Waterford and Clonmel. Perhaps the Minister has changed his mind from the policy that he enunciated here at Question Time one day that before any town gets the distribution of natural gas into their own area he would have to be satisfied that a majority shareholding is going to be held by the public sector for that distribution. Listening to what is being said today I am not sure whether that is the present position. If it is maybe we will get a re-enunciation of their policy. You could take two interpretations from the speech today. Limerick city has been deprived of gas which they could have had 18 months ago. It is a small job to take an extension of the pipeline coming from Cork to Dublin and bring it to Limerick. It is no more than one has to do with a group water scheme. There is nothing mythical about how you lay an extension of the pipeline. But because of ideological hangups Limerick city is being deprived of the supply of natural gas from which not alone consumers but also industry could benefit in relation to their manufacturing costs. I made the decision to let Limerick go ahead and get a supply of natural gas in October 1982. We are now into the second half of 1984 and because of an ideological hangup they have not got a supply. In 1982 Limerick Corporation were agreeable to go into a joint venture with the private sector. It is an indictment of the Government and of the Minister's predecessor in office that Limerick still does not know when they are going to get gas.

I do not know what is going to happen in Kilkenny, because it is only the private sector that is involved there. It is different when one goes to Clonmel. If Kilkenny is going to be deprived of the opportunity of availing of natural gas just because it is a private sector company, if that is the position let us put down the markings clear along the line. What is going to happen in Waterford? Is it going to be Waterford Corporation? If that is it then say so. But do not be holding up the supply and the development of those areas and the benefits that natural gas would bring to them for any longer than has been done up to now. Decisions were made before you came in. Most of them were put under review and they were put in the pigeon hole and they are there since. Yet the people of those areas await the arrival of natural gas which is their right. One thing we must get clear in our minds is that the people of this country are the people who own the natural resources, and how are they going to benefit from natural gas? This can be done by providing the maximum return to the Exchequer and not wasting it in bad management or otherwise in bringing the facility to the various areas we have been speaking about. Maximising return to the Exchequer is the most beneficial way the people who will have natural gas are going to benefit whether it is in the area of taxation, economic development or whatever way the Government of the day decides to use it for best advantage. To distribute it in the most cost effective manner is the way the taxpayers and the people will benefit from natural gas distribution. The Government are suffering from ideological hangups. Maybe the Tanaiste has to do it for his own political survival and the political survival of his own party against others. If that is the price this country is expected to pay for the inactivity, the indecision and lack of unity and purpose of a Government, whether in the area of natural gas distribution or otherwise, that we will have to stand still, that we are totally paralysed in relation to where we are going in the future, then I would say that price is unacceptable to the Irish people and the first chance they get they will show it is totally unacceptable. The problems are too great, and any areas in which we can move forward and make decisions towards the development of the economy and the provision of jobs should be tackled without further delay. If this paralysis has to continue under this Government will someone do something about it? Let us have some policy direction and some decision in relation to it and not have the country suffering as Limerick, Waterford, Clonmel and Kilkenny are suffering by the non-arrival of natural gas.

I presume we will have an opportunity to go into this in more detail next week on the Adjournment debate. That is the way I feel about it. It is time that people should make up their minds where they are going, nail their colours to the mast, point the direction in which this economy can develop whether it is in the area of an energy policy or an industrial policy, and let us get on with the job.

I would also like the Minister to comment on the five-year corporate plans for the semi-State bodies. Has the five-year corporate plan which we heard about 12 months ago been delivered into the office of the Minister in relation to Bord na Móna, the ESB or the INPC, and if not why not? Can he give us some idea as to where the future lies in relation to policy planning and development by the ESB, Bord na Móna and the INPC, or was this another cosmetic exercise to fit the bill on the day on which it was announced?

There are others who want to make contributions. I will not hold you any longer except to ask if the Minister will take this opportunity of giving me the information I have sought in relation to it. The Department of Energy, while not having a very big Estimate in monetary terms, nevertheless has a vital role to play in the economic development of this country. What we want to see is an energy policy that takes account of the coming on stream of more and more natural gas into the city of Dublin and elsewhere. Naturally that is in competition with the ESB consumers. Where are we going in the future? Where is the emphasis and the policy direction going to be in the development of our natural resources in gas, electricity, coal, producing something like 900 megawatts at Moneypoint? Has this been looked at? Has it been balanced, and what is the best balance in relation to moving forward in the economic development of the country? If that exercise has not started it is time it did start, because it may be too late. It is showing signs of being too late, when we arrive at a situation where two semi-State bodies, the ESB and Bord na Móna, under the direction, supervision and statutory authority of one Minister, seem to be going in opposite directions and both of them looking after their own independent republics. We cannot afford that wastage of public funds. It is time that there was better co-ordination, better forward planning. This is an area where poor planning in the past has been reflected. It is time to improve on it for the future. Nevertheless, the progressive policies pursued by Bord na Móna in the past should not be stultified at this stage. They should be given clear policy direction by the Government to let them go on and do the job. The same goes in relation to the ESB. Whatever the political decisions that have to be taken let them be taken and let the ESB go about their business. They, too, have shown themselves to be highly commercialised, very sharp in their commercial dealings. Nevertheless they are being hindered by the lack of policy direction and decision making by the Government. You have the responsibility. You are elected to do a job and you should do the job whether or not your supporters like it in the short-term. The country will thank you in the long-term.

This Estimate is very important in the sense that energy costs have a great bearing on our employment prospects. One of the things that we should emphasise is that we must try to ensure the maximisation of the use of our natural resources in order to do two things: to ensure the maintenance of as many jobs as possible at home and, at the same time, to contribute to the improvement of our balance of payments. This Estimate is most important and one on which I feel we should have perhaps a longer time to discuss than we have the opportunity to do here today.

I should like to raise a couple of points that have been alluded to by the previous speaker. I refer to the importance of jobs and their interrelationship with energy. Nowadays there is such dependence on electricity in the whole area of industry that every possibility must be explored to ensure that we keep energy costs as low as possible. We must try to ensure that the manner in which we produce electricity is as efficient as possible. In all of this the peat generating stations, which have been the subject of some discussion for some time past, have a useful role to play in that they have become part and parcel of the social and economic life of their respective communities. In this regard I should like to ask the Minister, as has Deputy Reynolds, to further clarify some confusion that may have arisen following the recent announcement. Some workers in the Allenwood generating station, County Kildare, have asked me to raise with the Minister whether or not it means that the station, which the local committee feels has a possible lifespan of 12 to 15 years at present, will have its continued existence assured following the recent decision. Should something untold happen by way of maintenance difficulty in the meantime would that prematurely bring about the end of the commissioning of that station? It is important because that station did have what is known in the business as a mid life renewal some years ago which has allowed it to have another 12 to 15 years of a reasonably useful lifespan. I should like to ask the Minister to do everything possible to ensure that that lifespan is realised and thereby protect not only the jobs of those directly employed in the station but also those employed in the production of sod peat in the Allenwood area generally.

Another thing that needs to be referred to and which only comes up when thoughts about the closure of such stations arise is replacement industry. Replacement employment for those involved in the production of electricity or peat, should anything happen which would change prospects for them, is most important. Careful consideration should be given to exploring the possibility of replacing stations many of which over the next 20 to 30 years will ultimately have outlived their usefulness and replacements will have to be found by one means or another. We should address ourselves to that problem now and not await a doomsday situation as has happened in the past whereby at the eleventh hour we all look around for an alternative when it appears that a peat generating station is about to close or a Bord na Móna operation is in jeopardy.

There are numerous alternatives that would be very acceptable and compatible with those environments. A good day's work would be done if we could at this time set targets for the provision of replacements — whether that means afforestation, grass production, horticultural operations, lakelands, artificial lakes or tourist amenities. All of those avenues can and should be explored, all are employment orientated and all would be extremely beneficial. It would alleviate the fears that have rested with some of those communities for a number of years because they feel that enough is not being done by way of consideration of those alternatives.

The last point I want to make is in relation to natural gas. It would be desirable that where new communities are developing and where there will be an increasing need for the provision of industrial jobs over the next few years every effort should be made to ensure that they are given every opportunity to avail of natural gas. Whether this is by means of domestic supply or by direct provision to industry is immaterial. The important thing is to ensure that that natural resource is made as available as possible to as large a sector of the community as possible with the greatest possible benefits. That is something that should be kept in mind.

I do not wish to delay further the proceedings of the House. I wish to emphasise from my own constituency point of view — and I know the Minister's own colleagues in that constituency would be very concerned to ensure this also — that stations such as Allenwood are assured of their lifespan more definitely than what appears to be the interpretation of the recent announcement.

I should like to ask the Minister when replying to clear up a few points that I find contradictory in the Estimate which he has moved here this morning. On page 11 he talks about how Bord na Móna have been sensitively cared for in the ESB's strategic plan 1983-1988. Yet on page 16 of his speech he says that there will be some minor impact on Bord na Móna resulting from the ESB's strategic plan. I see the Minister trying to play off one State body against another. I am very concerned that the proposed briquette factory at Derryfadda near Ballyforan in my own constituency has been suspended. The Minister has given us very little information as to what the outcome of the review will be. One of the hallmarks of the Minister's speech is that he has highlighted some problems but there are no decisions, no policy and no commitment to the briquette factory.

Over the last five years I have listened to two reviews being announced and I am very concerned that we have not got any definite commitment to continue with the project at Derryfadda. We have also had Government speakers telling us that the EEC would be prepared to give it loans. We have had Government speakers say that the EEC will give us grants. I understand that that would be the position because turf, or peat as it is called in the EEC, is regarded as an energy resource which would be allowed grant aid. This has been fought for in the European Parliament and I understand it has been accepted. I cannot understand why the Minister and the Government would not avail of grants and, hopefully, loans to continue with the building of that briquette factory.

The Minister told us this morning that £4.6 million will be spent this year out of the original Estimate of £15.4 million. Year after year we hear from the Government that £X million is provided in the Estimates but we can see now that less than one-third is going to be spent this year. Last year I understand there was £5.2 million in the Estimate and I should like to know what was spent out of that allocation? Over the last couple of years money has been put into the Estimates and only a small amount of it has been spent. The people in my constituency and in Roscommon are very cynical and very frustrated at the way major announcements are made about money in the Estimates and then we see only a fraction of that money being spent. When replying could the Minister tell us where the money is being spent? He mentioned the jobs of 156 people which are in jeopardy and, according to the Minister, Bord na Móna cannot see the possibility of continuing to develop the bogs after one year. He has given only part of the story there. There are 60 part-time employees there whose income from Bord na Móna supplements their small farms. There are young people there who learn their trade as apprentices and indeed many State bodies sponsor them to learn their trade in Derryfadda. There is no mention of what will happen to the part-time employees if the decision to suspend the project is not reversed. We will also be losing skills and the local knowledge that young people are getting there.

It is time we had some Government intervention concerning this project. We had Government intervention in some of the ESB power stations in Laois/Offaly, which was certainly an election ploy and was treated in a very cynical way by the electorate there. We had no Government intervention in Screeb in Connemara to assist a power station which was very important to the Connemara area and just as important as a major factory in Dublin or Cork. There has been no Government intervention either in Derryfadda. I am very disappointed that there has been no decision by the Minister. All he has done is to outline the problem here. Would he not agree that it is economic lunacy to have money spent there and then leave the whole project like a white elephant? I would like to know from the Minister what the situation is as regards money being spent there. Up to the end of 1983 we had £4.7 million spent there. That does not take into account the contract that Bord na Móna had entered into and surely a semi-State body can enter into a contract in good faith, because there is enough of milled peat produced there to start the production of briquettes. We do not know how many contracts Bord na Móna have entered into. It is a serious situation for them that this project is now suspended for a full year.

I am very disappointed that the private bog development scheme is going to be reviewed. It certainly was a major benefit to people who developed bog lifts that Bord na Móna would not normally be interested in. Another aspect of that scheme is that it repaired bog roads. It is the only scheme under which bog roads can now be repaired because the EEC regulations on local improvement schemes do not allow money to be spent on bog roads or for bog drainage. All that money is now allocated towards farm roads. I would stress to the Tánaiste that we should be talking about increasing the allocation for private bog development, total development of bog roads, drains and the actual production of turf there. I should also like to put it to the Minister that, as regards the briquette factory at Derryfadda, we should be developing our natural resources in very isolated areas of Counties Galway and Roscommon where jobs are at stake. If the Government are not prepared to intervene now I would like them to consider bringing this project under the umbrella of the National Development Corporation. We heard the Minister of State, Deputy Collins, telling us that this project was one of considerable risk. I should like to ask the Tánaiste if there is some way, whether it is through the NDC or some other body, that the Government can intervene to ensure that we will continue to develop our natural resources and particularly the building of the briquette factory here. I have seen an article in The Irish Press by Mr. Rattigan, the former managing director, about the situation down in Bellacorick. He referred to the benefits that came from milled peat and he went on to say that, where raw materials for energy are being imported into this country, “One might as well contemplate getting rid of the national dairy herd because cheaper milk could be shipped by tanker from New Zealand”. I am sure there are many other examples we could give of allowing imports into the country instead of developing our natural resources. Are we going to allow the wheel to turn the full circle now and do it ourselves rather than develop our own resources and provide jobs and teach the skills that are available for young people in a place like Derryfadda which is in my own constituency.

Although the amount of money here may be small compared to other Estimates, this Energy Estimate moved by the Minister here today is very important. I am certainly disappointed that there are very few decisions here. We have outlined the problems. We have some contradictions but we have no decisions and at the end of the day we have no policy by the Tánaiste and by the Government.

I must remind you that I have to call the Minister at 12.45 p.m. I understand you are giving Deputy Cowen some time as well.

I will be very brief because we are all tired after weeks of election campaigning, long counts, with victories for some and disintegrating disaster for others, and long nights of debate; of course the Tánaiste has come back after a family celebration and indeed we would like to congratulate Donal and his partner and wish them the best of luck. I am sure the Minister will have sufficient energy to ensure that this Estimate which is so important for the development of our natural resources will not be a Vote of £10 million this time next year when we come to debate it. The Tánaiste will still be handling that section of our economy.

Bord na Móna, 40 years in business, and contributing 15 per cent to our national energy needs, have enormous potential if only we had a Government with the financial interests of this island at heart. The decision of the Government to force Bord na Móna to review, analyse, postpone and now officially defer the building of the Derryfadda briquette factory at Ballyforan is the most blatant political discrimination ever imposed in any part of this State. The financial loss to the national economy and to the western economy shows that the supposedly socialist-inhibited Government have no interest in developing our natural resources or indeed providing jobs that are so vitally necessary at this time. It is totally inconsistent and economic madness that is the hallmark of this academically-led Fine Gael-controlled Government. The threat to and loss of permanent jobs throughout Bord na Móna and the total termination of seasonal jobs endangers the viability and the economic structure of Bord na Móna. The Minister referred to the proposal to defer the building of this factory due to the marketing situation. I would say to the Minister that surely marketing is meeting a temporary set-back and a temporary problem; it is something that can be expanded and developed. With proper expertise and proper financial investment it can be improved. There is no doubt about it. The market is there and surely this marketing strategy could be developed alongside the building of the factory. We could not accept that a flimsy excuse like marketing problems would be the reason for Board na Móna's pressured decision to postpone the factory and we in the west are totally disappointed with this Government.

I would like to refer also to the situation in regard to natural gas. There was no mention whatever of the necessity to provide natural gas to the farmers of Dublin, Meath and Louth who are making such a contribution and indeed at a major cost to themselves and to our vegetable market here at home. Surely there is a major opportunity here for the Government to save at least £100 million annually by providing a cheap energy resource to provide all-year-round growing for the farmers of this area which is so important to our capital city and our country. There is no mention whatever of the major market in Northern Ireland available to them although the fact is that we have already signed a deal with the British Government, a deal which is now in question. Today's papers, and particularly The Irish Press, clearly illustrate this and the headline, for the Minister's information is “British to Seek Gas Pipe Cuts”. The British Government, it says are to seek a cut in the price that the South is proposing to charge to supply Kinsale gas to the North. The deal has been signed and agreed as far as we are concerned as a Government. Indeed this should be our position on the Forum also, that as long as we are dealing with Britain in a situation like that we stick to what has been signed and agreed. We do not deviate from it and we are quite confident that if you stick rigidly to that you will get what you have already agreed to. Our resources must contribute to their maximum potential to our economy and to our people.

With regard to the oil situation, we are faced with the failure of the Government to create economic activity or even a favourable economic environment. Despite the fact that our economy is in such a depressed state at the moment we all realise that there are Irish overseas who have done well, who have the resources financially and the liquid capital available to invest here if there is a suitable environment here and if there is an invitation and an opportunity offered for Irish people to invest money and take foreign money into this country and make 100 per cent contribution to our economy. The failure of the Government to create that economic environment due to high taxation, high costs and high VAT rate in our country has not led to the expeditious development of exploration off our shores that we would like to see. I would suggest to the Minister, as a very important man and as a man whom we respect in this Government, that he should, representing a socialist party, ensure that a proper economic environment is available here and will be available in the years ahead.

There is no mention here and, indeed, the official Government organ has not covered the fact at all this morning, that petrol has gone up by 1½p. Just a few short weeks ago, due to the fact that the dollar had a major effect on decreasing the price of petrol, you would nearly think that the petrol came from Bula Mines so much propaganda was used by the Minister, Deputy Bruton in announcing that petrol prices were coming down. But there is no mention now that the price of petrol which is such a vital element in keeping us all mobile has gone up 1½p since last night. This shows the necessity to create that economic environment which I have referred to.

I want to give an opportunity to our new colleague, Deputy Brian Cowen, to speak. I wish him many, many years of success in this House following in the footsteps of his late, noble and eminent father, Deputy Ber Cowen. I hope that this time next year when we come to discuss these Estimates again, through the good offices of the Minister we will have a total, positive type of investment and a favourable climate for development of our natural resources that can contribute so much to the prosperity of this island.

Acting Chairman

I now call on Deputy Brian Cowen and I must remind you, Deputy, that you have to finish at 12.45. I would like to welcome you very much to the Dáil, especially as this is your maiden speech.

Mr. Cowen

Ba mhaith liom an ócáid seo a usáid chun cúpla focal a rá ar an Meastachán seo agus go háirithe cúpla ceist a chur ar an Aire mar gheall ar an raíteas a foilsíodh roimh an olltoghachán mar gheall ar an phlean do Bhord Soláthar Leitreachais.

I would like to use this brief opportunity to ask the Minister certain very relevant questions in relation to his plan in the ESB for which I would like to thank him. It played a major part in our massive victory in the by-election. He has resorted in certain instances here to very general rhetoric. He said he has a firm ESB policy to promote and support Irish industry as much as possible. It would surprise many of the workers that the Minister's party is supposed to represent, that the plan which was released in October of last year and which he sought to clarify briefly before the by-election by his statement did not refer to the crisis of the power stations. That statement as quoted from his speech was surprising indeed. He refers particularly in his speech under the heading of the ESB to capital expenditure, to the extension that is going on at Shannonbridge which is a relatively modern power station in my constituency, but he does not refer in any of his speech to the major crisis which affects the power stations in my constituency and elsewhere at present, that is the serious rundown in budget maintenance. Plants are run down there and shortly they will not be viable projects at all, due to the conscious efforts of this Government to run down the plant and the reason is that the Minister is not prepared to make the money available. Whatever he thinks the shop stewards of the ESB know exactly what is going on and we have detailed figures to show that the Minister is not making the money available. If he is not prepared to make the money available let us know and let our people at home know that he is not making it available because this is supposed to be the open, reforming Government, the Government of integrity and honesty. Let us hear it from them.

Secondly, I would like to say that our spokesman, Deputy Reynolds, has referred to the stations remaining open subject to plant availability. It would seem to me that if the Minister is not prepared to make the money available to ensure that the stations are going to be run on a viable basis, Ferbane and Rhodes and the rest of them are going to go eventually. If that is the case, let us know.

Also, what has not been referred to is whether the Minister is committed to going back to the previous staff levels that were there. The shop stewards want to know if he is going to run the stations at present staff levels. Presently they are very severely understaffed. We want to know what is the Government commitment in that area.

Ballyforan is outside my constituency but Derrinlough engineering works is in my constituency and it very much depends on whether or not Ballyforan goes ahead. It provides employment for 150 people. If Ballyforan is being deferred for a year what happens to Derrinlough in the meantime? If Ballyforan is being deferred what work is available for the people in Derrinlough? In regard to contracts which are presently being given outside the board to private companies, a fact which the Minister as a socialist would find anathema in any semi-State body, is he going to take a policy decision?

Acting Chairman

I am sorry for interrupting you — you have one minute left.

Mr. Cowen

Is he going to take a policy decision in that area? Finally, we want to know what is the policy of Bord na Móna in relation to cut-away bogs. I have it on good information from a horticulturist that if the board continue with cut-away bogs down to the levels which they are talking about, we will not have the peat available to ensure that we can have intensive horticulture which is a very labour intensive industry in our area. I am asking the Minister to clarify these issues. The people at home want to know them and I am sure his few supporters in the Labour Party in Laois-Offaly also want to know them.

Like previous speakers I, too, would like to welcome Deputy Cowen to the House. I certainly think it is important to have young men around the House. I am not looking at anyone in particular here this morning. But I certainly welcome Deputy Cowen and his contribution. He started off on the right foot with a good, aggressive, balanced contribution, and I look forward to hearing many more from him. The people of the midlands can feel that they have done well for themselves in their decision and I say that out of respect for the Cowen family, some of whom had a little part to play in the education of young Spring here.

Many points have been raised and it would be quite difficult to cover all the areas but I can assure the Deputies that where anything that is left undone at this stage I will certainly try to come back to it in the course of future debates or in the next few weeks. I will take points in no particular order because I think many of the speakers had various concerns; some in fact voiced similar concerns both on a national basis and with geographical emphasis. I assure the Members across the House that I can understand the geographical nature of their concerns. On a general note, I realise that cynicism abounds in this country at the moment. In fact we might be helping towards it ourselves, but in relation to the policy aspects of the ESB strategic plan, I made a statement a number of weeks ago. Granted it had a certain bearing on life in the midlands, on the future of the stations in the midlands. We should not underestimate that it had a very significant bearing, and indeed will have a significant bearing on many other areas of the country, including Kerry, Cork, Wexford, Dublin and right throughout the country, Connemara and Clare. All the aspects of that decision were not the most popular.

I have heard some Deputies referring to the delays in relation to reviewing the strategic plan. I can assure the Deputies there was no delay, and there was also the possibility of causing a delay in relation to a general election situation, but as far as I am concerned as soon as the strategic plan was received in my Department, we set about looking at it. I can assure the House that at no time were any of the officials in my Department in the course of our consultations or in the course of the examination of the strategic plan given any overriding political considerations. We were to look at the strategic plan from the point of view of something that has been very much the theme here this morning, the overall energy strategy for this country. That was the basis on which the examination took place. That was the basis on which I felt at the first available opportunity the decision would be announced.

In relation to the question of the Ballyforan project which we have debated at some length in this House — and many of the points raised this morning have been dealt with previously — I believe that the decision of the Government in ordering the review of this project has in fact been proved to have been the correct decision. We all have our own regional concerns and own national concerns in terms of creating employment, but we have to look at and assess the basis on which employment is created. The review in relation to Ballyforan brought the Bord na Móna board itself back to my Department with the option of the deferment for 12 months, because of many factors which I have outlined in this House recently.

I think Deputy Reynolds as a successful businessman must be aware of the type of analysis that has to go into the question of building a major project like the Ballyforan briquette factory. At any given time one must assess and make predictions and projections in relation to the demand for energy products. In our situation the demand for energy products has fallen off drastically. The output of briquettes from the existing factories could not be disposed of if we were to bring on to the market the anticipated production at the Ballyforan project, be it stage 1 or stage 2. We cannot have the cake and eat it in certain situations where we want to have the expenditure justified. At the end of the day — and I take Deputy Treacy's point in relation to the marketing situation — in our country the marketing situation particularly in the solid fuel area is one which fluctuates, obviously depending on many variable factors. The sales of briquettes in 1983-84 were only 90 per cent of projected sales and only marginally above the 1982-83 figures. I have asked for an updating on the marketing strategy and the whole question of marketing. This is one of the situations where we must convince the Irish people that they have a role to play in relation to the marketing to our native products and try to substitute indigenous fuel resources for imported oil or coal. For the present there is no possibility that marketing can be seen to improve in the short-term.

Imported briquettes.

A number of speakers referred to the question of the private bog scheme. I would like to remind Deputies in the House that in relation to the situation when the late Deputy George Colley introduced the scheme in 1981 he very clearly stated at that time that he would be reviewing the scheme or seeking a review within the period of two to three years. Regrettably, the time has passed and I accept the merit and the success of the scheme which has been very successful to date but there have also been other considerations, and one must look at the implications and the effect of the expansion of the private bog development scheme on Bord na Móna. We must look at the ability of the private producers to dispose of the turf produced. Obviously, and it is significant, the growth in private production has a serious effect on the briquette market. These matters will have to be looked at in the course of the review, and I assure the Deputies and the House that the review is being undertaken looking at the positive side of the scheme which has to be looked at after the three-year period.

Deputies have asked questions in relation to the future of the Allenwood and Portarlington stations. As I said on the previous occasion the sod peat stations will continue in operation until the Bord na Móna bogs supplying them run out. We arrive at a fairly obvious conclusion at the stage when there is not raw material available within the direct area surrounding these stations.

Various questions have been asked in relation to the ESB corporate plans. My Department has set out to get the corporate plans to cover a five-year period. The ESB and the INPC corporate plans have been received in the Department and we are at present examining them. Bord Gáis and Bord na Móna points of view have not been furnished as yet. We are expecting them very shortly. We are in close contact with them. In regard to the planning functions of my Department which Deputy Reynolds referred to in the earlier part of his contribution, my planning function is to ensure that there is a consistency and proper co-ordination between all of these bodies. Deputy Treacy came in and said it looked like I was trying to bang heads together in terms of getting these bodies together; they have all separate functions within the energy area. It is my function to make sure all those plans are co-ordinated, that we do not have Bord na Móna doing something that will jeopardise the ESB or vice versa as has happened in certain situations. My function is to ensure that there is continual review of the situation between these four bodies, to ensure that their corporate plans are going in the direction which is of benefit to the Government and the people and to ensure that future policy incorporates each of these various bodies in the energy area. We have to ensure that natural gas will be developed to capture domestic and industrial markets in the main urban areas.

There is also the question of phasing out the usage of gas for electricity generation when the coal plant in Moneypoint comes into production. There is the question of making sure that we have the maximum use of milled peat for electricity generation and for the maximum possible production of briquettes. At all times in terms of Government policy we have to be aware of the vulnerability of the energy front and ensure that we can cushion this country and the Government from any fluctuations which may take place on the world market. The progress that has already been achieved by us in terms of our vulnerability on the whole question of oil is significant and the fact that we have reduced our dependence on oil from 70 per cent to 50 per cent. Our domestic production in the other area has gone up from 20 per cent to 40 per cent. It is very important that at all times we have diversified options in relation to producing energy so that any short-term fluctuations in the world situation, be it in the oil or coal markets, will not jeopardise our situation overnight.

I am satisfied that the ESB and Bord na Móna situation has been clarified in the last number of weeks. The strategic plan does ensure and will go ahead to ensure the maximum output and utilisation of milled peat and safeguard the Bord na Móna operations. A question has been raised in relation to the plant availability. Plant availability obviously has to be looked at from the point of view of merit in terms of efficiency ratios in relation to the output of the plants. The stations at Bellacorick, Cahirciveen and Gweedore have been mentioned. These in fact are lower-efficiency stations than, say, Aghada which is a gas-fired one but in relation to their usage those stations have been seen to have a high-efficiency ratio in terms of turf production stations. Obviously, it is a question of continuous maintenance. I can assure the House that the normal practice of replacing parts will continue and ensure that these stations are kept in full and efficient production. A very important aspect of this whole matter is the question of efficiency in production.

The whole question of the natural gas area has been raised. Deputy Reynolds and I have on past occasions looked at this and considered it in what I assume will be a continuous discussion. Perhaps in 10 years' time we will both have to make judgments on what happened 10 years previously in relation to the Dublin gas situation. The project is under way as is consideration of supplying the urban areas generally. We must be realistic in this House on the question of the urban areas that are going to get gas. These will have to be commercial projects. I take Deputy Reynolds point. We are trying to reach the same goal, perhaps, going in different directions, in ensuring that our natural resources are used for the best benefit of the economy and for the consumer.

Acting Chairman

I must ask you to conclude.

On the question of supplies to Northern Ireland, it has become public knowledge that difficulties have arisen. The Department and myself were going ahead on the basis of the agreement being signed and going ahead with the deal. I know that a lot of time and energy was spent in the preparation of the memorandum of understanding which has been initialled. We both see it from the point of view of the usage of natural gas. We had resources in this country which we felt would have been of benefit to the economy of Northern Ireland. From my point of view and the Government's point of view we are very anxious that the agreement would go ahead on the basis already agreed, That will be the basis of any further discussions which we will be having. Bord Gáis are at present looking at the depletion policy so as to ensure that at all times over the next decade we will have the optimum usage of supplies over the life of the Kinsale Head field.

Deputy Reynolds touched on the whole question of electricity prices, an important area because of the general focus now on what is considered to be the high price of industrial energy. As regards the decisions on Irish steel, obviously there is a fine balance to be achieved in consideration of all the factors, including probably the most important one, the tariff structural electricity prices for large industrial users. Industry generally has been complaining for some time that electricity prices are a serious handicap to their competitiveness. I am conscious of this matter, a matter that the Government will be looking at in the short term.

I regret that time is limited. I thank the Deputies opposite for their co-operation. As I have said, I will come back to them on a number of points which I have not had time to consider. I will make myself available for discussions with them at any time because it is important that we develop this area along lines that can be seen to be for the benefit of the economy and of the people generally.

Vote put and agreed to.