Adjournment Debate Matters.

I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Gogarty — that the Minister ensure that the HSE sorts out the difficulty involving patients receiving continued treatment by a doctor; (2) Deputy Curran — the agreement entered into by the Reception and Integration Agency to provide asylum accommodation at Towers Hotel, Clondalkin; (3) Deputy O'Sullivan — the need for the Minister to provide secure funding for the Bluebell ABA school for children with autism in Limerick; (4) Deputy O'Dowd — that the Minister outline his plans to collect €40 million outstanding car tax; (5) Deputies Paul McGrath and Penrose — the delay in implementing the announced decentralisation of the Department of Education and Science headquarters to Mullingar, County Westmeath; (6) Deputies Michael Moynihan, Ferris and Sherlock — that the Minister take steps to ensure that Greencore honours Labour Court recommendations; and (7) Deputy McHugh — to discuss broadband for Tuam, County Galway.

The matters raised by Deputies Curran, Michael Moynihan, Ferris and Sherlock and O'Dowd have been selected for discussion.

Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006: Report Stage (Resumed).

Amendment No. 8 may be discussed with amendments Nos. 10 and 11.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 4, line 11, after "market" to insert the following:

"for which the Minister will be accountable to the Oireachtas".

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thought that I was seeing things for a moment, but I presume the Minister will be back soon.

He will be back later.

He was not in any way magnanimous while he was here. We had hoped that he might start off with a certain amount of magnanimity, but we will have to see how things progress. This amendment is important for the same reason I mentioned previously. It requires that the Minister be accountable to the House, and I have been pursuing this theme throughout the Bill. It relates to the lack of accountability to the House and the lack of ability of Members of the House to raise questions that are relevant to this Bill or any similar legislation.

The Bill will be activated in segments and, in discussion on the previous amendment, we noted those segments that will not come into operation except on a phased basis, which is fine. The Minister mentioned that these parts of the Bill would come into operation by way of an order which would be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is fine, but it does not address the issue. There is an urgent need for a greater degree of accountability and a greater degree of relevance for the House regarding this and other Bills.

Since I first became a Member of this House, I have seen a gradual dismissal of Members of the House on all sides and the gradual growth of the amorphous mass, previously in the hands of the Minister, which is now delegated or relegated to various groups and bodies. The Minister will have no responsibility to the House for these groups and bodies. When we put down a question in the Dáil, we are told that the question is not a matter for the Minister, but for the commissioner or somebody else who has not been elected and is only accountable to the House once a year through the Committee of Public Accounts or other relevant committee. That is unsatisfactory. I do not want to delay the progress of this Bill through the House, but this is being repeated again and again, and as long as I am in the House — depending on the whim of the people one can never tell when that might end — I will repeat that point again and again.

The Deputy is all right, he has a safe seat.

It is critical to the House in so far as duty, responsibility and accountability are concerned. Sadly, our system is becoming more like the American and European systems, where less accountability is evident in the House and more responsibility and accountability is delegated to groups outside the House over whom we have no control. This process sets aside the House and makes its Members irrelevant.

These amendments are not accepted as they would have the net effect of interfering with the independence of the regulator and would add an unnecessary bureaucratic layer to the process and the date of delivery of the single electricity market. It is considered that the CER is already sufficiently accountable under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 with regard to the performance of its duties to a joint committee of the Oireachtas. It should also be noted that given that the single electricity market is a South-North matter, with considerable political issues to be addressed prior to it being established, we should refrain as a rule from anything that might impact upon this to the detriment of the overall process. Deputy Durkan referred to coming back to the House. I am sure they will have at least one seat in his constituency.

I will do my best but one can never be sure of anything, although I am sure the Minister of State would like to do his best to accommodate the amendments. I do not accept the independence of the regulator. It is a crazy and outlandish notion. As has been evident in the past few weeks, regulators make decisions about the prices of electricity and gas against a backdrop of oil prices falling internationally. In one case, oil was available free on the London market. If one had a bucket, one could have loaded it up and taken it home. Against that backdrop, the regulator was able to increase the prices of electricity and gas, yet the Minister of State says the regulator should be independent. I have no doubt that the regulator, like Ministers, should be highly accountable to the House. This has nothing to do with politics but with accountability in so far as the provision of a vital and urgent utility service is a serious issue.

I do not wish to lose the objectivity of the debate but there are serious issues looming on the horizon if the Department is of the view that regulators are the ultimate in terms of accountability, wisdom and infallibility. I refer to another recent situation where whole swathes of people with telephone and broadband services were disconnected at the wave of a wand, arbitrarily and without warning. I do not accept that the regulator is the ultimate decision-maker, or should be seen as such, and I fully recognise the sensitivities of the North-South arrangement and the single market. Political responsibility rests here and also with the Northern authorities. I am certain they would be the first to say they would wish to have some degree of accountability in these matters.

I re-emphasise my belief that the amendment is meritorious. The Minister made some accommodating noises earlier in the House that something similar might be incorporated at some stage in the Bill. I do not know how they will be transposed into law but we are looking forward hopefully.

The responsibilities of the CER include ensuring market stability and encouraging new market entrants; ensuring that tariffs are cost reflective; not discriminating unfairly between licensed operators in the State sector, such as ESB or Bord Gáis or the private sector; and exercising its functions in a manner that protects the interests of the final customers. It is important to maintain the independence of the regulator on tariff decisions to avoid political interference. There has been criticism of political interference which would undermine the necessary investments in the network.

With regard to the delegation of functions to the CER, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources can and does call the CER to account for its performance of these delegated functions. The CER is accountable to the Minister and, more importantly, to the joint committee which can summon him at any time for discussions on his performance.

The committee can ask him questions but he is not accountable.

Deputy Durkan may reply.

I was afraid the Minister of State was going to read out that reply. I will try to be a good boy and not interfere as much. I could anticipate the list of responsibilities of the regulator. However, I do not accept that and in my view there are serious flaws in the system. There would be serious political embarrassment if we persist with the notion that we should have this so-called degree of impartiality by setting up a series of groups and agencies with responsibilities that were previously invested in the Minister and in the House and which are gone.

I asked a parliamentary question about the arbitrary increases in the price of fuel and telecommunications and the reply from the Ceann Comhairle's office was that the Minister had no responsibility to the House. Where are we going? When the public is actively engaged in debate on subjects of this nature, they think very poorly of any situation where somebody throws up their hands and says: "We have made rules and regulations, we are no longer responsible." The public will come to the conclusion that we are not responsible and take the necessary action.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 4, line 31, after "Commission" to insert the following:

"or from the Commission on the Direction of the Minister".

This is a similar amendment to amendment No. 8. I await a firm, robust and warm response from the Minister of State. I do not expect such a response but I try to encourage it.

The proposed amendment is not accepted on the basis that the functions of the commission as set out in this section would be subject to directions by the Minister under section 10 and section 10(A) of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. The proposed amendment is, therefore, unnecessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 10 has been discussed with amendment No. 8.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, line 43, after "2005" to insert ", subject to the approval of Dáil Éireann".

I do not see any great benefit in my pressing the amendment because the Minister of State is not amenable to accommodating the House. A number of associated amendments have been tabled. I assure the Minister of State I will be pressing a number of them.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 5, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

"(7) In exercising its powers under section 9 of the Electricity Act, the Commission shall include an obligation on the DSO to facilitate full value net metering for renewable energy supply generators below 5kW.".

One of the most important developments needed in the new energy future is the use of smart electronic and communications equipment to reduce our unnecessary use of energy and the peaks in energy demand and to allow the flow back of energy from small scale generation to help balance out and cover the increasing difficulty between meeting capacity needs and demand and the available capacity.

One of the reasons we have such expensive electricity is the daily peak demand between 5.30 p.m. and 7 p.m. every evening as people turn on their kettles to prepare their tea. Anything we can do to reduce this demand will make a significant saving in the use of emergency generation. This can be achieved by the use of smart electronic communications systems which switch off unnecessary devices at peak times. Just as easily, the same circuitry could be used to allow small scale generation of less than 5 kW to power up and provide generation at peak times where it would be economic given the high costs of peak power generation or to allow people investing in such renewable technologies the option to provide power at any other time. That would be a hugely progressive development in our energy future. The amendment is simple. The Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has avowedly said he supports net metering. The only response we get whenever we suggest particular concepts is that reports have been commissioned and consultation documents initiated and that the Government is in the middle of one on this issue at present. We are beyond consultation and reports and we need to start acting on the basis of the rapidly increasing electricity prices and the supposed desire of the Government to achieve 30% use of renewables by 2020. I urge the Minister of State to accept this amendment as it would allow the commission the authority to oblige the DSO to move towards the net metering system in place in many other countries. I am interested to hear the Government's arguments given that it is supposed to be in favour of such a progression but is against providing for it in the Bill, which is the right and proper location, to ensure that the Legislature and the Executive start to run the energy system rather than our agencies which seem to lack the confidence to make real decisions and instead issue reports and consultation documents.

I strongly support the amendment tabled by Deputy Ryan and commend him on introducing it. One of the big disappointments of the recent Green Paper on Energy was that it did not contain any reference to micro-generation and the application of smart metering systems. Many critical areas in energy were not dealt with in the Green Paper but I hope that will be remedied subsequently. I will have some harsh things to say about the Commission for Energy Regulation on subsequent amendments. I was heartened a few days ago when the Commission for Energy Regulation published its arrangements for a micro-generation consultation paper which, at least, began the discussion at a formal level of micro-generation here. The disappointing aspect of the consultation paper is that it shot down the development of spill net metering. I have received e-mails and telephone calls from citizens all over the country who are disappointed that CER seemed to take the wrong angle on this just as the debate was starting. It looked at the options in the report in terms of metering and mentioned, for example, net metering, non-interval import-export meters, interval meters and smart meters. It appears to be concerned at any impact on larger generators. Therefore, it comes down against what would have been an attractive option.

This side of the House has put forward a number of proposals for a more distributed electricity network for encouraging householders to begin to look at micro-generation. I saw the advertisements in B&Q recently for solar panels and other domestic generators. Commerce is way ahead of the Minister in this regard and, certainly, the United Kingdom has begun to go down the road whereas all we have received so far is a negative consultation paper from CER. This simple amendment to facilitate full value net metering below 5 kW is reasonable and could start us on the road to an effective micro-generation network and encourage householders and businesses to take responsibility for their energy needs.

I said at one of our committee meetings that Thomas Edison, the great inventor in electricity, foresaw a distributed network of electricity generation and usage throughout America. Perhaps the wheel is beginning to come full circle. This is an area we should encourage. I second the amendment.

The amendment is not being accepted. We do not object in principle to Deputy Ryan's support of marked electronic metering and the various potential benefits it may bring to energy efficiency. However, the amendment is premature while the Commission for Energy Regulation is consulting on these issues. We believe CER is best placed to deal with the technical issues relating to facilitating micro-generation. The Green Paper on energy policy deals with the higher level policy matters in respect of renewables generally. The CER paper is in favour of further consideration of smart meters and a detailed consultation paper on this will issue shortly. We are not against it in principle but the amendment is premature and, therefore, we do not accept it at this time.

Surely the tail is wagging the dog on this. The Government sets energy policy. The Minister of State agrees, as the Minister said publicly, that the Government believes this is a step in the right direction. What he appears to be saying is that the Government is not concerned about small scale generation, that it was not in the Green Paper — for shame — and that the matter will be left to CER. As Deputy Broughan has indicated, CER's position is remarkably cautious, conservative and backward. Either the Government is responsible for energy policy or it is not. The main excuse the Government offered for the problems in recent years were that international prices were responsible and that while it might have wished to do so something differently, ultimately the Commission for Energy Regulation has the authority and the Government cannot give directions to the Commission for Energy Regulation. Given that it appears the Government agrees with the concept as outlined, and we are legislating in regard to the powers of the commissioner, I find it remarkable that in this instance the Legislature and the Executive are balking at implementing policy in which it believes. What assurance can the Minister of State give that the consultation process carried out by CER will lead to an outcome with which the Government will be satisfied, given that the Government is avowedly in favour of the intent of this amendment?

It is interesting that this is precisely what I was referring to in the last amendment, namely who is calling the shots particularly on policy. Policy should be retained in the hands of the Minister and the House. There is no point in saying this is European legislation transposed into our legislation. That is of no benefit to consumers here or those in charge of transmission. I am familiar with the cautious approach of Eirgrid and the regulators. We all have a reasonable idea as to the reasons for caution. What the Minister of State should demand is the scientific evidence and the technical evidence to back up the case. Is it instability or are there other reasons? If the Minister of State does not call for the proof and washes his hands of it and leaves the matter to the regulator more power, in terms of dictation of policy, will pass into the hands of regulators and we will walk along in their wake. I have said previously that there are more regulators here than there were in Texas after the American Civil War. Lessons were learned about them then that should stand us in good stead.

The public are becoming increasingly interested in this issue, as we have seen from inquiries about greener homes and the possibilities of micro-generation. In advising constituents on the Minister's leaflets, we often find that major problems arise in trying to transport woodchips for boilers, particularly in urban areas. I have received calls from constituents which suggest the system is not feasible. Much work needs to be done on energy efficiency and small-scale generation. According to his consultation document, the regulator, Mr. Reeves, appears to be waiting for smart meters. He seems to be saying that because households and businesses do not have smart metering, we cannot have a situation where people are paid for spills.

Nonetheless, it will be an exciting development if households and businesses are paid for electricity they produce and which spills into the system. In parts of the United Kingdom, Europe and America, a wonderful situation is envisaged whereby electricity meters will fly backwards. That would be a wonderful prospect for people, rather than having meters that relentlessly speed up whenever one turns on a switch or misses efficiency measures, such as switching off machines at night.

I support Deputy Eamon Ryan in this area, which is exciting. The public and the business sector are ahead of us in this regard, so we should go with them. Three years ago, I received a bitter complaint from a small business man in Westmeath when he asked why we were waiting for net metering. Here we are three and a half years later and, as with so many other things, it looks like we will have to wait for the new Administration to do it.

The Government sets the high-level policy principles and the CER is dealing with the detailed technical measures required to implement these policies. The consultation paper on micro-generation has been published against a backdrop of technical advantages and increasing interest in this area, which is ongoing. For that reason we should wait until the consultation process is over. We are not against the principle to which the three Deputies referred but we should await the outcome of the current consultation process after which the required legislation should be implemented.

In future, the high-level policy energy principles will not just concern what is happening in the ESB, Bord na Móna or Bord Gáis. They will concern what is happening in every home and office in the country. The crucial principle is whether we go to a distributed system using a multiple range of different suppliers for heat, electricity and transport fuels, or whether we stick with the older way of doing things whereby large, single generators provide the bulk of our power. This is an utterly important and central principle.

Even if the Minister of State wants to await the outcome of a consultation document from the CER, it is possible for us — as we discussed when dealing with an earlier amendment — to allow for a provision in the Bill and enact it when such a consultation process is finished. If the Minister of State agrees with the principle but has a problem with timing, it would be eminently feasible for the Government to accept this amendment, thus ensuring that we will not have to come back to the House on this issue. We know how difficult it can be to get legislation through the House.

The House could accept this amendment with the caveat that it would require a ministerial order to be enacted. In that way, we would be able to start progressing it immediately once the Government came round to making the decision. This is not a small or marginal issue; it is fundamental to the type of energy we will have in future. I ask the Minister of State to consider the possibility of making that provision subject to a ministerial order rather than immediate enactment. That would solve the Minister of State's problem in terms of getting ahead of the game, while giving a clear indication from this House — as all parties seem to have done — that this is the direction in which we want to go.

Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 57; Níl, 65.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Perry, John.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Upton, Mary.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Boyle and Stagg; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 5, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

"(8) Section 3 of the Statutory Instrument No. 60 of 2005, the European Communities (internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2005 shall be amended to include the subsection (k) “to nevertheless allow communities who so elect to have only their own supply.”.”.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 are similar in intent to the previous amendment in that they seek to improve the possibility of development of renewable electricity supplies. Amendment No. 14 seeks to give greater flexibility to people wishing to develop their own electricity supply from wind, small-scale hydro, combined heat and power or biomass. An earlier amendment sought to introduce a similar provision in that we felt it was not necessary for the commission to regulate such electricity production in the same manner as it would in the case of a large-scale power plant provided the safety requirements, which would be managed by the latter sections of the Bill covering the safety procedures for electricity installations, were addressed. I cannot understand why we should restrict or impede in a bureaucratic or other manner people's development of their own small-scale electricity off-grid supply.

Amendment No. 15 may represent a more serious issue for larger-scale producers because it is clear that among the many difficulties facing particularly those involved in the development of wind farms one of the greatest difficulties relates to grid connection. While slightly complex in its wording, the amendment is intended to allow a wind farm operator to contest with the distribution system operator the standards, costs, method and means of any grid connection to be provided. For economic reasons we should provide greater flexibility as to the nature, standard and extent of a grid connection available to an operator of a new wind farm, who should be allowed to enter into negotiations for the construction of an alternative connection to the network while meeting the safety and other system requirements that the grid operator would undoubtedly be required to apply.

The need for such a provision was brought home to me at the recent annual conference of the Irish Wind Energy Association attended by most of the Deputies on this side of the House and some Deputies from the other side. One presentation dealt with the question of whether a grid connection should be provided overground or underground. The grid operator representative at the meeting stated that while cost differences existed, if the grid operator, effectively the ESB, was providing the network connection, in many cases it would be more expensive than if the wind farm operator provided the connection. We should provide flexibility to allow an operator to negotiate with the network provider to allow connection to proceed in the correct way. While both are technical amendments, one assists with small-scale generators and the other is of significant importance to wind farm development.

Neither amendment is acceptable. The wording of amendment No. 14 would not be consistent with the requirement under EU and Irish legislation that all customers should be free to choose their supplier. On amendment No. 15, I am not necessarily against the proposal to extend contestability of connections to the distribution system level in principle if it can deliver more efficiency and competition. However, further consideration must be given to a legislative underpinning of this provision. In particular this wording may not be consistent with EU and Irish legislation on terms and conditions for third-party access to the electricity grid. Those issues need to be carefully considered.

This section, dealing with the functions of the CER regarding the all-island market, is not necessarily the place to address these matters legislatively. This issue will be factored into the ongoing work to transpose EU Directive 2003/54/EC on the distribution system operator unbundling.

I understand the unbundling of the distribution system must be accomplished by July 2007. I hope this or a future Government does not find itself required to make a regulatory change through legislation, which we have the opportunity to make now. The Minister of State appears to agree with the intent of amendment No. 15, but has some issues with the wording or the legal aspects of achieving that principle. It would have been possible for the Minister to introduce a similar amendment that met those technical legal requirements. My wording attempted to outline the principle. I do not understand why the Government would be in favour of the principle while arguing it is contrary to existing legislation. It would not be impossible to surmount that problem through alternative legal wording, possibly drafted by the Office of the Attorney General.

The Minister of State has acknowledged the problem with lack of flexibility, which may need to be resolved in the unbundling of the distribution system, regardless of the provisions we have regarding the transmission system operator. While recognising the problem with the lack of flexibility, I regret that the Government sees fit to sit on its hands, decide to do nothing about the issue and wait for some future opportunity to make the change. If this is not the appropriate place for an amendment to the powers of the CER, where can it take place? Does the Minister of State believe it would be necessary to introduce legislation to allow for what is known as contestability in the distribution or transmission connection? When does the Government intend to allow for such legislation?

While the Deputy's proposal has some merit, further consideration would need to be given before providing for it in legislation. Unbundling of the DSO is required by July 2007 and legislation, most likely secondary legislation, will be required to deal with a range of issues necessary for the legal unbundling of the DSO. We would be prepared to give further consideration to the Deputy's proposal in this regard.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment No. 15 not moved.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, line 16, after "seas" to insert "as specified in the Schedule".

If this amendment were accepted, the text would read: "'island of Ireland' includes its islands and seas as specified in the Schedule". I remember a dispute in the House over a certain offshore island and I therefore looked at the Schedule to determine whether it could be included in the wording. I believe it could and I would like to hear the Minister of State's response.

I am advised that "the island of Ireland" is defined in section 3 in the context of and for the sole purpose of the regulation of an all-island wholesale electricity market, as set out in the Long Title of the Bill and as prescribed in subsection 3(6), and for no other purpose. This definition is drafted to ensure account is taken of the islands within the Irish jurisdiction in developing an all-island electricity market. As the definition is provided solely for the purpose of this section of the Bill, it could never be invoked in respect of other matters such as fisheries and mineral exploration rights. Therefore, a more detailed definition of "Irish seas" is not necessary for the purpose of this legislation.

I fail to understand that. Perhaps I just do not have the right angle on it. I thought my amendment presented a useful opportunity, particularly because it is considered useful to aspire to having an all-island energy policy. Such a policy would bring about the co-operation of the two regulatory authorities in the North and South and would bring recognition that it is better to have an all-island market than two separate ones. We may yet become part of an all-island and part-European market, in which case it will be of benefit to have accepted my amendment. For example, energy resources off our shores could comprise a very contentious issue in the years to come.

While there is no specific definition of our seas in the legislation, somebody could ask in the future why such a definition was not included and state it would have been very useful. I remember a frantic group of people crawling onto the island of Rockall half way out in the Atlantic some years ago. Does the Ceann Comhairle remember that? Such an issue could become very contentious and I therefore tabled my amendment. If the Minister of State is absolutely certain it is not required or is superfluous, I will not press it. Perhaps he will look into his heart and consider accepting it.

There have been more changes of Minister since morning than changes of the guard and I have no doubt there will be more personality changes before the day is out.

I believed the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, had changed appearance — I am stunned.

I actually believed that was the case.

The Deputies are moving away from the amendment before us.

We just threw it in for good measure.

I have no further response.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment No. 17 in the name of Deputy Durkan arises from Committee Stage proceedings. Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are related and they may all be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 5, line 34, to delete "services" and substitute "services affecting other forms of home heating".

The legislation, as it stands, reads:

‘market in energy' includes a market in respect of—

(a) the generation, supply, transmission, distribution and trading, including the export or import, of electricity, including electricity generated from renewable sources,

(b) the storage, supply, transmission, distribution and trading, including the export and import, of natural gas,

(c) energy efficiency services.

There is no specific reference to "home heating" or the heating of the structures of buildings and such a reference should be included.

We had a debate this morning on whether this is a regulatory or an energy Bill. It could be very helpful if specific reference were made to "home heating" simply because the largest single saving that can be made in the use of energy, particularly imported oil, is in the area of home heating. Without a doubt, this also applies to gas. Ireland has some gas supplies including a resource that is expected to last 15 years. I hope we will ultimately avail of it and that we will be able to turn on the tap.

We should afford to "home heating" the recognition it deserves. There is a plethora of areas of energy provision in addition to home heating, but in no other area can greater efficiency, greater import substitution and a greater reduction in the cost to the consumer be achieved. The same applies to heating in the commercial sector. The amendments under discussion therefore deserve recognition and I ask that the Minister of State be sufficiently good, warm-hearted, energetic and conscious of conservation to take them on board.

We are dealing with the role of CER in developing an all-island market. Colleagues mentioned that we are not really sure what will happen. Representatives of the Northern Ireland regulatory body were before the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources approximately six months ago and it was clear that the body regulates its side of the Border. On 1 November next year I presume the two regulators will work hand in hand. By definition, it seems one cannot have two regulators in a single market. It would be like having two European Commissions and therefore we will need to discuss having a single regulator. As my colleague stated, Commissioner Piebalgs was thinking of amalgamating the UK and Irish markets.

The amendments address a very important section. I commend the role the Government has taken thus far in developing this sector. It is a concrete example of the Republic and Northern Ireland working together for the good of the peoples both North and South. I hope further interconnection will lead to a better future.

When representatives of the Commission for Energy Regulation were before the joint committee discussing this very point, the then commissioner, who has since become a water commissioner in the United Kingdom, said to me that the single market's impact would be such that future prices would be less than they would be if there were no single market. This reminds me of a comment by a former leader of Fine Gael, Professor Garret FitzGerald. When he became Taoiseach, he had a famous mantra to the effect that the increase in the level of prices was falling. The public had to get its head around the idea that things would be much dearer but not as dear as they would have been in other circumstances. This is crazy to the ordinary householder.

In the context of the future amalgamation of the regulatory functions in the North and the Republic, such that there would be a unified all-island regulator, one must not only consider energy efficiency, storage, generation, security of supply and sustainability but also measures to alleviate fuel and energy poverty. In other words, the regulator should be concerned about the impact it is having on the households of this island. It should be provided for legislatively that it should be part of the regulator's duties.

During Question Time last Thursday, I suggested to the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, that he should either accept my amendment to this section of the Bill or introduce further legislation to make it essential that a consumer panel be established within the Commission for Energy Regulation. I am in favour of the establishment of a panel of people, including experts and economists, who represent householders and businesses. I refer in particular to small businesses, which are being crucified, as we know, by the increases in electricity prices.

One of the most horrible things to have happened to people in this country in recent years happened on 1 October last, which was the day we trooped over to Government Buildings to be presented with the Green Paper on energy by the Taoiseach. The media were interested to know how many Ministers would turn up to sit beside him on the day that was in it because it was the same day the Minister allowed the Commission for Energy Regulation to increase gas prices by 34%. We were going in to talk about a bright energy future, but we were hit with a whammy of a gas increase of 34% on every household. One of the most interesting aspects of the events of 1 October was that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, not only produced the Green Paper but also slipped out the Deloitte & Touche report.

That is right.

He had been in possession of the report for almost a year but had refused to publish it despite our constant and repeated demands. He suddenly slipped it out on 1 October last.

He threw it into the mix.

I have to say it was Fianna Fáil politics operating at its most remarkable.

In its rawest form.

The Minister tried to cover all the bad news with his shining Green Paper.

The Deloitte & Touche report contains a great deal of analysis of the ESB. It examines various issues relating to the market, which we are discussing in this amendment and this section, in a professional and thorough manner. The most interesting thing in the report, which was produced by a hard-headed consultancy company, is that one fifth of the people suffer fuel poverty. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle, with his medical background, will agree that is an extraordinary statistic. One fifth of the people of this country are suffering some degree of fuel poverty. This is a key issue.

How can Mr. Reeves and Mr. Tutty tell us that there will be an increase of 34%? It seems, as Mr. David Begg and my party leader, Deputy Rabbitte, said last week, that prices are being greatly increased in the expectation of bringing about competition at some future time. The problem, as we know from a study conducted by the department of social studies and sociology in UCD, is that some people will never enjoy those lower prices because they will not be around. One of the reasons they will not be around is that they will not survive our cold winters.

The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, will agree that the last two winters were among the hardest we can remember. Perhaps they were the two coldest winters of our lifetimes. Some people could not afford to turn on the gas central heating or to get an extra fill of oil. I am sure the Minister of State met such people when he was travelling around his constituency of Galway West. I have often walked into the freezing kitchens of houses owned by older people who are afraid to turn on their heating, which is an incredible commentary on our situation towards the end of 2006, after ten years of amazing economic growth.

I am sure the Minister of State privately agrees with me that we should have a requisition on the Commission for Energy Regulation to consider the alleviation of fuel poverty as a key element of its work. It should not be something that it can choose to consider. I do not have the commission's consultation and decision documents on the increases of 34% in gas prices and 20% in electricity prices with me, but perhaps I should bring them in. Mr. Reeves and his colleagues said they approved the increase in gas prices because the increase in the price of imported gas over the previous two seasons meant that Bord Gáis was unable to get the return it needed. If one examines the company's accounts for 2005, one will see that the company made a profit of over €100 million. It is refurbishing the network throughout the country. Many places on the north side of Dublin are being dug up by Bord Gáis as it installs its upgraded future system.

The ESB, similarly, passed on a huge dividend of €77 million to the Government last year, from profits of €270 million. It is a remarkable, well-led, dynamic and forward-looking company. An additional increase of 20% in electricity prices will be faced by the public on 1 January next. In a few weeks, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, will deliver his Budget Statement from where the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, is currently sitting. I hope he will announce significant increases in social welfare benefits, the amount of electricity units and a range of social protections. The Government certainly has the money to make such increases. A few weeks later, however, on 1 January, just as benefits such as the State pension start to enter people's bank accounts and post office accounts, people will find they have to pay much more for their energy. This is a critical issue.

During the past five years of this Administration, there have been increases of 100% in the price of gas and over 60% in the price of electricity. We have had to deal with amazingly high prices to establish a future in which we will supposedly have much lower prices. Like many social commentators, I do not understand the logic that is operating at present. The deliberate decision to keep energy prices low was a key factor in the establishment of the Celtic tiger economy we have enjoyed, which has brought most people to a level of affluence. We have not seen the benefits of the EU requirements we have had to meet.

I have one of the Commission for Energy Regulation consultation documents with me, but I do not have the key decision document with me. The documents should have included a lengthy commentary on the measures which could have been taken to alleviate poverty, which would have resulted in a much lower increase in gas prices — perhaps in the single digits — for this season. As my colleague said, the price of energy supplies, including gas, decreased during a remarkable period over the last couple of months. As the Minister of State knows, there were a number of days when the Norwegian pipeline was spewing out gas that was free on the London market.

We could have had free gas.

If we had the resources, in the form of storage capacity, we could have had free gas for half of next year. We have an opportunity to provide for measures which will require the Commission for Energy Regulation to consider this issue as the all-island market develops. People sometimes say that poverty measures should only be discussed in terms of the budget — they should be examined in terms of how one can help pensioners, people on low incomes and great social organisations like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which are trying to alleviate poverty. This issue is central to the point I am making.

People would not be so hard-pressed if fuel prices were lower. I believe the prices this year should have been lower. The members of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources argued to Mr. Reeves a couple of weeks ago that lower prices could be sustained. Therefore, I urge the Minister of State to accept amendment No. 18. He should include this measure in the Bill to demonstrate that this House and the Government are serious about combatting energy poverty, rather than crucifying the poorest people in society, such as those on the lowest incomes, in 2007. The Government will reap a tough reward for its approach when election day comes.

It is not that I do not have a good heart. This section simply delineates the functions of the Commission for Energy Regulation in the development of the single electricity market. Further and more detailed provisions will be included in the all-island energy market Bill, which is being drafted in co-operation with our colleagues in Northern Ireland. We hope the Bill will be introduced in the House shortly. The proposed amendments are simply not appropriate to this section of the current Bill as they do not relate specifically to the development of an all-island market for the trading of electricity. The amendments are unnecessarily restrictive in so far as they seek to confine energy efficiency services to forms of home heating. As Deputy Broughan indicated, such measures are instruments of social policy. While they may be applied to a market situation, they are not part of the definition of the energy market. The term "as may, from time to time, be determined by the Minister" is superfluous and the term used at section 14(1)(e) is all-embracing.

While I take the point made by the Deputies, the energy service sector is wider than home heating and extends to industry and commercial endeavours. It includes the provisions of the Energy Services Directive and the energy efficiency service providers. For this reason I cannot accept these amendments.

The Minister of State is not being very accommodating. I thought he would make sweeping changes and recognise the good ideas proposed. The three amendments in question all relate to a specific part of what we feel should be covered in this new single market.

The purpose of the words "as may, from time to time, be determined by the Minister" in amendment No. 19, as mentioned by the Minister of State, is to indicate who is in control. Will we have to wait, as in recent weeks, for a decision from the regulator? He had the flu and we had to wait until it had passed for a decision to be made. Policy should always be determined by the Minister, regardless of what anyone else says, including the European transposition and so on. We cannot sit easily with a situation whereby regulation takes precedence over policy. Policy is required within this State.

There is a vast difference between how energy supply, demand and transmission is conducted here and in the rest of Europe. This is, effectively, the only island involved as Britain has a tunnel to the mainland that is somewhat better than the tunnel we have here. I understand that services are transmissible via the tunnel.

It is easier to regulate in mainland Europe as it concerns a far larger area and many systems of transmission are already in place. Regulators may represent a better method for approaching this issue because there are many different authorities that can be brought together. Ireland's position is different and the regulatory system, as transposed into Irish law, is flawed and will leave us vulnerable. So far we have not had a negative experience but if there was a sharp cold snap and there were difficulties with supply, regulation, transmission and so on, would we sit by and leave everything to the regulator until he or she decided the problem could be resolved? At this point there must be recourse to Government policy. After all, who are the elected representatives and who will be accountable?

Suppose there was an outage of the nature that affected the telecom industry in recent weeks. There is no use saying it could not happen; Deputy Broughan has already pointed out that it can happen. There is a dramatic difference between energy requirements in cold weather and otherwise. Given these circumstances it is time to introduce to this Bill an indication from the Minister of State that we intend to maintain responsibility for policy, rather than divest ourselves of all control.

For all of the regulation on the Continent there were many power outages around Europe last summer, in Spain, Italy and elsewhere. If it can happen there it can happen as easily here, and ours is a far colder climate.

I have reviewed the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 which established the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER. The CER's functions were to publish, pursuant to a policy direction or directions of the Minister proposals for a system of contracts and other arrangements, to engage in a public consultation process, to advise the Minister on the impact of electricity generation in relation to sustainability, and international agreements and so on. There are many vague, general functions but nothing that covers the impact of CER's decision on vulnerable consumers. There is a reference to the commission having regard to the needs of various elements and this relates particularly to producers, generators, licence holders and so on. In the 1999 Act, under the commission's functions, it is stated it must take account of the protection of the environment, the efficient use of electricity, the needs of rural customers, the disadvantaged and the elderly. However, the CER has never advanced a mechanism whereby it would do this.

I am studying developments that would, from a market point of view, address the almost certain fuel and energy poverty we will see in the forthcoming winter. This poverty will be due to the Government's decision to allow CER, under current legislation, to deliver a double whammy consisting of a 34% increase in gas prices and a 20% increase in electricity prices in addition to the increases of 100% that have been seen in the lifetime of this Government. Greater intervention is required by the Government in relation to CER's powers. The Electricity Regulation Act 1999 was the major Act relating to market regulation since the Electricity Supply Act 1927, which established the Electricity Supply Board. The Bill before us gives us an opportunity to put the needs of consumers, families and small businesses at the centre of CER's thinking, rather than existing as an afterthought as is the case in the Electricity Regulation Act 1999.

I urge the Minister of State to accept amendment No. 18 and I also support amendment No. 17. We need a mechanism to make CER more responsive to vulnerable consumers.

Government policy is clearly set out in the Green Paper on energy policy. The development of further physical interconnection and the integration of our energy market with our neighbours' through the development of the Single European Market, SEM, and regional energy markets is a cornerstone of Government policy. The amendments proposed by the Deputy do not fit with the section dealing with the SEM.

Legislation dealing with vulnerable customers has already been introduced and measures to deal with fuel poverty are set out in the energy policy Green Paper. The vulnerable customers' payment and assistance scheme sees the ESB and Bord Gáis help vulnerable customers. Those facing financial hardship should not allow their accounts fall into arrears but should contact their service provider as soon as possible to agree a payment plan. Service will not be withdrawn where there is an agreed payment plan in place and payments are kept up to date in accordance with the agreed plan.

Further to what Deputy Broughan has said, there is scope for lessening home heating costs through the warmer home scheme, which is part of Sustainable Energy Ireland's low cost income housing programme. The purpose of this scheme is to improve the energy efficiency and comfort conditions of homes occupied by low income householders. The scheme provides funding for community based organisations for the installation of energy efficiency measures, such as attic insulation, draft proofing, hot water cylinder installation and wall cavity insulation, in homes in their respective localities. The scheme is intended to benefit those most in need and the eligibility criteria vary from region to region depending on the target group of the community organisation in question.

We all agree with the Deputy's comments that there is a significant fuel burden on people, particularly low income families, because of the increases in energy costs. However, this is a worldwide phenomenon and one for which surely the Deputy cannot blame the Government.

As regards the query on the gas supplier of last resort, the shipper of last resort is provided for later in this Bill. Bord Gáis Éireann has been appointed to fulfil this role should there be a failure in any other energy provider.

Social measures to alleviate energy and fuel poverty are welcome. I will be looking to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to announce a dramatic panel of proposals on the first Wednesday in December.

However, the operation of this in practice is rather different and I will give the Minister of State an example. The Minister of State mentioned some of the measures Bord Gáis Éireann will take and how kind it will be to customers. In light of the cut-offs some consumers experienced and the way in which some estates were dealt with during the refurbishment programme on the north side of Dublin recently, BGE and its contractors were anything but responsive.

The Health Service Executive has a programme of home insulation operating on the north side of Dublin. Funding was provided for this in last year's budget to an organisation called Eastern Community Works. It is a company of the old northern area health board and its funding for insulating homes for seniors and vulnerable families ran out at the end of April. Such was the demand last winter that its funding lasted only four months. Many families who sought resources last winter will face into this winter without the work having been carried out — their houses are still cold.

The Government did not provide the alleviating moneys to carry out this work. When I tried to raise this in the House, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, did not want to know about it. We now effectively have a regulator for health, namely, the Health Service Executive and Professor Brendan Drumm. Professor Drumm is now effectively the Minister for Health and Children and he is assisted by Mr. Lennon, who sends us nice press releases on the health service almost daily. I cannot raise this issue with anyone. When I approached the HSE, it said that it was up to Eastern Community Works to spend the money in a different way. Although the money ran out in April, the HSE expected the organisation to spread the money over 12 months. Sufficient resources have not been made available and that is why I am seeking market-based solutions. I also want the regulator to take account of the 20% of the public that lives in fuel poverty.

The Minister of State referred to the Green Paper a number of times. It contains just one page on fuel poverty; there are six lines in the main part of the document and three quarters of a page elsewhere. The alleviation of poverty for low income families has been one of the tenets of my party throughout its history. It is a central reason for the existence of my party and we are determined to bring this forward into the area of energy. As I told the wind energy delegation that met the joint committee, while we welcome renewable and sustainable energies we will not allow the poorest people in society to carry the can for it. This is not the way it can be, or will be, done. If we want a proper sustainable energy programme, it must be spread fairly among all sections of society. The only way to do this is by building in market mechanisms and putting in place market supervision, such as the Commission on Energy Regulation.

The Minister of State has rejected the proposal contained in amendment No. 19 which sought to introduce an element of ministerial control. Section 3(6) lists the various areas in which the bodies will be incorporated, such as energy efficiency services, energy research and development and other sustainable energy activities. These other sustainable activities are not defined. This is a weakness and it is the reason for tabling the amendment. It seeks to give the Minister control and the means to take action. Of course, Ministers have become shy of becoming involved in such matters because it might mean that they would be held responsible. It would be really awful if they were expected to take action in the face of a catastrophic fuel shortage.

Amendment No. 19 would considerably strengthen the Bill. Failing to ensure that such power is available to the Minister is a mistake. The phrase "as may, from time to time, be determined by the Minister" is one that has been regularly used in Bills that come before the House, and I am sure it will be used in the future too. The Minister of State has not accepted this amendment because he does not want direct, dictate, control, or advice on policy. The longer this continues the worse matters will become. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider.

The Minister dictates policy and the regulator implements it. I am sure this will continue to happen if and when the Deputy's party ever gets into Government.

It did not happen last week.

I will respond to the points Deputy Broughan has raised, even though they are not relevant to this Bill. While they are fully understood, they are best dealt with in the context of further policy developments. Consultations in respect of the energy Green Paper are ongoing and seek to determine what further work should be done to alleviate fuel poverty. Serious consideration will be given to whatever proposals emerge. We should stick to the subject matter of the Bill in the meantime.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 18:

In page 5, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:

"(d) measures to alleviate fuel and energy poverty,”.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 57; Níl, 62.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.

Níl

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Stagg and Neville; Níl, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 5, line 36, after "activities" to insert the following:

"as may, from time to time, be determined by the Minister".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 20, 21, 25, 27, 83 to 86, inclusive, 88, 91 and 94 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 6, line 46, to delete "customers," and substitute "customers.".

These amendments clear up typographical and printing errors which occurred in the text of the Bill as a consequence of it being amended on Committee Stage. Report Stage is the appropriate vehicle for tidying up these unavoidable errors, thus ensuring the text of the Bill is not open to challenge as regards the minutiae of its contents.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 7, line 4, to delete "section," and substitute "section.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 22 to 24, inclusive, and 30 to 32, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 22:

In page 7, line 24, after "publish" to insert "or endorse".

The purpose of my amendments in this group is to improve and refine the proposal to establish a system of examining and monitoring the works carried out by electrical contractors. While small and technical in nature, the amendments are also important.

The purpose of amendment No. 22 is to amend the existing provision under which the Commission for Energy Regulation will publish criteria on standards for designated electrical works by adding a further provision that, instead of publishing new criteria on standards, the commission may endorse criteria already established by industry membership bodies.

The purpose of amendment No. 24 is to provide that the commission may fine electrical contractors rather than having to use the sole sanction of revoking a contractor's membership of a designated body. Occasions may arise when a fine rather than an expulsion is a more appropriate course of action.

Amendment No. 26 provides that an appeal arising from a commission decision to impose sanctions on a particular contractor must be submitted within 14 days as opposed to 28 days. Amendments Nos. 30 and 32 are technical in nature and provide that in section 9D(10), the legislation should refer back to the criteria published by the commission under subsection (5). These are not major amendments but they will improve the legislation.

Amendment No. 23 in my name gives the Commission for Energy Regulation a back-handed reprieve by proposing to insert the words, ", or as required", after the words, "The Commission may review or amend the criteria as often as it considers necessary", in section 9(D)(5). The presumption is that the commission is all-powerful and that its role is to review as often as it considers it necessary. I do not see what massive foresight the commission has or is likely to have. Different situations may emerge which would require the Minister or the public to state that some change in the criteria is required. It could well be in the operation of the criteria that the change is necessary or required. The commission might not see it as necessary but it could well be required. The two do not necessarily converge, as we know from previous discussions.

Acceptance of the amendment would enhance the Bill and would be an indication of the Minister's anxiety to accommodate the House. Incidentally, this amendment is not unique. Similar amendments have been incorporated previously in many legislative measures in the House.

With regard to amendment No. 22, the use of the term "or endorse" might suggest that responsibility for the criteria document and the important matters it deals with would be removed, at least in part, from the CER. It must be clear that the CER is fully responsible for the contents rather than simply endorsing them. With regard to amendment No. 23, the current text of the subsection will ensure that the criteria are updated as often as required, and it is clearly for the CER to determine when this is necessary.

In response to amendment No. 24, while allowing for fines and other sanctions is acceptable in principle, this is a matter best left to the discretion of the designating body. The Parliamentary Counsel has indicated that there is a move away from introducing statutory fines other than those imposed by the courts. There is a wide range of administrative sanctions which may be implemented by a designated body which do not require statutory underpinning.

Turning to amendment No. 30, the matters set out in subsection (10)(a) are not appropriate matters to include in the criteria document. These relate to how the individual designated bodies charge certain fees to its members and may differ from body to body while the matters set out in the criteria document should be uniformly acceptable to all bodies. Amendment No. 31 is not required as it is clearly the responsibility of the CER to determine when the safety requirements are required to be updated. This is already captured in the current text which allows for the CER to update the safety requirements from time to time.

Amendment No. 32 is also not required as subsection (5) already states that the criteria document will include the safety standards to be achieved and maintained by electrical contractors.

The question at issue in amendments Nos. 23 and 31 is whether the regulator is the ultimate authority is determining when something is required, that is, whether it is necessary according to his or her judgment or could otherwise be required. Does the Minister think, for example, that the increases in gas and electricity prices which were approved recently were necessary and, if so, for what purpose? What was achieved? They were not required. That is the difference in interpretation of the two words.

The word "required" should be included in the legislation now. If it is not done now, it will have to be done later. A situation will arise in which a Minister will have to declare that the regulator is totally independent and that he can no longer influence him or her. The Minister will have no role or function but will be liable to be called to account publicly for some matter, and if he or she does not give a satisfactory response, they will have a serious problem on their hands. That is how it will affect the Minister. Like the decisions that were taken in the last couple of weeks, decisions can be taken under this section relating to the criteria that will be laid down. There is a similarity. The simple question is whether they are necessary or required. It is interesting.

I commend the Minister's ability on this legislation, which is highly complex and not within the Minister's remit. I wish to refer to amendment No. 24 which deals with the issuing of fines. The Minister said it is against parliamentary practice to legislate for fining. However, this section designates some of the powers or modus operandi of designated bodies, and of the commission in regard to the management of the designated bodies. Why would it not be appropriate to back up existing practice, that is, a system which has fines, with a regulatory practice which also provides for fines? Solely having recourse to expelling somebody from a body is possibly too blunt an instrument. It is more appropriate and possibly equally effective to have a system for fines. Why would that not make sense in this case?

There is a wide range of administrative sanctions which may be implemented by the designating body which do not require statutory underpinning. There is a difference between allowing for the body to charge a fine to its members and the court enforced fines provided for in this Bill. The fines in the Bill are for serious safety breaches. There is also the ability to impose administrative sanctions which does not need legislation.

With regard to Deputy Durkan's question, clearly the regulator would not have approved the increases if they were not necessary. Energy prices have fallen but the regulator must have regard to the overall situation. I am satisfied that the increases that were made are necessary.

The Minister is a brave man.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 23:

In page 8, line 34, after "necessary" to insert ", or as required".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 82a is cognate to amendment No. 23a. Amendments Nos. 23a and 82a may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 23a:

In page 8, lines 39 and 40, to delete "(in this section referred to as a registered electrical contractor)" and substitute the following:

"(in this section referred to as a ‘registered electrical contractor')".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 24 not moved.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 9, line 41, to delete "body," and substitute "body.".

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 26 not moved.

I move amendment No. 27:

In page 10, line 7, to delete "body," and substitute "body.".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 28 and 29 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 28:

In page 10, line 13, after "contractor" to insert "and individual".

This amendment proposes the inclusion of the term "and individual" after "contractor" in the new section 4(8)(b). I am of the view that acceptance of the amendment would be beneficial.

Amendment No. 29 is similar and proposes the inclusion of the term ", and the particular circumstances involved" in the new section 4(8)(b). Various circumstances may arise in respect of which action might be required. Without entering into too much detail, it might be no harm if the Minister of State indicated his thoughts on these amendments.

Amendment No. 28 is not appropriate because the appeal relates to the decision to suspend or revoke a registered electrical contractor. The relevant registered electrical contractor must, therefore, be informed of the decision, not another individual.

Amendment No. 29 is not necessary because the decision of the CER in respect of an individual decision of a designated body would clearly take into consideration the particular circumstances involved. For those reasons, I cannot accept the amendments.

The Minister of State has decided not to accept the amendments. The Bill has changed dramatically since its original publication. Opposition Members, in all their glory, have done their best to amend the Bill as it was presented to them. We have a number of options open to us at this stage. We can vote on every amendment from here on if we so wish. We have tried to accommodate the Minister of State and the Department by not pressing amendments, except in certain selective circumstances. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to discover whether the Minister of State intends to take on board any of the concerns expressed in the amendments tabled by Opposition Members, particularly in view of the way the Bill has been introduced and recommitted and in light of the fact that we are being obliged to deal with entirely new sections that only emerged after we submitted our amendments.

I have no further comment to make.

Is the amendment being pressed?

I am awaiting a response from the Minister of State.

I have no further comment to make. The first amendment is not appropriate and the second is not necessary.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 29 to 32, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 33:

In page 11, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:

"(13A) For the purposes of this subsection certain categories of electrical works may be regarded as exempt from the requirement for inspection and certification under subsection (13) as may be defined by the Commission on the basis that such works are not likely to pose any threat to public safety.".

This amendment makes the simple point that it may make sense for the commission to designate certain categories of electrical works as exempt from the requirement for inspection and certification on the basis that there are certain small electrical contracting jobs that are relatively safe and of a small scale and do not fall into the same category as jobs that require to be safely checked. We should incorporate in the legislation a flexibility to describe or outline such minor works in respect of which it would not be necessary to impose the requirements relating to more serious jobs.

We engaged in a lengthy discussion on Committee Stage regarding specified and designated works. A number of Members tabled amendments, some of which have been subsumed into the Bill. I am obliged to disagree with Deputy Eamon Ryan in respect of this matter because the fundamental impetus behind the section is to create, at the highest levels, a safe environment in which electrical and gas works may be carried out. On Committee Stage, we debated, in great detail with the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, the types of works which are specified or designated that could be exempted. Eventually, the Minister accepted some of the amendments tabled by Opposition Members.

It is difficult to understand how a precise definition might be arrived at in respect of this matter. I do not know whether it would be good practice to proceed in the way suggested by Deputy Eamon Ryan. Even when one considers the most basic works in respect of properly maintaining a house, it is obvious that huge safety issues arise. The basic tenor of the section is the right way to proceed.

The Oireachtas committee of which I am a member received a huge number of presentations in the lead-up to Committee Stage of the Bill, one of which was submitted by the Register of Electrical Contractors of Ireland, RECI, which was trying to discover the kinds of works that would be included under the Bill. I would prefer the method used in the Bill rather than adopting a system of exempting certain works. On Committee Stage, we discussed the area where the work of electricians and plumbers overlap. I refer, for example, to the installation of a shower. Is the latter a plumbing job or should it be carried out by an electrician?

That is a good question.

Some plumbers carry out the electrical works relating to the installation of showers. I presume that the latter would be dealt with under the new subsection contained in Deputy Eamon Ryan's amendment. It would be better if works were clearly designated and if there were no exemptions. I accept that there are grey areas and that handymen who advertise in the local press carry out works such as those to which I refer. These individuals should be required to do so to the highest standards because that is the reason the section and that relating to gas works were brought forward.

This amendment is not acceptable. While the underlying reasoning behind it is understandable, the amendment is, for all intents and purposes, unnecessary. The new section 9D(27), which is inserted into the 1999 Act by section 4 of the Bill, provides that the CER should specify which works are to be the specified works for the purpose of the Act. Subsection (18) of the same section provides that the commission shall specify the form of completion certificate to be used for particular types of electrical works. The CER will take into account any and all safety issues when implementing its new powers under these subsections and will ensure, in consultation with RECI or any other such body, that any requirements relating to inspection or certification will be restricted to the activities for which they are appropriate. I will leave it to the Opposition to decide on the issue of plumbers and electricians.

We might take that responsibility more seriously than the Minister of State is taking it at present.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 11, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following:

"(15) When a registered electrical contractor carries out electrical works, which by reason of regulations made under section 9E(1) are deemed to be designated electrical works, the registered electrical contractor concerned shall issue a completion certificate to the person who requested the works to be carried out.".

This is a complex area and one may become involved in legal wrangles if works go wrong. That is why it is important to identify what is a designated and what is a specified work. Even though, as Deputy Broughan stated, this matter was examined in detail on Committee Stage, there is need for further clarity. The proposal in this amendment is to provide further clarity by explicitly setting out in a new subsection (15) that where a registered electrical contractor carries out designated electrical works, the contractor would then have to issue a completion certificate. That ties in with section 9E(1) by setting out what designated electrical works are, which makes sense.

Designated works form a particular subset of specified works which, following the necessary grandfathering period for the establishment of the designated bodies, warrant special consideration. Therefore, they will be subject to completion certificates when necessary. Designated works will, by their nature, be the electrical works to which the most stringent safety implications are attached. They can only be carried out by a registered electrical contractor and the proposed section 9E of the 1999 Act contains strict penalty provision to underpin this even further. As a result, this amendment is not accepted.

I accept that section 9E sets out penalties but I do not understand why we do not need clarification of the need for designated works and such a certificate in the new subsection (15) that I wish to introduce. I do not see the connection between section 9E and the earlier subsection that sets out the requirements of electrical contractors on specified works and designated works. I do not see why we should not set out the requirements in that section for designated works as well as specified works if they are differentiated by the scale of work involved.

Deputy Ryan makes a valid point. We seem to have covered specified works under subsection (13). Deputy Ryan's amendment is complementary and covers all the requirements. In that context, it is a reasonable amendment.

If designated works are carried out by someone who is not a registered contractor, that person will commit an offence and incur a fine. The specified works can be carried out by somebody who is not qualified, but the work must then be certified by a qualified person.

Section 9D(13) states: "Where a registered electrical contractor carries out electrical works, which by reason of a determination by the Commission under subsection (27) are specified works, the registered electrical contractor concerned shall issue a completion certificate to the person who requested the works to be carried out." I accept the Minister's point that if a non-registered contractor carries out designated works, that is an offence. However, if we specify the regulations on how a registered electrical contractor operates when he is carrying out a specified work, why are we not setting out what a registered electrical contractor must do when he is carrying out a designated work?

A designated work must be carried out by a registered contractor. It is an offence if it is carried out by a person who is not a registered contractor.

The Deputy has already spoken so this must be his concluding remark.

The intent of subsection (13) is that when a registered electrical contractor carries out specified works, he or she must issue a completion certificate to the person who requested the works to be carried out. Where is the compulsion on a registered electrical contractor to issue a completion certificate to someone who requests a designated work to be carried out?

Designated works, because of their nature, must be specified works and, therefore, they require a completion certificate. Specified works can be carried out by somebody who is not qualified but they then must be certified by a qualified person. There is a distinction.

I must answer this because it is highly technical.

I will allow the Deputy to come back one more time only.

Thank you. The Minister of State said that the designated works are specified works. The difficulty is in the difference between designated and specified works. Subsection (27) states that the commission may determine what is a specified work and section 9E(1) states that the commission may designate a class of designated works. I do not agree with the Minister of State's argument that they are both the same thing. There is a difference between a specified and a designated work and it may make sense to legislate for what a registered electrical contractor must do to provide a completion certificate on completion of a designated electrical work.

I cannot explain it any better. It is a complicated area and is difficult to understand. I suggest that my officials explain it to Deputy Ryan at a later stage.

The Minister of State could send an SOS for the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey. He was wrapped up in knots trying to explain it on Committee Stage.

Having been accused by the Green Party of being in the building business, I have some understanding of this. Deputy Ryan is just a bit confused.

Is Deputy Ryan pressing the amendment?

Given the comments of the Minister of State, I have little choice but to press the amendment. We are on Report Stage of the Bill and it is very unfortunate that the Minister of State cannot explain an important issue that may cause legal difficulties. It is also unfortunate that the senior Minister is not here to provide the answer.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 35:

In page 11, line 37, to delete "shall arrange" and substitute "shall as soon as practicable, arrange".

This is a much less contestable amendment and I hope the Minister of State, given his knowledge of the building industry, will see the sense in it. We should arrange things as soon as is practicable, as is suggested in my amendment.

The current wording addresses the proposals and the amendments are, therefore, superfluous.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Is amendment No. 36 being pressed?

It might not be any harm to give the Minister of State a bit of a gallop. He seems to be in a pugnacious mood.

The amendment was discussed with amendment No. 35.

I did not discuss it.

The Deputy did not indicate to the Chair that he wanted to discuss it.

I am indicating now.

I will allow the Deputy to speak on it.

I move amendment No. 36:

In page 11, line 38, after "inspection" to insert the following:

", within a reasonable time and taking the circumstances into account,".

The amendment is well placed because circumstances may change from time to time. To insert "as soon as possible" is one thing, but the circumstances under which an inspection is carried out should be borne in mind. There may be very urgent and cogent reasons for having an inspection carried out. For that reason, it is important to take the circumstances into account. I do not wish to delay the House but I can think of a particular situation that occurred during the summer where circumstances urged that an immediate inspection be carried out which ordinarily could wait for two or three months. I ask the Minister of State to expand on his views on the subject.

I was not here on Committee Stage when an Opposition amendment was accepted which states: "shall arrange for the carrying out of the inspection as soon as practicable and, if appropriate, the issue of a completion certificate."

I am improving it further.

I am assured by my officials that this amendment is superfluous.

There is nothing superfluous, although I will not press the amendment. Circumstances arose during the summer where I thought it was necessary to further embellish and strengthen the particular line. I do not wish to go into the details because it was a purely local situation but there are circumstances that could govern the speed with which a particular action would be taken. The Minister of State is becoming flustered over there. I hear him sighing.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 38 to 40, inclusive, form a composite proposal and are related to amendment No. 37. Amendment No. 41 is also related and, therefore, amendments Nos. 37 to 41, inclusive, will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 37:

In page 12, line 1, after "a" to insert "standard".

From discussions I had with the trade, I am of the view that a standard form might be more explicit and might indicate more clearly what was in mind. For example, somebody might decide to introduce their own form. I know this would never happen, and should never happen, but in situations of this nature, the specified form may be intended in the section but it does not specifically say so. I hope the Minister of State, in one of his weaker moments, will decide to incorporate it in the section.

There is a further reference in amendment No. 40 to the inclusion of a standard checklist. I ask that this be included because it can be very helpful in determining the basic requirements and areas of contention, particularly with reference to installations, whether they be electrical, gas or plumbing and heating. Certain basics must be followed and a checklist should be incorporated which would cover some of the queries I had in that area.

I may be wrong but I look forward to an explanation by the Department officials in this regard as to when a completion certificate is needed and where we have legislated for the difference between how we treat a "specified" work or a "designated" work. This may well exist in the legislation but I may have missed it. This could be pointed out to me separately, given that the Minister of State is not willing to point out where that difference applies.

What is the harm in my amendment which proposes that the commission would also set out the circumstances in which a completion certificate may be granted or withheld as well as the procedures to be followed and the records to be maintained in that regard? Would this not provide a cover-all in case we have inadvertently missed something in this complex arrangement of designation of different types of works and provide the commission with the authority to sort out any such difficulties that may arise in the future?

These amendments are not accepted.

I am upset and surprised.

The Deputy should not be upset. It is not that serious an issue.

The Minister of State is becoming pugnacious again, which I cannot believe.

Far from it. The proposed amendments are superfluous to the overall thrust of the provisions of section 4. The various procedures to be followed by registered electrical contractors will be specified in detail in the criteria document to be prepared by CER. It should be noted that, as a rule, completion certificates must be issued by contractors for any specified work carried out by them. With reference to what Deputy Ryan said, it cannot be more clear than that. Specified works require a completion certificate. These will be specified by CER and will not include minor matters such as some of the issues raised by the Deputy.

Designated works are those works which, if carried out by a person who is not a registered contractor, will incur an offence which carries a fine. These works will be designated by CER and will be the more complex works which give rise to greater safety concerns.

I accept what the Minister of State said. Will he show me where in the proposed legislation it will be a requirement for an registered electrical contractor who carries out a designated work to issue a completion certificate to the customer?

The related amendments have fallen. There is a certain concern among the people with whom we had discussions. I am sure either the Minister of State or somebody on the other side of the House had discussions with them. If it was not the Minister of State, it might have been the senior Minister or even backbenchers. The same kind of inquiries would have arisen.

These are not unreasonable amendments. They relate to the issues raised with us and which we raised ourselves. Notwithstanding the august position which the Minister holds, it might not be any harm now and again to climb off that horse, walk along the road, tarry a little while and take an amendment on board now and again.

In response to Deputy Ryan, the designated works will always be specified and will therefore also require a completion certificate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 38 to 40, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 41:

In page 12, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:

"(c) circumstances in which a completion certificate may be granted or withheld,”.

I could continue asking the Minister of State questions about where in the legislation it states that designated works are specified works. I do not know if we are beyond that point of going backwards and forwards. May I ask the Minister of State——

No, the Deputy cannot ask the Minister of State a question.

——when did we start legislation on implicitness or where we imply things in legislation?

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 42:

In page 12, to delete lines 48 to 50 and in page 13, to delete lines 1 to 3.

I will not delay the time of the House on this amendment. The intent is to get away from a restriction in the proposed legislation where no designated inspector could carry out works except where he or she is a member of the same registered body of contractors in an association. I question the sense of that. I do not see why it should not be possible for a duly appointed inspector to assess work carried out by someone who belongs to a different industry body. There will be a difficulty in respect of who carries out the inspection when an electrical contractor who is a member of one body moves to another body. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's response.

These lines should not be deleted as it is envisaged that there may be more than one body designated as an electrical safety supervisory body. It is essential to ensure that employees of one designated body should not carry out inspections of the work of members of another designated body. It is ultimately the responsibility of CER to ensure that each designated body and its members carry out their respective responsibilities. It is not intended that one designated body be put in the position of policing another designated body.

I would like to hear from the Minister of State how it is proposed to police the work of a contractor who has moved from one body to another. Why is it necessary to have a system where a member from the same body does the work? Is there not sufficient trust in the industry where the inspection carried out by an alternative body, if there are to be two, would be seen as objective and not biased? Do we need to have a home referee on every occasion for the inspection? Is it not possible in the designation of certain bodies to ensure there is a certain amount of trust and co-operation in the industry in order that one inspector, regardless of who is the electrical contractor, is seen to be above board and correct? It is strange that it has to be regulated in that way.

The ultimate responsibility rests with CER. It is not intended that one designated body would be put in the position of policing another. The authorised officer will primarily inspect the work of unregistered contractors and sometimes the work of its own registered contractors. If a contractor has moved from one body to another, his or her work will be inspected by an authorised officer of the body to which he or she currently belongs.

This matter was discussed in detail on Committee Stage. Does this mean, that because CER may appoint an authorised officer, including the person from RECI or the other body, it has to take responsibility for all the examinations, completion certificates etc. carried out?

CER is, therefore, responsible.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 43:

In page 13, line 39, to delete "€5,000" and substitute "€8,000".

These amendments reflect inflation and, if accepted, would strengthen the legislation. They are an incentive to follow guidelines, instructions and procedures.

The fine of €5,000 is the standard maximum allowed in this case as specified by the Attorney General's office although this maximum may be updated from time to time. It is for the courts to determine the actual amount of the fine, subject to the maximum amount. In respect of the €15,000 fine, this level of fine is viewed as appropriate given the characteristics and the gravity of the offences involved.

Is the amendment being pressed.

No. We are approaching Christmas and we on this side of the House should be magnanimous as well.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 44 not moved.

I move amendment No. 45:

In page 14, line 15, after "works" where it firstly occurs to insert the following:

", such classes to be determined and approved by Dáil Éireann,".

This amendment is similar to an earlier amendment tabled by Deputy Ryan. I have no reason to believe the commission is not competent, having consulted with such persons as it considers appropriate, whoever they might be, and with the consent of the Minister, whoever he or she might be, may by regulation designate a class or classes of electrical works to be designated electrical works. The Minister can do this by regulation.

This goes back to the fundamental argument, the gripe I have had for a long time. I presume it is intended that the regulations will be laid before the House, but there will be no debate in the House and the general wisdom that will determine what those regulations might be will come not from the Opposition or the House, it will come from the Minister by virtue of his regulations. This matter was raised previously by Deputy Ryan. The Minister says it is implied. If he ever goes to court and tells the judge that something was implied, he could have a problem. Perhaps he will look again at that amendment and take into account what Deputy Ryan said on previous amendments in regard to the designated electrical works. This is one way of clarifying one aspect of the matter and it might be to the benefit of all concerned.

The issue of the approval by Dáil Éireann of important developments in ministerial orders has been raised several times today and in the previous debate. I appreciate the Minister of State's portfolio is the Department of Education and Science. Ministerial orders and regulations are laid before the Houses. We receive them or they are left in the Dáil Library for 21 days, but it is difficult for us to keep track of them. Yesterday, for example, we got an extraordinary note from Mr. Toibín, Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, stating that a ministerial order was made transferring a chunk of the Department of the Marine to the Department of Transport but that the transfer was a mistake.

All the fishery harbours, lock, stock and barrel, were transferred to the Department of Transport when that Department took over the great national ports from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Labour Party opposed the break-up of the Department of the Marine in that fashion. The Minister of State who is present and who was a former Minister for the Marine will be heartened to know the Labour Party is dedicated to bringing the Department of the Marine back together again. Those regulations were laid before the Dáil but did not come before the Dáil, which is what Deputy Durkan has been asking for all day.

In the case of the break-up of the marine section of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, we got a new order stating that the fishery harbours are being taken back from the Department of Transport. Deputy Durkan's amendment in which he seeks to insert the words "such classes to be determined and approved by Dáil Éireann" is reasonable and is consistent with the issue raised by him throughout this Bill. I support the amendment.

The provision to which this amendment relates specifically requires not only that a draft of such regulations must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas but also that a positive resolution of each House is required before the regulations may be made. CER has the relevant expertise to make a determination as to which electrical works should be designated as designated works on safety and other grounds. Such technical issues are not appropriate for the consideration of the House.

What does the Minister of State mean by saying that they "are not appropriate for the consideration of the House"? When Members of the Minister of State's party were in opposition, they moaned and groaned on every single issue. Every item that was not held up to their immediate scrutiny was delayed and bushwhacked. When in opposition, they believed it was their right to discuss any subject under the sun in a full-blown debate every morning. They have now forgotten all that but I was here when it happened.

They raised matters they did not even understand.

They still do not understand them, even after spending time on the Government benches. I resent the degree to which the Oireachtas is being by-passed on every legislation. Heretofore, Ministers were anxious to ensure that they were covered in so far as their accountability to the House was concerned. Now, however, a policy has been developed whereby major changes can be made, which can have a profound effect on legislation by virtue of regulations a Minister may think up in a lighter or not so light moment. I am not suggesting that the Minister of State has lighter moments but the extent of the impact of the regulations should be borne in mind. In particular we need to consider how the industry will be affected by the magnitude of regulations which can completely alter the import and impact of the legislation.

I must limit the Deputy to two minutes unless this is his final contribution.

Three quarters of the amendments have gone so this could be my final salvo and I feel another vote coming on.

I wish to give the Minister of State an opportunity to reply at this stage.

I would like him to do so but unfortunately I do not think he has anything to offer. I do not wish to be disrespectful to him but he will not take on board any amendment I move. He is happily consolidated in his position, which is his prerogative. I am merely saying, however, that it would protect current and subsequent Ministers if the amendment was accepted.

Does the Minister of State wish to reply?

I am sorry that I cannot accede to the Deputy's requirements. The Commission for Energy Regulation is the expert body in this matter, not the Members of this House. With due respect to them, we must leave such issues to the experts.

I have heard that point before. I do not know who the experts are but the definition of an expert is important. My definition of an expert is somebody who knows when to call in the experts. The Minister of State should bear that point in mind.

Is the Deputy pressing the amendment?

No, but I am tempted to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 46 not moved.

I move amendment No. 47:

In page 17, lines 32 and 33, to delete all words from and including "(inserted" in line 32 down to and including "2006)” in line 33 and substitute “(inserted by section 5 of)”.

I wish to bring to the attention of Members two typographical errors in the published list of amendments. The end of amendment No. 47 reads "and substitute "(inserted by section 5 of)”. The word “of” should come after the closing bracket. I do not know if that is clear to Members.

It is very clear. May we comment on it?

It has already been discussed with amendment No. 5.

It has but we were not aware of that error.

Presumably the Deputy did not have the opportunity to discuss it in that regard and because of that I will show some leniency.

We did not have the benefit of hindsight at the time. This clearly illustrates the failure of ministerial infallibility, which is something about which I have always had doubts. At long last, we have seen an admission in the House, in writing and even at this late stage, to the effect that a mistake has been made. It is quite true that the whole world has not come to a halt as a result of this but it could. It proves a valuable point, that even Ministers can make mistakes. We have found out at last that they are not infallible. I will sleep contentedly tonight following this admission that Ministers are no longer infallible.

This amendment illustrates that the Bill has been changed drastically.

Correct.

We came in with one Bill but major additional issues have since been introduced. At the start of this debate we wanted energy safety legislation to operate under the aegis of CER. Many of the key issues we have raised, including micro-generators and fuel poverty, should have been included in another major Bill. This demonstrates a lack of joined-up thinking.

Does the Minister of State wish to address those issues because of the typographical error?

It is a technical issue due to an error, which is accepted. There is no more to be said about it.

The Minister of State's humility is acknowledged.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 48 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 are technical alternatives to the same part of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 are technical alternatives to the same part of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 51 and 54 to 56, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 49 to 56, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 49:

In page 18, to delete lines 3 to 10 and substitute the following:

10A.—(1)(a) In the interests of the proper and effective regulation of the electricity and natural gas markets and the formulation of policy applicable to such proper and effective regulation, the Minister may give such general policy directions to the Commission, as he or she considers appropriate, to be followed by the Commission in the exercise of its functions.

(b) Notwithstanding the generality of paragraph (a), such general policy directions may have regard to the following issues—

(i) security of energy supply,

(ii) sustainability of energy supply,

(iii) competitiveness of energy supply, or

(iv) such other matter which the Minister considers appropriate.".

In the first instance, I propose to comment on amendments Nos. 49, 52 and 55. Amendment No. 49 addresses issues raised by Deputy Broughan on Committee Stage. It identifies certain issues such as those captured under the three separate headings on the Department's Green Paper on energy policy, to which the Minister may have regard in any general policy direction given to CER. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list as the Minister will require the necessary flexibility to meet a variety of competing market and regulatory issues and contingencies, some of which may not be easily predicted at this stage. The issues mentioned in the provision are sufficiently broad to meet most if not all contingencies, including the issues of energy security, sustainability, fuel poverty and pricing, as identified by the Deputy.

Amendments Nos. 52 to 55, inclusive, follow on an amendment originally proposed by Deputy Eamon Ryan and from discussions which took place on Committee Stage. It is proposed to increase the minimum number of days within which representations may be made relating to proposed policy directions from the Minister to the CER from 21 to 30 and to require the Minister to submit a copy of the proposed policy direction to the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for consideration. The changes to subsection (5) are consequential to those made to subsection (3) and simply refer to the Minister's obligations under the amended subsection. Given that these incorporate the points raised by Deputies in the majority of their amendments, Opposition amendments Nos. 50, 51, 53 and 54 fall as a necessary consequence of approval of the amendment.

As regards Deputy Broughan's amendment No. 56, the issue of targets for renewable energy within appropriate timeframes is addressed in detail in the Green Paper on energy policy. While the sentiment behind the Deputy's proposal is laudable, the dates proposed are unrealistic and have little grounding in solid data or evidence. Changes in technology, new energy sources and national and international issues are constantly evolving. The CER's gas capacity statement and EirGrid's generation adequacy reports project seven and five years into the future, respectively, which are more realistic timeframes. Business planning to a targeted 34 or 44 years in the future can have little or no concrete footing in present realities and, while we may wish to be aspirational in our goals, we must also be realistic.

A key problem that regularly arises in times of crisis or major developments in the area of energy is the failure by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to set out his objectives in directives. In that context, I welcome what the Minister of State has said in terms of outlining the key objectives which should be set out in any directive from the Minister to the CER.

Some 20 years ago, when the former leader of the Labour Party, Dick Spring, was Minister for Energy, he set out the principles which should guide any coherent energy policy. These principles, which included security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability, remain relevant, so it is good to see provision being made for them in the legislation governing the CER. Therefore, I commend the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on listening to the argument I made in respect of amendment No. 51.

Earlier I made a lengthy contribution on energy poverty and I continue to be unhappy that the Green Paper devoted only one page to the issue, even though it will profoundly affect our constituents over the coming winter. We have to act drastically in light of what has happened in the CER and we will be depending on the fiscal response of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to alleviate the problem. Deloitte & Touche estimates that 20% of the population, or 750,000 people, suffers from energy poverty and research I have conducted for the Labour Party indicates that 250,000 people are profoundly affected and up to 500,000 deeply affected by the problem. Many people were shocked to learn the extent of the energy problem from the professional and academic study conducted by Deloitte & Touche. I urge the Minister of State to reconsider amendment No. 51 with a view to including energy and fuel poverty among the CER's responsibilities. Recent energy price increases have had a severe impact, despite reports from Bord Gáis Éireann and Flogas that home heating oil prices have fallen below the price of gas. Last winter also saw significant increases in the price of home heating oil.

Amendment No. 52 represents an advance on the Bill as originally presented to the House. The extension to the time period for consultations is welcome. In my contribution on behalf of the Labour Party to the review of the Green Paper, I will be arguing strongly for the inclusion of fuel poverty in the final White Paper and any legislation subsequently introduced.

Amendment No. 54 is in line with many of the amendments that Deputy Durkan and I proposed on Committee Stage with regard to laying draft directives before the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources or any future Oireachtas committee on energy. Full discussions on these matters would ensure that Departments could not disappear because of mistaken ministerial orders. The way in which orders are presented as motions to the House and then sent to the library means that it is difficult for Deputies to understand exactly what is happening.

With regard to amendment No. 56, the Green Party's Climate Change Targets Bill 2005 was thought-provoking and useful. The Bill proposed that we would conduct regular examinations and hold full debates on climate change. In terms of energy, we are faced with the fundamental challenges of climate change, which no serious scientist would now dispute, and the depletion of fossil resources. Given that we will have to adapt our economy over coming decades if we are to become sustainable, it is reasonable to set targets. Earlier a young Irish company made representations to Deputies with regard to meeting the target set by the EU for biofuels. A target was set for 2005 of producing 2% of liquid fuels from biofuel but, shamefully, the Government only reached 0.00004%. That young company is trying to rectify the Government's failure to meet the target. We all need targets. For example, Government and Opposition parties have set targets for the number of seats they want to win in the next general election. With regard to this fundamental issue, we will hopefully meet the 2010 EU biofuel target of 5.75%. The Minister recently changed the target for renewable sources of electricity for 2010 from 13.4% to 15%. He has a target of 30% for 2020. He is already setting targets.

Energy issues have very long lead times. Very little can be achieved even in the lifetime of one government and we need to be thinking in terms of seven to ten years in planning to move generation towards renewable sources. We should be looking towards 2030, a quarter of a century from now, or perhaps 2050 to achieve a zero emissions economy as a reasonable ambition for any country. We should be prepared to set targets and review them regularly here. The discussion we had on the Green Party Bill on climate change should be repeated on a regular basis in the remaining months of this Dáil and in future Dáileanna. I urge the Minister of State to accept amendment No. 56 in the spirit in which it was tabled.

I thank the Minister for accepting the proposed intent of my amendment No. 53, which I will not move, and for taking up some of the suggestions made by Deputy Broughan, in particular the proposal to refer any such direction to the Oireachtas joint committee in advance of a decision being made by the Minister, which is a welcome step in the right direction. I hope that the committees of the Houses can grasp the increasing opportunities for us to become involved in discussion on detailed policy issues as they are evolving rather than after the fact, which is often the case in this Chamber.

I commend and thank Deputy Broughan for the intent and purpose of his amendment No. 56, on which I concur with him. Amendment No. 49 indicates the stars by which we navigate in energy policy. The Green Paper is correct in highlighting the three-way algorithm, almost, between environmental considerations, security of supply and economic considerations. Deputy Broughan correctly pointed out that some other social considerations are not covered by the word "competitiveness". It is possible that the word "competitiveness" is too narrow in not considering the social justice issues that can come into the economic equation.

The gravity, scale and import of climate change is such that it supersedes the economic and security of supply issues. In the film "An Inconvenient Truth", the former US Vice-President, Al Gore, accurately portrays balancing the economy on one side and the environment on the other. A clear realisation has been reached that such is the scale and speed of change to the environment that some scientists are now predicting as a result of climate change that we cannot possibly have a healthy economy in those circumstances.

I agree with and commend the British Government and many others in recognising this in their stated energy policies. Everything starts and finishes with climate change targets. Obviously, economic and security of supply considerations must be taken into account. However, the sort of cuts that scientists estimate we must make to address the issue represent the star by which they are guiding themselves. Even if we try to adopt a different mode and try to buy our way out of the issue or ignore it, we can be fairly certain that, within the scale of time in which energy policy applies, the international scientific community will bring us back to that scientific reality. Therefore it makes sense for us to start now rather than wait to be forced into the issue.

The peak in oil production, which will undoubtedly occur within a matter of years rather than decades, requires a similar solution. Today 60% of our energy comes from oil. On a geological basis we know that once peak production has occurred, access to cheap oil will deplete each year by approximately 2% to 2.5% per annum. Coincidentally that equates to the reduction we will need to make if we accept scientific advice on climate change. We will need to make deep cuts in emissions as our part of international co-operation to address the issue. For two reasons coming from different directions we need to follow the same policy.

The fundamental stark issues ahead of us are not given sufficient consideration in the Commission for Energy Regulation or the Government and are not properly recognised in the Green Paper. Regardless of what wording we insert into legislation, we will only start to address the issue when we show real political will and leadership. We need to go beyond the short-term thinking of the next general election towards thinking, as Deputy Broughan outlined, what fundamental changes in energy need to be made over several governments. While that is for another day, I commend the Minister for these changes and I commend Deputy Broughan for his amendment No. 56, which I fully support.

With my colleagues, I welcome the Minister's amendment, reflecting the views expressed on Committee Stage, which again proves my point that we can all help each other out to a lesser or greater extent. Amendment No 49 has the heading "Policy directions to Commission." All along we have been told that the commission is independent. The list of directions, with which I agree, is as follows:

(b) Notwithstanding the generality of paragraph (a), such general policy directions may have regard to the following issues——

(i) security of energy supply, [which is absolutely correct and essential]

(ii) sustainability of energy supply, [which is absolutely correct]

(iii) competitiveness of energy supply, or

(iv) such other matter which the Minister considers appropriate.

I would have thought that some of the things that happened in recent weeks might also have been appropriate. The issues raised by Deputies Broughan and Eamon Ryan and me could have been brought within that area. This comes back to the Minister's wisdom in arriving at a conclusion as to what else should be included.

Arising from the energy price increases of recent weeks and other proposed electricity prices to be implemented in the new year, it is the general consensus that industry cannot sustain them and that some industries will need to relocate away from the country because of the problems that will be presented to them. In those circumstances, the Minister under the heading of policy directions to the commission, should have realised the impact those increases would have on industry, employment etc.

I cannot understand why no regard was had for the economic impact of the regulator's decisions. We have heard all about the need to observe the independence of the regulator and to recognise that the regulator is above politics. Deputy Broughan mentioned the analogy to the Health Service Executive where somebody who is not accountable has taken over and determines policy. This amendment represents an admission by the Minister that policy directions are within his or her remit. Incidentally I notice the words "his or her". When discussing a proposed amendment to another Bill yesterday, the Minister involved deemed that "his or her" was not necessary.

The word "Minister" is gender-neutral.

That is correct.

Debate adjourned.