Estimates for Public Services 2007.

I move the following Supplementary Estimate:

Vote 30 — Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Supplementary Estimate).

That a sum not exceeding €1,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2007, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain grants and sundry grants-in-aid.

I wish to acknowledge Deputy Ó Caoláin's point because this is a complex area in which I would have liked to have given Deputies further details in advance. I hope to follow such a policy in future.

A token Supplementary Estimate is proposed to provide for additional capital expenditure of €16.2 million by Sustainable Energy Ireland under subhead F1, energy conservation — capital. Sufficient capital funds are available within the overall 2007 Vote 30 allocation to fund this additional expenditure. However, as F1 is a grant-in-aid subhead, the funding provision therein may only be increased by means of a Supplementary Estimate approved by the Dáil.

Will we get copies of the Minister's speech?

I have copies to be handed out.

The additional subhead is comprised of €10 million from subhead G1, the information and communications technology programme, and €6.2 million from subhead F3, the energy RTDI programme. The reallocation of funding does not represent a curtailment of plans or any policy change for the ICT or energy RTDI programmes.

In addition to the token Supplementary Estimate, my Department is taking the opportunity to correct an error published in the 2007 Revised Estimates Volume. Subhead F1 current was misallocated €2.457 million above the required amount in the 2007 REV, which should have been allocated to subhead F4, energy efficiency initiatives-Power of One.

The provision of additional funding can be seen as recognition of SEI's success in rolling out key capital programmes. SEI is a relatively new State body established in 2002. It has taken several years to get its programmes up and running. Now that it is ramping up, the capital budget required to fund these programmes must rise. The budgetary allocation to SEI for its programmes in 2007 is being augmented to allow it to meet increased spending proposals on its successful programmes.

SEI's major energy conservation programmes have proven extremely popular. Greener homes and houses of tomorrow account for most of the additional spending proposals. On 3 September, I announced that the greener homes scheme had fulfilled its initial objectives of stimulating demand for renewable technologies in homes and of assisting the fledgling renewable heat industry. The scheme surpassed its targets ahead of schedule. Since its inception, more than 16,000 grants have been awarded under greener homes. There has been a dramatic increase in renewable technology suppliers and a tenfold expansion in the number of renewable energy products available on the market.

By August of this year, approved applications had reached the €47 million five-year capital sanction for the scheme. Rather than end the scheme, I launched a new phase with revised terms and conditions to consolidate the industry and help more householders achieve their desire to embrace renewable heat technologies. Consequently, the grant levels are being reduced for some areas where it is clear that the market has reached a level of maturity to allow it to continue at a lower rate of support. Other grant levels remain unchanged.

Greener homes has a budget of €20 million in 2007, accounting for the majority of SEI's allocated capital budget of €31 million. The success of greener homes means that the 2007 allocation is not sufficient to pay all grant approved householders who have installed solar panels, heat pumps, wool pellet boilers and other supported technologies. An additional €9 million is needed in this calendar year to cover these grant approvals. A further €1 million is needed for the ReHeat scheme, which grant aids renewable heat technologies for schools, hospitals and community groups.

The house of tomorrow programme is another success story. Last month, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, published for consultation draft new building regulations that will see new housing some 40% more energy efficient than housing built under current regulations. Carbon emissions will be similarly reduced by 40%. Our renewable heat obligations require all new buildings to have renewable heat components.

These major steps forward in energy and CO2 performance standards have been made possible by the house of tomorrow programme. Successor programmes will raise these performance standards even further to prepare the industry for a further planned revision of the building regulations in 2010, which will see energy performance standards some 60% better than at present.

House of tomorrow has achieved its objective by funding developers to build a national network of replicable model examples of more sustainable energy house building practices. Developments funded under house of tomorrow can regularly be seen in the property supplements. The high energy performance standards of these developments are seen as a strong marketing tool. In this way, house of tomorrow has served as a catalyst of change in the building industry and consumer market and has delivered the persuasive evidence base needed to support the political decision to revise the building regulations making mandatory the standards set by house of tomorrow.

House of tomorrow has a budget allocation of some €5 million in 2007. However, the nature of the programme means that binding commitments were entered into by SEI as far back as 2004 when the developers first sought planning permission. An additional allocation of €4 million in 2007 is needed for SEI to meet its legally binding commitments under the programme.

The low income housing programme was developed several years ago to help establish and implement a national plan of action to systematically address the problem of fuel poverty. The warmer homes scheme is SEI's main implementing measure under the programme. The warmer homes scheme aims to improve the energy efficiency and comfort conditions of homes occupied by low income households and to establish the systems and grow the capacity in Ireland to install such measures. The scheme adopts a social employment delivery model in which regional community-based organisations acquire and apply the skills to carry out works, including attic and cavity wall insulation, draught proofing, fitting of boiler lagging jackets, energy efficient lighting and energy advice. The low income housing programme has a budget allocation of €1.6 million but an additional €1 million is needed in 2007 if SEI is to meet its commitments under this programme.

The other main additional demands for 2007 funding are the building energy rating project and the industries programme. Under the European Communities (Energy Performance of Buildings) Regulations 2006, SEI is the issuing authority for building energy rating certificates. This new responsibility for SEI in 2007 required the agency to develop and manage the administrative and information technology systems necessary to issue energy performance certificates for every new residential and commercial building and each existing building that is put up for sale or rent. These systems have been designed by SEI to become self-financing by 2010 but significant start up costs are being incurred at present. SEI has a small budget of €500,000 in 2007 and will need an additional €500,000.

Finally, SEI's industries programme provides energy management advice services to businesses, including energy audits of commercial premises. These advice services help businesses save approximately 20% on their energy costs and are a significant contributor to our efforts to reduce energy demand in the economy. SEI branched out its business advice services in 2007 to include small and medium enterprises. This is proving very successful to date but, because it is leading to increased costs for SEI, an additional €500,000 is needed in 2007.

I am releasing €10 million from the information and communications technology programme. This funding has been identified from an unspent allocation relating to the national broadband scheme. While significant progress has been made to date on the procurement process for this scheme, no substantial expenditure will be incurred until some time after a service provider has been appointed. This is expected to happen during the second quarter of 2008. In addition, capital programmes such as metropolitan area networks are funded on a multi-annual basis which allows flexibility in terms of the rescheduling of payments.

I am also releasing €6.2 million from the energy research and technical development and innovation programme. Energy research and innovation is a key component of the science, technology and innovation strategy, and the National Development Plan 2007-13. This reflects the importance of the energy sector and the imperative for the economy and society to deliver sustainable, competitive and secure energy. The national development plan provides an envelope of €149 million for energy research and innovation to 2013. Under the energy policy framework and the programme for Government, we are setting an ambitious and targeted agenda for energy research which will ensure this multi-annual funding is deployed to best effect. The Irish Energy Research Council is preparing the energy research strategy for 2008 to 2013, which will be submitted to me by the end of this year. The strategy will advise on the priority areas and technologies most appropriate to the national energy research effort in the short to medium term.

The Government has already made a firm commitment to support the accelerated development of ocean energy, where Ireland has a natural advantage and needs to be ahead of the international development curve. The Government has also decided to amend the remit of Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, to include a third research pillar in the area of sustainable energy and energy efficient technologies. It is clear that we need to systematically build capacity in energy research and underpin energy and climate change policy with the requisite scientific endeavour. My Department's Charles Parsons' energy research awards are already funding research projects over seven years from 2007 totalling €20 million. Discussions are under way between my Department, SFI and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to agree on the foundation's role and remit in energy research. SFI will bring its proven success and expertise to the energy area. I see SFI as having a pivotal role in the critical task of ramping up our national research capability in this sphere. In that context, we are also discussing the transfer to the foundation of the Charles Parsons awards as a logical and sensible step.

We are putting in place all the essential building blocks for energy research and innovation to expand from 2008. The redeployment of the remaining 2007 funding to SEI programmes is a prudent use of resources and reflects the multi-annual flexibility of the overall energy research envelope. I have outlined the details of the token Supplementary Estimate, the costs of which can be met from within my Department's Vote. I hope Deputies will agree that the proposals are reasonable and I ask that the House approves this Supplementary Estimate.

I welcome the opportunity to raise questions on this issue before we vote on it. However, on the basis of what the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has said, I have real concerns about whether Fine Gael can support this Supplementary Estimate. The proposals under discussion would provide an additional capital expenditure of €16.2 million to Sustainable Energy Ireland under the heading of energy conservation in order to meet grant aid commitments which have already been agreed by the agency.

Fine Gael is supportive of the greener homes initiative, the reheat scheme outlined by the Minister, the house of tomorrow programme and the warmer homes scheme. These represent positive developments and deserve funding. However, an issue arises in terms of how the funding will be provided. This discussion should not be redirected towards accusations that Fine Gael or any other party has reservations about energy conservation or the merits of greener homes schemes.

We need to clarify three issues with the Minister before we can support this Supplementary Estimate. We want an explanation as to how Sustainable Energy Ireland was able to write cheques that it could not cash. Why did SEI overspend to such a level during 2007? We also need to clarify the source of the additional €16.2 million. Unfortunately, the Minister's contribution failed to set out the source of €10 million of that allocation. He instead gave a general statement regarding the MANs programme and multi-annual funding. I cannot accept that €10 million can be taken from a programme without negative consequences. The third and most important issue concerns an explanation on how the Minister can transfer money from a completely different budget area and not expect a negative impact on other capital investment programmes.

With regard to SEI's overspending, the agency was given a total capital allocation of €17.5 million in the original budget Estimate, which represented a 7% increase on 2006. As a result of additional funding in the 2007 budget and a re-allocation of some energy capital within the Department, the capital figure in the revised Estimate increased to €31 million. The brief we received from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources states that despite the increase it was clear to the Department from the start of the year that SEI would be challenged on capital funding for 2007. Therefore, even though I would like to have agreed with Deputy Burton when she commented during the Order of Business on the humility of the Minister to admit his Department got the figures wrong, the facts do not bear that out. His Department tells me that it knew from the beginning of the year — to be fair to Deputy Eamon Ryan, he was not Minister at the time — that capital funding problems would arise for SEI when the budget was allocated. The obvious issue that somebody in my position must raise is that, if it was known that SEI was not receiving sufficient money, either the plans for capital expenditure must be reduced or more money must be allocated at the start of the year. One cannot allow a situation wherein the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, gives Sustainable Energy Ireland a wink and a nod at the start of the year while acknowledging that it is underfunded by 50%. We are talking about giving €16.2 million in addition to capital spending of €31 million.

Did the Government and the Department give SEI permission to spend money that it did not have or was SEI spending money based on the promise of this Supplementary Estimate? If so, did the Minister and the Department know where the extra €16 million would come from? If they knew, why did they allocate money to other sections in the Department when they knew they would take it away at the end of the year? This applies particularly to the €10 million that I will refer to shortly.

The €31 million revised capital allocation is now exhausted. The brief states: "more money is needed to deliver on SEI's capital programmes if we are to avoid severe consequences". What does this mean? Reading between the lines it means the money has already been spent so there will be severe consequences if we cannot meet these obligations. The projected shortfall is €16.2 million and this is not a small amount of money — it is more than 50% of the total allocation given at the start of the year.

The past two or three weeks in the Dáil have seen so-called health cuts or more accurately a refusal to give the Health Service Executive an allocation of money to allow it to provide basic health services.

Regarding the State's most basic responsibility of providing people with health care the Government has said refused an increased allocation of funds for the HSE, yet a greener homes scheme and other worthy schemes have gone way over budget and we are willing to take money from an information and communications technology budget, effectively from another Department, to bail out this scheme. I have no problem with extra money being sourced from the Department of Finance or with money being found within the energy budget because this would mean the Minister is prioritising within the heading of energy conservation and putting money into the areas in which he feels it will be best spent and will give value. I will talk about the €6.2 million in this regard in a moment. Without a clearer explanation than that offered I do not find it acceptable to take money allocated for the roll-out of broadband, which has had a poor record under this Government for the past five or six years, and put it into a totally unconnected area.

We need clarification on where the money is to come from. We have received a reasonable explanation from the Minister on the €6.2 million, which is to come from energy research and technological development and innovation, RTDI, programmes, and I thank him for that. It seems extraordinary that the original estimate for energy RTDI, after the budget, was approximately €7 million, similar to the figure for 2006. The pre-budget figure was €14 million so, clearly, money has been transferred from energy RTDI research and development programmes to Sustainable Energy Ireland. I do not have a problem with that because it means money is going to areas that are expanding and working well, like the greener homes scheme, because people are buying into them. The greener homes scheme is a success story and the energy budget should be adjusted to reflect this.

The other €10 million is the area that causes me concern. Last week during Question Time the Minister said that this is coming from a multi-annual programme in the telecommunications area, particularly from the MANS and other developments. He said that the funds were not fixed on any one year which allows us flexibility in terms of payment to allow the transfer of funds. The Minister is, more or less, saying the same today. Are we expected to believe that one can take €10 million that was presumably allocated for phase two of the roll-out of the metropolitan area networks, MANs, programme and expect no consequences in terms of capital spending? That programme was to put cable around 90 new towns that do not have sufficient broadband connectivity. Without detailed answers as to whether there will be negative consequences for the MANs programme or the roll-out of broadband generally, we cannot support taking €10 million from that fund and putting it into the energy budget.

I have two papers here, one of which is the Minister's speech this morning that outlines the need for this token Supplementary Estimate and the other is a press release from 4 September. The two are either entirely contradictory or are about different things. In his press release the Minister states that he is ending phase one of the scheme because money for the greener homes scheme has run out. The phase described in the press release describes a slimmed down version of the greener homes scheme, phase two. The Minister said: "I will provide additional funding for this new phase via the Supplementary Estimates process when the Dáil resumes". However, the Minister's speech today suggests there is no money for phase two and, as far as I can see, the difference between these statements is bare-faced flim-flam.

I want to give the Minister a chance to reply on this, and I am delighted there will be questions at the end, because he is a new Minister. He is also a politician of considerable experience, however, and it seems that this represents money that has been brought together to pay for debts already accrued.

I may be mistaken in how I have added up the numbers but it appears this money is not for a new scheme but for outstanding debts that must be paid. The Minister said in his press release that there would be a Supplementary Estimate but this is merely a token Supplementary Estimate. There is a considerable difference because a real Supplementary Estimate sees additional funding for a Department to fund, in this case, an important environmental measure.

The greener homes scheme ran out of money simply because of the incompetence of the Government — the initial allocation was too small and now it is time to catch up. Unfortunately, the Government now proposes to remove vital funds from essential infrastructural development in telecommunications to shore up Sustainable Energy Ireland to allow it to deliver on its current commitments. The Government is very good at forcing other people to stay within budget. The Minister for Health and Children puts the squeeze on the HSE to stay within budget, a staffing freeze results and, despite her promises, patients pay the price. However, when the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, needs a fig leaf to cover his failure to tackle a funding shortfall he is allowed raid an essential infrastructure programme with impunity.

The briefing note we received pointed out that it would be proposed that €10 million be diverted from the technology and communications budget and €6.2 million from the energy research budget. Both of these areas are essential. In terms of Ireland's capability to keep up, they are essential economically, socially and environmentally. However, both budgets are being raided to get the Minister out of a hole. It is not as if the Government is not aware of the problem, just as the previous Government was aware of it.

The overall budget sought by SEI was €42.95 million for 2007. At the time it was on a very small budget, which had been increased, partly by removing funding from other areas of the energy budget. Since SEI looked for this funding coming into 2007, an important event, a general election, took place and all during the summer negotiations took place between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. Any reasonable person would expect, therefore, that a simple obvious environmental issue such as the shortfall for the greener homes scheme would have been addressed during those negotiations, but it was not.

When I wrote my notes for this debate, I did not realise this change impacted on so many schemes, not just the greener homes scheme. All the schemes have seen a shortfall. A party going into Government should have dealt with the issue, but it did not. Either through naivety or blind ambition on the part of the Green Party, nothing was done. That is the reason we are debating the issue now.

The new Minister presided over the collapse of the scheme which was to have lasted five years and then promised in his press release to introduce a penny-pinching version of the scheme. He did not, of course, mention the fact he intended to raid the communications area to do this. More importantly, he did not indicate that he was raiding the communications sector, not for the new scheme, but to pay for the old one.

The Minister can advise me if I am wrong, but it is clear there is no money for ring-fencing of the new scheme. This Supplementary Estimate is not for new projects, but to pay for projects to which we are already committed. If I am wrong, will the Minister tell me how many of the 8,000 applicants who have not yet been given their money under the old scheme will get it under the new scheme. In addition, how many people will get funding from this Supplementary Estimate under the new scheme?

Yesterday I attended an IBEC conference on next generation networks addressed by the Minister. It is hypocrisy on the part of the Minister to address that conference and call for significant investment for next generation broadband, and come into the House today and deplete the funding already allocated for telecommunications technology. He seems to have developed a see no evil approach on the issue of this generation broadband roll-out, as apart from any future generation broadband. He gives out the statistics, but there are still major shortcomings in terms of access and take-up of broadband.

I got a message from an Eircom customer the other day who said it is an utter disgrace in this wonderful little country of ours, with its so-called booming economy, that every household in the country cannot receive broadband. The customer had been speaking to Eircom, but was disappointed with the response. One would expect that the company that provides the services would be able to come up with a better answer than, "I don't know why it doesn't work". This anecdote demonstrates there is still considerable frustration on the part of customers and we still have major blackspots. The fact the Minister intends removing funding from that area of his responsibility raises questions about his overall approach to the management of his Department. Despite the fact there has been some catch up, we are not performing well on broadband. There is no room for complacency and definitely no room for money to be withdrawn.

The message at the conference yesterday was very clear. We need sustained public and private investment and certainty on the issue. People involved in the industry who are coping with technological and sometimes bewildering change want certainty on broadband. It is not just about industry but also about education, health care and community development. All of these areas are dependent on broadband and other forms of advancing communications technology. We want certainty, but instead we are getting a change, with €10 million to be removed from a particular budget overnight. This money is not going for a new scheme, but to pay bills that have been run up in what seems a profligate manner, despite the fact it appears to be going to good causes.

I have concerns about cutting back the energy research budget. It may be painful for the Minister to hear this, but when speaking as a Member of the Opposition on the Estimates last year he expressed concern at the small scale of the budget allocation. If we do not have energy research, we will not be able to meet the very ambitious commitments we have made both internationally and in the Government programme. We need ongoing research in terms of renewables and energy. We do not need this type of incompetence and I am extremely concerned about it. We must ensure that bills are paid, but this is not the way to do it.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the Supplementary Estimate. I agree with my colleague, Deputy Coveney, that the Minister is going the wrong way about trying to provide additional capital expenditure of €16.2 million for Sustainable Energy Ireland. What he proposes sets a dangerous precedent and is not a road we should take.

I take particular issue with the reduction of €10 million from the information and communications programme. This will badly affect the roll-out of broadband throughout the country. The €6.2 million relating to the energy programme concerns an energy research programme and, therefore, it is in order for that funding to be passed to Sustainable Energy Ireland. However, the transfer of €10 million from the roll-out of broadband is a serious concern.

I welcome the Minister's introduction of the new greener homes scheme, the warmer homes scheme and the house of tomorrow programme, which are a great success. The greener homes scheme provides assistance to homeowners who intend to purchase a new renewable energy heating system for either a new or existing home. Throughout the years we have been too reliant on fossil fuels, which are a limited resource and cause emissions harmful to the environment. These new schemes are the way forward. I welcome the grant support available to homeowners to make their homes greener and will advertise this support to my constituents in Dublin North-East.

On the issue of broadband, the Government has neglected rural Ireland by underfunding the broadband programme. The Minister's programme in this regard is not properly thought out and will not solve the urban and rural digital divide. Earlier this year the Government scrapped the rural broadband scheme. The abandonment of the scheme shows the Minister's utter contempt for people living in rural Ireland. The group broadband scheme, not unlike the group water scheme, meant towns were offered up to 50% of the cost of rolling out broadband capacity in their area. Towns only qualified for broadband funding under this scheme if they identified 30 people interested in getting broadband in their homes and managed to find a service provider. Otherwise, the Government would not provide the funding to help them get connected to a broadband network.

The failure of that scheme lies squarely at the feet of the Minister's predecessor and the previous Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Administration. We must learn from that failure and ensure that rural areas are connected to broadband. We saw from the previous scheme that only 7,200 subscribers signed up out of the potential 400,000. We must re-examine the lessons to be learned from that scheme and ensure the Government drives demand by supplying a broadband infrastructure at an affordable cost, thus encouraging customers to sign up for that scheme.

How does this Government expect people to decentralise from the city, particularly if they will not have access to the Internet when they move from the city? The Government has wasted more than three years and more than €5 million on this group broadband scheme. A new scheme has been introduced and I hope lessons can be learned from that.

The Minister has overall responsibility for ensuring we have a full national roll-out of adequate broadband infrastructure. If the Government begins to show the same commitment and determination to the provision of broadband as one of his predecessors showed towards electronic voting, the country will have a state of the art broadband service serving both the domestic and commercial sectors.

Will the Minister go back to his Department and look to raise the additional €10 million needed for Sustainable Energy Ireland through another channel? Taking this money from the information and communications technology programme sets a bad precedent. I ask the Minister to take the issue of broadband services in rural areas seriously and roll out broadband throughout the country.

I want to be associated with the comments of Deputy Coveney in underlining our full support for the greener homes scheme, which we support. I do not want this debate to be twisted to suggest we are not committed to that scheme. We are disappointed by the Minister's emerging plans to slim down that scheme if not now, next year.

It is interesting that the Minister is alone in the Chamber without any Cabinet Ministers or Deputies on the benches behind him. In many ways that shows the interest of his Government colleagues in the importance of energy conservation. If the Minister does not know it, I also point out that Fingal County Council was one of the first councils to introduce extensive and stringent building control measures to improve energy——

Green Party councillors introduced them.

——at the behest of the Green Party councillors and with my strong casting vote, for which they were very grateful at the time. The Minister should not suggest that we are not committed to energy conservation. We have the record to prove it.

I understand that Ministers will have to adjust their budgets. The world does not work in 12 month accountancy periods and from time to time Ministers will have to make budgetary adjustments, which I accept. However, I cannot accept plans to remove €10 million from the provision for broadband. It seems the Minister is not so much the Minister for energy and communications as the Heineken Minister, the Minister for green energy who, perhaps, is not that interested in communications.

The MANs were mentioned earlier. The MANs are a disgrace. I do not know how much the Minister has spent on the MANs. I have been given different figures — €65 million, €90 million — but as far as I can understand approximately €90 million has been spent on 65 towns with only two, three or four customers. The amount of money that has been wasted on the MANs is a disgrace on the level of PPARS.

We need proper leadership on broadband from the Government. The MANs scheme is not working and because of that we are falling behind. We are far behind other countries in terms of broadband services. We even falsify our statistics by including mobile broadband with fixed broadband, which we should not do. In fixed broadband, which is what matters, we are behind Slovakia and Hungary and because of that we are losing competitiveness and foreign direct investment and we will be behind the pack yet again when it comes to next generation networks. The Minister does not appear to care about that or understand it. The fact that he is prepared to take €10 million off the budget concerns me and people in business and enterprise. I am concerned that the Minister is contributing directly to our falling competitiveness and our fall-off in foreign direct investment.

This is also another example of bad Government planning, financial unaccountability, overspending and, once again, the making of financial commitments by Government agencies which they then cannot fulfil. We have to draw a line at some point and no longer tolerate agencies overspending or entertain Ministers who come in here looking for more money because they have not planned their budgets.

I refer particularly to Deputy Coveney's comments about the Health Service Executive. The Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, says the HSE must stay within its budget yet on the other wing of the Government a Minister is saying that agencies can overspend their budgets and that money can be taken off the provision for infrastructure. In addition, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, says the one area he will not cut is infrastructure. Three wings of the Government appear to be flying in different directions and as a result the people are being let down, the taxpayer is being ripped off and the country will lose out as a result.

There is hypocrisy and a lack of direction from the Government. Fianna Fáil is committed to infrastructure. The Green Party Ministers want to cut infrastructure to bail out overspending agencies and the Progressive Democrats want to make agencies stay within their budgets. That is not a Government. It is some sort of camel ragtag coalition that does not deserve to sit on the opposite side of the House. The Minister is undermining broadband and infrastructure, which will cost us in the long term. This is another example of Government overspending and mismanagement.

Given what I have heard today and from other speakers, it may be necessary for Fine Gael to take a stand on this issue. We will not let the Minister paint us as being opposed to greener home schemes because we are not. The Minister is the one who mismanaged the scheme, the one who had it slimmed down. We are standing up for consistency in Government, proper planning and investment in infrastructure.

I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this issue. I congratulate the Minister opposite as this is the first occasion on which I have the opportunity to do so in an official capacity. Long before the last general election I predicted that he would be in that position among the happy hunting ground of Fianna Fáil. He did not agree with me at the time but it has happened.

I have every sympathy for the Minister who now finds himself in the position were he is the bearer of bad news. The election came and went. There was much hype beforehand about the economy being in safe hands, with plenty of money to spend on capital and current issues but now we come to the time for surgical intervention and the scalpel has come out, although not in the same manner it did after the 2002 general election. It started off with a scalpel but a larger instrument is being used — the hatchet.

It is regrettable the Minister has found it necessary to slash the budget for the greener homes scheme. Almost all headings have been cut by between 40% and 50%, which is a cruel blow at a time when much time, energy, focus and interest was put on the reason to conserve energy, reduce dependency on fossil fuels and all that goes with it. It is counter to what has been heretofore Fianna Fáil Government policy, which was that it was totally committed to fuel efficiencies and reducing the dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Long before Departments became immersed in this theory we were all involved in promoting the notion of heat conservation and efficiency in modern buildings and put it into effect at local level. That is in contrast with the Government which has allowed a situation where foundations have been poured in the past 12 months for houses that will require future grant aid to comply with the regulations. The problem that now unfolds, unfortunately, is one for the Minister. Obviously, his Fianna Fáil colleagues in Government made him an offer he could not refuse and he was told to cut or else. That is what he did and I am sorry he did that.

The previous speakers raised the issue of broadband. I would have hoped that area would have required a different attitude, a new appraisal and a departure from what had been tried previously and failed. The Minister is probably saying that is what he is about to do but that is not the case because whether we like it or not, broadband availability here is appalling. This is the result of one mistake after another in the Department. I cannot understand how anyone can see merit in the reduction of funding in that area when this country is crying out for advances in this field. We reached the bottom of the scale a long time ago and have failed miserably since to compete in Europe, where our business sector is suffering from a lack of competitiveness in the area because the responsible Department did not take the necessary measures on time. At a time when the world economy is based on technology, when the e-world is central to business, it is appalling that we, who were at the leading edge 15 years ago in this area, are now floundering with the other back-markers. It is a sad end to what once looked like a glorious future.

The Acting Chairman is asking me to wind up. I do not know if he is referring to fishing or to the winding up of the telecommunications industry in this country. Far from a Revised Estimate, we are talking about a cut that the unfortunate Minister has been forced to carry out by his Fianna Fáil colleagues in government.

In the Minister's speech, one of the programmes mentioned includes advice to businesses, including energy audits of commercial premises. These advice services help businesses save approximately 20% of their energy costs and are a significant contributor to our efforts to reduce energy demand in the economy. I fully support such practices and Sustainable Energy Ireland should engage in more of such activity because there is a dual benefit: we save energy while becoming more efficient. I asked a question yesterday on the tourism industry and how such advice can be expanded to assist hotels to save energy. The reply stated that 50 Irish hotels are engaged in this practice. If I was running a business and someone told me that if I follow a certain practice, I will save 20% of my energy costs, I would be happy to pay a fee for such advice. In this Estimate however, the Minister seeks a further €500,000 from now to the end of the year to fund a service that is helping business while helping energy conservation. We seem to have gone mad in granting aid to people to help them to save money in their businesses. By all means give them the service but sometimes we should ask people to contribute for this service.

Likewise, we are going to provide another €5 million to encourage developers to produce model houses to save energy. The last people who need assistance are developers. We have gone mad. To do things that will help us all, particularly the person buying the house, we are paying grants to developers to develop a model of a house that will save the purchaser money. The last people who need grant assistance from the State are developers. These people have made an absolute fortune at the expense of first-time house buyers in particular. We are on a merry-go-round, with a valuable organisation like Sustainable Energy Ireland engaging in every grant we can think of instead of building an advice system to help people save money in their businesses, make Ireland more competitive and reduce emissions.

I support the other speakers on what has been said about taking money from the introduction of a national broadband scheme. It is a scandal.

Is there an audit of the value for money of the metropolitan area network scheme under way at present which will present its results before the end of the year? Is it appropriate in the absence of the results of that audit to cut funding by €10 million?

Is the Minister rowing back on phase two of the metropolitan area network scheme, where 90 towns have been promised metropolitan area networks? How does that fit into the new broadband strategy that the Minister will unveil in 2008?

Will the Minister give detailed figures to break down the €10 million coming from the communications and information technology budget? Does it all come from metropolitan area networks or is it money left over from group broadband schemes that have been abandoned? We have a detailed breakdown of the money coming from the energy RTDI programmes but no breakdown of the €10 million. Is it a global figure for unspent money? Why is it unspent considering our position in terms of broadband roll out?

The budget allocation at the start of the year for the energy RTDI programme was €7.1 million. Now we are transferring €6.2 million from that budget, leaving little or nothing for research and development in the energy area under the Minister's portfolio. Is that correct? If so, where is the Department getting its money for research and development in renewable energy for 2007?

This is not a row-back in any sense and there is no change in Government policy on metropolitan area networks. We will continue to evolve and look at what we are doing in broadband because, as the Deputy should be aware, this area is changing rapidly.

The first question was about the audit.

I will await the audit and then we will act on it. This does not relate to the value for money audit. We must continually audit what is happening with the metropolitan area networks and broadband because the volume of transactions on the networks is doubling every year. The technologies that are coming in are changing completely. There is an utterly different environment in broadband competitiveness than was the case a year ago. We do not manage based on the budget a year ago, we look at what is evolving.

Is it not appropriate to make expenditure decisions based on the audit?

Yes but there is an ongoing audit. We do not just wait for someone to audit the system, we keep in touch with what is happening and where the budget is going and we manage it.

I made a political decision that in circumstances where there are difficulties, it makes sense to manage them internally at a time when other Departments might have their own difficulties. I said I would not ask the Department of Finance to sort this out, that I would manage it internally. That was easier because of two developments.

First, in answer to the Deputy's question as to the exact money involved, €10 million was allocated for the national broadband scheme but it was not due to be spent this year because it has taken slightly longer than we thought to set it up. There was also a knock-on effect on MANs and the budget was not exactly as it had been. There was an increase in expenditure so we had to review that. However, this was in no way a change of broadband policy. It was an example of using our budget wisely because those programmes are multi-annual, where spending does not necessarily occur in one year and long-term investment decisions are involved. The MANs is a long-term investment because, in the long run, fibre is the way this country will go. There will not be an immediate effect but I was faced with an immediate issue relating to payments for schools to install a boiler system or to lower income housing schemes that could benefit from proper grant insulation.

What about schools getting broadband?

We will continue to cover the house of tomorrow schemes and, at the same time, continue the national broadband scheme because the majority of the expenditure will occur in 2008 rather than 2007 and that allows us to prudently manage our affairs to meet budget lines.

Deputy Coveney asked why the situation was changing. It is because we are dealing with the Irish public. These were demand-led schemes for which we could not predict the exact amount.

Is it like the drug budgeting scheme, which is also demand led? The Minister for Health and Children has taken a totally different approach to the budget for that scheme, meaning there will be no Supplementary Estimate in that regard.

This is a crucial area of public policy. Although Deputy Barrett does not believe in the schemes, I am not going to say Fine Gael, as a whole, does not. Fine Gael dealt with the issue well enough but Deputy Barrett seems to doubt the benefits of the house of tomorrow scheme and others. These schemes are beneficial because they turn our economy to a new energy future. One of the reasons demand increased is that energy prices increased. In spring this year, there was a significant increase in demand under the greener homes scheme and a higher percentage of applications were turned into grant commitments than previously.

That is not the issue. We have only seven minutes left.

I am answering the Deputy's key question, which was on why I could not have predicted this a year ago. One cannot predict demand exactly.

The Minister predicted it. His own Department predicted it and the Minister should not twist the truth.

One of the reasons demand for other schemes increased is that the house of tomorrow schemes, a significant commitment, were multi-annual programmes but one is often dealing with builders. The scheme does support the building industry and that may be something for which one could criticise it but construction accounts for one quarter of our economy.

Developers do not need grants.

They need laws, not grants.

To make the necessary reductions in energy use, we need the construction industry to change dramatically. That is why we went into Government and fundamentally changed the building regulations. It will not be easy to bring about change as it requires every single builder in this country to change the way they build.

Where is the research coming from?

It requires examples of best practice and that was achieved under the house of tomorrow scheme. Fine Gael may not agree with that scheme and may disagree with turning the building industry towards a clean energy future but that is what we are doing.

I have given the Minister the Fine Gael position.

Deputy Barrett disagrees. Fine Gael should get its party line straight.

I said regulation was required.

There is only a small amount of time.

The Minister said he had made choices but that is not the case. The Minister had no choice but to pay the bills. People had sent in bills and the Minister had to pay them. It is not a matter of choice.

The Minister has egg on his face.

I have the highest regard for all Departments of the Civil Service, and I imagine the Minister's Department excels, but how did its financial management fail to keep pace with demand? We cannot have demand-led schemes in all areas, whose need we have to meet whatever the circumstances, and that is what financial management and forecasting is all about. Can the Minister explain how this went so badly wrong?

I am sorry to keep going but the Minister will answer at length and I have only one bite at the issue. Where is the funding the Minister promised for phase 2 of the greener homes scheme? I have added up the figures and cannot find the answer. A tiny portion remains unaccounted for but I assume that is not the amount to which the Minister refers because it would make no sense at all. He said the money in the greener homes scheme was to pay people who have already installed. That is not phase 1 but phase 2.

One can gloss over these issues or one can explore them. Money was allocated for the broadband programme to the tune of €10 million, which is big bucks. It was allocated for 2007 because broadband was an essential infrastructural requirement for modern Ireland. Why did it not go ahead? What went wrong so that this money can now be siphoned off to pay the bills run up by Sustainable Energy Ireland? I imagine the Comptroller and Auditor General will also have an interest in this but I would like to know.

The question I asked of the Minister is a political question, because it has nothing to do with managing the Department. Why was this issue not dealt with during the negotiations for Government? This is the bedrock of Green Party thinking and during those discussions it had all the resources of Departments, in particular the Department of Finance, to call on. Any Opposition politician tracking this would have known a problem was emerging so why was it not dealt with in those negotiations so that we would not be where we are today, stealing from one area of the Department to put into another as an exercise in crisis management?

There are various choices and Deputy McManus will have been faced with similar choices. She could have stopped the scheme.

The bills have already been run up.

Not in every case.

An amount of €1 million has been spent.

There are many cases, such as the lower income housing scheme and the reheat scheme, which goes towards school and other community projects, where there was a choice as to whether to continue.

There have been many cuts.

For clarification, is the Minister saying that, in every area other than the one on which the sum of €1 million was spent, he did not have a choice?

No — there was a choice. We could have kept the schemes going as they were and that, I understand, has been the Labour Party position up to this point.

What is the Minister talking about? He cannot even manage the scheme for which he has responsibility.

One of my aims was to provide continuity. One should not stop-start an industry by building up a supply chain and suddenly, overnight, drop it off a cliff.

So does the Minister oppose the cuts?

I chose to continue, having spent the first €47 million.

Has the Minister spent €47 million?

I did not ask that question.

I am answering the Deputy's question as to what choice there was.

I want Deputy Durkan and Deputy Varadkar to have an opportunity to ask a question.

I said there was no choice. I asked why the financial management was so poor that the Minister ended up with no choice.

I had plenty of choice.

We have very little time so I ask the Minister to respond to the question that was originally asked.

The choice was taken to manage the funding so that we could continue the greener home scheme, albeit, in certain cases, at a reduced level, which I believed was correct in view of the fact that technology had developed to a level where it could stand up on its own.

How much funding is there for phase 2?

I want Deputies and Varadkar and Durkan to ask very short questions.

I asked an essential question.

We have two minutes.

I asked a very essential question and I need an answer. How much of the money in these Estimates is going to phase 2 of the greener homes scheme?

One cannot spend the money for these schemes on the day an application comes in. There is an ongoing commitment and certain applications will come through next year relating to phase 1 while certain others will relate to phase 2. One cannot separate the two — we are not buying sweets but major building projects and they take time. It is a multi-annual programme which requires continuity.

I have two simple questions which will take me 30 seconds. I will get the answer in two words if the Minister obliges me. First, in the briefing note from the Minister's Department, it states very clearly that, despite this increase, it was clear to the Department from the start of the year that SEI was going to be challenged on capital funding in 2007. Does the Minister stand over that statement?

My second question relates to MANs. Does the Minister intend to effectively sell them to a post-Eircom entity and agree to higher technology prices as a result?

The Minister said he decided to carry out these minor economies from within his own Department. Was that in response to a memo from the Department of Finance? Did he contact that Department to indicate that he proposed to make certain reductions in his own budget? Did he wait to hear the laughter coming from inside that Department at the suggestion from his own?

SEI has done a fantastic job in managing the whole range of heating schemes. There were and will continue to be demands on it, but we are learning. It is providing a first class service for the public, which I decided to support by continuing the grant schemes established here. We will continue to amend, extend and change as we see fit. It is my job to manage the budget on the public's behalf in order to achieve reductions. We will attempt to achieve social justice in any further schemes we might develop.

Who initiated the cuts?

We will also seek to reduce carbon emissions, which is the challenge facing us. I am confident and happy that we have managed the matter particularly well and we will continue to manage it in a way that will deliver for SEI and the people.

Vote put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 74; Níl, 42.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Behan, Joe.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Áine.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conlon, Margaret.
  • Connick, Seán.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Michael.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Hanlon, Rory.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Edward.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • O’Sullivan, Christy.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • White, Mary Alexandra.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Bannon, James.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel J.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • Perry, John.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Tom Kitt and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Dan Neville and Leo Varadkar.
Vote declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.