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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 21 Sep 2022

Vol. 1026 No. 4

Energy Security: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— as a direct consequence of haywire Government-induced energy policies, Ireland is the worst-prepared country in Europe for an energy crisis, and the possibility of rolling blackouts this winter would not only be catastrophic but is a very real prospect;

— the lack of a coherent Government energy policy to provide energy self-sufficiency means the real threat of a cold, dark winter is now becoming a reality, resulting in a full-blown political and economic crisis;

— the Government's energy policy position also means Ireland is one of the most energy import-dependent countries in Europe, with zero storage capabilities and almost complete reliance on one United Kingdom (UK) pipeline for our gas;

— the European Union (EU) concluded that Ireland having gas interconnection with Scotland did not provide the level of energy security required;

— the Government's energy policy position puts Ireland in an extremely vulnerable and utterly unsustainable position, undermining our national and energy security;

— Brexit adds to the uncertainty and risk as the UK is no longer legally bound by any measure, including the solidarity principle in the 2020 agreement regulation, to provide us with supplies, thus significantly increasing Ireland's gas supply vulnerabilities;

— despite this perilous position, the Government's lack of any strategic plan means that the cost of energy here is much higher than it should be, with no guarantee that the lights will stay on this winter or in subsequent winters;

— the Government's lack of action means Ireland is drifting towards a permanent and extremely severe energy crisis and insecurity, which could have catastrophic economic outcomes for the country;

— the failure to have published the promised energy security review contained in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future in June 2020 highlights a complete lack of urgency by the Government to the ongoing and evolving energy crisis;

— Ireland simply cannot become a green economy overnight, when 87 per cent of our total energy supply still comes from fossil fuels and oil and gas will be required for decades to come;

— Ireland currently imports 100 per cent of our oil needs and over 70 per cent of our gas needs (interconnectors from Scotland to Ireland), with gas imports rising steadily in line with production declines at the Corrib gas field;

— Ireland's dependence on gas imports has risen sharply from 33 per cent in 2017 to 72 per cent in 2021;

— the lack of energy security is resulting in the cost of Ireland's annual net fuel imports (oil and gas) surging towards €10 billion (it was just over €3 billion a year ago), which represents a significant reduction in our national welfare, which can only be eliminated if prices fall or the Government changes policy and allows for domestic energy production, which includes fossil fuel sources;

— importing the necessary oil and gas will not only create a much larger carbon footprint but it will also be costlier and leave us extremely vulnerable to supply and price shocks, while the monetary cost of importing oil represents a net loss to the Irish economy and the Exchequer;

further notes that:

— Ireland has no gas storage capacity, as a consequence of Government policy;

— the Southwest Kinsale gas field is now depleted, with the Government not pursuing the option to utilise it as a strategic gas store facility;

— while the German, Austrian and other EU governments are busily filling their gas storage capacity Ireland, at the very end of the gas grid, is hamstrung by a Government with no plan;

— Germany is now re-opening coal-burning power stations to provide a practical buffer to the energy crisis;

— Ireland is the only country in Europe with a coastline that does not have a liquid natural gas import facility, meaning no alternative to the pipelines through the UK, as the Government chose not to have liquefied natural gas (LNG);

— this unprecedented energy crisis is compounded by the Government's policy position on energy, which is imprisoned by the single-lane and oftentimes narrow ideological position of the Green Party;

— the Government's narrow ideological energy policy means closing our own national resource supply of oil and gas, meaning we must import from anywhere that will supply us, at whatever price is dictated by exporters;

— the Government failed to apply for a European Commission funding initiative to source temporary floating LNG terminals as part of an effort to diversify fuel supplies amid the ongoing energy crisis, while nineteen other EU governments, including Germany and the Netherlands, availed of this funding source;

— the Government's abject failure to apply for this key European Commission REPowerEU funding programme, before the April deadline (phase one), aimed at ensuring continuity of energy supply and providing states with an insurance policy in case of supply disruptions from the UK, borders on reckless and dysfunctional;

— countries that have already applied for the European Commission's REPowerEU funding programme will be better positioned than Ireland to produce energy at lower prices, resulting in cheaper energy for manufacturing industries, small businesses, farmers and households;

— there is no justifiable case for not developing our available oil and gas resources, and there is certainly no justifiable reason for this Government to stand over a current policy that adds to our carbon footprint, by importing gas from places like Qatar, which creates fourteen times the carbon footprint of using and developing the Corrib and Barryroe oil and gas resources;

— the hypocrisy-laden Government energy policy, which turns a blind eye to importing from polluting dictators, is affecting the nation's energy security and leaving Irish consumers to pay more than anyone else;

— the purely politically-induced ban on Irish oil and gas represents a false narrative, as it generates a greater carbon footprint and ensures all Irish people pay more for electricity, gas, home heating oil, petrol and diesel and is seriously adding to our cost-of-living burden while being devoid of any scientific or economic rationale;

— the only practical solution is to re-open access to new supplies off our coast; and

— the current policy being pursued by this Government is leaving Ireland open to any and all international events of the future, which are well outside of our control, and exposes not only households but our entire economy to price hikes that are completely outside of this country's control; and

calls on the Government to:

— immediately prioritise safeguarding our economy and society from the unfolding catastrophic energy crisis rather than blindly adhering to climate change goals that were set in a very different political and economic era;

— suspend the unachievable fixed carbon budgeting legislation to prevent Ireland from entering a looming economic catastrophe;

— be honest, coherent and take urgent action that is based on the realities we face, which means everything must be on the table, including more gas infrastructure, such as storage terminals and exploration of domestic oil and gas;

— end the constant pathetic lecturing of the public to end turf-cutting, putting lettuce in window boxes, car sharing or shortening our morning showers and do something tangible to provide energy security for Ireland;

— ensure Ireland is equipped with the policy options of developing, as transition energy supplies, its oil and gas sources in the Celtic Sea at Barryroe, where the accepted industry reserve projections indicate 365 million barrels of equivalent oil and gas resources;

— fully acknowledge that the Lease Undertaking is urgently required to allow plans to drill an appraisal well at Barryroe to move forward;

— sanction the natural follow-on from the Barryroe SEL 1/11 exploration licence, by providing Ministerial consent for the Lease Undertaking, since the Barryroe technical strategy is ready to be implemented within a short timeframe;

— mandate the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, who has twice refused to engage with either Providence Resources or the Irish Offshore Operators' Association, to meet with both organisations immediately;

— urgently put in place, without undue delay, LNG storage infrastructure to ensure energy security for the State;

— implement windfall tax levies on all energy production operations in Ireland and use the proceeds to offer households relief from crippling energy bills;

— take immediate action so that the price of electricity is decoupled from gas to ease the burden on households and businesses;

— urgently re-open to full capacity all peat-fired power stations, including the Lough Ree power plant in Lanesboro and the West Offaly Power Station in Shannonbridge which were senselessly shut down, as Ireland requires this power back-up over the next four to five years;

— implement a policy platform aimed at reducing energy bills and corporate profits, and establish a new retrofitting funding programme across the entire country, together with funding schemes for community, family, farm and small businesses to develop their own renewable energy sources;

— develop a strategic domestic energy production model, by learning from what has been achieved in, for example, Nova Scotia's tidal energy along the Atlantic, offshore wind as done in Scotland or Costa Rica's publicly-owned energy system providing almost 100 per cent renewable, low-cost energy to 99.9 per cent of its population;

— be honest and accept that continuing on the current energy path means the cost-of-living crisis in Ireland will only worsen and that when energy supplies are low admit that we are at the end of the pipeline and will likely be reduced to a trickle; and

— fully accept that the only logical route available is to detangle the current Government's mistaken energy policies and ensure the development of Barryroe oil and gas which, after all, is environmentally superior to what is being imported today and would harness the required energy security, while reducing costs for all Irish consumers.

Energy is vital and integral to our democracy and way of life in Ireland. We have taken it for granted for many years but without sustainable and competitively priced energy, we face grave danger as a society. This Government asks us to put on the green jersey yet again and tells us to turn off the heating in the west or east wings of the estate that its Members seem to think we all live on. It is not put on the jersey anymore; this time it is put on the green fleece and long johns. I have been warning about the potential for this energy crisis for years. I worried about our security of supply for gas but nothing was done apart from the Government kicking the can down the road in the hope none of its bad policies would catch up with its members before they leave office. However, they have.

Why is the Government only focusing on the period to March 2023 for mitigation measures? Will Government members think beyond their noses and advise what they plan to do beyond March? Will we continue to wing it as we have done for a number of years? A few years ago, I brought a proposal from an Irish-owned and controlled company, which pointed out the exact failures in our energy system that have led to this crisis. The company still wants to help bring a world-class liquified natural gas, LNG, storage solution to Ireland in a cost-efficient manager under Irish control. Needless to say, it has been ignored at the expense of party policies and we are now paying a high price for this. Gas Networks Ireland may well need expertise and assistance, along with implementation of LNG infrastructure, but we have people in our country who can do this and are willing to pull on the green jersey and help out in the interests of keeping Ireland a safe and prosperous place to live. I acknowledge the current crisis is affecting all of Europe; however, we have had plenty of time to act. Lack of action has put us in this mess. Let us put it right now, but in the best interests of the country.

The Greens offer simple solutions to complex issues and there is no basis to other solutions. On 10 July, wind generated 1.5% of our total electricity, while gas generated 80%. When the wind does not blow, renewables do not work. The Greens and the Ministers constantly talk about blue hydrogen as a solution. The Irish Academy of Engineering and other world-leading experts say it might be commercially viable in 25 years. The programme for Government has a target of 850,000 electric cars by 2030; today, we have 50,000. No one across the transport and energy sectors believes this to be remotely possible.

No one in government discusses that it would require an additional 10% electricity generation capacity to fuel these cars. Gas provides 52% of our annual electricity and 70% of this gas is imported through two pipelines, which start from the same interconnector in Moffat, Scotland. If anything happens to that interconnector, our country stops. A cyberattack, terrorist attack, explosion or major technical problem would shut the country down immediately. This vulnerability has been known within the industry for more than a decade but nothing has been done about it. While Britain was a member of the EU, there was an EU energy security protocol whereby Britain had to treat Ireland equally in the event of a gas shortage. That protocol no longer exists and our only fallback is the word of the British Government of the day. In the next three to four years, the Corrib gas field will be exhausted and Ireland will be 100% dependent on Britain for gas, which originates from Norway. This means we are handing over our energy sovereignty to Britain.

Sinn Féin, whose Members are not present for the debate, is against exploration for our own fossil fuels. How can it reconcile this position when we will be handing our energy sovereignty to Britain? We all want the transition to a zero-carbon world to happen as soon as possible. However, it will take time and will not happen overnight. This transition needs a long-term plan. We must recognise that we cannot build a long-term plan unless we have a short- and medium-term plan. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, issued a report recently on what is required to keep increases in global temperatures to less than 1.50C by 2050. Among its findings was that in 2050 global consumption of gas will still be at 55% of today's consumption and, in the case of oil, 40%.

In an interview in the Irish Independent on 5 September 2022, the Minister acknowledged that we need co-ordinated energy systems based on our aim to have zero carbon within 30 years, a far more realistic possibility. Not only is our dependency on imported fossil fuels a huge and reckless national risk, it is also the largest transfer of our national wealth on a daily basis. In 2019, the cost to the State was €4 billion; this year it will be €12 billion. The annual cost per citizen is €2,300. On 7 October 2002, in the Irish Examiner, the Minister, who was then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said:

Profitable oil and gas fields could reap huge sums for the Exchequer. Profitable fields will pay up to 40% in taxation to the Exchequer. That's a top rate increase of 15% for the oil and gas companies involved. Ireland's oil and gas is a resource of the people. I want to ensure that our waters are fully explored and also that we get a proper return to the State.

What happened there? The Minister forgot all about this, did he not? He warned at the time that Ireland's dependence on imported oil and gas had grown to more than 85%, stating: "This reliance on imported fuels from areas of the world that are geopolitically volatile, contributes to price instability and vulnerability in Ireland."

The Irish Times on 9 October, 2007 reported:

Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan, in setting out terms for a new oil and gas exploration licensing round in the Porcupine Basin, drew attention to that instability factor and he [you] pointed to Ireland's vulnerability as an energy importer. Ireland now imports some 85 per cent of its gas supplies and natural gas is currently used to generate almost half of the country's electricity needs.

All of us rural Deputies have met with businesspeople from all walks of life in recent weeks. They all tell the same stories. Loans to help with costs of energy will not help. How will having an energy loan help any business? These businesses have survived Covid, are now on their knees again and are being offered loans by the Government. Kicking the can down the road is the problem here. Some of these businesses have received grants and will not qualify for further grants. The devil is always in the detail. These businesses do not have the funds to invest in solar energy. Many tell me they will not apply for the grants because they are too complicated.

I met with hoteliers recently. They told me unless drastic measures are put in place, their doors will close for the final time. It is not just the loss of a hotel in an area but the loss of jobs, a loss to the tourist economy and a loss to Ireland.

Let us get to the person who is trying to heat their home and turn on the lights on a dark winter night. We are told to put appliances on at night but apparently that is the most dangerous time to put them on. We are told to turn off lights. If you are 80 years of age living in Ireland on your own, you are told to turn off your lights and become even more lonely and depressed, or maybe fall over and end up in hospital, costing the State even more. How is the regular person supposed to pay these massive energy costs?

The Government needs to step up and cap energy costs. It needs to consider the LNG storage proposal. It is a serious proposal that was given to the Minister and which he is leaving unheeded. He needs to give the licence for Barryroe. He talks about helping the people of Ireland but he and his Government have done nothing but torture the people of this country. They have destroyed the island of Ireland. This will go down in history as the worst Government that ever sat in Dáil Éireann. That is some legacy to leave behind just so the Minister's colleagues can stay in power - pardon the pun.

I am glad to get the opportunity to contribute on this important topic.

I have never seen so many people so angry in recent times about what is happening to them and what is being allowed to happen to them by this Government. Electricity charges have trebled in the past 12 months. They have gone up every day since the Lanesboro and Shannonbridge plants were closed and the Government provided no alternative at that time. It was only when they were stuck last year, before the war, that they started buying coal from Russia and got Moneypoint up and running again. Indeed, electricity has gone way up three times or more since the start of the year. Many people, domestic, commercial and retail, cannot afford to pay the bills they are getting now. This includes small shops. I am aware of one small shop run by a man and his wife. Their electricity bill for the two months is up to €7,000 now, when it was less then €2,000. How can those people keep going? This is what is happening. We then hear the Taoiseach saying that he can get the money back from the electricity companies. He can of course because he allowed this to happen all year. The Government is a shareholder in these companies and it is getting dividends from them. He is saying now that he will get the dividends and give them back. It will be too late because he will not give it back directly to the people who paid it. He will not give it back at all to more people. You do not have to be Einstein to know that if electricity companies put up their charges by 300% they are going to have 300% profit, and that consumers will have to pay 300% more. The Government has let this happen all through the year and has stood idly by. Shame on the Government for allowing this to happen and to be promising that it will do something in the budget and maybe give back a couple of hundred euro here and there.

The Minister, Deputy Ryan, is the man who wanted one car to service 30 people in a small village. The Minister is not with it at all. The Minister is not in the real world if he thinks that one car would do 30 people in rural Ireland. The Minister wants no turf cutting. The Minister wants no gas burners or oil fires. At the same time the Minister has no alternative provided. I am glad that more turf is being cut this year than for many years and at least the people who have turf secured will be warm for the winter. I believe the Government is suggesting that the people who cut their own turf should make a contribution. I say to the Minister that they will not make any more contribution. They have their contributions made. As far as they are concerned they are self-sufficient now. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, and the Government did not give them any help to save or turn in the turf and they are not entitled to claim any dividends from the cutting or the saving of the turf.

When challenged about people being cold for the winter all the Government could say to them was to open their oven doors while they are cooking and that this would warm the house. God Almighty. Why is the Minister insulting so many people like this by advising people to grow vegetables in boxes in south-facing windowsills? Now the Minister and McConalogue are saying that people cannot plough or till the land. People have been tilling the land. It is widely recognised that even with horses and small tractors by tilling the land one will make it more fertile and need to spread less fertiliser. The Government does not want to give people any other option only wind turbines. Wind turbines do not blow all of the year. There are several other types of fuel. There is biofuel to help with road diesel and with tractor diesel. It is the same with petrol engines. We could use the same engines but the Government does not want to hear that. The Government will not entertain these companies. At the same time, a group of people from Ballymakeera were on to me in the past week. The Firebird company workers there are worried that their factory is going to be closed. It employs 160 people. They said that they can add biofuel and work their boilers to take HVO fuel, which includes biofuel, and that there would be no emissions from that. The Minister, however, does not want to listen to things like that. The Government has the daylights frightened out of people. Petrol cars could be converted to LPG gas but the Government does not want to hear about that. This was done back in the day in the 1970s. My late father had a car converted to gas.

Today we are demanding no more increases in standing charges. The Government can put legislation in place to ensure this. We call on the Government to give back every cent of the extra money that the Government has robbed from the people and put a cap on the ESB rate to that which applied this time last year. We call on the Government to open up Shannonbridge and Lanesboro immediately and to allow micro-energy companies to develop solar and water turbines. Many people are already producing extra electricity and they cannot get credit for it. Much more could be generated. We call on the Government to bring down the extra duty and taxes on road diesel and tractor diesel. The Government gave them back nothing. Home heating oil and petrol must be capped at the price being charged back in 2021.

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

I am asking the Minister, Deputy Ryan, again here today to open up Shannon LNG. I heard the Minister last night and he appears to have no notion of doing that. I am asking the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to ensure that it is reopened.

Before I begin, I thank our administrative assistant Brian Ó Domhnaill for all his work in putting this motion together. The Rural Independent Group has been very consistent and we have also put forward a number of solutions to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and to the Government. We do not see any Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael Deputies flanking the Minister this morning. They were there, however, to endorse the reckless policies and they signed off on the policies. That must be remembered by the people. The truth needs to be heard here and it needs to be known.

I begin by saying that in recent reports in the last week we see that ESB profits reached €390 million in the first six months of this year. I put it to the Minister that people are struggling. I do not think the Minister realises it or gets it. People are really on their knees. I have met businesspeople and farmers. I have one such bill here with me that shows an increase from €400 every two months, to €1,590.78. That is some increase for a farmer in west Offaly. I ask the Minister to take an urgent intervention. We know the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is not too fond of agriculture and that he would like to see the farmers driven off the land but we in the Rural Independent Group will not allow the Minister to do that. We will not allow the Minister or his reckless Government to do such a thing and particularly when there are food security issues also. Food security is part of the problem that the Minister's policies have created.

Today we are speaking on energy. As I have said, people are really struggling. They are dreading the thoughts of the bill coming through the letter box or the inbox. The Minister must take urgent action. I called on the Minister personally, before the summer recess, to intervene with the ESB. Instead of pursuing the ongoing and sustained attack on rural communities, urban communities and agriculture I asked the Minister to do his job and intervene with the ESB. This was before those profits were known. I asked the Minister to do that. Has the Minister taken any action? I would like to hear about this in the Minister's speech. We do not want tokenistic measures such as €200 thrown at people. He would not give it to a child.

That is First Communion money.

It is like giving a bag of sweets to try to stop them talking and criticising. That will not wash. We need urgent and meaningful actions from the Minister's Government. The Minister's Government has been reckless. Yes, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael let the Minister, Deputy Ryan, off the rails and let him wreak havoc with his policies.

This morning I also wish to allude to the carbon tax. The Rural Independent Group was the only group that was strongly opposed to the carbon tax. Again, we call for this to be scrapped immediately. People are trying to decide whether to spend money on food or on fuel. This is the harsh reality that the Minister needs to understand. The Minister needs to know the facts. It is not right. Our hauliers are struggling to keep things going and to keep businesses going, which keeps the economy going and to which they contribute hugely.

The issues we are dealing with are not just timely, they are of the utmost urgency. I say this again. The sense I am getting, which is a sense that is becoming increasingly ominous by the day, is that the country is moving at speed towards the precipice. We are heading into the storm at a time when safe harbour rarely appeared so distant. Perhaps it would not be so bad if we had trust and confidence in the captains of the ship of the State to steer us through this crisis and to get us safely out the other side. This includes Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and not just the Green Party. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are part of this mess and this disaster. The reality is that it is precisely those people who have set us upon this course of fragile energy security who are the same people tasked with steering us a safe passage. Obviously, they have been reckless in the past, so nobody has confidence. Despite all their rhetoric, the people at the wheel appear blind to the dangers we are facing. They seem incapable of recognising that a sane response in the face of such a crisis would be to apply the brakes or even reverse course, especially when it is now increasingly obvious what role the Government's current green energy policy has played in bringing us to this point of danger.

They would not propose, for example, in the middle of a generational crisis in home energy, the silly and nonsensical policy idea of banning oil and gas heaters. They would not tell families, especially those with children, to limit their energy use between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., just when many kids are home from school and many parents are only in the door from work. Is the Minister proposing that mothers and fathers get up at 5 a.m. to cook the dinner? It would be an absolute joke if it were not so serious.

The pressure that families are under, just as they emerge on the other side of a mental health crisis created by the pandemic, is simply fierce. I note that the Minister has finally received the report he commissioned from the UK-based analyst, CEPA, and its review of Ireland's energy security. From replies to parliamentary questions I have submitted on this matter, we know the report has cost at least €170,000. The consultants need to have no worry about paying their bills if that is the case. We told the Minister there would be an energy security crisis.

I was one of the few Deputies who opposed the closure of the power plants at Shannonbridge and Lanesborough, along with my Rural Independent Group colleagues. I call on the Minister and the Government to get real, wake up and smell the coffee and open up those power plants immediately.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

"notes that:

- the Government is acutely aware of concerns around security of energy supply, particularly gas and electricity;

- the Government has put a €2.4 billion package of policies and support measures in place since October 2021;

- 99 per cent of domestic electricity accounts have now been credited with the Electricity Costs Emergency Benefit Scheme payment of €172.66 excluding Value Added Tax, and the total cost of this scheme is €377 million;

- the National Energy Security Framework (NESF), published by the Government in April, sets out Ireland's response to our energy security needs in the context of the Russian war in Ukraine, and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) has set up an Energy Security Emergency Group which is overseeing the implementation of the NESF;

- the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has statutory responsibility to ensure security of electricity supply, and currently has a programme of actions underway (launched in September 2021) to ensure the security of our electricity supply over the coming winters, with these actions containing demand-side and supply-side measures to address any potential shortfall, including procuring new capacity through capacity auctions, procuring additional temporary generation, extending the availability of existing power stations, and improved demand-side measures;

- the DECC is carrying out a review of the energy security of Ireland's gas and electricity systems, which is focused on the period to 2030, but in the context of a sustainable transition to net zero emissions by 2050 and, as part of this review, the DECC launched a consultation on 19th September, 2022, to seek views from interested parties;

- this security of energy supply review considers potential risks to both our natural gas and electricity supplies and examines a range of measures to mitigate these risks, including the need for additional capacity to import energy, to reduce energy use, energy storage, fuel diversification and renewable gases (such as biomethane and hydrogen);

- the Government is engaging extensively with the European Commission to develop measures to address the energy crisis on a European level, and on the 14th September the European Commission published a proposed regulation which includes measures aimed at addressing windfall gains in the electricity sector and in fossil fuel production; these proposals are expected to raise additional revenues which will be used to reduce the cost of energy for households and businesses;

- cutting our dependence on fossil fuels and generating power from our own renewable sources, both offshore and onshore, will ensure a cleaner, cheaper, secure energy future; this remains a priority focus of the Government with commitment to deliver 7 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and a doubling of onshore wind generation by that date;

- the Government's policy on oil and gas exploration has been clearly articulated through the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, underpinned by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, and the policy and legislative framework provides that, while existing licence holders may seek to apply to progress through the various stages in the petroleum exploration process, no new applications for oil or gas can be considered;

- a revised Policy Statement on Petroleum Exploration and Production in Ireland was published on 12th August, 2022, which replaces the 2019 Policy Statement, in order to reflect the current policy and legislative position of the Government and to provide clarity to stakeholders in relation to future authorisations which may be granted under legislation;

- in relation to the specific application for a Lease Undertaking made by Providence Resources in respect of the Barryroe oil and gas field, the application is under consideration by the DECC and that it, like all other such applications, is assessed against a number of criteria which are environmental, technical and financial in nature;

- broader energy policy or energy security considerations have no bearing on the regulatory process, applications for petroleum authorisations are assessed against a number of criteria in accordance with section 9A of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960 and section 3 of the Licensing Terms for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, Development and Production, which includes the technical competence of the applicant and the financial resources available to it in order to undertake the work programme and any other commitments pursuant to the relevant petroleum authorisation; and

- the DECC does not publish information on individual applications whilst they are under consideration.

I assure the Deputies opposite that we are all too aware of the pressing matters of energy security, the energy crisis and the need to protect vulnerable consumers and businesses. That imperative belongs to all of us. It is not exclusive. I remind everyone present that it is the war in Ukraine and the impact it is having on gas market prices-----

There is a bigger war here.

-----and, in turn, the impact on gas and electricity bills that is the cause of the risks that we face over the coming winter and beyond. We have not faced an energy challenge like this since the early 1970s, but this is a challenge we will have to face and we will protect consumers through it.

The Minister caused it.

It has also been a summer when we have seen that climate change is the single greatest threat facing humanity. Our Government commits to react comprehensively to the challenge to rapidly reduce and then reverse our impact on the climate. The fossil fuel-based economic model is detrimental to human progress and we must make the necessary structural changes to break that link and dependency on fossil fuels, which is the cause of our problem. The solution is heading in the direction of relying on our own natural resources and our own skills in energy management to make sure we use that energy wisely. The measures proposed by the Deputies would represent a significant shift in policy away from that course and would have significant negative effect on key national objectives to protect the environment and people at this moment of energy crisis.

The Government opposes the motion and proposes a countermotion that notes a number of different points. First, it notes recent energy policy developments at EU level and states that the national energy security framework, NESF, which we published in April, sets out a single overarching response to address Ireland's energy security needs in the context of the war in Ukraine. The framework includes a number of measures that will reduce our demand for fossil fuel and replace fossil fuels with renewables, which is our best course to protect people.

It also notes that the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is carrying out a review of the energy security of Ireland's gas and electricity systems. The report was published early this week, which the Deputy is right will now go to a public consultation.

The third point relates to petroleum exploration. The countermotion notes that the Government's policy on oil and gas exploration is clearly articulated in the programme for Government and underpinned by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2021. The policy and legislative framework is set out in the policy statement on petroleum exploration and production in Ireland, which was published on 12 August 2022. While existing licence holders may seek to progress through the various stages in the petroleum exploration process, no new applications for oil or gas are going to be considered. Regarding the specific application for a lease undertaking made by Providence Resources in respect of the Barryroe field, the countermotion sets out the current position, which is that the application is under consideration by the Department and that it, like all other such applications, is assessed against a number of criteria.

How long is it going to take?

These are environmental, technical and financial. The countermotion also notes that broader energy policy or energy security considerations have no bearing on the regulatory process. To answer Deputy McGrath's question, I expect it shortly, within the coming weeks.

The countermotion notes that the Department does not publish information on individual applications while they are under consideration. It would be inappropriate for me or the Department, from both a legal and regulatory perspective, and would offend due process, to comment on the specific detail regarding any individual licences or applications pending a formal decision being made.

The EU's Council of Energy Ministers met on 9 September and addressed the extraordinary situation of energy prices in the Union and emergency measures to mitigate current high prices and support demand reduction for electricity to strengthen the EU's winter preparedness. The Commission has proposed a number of short-term exceptional emergency measures, which are under urgent negotiation by member states, including proposals to reduce electricity demand across the EU, capping the revenues of inframarginal electricity producers and the introduction of a solidarity contribution from fossil fuel companies to be used to mitigate the impact of high energy prices on consumers. We support the threefold approach being taken in the regulation to: remove excess rents being earned by non-gas electricity production; reduce electricity demand; and to apply a solidarity payment from the producers of oil and gas.

Nationally, the NESF, which was approved in April last, sets out Ireland's response to our energy security needs in the context of the invasion on our national circumstances. In regard to the security of oil supply, the short- to medium-term oil supply outlook has stabilised somewhat, with a slow reduction in the international price of oil. The National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, currently holds approximately 85 days of oil stocks, the overwhelming majority of which is in the form of physical product, with 85% being stored on the island of Ireland.

With regard to the gas security of supply, we all know that gas supplies from Russia to Europe have been severely reduced over the past year and continue to be the main cause of our energy problems. This has resulted in natural gas prices that are approximately ten times those seen just two years ago. The continued supply of natural gas to Ireland has not, to date, been reduced or interrupted as a result of the war. The UK, from where 75% of our gas comes, is at a strategic advantage compared to other European countries with a diverse source of gas supplies. The European Council recently agreed a regulation on reducing gas demand by 15% this winter. This regulation requires all member states to put in place a demand reduction plan. As Ireland is not directly interconnected to another member state, it is not required to meet the mandatory reduction target in this regulation. Preparations are however under way to put the voluntary demand reduction plan in place.

With regard to the secure supply of electricity, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, is managing a programme of work to address challenges to the security of electricity supplies in Ireland, with the support of EirGrid and my Department. Specifically, for this winter a range of measures has been undertaken. A large amount of maintenance work has taken place over the summer to ensure our generation fleet is adequately prepared for the winter ahead. We are working with large-scale energy users, which have significant quantities of backup generation, to access them at times of system stress. There has been work on the optimisation of grid batteries, the number of which is growing, to provide greater service during times of stress. There have also been enhanced demand-side responses through a number of measures at domestic and industrial scale. Furthermore, I welcome that the CRU is reviewing the capacity remuneration mechanism to make sure it is fit for purpose. In carrying out this review, it is vital that we support the projects that have been awarded contracts under the existing mechanism and that planned capacity auctions continue to deliver.

With regard to our medium- to long-term energy security, the Department's current review of security of energy supply sets out the forecast to the period to 2030. In the context of a sustainable transition to net-zero emissions by 2050, we must consider potential risks to both our natural gas and electricity supplies and examine a range of measures to mitigate these risks, including the need for additional capacity to import energy, reduce energy use, provide energy storage and encourage fuel diversification and renewable gases such as biomethane and hydrogen.

A set of recommendations will be brought to the Government for consideration once the review is completed.

The price vulnerability that households and businesses face at the moment is at the core of the concerns we all share. Members will be acutely aware of the unprecedented increases in prices we are seeing. Recent estimates from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, indicate that 29.4% of households are now spending more than 10% of their income on their home energy needs. The Government is keenly aware of the pressure on households facing these bills and has already implemented a €2.4 billion package of measures to support energy customers, which includes electricity cost credits, a reduction in VAT and an increase in the fuel allowance. We have greatly enhanced the home retrofit supports available to households, with the number of free energy upgrades for households at risk of energy poverty delivered each month more than double what was seen last year. A new 80% grant support for cavity wall and attic insulation was introduced as a response to the exceptionally high energy prices. These supports are the key response and will help to protect householders in the short and long term.

However, we recognise that more needs to be done as prices continue to increase. Additional measures to support households and businesses are being examined in the context of the upcoming budget. I very much welcome the recent announcement by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, as set out by its representatives at the Oireachtas committee yesterday, of a range of additional consumer protections under the national energy security framework. This is the way we are working to help to protect our people. We are providing assistance and making sure nobody, particularly those at risk of energy, is left without power. We are working to make sure we get through this wartime situation while defending our people.

What is energy security? The basic aim of energy security for any country is to reduce the dependency on imported energy sources for economic growth. Can the Minister tell me why this is not happening? Ireland is the most energy import dependent country in Europe. We have no storage capacity for our gas and there are no plans to reopen or upgrade existing facilities such as that in Kinsale. For the past ten years, Foynes in County Limerick has been struggling to get planning for gas storage facilities. Nothing is sanctioned there. We are completely reliant on the UK pipeline for our gas, which, since Brexit, is not as secure as we would like to think. Only recently, the Government failed to apply for the European Commission funding initiative to source temporary floating liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminals. It must be noted that 19 other European countries applied for and took that grant aid but our Government did not. We are a country that is trying to bring down its carbon emissions but we have allowed the cost of importing fuels to surge to €10 billion this year. Yes, that figure is €10 billion. We are currently taking in 130,000 barrels of oil from a place called Qatar and, as yet, we have no storage for gas in Ireland. There are easy wins to be had here, by the Government leading by example and showing us alternatives. This is low-hanging fruit.

Last night, there was a debate in this House on retrofitting and the collapse of the methodology used to roll it out. Many Deputies had the same stories as I have. The Minister talked about it again this morning. The average time to get a house retrofitted in Ireland is 28 months. I am sure he can work out what that is in years. A total of 30 tonnes of bark mulch came in from Australia to Foynes to be burned in peat burners in Ferbane. Coal is being brought from Russia to Moneypoint and turf is being brought from Poland. We are doing things in a way that is creating carbon emissions across the world, under the same sky that the Minister and I are standing under today. Does it not make sense to produce our own natural materials in this country instead of dragging them halfway around the world? The Minister talks about emissions. He was asked last year to look into euro 6 engines for the truck industry. For a couple of million euro, we could have fitted every truck in Ireland with a euro 6 engine. That would have dropped emissions at the turn of a key. It is common sense.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said to me that the Government is not a business. In fact, the Government is a business and it should be run like a business. It is collecting tax, PRSI and PAYE for the whole country and it makes the decisions for the businesses that are creating employment. The Government has a lack of business ethics and that is why it is destroying businesses in Ireland. The VAT intake alone, even though the rate was reduced to 9%, is up 30% on last year, which has a knock-on effect on the businesses that are giving the Government the tax, PRSI and PAYE. The income tax that comes into the country from every business that is here amounts to 12% of their profits. Yes, the Government is a business but the problem is it does not understand business and that is why it is putting all the pressures on businesses.

Members of the Government spoke yesterday about pensions and said they want people to work until they are 70 but, if not, the young people of today will have to pay for it in extra PRSI contributions. Again, it goes back to the businesses that are paying our salaries in this House and keeping this country running. All the money is being wasted because the Government does not know about business and how it runs. Business supports people, people support the Government and the Government is supposed to support the people but its lack of understanding is evident. I ask the Minister to give me his full attention while I am talking.

I want to tell the Minister about my experience at the National Ploughing Championships yesterday. He and his colleagues are considering banning ploughing in Ireland, which is another ridiculous suggestion.

What? This is too much.

The Minister of State can say "What?" but this is the same as a lot of the other madcap ideas the Government has had. I want to tell the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that many people mentioned his name to me yesterday and asked me what in the name of God is that man trying to do to them. These were fine, respectable people from all parts of Ireland. I am telling the Minister the truth when I say he would not be happy if he knew what they were saying about him and about Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

(Interruptions).

The Minister of State's gang is the very same.

The Minister of State should be ashamed of himself. He needs to go back to his roots.

Deputies, please, there must be one speaker at a time.

I can tell the Minister and Minister of State that Fianna Fáil has lost rural Ireland, Fine Gael has lost rural Ireland and the Green Party never had it to lose it.

I want to tell the Minister and his colleagues, some of whom are shouting me down, a story about what happened at my clinic the other night. I was invited into the home of a lady called Nora, who is nearer 90 years of age than 80. When I went into her house, she had a very small bit of a fire going, with maybe five or six lumps of coal in the back of the fireplace. She had a red blanket over her knees, there was a very small bit of heat and she was very near the fire. This woman is living on her own and has no relatives. She talked to me about the price of a bag of coal. I would look nice trying to tell that woman about the Minister's retrofitting grants. She is barely living hand to mouth. All I can tell the Minister is that he and his colleagues in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should be made to go to that house and made to listen to what that woman said. She asked me what has happened to the people who are in power. She said she remembered when there were people in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who would stand up for the likes of her. She said the Green Party would never have had any interest in her anyway. That woman really drove it home to me about what the Minister and his colleagues are doing. During Leaders' Questions today, I will be talking about Firebird Heating Solutions, Kingspan and Grant Engineering, which are the people who produce the boilers the Minister has said he looks forward to banning in the future. I will go into more detail about that on Leaders' Questions.

I remind Fianna Fáil of what it did in north Kerry before the last election. The current Taoiseach went around places like Tarbert, Ballybunion, Ballylongford, Lisselton and down into Listowel.

He told the people when he was canvassing that if he was elected and formed a Government, delivering an LNG facility would be one of the policies he would pursue. He said he would deliver it. What the Taoiseach did, in respect of what I had ensured was in the programme for Government in 2016, namely, that we would have an LNG facility, was that he capitulated to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and said it was against Government policy to have such a facility. He did a complete U-turn.

The people in those places will be looking forward with great anticipation to the next election. People will be shown up for the mistruths they told during canvassing. It will be highlighted to the people what was in the programme for Government in 2016 and what the Taoiseach subsequently did in 2020 just for the sake of power at all costs to the detriment of people. This has ensured that Ireland has no gas storage capacity as a consequence of Government policy. The south-west Kinsale gas field is now depleted and the Government has not pursued the option to use it as a strategic gas storage facility. While the German, Austrian and other EU governments are busily filling their gas storage capacity, Ireland, at the very end of the gas grid, is hamstrung by a Government with no plan. Germany is now reopening the coal-burning power stations to provide a practical buffer to the energy crisis. Ireland is the only country in Europe with a coastline that does not have an LNG import facility. This means there is no alternative to the pipelines running through the UK, as the Government has chosen to not add LNG as an option, as I have already outlined.

This unprecedented energy crisis is compounded by the Government's policy position on energy.

The Minister is a failure. The people in government with him are failures. He is a disgrace. The Minister should go to the ploughing match, walk up and down-----

He would not be saying-----

-----and see what the people will say to him and hear what they think of him. I pray on my bended knees-----

-----that he, like the Green Party in the North, will get his answer. I pray that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which have lost rural Ireland forever and will never again get it back, will get their answer-----

-----the next time they go before the people. They forgot they were servants of the people.

I am sorry. All they did was to go on a rampage doing whatever they wanted to do. They will get their answer and that answer they will get.

Those prayers will be answered.

We have an energy and security crisis because of gross mismanagement by successive Governments, particularly in the last decade. Principally, therefore, the responsibility lies with the Fine Gael party, it having been a continuing feature of Governments in that period. There has been gross mismanagement. This is a matter of energy supply and demand. Those Governments rolled out the red carpet for data centres, which have huge energy demand. At the same time, they Governments failed time and again to deliver on supply. Data centres have a role, but we must be able to power them.

There have been so many failures at different times, including policy failures and failures of action. This has led us to a situation where we have had more amber alerts in this calendar year than we have had in most of the previous decade. This has been a failure of successive Governments to plan, prepare, execute and deliver. It has also been a failure of agencies. The CRU has failed to deliver at several auctions. It is almost a case of trial and error with CRU. It tries to secure energy power plants and it fails. It tries again and fails again. Earlier this year, before the Dáil rose for the summer recess, the Government had to rewrite the rulebook in the EirGrid, Electricity and Turf (Amendment) Act 2022 because the CRU and other State agencies had failed to procure the necessary energy power plants to get us through last winter, this winter and the winters of 2023, 2024 and 2025.

This has implications for the price of energy. It puts an extra €40 on people's bills each year. The other thing the Government did in that legislation was to take so-called ring-fenced carbon tax revenues, intended to be used to retrofit poor people's homes, to spend them on buying diesel generators. It could not deliver gas generators, so now it is going to deliver diesel generators. This is the same CRU whose representatives told the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action yesterday that there was nothing the agency could do regarding standing charges and it would not even suggest that families be put on the lowest tariff. It is a case of kid gloves from the Minister, the Government and the agencies.

Another responsible agency is EirGrid. Its representatives presented at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action we had called to address this crisis and stated that a 9% increase in energy demand over the past five years was not excessive. Those were the words used. When we asked the CRU how a 9% increase in energy demand here compared with other countries, such as the EU 27, Switzerland and Norway, it indicated that the demand increase experienced in those countries in the past five years was 0%. Yet, it also stated that a 9% increase was not excessive, as we face into a winter of amber alerts, possible red alerts and a real increase in the risk of blackouts. This is no joke for families as they head into the winter.

The State has also failed to deliver alternatives, whether it be gas storage as a back-up or renewables. Regarding planning delays, wind energy groups have said there is supposed to be an 18-week turnaround time for decisions on planning applications but it is more like 60 weeks for planning appeals for strategic infrastructure developments. Just today, it was reported that we do not have a single port in the Twenty-six Counties that will be fit to facilitate the building of offshore wind facilities, yet we are supposed to be delivering 7 GW of offshore wind energy generation by 2030. It is not going to happen under this Government, and this is of deep concern.

It is the same with the energy security review, which has been long-awaited and was published earlier this week. It is a waste of money because it was very clear to anybody observing this area for any length of time that we needed to address the energy security crisis we have and that we needed gas storage. The Government needs to get on with this work, rather than dithering. The energy security review is a perfect example of that dithering. It has moved into a public consultation. The Government should get on with the work.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion and I welcome the opportunity to speak on it, especially coming as it does on the back of Sinn Féin's motion on retrofitting last night. I fully agree that Ireland, as a direct consequence of poor Government policies, is the worst prepared country in Europe for an energy crisis. We are now one of the most energy import dependent countries in Europe. Despite the commitment in the programme for Government more than two years ago, we are still waiting for the promised energy security review to be published. "Fail to plan, plan to fail" is an adage that comes to mind in this regard.

The home retrofitting programme announced in February will take at least eight years to deliver its promise to retrofit 500,000 homes. I say "at least" eight years but if the shaky start does not improve soon, it will go beyond ten years. This is not acceptable. Our older people, in particular, need to be prioritised. We need a new energy poverty strategy and more funding to be ring-fenced for energy upgrades. The Government thinks that if it keeps raising carbon taxes, behaviours will change. Our older people are on fixed incomes, as the Government well knows. They cannot afford to change their heating systems. Of our total energy supply, 87% still comes from fossil fuels. We need climate action but there must be a just transition. Of those over 60 years old, 45% live in properties with a building energy rating, BER, of E, F or G. This rises to 57% for people aged 75 or older. Based on this, practically all homes with BER ratings of E, F and G are likely to be occupied by people aged 60 or older, meaning older people are especially at risk from energy price hikes.

The Government must act immediately to implement windfall tax levies on all energy producers. It must also ensure that the price of electricity is decoupled from gas to ease the burden on households and businesses.

There must be a ban on disconnections during the fuel allowance season. Two years ago, Sinn Féin introduced a Bill to ban disconnections during the fuel allowance period every year. We recognised that households who are struggling financially need support during this time, not the threat of having their light or heat cut off over the winter. Disconnections are a real issue for many people. For example, in 2019, there were more than 5,000 domestic electricity disconnections and almost 2,500 domestic gas disconnections. A ban on disconnections will give households breathing space to arrange a payment plan with their supplier. A few minutes ago, the Minister mentioned the war in Ukraine. We did not have a war in Ukraine in 2019.

It is clear from the actions of the Government that it is still indifferent to the plight of the working poor, struggling small businesses and our older people. We need an election so that a Sinn Féin-led Government can implement much more caring policies and act to relieve the huge pressure our people are under.

The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will be aware that there is enormous concern about how families, particularly elderly people and the vulnerable, will heat their homes this winter. That is not scaremongering but the truth, as the Minister of State knows. It is also the case in many other countries throughout the world. There are undoubtedly international factors at work but there are also factors within our control.

We have left ourselves incredibly vulnerable - more vulnerable than most of our neighbours - in terms of our energy security. We are extremely reliant on fossil fuels and the international markets. We have made several mistakes regarding our grid and energy generation capacity in recent years, particularly during the term of the previous Fine Gael Government but also during this Government's term.

It is difficult to fathom the position the Government took for months in opposing the decoupling of electricity and gas. It is now trying to hide behind the EU but the Government's position was one of opposition to decoupling. That is difficult to fathom.

I will make two points on energy security. Anyone involved in energy, particularly the renewable side, will say they are tearing their hair out because of EirGrid and the CRU, and, beyond that, because of the processes that mean everything is sequential. Only when an applicant has been granted planning permission for a project can it go to the ESB to try to advance it. That is absolute lunacy. I have come across cases - I will not go into much detail - where planning for wind farms is on the verge of elapsing and the project has not been able to proceed through the ESB and An Bord Pleanála. There area also wait times caused by delays in An Bord Pleanála, as Deputy O'Rourke pointed out. This is seriously slowing down the ability of those who want to generate renewable energy to be able to bring it onto the grid.

My second point is on solar power. It is difficult to understand the bureaucracy and delays that are preventing businesses, individuals, schools and community organisations from being able to install solar panels and sell the power back to the grid. There are 4,000 schools in the State. Every one of them should have solar panels. There is supposed to be legislation coming through. The issue was supposed to be sorted out in the spring but has gone to consultation. While there is nothing wrong with consultation, the delay is difficult to understand. This issue was supposed to have been resolved months ago and the legislation was supposed to be in place.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for the opportunity to speak on this important matter.

As the previous speaker said, one of the areas the Government has refused so far to consider is the decoupling of gas from electricity prices. Currently, the price of gas dictates the price of all electricity. This is pushing bills through the roof, even for renewable electricity. While we can produce electricity from wind and solar at relatively low prices, the current system means that this energy is sold at the same rate as gas-generated electricity.

Shamefully, last October the Government strongly opposed a proposal at EU level to decouple electricity from gas prices. Other countries took action to address this issue but as recently as June of this year, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, reiterated his total opposition to decoupling gas and electricity prices. However, the Minister seems to have done a complete U-turn on the issue now in saying he supports decoupling. Why did the Minister oppose this option until now? Did the Government prioritise the considerable profits of energy companies ahead of the interests of citizens and their ability to afford to keep their home warm during this winter?

Keeping the lights on is a Sinn Féin priority in the months ahead. Some workers and families will be faced by stark choices this winter. It could be quite simply a choice between eating and heating. This is the reality unless measures are introduced now that will help our people get through this cost-of-living crisis. Targeted financial measures aimed at those workers and families who are impacted most are needed, not universal measures where the wealthiest get the same financial assistance as everyone else. Deputies should not get energy credits. Nobody in this House should get them.

We need to make sure there are supports in place for small and medium-sized businesses this winter. The Government needs to ensure they are supported. For example, my local butcher is a small business that employs local and provides a valuable local service. This business has been in operation for 14 years. It has faced considerable increases in the cost of electricity. Three months ago, the monthly electricity bill was €1,400. The latest monthly bill was €3,200, and increase of 128% increase in three months. This is not sustainable. My butcher informed me that he could be only two bills away from closing his business, which has worked well for 14 years and survived all the restrictions it faced during Covid. The Government's abject failure to address the energy and cost-of-living crises could put this business under. I am calling for measures to be introduced that would keep small businesses afloat this winter and into next year.

I also thank the Rural Independent Group for the opportunity to speak.

The various motions that have been put before the Dáil since we returned suggest the Government cannot lead when it comes to the current energy crisis. It shows no foresight and has no comprehension of how to do right for the people.

I followed the debate in my office before coming to the Chamber. Looking at the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, across from me now only confirms my belief that they do not have any interest in solving this problem.

In its amendment to the motion, the Government refers to recently ordered reviews, including a public consultation on the review of Ireland's energy security which was launched last week, on the same day the ESB posted half-yearly profits of €390 million. The Government consistently reacts when it is nearly too late.

On decoupling gas from electricity prices, as I have told the House in October last, the Government strongly opposed proposals at EU level to decouple electricity prices from the gas market which would have helped bring down costs. Its subsequent U-turn is welcome but hardly inspires confidence.

We have a Government playing catch-up at a time when families and businesses across this country are at their wits' end. Offshore wind energy has been left in the doldrums by the Government. Sinn Féin recently launched the Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill. Green hydrogen has the potential to act as a store for surplus renewable energy, an alternative source of heat for homes and businesses and a fuel in the transport sector, including for long-haul and heavy goods vehicles. With its abundance of renewables, particularly offshore wind, Ireland is uniquely positioned to harness the potential of green hydrogen. The European Commission published its strategy in July 2022 and our neighbours in Scotland published their first strategy in 2015. The Government, while finally making some positive soundings, is lagging behind.

The Government's retrofit strategy prioritises those with means over those in need, while the warmer homes scheme for the most vulnerable households has a major backlog and waiting time of over two years. Yesterday, Sinn Féin proposed a retrofit system that would provide tiered grants that would see the most financial assistance provided to those on the lowest incomes who need help the most.

At the ploughing championship yesterday, a Sinn Féin event with various farming organisations was told how our farmers can get credits for the sustainability measures they take on their farms. The problem is we have a Government that is not making use of the resources we have the potential to provide. Anaerobic digestion on our farms is not being given sufficient attention, while recent funding available in the EU under the RePowerEU programme was not even applied for. I would like to know why.

Successive Governments have failed to competently balance electricity supply and demand and, as a result, the prospect of blackouts this winter remains a real possibility. Data centres can continue to set up shop regardless of the pressure they put on the grid. The ESB can post scandalous profits and the Government still tries to sweep a decade of energy policy failures by successive Governments under the carpet.

The Government cannot wash its hands of all responsibility. It must move on from mere commitments and giving household advice to families who already know what needs to be done.

It is a line I have used before. Sometimes when everyone else has spoken, you are just repeating what they have said, only not quite as eloquently. It has all been said. We have seen an abject failure to ensure we have sufficient capacity to generate the electricity we will require. A huge number of people became scared over the summer when they heard of amber alerts and that we had not done the due diligence in respect of the gas generators in particular. Deputy O'Rourke and others spoke about the fact that we had to change the legislation so we could attempt to rectify some of that, but it is a shambles. The problem with this is that it is happening at the same time as we have an energy crisis in respect of supply and cost. Yes, very much of that relates to Vladimir Putin at this point in time, but until the western world and the European Union get their act together sufficiently quickly, and until the Irish Government plays its part, this is the biggest weapon Vladimir Putin has outside of the threats he has made to escalate the situation, and that really needs to be dealt with.

It is fair to say the Government is very late to the game regarding decoupling electricity prices from gas prices, which are through the roof at this time. I get that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has moved into this sphere to some degree. I can only imagine that the reason for the lateness was the general belief that the prices would not necessarily reach the levels they have reached - I am not sure how that could have been the case - and that a huge amount of money would have been pumped back into renewables.

I challenge any Sinn Féin Deputy to explain decoupling to the public without a script in front of them. I will go on the radio with any of them.

When the Minister of State has an opportunity, he can explain exactly what the reason is. Yes, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has spoken about-----

They are all reading script. They do not know what it is they are reading.

-----the difficulty with reconfiguring the market, but that is it.

We all get it. There is a limited supply. There are links along that supply chain. I get it. If the Government and the European Union do not take action, there will be people who will try to make money at every level-----

We will not let them.

-----and across the board and we will face companies being closed and families being put under severe pressure. We know the Government has not done the work on ensuring we have the generation capacity. We know it has not done the work on renewables. We know the planning mess there is. We know we cannot deliver what we need to deliver in respect of offshore wind. The Government should therefore get its act together rather than the Minister of State shouting at me. If he wants to give an explanation, he can do so in his own time.

At least the Deputy mentioned Putin.

The truth hurts.

I speak for the Labour Party as we face a triple crisis with the cost-of-living crisis, an energy security crisis and a housing crisis. Undoubtedly, the cost-of-living and energy crises have been exacerbated by Russia's brutal war on Ukraine, and we see just this week even more evidence of the brutality and horror of Russia's aggression against Ukraine. There is also no doubt, however, but that the Government has been failing to build up the necessary infrastructure to ensure the supports to get us through a cost-of-living and energy crisis as we face into a bleak winter. There is also no doubt but that the Government has been insufficiently cognisant of the existential climate emergency we also face as we seek to deal with and to address the hardship so many families and households face through rising costs, spiralling food and energy prices and unaffordable rents and mortgages. I hear every day in my constituency from families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet and whose incomes, until even six to eight months or a year ago, were enough to meet the costs they were facing but are no longer enough to meet those spiralling costs. In Ireland we have a surplus budget figure of €6.3 billion for the eight months of this year and nearly full employment, a paradox of plenty because we see the social contract broken. We see delivery riders unable to afford to eat and having to rely on charitable institutions to get hot meals. That is really unacceptable in Ireland in 2022. The hardship is intolerable.

It is in that context we debate this motion on energy security. It is true that the Government is failing citizens who are looking for certainty and who want to know what their bills will be like in one month, two months and three months as we face into the winter. That is what is currently lacking. The situation is at breaking point for so many households, who are now told that their energy bills may reach an average of up to €6,000 next year, a threefold increase on heating and electricity, unsustainable for so many. With this terrible cost-of-living crisis, households and communities undoubtedly need urgent measures in next week's budget to give immediate relief. I think some of that is acknowledged in the motion.

However, my common ground with the drafters of the motion ends there, unfortunately, because the motion as proposed by the Rural Independent Group fails to engage sufficiently with the climate emergency. It fails to acknowledge the existential crisis we face. We should not approach any measure seeking to tackle cost-of-living and energy crises without having serious regard to how best we can meet our vital climate emissions reduction targets. It can be a win-win. We can seek to reduce emissions through clever and radical government policy while giving relief to hard-pressed households, but that is absent from the original motion. The global climate and biodiversity crises are existential, so the notion of abandoning carbon budgets is ludicrous. To quote Extinction Rebellion, we must tell the truth about climate and climate change. We are seeing its impacts everywhere - in Pakistan with floods and in Europe with droughts. We have delayed for far too long, and the really bleak prospect of blackouts and freezing homes in Ireland this winter should refocus our minds and strengthen our commitment to insulate communities from the worst effects of climate change.

Many of the technologies and solutions we need exist. From agriculture to transport, we know it can be done. Yesterday, I was delighted to visit the ploughing championships in County Laois and to meet there with members of the farming and food production communities, who tell me they want support to give effect to ambitious climate targets. They want to see farming and food production in Ireland rendered sustainable not only for them and their children but for all our communities as we face into a climate emergency. It was wonderful to see the engagement with our Labour Party stall at the ploughing championships and to hear from so many people involved in agritech about exciting new initiatives and entrepreneurship. From my constituency, in Ranelagh, Concept Dairy has developed a new app for dairy farmers. There are really ambitious and exciting innovations there, supported by Enterprise Ireland and others. It was very exciting to see this sort of work being done.

We know we can do this. We can meet our climate targets and make Ireland the renewable superpower we can be, but for that we need a new economic model which generates wealth and prosperity for all but which also supports emissions reductions and breaks the hold of the fossil fuel oligarchs and magnates, and indeed the polluting dictators mentioned in the motion. There is a better way possible than that envisaged in the motion, and we need to be clear about that. We in the Labour Party do not believe, for example, that Ireland needs floating LNG terminals. We are open to the development of storage facilities, of course, but only on condition that such facilities can be repurposed for renewables - in other words, they can be future-proofed. To be fair, the Government acknowledges that too, but as a cost control measure and a way of addressing the energy and security crisis, the Labour Party has also called on the Government to take temporary ownership of the Corrib gas field, our indigenous gas supply, which could be provided to the market at cost plus a reasonable margin for the production facility rather than the Government and indeed households having to pay exorbitant costs for gas that is produced here, the price of which should not be set by international conditions. I have called for that already in this House, and I would be glad if the Minister of State would take that call back to his colleagues in the Government.

What Ireland really needs for energy security in the longer term, and medium term, is rapid deployment of offshore wind. That should have been also a short-term approach. Floating LNG is not a sound long-term strategy for Ireland because we all know the future is renewable energy. If as much political energy were to go into resolving why offshore wind development has been so delayed as goes into when we need LNG terminals, we would be in a much more secure position.

As a starting point, we need to ensure that emergency measures are introduced to alleviate pressure on households while we develop urgently our infrastructure for deriving more energy through renewable sources, in particular, offshore wind. We have called for the immediate introduction of a windfall tax on excessive profits for energy companies, an immediate price cap on energy bills and the extension of eligibility for the fuel allowance to ensure that more low- and middle-income households can be brought into the allowance to alleviate hardship in the short term this coming winter. These represent significant measures to get our communities through this winter.

We also need to see vastly enhanced environmental initiatives to incentivise a rapid nationwide switch to renewables to help to meet our climate targets and greatly reduce household bills.

We have called for a climate ticket, unlimited public transport journeys anywhere in Ireland, for €9 a month. Even introducing this on a trial basis would have the added value of helping out hard-pressed households but also helping us all to begin making a real impact on vital climate targets. The Government countermotion is unambitious because it does not seek to do anything as radical as a climate ticket. It does not seek, for example, to double the grant which we should be giving households to invest in solar capacity. That would be a win-win for all. The Government should be incentivising households hugely through much more ambitious measures to ensure they switch to renewables and to solar. Many households are already seeking to do this but are hampered, as we know from recent reports, by the excessive red tape and bureaucracy, the low levels of grants available, and indeed the long delays. There are significant delays on the warmer home scheme with delays in getting repayment of grant aid that is available.

Therefore, the Labour Party believes we need to see an Ireland that works for everyone and an Ireland that works for all, brought about through ambitious and more radical measures from the Government in next week's budget.

First, I want to say that this debate is getting incredibly personal and it is the wrong approach for us to take. I am aware the Minister has left the Chamber, but the personalised nature of the debate in respect of energy and climate is not the appropriate response. However, I recognise that people are angry and scared, and they are unsure of how they will get through the coming winter. I am not just talking about householders but about small businesses and community groups. The energy costs that are hitting people now will have and are already having a significant impact on how they live their lives because of the kinds of sacrifices they are making now. There is an onus on the Government to protect those businesses and individuals, particularly those who are most vulnerable to these incredible hikes in energy prices. It is clear there are many people in our communities who will be very vulnerable to this and that is where the Government's focus must be.

In dealing with this issue, I believe two approaches are needed. First, we need to deal with it in the immediate. A crisis intervention is required and the Government must make sure the resources that the State provides in the budget will be focused on those who are most at risk. The Social Democrats are calling for a cash transfer to individuals that reflects their income levels so that those who are at risk of poverty are the ones who will be most protected. I have said this previously and I will say it again: as a Deputy I do not need an energy credit. I did not need it in the last budget. I do not think any of us in this Chamber need it. That is a misspend of Government money, particularly when we do not know when this crisis will end. From talking to people in the industry, they have said that the crisis may potentially be with us for two or three years. When making decisions on how finances will be spent in the budget, the Government needs to be prudent and make sure it focuses on targeted measures.

Members spoke about protecting those who are most vulnerable. The Minister of State mentioned that there are protections for people from being disconnected. All individuals are protected for three months, but that is obviously not sufficient. Longer protections are available for people who are designated as vulnerable, but those designations relate to medically vulnerable people. It is clear that many people will be financially vulnerable this winter. I ask the Government to look into expanding and extending the disconnection measure for longer than three months because we are in a crisis situation. No one in this country should have their energy switched off this winter because they could not afford to pay for it with the crisis we are facing.

I also want to talk about the urgency that the Government applies to this crisis. I am aware that the national energy security framework, which was published by the Government in April, was a direct response to what was happening in Ukraine and the high prices we were seeing. I recently received a response from the CRU to a parliamentary question I raised in respect of the list of actions it will take as part of the framework. What I cannot understand is how it has taken six or seven months to deal with many of these issues. One of the measures that will be put in place, as required under the framework, is to ensure that all customers with a financial hardship meter would be placed on the cheapest tariff. That will not happen until 1 December. How could it possibly take that long to put such a measure in place? We are in a crisis situation. The Government needs to act urgently. The CRU also needs to act urgently in regard to this. The reduced debt burden on pay-as-you-go top-ups was due to be implemented on 1 October. These are measures that should have been in place quickly. The work was done, the security plan was in place and the CRU should have introduced those measures immediately.

In reference to the motion, we need to have an immediate and a crisis-led focus at the moment. However, we cannot lock ourselves into a fossil fuel future in the medium and longer term. That is really important because the reason we are where we are at present is because previous Governments did not move quickly enough to ensure our homes, businesses, schools, and community groups were protected, energy robust and energy resilient. That must mean moving away from fossil fuels. I agree with certain aspects of this motion but there are many aspects with which I do not agree. If we continue down that road, we are just going to be more vulnerable in the future because the climate crisis is not going away. In fact, it is getting increasingly worse and it will continue to do so if we do not take measures.

There is a problem with the Government's messaging on the windfall tax and how the Government talks to people on this issue. There is a level of patronising commentary from the Government, telling people that they need to use less energy in order to deal with this cost-of-living crisis. Everyone to whom I have spoken knows that if they want to reduce their energy costs, they should use less energy. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to get that.

I have heard the energy cap being spoken about a lot, but I have not heard whether the Government has done an analysis on exactly how much it would cost the State, because that would be an open-ended cheque for energy companies. I have spoken to people and they do not understand what happens if an energy cap is placed on bills. It is not that the energy companies cannot charge more for energy; it is that the Government will pay energy companies. That message is not getting out there. I spoke to a number of people over the weekend who were quite surprised by this. They thought it was a simple thing to do - to stop energy companies from charging us more. Unfortunately, that is not a simple thing to do. It is not possible because of the international energy markets we are in. If a cap is brought in, the State, in the form of the taxpayer, will pick up that bill. It will also mean that people like me and the Minister of State can continue to use as much energy as we want and the State will pay. It is a non-targeted response to this crisis. We will end up subsidising not only energy companies but large energy users, and that is not the way to go. Has the Government done an analysis, or will it do such an analysis, so that this message can be made clear to people because the Government's response at this stage of the crisis is not a viable one?

There is no doubt we are facing a real crisis. It is a crisis that has millions of people fearful of their next bill with thousands more being pushed into that situation daily, who are not being officially recognised. We have hundreds of thousands of people officially recognised as living in energy poverty, but hundreds of thousands more are not recognised.

By the end of the crisis, without action from the Government we may have a majority of citizens in energy poverty and experiencing real hardship in keeping on the heat and light and having to make choices about eating or heating. There is no doubt it is a historic crisis. The Deputies are right to table a motion but their solutions are unreal.

The main demand of the motion will do nothing for ordinary people suffering in the crisis. The motion hints at solutions of a windfall tax and mentions a national retrofit programme and decoupling gas. It also quite rightly points to the examples of other states which have successful renewable energy strategies. I have the feeling these demands are an afterthought to the real business being pushed, which is the interests of fuel companies, specifically Providence Resources and that jewel in its crown of Barryroe. There is a saying that one should never waste a good crisis. That saying is well used in the House but this is a classic example of it. There are many reasons for the current crisis but it is not a crisis of energy supply. It is a crisis of energy pricing.

The one thing that has absolutely nothing to do with this crisis is the inability or delay in Providence Resources or any other oil company extracting oil or gas anywhere from the waters of the State. We could tear up the climate emergency measures that we voted for and tell Providence, Shell, BP and anybody else to go dig their wells and sink wells all over this island and it would do nothing to deal with the energy crisis we have and the prices that people are facing. There are two reasons I say this. The first is the State's licensing terms for the exploration of oil and gas. Depending on when licences were issued the companies will most likely pay no tax on their finds and no royalties to the State. The State has had a policy of giving away the State's natural resources and reducing any potential tax take from oil and gas. Corrib, like others, is able to claim the full cost of setting up its field and pays no tax on its production. The licensing terms have been labelled the most generous of any state in the world. That was under the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael philosophy and it remains so with regard to renewable energy, which is mainly in the hands of private companies.

The terms of these licences also mean that any company that finds oil or gas is under no obligation to sell it back to this State. It can sell it to where it sees fit. An oil or gas find in Ireland does not mean an oil or gas sale to the Irish State. It means Providence or anybody else that finds oil or gas may sell it to the State but the State will be charged at international market rates. In short, finding oil and gas anywhere will do nothing to address the crisis we face. I want to find out from the Deputies what they think about the fact that Shannon LNG paid more than €4 million to Kerry County Council. If the LNG fails will that money be returned to Shannon LNG?

In the motion the Deputies make reference to domestic oil and gas and how it would have a lower carbon footprint than importing foreign oil and gas. Many of them have articulated this over the years but they have a clear scepticism on the facts of climate change, seeing it mostly as a giant conspiracy and often speaking about an international campaign to cast doubt on climate change and rubbish any measures it attempts to address. The House will forgive me if I doubt that the carbon footprint of oil and gas is not a real concern here. The floods in Pakistan are receding and as the lives of 30 million people are devastated, sceptics on climate get bolder in their claims and denials. The truth is they could live to see historic droughts and storms but they could also deny the evidence in front of them.

The hysteria regarding energy security is similar to that of using a good crisis in the case of the war in Ukraine. To listen to the hysterical talk that the Brits might cut us off and about our reliance on one pipe we would think we got gas from a small pipeline that could fail any second-----

Wake up, woman, wake up.

-----if Liz Truss decided to turn it off. Repeatedly over the years reliance on British gas has been held up as a reason for not finding our own oil and gas. I will repeat again what many have confirmed, which is that there is no threat to our gas supplies from Britain.

You know this very well of course and you driving your diesel-guzzling van outside. You drive your diesel-guzzling van every day of the week. You forget that.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

The Rural Independent Group will have an opportunity to respond later.

You could not respond to her.

There is no threat to our gas supplies from Britain. Reliance on Britain would only be replaced by reliance on North American fracked gas or LNG from Qatar or another similar dictatorship. I am in favour of eliminating our reliance on British and North Sea gas. The quicker we do it the better but we should not replace it with reliance on a different source of oil or gas. The war in Ukraine is being used by global fossil fuel interests to row back on climate action and to further develop new streams of oil and gas across the planet. The devastation of this will outlive the devastation of the war and will cost even more suffering.

I want to look at what would address the energy price crisis and what we need to do to help ordinary people. This Saturday I will join tens of thousands of others from trade unions, senior citizens, retired workers, students, dozens of homeless groups, groups representing lone parents and NGOs from throughout Ireland. We will march from Parnell Square at 2.30 p.m. to demand meaningful action including price controls, rent controls, increases for workers to match inflation and increases in social protection to match inflation. Nobody should be cut off this winter for being unable to pay their bills. As we have repeatedly said, there should be no further connections to data centres in this State. They are way over the top in their usage of energy. Meaningful action would mean moving away from the market and the deregulation and liberalisation of energy . That happened in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Meaningful action would mean reversing the decades of that dogma which placed the profits of a few above the interests of many. I hope the Deputies behind the motion will join us and demand real action on the crisis we really do face.

Go out to the van and drive it home full of diesel.

Next to speak is Deputy Seán Canney of the Regional Group. I ask that the Deputy's microphone be switched on.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion which is timely and I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling it. It follows the Regional Group's motion last week which was unopposed by the Government. It set out a template for how to deal with the energy crisis and the energy price crisis that we have. There is much rhetoric and talk about these issues. We have to speak about real action. Last week I said to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that we produced a document and set of proposals that could be a template for doing something practical and logical. I am sure the Minister of State hears in his office, as does every Minister, about the number of small businesses in the country that are on the edge and paying through the roof for their energy. There are small shops in small towns and villages. Small publicans are fighting against the tide in any event following Covid. The price of electricity for them to run their coolers and make sure everything is right for the food they sell has increased threefold. It is not alarming but scary.

Last Saturday morning a man spoke to me on the street in Tuam. He said that if there is not something in the budget for business people, he will close. He is young with a fairly sizeable business. He owns his own property. He does not have a mortgage on it and he is not renting it. He has been there for the past 20 years. He says he will close the doors unless he sees something happening. This is what we are looking at. This is with regard to the cost of energy. We also have energy security.

I will repeat what we said last week, which is that there is one simple solution. People can say it is not simple because of legal matters. The Derrybrien wind farm in my constituency could serve 40,000 houses with green energy.

We should bring something in here to the Dáil that we could all agree upon to get that opened as a matter of urgency. It would be a statement of intent to get more energy, and more green energy. There is no controversy about that. It is an immediate step that can be taken to help people living in fear of not having energy next winter or having blackouts. Industry cannot afford to have blackouts or downtime in its energy supply, never mind the fact that it is paying so much more for it.

We should be looking at how we can generate more green energy as simply as possible. If one looks at all the farm buildings around this country, it is a matter of getting supports to them to use the microgeneration that is there. The microgeneration scheme that has been in place has sold a pup to many homeowners because they were supposed to get a payback from the grid when they were pumping energy into it. This should have been happening since July of last year but they still have not got that sorted out which is an indictment of the way the policies are being enacted. We need better and stronger plans.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for submitting this motion. It allows us the opportunity once again to debate our energy crisis and security. Many of the comments I made last week on my group's motion are also relevant to this motion, but I will try to avoid too much repetition of what I said then. It is on the record and I hope it will be taken on board by those making the decisions.

There are striking parallels between our approach to the housing crisis and the approach to the energy crisis. They are fundamentally caused by the same issue - a lack of supply. Supply is the issue. Basic economics show that if the demand remains the same and supply has been restricted, it will result in prices going up. We have caused that in the housing market by excess regulation and poor planning policy. We are doing that with the energy market as well.

The current problems facing us in energy supply have been caused mainly by a combination of factors which have colluded to make the issue even worse. Obviously, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions placed on Russian energy as a result have restricted supply. The other major contributory factor to this is the fact that we have consistently and continually restricted our own supply of electricity, even though politicians have been aware of the potential for crisis for the past 14 years. Government policy and decisions have made us more reliant on European and UK imports and, therefore, we are more exposed than we should be to events beyond our control. The Government has closed our own peat-powered plants. We have given the Government a proposal on the reopening of those facilities but it has, in the programme for Government, banned the exploration of gas off our coasts and we have no gas storage. We are the only country in Europe with no gas storage.

I would love to see the entire energy supply run on renewable and reliable energy but we have bitten off our noses to spite our face in trying to do it. The cart has been well and truly put before the horse. We have tried to curtail our reliable sources of electricity in favour of unreliable sources which are currently unable to provide for our needs or are unavailable. This needs to change, as a matter of urgency, to meet the demands of the current crisis. We need to ensure we build our renewable energy capability while still ensuring our energy security. That means not moving away from the old reliables until such a time as the new sources are readily able to provide enough reliable energy.

We need to secure alternatives which do not rely on the behaviour of foreign governments or volatile political situations abroad. The Government and previous governments have allowed ideology to prevail ahead of pragmatism when it comes to energy. The problem, in a nutshell, was illustrated by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, last week in the debate on the Regional Group's motion when he steadfastly refused to consider opening Derrybrien to provide additional power, for fear of upsetting the EU. I would be more worried about upsetting the business owners up and down the country who are and will be hit with colossal energy bills. It will drive businesses to close and people out of work and householders will be hit from all angles. The worst case will be job losses.

What is our priority? We are a sovereign nation or, at least, we should be. We should be free to manage our own affairs in times of crisis which means doing what is best for the Irish people in the national interest. Furthermore, not one port in this country is ready to construct offshore wind farms. Rosslare has been deemed the most suitable port, but not one penny has gone from this Government's coffers to justify and join the dots. The Irish taxpayer has not committed one penny to Rosslare Europort for the advancement of electricity.

I very much welcome this motion from the Rural Independent Group. I will support the motion if I am not called upon to pair with a committee Chair who has to be elsewhere. It is a very important motion in that it recognises, as most people recognise, that we would like to move to renewables. We also have to realistic about the fact that we will not achieve that in a couple of days, weeks or even months. We will have to be realistic. We will have to figure out a strategy for powering this State while we make that move.

I have listened to what the Government has to say about this matter and in particular to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who is the Minister in the Department tasked with this. There is great hope for the offshore wind energy sector and he has considerable ambitions in that regard. I would never fault anybody for having hope or ambition but they have to be tempered a little bit by reality. Notwithstanding all the talk that we will be net exporters of wind energy, we have to bear in mind that in 2020, when this Government came to power, 35% of the energy generated in the State was generated by wind. Last year, that fell to 29%. The reality belies the words that are being floated about.

We are told that offshore wind is this great panacea, but I would like to refer to Equinor, the Norwegian state company formally known as Statoil, is almost the biggest player and is certainly at the cutting edge of floating turbines. They are the only ones I am aware of who have developed floating turbines. To harness the wind energy off the Atlantic, the turbines will have to be floating, because offshore turbines need to be either anchored or floating. They will be anchored in the Irish Sea but will have to be floating in the Atlantic. However, Equinor has pulled out. There had been a huge announcement, and I was delighted with what was going to happen at Moneypoint, but the company pulled out a couple of months later. The company did not cite anything, but industry sources said it was because the company was baffled by the lack of planning and regulatory reform and the lack of any real capability or possibility of developing this sector in Ireland.

We are being told, "live, horse, and you will get grass" - the grass we are going to get is this offshore wind energy - but we do not even have the ports. A national ports study by Wind Energy Ireland which was released today found that we have no ports in the Republic of Ireland. I am aware that the CEO of Foynes Port is very ambitious in this regard, but his ambition has to be backed by Government ambition and it has to be funded. Again, the moves are not in that direction. It is great that we have an ambitious CEO in Foynes Port with the foresight to see what needs to be done, but it is not so good if this ambition is not matched by the Government. The ambition needs to be matched throughout the country.

If offshore wind is to be the great panacea which the Government says it will be, we will need to have suitable ports to load these substantial developments. These floating turbines will be absolutely mammoth in scale. They have be done locally. If the big companies could load up the ships in Aberdeen or Stranraer they would do so, but they cannot. The turbines have to be done locally, but we do not have the ports to do this. Not alone do we not have the ports, but there is no sign of us having the ports to do it. At the same time, we are being told we will have lots of wind energy which will solve all of our problems.

I support the Government's ambition and hope, but I speak to small businesses throughout this State that are being hammered. I will give an example.

The Shannon Swimming and Leisure Centre is State-funded. The centre's energy bills doubled from August 2020 to August 2021 and doubled again to August 2022. They are more than €7,000 per month. The centre is funded through the Clare County Council. How is it going to keep its doors open? How is it going to provide a facility to schoolchildren and people in Shannon who want to swim and stay fit? How is that going to happen? That is just one example. Then there are the supermarkets. When I was a child there was only one fridge in many shops and now there are walls of fridges and whatever. They are not going to be able to keep the lights on because we are utterly reliant on imported energy and nothing the Government is doing is changing that fact.

We have no control over the cost of imported energy. We have to pay whatever the rate is and we are not developing. We are talking about wind energy but we are not really developing it. We are not even talking about nuclear energy but we are happy to import it and pay whatever the going rate is. Of course, the going rate is linked to the price of gas, which suits the Germans. It is "All hail the Germans" in the Government at the moment, especially Ursula von der Leyen. Has the Taoiseach told the Minister of State what job he is getting? Our strategy on gas, the Ukraine war and everything is based on whatever the European Commission wants, so somebody is clearly auditioning for a role. Maybe it is the Minister of State himself; I do not know. However, I am not content to see this State being sold down the swanny on the basis of the Germans' mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket. The Minister of State can heave and sigh and fall over if he wants to, but the reality is Germany is utterly dependent on gas because it decommissioned its nuclear plants. France is in a much better place because it did not decommission its plants, given it costs an awful lot less to produce nuclear energy at the moment than it does to generate electricity through gas. The Germans made a mistake and the French did not. As Germans made a mistake, we are all paying for it because the price we pay for imported energy, be it generated by nuclear or any other method, is linked to the price of gas and that is at the behest of the Germans, and we, for whatever reason, are in thrall to Ursula von der Leyen. She is of course a former Minister of Defence in Germany. They wanted to get rid of her and managed to shunt her off all right but that is a different matter.

I come back to energy. I am asking that this Government get real about how we are going to keep the lights on in the State and how we are going to achieve some degree of self-sufficiency. I commend the Rural Independent Group on bringing forward a motion in that regard. I am very disappointed by the countermotion put forward by the Government, which is basically whistling past the graveyard. Live horse and you will get grass. It will all be fine on the day. It will not, unless strategy changes. I see no sign of the Government's lofty words being matched with actions on the ground.

Bogaimid go dtí an Aire Stáit. Tá deich nóimead aige.

I agree with some of the things Deputy McNamara said but I am reminded of the time he compared us with Cromwell over the Covid restrictions, whereas it turned out-----

We were the only country that closed the churches.

-----that we had one of the best outcomes in the entire world from Covid.

We are broke. Does the Minister of State not get it?

That was thanks to the policies of this Government.

To be fair, there is a wide range of suggestions from the Opposition and there are interesting points across the spectrum. The general criticism I have of the Opposition response is that while the Government is struggling with this crisis, as governments all over the world are, and the Opposition cannot be expected to come up with answers, an acknowledgment at least of how complex this situation is would be useful for the public. It is incredibly complex.

The issue of decoupling electricity and gas was never mentioned in this Dáil until relatively recently and is an issue under consideration at EU level. The Union, contrary to what Deputy McNamara says, is not Ursula von der Leyen telling us what to do but is instead, especially where energy is concerned, all the governments working together to get the best solution for every European citizen. That means getting the best price for energy. Decoupling is something we would like to see but that cannot just be brought in today because that could completely disrupt the energy markets and lead to the type of energy insecurity the Opposition is talking about at a much greater scale.

There are two major contexts to this crisis. They have been fleetingly referenced by those on the Opposition benches. One is climate change, and we know some members of the rural alliance will just dismiss that argument completely-----

We are not the rural alliance.

-----but this is-----

We are the Rural Independent Group------

What I would like from the Rural Independent Group Members and from others as well is an acknowledgement that climate change is a fact, that it is coming towards us like a train and we must react to it and that the public and the people the group's Deputies represent in counties Kerry, Tipperary, Cork and Offaly know that as well and are working towards it. The other issue is Putin. This man has turned on and off gas taps etc. The war on Ukraine has affected the markets and for people in some parties to not even mention that-----

We should not be depending on Russian gas.

-----says more about them than it does about us. Colleagues have raised genuine issues about energy security and there is no doubt about that. We have work to do on that and we have been doing a huge amount of work.

On the crisis, Deputy Whitmore asked for clear messaging on the issue of what the Government is doing versus the caps Sinn Féin proposes. Its proposed cap essentially mean that while prices will be capped, though at what level I am not sure because the party has not said, it would mean we would have to write a cheque from the public to the energy companies to make up whatever the difference between the price they would be allowed charge and the profit Sinn Féin would allow them to make. The Government proposal, working with European governments, is to work on demand reduction measures, work to take the excess profits off the renewable generators and give them back to the Irish people because those revenues have been earned in a non-natural way and to take a windfall tax off those fossil fuel producers as well, namely the gas and oil companies, as the Rural Independent Group is advocating for. They are in the proposal at the moment so instead of what Sinn Féin proposes, which is to give money from the people to the energy companies, we are saying the opposite should happen, namely, we should take the money from the energy companies at source and give it back to the people to help them with their bills and help us with our energy security.

There are a number of other measures under consideration, including the decoupling of the gas price from the electricity price, which is something we would all like to see if it could work. However, it is certainly not easy. It is something that has worked effectively for a number of decades at this point to ensure security of supply at a reasonable price, though clearly there is a big problem with it at the moment and we are working with our colleagues on that as well.

The other issue is a cap on the price of gas such that we would only pay a certain amount. We would tell Russia, Norway, Britain or whichever country that this is all we are going to pay. Ireland wants to see that. We would like all the other member states to agree to that as well and it is something I hope can happen. Again, it is not just as easy as saying the price of gas will be capped because there will be a reaction from the selling countries to that and, therefore, all these factors must be considered. I ask people to at least appreciate that this is complex and in the face of climate change-----

It was made complex.

-----and in the face of, effectively, a mad tyrant in Russia causing a war, there should be unity around the place. We should take good ideas from the Opposition, which we are doing, and Opposition Deputies should also give some acknowledgment of the work under way, which is extraordinary work by all governments in the face of this crisis, and work with us to get the best results for the people, which is what this Government is determined to do.

Nothing can be ruled out. We do not like the Sinn Féin price cap. I do not like it at all. However, I am long enough around here to know that not nothing can ever be ruled out in a crisis. The way gas and electricity prices are linked has been going on for a long time and worked very well for many years. Maybe a few years ago it would have been unthinkable to intervene in the market that way, put a cap on the price of gas and take revenues off companies that were developing renewable energy because that would disincentivise them. We have all got to think the unthinkable but we must do it in a reasonable way and acknowledge what governments have been doing. To directly and immediately relieve the pressure on households facing exceptional energy bills, the Government has provided €2.4 billion in a package of policies and measures to help energy customers, particularly through the summer months. We were fortunate this summer and even into September with the mild weather and that has given everyone a break, but the Government has given people a break too. We have had an electricity cost credit that has applied to more than 2.1 million domestic electricity accounts, a reduction in VAT on electricity and gas bills and increases to the fuel allowance for the most vulnerable to ensure our measures, while universal and broad-based, are also targeted at the most vulnerable.

The NESF, which was approved by Government and published in April, sets out our response to our energy security needs in the context of the invasion of Ukraine and our specific national circumstances.

The storage review was published yesterday as well. Some Members felt it had not been published but it was. The CRU is managing a programme of work to address challenges to the security of electricity supplies in Ireland with the support of EirGrid and a number of consumer protections have been announced. Specifically on the moratorium relating to disconnection, I ask people, please, not to get stressed out about this. There is a moratorium on disconnections for all domestic customers. Originally it was from mid-December to mid-January and the moratorium for vulnerable customers was originally from 1 November to 31 March.

Under new measures the moratorium has been extended from 1 December until 28 February and, for vulnerable customers, from 1 October to the end of March. There was a Sinn Féin representative on television the other night saying there was no moratorium in place. The moratorium is in place for the toughest times of the year. There are lots of measures in place to help customers. I have been asking the energy companies to do more and they are doing things to help customers. We strongly encourage customers to engage with the energy companies if they are in difficulties and indeed with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS.

The Government's priority is to reduce the cost that customers have to pay to ensure we have the most secure electricity and energy supply possible. The way we are going to do that at this moment, at least, is by direct measures in the budget. The reason we are able to provide direct measures in the budget is that the Irish people and the Government have collectively run the economy in a very good way in the past few years that has enabled us to have a cash surplus built up. We will use that cash surplus taxes have generated to give to the people to help with their bills, as we have done this year. We are hoping to tell the energy companies that they are earning too much money and we have to take that back retrospectively and not just into the future, back in time to earlier this year, to give that money to the Irish and European people to help them with the bills they unjustifiably pay at the moment. I hope that will be agreed next Friday in Brussels. We will continue working towards a gas price cap. We will continue working to see if decoupling can occur.

The idea that these words and phrases can be just thrown around as if they are simple solutions is not correct. The public knows this is a complex situation. Only three weeks ago Members of the Opposition were criticising the Government for offering energy-efficiency advice. If the Government did not do that, it would be rightly criticised. We have seen people and businesses across the country trying to conserve energy. I have seen lights off. We acknowledge the severe burden on business and the effect that could have on jobs.

The standing charge.

I have no doubt in the budget next week there will be a major package for businesses. That is going to happen. We know what businesses are going through. One of our top priorities in the past few years has been to protect jobs and that is going to continue in this energy crisis.

I thank iar-Seanadóir Brian Ó Domhnaill, my daughter Mairéad and iar-Seanadóir John Hanafin for their help in putting the motion together. I make no apologies for the motion we have brought forward today. We will take no criticism from the Minister of State or the absent Minister who was here at the start. Why is it that he has fled like snow off a ditch when questions were being asked, especially by the rural groups, the Regional Group, ourselves and Deputy McNamara who had to return to the health committee? The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan has to answer. He made one statement - and we will check the record - that a final decision will issue on Barryroe and the application in the coming weeks. We will hold him to that because he has dithered.

The Tánaiste wiped €19 billion off this country's investments one day here about two years ago when he said we were changing our policy at the behest of the Green Party. The problem here is that the Taoiseach in his grovelling attempt to get into power hitched his wagon up to the Green Party. He does not want to unhitch it now but it must be unhitched and the blame for the hames that was made must be put back where it should be - on him. He has made a total hames of it and the Minister of State is one of his junior Ministers now as well. I do not think he has any responsibility in the energy portfolio although they have put him in here. Cá bhfuil na Teachtaí eile? Are they all ploughing? When are they going to stop ploughing?

The Minister of State is telling us patent nonsense. Every kind of situation that comes up with him is a situation of stopping people, persecuting the people. He is talking about the profits and the struggles that we have now on the back of Covid without mentioning the hardship and penury the Government put people through and the fear it put people through and that fear is killing people. We are not climate change deniers in here, not one of us. We understand nature and we are very proud supporters of the flora and fauna along with our farming and rural communities. Indeed we understand that we must change and we will change - no better people to change when we are ready. We should not loosen up the tacking on the horse before we go to the creamery with the milk. If we do, we will have milk spilt on the ground. The Government has milk spilt everywhere and it will have blood spilt. It is driving people to distraction.

Do not talk about blood.

The Government is not funding mental health services but it is putting huge pressures on people's mental health. They just cannot cope with the ever-growing cost increases. The Government says we cannot interfere here, we cannot interfere there. The people own 95% of the ESB. I salute the ESB outdoor staff and indoor staff whom I deal with during outages. They are very effective and very good. The pure gouging they are taking out of people now and they are making €590 million profit in the first six months of this year in the teeth of this awful, horrendous upward spiral of prices is just sickening. For the CRU to come out yesterday, another quango with a brass plate on the wall, and say they could not do anything about it is why the people are so sick and so tired of a weary, cobbled together, mish-mash, liquorice allsorts of a Government. However, the sweets are turning sour and there will not be any liquorice in them by the time this is finished. When the Government Deputies meet the people, tá siad ag fanacht oraibh, they are waiting for them in the long grass. They might not have the light to see them or enough batteries to see them coming in. The Deputies might have head torches on from some kind of solar power, if they go near them at all. I do not believe they will.

Let us take the country and our economy, from hotels and catering to butchers, abattoirs, agriculture and indeed leisure centres, schools, naíonraí, childcare, national schools, secondary schools, third level. How are they going to pay the bills? The Government knows they are not. They could not possibly pay them. The Minister of State said a few minutes ago he does not want anyone to panic or worry and we will all be okay. Live, horse, and you will get grass. I say mol an óige agus tiocfaidh siad and to look after our people but the Government abandoned that a long time ago. We have also the leisure centres, as I said, and every facet of business - industry, hauliers. I was in a SuperValu shop recently and their bill April 12 months ago was €6,080. Their bill in April 2022 was €18,000, even before these mad increases we are talking about now. How is that sustainable? They employ 36 people. Their competitors down the road, some of our German friends - I will not name the supermarkets; they are supported by people too - have ten staff and treble the income. They can manage.

We have served our global masters. The Minister of State has served them too, as Minster of State with responsibility for European affairs. The Taoiseach has served our global masters. No matter what happens to the people, he is planning a big job when he is run out of politics here, in some part of Europe or beyond. The sooner the better. Get him away from us here because no one ever treated anyone or betrayed our people like he did. When I think of de Valera, Lemass, Charlie Haughey and Bertie Ahern whom the Deputies are afraid to talk about now - they do not know what they are doing, a distraction - when I think of Albert Reynolds, the enthusiasm and the way he supported business and our small farmers and small people, the current Government is just serving the global masters of Europe. That is all you want to do.

As far as I am concerned the reality is that there are three main causes for the energy crisis. Uimhir a haon is a complete under-investment in oil and gas. There is no alternative capacity whatsoever and no backup plan. They say the man who has no cash has no hope. The Government has plenty of cash but it has no vision, no plan, and it is an abject failure. That is why one of its backbenchers will not come in to the Chamber for this debate, the Regional Group's debate last week or many other debates we bring forward. It is such a dereliction of democracy. I welcome the Minister back to the Chamber. At least the Government did cobble up a countermotion unlike the nonsensical situation last week and 40 times previous of not opposing the motions but only to acquiesce to them and put them in the bin.

Such a cynical ploy by a Government is disgraceful. The Government cobbled together a half-baked response to this.

When the Minister was present earlier, he said that Ballyroe would get a decision in the next few weeks. I am holding him to that. We will raise it here because he has prevaricated, ignored the applicants and will not meet them.

Deputy Smith and others think that “companies” is a dirty word. However, it is okay for us to import oil from other dirty dictators when we cannot get it from Russia. The Minister has held up their applications for licences-----

The Deputy's time is up.

I have ten minutes, please. In fairness, I have ten minutes and I would like to use them. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, used his full ten minutes, so I am entitled, as it is our motion, le do thoil.

The Minister prevaricated and presided over one disaster after the next. As I said, it just not feasible or anything else. The Minister shamed the oil companies and oil investors and dismantled all of them, yet he has no diversification plans. There are many people out there crying. Businesses, households and everybody else are trying to diversify and put in solar panels and many generators, turbines and everything else. Many have, and the Government refused to pay these people supplying electricity back to the grid. It was only this July that they are getting any acceptance that these payments will be made to them. There are many people who have the vision and passion that the Minister has.

What changed him since 2007 when he made statements that we had to bring all our oil reserves and have gas reserves and be self-sufficient in this country? What caused the dramatic change? Was it the nod from the global masses in Europe? I know Green Party policies are there. I served with the Minister in the House between 2007 and 2011 when he was banished from the country. The Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, should know what happened to that Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. However, he does not care, as I said. It is power at any cost for him and no power for the people; no current for the people; and no heat or warmth. We will all be coming here in our thermal vests and long johns and the people at home will freeze in their houses.

The Government will give out temporary supports in the budget to everyone. Why does any Deputy need any of the paybacks the Government has given? It gives them to millionaires and the chairs of the ESB, all the other quangos and An Bord Pleanála who are on €120,000 a year plus expenses. The people are fed up with it. Ag magadh faoi na daoine. This is not good enough.

We are calling on the Minister not to oppose this motion. However, if he does, we will table another motion of no confidence for the Minister to resign. We respect him as a decent man, but his policies are cuckoo. I think Deputy Nolan said last week that he following some kind of a cult-like scenario with his green policies and colleagues. I believe that his biggest problem is serving the global masters. We know there is a meeting on 21st and we will have representatives at another global economic forum again instead of representing the people his country who duly elected him to this Parliament and all of us for the time being. They are hurting across every facet of society from the womb to the tomb. We know the attack that the Government went on against the womb before and the unborn. However, he is attacking and hurting everyone now and he does not care. He has no bit of humility, no bit of respect and no bit of appreciation of the problem. It is time for the Minister to get out, go to the country and towns and feel the temperature. He should continue to go out to the park and send the Taoiseach to the park and dissolve this ramshackle, humble, Humpty Dumpty Government before he destroys our people completely and our country.

Amendment put.

A division has been demanded. In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the vote is deferred until the weekly division time this evening.

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