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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 30 May 1984

Vol. 104 No. 2

National Energy Policy: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann rejects the proposal to close in whole or in part fourteen power stations and demands the Government to give priority to indigenous fuel in its National Energy Policy in the Midlands and the West to ensure that the ESB's peat fuel stations are kept fully operative.

Fianna Fáil are convinced that we are having an on-and-off situation with regard to the development of the boglands of the country because of this Government. The position is that another viability study is being started. From what the Minister resposible, the Minister for Energy, said in the Dáil yesterday evening and from references he made some time ago to a viability study, we learned in a most horrifying manner that the peat briquette project at Ballyforan has to receive the usual dose from this Government of a further viability study and a postponement. It has been stopped for another 12 months.

This comes as a great shock to us. Many people in the west of Ireland are horrified at the situation which has now been created. Valuable time is being lost daily by this indecision on the part of the Government. On Monday of this week as I travelled to this city the workers were working on the development of the bog there cutting peat. Bord na Móna, in their annual report this year, stated categorically and clearly — it is there for anybody to see — that the project at Derryfadda and the building of the plant at Ballyforan were advancing satisfactorily. How, then, could the Minister tell us yesterday — he flabbergasted us by the manner in which he told us — that this project has been stopped and was going under review for another 12 months?

How come the union and the workers and all the people associated with this development in Derryfadda did not know one word of that on Monday of this week? I know that to be a fact. I want the Minister to explain in clear terms that this is the situation, that it has been a Government decision, probably of yesterday morning, probably taken at a Government meeting, and there is little point in blaming Bord na Móna, the workers, the lack of fuel consumption and all the other little items that they shove into such statements as though they themselves were not really to blame. We know the history of this Coalition Government and the previous one on this issue.

This project was approved in May 1979. It had progressed to the stage when much of the bogland had been bought — sadly it was bought cheaply — despite the bellows of the then Senator Paul Connaughton, who protested vehemently at that time. The annals of the House are there clearly to confirm it. He said the farmers of the west of Ireland should not be asked to give their bogs away. There was a point to that argument. In a way I agreed with it. But because of the guarantees that were given to those farmers at that time by Bord na Móna, the guarantees of employment, the guarantees of usage, they reluctantly agreed to give the bogs.

A plant was then in operation on 222 acres, developing grassmeal for the Sugar Company. It was taken off the hands of the Sugar Company practically free, gratis and for nothing. I never could extract what the figure was, but I am sure they were delighted to give it because they were trying to get out of the west of Ireland anyhow. In come Bord na Móna. They pulled up all of the trees, they started the development, they uprooted all the grass, they closed the grassmeal factory, but in 1981 the Coalition Government cried halt to that project. It was put, to use the now infamous phrase, “under review.”

Fianna Fáil came back to Government, it was reviewed immediately by the then Minister Deputy Reynolds, and approval was given to go ahead in two stages. Foundations for the factory were laid and in the last annual report of Bord na Móna, the project was "progressing satisfactorily"— I am quoting Bord na Móna's phrase. Then yesterday, after a stop-go policy for most of last year, the bombshell dropped. The Minister announced that it was going under further review.

It is the most blatant misuse of public funds I have ever witnessed in my life in this country. Almost £16 million had been invested in this development and, to the best of my knowledge, between £2½ and £3½ million is committed under contract by Bord na Móna themselves. One hundred and sixty thousand tonnes of milled peat have been processed and are stockpiled.

Something unique happened last year. The Bord na Móna workers were asked to mill a certain figure for the year, which they surpassed — their production last year was 110 per cent, which is unique for a semi-State organisation at present. The site has been cleared. We even erected six floodlights. The ESB brought in the poles to show the lads that they could work day and night, if they so wished, on the project.

I am glad the Senator mentioned the ESB — that is what the motion is supposed to be about.

If this hurts I am sorry, but it is, as I read it, that we demand the Government to give priority to indigenous fuel in its national energy policy in the midlands and the west to ensure that the ESB's peat fuel stations are kept fully operative.

I am, and I will continue to talk about Bord na Móna. If the Minister of State does not like it, I am sorry. I am talking about the development of peat. To me it is the greatest instance of necessity. You may correct me if I am wrong——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I am chairing this debate and Senator Killilea is correct. Senator Killilea to continue.

When I was rudely interrupted I referred to the 150,000 or 160,000 tonnes of milled peat now stockpiled. The floodlights are 84 feet high so that we could work at night. We were that thorough about it. The ESB lines have been laid. Telephone lines, at enormous expense, were laid. Galway and Roscommon County Councils have spent an enormous amount of money on the development of the roads there. The bridge at Ballyforan has been structured to carry very heavy traffic.

As I said, there are two years' stocks of milled peat. Is that not misuse of indigenous fuel? At the same time, peat briquettes are being imported from Germany, inferior in quality but, of course, cheaper. There is no doubt that Bord na Móna will have to get their act together. They have had a monoply in the market in Ireland for years. I am not saying that they are bad, but they could have been better. Their attention must be drawn to this and something done about it.

The project did not cost the Government any money as yet because they were only guarantors. Bord na Móna are obviously anxious to complete this project, but the Government seem to have stopped them. Up to last Monday evening money was being spent on that development by Bord na Móna. Experts inside and outside the Houses of Parliament have advised that we should have our own natural resources processed to be made available to the people of the country.

The project that I speak about was initially intended to serve a ten milliwatt ESB generating station. It was proved conclusively that it was not necessary, but the decision was made to go ahead with it. Something had to be done with the bog which had been uprooted. The grass had been making a handsome profit for the sugar company. Trees had been planted at Derryfadda.

It is not acceptable to me that any person other than the Government, headed by Deputy FitzGerald, made the decision to close the project for a further year. I have listened to this sort of thing from Coalition Governments for the best part of my political life in the short periods when they were in office. I heard the honourable Monsignor from Knock on the radio one morning putting his case. He was quite capable of explaining the reasons and the facts behind that case. He made one particular point — he said that the Government had reached the stage when, if I quote him correctly, "it has now gone anti-religion".

I will not go into the religion part of it, but I will give a few examples of how the Coalition Government hate the west of Ireland. I will not speak about the Mayo project — Senator O'Toole will speak about that; Senators all know the one I am talking about, the regional airport at Charlestown. There was the issue of the Tuam sugar factory. Little wonder the Sugar Company's profits have dropped significantly — they were part and parcel of the Derryfadda deal. They developed the boglands and made them into a profitable business. Whether by chance, wish or desire, they were either delighted, or hated — I never found out which — to hand over this project that was making a handsome profit in Gowla, the Gowla Farm, as it was known, to another State board. Deputy Connaughton, who was then a Senator, became the greatest joke in the history of the State. The only people closing the Tuam sugar factory in the last two years were the Coalition Government, yet Deputy Connaughton hired a crowd from outside the Tuam area, when he had got the Government to announce that the sugar factory was not going to be closed, to hoist him upon their shoulders and carry him around the town. He was this Coalition Government's aide for the west of Ireland. I will give him credit at least for saying the Government would do it "over my dead body". Obviously at the end of the day he won and the Coalition Government lost, but let us remember it was only he and the Coalition Government who were going to close it. Fianna Fáil's policy was quite clear. It was not an issue in which we were implicated.

The Government are also implicated in the project in Derryfadda which farmers need if they are to develop their land. We will not be talking about the Western Health Board cutbacks which are not relevant to this motion. We will not be talking about the allocation of money to county councils which we were deprived of but which is relevant to the motion because we spent an enormous amount of money in that district on this development in the hope that we would be able to get transport to take away the product that this Government have failed to give us. It is a waste of money from that point of view. Money was so scarce in our county council this year that we had to put aside other projects far more important because we wanted to fill in the infrastructures to enable this project to start, and what do we get for it? We got a slap in the face. We will not get compensation for that money.

Where do we go? Our people suffer even more. I speak on those points because in discussing this aspect of it Senators will speak for their own areas. They will know the points to be made and at the end of the debate everybody's attitude will be gone into. I want to give the point of view of the west of Ireland.

I am totally and absolutely convinced that the Donnybrook set, headed by the Taoiseach, despise and hate the people of the west of Ireland. I have given instances here of it. It has been seen in issue after issue in the previous ten months of Government that we had from them. We had to set up an organisation to try to protect people from them in the past ten months and now they have started it all over again. I cannot broaden it into all the issues, but there are many more. As I said, there is the drainage issue. There are many other projects all along the west coast which they have savaged. It saddens me to see so few Senators in this House on the Government side from the west of Ireland. Some of them are abroad talking about El Salvador, some of them are talking about Guatemala and about President Reagan and everything else, when issues that are deep in our minds have been brought here tonight. Instead of being here arguing those issues, they have gone hiking around the country looking for publicity for issues which are not relevant to the people in the west of Ireland. Why do they not come in here and with a sense of reason and responsibility stand in this House and defend the people of the west of Ireland against this Cromwellian type Government of the Taoiseach, Deputy Garret FitzGerald? That is what it is, as far as we can see.

I say it because I feel it and I know it. I have named seven projects that are outstanding in the minds of the public representatives and in the national press. I challenge them, either in this House or outside, to say that is untrue. Therefore, we are left with only the one option, to come in a democratic way to this House to make our points of view. What saddens me is that those who could defend the people of the west, or help us to do it, do not think it worth their while to come here to do it. If we do not fight our corner, irrespective of what political party we are in, we in the west of Ireland will lose under a Coalition Government. I have proved it conclusively here in this short address. Due to the Leas-Chathaoirleach's kindness I have been allowed to move a little outside the motion. It is typical of Senator Ferris to smile at what I say. It does not affect him. Let him tell me one project in Tipperary that the Government backed down on.


The Senator has it. Littleton is there and working. What have we got? We have a hole in the ground. That is all we got. We have got stacks of milled peat. That is all we have. We have got a sugar factory that that Government had not the courage or the guts, or were not able, to close because we would keep it open in spite of them. The regional airport in Charlestown will be opened in spite of this Government who will be like beggarmen yet, sitting at the airport waiting for important people to call there.

The most hurtful thing of all is that they try to divide the people of Connacht by a few shillings. They gave it to a person in my constituency. They tried to divide the minds of the people in the west of Ireland for political purposes. I am totally and absolutely convinced of it. There was a factory in Sligo. The Minister of State knows all about the drainage schemes that went on. He knows about what happened in Headford. He knows what happened above in the Boyle and the Bonet. Tell me of another scheme in this country that this Government pulled back on. Is there one in Tipperary? Is there one in Cork? Is there one in Waterford? Is there one in Offaly? Is there one in Kildare? Is there one in Laois? Not one. It hurts us.

We can quote the Senator on Sunday.

I saw Senator Dooge down there last Sunday and I did not see a big reception for him. I think they are beginning to twig him. What I am saying is fact. It has been proved, and that is clear. If Senator Dooge can deny that let him tell me when, what and where. We are made a laughing-stock of by a Government who hate——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

You are ignoring the Chair. I am not asking you to sit down but I am asking you to stick to the motion.

I will explain myself. I lose my patience and my temper when I see people smiling at something that I feel in my heart to be so serious. If I lose my temper on that account, I am sorry. I know how serious it is and I know how people are trying to make a living. I know of people who have been denied social welfare. That is what hurts me. I come in here and all I get is a snigger and a sneer.

On a point of order, I smiled at his compliment to you for allowing him to go all over the country — away from the motion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I will not allow you to do the same. Will you resume your seat?

It had nothing to do with the case he is making. I will deal with that myself on the amendment. I would not like him to misrepresent my smile in any way.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

It is not a point of order.

I second the motion in connection with the proposed closures of these peat stations throughout the country. There was an announcement last October of closures and a subsequent leaked statement in the press sometime in March in connection with the revised plan whereby some of the stations would be retained and some would be closed. There is some doubt in my mind as to what the policy of this Government is in connection with the whole affair. If I refer to a statement from Deputy Mitchell, the Minister, he spoke about Knock Airport. I think you could call this a foggy kick to touch operation by the Government.

I wish to refer to a leaked document in regard to the revised proposals for the generating stations throughout the country that appeared in a daily newspaper some months ago which has not yet been denied by the ESB or indeed has never been commented on by the present Government. The report says the ESB had decided to close Allenwood, Portarlington, Miltown Malbay and Screeb, and to mothball Ringsend and part of the Great Island station. They decided to keep two stations, in Gweedore and Cahirciveen and to maintain on a reduced basis Ferbane and Rhode and Bellacorick in Mayo.

We must assume, because we know from the terms of the motion passed at the end of October, that the Government have considered this plan and caused amendments to be made to it even though they are not coming out in the open with their suggestions about the proposed new plan. It seems the Government have approved of what was reported recently — the closure of five power stations, four of them turf burning stations; the partial closing of the oil-fired stations, as it were putting them into intervention for the time being; keeping two small stations in Gweedore and Cahirciveen and maintaining a reduced station at Ferbane, Rhode and Bellacorick, provided — and this is a major proviso — that Bord na Móna cut their prices.

It would seem that, in round terms, about two-thirds of the original programme put forward by the ESB is now implemented. The programme was leaked because it was not published nor was it denied by the Minister for Energy. He has made no statement regarding it. I am surprised and shocked at this new revised programme. I have no doubt that it spells the end for peat burning stations. The only two stations that are to be kept according to this report without any proviso or condition are the two small stations in Gweedore and Cahirciveen. Their capacity, which is 5kW, is about 1 per cent of the ESB generating capacity.

The number of jobs that will be lost is between eight and 1,000 in the new proposed plan that was leaked and that neither the ESB nor the Government have taken responsibility for. What about the substantial number of jobs that will be lost in Bord na Móna as a result of unemployment in the bog and in ancillary employment attached to Bord na Móna? As a result of the Government's decision to do away with peat as a source of fuel for electricity generation, directly or indirectly 3,000 jobs will be lost. Most of them will be in the midlands and some of them will be in the west. This leaked plan has built into it a redundancy package. It will have a serious effect and in my view will lure many of the long-established workers in the ESB and Bord na Móna to opt for redundancy because of the substantial package offered to them. That is the policy of the ESB and it has the silent consent of the Government in not coming out and opposing this new plan. It would appear that it is the Government's plan leaked to the press and now condoned and put into effect by the ESB. No doubt the redundancy will be effective because the ESB have a history of giving top salaries and the top payments to workers. This has always been referred to in many union negotiations when they tried to get the same status for other workers as ESB workers have. These redundancies will have a serious effect on the community in the areas where these generating stations are located. In Bellacorick there is no other source of employment and many jobs will be lost in many other fields of activity which relied on that station. The same can be said about Screeb, Cahirciveen, Gweedore and most of the western locations. What Senator Killilea said in connection with the Government's attitude towards the west in this regard is true. It is regrettable that the Government have not, on the eve of a European election and a by-election in Laois-Offaly where this closure will affect, come out and told the people, particularly those in Laois-Offaly, what their policy is in connection with the peat burning stations throughout the country. If they are going to opt for the oil-fired station at Money-point as a substitute for 12 peat stations that will have a drastic effect on the rural community where these peat stations are located.

We all remember the oil crisis here during the last World War and again during 1979. We will be vulnerable again if we decide to do away with our peat burning stations. It is a dangerous policy to turn down native fuel in favour of coal and oil. It will have a detrimental effect on the people in the areas concerned. It may not be fair to ask the Minister here this evening to make a statement, but it behoves the Government to make a statement on the eve of the Laois-Offaly by-election and on the eve of the Euro-elections and tell the people what their policy is as regards peat fired stations.

We in Fianna Fáil were responsible in the thirties for providing these stations. We regret very much from this side of this House that any policy to close them——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

There is a division in the Dáil and the Minister might like to be excused.

I shall continue. I want to say that it was the policy of Fianna Fáil in the thirties to provide these stations. At that time they were a Godsend to the area. They helped to curb emigration and kept our people at home. We have experienced workers in these stations and I regret very much that they will be lured now with attractive redundancy payments. Their families, the local community, shopkeepers and so on benefited from the employment which was generated. It seems that it is the policy of this Government and it is particularly evident in the west. Senator Killilea has spelt that out quite clearly. I endorse what Senator Killilea said in connection with the west. The people in the west are frightened by the suggestion to close Bellacorick, Screeb, Gweedore, Cahirciveen and——


Mr. O'Toole

That is a separate one in this respect. There is need for them. There is a need to develop our bogs. The Minister for Energy should come out in the open and tell the people what their policies are so that the result of the ballot boxes will reflect their policies and their failure to provide our people with employment and retain the industries that are there already.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:-

"endorses the action of the Government in setting up the Inquiry to investigate systematically the reasons for the high cost of electricity, notes that the ESB prepared a five-year Strategic Plan and calls on the Government to have due regard to the social, regional and strategic implications of the use of indigenous fuel in national energy policy when considering this plan."

I am disappointed with some of the contributions that have been made. Whatever else this Government can be accused of, I hope they will never be accused of reacting for political reasons at politically opportune times. I suppose that if every decision that was arrived at by successive Governments was made on the basis of whether a particular scheme or project was justified and not for political or short-term gain, this country would be a much better place to live in and we would not be pouring millions of pounds out in the payment of foreign debts to finance white elephants which were created for political reasons.

Where, for example?

If that is what happened in the west of Ireland then it is a tragedy, because it deserves something better. The people in the west——

We are reacting to 200,000 unemployed.

People in the west deserve to be treated as fairly as other people.

The only people who produce the——

This matter is very dear to my heart. There is a very important bog development in my constituency, one which I am glad to say progressed to the opening of the new factory at Littleton. There is a never ending demand for the product. Bord na Móna admitted making astronomical profits last year. In spite of that and an adequate supply of the raw materials to run the factory, the workers are under threat of being put on short time. I question this. So if Senator Killipoin lea thinks that I know nothing about the problem, I am sorry to dissuade him. I do——

On a point of order, all that the Government have to do is stop the importation of German briquettes.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Ferris to continue without interruption.

Obviously the Senator although he is a member of the Council of Europe, is unaware of the Treaty of Rome. We cannot stop imports from the Community or from any other country——

Your friend, Margaret Thatcher, knew how to do it with regard to New Zealand lamb.

The terms of entry to the European Community were negotiated by somebody else and not by me or the Members on this side of the House. Therefore we cannot question why we cannot protect ourselves as we would like to. I met a delegation of ESB workers and a delegation of workers from Bord na Móna and they both resent the fact that their respective managements seem somehow hell bent on playing off one side against the other. Perhaps they will have statistics available that will prove that the stations can be effectively fueled in some other way. I would need to see the facts and figures before deciding whether the Government should accept a report from either the ESB or Bord na Móna. I compliment the Minister for Energy for not reacting instantly because we have by-elections or European elections. This is too serious a problem to be dealt with by over-reaction.

Since last October.

I will give you the dates, Senator O'Toole, if you want them.

Since May 1979.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Ferris without interruption.

The strategic plan was devised by the ESB on their own initiative. The chief executive is on record as saying that he did not need to have access to or advice from any Government. He formulated a plan which he submitted to the Government. As a result of that and the implications of the plan the Minister for Energy asked him to have another look at the implications of what they were doing.

The wording of the amendment endorses the Government's decision to set up an inquiry to investigate systematically the reasons for the high cost of electricity. I do not think anybody on the other side of the House would quarrel with that concern which we all share. There must be a reason for the astronomical cost of electricity. If the reason lies with management we would want to know about it in this House. Is it as a result of bad management or bad planning? We know who planned Moneypoint and when they planned it. It is of tremendous importance in West Clare. I visited Moneypoint on Sunday morning. I know the importance of it and the continuation and completion of the phases if at all possible. If the Minister of the day had access to the files or knew what he was doing he would know that they were planning for an over-capacity. There was a deliberate plan by the ESB at certain times during the implementation of this increased generating capacity actually to reduce the use of electricity. They advertised on the media and asked the people not to do this and that and to switch off. They had a sales campaign going in the opposite direction. They initiated this strategic plan without consultation with the trade union movement. The trade unions have since submitted, and properly so, to the Minister for Energy their idea of what the plan should be for the industry that they have given their lifetime to. There are many highly qualified people in the ESB who could have assisted underdeveloped nations. We have the greatest expertise in this industry. They were not even consulted by the management of the board of the ESB. The ESB submitted that plan based on the fact that there would be a negative growth in electricity use in 1983-84. The facts at the moment prove the plan to be totally out of date. Up to the end of 1983, we had an increase in the use of electricity of 4½ per cent. That is in total contradiction to what the board estimated would be the possible usage of their products. If they are that wrong in their figures I have little regard for this plan. We did not request a plan, but since we have a responsibility to examine it, it was only natural that we should ask them to go back and review it. If we did not do that, we would not be a Government worthy of having that responsibility.

Turf burning stations have played a vital role in the economy. More than any other public sector body, they have proved they can employ local people, small farmers, use indigenous material and convert it into electricity, briquettes and other products. Successive Governments, in fairness to all of them, have affirmed the policy that it should be developed as a matter of urgency. It is not determined solely by reference to the competitiveness of peat with all other ESB fuels on an international basis but that the use of peat should not put an unfair burden on the ESB. That is my point about the two managements trying to ensure that they have profits at the expense of one another. They are both in the area of providing energy and they should co-operate much closer with one another and should not play one off against the other.

Milled peat should be used and be available at such a price that it would allow Bord na Móna to carry through its production programme which, of course, is what Government policy would require. There has been a tremendous amount of debate on capital expenditure by the ESB, and it is only right that we in the Houses of the Oireachtas should question this. The timing of the questioning is correct in view of the balance of payments situation and the amount of money that goes out of this country every year to pay for our borrowings. It is appropriate to ask the board of the ESB to look at their capital commitments.

This amendment also calls on the Government to have due regard for the social, regional and strategic implications of the use of indigenous fuel in the national energy policy when considering the plan that has been submitted to them. Last week or perhaps the week before, I cannot remember which — we have so many protesting groups now that they are there every week and unfortunately we are in an age of protests — we had something like 2,500 or 3,000 Board na Móna workers outside the gates of Leinster House. I went out and was with them as a matter of solidarity because I understand their problem and my heart lies with them in their case. I afforded them the opportunity to present a petition to the Minister setting out their concern in this area. In his meeting with them he said that his decision would be as soon as possible and that he had a national responsibility to look at all the issues. If he settled the Bord na Móna problem he would create a problem for the ESB and if he settled the ESB problem he would create a problem for Bord na Móna. We must take the national interest, the social implications for the west and the workers into consideration. We have a responsibility to do that in a rational way. I hope the Minister will announce the Government's decision based on the review that they have requested from both these semi-State bodies. I hope that workers in Littleton and in the other Bord na Móna factories will not feel under threat. They should not feel under threat from this Government. The Government, in any decisions they make, recognise the fact that our unemployment is acute, that it is a serious problem and that they must do something specific about it. Here we have two semi-State bodies which have played a major role in providing employment over a long number of years. We are all very proud of them. Suddenly by way of management decision a whole rationalisation programme is initiated. When these projects were initiated was any thought given to their future planning or what the actual capital repayments would be? As regards the offers that have been made to workers by the board of the ESB in particular, I do not think the ESB has the right to buy anybody's job by way of redundancy payments or otherwise. Nobody has the right to sell his job. If that job is not available for them it must be available for somebody else. If everybody had the right to sell their jobs for money there would be very little incentive for people to work. That would be a tragedy for the economy and a tragedy for the Government.

The amendment meets the concern that has been expressed by the movers of the motion. It is fair that the matter should be considered in a rational way. The Government should not be rushed into making a decision prematurely just for election purposes. As I said initially, too many decisions in this country were made for political reasons at election time and we are now paying the piper for that. That is a pity. It is bad planning. That is why the Minister should be concerned and take his time and do the job properly. All the workers in the industry will thank him when he has looked at the proposals and not just over-reacted for political reasons. That is the last thing I would expect the Minister to do. He is a man of the highest calibre and integrity and I have every confidence that he will do the job properly.

I second the amendment standing in my name and in the name of Senator Ferris which endorses the action of the Government in setting up the inquiry to investigate the reasons for the high cost of electricity. It notes, it does not endorse, it does not adopt, it does not seek to implement but notes the ESB five year strategic plan and calls on the Government to have due regard for social, regional and strategic implications for the use of indigenous fuel in national energy policy when considering this ESB plan.

The first point I want to make is one that will be shared by everyone in this House — the need for energy planning. We have a bad record on this. Until we were hit by the oil crisis we did not think it was necessary to have energy planning. We had new developments, of course. We had striking developments away back in the twenties of the hydro-electric installation at Ardnacrusha. In the years immediately after the war we had the striking development of the use of sod peat and milled peat for the production of electricity. In both these cases new ground was broken and courageous decisions were made. We did not have a long continued study with regard to where we were going on energy planning.

I am afraid that there is a tendency today to think that just by having a brief discussion about what the ESB has put forward and how we might react to it, this will be sufficient. We must look not just at energy as a whole and how it will affect us in the light of the standard of living that we hope to provide for our increasing population, but we must look at the different forms of energy. We must look carefully at what are the capabilities of our fuel resources, our traditional hydro-resources and our new energy resources, whether they be solar power, wind power or wave power. We must look at their limitations. We must recognise the fact that renewable resources will not maintain a fraction of the population even at the standard of living and standard of consumption which we have in these difficult times.

When we come to do this planning — it must be done — it needs time and it needs all the facts. In a way, we will tend in the course of this debate, on both sides of this House, to use selected facts. I only hope that those who are responsible for the final decision will look at all these facts. Too many people come into a discussion about energy policy with complete preconceptions. Many people say: "Oh, there is no possibility of nuclear power ever being accepted in this country; it is far too dangerous and the possibility of the loss of life would ensue." We do not seem to count the loss of life of a miner in Poland, or a miner in Austrialia. There are real losses of life going on year after year in providing coal for our power stations, among other uses. We have seen, with our common guilt, the atom bomb; we take an instinctive reaction in saying: "No, this must not be considered." We must look at the facts.

We can look back and admire the excellent work done by the Electricity Supply Board and by Bord na Móna together in making technological breakthroughs in the power station. Let us acknowledge that but let us not ignore the obsolescence of those power stations now, 25 years on. Let us not ignore the fact that many of these power stations are coming to the end of their useful life. The worst thing we could do would be to replace them exactly as they were with the same type of machinery. This would guarantee that we would price ourselves completely out of the market.

We must welcome the decision of the Government that there should be an inquiry into the reasons for the high cost of electricity. If we do not manage to find out the reason and correct it, it will not be the number of jobs that we have been talking about in this House that will be at risk, but the whole of our manufacturing industry, if we cannot plan our energy policy better and if we cannot discover the reasons for the high cost of electricity that is correctable. This inquiry will, we hope, look at our present use of fuel and at what is the best way of using Bord na Móna's output. None of us would agree that the best way is to let milled peat pile up in storage. Of course, we want that milled peat to be used and to continue to be produced, but we want it to be used to the best effect. The problems which have already been mentioned of the pricing policy between the ESB and Bord na Móna must be looked at with care.

The setting up of this inquiry should be welcomed, as we have done in this amendment. It is being chaired by somebody who is independent of all the arguments that have been going on: it is being chaired by the chief executive of an electricity utility in Denmark who can come in not having taken part in any of the arguments about what happened ten or 20 years ago in relation to negotiations between the ESB and Bord na Móna. My understanding is that this inquiry has already produced an interim report and that it will produce a final report in two months time. I would hope that it would only take a further month or two for this report to be considered departmentally and then by the Government. I agree with Senator Ferris that the Government would not be doing their duty if they attempted to come out with a final energy plan so that we could all talk about it next weekend in Laois-Offaly.

The ESB were right to start their strategic study. The ESB have served this country very well and found themselves in the position that the cost of the electricity they were producing was distinctly higher than that of the other countries in the Community. The ESB found themselves in the position where they had over-capacity due to the recession and they were over-staffed. In this connection, we should not be too critical of the decision-makers in the ESB. It takes a very long time to plan, to build and to commission a power station. There is an extremely long lead time. If you have to plan for ten years ahead, and you are planning at a time when for the past five or six years manufacturing industry and its consumption of electricity had been growing at 10 per cent per year, and if you have to make your decisions then, and if you then hit the world recession, hit an oil crisis, which means not a 10 per cent growth but a levelling off, which means an increase in the price of oil which had been chosen as being the economic material, then you cannot criticise those decisions but you can say it should not happen again. One can talk of the need for longer term strategic planning.

The ESB are to be congratulated on having settled down to this particular problem. They have faced their own position and have faced it well. This report which they have produced — there is no need for us to accept it — is something that we should read carefully, but let us acknowledge that the ESB have shown courage; let us in noting this report recognise that they have shown courage in facing the situation.

The last paragraph of the report says that the implementation of any plan will call for a full realisation at all levels of the scale of change necessary in the ESB — this is the ESB talking to themselves for the moment — they must have the courage to make the unpalatable decisions which are unavoidable and the board, their members and staff, must recognise the necessity for radical thinking and innovation.

When we consider a report like the ESB strategic plan, of course, we, as Members of the Oireachtas, and the Government, must look at this in a broad context. This is why we also note in our amendment the necessity that we should, in considering this ESB plan, look at the regional and social aspects of the plan. This is vital. It is vital that in reaching decisions the Government should look at the social effects, but what is equally vital is that the Government should not confuse economic and social effects. What is vital is that none of us should attempt to blur the distinction between economic and social costs. This is a bad habit that we have; this has affected many of our decisions in the past. We have done an economic analysis of a project and then said that because they are social factors, we must now go ahead, but we do not count in quantitative terms the social costs.

We have to get ourselves into the position that when we take a situation like the critical situation now in regard to the position of the Electricity Supply Board, in particular that part of the Electricity Supply Board's capacity which is based on peat, we must have a hard economic analysis, and we must have as hard as possible analysis of the social cost. Then it is a matter for political decision that we can take the decision that the social benefits from a certain course of action are sufficient that we maintain this or that station. We should know how much we are paying for that social policy, otherwise we will find ourselves making decisions that are wrong. We will find ourselves fluctuating according to the state of our feeling in regard to these things. We will neglect social factors at our peril. We will destroy our own community if we do not take social factors into account, but if we merely take them as hunches, if we merely take them as a result of feeling, then we can make equally disastrous decisions which will affect other parts of the community.

That is why we have sought in this amendment to put this question into a broader context, that there must be inquiries, and that we endorse the action of the Government in setting up the inquiry to investigate systematically the reason for the high cost of electricity. This must be part of our discussion on the problem, and that we note what the ESB have done. We need not necessarily adopt it but we must take note. If we ignore what the ESB have said, brush it aside and make our decisions without paying attention to it, then that is not a job well done. Finally, we call on the Government to have due regard to the social, regional and strategic implications of the use of indigenous fuel in national energy policy when considering this plan. If the Government do that thoroughly, as quickly as possible but not precipitately, they will have done a good day's work.

If this amendment is passed it will do very little for the morale of and the uncertainty felt by many employees of Bord na Móna and the ESB across the country, but in particular in County Offaly and County Laois. They view the situation with concern and deep uncertainty, and naturally there is worry all round. I would not be surprised, despite what has been said by other speakers, if an announcement of some kind is made in the near future. With the by-election in progress this is as good a time as any for such an announcement to be made. One way or the other, any decision in the affirmative would be important for the morale and confidence of the people who work there.

And welcome.

I wonder if statements at this late hour are too late. People on the ground tell me that already the work to run down the various ESB stations has started. Over the last 12 to 18 months in the midland region alone, between 10 per cent and 12 per cent of the staff have been laid off. This will be reflected in the total number of Bord na Móna employees and in the numbers of employees taken on on a seasonal basis. This cannot be happy news for the workers concerned. For example, this year the material budget for Ferbane has been reduced by nearly £1 million, in Rhode by £1.8 million, in Portarlington by approximately £½ million and in Allenwood by £.6 million. The reduction in the tonnage of peat being burned in Ferbane is 8 per cent and in Rhode 15 per cent. All over, the cutting down scheme has already started. Rhode, always an 80 megawatt station, is now a 60 megawatt station, with the resultant reduction in personnel. The reduction is not alone in shift workers but in day workers. If a statement is to be made it should be made very soon because work on running down these stations has already started.

It is interesting to note that in Allenwood it is being suggested by the ESB that the fuel supplies will be exhausted by 1988-89, yet the worker directors of Bord na Móna say that is not true. They say there will be no difficulty up to 1992. Allenwood had a midlife renewal plan in the late seventies. Mr. Moriarty — I have no proof of this, I did not read it — is on record as saying that is should be viable up to 1992. The board are actively encouraging early redundancies and adopting a deliberate policy to run down the stations and present to the Government of the day at some future date the situation that the stations would cost too much to maintain. So far, staff representations have been virtually ignored.

Senator Dooge referred to the social and economic problems of an area. If the plan goes even half way toward reaching its targets, it will mean devastation of the midland counties. Offaly in particular would be devastated. Villages like Rhode, Cloghan and Ferbane would turn into ghost towns. We are totally ignoring the social implications and the economic outlook for these regions. The Offaly county development officer is on record as saying that 5,000 jobs are dependent on the ESB and Bord na Móna in these regions.

Another point worth mentioning is that the role of the IDA in these regions has been difficult. Because Bord na Móna and the ESB provided plenty of work in the past, the IDA did not become involved in erecting new factories, new warehouses or advance factories. If these stations are allowed to run down, the scene will be extremely bleak for the people in those counties.

Any country in a position to supply power from its own native fuel has a clear responsibility to do so. That should be basic in any situation. When Deputy Reynolds was Minister, Bord na Móna got a rise in the price of their commodities. This was done for two reasons; one, to create employment and two, to provide peat for power stations if an oil crisis occurred. They were two very practical reasons but seem to be in vain at this time.

The ESB seem bent on carrying out their decisions. For a continuous supply they are relying on 5 per cent gas, 13 per cent of our native fuel — peat, and perhaps coal from Arigna — and 5 per cent hydro. They anticipate the rest will come from outside the country in the form of coal and oil. Many people ask what can be done. I accept the point that every State-sponsored body should endeavour to cut back, but we cannot forget that the ESB, on office space alone, lost £60 million in Cork and Dublin and that in Ringsend over two years ago they spent approximately £6 or £7 million, and now it is nothing. People ask if Moneypoint was necessary, or if the station had to be built, if that was the correct location. An aspect of Moneypoint that has been kept very quiet is the fact that if the EEC pass regulations governing pollution control, it could cost the ESB as much as £1 million for the Moneypoint area. That kind of money will not create any jobs and would be a huge drain on the ESB's resources. There are also Poolbeg and other smaller stations.

Then there is acid rain. It has been suggested that if acid rain emerged through the chimneys of Moneypoint, with the prevailing winds, it could land 70 miles away, roughly in the Athlone region. That is not a very nice thought. I would ask the Minister to take note of this and to comment on it.

I am saddened with the approaches of the ESB to their present policies. My late father was a member of the ESB in the early thirties, one of the pioneers. The ESB personnel who built the ESB station in the Athlone region were regular visitors in my home many times. I can remember those pioneers cycling to their work, cycling to Roscommon from Athlone, to Mullingar and to Borrisokane, to work in the interests of the country. They saw their role as pioneers. They reminded me of the films, the pioneers of the west. Those men would be saddened that the ESB should ignore the social problems, the lives of the people who have helped to build up the ESB and made it what it is. I do not want to be unfair to the ESB. From time to time I stand up for them, and would always be inclined to do so, but on this issue I am a little saddened at their attitude. It is not good enough that they should be embarking on this course. There must be other ways of dealing with the problem. I do not agree that the ESB should start to run down stations that have given good service, or to make redundant people who have worked hard all their lives for the benefit of the ESB and to help the ESB to make profits. Worker morale is at an all time low. What is happening in these power stations is no joy for the people who work there. They are concerned; they are worried, and the quicker the Minister makes a positive statement the better.

As a person who lives in a constituency where the largest employers of skilled and semi-skilled labour are the boards of the ESB and Bord na Móna, it is nothing new to me to be interested in the welfare and the development of energy-related jobs which have created such worth-while employment and industry in Counties Laois and Offaly. My active interest in this area goes back to 1974 when the energy crisis dictated that we should be extending and searching for greater national independence from the oil barons.

I would like to quote briefly, with the permission of the Cathaoirleach, a few paragraphs from a letter I recently received from the Minister for Energy:

Dear Charlie,

I refer further to your recently prepared paper on bog development.

I have read, with interest, your paper which raises many important issues with regard to Bord na Móna's current and future policies.

The present position on electricity generated from peat, as covered in the first five pages of your paper is that no decision has yet been taken on the ESB's Strategic Plan, which is being carefully studied at present. In addition, I have asked the ESB and Bord na Móna to examine the whole area of turf usage and prices and to report to me, and I am hopeful that this examination will be completed shortly. No decision will be taken on the Strategic Plan, or any part of it, without the fullest consideration of all the factors involved, including the economic and social implications.

After receiving that communication I have no hesitation in supporting the amendment proposed by Senator Ferris and seconded by Senator Dooge, because I am confident that the Government are taking very seriously, and giving serious thought to, the entire development and evolvement of our national indigenous fuels. I believe that such an important part of our native industry must be given that kind of serious thought. I am hopeful, and I would agree with the previous speaker, that the Government will make an announcement and if they are making an announcement this year, surely it is appropriate and natural from a political point of view that it would be made within the next couple of weeks. It is not that the Government are making it to coincide with an electoral issue, but this has been under active consideration since last autumn. It is reasonable to accept that the time is appropriate for decisions to be taken.

I would argue very strongly that what is involved here is not just a change of policy for one of the semi-State organisations, but the fact that their policy changes must have a social and political input, because there is no great benefit to be got for our country if the ESB decide to substitute coal or imported oil for the peat moss or the sod turf that produces such a high proportion of our electricity at present.

Electricity is costing the housewife at present over 7p per unit. Perhaps I would not take such a serious view of the proposed reductions the ESB mentioned in their document of almost a year ago, if they said that by doing this they would bring down the cost of the unit of electricity for every housewife, but that has not been said. The ESB are entitled to have regard to the social implications of the policies they propose.

Debate adjourned.