I thank the Cathaoirleach and welcome the Minister of State.
I will speak today about energy. While many people are terrified at the thought of their energy bills landing on the doormat, families must also contend with the prospect of blackouts. It is a long time since we had blackouts in this country. I remember having them when I was a child but most people will not remember them because they have an expectation of a functioning energy system as part of the social contract they enter into with the State.
I will leave to another day the issue of how we got into this mess, which has been the subject of much debate, and focus instead on what the Minister will do to make sure we have enough gas and electricity for the winter and we do not face blackouts. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, told an Oireachtas committee two weeks ago that Ireland would voluntarily reduce its demand by approximately 15%. We have had some announcements in the past week about reducing energy use in the public sector and we also had the relaunch of the "Reduce Your Use" campaign. Some of the measures being taken in public buildings, for example, the use of thermostats to reduce temperatures, beggar belief and raise the question as to why they were not being taken in the first place.
The Government's plan seems to leave much of the heavy lifting to households. One Minister quoted in the Irish Independent newspaper used the language of the warmonger, Donald Rumsfeld, in stating the Government would use a tactic of shock and awe in regard to households. For anyone who needs reminding, "shock and awe" is defined as a strategy based on the use of overwhelming power to force or paralyse one's enemy and destroy his or her will. If that is the approach the Government will take, it does not suggest it has citizens' best interests at heart.
If people are driven into energy poverty and further cuts in energy use, many households will go without basic necessities such as heat and light. Electricity is not a luxury for most people. Energy should be a right. As we are all aware, in many households people do not have any more lights to turn off or extra rooms they are not going to heat. They have already cut their energy use to the bone.
I will raise one example of where the Government should seek to reduce demand, namely, advertising billboards. According to the NGO, Adfree Cities, large billboards, particularly LED ones, use vast amounts of energy. Over a year of operation, the electricity used by a typical LED billboard screen equates to that of nine households. When running for a full year at maximum output, usage can be as high as that of 33 households.
One example that was highlighted yesterday on social media showed an LED screen illuminating the whole of a junction in Rathmines. I subsequently submitted a complaint to the council because I think the brightness of the billboard breaches its planning conditions.
The Government should look at this. The German Government has already identified billboards as part of its demand reduction because it recognises how frivolous and unnecessary their energy usage is in advertising consumer products by massive corporations. The German Government has passed a law called the short-term energy supply security measure. It restricts illumination of billboard advertisements to six hours a day. We know we have a different situation in Ireland in that we are not as reliant on gas as Germany is, but we do have crunch times. Surely the Government should look at turning off LED-lit billboards between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. and between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. to help reduce the pressure on our grid.