Tourism Promotion

Questions (390)

Tom Fleming

Question:

390. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress made by Inland Fisheries Ireland in developing the tourism potential of our inland rivers and lakes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9691/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The functions of Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) are the protection, management and conservation of the inland fisheries resource, which contribute directly to the development of the sector’s tourism potential. IFI actively promotes the potential of our inland fisheries resource, and on its establishment in 2010, set up a Business Development Division to further develop the potential of the inland fisheries sector with a special interest in promoting the tourism potential of the sector. IFI also works with Tourism Ireland to promote angling tourism.

The following promotional activities are undertaken by IFI on a routine basis:

- Daily updates to the www.fishinginireland.info website with the latest information for anglers. In 2012 80,000 referrals were made via the IFI website. Frequent updates to FACEBOOK and Twitter. FACEBOOK currently provides a reach to 750,000 individuals.

- Weekly publication and circulation of the IFI online magazine Angling Ezine in providing information on the best angling available in Ireland to a very wide group.

- Up to 15 Trade Shows are attended by IFI annually in Ireland, UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and the US promoting Ireland as a prime angling tourism destination.

In addition, IFI has produced a number of new angling guides, maps and leaflets, reprinted a number of guides and produced high quality promotional material. The most recent of these published are:

- Mayo Game Angling Guide

- Sligo Game Angling Guide

- Boyne Valley Angling Guide

- Lough O’Flynn & River Suck Angling Guide

- South West Angling Guide

Guides are produced in hard copy and electronically and a number are available in French and or German. Staff in IFI support visiting angling journalists, up to 30 a year, in promoting the best of Irish angling through various articles and blogs in Irish, UK, European and US Press.

In 2012 IFI commissioned a major survey of recreational angling in Ireland. This important research focuses on domestic and overseas anglers, fish species of interest, estimates of expenditure and other data with a view to improving the quality of angling and to benchmark the Irish angling experience against competitor destinations.

In addition IFI will shortly launch a revamped website and an angling App which will provide information on angling resources nationwide. IFI also operates a pilot sponsorship programme and a large variety of events have been sponsored including major competitions such as the World Pairs, The Rosslare Small Boats Competition, The Dutch King of Clubs and the upcoming World Youth Fly Fishing Championship. These events bring hundreds of visitors to Ireland.

In addition to these direct measures, IFI is working with my Department on a major project to modernise, consolidate and simplify the law pertaining to inland fisheries, which is well advanced and which will serve the sector well into the future. The review of legislation will go to public consultation in the near future. A key overriding objective of this project is to put in place the legislative basis to allow IFI to develop the potential of the sector, mainly by increasing the number of anglers utilising the resource, empowering stakeholders to take an active role in the development of the resource and to maximise the returns from the inland fisheries resource to local communities and the State.

Hydraulic Fracturing Policy

Questions (391, 392)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

391. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the latest reports and findings on unconventional gas exploration and extraction in Germany of November 2012 and the presentation given by Mr Helmut Fehr, Kreis Steinfurt, to local groups in County Leitrim last month in relation to the district of Steinfurt in Germany who have decided to meet the challenges related to the rising costs of energy and the upcoming shortage of fossil fuels; and if he will outline from the information provided whether he would integrate this material into any further investigation of the Irish research (details supplied). [9735/13]

View answer

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

392. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he proposes to explore the regional economic impact of hydrofracking and gas production here using the German model (details supplied); and the way his Department will deal with each issue raised. [9736/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 391 and 392 together.

I understand that on 4th February, 2012, German politician and scientific advisor Helmut Fehr presented a talk at a public meeting in Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, on how fracking might affect rural areas.

I understand that amongst other views, he expressed his belief that the Environmental Protection Agency should have the last word on whether fracking goes ahead and that its German counterpart is due to release a comprehensive report in November of this year. He is also understood to have indicated that there should be no further fracking until certain questions are answered and gaps in knowledge and legislation are addressed.

As the Deputy may be aware, as I have made it clear on a number of occasions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has commenced a process to issue a public call inviting interested parties to tender for the offer of funding from both the EPA Strive Programme and my Department to conduct detailed research on the use of Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction in Ireland, in particular with regard to the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology. The study follows on from the preliminary research into the environmental aspects of shale gas extraction, conducted by the University of Aberdeen, which was published by the EPA in May 2012.

The proposed terms of reference for this study, which includes consideration of the regulatory approaches of other countries that have extensive experience with this activity, have been developed and are currently the subject of a Public Consultation Process, which was launched on 11 January 2013. Interested parties have been invited to submit written comments by 8 March 2013. Further details are available from the EPA website (www.epa.ie). The final results of this study are expected in early 2015.

As I have confirmed to the House on a number of previous occasions, no decision will be made on any proposal for the use of hydraulic fracturing in exploration drilling in Ireland until there has been time to consider the outcome of this further EPA research.

Broadband Services Provision

Questions (393)

John O'Mahony

Question:

393. Deputy John O'Mahony asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to improve broadband coverage in an area (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9778/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland’s telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999 and since then has developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. Details of broadband services available on a county-by-county basis can be found on the website of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) at www.callcosts.ie.

The Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to bring broadband to those parts of the country where operators have been unable to offer services on a commercial basis.

The State only becomes involved in the provision of services in instances of clear market failure, such as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS). My Department entered into a contract in late 2008 with Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd (“3”) for the delivery of the NBS. The Scheme offers a basic broadband service, in line with EU State aid clearance, to fixed residences and businesses located within certain designated Electoral Divisions. In County Mayo, NBS services are available within 112 of its 154 Electoral Divisions. The general area of Kilmovee was excluded from the NBS since at the time of mapping exercise carried out prior to the launch of the Scheme it was found to be served. The NBS is prohibited under State Aid and competition rules from providing a service in served areas where to do so would give rise to an unacceptable level of market distortion.

The RBS was launched in 2011 in recognition of the fact that despite the widespread availability of broadband throughout Ireland, there still remained individual premises that were unable to receive broadband provision. This Scheme was aimed at making a basic broadband service available to un-served premises in rural areas, not already covered by the NBS. Commercial service providers were in a position to offer services to all applicants from County Mayo under the Scheme who agreed to engage with them.

In addition to consumer services, State-funded Metropolitan Area Networks which provide high capacity fibre connectivity for businesses and telecoms operators in the regions are located in Ballina, Ballinrobe, Belmullet, Claremorris, Kiltimagh and Knock in County Mayo.

The combination of private investment and State interventions means that Ireland has met the EU Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe target of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013, and the focus is now on accelerating the roll out of high speed services.

The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of at least 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible.

Specifically, it commits to:

- 70Mbps to 100Mbps available from the commercial market operators to more than half of the population by 2015,

- At least 40Mbps, and in many cases faster speeds, to at least a further 20% and potentially as much as 35% of the population, and

- A minimum of 30Mbps for every remaining home and business in the country.

During the preparation of Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, the commercial market operators indicated that they expect to provide 70Mbps to 100Mbps services to 50% of the population by 2015. The commercial sector is already making these investments in high speed services, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas. The Government is also committed in the Plan to investing in areas where high speed services are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market.

My Department is making preparations to commence a formal national mapping exercise to inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted for a State-led investment. It will also form a critical input to an EU State Aid application in respect of any State-led intervention.

Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to increasing the availability of next generation speeds significantly, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and business can participate fully in a digitally enabled society.

I would reiterate that the Government remains committed to the delivery of the speeds referred to above, to ensure that all parts of Ireland, including County Mayo, will have at least 30Mbps connectivity.

Electricity Transmission Network

Questions Nos. 395 to 398, inclusive, answered with Question No. 389.

Questions (394)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

394. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide details of any future plans by EirGrid to construct high-capacity transmission lines in western Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9807/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

EirGrid’s Grid25 programme is a strategy designed to develop the transmission networks in order to ensure safe, secure and affordable electricity supplies throughout Ireland supporting economic growth, renewable and sustainable energy. The Government endorses this major investment programme currently underway in the high voltage electricity transmission system. Grid25 is the most important investment in Ireland’s transmission system for several generations and will position our energy system for decades to come.

The transmission system in Ireland, managed and operated by EirGrid, consists of three voltage levels of high capacity lines. It is operated at 400 kV, 220 kV and 110 kV.

In 2012 significant progress was made in a number of Grid25 regions in relation to construction, uprating and refurbishment of over 200km of existing circuits and there is currently 2000 megawatts of wind power installed on the Island of Ireland.

Significant progress has been made on the Grid West project since it was launched in May 2012 and extensive public consultation has occurred over the last 9 months. The project will be moving to a key stage in the coming weeks with the publication of the Stage 1 Report which will indicate a number of potential corridors that can accommodate this new transmission line following all the information on the study area gathered today. EirGrid is encouraging anyone with an interest in the project to participate in the upcoming consultation.

The Grid West project will initially consist of a new high capacity power line, but based on the region’s renewable potential, it is envisaged that in time, a second line will be required. The pace of installation of the second line is dependent on a number of factors including the speed at which further renewable energy generation is developed in the region.

EirGrid is also developing a West Galway project consisting of a new 110kV electricity substation to allow renewable generation to connect to the transmission grid. The project calls for a new electrical substation to connect into a planned 110kV distribution line running from Salthill to Screeb, County Galway. The project will increase security of energy supply to the region and enable Galway to be a net exporter of renewable energy. A planning application is expected to be submitted shortly to An Bord Pleanála.

From the south west to the north west of Ireland, to meet requirements of customers and generators, EirGrid is currently upgrading and developing new high capacity lines and stations, many of which have recently obtained planning permission. Where possible, EirGrid aims to maximise existing network to accommodate increased line capacity.

Jointly with NIE (Northern Ireland Electricity), EirGrid is progressing the RIDP project (Renewable Integration Development Project) aimed at facilitating the development of renewable energy in Donegal and Northern Ireland.

EirGrid is constantly reviewing grid development requirements and produces information to inform market participants, customers, and policy makers regarding the generation capacity required to achieve an adequate supply and demand balance across Ireland.

EirGrid has published its plans to upgrade and develop extensively the transmission system in Ireland, and has recently undertaken a briefing for all Oireachtas members with regard to progress made on Grid25. EirGrid would be happy to meet with any members of the Oireachtas in relation to any aspects of Grid25.

Questions Nos. 395 to 398, inclusive, answered with Question No. 389.

Broadband Services Provision

Questions (399)

Pat Breen

Question:

399. Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to extend the provision of broadband to an area (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9874/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland’s telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999 and since then has developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. Details of broadband services available on a county-by-county basis can be found on the website of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) at www.callcosts.ie. Decisions by Eircom relating to investment in infrastructure to provide broadband services, including the upgrading of local exchanges, are taken purely on commercial grounds and as such are not one in which I have a statutory role.

The Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to bring broadband to those parts of the country where operators have been unable to offer services on a commercial basis.

The State only becomes involved in the provision of services in instances of clear market failure, such as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS). My Department entered into a contract in late 2008 with Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd (“3”) for the delivery of the NBS. The Scheme offers a basic broadband service, in line with EU State aid clearance, to fixed residences and businesses located within certain designated Electoral Divisions. In County Clare, NBS services are available within 49 of its 155 Electoral Divisions, including the general area of Lissycasey. Fixed residences and businesses in the area can therefore apply for a broadband connection from “3” under the NBS. Lissycasey is not covered under the RBS which was aimed at making a basic broadband service available to un-served premises in rural areas, not already covered by the NBS.

In addition to consumer services, a State-funded Metropolitan Area Network which provides high capacity fibre connectivity for businesses and telecoms operators is located in Kilrush in County Clare.

The combination of private investment and State interventions means that Ireland has met the EU Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe target of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013, and the focus is now on accelerating the roll out of high speed services.

The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of at least 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible.

Specifically, it commits to:

- 70Mbps to 100Mbps available from the commercial market operators to more than half of the population by 2015,

- At least 40Mbps, and in many cases faster speeds, to at least a further 20% and potentially as much as 35% of the population, and

- A minimum of 30Mbps for every remaining home and business in the country.

During the preparation of Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, the commercial market operators indicated that they expect to provide 70Mbps to 100Mbps services to 50% of the population by 2015. The commercial sector is already making these investments in high speed services, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas. The Government is also committed in the Plan to investing in areas where high speed services are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market.

My Department is making preparations to commence a formal national mapping exercise to inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted for a State-led investment. It will also form a critical input to an EU State Aid application in respect of any State-led intervention.

Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to increasing the availability of next generation speeds significantly, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and business can participate fully in a digitally enabled society.

I would reiterate that the Government remains committed to the delivery of the speeds referred to above, to ensure that all parts of Ireland, including County Clare, will have at least 30Mbps connectivity.

Electricity Transmission Network

Questions (400)

Paudie Coffey

Question:

400. Deputy Paudie Coffey asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if there are any plans for the development of an electricity interconnector between Ireland and mainland Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9879/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Security of energy supply is a key imperative for Ireland and the European Union. The relatively small size of the Irish electricity market underlines the need for greater interconnection as a means of enhancing security of supply, promoting competition and integrating the Irish electricity market into the wider European market.

The Government is committed to achieving enhanced interconnection on the island of Ireland, as well as with Britain, as evidenced by the launch of the East West Interconnector (EWIC). Greater interconnection is also the way forward envisaged at European level to achieve further electricity and gas market integration and the European internal energy market.

A possible future Ireland/France interconnector is currently being envisaged by EirGrid. While this is currently in the conceptual stage of development by EirGrid and the French Transmission System Operator, RTE, it may be submitted in 2015 as a Project of Common Interest under the EU Energy Infrastructure Package, subject to what emerges from that process.

Fisheries Protection

Questions (401)

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

401. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the total allowable catch for salmon on the River Moy between the years 1984 and 1994 inclusive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9914/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Wild Salmon and Sea Trout Tagging Scheme commenced for both commercial and recreational salmon fishing licence holders on 1st January 2001, having been provided for in the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1999 (No. 35 of 1999). This was followed by the introduction of Total Allowable Catches (TAC) for the commercial salmon fishing sector and bag limits for recreational anglers in 2002. As TACs were only introduced in 2002 there is no TAC data for the years requested by the Deputy. However, Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) does have catch related data for the period and would be happy to share that with the Deputy. I have requested IFI in Mayo to meet with the Deputy to explain the data. IFI may be contacted at 096 22788 to set up the meeting at a mutually convenient time.

Exploration Licences Approvals

Questions (402)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

402. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will keep this Deputy informed of any applications from a company (details supplied) to commence exploration for oil/gas in its exploration licence area off the Dublin coast. [9997/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I can assure the Deputy that, where relevant, information will be placed in the public domain.

Electricity Generation

Questions (403)

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

403. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will extend the REFIT scheme to accommodate electricity generators who are disadvantaged by slow grid development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10034/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Within the REFIT schemes, each project will have a unique and individual file history. Renewable energy projects may be delayed from proceeding for several reasons. Some projects may be delayed as a result of a personal decision by a project developer relating to their particular circumstances; others may be delayed due to a decision by a developer to reconfigure their project, which might require a new planning permission application to be made and requires negotiation, discussion and agreement with the Transmission or Distribution System operator; some projects may be delayed due to uncertainty around aspects of market rules and the effect final rules may have projects; others may be delayed due to difficulty in obtaining finance etc.

I recognise that there are a number of complex factors that are converging for the renewable energy development sector at the present time, which may mean that it has not been possible to develop projects in the timeframe project developers may have originally anticipated. Guidance on renewable energy support schemes from the European Commission is due to be published in the first half of the year. Support schemes and aspects of the existing REFIT schemes are an area currently under consideration in my Department, with a view to providing clarity to developers on all applicable terms and conditions.

Alternative Energy Projects

Questions (404)

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

404. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in view of the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the British Government for the support of electricity generated by wind energy from the State, the plans that are in place to attract wind turbines manufacturing companies here to set up new operations; the progress that has been made in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10035/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation that UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey and I signed on 24 January will result in completion of consideration of how Irish renewable energy resources might be developed to the mutual benefit of Ireland and the United Kingdom. This will determine whether it is beneficial for both countries to enter into an Inter-Governmental Agreement under the Renewable Energy Directive to provide for renewable energy trading.

If an Inter-Governmental Agreement is entered into, there are potential significant employment opportunities. As an example, employment creation arising from 3,000MW of new renewable wind generation would be expected to be in the order of 3,000 to 6,000 job years in the construction phase, with the actual number dependent on the construction schedule to 2020. There would also be additional jobs created in the ongoing maintenance of turbines over a 20-year operating life.

Further employment opportunities could arise if turbines or components were to be manufactured in Ireland. Policy certainly is important in that regard. Additionally, all relevant State agencies, particularly in the enterprise area, would have to coordinate their activities early in the process to ensure employment potential of export projects is maximised. This opportunity has already been identified by the IDA and Enterprise Ireland in their clean technology growth strategies. Accordingly it would be a matter in the first instance for these Agencies to pursue the potential enterprise opportunities arising for the State in the area of turbine or component manufacturing.

EU Presidency Priorities

Questions (405)

Brendan Smith

Question:

405. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the proposals he has to advance the EU digital economy during the Irish Presidency of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8925/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland’s overall goal during our Presidency is to ensure that the efforts of the EU are focussed on the steps necessary to restore economic stability and promote jobs and growth. In Ireland and across Europe, the digital economy is considered to be a key enabler for stability, jobs, growth and social inclusion. For this reason, as chair of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, I have prioritised a number of initiatives that support the implementation of the Digital Single Market and the Digital Agenda for Europe.

An important goal in this regard is to progress the legislative proposal for a pan-European electronic ID, authentication and signature framework. This is a key enabler for a properly functioning EU digital market. The proposed regulation is technically complex and Ireland aims to comprehensively address the many important concerns raised by Member States during its Presidency with a view to producing a comprehensive Progress Report for Council next June.

In tandem with this initiative, Ireland has prioritised the delivery of measures to enhance trust in online services. Trust and security in online transactions is essential so that both consumers and businesses can make secure, simple and inexpensive online transactions. As Presidency, Ireland is therefore seeking to deliver real progress on the recently published proposals for a comprehensive EU Cyber Security Strategy as well as legislation relating to network and information security.

These cyber security proposals will build on earlier initiatives to enhance trust and security. Earlier this month, the Irish Presidency negotiated the first agreement under the Irish Presidency on a renewed mandate for the workings of the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA).

The rollout of advanced high speed broadband is a key priority across Europe and another important pillar of the Digital Agenda for Europe. In Ireland, we have published a National Broadband Plan which aims to deliver early on some of the key targets under the Digital Agenda for Europe. As Presidency we await with interest, proposals from the Commission in relation to reducing the cost of high speed broadband rollout which we believe will resonate with some of the actions identified in Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, and on which we hope to commence dialogue during our Presidency.

All of these initiatives are designed to improve and encourage access for citizens, communities and business, thus enabling a more digitally empowered society and creating opportunities for growth. The proposed Directive on the Re-use of Public Sector Information, is aimed at creating such opportunities and Ireland hopes to shortly conclude an agreement with the European Parliament on this issue. The Directive allows for increased availability of public sector information which can be re-used for commercial and non-commercial purposes.

Making information more widely accessible across society is also a key objective and under Ireland’s Presidency, the Council has started examining legislative proposals on the accessibility of public sector websites.

The recent MFF negotiations significantly impacted on the financial envelope available to the telecoms element of the Connecting Europe Facility. The telecoms Working Party will consider the most appropriate way forward on this initiative once the vote of the European Parliament on the budget is known.

Finally, the Digital Agenda Assembly will be held in Dublin next June. My officials are working closely with the Commission to shape the event which will emphasise digital skills and entrepreneurship. The theme of the event will be heavily influenced by the recently published mid-term review of the Digital Agenda which highlighted the fact that ICT can contribute to a paradigm shift in society and economic activity through more efficiency, new products and services and smarter public services.

Departmental Agencies Staff Remuneration

Questions (406, 407)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

406. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide details of the payment of bonuses or other performance related payments and or allowances made to the staff of agencies under the aegis of his Department with a yearly breakdown from 2008 outlining the overall amount paid in each year period and the number of staff that received such payments and or allowances. [10161/13]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

407. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide details of payments made to the CEO or equivalent of all agencies under the aegis of his Department including details of any bonuses, pension entitlements or any other remuneration paid to him or her in 2012. [10178/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 406 and 407 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that the information sought regarding payments made to CEOs and staff in the agencies under the aegis of my Department is an operational matter for each Agency.

All directions issued by the Government in relation to remuneration of CEOs in Semi State Companies have been brought to the attention of the relevant State Companies.

In so far as the Deputy’s question relates to staff subordinate to the CEO, these are matters solely for the agency in question.

Radio Broadcasting Issues

Questions (408)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

408. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to deal with the following situation, seven out of ten minutes of listening time in Ireland is given to the 34 private radio stations here and at the same time taxpayer's money only goes to our national broadcasters, the JNLR figures show that 2.5 million listeners listen to independent radio stations whereas 1.2 million listen to our national stations, the action he will take to deal with this anomaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10262/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

As I have stated previously in this House, I fully recognise the contribution of the independent radio sector in bringing diversity to the airwaves, and serving the needs of communities, often at a very local level. However, it should be borne in mind that these stations were founded as commercial operations, with the profit motive as their primary objective.

Station owners sought and accepted licences on clear terms; terms which included a limited amount of ‘public service’ type content. Moreover, in many cases, their success in the licence application process was assisted by the voluntary commitments they gave in regard to the provision of public service type content, over and above that required by the relevant legislation. The licences were accepted in full knowledge of the current system of public funding. The fact that some of these stations are now undergoing an understandable degree of financial stress does not mean that the State should immediately step in and provide funding – they are and remain commercial enterprises.

Moreover, it should also be noted that their very popularity in the communities they serve is, in many cases, as a distinct result of the local news content and current affairs type programming that they provide and which, in turn, gives them a strong advertising presence and thus earning potential.

The rationale for providing State funding for the Public Service Broadcasters is to provide an independent and reliable income flow that allows these corporations to attain their public service objects while ensuring they can maintain editorial independence. This is especially important in the context of news and current affairs.

The overall aim of Public Service Broadcasting is to provide services and content which cater for all interests in society, while ensuring that the varied elements of Irish culture and its intrinsic values are protected. Through the obligations placed on the Public Service Broadcasters, which are established in legislation passed by the Oireachtas, and the criteria set for the funding of content through the Sound & Vision Scheme, the production of quality indigenous programming and the production of minority interest programming is strongly promoted.

I am, of course, willing to consider proposals from other broadcasting organisations in relation to the future distribution of funding. However, I have to be convinced that the distribution of public funds to independent commercial broadcasters represents a sound proposition in terms of policy for the sector.

Also, I would like to clarify that, even if I were minded to provide public monies to private investors, as the Deputy seems to be suggesting, EU State Aid rules very definitely apply.

It is categorically not possible for the State to simply decide to fund a set of incumbent licence holders during a licence period. Such a move, quite apart from the reaction of the European authorities, would expose the State to the risk of prosecution from other operators who may have considered applying for a licence were the revenue stream available.

The Deputy may wish to note that the Programme for Government commits to review the funding of independent broadcasters to ensure a healthy broadcasting environment in Ireland and work is ongoing in this regard. In line with its legislative obligations, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is currently undertaking a review of the adequacy or otherwise of the public funding provided to the public service broadcasters. In this context, I have asked the BAI to consider as part of this review the potential impacts to these broadcasters if television licence receipts were further distributed to the independent broadcasting sector.

Broadband Services Provision

Questions (409)

James Bannon

Question:

409. Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason his Department’s website is misleading in relation to the delivering of broadband to certain parts of County Longford, as it states that broadband is available in areas where in fact, it is not; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10267/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

In terms of telecommunications policy, my Department plays a key role in providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment within which competition can flourish and private sector investment can take place. The Government has undertaken a number of initiatives to bring broadband to those parts of the country where operators have been unable to offer services on a commercial basis. In this connection, my Department provides a range of information on its website in relation to the provision of broadband

Ireland’s telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999 and since then has developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. Details of broadband services available on a County-by-County basis can be found on the website of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) at www.callcosts.ie.

The State only becomes involved in the provision of services in instances of clear market failure, such as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS). Prior to the commencement of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) a detailed mapping exercise was carried out to determine those areas that would be included in the Scheme and those which, by virtue of being already substantially served by existing broadband suppliers, could not be included. Under EU State aid and competition rules, the NBS is restricted to providing a basic service and is prohibited from providing a service in served areas where to do so would give rise to an unacceptable level of market distortion. In County Longford, NBS services are available within 11 of its 55 Electoral Divisions, details of which can be found are on my Department’s website at http://www.dcenr.gov.ie/NR/rdonlyres/67F5C8D1-CFEB-4C0B-BC61-C9C2C0927AD0/0/Longford.pdf.

The Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS) was launched in 2011 in recognition of the fact that despite the widespread availability of broadband throughout Ireland, there still remained individual premises that were unable to receive broadband provision. This Scheme, which is now closed, was aimed at making a basic broadband service available to un-served premises in rural areas, not already covered by the NBS. Commercial service providers were in a position to offer services to all applicants from County Longford under the Scheme who agreed to engage with them. Relevant details in relation to County Longford can be found on my Department’s website at the following link

http://www.dcenr.gov.ie/Communications/Communications+Development/Rural+Broadband+Scheme/Rural+Broadband+Scheme.htm.

In addition to consumer services, a State-funded Metropolitan Area Network, which provides high capacity fibre connectivity for businesses and telecoms operators in the region, is located in Longford town. Under the 100Mbps broadband to post-primary schools project, which is jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Education and Skills (DES), the nine second level schools in County Longford have been connected.

The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of at least 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU’s target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible. Ireland is now therefore moving to a new phase of public and private sector investment in broadband in Ireland which will see significantly improved speeds delivered across the country.

The National Broadband Plan commits the Government to investing in areas where high speed services are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market. This will ensure that citizens or businesses, wherever they are located, have a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business in a global digital environment.

I would reiterate that the Government remains committed to the delivery of the speeds referred to in the Plan, to ensure that all parts of Ireland, including County Longford, will have at least 30Mbps connectivity.

Energy Prices

Questions (410, 411, 412)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

410. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which directly or in consultation with the regulator, he and or his Department continues to monitor the prices charged by oil companies for petrol and diesel; if the current prices charged reflect a reduction in accordance with the fall in oil prices on world markets over the past four years; if any reason has been given for relatively high prices now being charged at filling stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10329/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

411. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if any discussions have taken place, directly or at EU level, with a view to ensuring that oil price reductions on world markets are passed on to the consumer with particular reference to the need to lower energy costs, as a prelude to economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10330/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

412. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which comparisons have been made between energy prices here and those applicable in Europe and worldwide with a view to ensuring that the domestic and industrial consumer here can avail of lower international oil prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10331/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 410 to 412, inclusive, together.

Neither I nor the Commission for Energy Regulation have a statutory function in the monitoring or regulation of petrol and diesel prices.

The Irish oil industry is fully privatised, liberalised and de-regulated and there is free entry to the market. There is no price control and it is Government policy to encourage price competition and consumer choice.

The upward trend in petrol and diesel prices arises primarily from increases in international commodity prices over which Ireland has no control. For example, the benchmark spot price of a barrel of Brent Crude Oil has risen from an average of US$43 in February 2009 to an average of US$117 in February 2013. This has inevitably resulted in an increase in retail petrol and diesel prices.

Previous surveys have shown that prices charged by Irish retailers for oil products relate to the refinery price rather than to the price of crude oil. Prices at the pump reflect volatile market prices, transportation costs, trends in euro/dollar exchange rates and other operating costs, together with the impact of taxation on oil products.

The EU Market Observatory publishes an Oil Bulletin with current and historical oil product prices for all EU countries.

As of February 11th 2013, the price of petrol in Ireland was marginally below the EU average; while the price of diesel was 4.8% higher than the EU average.

If duties and taxes are stripped out then the price of petrol in Ireland was 98.5% of the EU average; and the price of diesel was less than 1% higher than the EU average.

Ireland’s concerns about high oil prices are shared at EU level and fellow Member Countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The EU and IEA agree that high fossil fuel prices, which pose a threat to economic recovery, underline the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by radically enhanced energy efficiency measures and the development of renewable energy.

The Biofuel Obligation Scheme incentivises and enables the sustainable growth of an Irish biofuels market. The Scheme currently requires that the amount of biofuel brought to the market is not less than 6.38% of petroleum road transport fuels. In 2011 some 145 million litres of biofuel were brought to the Irish market.

The development of electric vehicles offers potential for Ireland to use cheaper grid sourced electricity, an increasing amount of which is sourced from renewable resources.

These opportunities will progressively reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels for transport, while supporting energy competitiveness and security.