Special Areas of Conservation Designation

Questions (172)

John O'Mahony

Question:

172. Deputy John O'Mahony asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht further to Parliamentary Question No. 158 of 18 April 2013, when funds will be released to the person's solicitor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26534/13]

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Written answers (Question to Arts)

As outlined in my reply to Question No. 158 of 18 April last, the individual referred to in the Deputy's Question has applied to sell his interest in land within a site designated as a special area of conservation, under the voluntary bog purchase scheme administered by my Department. Contracts for sale, the deposit and the outstanding balance of the purchase price were forwarded to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office.

I understand that the balance of the purchase monies will be released to the individual’s solicitor once the Chief State Solicitor’s Office receives all the relevant closing documents from this solicitor and is satisfied that all is in order for the sale to close. I have been advised that the Chief State Solicitor’s Office expects this to happen within the next week.

Departmental Budgets

Questions (173)

Seán Fleming

Question:

173. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he has received any indicative figure from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the fiscal adjustments his Department will be asked to make in 2014 and 2015; the size of those adjustments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26542/13]

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Written answers (Question to Arts)

In the context of the forthcoming Budget, the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform has asked my Department to identify savings which will feed into the expenditure decisions by Government for the Estimates 2014 and the setting of future Ministerial ceilings. The identification of savings options should ensure that a sufficient range of proposals are made by all Departments to help the Government make well-informed choices about spending priorities and allocations. The scale of the adjustments for 2014 were set out in part 1 of the Expenditure Report 2013, which was published in December 2012. Government will be making decisions on the future ceilings as part of the forthcoming budgetary deliberations.

Job Creation Targets

Questions (174)

Ray Butler

Question:

174. Deputy Ray Butler asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the current figures in relation to direct job creation and sustainability associated with the industrialisation of the wind energy project, applicable specifically to the midlands counties' 1,150 turbines and broken down under headings (details supplied), as well as distinguishing between imported labour and indigenous labour, with any evidence associated with the figures also provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26596/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland has an excellent, largely untapped, wind energy resource. The opportunity to harness this resource for the export market, and realise its potential for investment, job creation and economic growth has been identified. To this end, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation with my UK counterpart, Mr Edward Davey, on 24 January this year. This Memorandum of Understanding clearly signals the joint interest of Ireland and the United Kingdom in developing the opportunity for trading in renewable energy to our mutual benefit.

Detailed consideration of how Ireland's onshore and offshore wind resources might be developed for export to the UK is now underway, with a view to determining if it is beneficial for both countries to enter into an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) under the EU Renewable Energy Directive. There are very complex issues to be considered, including the actual scale of the export generation capacity required. Though it is ambitious, the target for completion of this work on the IGA is early 2014.

Should an Inter-Governmental Agreement be entered into, the development of any new wind farms for the export market would be underpinned by a clear policy framework. Such developments would also be subject to a selection process and to the Planning and Development Acts, including their requirements for public consultation. The mechanism for remunerating any wind farms that may in the future export renewable energy to the United Kingdom has yet to be decided, but will not involve any subsidy costs being imposed on the Irish State or consumer. Any Inter-Governmental Agreement would also have to ensure an adequate return to the Irish Exchequer.

There are potentially significant employment opportunities arising from the building of wind farms developed for export under a possible Inter-Governmental Agreement. It is estimated that a 3,000 megawatt development could provide between 3,000 and 6,000 job years in its construction phase, depending on the timescale for completion of the project. There is also potential for jobs in the on-going maintenance of turbines over a 20-year operating life.

Further employment opportunities could arise if turbines or components were to be manufactured in Ireland. 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 Investment Development Agency and Enterprise Ireland in their clean technology growth strategies. Recruitment of the work force for the development of wind export projects would be a commercial decision for the project promoters concerned, and subject to in the normal way to Irish and EU employment law.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (175)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

175. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding the lack of broadband facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26308/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland's telecommunications market has been fully liberalised since 1999 in accordance with the requirements of binding EU Directives. This market is regulated by Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). The market has since 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 in each County, including County Kerry, can be found on ComReg’s website at www.callcosts.ie.

Operational matters relating to services provision, the cost of a commercial service and line quality are the responsibility of the commercial operators. Regulatory issues surrounding these matters are the responsibility of ComReg, which is independent in the exercise of its functions. The State can only intervene to ensure access to broadband services in areas where the competitive market has failed to deliver such services, as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme. With basic broadband services widely available across Ireland, 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. 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. Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and mobile high speed broadband services.

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. In an important milestone towards delivery of this commitment in the Plan, my Department has recently appointed experts to assist in the design, planning and procurement of the State-led investment. Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be ongoing throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014. Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to making high speed broadband available nationwide, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in a digitally enabled society.

Gas and Electricity Disconnections

Questions (176)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

176. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he is concerned at recent figures indicating that 1,800 households are having their gas or electricity supplies cut off every month; the steps he is taking to address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26336/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Responsibility for the regulation of the electricity market, including disconnections, is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which is an independent statutory regulator. While disconnections are a matter of concern to me, I have no statutory function in the matter of disconnections of electricity or gas customers regardless of the supply company involved.

The CER provides quarterly and annual updates on the electricity and gas retail markets, including on disconnections. Further information may be found at:

http://www.cer.ie/en/electricity-retail-market-reports-and-publications.aspx?article=b0ba4820-3227-499f-9879-16de76bdd5b0 .

As mentioned, the number of disconnections is a matter of concern to me as it is for the Government, the CER, voluntary organisations and suppliers. The rise in numbers in recent years has coincided with the economic recession which has caused customer arrears and debt levels to rise.

The CER has specific rules in place to ensure that disconnection is treated as a last resort. These rules are detailed in the CER's Code of Practice on disconnection and include the assistance that must be provided to customers in managing their bills and avoiding disconnection. This assistance includes a requirement that domestic customers in genuine financial hardship be provided payment options/plans that take the customer’s ability to pay into account. A customer cannot be disconnected as long as they keep to a payment plan. Pay As You Go meters are also made available, free of charge, to those customers who would benefit from them most. A customer must be offered a Pay As You Go meter before the supplier moves to disconnect. The latest figures show that by the end of March this year, 22,733 Pay As You Go electricity meters, 18,000 token meters and 38,592 gas Pay As You Go meters had been installed under this provision.

I welcome the fact that the CER continues to work with industry and customer advocacy groups (such as the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and St Vincent de Paul) to ensure that these measures are working as effectively as possible and to ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to assist customers through this difficult period and that disconnections resulting from genuine inability to pay are minimised and only occur as a very last resort.

Implementation of the measures set out in the Government’s Affordable Energy Strategy, published last November, is pivotal to protecting the interests of vulnerable customers and improving energy affordability. In addition, the Government will continue to support the delivery of energy efficiency measures to vulnerable households in 2013. Funding of €17 million to Better Energy: Warmer Homes in 2013 will support the delivery of energy efficiency measures to approximately 10,000 homes. This will result in energy savings of 18 GWh, corresponding to monetary savings of €1.8 million (4.6kt CO2).

Hydraulic Fracturing Policy

Questions (177)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

177. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will report on his recent attendance at the information session on fracking at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin; his policy on fracking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26337/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

On 17 April, 2013, I attended the Information Session on Fracking at the Royal Irish Academy. The Academy hosted this discussion in order to place scientific facts on the record in a measured manner. Speakers at this meeting included, Professor Shannon, Geosciences Committee, Professor Richard Davies University of Durham, Professor Padraic O’ Donoghue, Chair Engineering Sciences Committee, Dr. Rob Ward, British Geological Survey and Dr. Gareth Ll Jones, Institute of Geologists of Ireland and Conodate.

I spoke at the information session and provided an update on Ireland’s current position with regard to fracking in terms of the award of Licensing Options over parts of the Lough Allen and Clare Basins, advising that such Licensing Options are designed to allow companies assess the natural gas potential of the area; that they are largely based on desktop studies of existing data from previous petroleum exploration activity and that any drilling activities that would involve hydraulic fracturing are excluded under these Options. I confirmed that since those Options were granted, my Department has not approved any application for, nor licensed the use of, hydraulic fracturing in the Irish onshore.

I acknowledged in my address that there is a considerable and genuine concern about the potential environmental and health considerations related to this activity and that the nature of the debate so far has tended to exacerbate these concerns and I welcomed input from the Academy because whatever decisions are taken must be based on transparent assessments of solid evidence. For this reason in October 2011 I asked the EPA to examine the whole issue of fracking and its potential environmental implications. I have commissioned the EPA to undertake a broadly-based study, in order to identify best practice in respect of environmental protection for the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques. The terms of reference for this research have gone out to public consultation, and have elicited a large response. It is anticipated that this research will commence in the second half of this year. The conduct of the study is expected to take at least 12 months, and I confirmed that any applications for exploration licences proposing the use of hydraulic fracking that may be received in the interim will be put on hold, pending publication of this important research.

In the context of my address, I also briefly discussed the global economic perspective to the unconventional oil and gas phenomenon, including the US boom in unconventional fossil fuels which has, in the main, been supported by populations already accustomed to onshore oil and gas production, favourable fiscal regimes, financial interest of land owners in oil and gas production on their property, and the already existing infrastructure in the form of pipelines and service industries.

It is recognised that the advent of unconventional oil and gas has been a 'game-changer' on the US energy market with global repercussions, but is also playing a significant role in economic development in the US. As the EU is likely to remain a "higher" energy cost region in the future, it is unavoidable that we consider the impacts that unconventional oil and gas production will have on security of supply, energy prices and competitiveness. At the end of April as President of the EU Council, I hosted an informal meeting of the EU's Energy Ministers. Several EU member states are weighing the benefits and risks of exploiting shale gas reserves and this meeting afforded an opportunity to compare notes on this issue for the first time.

It will be the end of 2014 before Ireland completes a rigorous interrogation of the geological and ground water data, impacts and mitigating measures and regulatory issues to inform the policy options here and I can confirm that scientific analysis will inform any actions that might be contemplated in Ireland thereafter.

Broadband Service Speeds

Questions (178)

Tom Fleming

Question:

178. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will issue a detailed progress report on the rollout of high speed broadband to all parts of County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26386/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland's telecommunications market has been fully liberalised since 1999 in accordance with the requirements of binding EU Directives. The market has since 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 in each County, including County Kerry, can be found on ComReg's website at www.callcosts.ie. The State can only intervene to ensure access to broadband services in areas where the competitive market has failed to deliver such services, as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme. With basic broadband services widely available across Ireland, 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. 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. Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and mobile high speed broadband services. More detailed information on the broadband products offered by the relevant service providers should be available on their respective websites.

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. In an important milestone towards delivery of this commitment in the Plan, my Department has recently appointed experts to assist in the design, planning and procurement of the State-led investment. My Department is about to embark on a formal mapping exercise to identify the areas of the country to be targeted in the State-led investment under the Government’s National Broadband Plan to ensure the provision of high speed broadband services where the commercial market will not deliver. This exercise will inform an EU State Aids application in respect of the State-led intervention and is a necessary prerequisite for State Aids approval.

Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be on-going throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014.

Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to making high speed broadband available nationwide, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses, including those in County Kerry, can participate fully in a digitally enabled society.

Departmental Budgets

Questions (179)

Seán Fleming

Question:

179. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has received any indicative figure from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform regarding the fiscal adjustments his Department will be asked to make in 2014 and 2015; the size of those adjustments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26544/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

In the context of the forthcoming Budget, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has asked my Department to identify savings which will feed into the expenditure decisions by Government for the Estimates 2014 and the setting of future Ministerial ceilings. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has asked that the identification of savings options should ensure that a sufficient range of proposals are made by all Departments to help the Government make well-informed choices about spending priorities and allocations. The scale of the adjustments for 2014, were set out in Part 1 of the Expenditure Report 2013, which was published in December 2012. The Government will be making decisions on the future ceilings as part of the forthcoming budgetary deliberations.

National Wind Energy Strategy

Questions (180)

Ray Butler

Question:

180. Deputy Ray Butler asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views in relation to the electricity market here, which is a single 5000 MW market covering the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; the amount of electricity sourced from wind energy currently connected into the grid here; the proportion available from the Republic of Ireland and the proportion from Northern Ireland; the amount of wind energy currently in planning, development and-or grid connection queuing stage here and in Northern Ireland; the reason the offshore wind development off the Arklow coast, County Wicklow, does not contribute any electricity to the Irish grid or to any other electrical power user; when it is planned to use the electricity generated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26597/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

By end of Quarter 1 of this year there was 1,763MW of wind energy generated electricity connected to the grid in the Republic of Ireland and 551 MW connected in Northern Ireland. In 2012, 15.5% of electricity demand in the Republic of Ireland was met from wind energy generated electricity sourced in the Single Electricity Market (SEM). In Northern Ireland the corresponding proportion was 11.6%. In 2012, 17% of electricity demand on the island of Ireland was met by renewable generation sourced from the SEM.

In order to take a structured approach to the connection of the amounts of renewable generation necessary to achieve the Government’s target of 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) established the Gate 3 Connection Process in 2008. Under this process grid connection offers have been made for around 3,900 MW of renewable generation, the bulk of which is wind. It is now a matter for project developers to accept or reject these offers in the coming months. In Northern Ireland, a total of 928 MW of wind energy capacity is contracted to connect to the grid by the end of 2015.

The Arklow Bank wind farm is a distribution connected wind farm and is 25MW in size. I am advised by ESB Networks that this offshore wind farm is operational and has an active connection to the distribution grid. Information regarding the status of renewable generation capacity development in the Single Electricity Market (SEM), including wind, is available on the EirGrid website and I would draw the Deputy’s attention to the recently published All Island Renewable Connection Report in this regard.

Housing Adaptation Grant Funding

Questions (181)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

181. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will report on the current level of funding provided to local authorities in respect of disability adaption grants; his views on the restrictions now placed on the provision of such grants in view of reductions in Exchequer funding for them; and if he has plans to reverse the current cuts in expenditure for this specific area of funding in budget 2014. [26296/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The requirement to reduce public expenditure to sustainable levels is impacting on capital programmes all across the public service, including my Department’s housing capital programme. The level of capital funding available has declined significantly in recent years along the lines highlighted in the Medium Term Exchequer Framework for Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-2016. As a result capital spending on housing programmes is subject to constraint over the short-term.

On 22 February 2013 I announced capital allocations to local authorities under the suite of Grants for Older People and People with a Disability amounting to €42.750 million. In allocating the available funding across all 34 city and county councils I did so in as transparent and as fair a way as possible. In framing the 2013 allocations, my Department wrote to each local authority requesting details of the numbers and value of grants where work had been approved to commence. Between them local authorities reported contractual commitments in respect of approved grants totalling €18 million. This year I allocated local authorities the full amount of their contractual commitments. The balance of the available funding was allocated on the basis of each authority's share of the new applications on hand in January 2013.

In order to deal with any acute or particular strain which might arise in the operation of the schemes over the course of the year I have set aside a small capital reserve. I recently approved additional allocations totalling €1.2 million for 13 local authorities. I will consider further applications from local authorities where similar difficulties arise. Allocations to local authorities next year will be considered in the context of the Estimates for 2014 and the competing demands for funding across all the measures within my Department's housing programme.

Property Tax Collection

Questions (182)

Robert Dowds

Question:

182. Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if there is a mechanism for local authorities to collect property tax from council tenants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26353/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

In accordance with section 58 of the Housing Act 1966, housing authorities are responsible for determining the rents of their dwellings, subject to complying with broad principles laid down by my Department, notably that the rent payable should be related to income and that low-income households should pay a lower proportion of income in rent. Within these parameters, it is a matter for housing authorities, as an integral part of their housing management functions, to ensure that their rental income reflects, as far as practicable, the cost of managing and maintaining their housing stock.

The current arrangements for determining local authority rents will be substantially replaced on the coming into force of section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which predates, and does not refer to, the Local Property Tax legislation. On enactment of the Housing (Amendment) Bill 2013 currently before the House, I will be arranging to make regulations under section 31 re-affirming the principle that rents should be related to household income and composition, and reflecting the requirement that housing authorities should set rent levels that take account, as far as practicable, of the cost of providing works and services to, and managing and maintaining, their rented accommodation.