Broadband Services Provision

Questions (168, 169, 170)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

168. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he has identified the existence of particular black spots throughout the country in relation to the availability of broadband services; when he expects such issues to be address in full with particular reference to meeting the needs of the business, domestic and commercial sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35548/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

169. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when the full scale of anticipated modern high speed broadband services are likely to become available in all regions throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35549/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

170. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which it is expected that the quality and extent of broadband services here is likely to achieve world class standards, with particular reference to the availability of such services throughout the industrial, educational, domestic and medical services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35550/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 to 170, inclusive, together.

The Digital Agenda for Europe set out specific targets for the achievement of high speed broadband services across all Member States. Ireland’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 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses 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.

The Plan aims to deliver high speed broadband to all parts of Ireland through two principal means:

(a) by providing a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment, and

(b) by providing a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

The National Broadband Plan envisages that industry will be the key driver of investment with State intervention only where there is market failure. Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. There is evidence that industry is investing beyond the targets to which they committed in the Plan with investments of up to €1bn underway

In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. My Department recently launched a formal mapping exercise, the results of which will inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment so as to deliver on the targets envisaged in the National Broadband Plan. It will also form a critical input to the EU State Aids application in respect of any State-led intervention and is a necessary prerequisite for State Aids approval.

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.

Implementation of the National Broadband Plan will be complemented by the National Digital Strategy, the first phase of which I launched on 11 July last. It focuses on digital engagement, which will be crucial if we are to achieve the optimal economic and social use of the Internet by business, government and individuals.

The Government remains firmly committed to increasing the availability countrywide of quality next generation broadband services and to ensuring that citizens, businesses and all parts of society are motivated, empowered and have the requisite connectivity to interact effectively in a digital environment.

Mobile Telephony Services Provision

Questions (171)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

171. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which directly or through the Regulator, efforts are being made to ensure an improved quality of mobile phone services throughout all regions in the country with particular reference to eliminating black spots or areas that have consistently experienced poor or inadequate services in this regard; the extent to which reports are being sought from the service providers with a view to addressing apparent deficiencies by region or county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35551/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The provision of telecommunications services in Ireland generally occurs within a competitive liberalised market. The provision of mobile telecommunications networks within that market is also subject to a requirement to secure the necessary wireless telegraphy licence to access the required radio spectrum.

The terms and conditions of the required wireless telegraphy licences and the associated monitoring of compliance are matters for the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), which is responsible for regulating both the postal and telecommunications markets. ComReg, which is accountable to Committees of the Oireachtas in accordance with s34 of the Communications Regulation Act 2002, is independent in the exercise of these functions.

I am confident that with the continued significant investment being made by the mobile operators, including the imminent roll-out of 4G services, the overall quality of telephone and broadband services will continue to improve. I am aware also that in addition to its 4G rollout plans at least one mobile operator has announced plans to upgrade its network, particularly in rural areas, providing enhanced voice and broadband services.

Bullying of Children

Questions (172, 180)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

172. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he, directly or in unison with his EU colleagues, can address the issue of cyberbullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35552/13]

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Bernard Durkan

Question:

180. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent if any to which communications technology can be utilised to prevent unwarranted, unwelcomed and uninvited electronic communication resulting in stalking or bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35560/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 172 and 180 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, Social Media are online platforms that allow people create, share and exchange information, and to comment amongst themselves in virtual communities and networks. To date, these media have not been subject to a formal regulatory regime akin to that used to ‘regulate’ traditional radio and television broadcast media, either in Ireland or in other jurisdictions. There is a range of reasons for this, not least the rapidly evolving nature of the technologies involved, the sensitivities around regulating media and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Internet.

It is important to acknowledge the economic and social benefits that the widespread use of social media have brought to people, communities and to business. However, some of the issues that have arisen as a consequence of this bear consideration. These challenges include dealing with harassment and bullying online, as well as issues around defamation, data protection and even copyright.

There has been a very considerable amount of discussion on these matters in the recent past at EU and Council of Europe level, in which my Department has been involved. Indeed this matter is also the subject of a fundamental debate at EU and national level at present, a fact reflected by the recent decision of the Joint Oireachtas Committee to examine the issue.

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have policy responsibility for providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment to facilitate the development of high quality communications infrastructure and services. However, I should highlight that I do not have sole responsibility for addressing how that infrastructure is used. Responsibility, in the context of abuse over the Internet in particular, also sits with the Minister for Justice and Equality, and the executive agency of his Department, the Office for Internet Safety.

My Department has developed a website called www.makeITsecure.ie to promote best practice in relation to many issues arising from the use of the Internet. This campaign, which was developed with industry, does provide some information in relation to use of ICT by children. The Department has also engaged in a number of EU initiatives on this subject, including Council Conclusions on the protection of children in the digital world in 2011, and continues to play an important role in discussions in the Council of Europe.

While my Department does not lead on the specific issue of cyber bullying, it is available to assist in any initiative taken forward by the other Departments and continues to engage across all Departments in issues relating to the use of the Internet and ICT generally.

My Department also monitors international developments with a view to ensuring that domestic policy within its remit reflects best practice and that the regulatory framework is amended as necessary. In that regard, I look forward to the deliberations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications.

I am continuing to work with colleagues across Government, industry and the EU, to identify practical measures that can be implemented to address the challenge of cyber bullying.

Tax Yield

Questions (173)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

173. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which oil, gas or other mineral discoveries have been made in each of the past ten years to date; if any particularly promising discoveries or locations have been identified; the expected contribution of any such discoveries towards economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35553/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

There have been four commercial natural gas discoveries since exploration began offshore Ireland in the early 1970s, namely the Kinsale, Ballycotton and Seven Heads (Kinsale area), producing gas fields off the coast of Cork and the Corrib gas field off the coast of Mayo. There have been no commercial discoveries of oil to date.

Despite the low level of commercial discoveries to date, working petroleum systems are known to exist in many of Ireland’s offshore basins, as demonstrated by a number of non-commercial discoveries as well as other oil and gas indicators such as hydrocarbon shows in wells. In relation to the Barryroe oil discovery, results of tests carried out on the Barryroe appraisal well are encouraging, however further appraisal work will be required to determine if the discovery could be declared commercial and lead to a petroleum production project.

With regard to non-petroleum minerals, while no new commercially viable deposits of minerals have been discovered in recent years, there have been some encouraging results, particularly in Counties Limerick and Clare. However, it is too early to determine whether these results will lead to identification of commercially viable deposits or to estimate the economic benefits that might accrue.

Energy Resources

Questions (174)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

174. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which imported oil, gas or other energy sources are likely to be replaced by existing, or anticipated, on or offshore discoveries or indications and their anticipated impact on this economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35554/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Ireland currently imports approximately 95% of its natural gas needs and 100% of its oil requirements. Successful development of our indigenous resources would contribute to significantly reducing dependence on imported supply.

There have been four commercial natural gas discoveries since exploration began offshore Ireland in the early 1970s, namely the Kinsale, Ballycotton and Seven Heads (Kinsale area) producing gas fields off the coast of Cork and the Corrib gas field off the coast of Mayo. There have been no commercial discoveries of oil to date.

In respect of the Corrib Development, It is estimated that construction of the onshore section of the pipeline, which began last year, including the construction of a 5km tunnel, will take in the region of three years. First gas cannot therefore reasonably be anticipated before end 2014.

In its first four to five years of production, the Corrib Gas Field Development is expected to provide 60% to 65% of Ireland’s natural gas needs.

Despite the low level of commercial discoveries to date, working petroleum systems are known to exist in many of Ireland’s offshore basins, as demonstrated by a number of non-commercial discoveries as well as other oil and gas indicators such as hydrocarbon shows in wells.

It is important then that the State provides right environment to encourage private industry to take the risk associated with investing in exploration. We do this in a number of ways, including:

- offering attractive and innovative licensing opportunities, such as the 2011 Atlantic Margin licensing round;

- providing a fit-for-purpose, transparent and robust regulatory regime;

- deepening knowledge of our offshore petroleum potential, in particular through data acquisition and supporting key research projects and

- actively promoting the opportunity to invest in exploration in the Irish offshore, in particular to companies not currently active here.

Postal Services

Questions (175)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

175. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which An Post continues to play a prominent role in the provision of existing, established or anticipated services throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35555/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Operational matters and the role of developing commercial strategies for the post office network are a matter for the management and Board of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function. As shareholder, however, I have a strong concern in relation to the ongoing commercial position of the Company and I regularly liaise with the Company in this regard.

An Post has many strengths and has the largest retail presence in the country. I have been supportive of its attempts to diversify its income streams and to win a wider range of commercial contracts offering higher margins. An Post has made much progress towards diversification with its enhanced arrangement with AIB and its agreement with Aviva for the transfer of Aviva Ireland's branch offices personal insurance business to One Direct. More recently the opportunity to pay the local property tax via An Post outlets was secured. An Post has also been selected as the preferred bidder, following a competitive tender process, for the cash element of welfare payments which augurs well for the future of the network. I understand An Post will pitch strongly for the social welfare ePayment business when it is put out to tender. Having invested in the computerisation of all post offices, An Post is well positioned to become the front office provider of choice for Government and financial services sector.

In the context of the public sector transformation agenda I will continue to engage with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to consideration, as appropriate, of the post office network for transactional elements of the business of Government Departments and Agencies and have stressed to my Government colleagues that the network is ideally configured for over the counter transactions. Overall, it is Government policy that An Post remains a strong and viable company, in a position to provide a high quality, nationwide postal service and maintain a nationwide customer focussed network of post offices.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (176)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

176. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he expects EU fossil fuel reduction targets to be met in the short and medium term, having particular regard to experience over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35556/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

There are no explicit EU fossil fuel reduction targets. However, there are a number of obligations on Ireland that will lead to a reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels. Under the Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland is required to increase renewable energy to 16% in 2020, with a minimum target of 10% in the transport sector. Energy is consumed across the transport, heating and electricity sectors. At end 2011, we had reached 6.4% of overall energy consumption from renewable sources, a twofold increase from 3.1% in 2006. Our intention is to reach our overall target through 40% renewable electricity, 10% renewable transport and 12% renewable heating, which together amount to 16% of all energy consumption.

This increase in the use of renewables in Ireland will mean less fossil fuel used. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland estimates in its “Energy in Ireland” report, published in November 2012, that there was approximately €300 million in avoided national gas imports from the use of renewable energy in the generation of electricity in 2011. In 2012, 128 million litres of biofuels were used in Ireland, almost five times as much as were used in 2007, and by 2020, it is expected that around 500 million litres of biofuel will replace imported fossil fuels.

Reducing our energy usage will also help to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we consume. The National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) contains 97 actions, each of which will play a part in securing a more sustainable energy future for Ireland. The Plan reaffirms Ireland’s commitment to a 20% energy savings target in 2020 under our EU obligations. The actions outlined in the Plan are projected to realise 34,060 GWh of energy savings in 2020, which is equivalent to a 21.1% saving on the baseline period and, should all the measures in the Plan meet their potential by 2020, it is estimated that a reduction of €2.36 billion in energy expenditure could be realised.

Wind Energy Generation

Questions (177)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

177. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his expectations in regard to the development of the wind energy sector; the extent to which national grid requirements are likely to be met through wind energy, including potential back up in respect of both targets for the internal or export markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35557/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set Ireland a binding target where at least 16% of our energy requirements should come from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet our overall 16% requirement, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand from renewable sources. Though these targets are challenging, I am confident that they can be met. My Department’s Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012 to 2020 sets out the key strategic goals for the various renewable energy sectors in the context of Ireland’s EU obligations.

In addition, under the Directive, Ireland was required to set out in a National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) the trajectory towards meeting its legally binding targets. The NREAP and the First Progress Report on the NREAP, which are available on my Department’s website, show the sectoral and technology breakdown that we anticipate in the achievement of our target.

To date, wind energy has been the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. In 2012 15.5% of Ireland’s electricity demand was met by wind generation. By the end of quarter one 2013 1,763 MW (megawatts) of wind generation capacity was connected to the grid.

The primary support mechanisms for renewable electricity are the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) schemes. Under REFIT 2 a total of 4,000 MW can be supported. In order to ensure the necessary incentives are in place to encourage the level of investment required to maintain the rate of build of onshore wind necessary to meet our national target for renewable electricity, earlier this year I decided to amend the terms of REFIT 2 to extend the closing date for applications to 31 December 2015, with projects required to be built by the end of December 2017. Support under REFIT 2 cannot exceed 15 years and will not extend beyond the end of December 2032.

It is estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of renewable generation capacity will be required to allow Ireland meet its 40% renewable electricity target. Currently, just over 2,000 MW of renewable generation is connected to the grid in Ireland. Under the Gate 3 grid connection process, grid connection offers have now issued to just under 4,000 MW of renewable generation, the bulk of which is wind. Under Gate 3 rules, generators must accept an offer within 50 business days of its receipt. I understand that Gate 3 acceptances are scheduled to complete in October this year.

Expert advice suggests that Ireland has the capability to achieve our national targets for renewable electricity from onshore renewable generation alone. However, the opportunity for Ireland to harness our excellent and abundance renewable energy resources and realise their export potential for investment, job creation and economic growth has also been identified and is being pursued with the UK government. It should be noted that electricity exported from Ireland would not require back up on the Irish grid, as only generation in excess of that required to meet national demand levels and security of supply standards would be exported.

With regard to the question of conventional generation required to support intermittent renewable energy such as wind, I refer the Deputy to the All Island Electricity Capacity Statement 2013 to 2022 published by EirGrid and the Northern Ireland Transmission System Operator, SONI, earlier this year. The Capacity Statement examines the expected electricity demand, and level of generation capacity forecast to be available, over the following 10 year period to establish the outlook for generation adequacy in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Based on analysis of factors such as increasing levels of renewables and changes in the conventional generation portfolio, the statement forecasts that Ireland’s generation adequacy outlook is positive for each of the next 10 years.