Electricity Transmission Network

Questions (156)

John Halligan

Question:

156. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the input his Department has had in the choosing of the areas where EirGrid are currently proposing to erect pylons within Ireland; if other options were considered, that is underground lines or lines at sea; the agreements that have been made between his Department and EirGrid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45475/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

While several of the issues raised in the Question are matters for Eirgrid, and not ones in which I, as Minister, have any role or function, I will respond to the issues that fall within the ambit of my Department and Government policy in this area.

Neither the Government nor I seek to direct the energy infrastructure developers to particular sites or routes or technologies as was made clear in the July 2012 Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure. That statement emphasises that these are matters for the developers and for the forward planning process through regional and local development plans and at project level through the development management process. In this context, energy infrastructure developers are encouraged to work with the forward planning processes at regional and local levels to set clear contexts for assessment of individual applications for planning consent and to facilitate as wide a degree of consensus as possible regarding how and where to meet grid development needs.

The Government, as detailed in the July 2012 Policy Statement, expects the companies in making their choices of project specific technologies and routing, as well as mitigation measures, to take account of all relevant national and international standards, to follow best practice and ensure value for money and be informed by detailed consultation at local level.

Electricity Transmission Network

Questions (157)

John Halligan

Question:

157. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether there may be a conflict of interest on the part of the consulting engineering company (details supplied) that EirGrid has employed to advise them on the selection of what they call the least constrained corridor in view of the fact that this company has also been employed by Tipperary County Council and a decision there could greatly impact on any decision made in County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45476/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

This is a matter for EirGrid and one in which I, as Minister, have no function.

Alternative Energy Projects

Questions (158)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

158. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his preferred options for the operation of wind generating turbine throughout the country with particular reference to the permitted height and proximity to dwellings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45542/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The development of wind farms to ensure that Ireland continues to meet its legally binding renewable energy targets and realise the export potential of trading energy with other Member States should also ensure wind energy does not have negative impacts on local communities.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with my Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, is undertaking a review of the Wind Energy Guidelines which will address the key issues of noise (including separation distance) and shadow flicker. Draft guidelines will be published for public consultation by end-November 2013 with a view to finalising guidelines by mid–2014. The revised guidelines will apply to all wind farm development in Ireland.

In terms of the potential export of renewable energy, one of the key requirements for proposals of a significant scale for wind energy export will be the achievement of the necessary planning consents in Ireland. Planning permission for such projects, which will be determined by An Bord Pleanála, must await the putting in place of a clear national planning policy framework and I have asked my Department to prepare such a framework. The policy framework will provide the opportunity to integrate relevant EU Directive requirements (including Strategic Environmental Assessment and Appropriate Assessment), trans-boundary dimensions and stakeholder participation within the context of a national framework.

The outcome will be a high level development framework taking its lead from the Inter-Governmental Agreement, EU Directive requirements and relevant national, regional and local planning policy considerations in conjunction with wider policies, objectives and requirements. It will incorporate a vision and strategy coupled with technical parameters and a spatial element.

The development of the framework will be progressed by my Department over the next year or so and will provide confidence and certainty for all stakeholders through an open, fair, balanced and consultative process. The initial phase of public consultation has now commenced and all interested parties and members of the public have been formally invited to make written submissions on the export project which will be taken into consideration in preparing the framework. Details can be found on a new dedicated section on my Department's website, exclusive to the project, and which will be updated as the project progresses.

Cyber Security Policy

Questions (159)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

159. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which modern technological advances can be utilised to prevent or track Internet bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45543/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Online media are not 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 are a range of reasons for this, not least the rapidly evolving nature of the technologies involved, the sensitivities around 'regulating' online media and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Internet.

Ireland is committed through the Internet Governance Principles contained in the Declaration of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to the principle of "Multi-stakeholder governance" . In this regard, the development of international Internet related public policies and Internet governance arrangements must allow for full and equal participation of all stakeholders from all countries. My officials have been and will continue to be engaged in the discussions on these issues. 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.

The protection of children online is of paramount importance and there are a number of initiatives already in place in this respect, notably through the Department of Education's resources and support for parents and children as well as the various initiatives carried out by the Office for Internet Safety, established by Government to take lead responsibility for Internet safety in Ireland, particularly as it relates to children. This Office operates under the aegis of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Office also aims at building linkages and cohesion between all Departments and Agencies to ensure that the State provides the best possible protection for the community and promotes Internet safety.

The importance of education in this context cannot be overemphasised. It is essential that children, young people and parents are educated as to the risks that can be found online and that parents and teachers are supported in explaining these issues to children. In this regard, there are a range of tools available online to assist parents in managing internet access.

One important initiative in this regard brought forward by my Department is the development of the website called www.makeITsecure.ie which seeks to promote best practice in relation to many issues arising from the use of the Internet. This campaign, which was developed with industry, provides information in relation to the 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 have the lead role in relation to the specific issue of cyber-bullying, it works closely with other relevant Government Departments on this issue and the use of the Internet and ICT generally. Earlier this year, the Department of Education and Skills published an action plan on addressing certain cyber issues, including specific measures on cyber-bullying and in September published 'Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools'. I welcome these initiatives and hope that they will assist in addressing the challenges associated with cyber bullying.

Broadband Services Provision

Questions (160)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

160. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which broadband, state-of-the-art technology is available in all areas throughout the country; the way this compares with other EU or non-EU competing states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45544/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Regulation of the electronic communications market, including the gathering of market data and publication of national statistical reports, is the responsibility of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). ComReg, has established a callcosts website www.callcosts.ie which provides information to the public on the alternative broadband services marketed by competing service providers on a county by county basis. ComReg does not collect or publish data on available broadband speeds on a regional or county-by-county basis.

The ESRI published a working paper last year, based on the callcosts data, which compared median broadband speeds marketed by county across Ireland. The report concluded, among other things, that there were variations in broadband speeds within counties, especially in more rural areas of the country. It concludes that variations in access to higher broadband speeds is more likely to be a consequence of residing in an urban, suburban or rural area.

Therefore, when making comparisons with other countries, care needs to be taken to compare like with like. The OECD, for example, publishes rankings of states by reference to the highest marketed speed and averages of marketed speeds. The recent launch of a broadband speed of 200 Mbps in Ireland by a cable operator will improve Ireland's standing in terms of both highest and average broadband speeds offered in the market in such international comparisons. These comparisons do not however compare the penetration levels at those speeds within any state.

The Government's National Broadband Plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by providing:

- a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment; and

- a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

Since the publication of the Plan, investments by the commercial sector are underway in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas. The State can only intervene to ensure access to broadband services in areas where the competitive market fails to deliver such services. In order to progress the State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained.

My Department is engaged in a comprehensive mapping exercise of the current and anticipated investment by the commercial sector to identify where the market is expected to deliver high speed broadband services over the coming years. The results of this mapping exercise will inform the precise areas that need to be targeted in the State-led investment as envisaged in the National Broadband Plan.

Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations, including stakeholder engagement, are ongoing. The procurement process for the approved intervention will be carried out in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules and it is expected that it will be launched in 2014.

Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan and the National Digital Strategy, I am committed to ensuring that all parts of Ireland have access to high speed broadband with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses can participate fully in, and maximise the benefits of, a digitally enabled economy and society.

Postal Services

Questions (161)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

161. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which new and or compatible services and facilities will be supplied by An Post thereby enhancing its future and extending the quality of its services to the community throughout the country by maintaining its next-day delivery objectives and counter services daily; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45545/13]

View answer

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. The opportunity to pay the local property tax via An Post outlets was also secured. An Post was 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.

While I have overall responsibility for the postal sector, the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011 charges the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as the postal regulator, with the promotion of the development of the postal sector and particularly the availability of the universal postal service, the promotion of the interests of users and the facilitation of the development of competition in the sector. Under this Act, An Post is statutorily required, as the designated universal service provider, to provide a universal postal service. The essential element of this obligation is the collection and delivery of mail to every address in the State on every working day. The universal service obligation ensures by way of regulatory obligations that a minimum set of services is provided at an affordable price for the benefit of all users, irrespective of their geographical location.

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.

Petroleum and Gas Exploration

Questions (162, 164)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

162. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which exploration licenses granted, on and off-shore, in each of the past ten years to date have been activated; the number of viable discoveries; the number of explorations currently under way; the extent to which commercial viability is anticipated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45546/13]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

164. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources arising from the number of exploration licenses granted in each of the past ten years, the extent to which discovery of oil, gas and other mineral deposits have been identified on and off-shore; the degree to which their commercial viability has been assessed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45548/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 162 and 164 together.

The number of Mineral Prospecting Licences and Petroleum Exploration Licences granted in each of the past ten years is set out in the following table:

Licences Granted during period 2003 – 2013

Year

Prospecting Licences (Minerals)

Petroleum Exploration Licences

2003

22

0

2004

26

3

2005

51

7

2006

84

4

2007

143

5

2008

91

5

2009

66

1

2010

93

0

2011

98

2

2012

102

0

2013 (to date)

128

3

Total

904

30

While there have been no new commercial discoveries of oil and gas in the Irish onshore and offshore in the past ten years the drilling of an appraisal well in the Barryroe prospect in the Celtic sea has shown encouraging results. More work will be required to determine if the discovery is actually commercial and it is not clear at this stage how long this process will take.

The only petroleum discovery in recent years that has been declared commercial but has yet to be developed is the Corrib Gas Field. Twenty of the petroleum exploration licences granted during the period are still active.

While no new commercially viable deposits of minerals have been discovered in the past ten 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. Six hundred and forty seven of the mineral prospecting licences granted during the period are still active.

Natural Gas Grid

Question No. 164 answered with Question No. 162.

Questions (163)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

163. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when it is expected that products from the Corrib gas field will become available to the national grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45547/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Completion of the Corrib gas field development works, by the developer, is the principal factor that will determine the date for first gas. Pending such completion, it is not possible to state a date for when gas from the Corrib gas field will become available.

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

Question No. 164 answered with Question No. 162.

Mobile Telephony Services Provision

Questions (165)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

165. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which comparisons have been made with the quality of mobile telephone services here and those available in other European jurisdictions; if it is true that the service in terms of signal has been reduced and the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45549/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

An EU Commission comparison of “3G” mobile telephony coverage across the EU member states for 2010, the most recent such study available, ranks Ireland 6th highest for coverage at 99.5% compared to an EU average of 89.9%.

The provision of mobile telephony services is subject to the award of spectrum licences by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). In late 2012 ComReg concluded a process to allocate access to radio spectrum for use in the provision of the next generation “4G” mobile telephone services, which are the most modern such services currently available. The award of these licences involves payments in excess of €850 million by the successful applicants and significant additional networks investments to roll out 4G services. Two successful applicants have already announced the launch of 4G services and it is expected that others will roll out similar 4G services shortly.

I am advised that temporary outages or reductions in services may occur in particular areas as 3G networks are maintained or upgraded or as 4G networks are installed or due to temporary faults which can occur from time to time for a variety of reasons. I expect that with the continued significant capital investments being made by mobile operators, the quality of mobile services overall will continue to improve across the country. However monitoring such progress and detailed enforcement of the conditions imposed by the Regulator on service providers are matters for ComReg, which is statutorily independent in the exercise of its functions.