Questions Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, answered orally.

Public Broadcasting Charge Introduction

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 9.

Questions (10)

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

10. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the introduction of a public broadcasting service charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45223/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Programme for Government commits to transform the TV Licence into a household based Public Service Broadcasting Charge, to be applied to all eligible households and applicable businesses regardless of the device used to access content or services. It is not my intention that this Charge would place any additional burden on those who are currently compliant and pay their €160 per year TV Licence fee. Where practicable, I also hope to retain the exemption for those in receipt of the Household Benefits Package, which includes Senior Citizens. Responsibility, however, for issues relating to benefits that arise through the Household Benefits Package such as exemptions from the liability to pay the existing TV licence and the consequent right to a free licence are matters for the Minister for Social Protection

I launched a consultation on the proposed Public Service Broadcasting Charge on 27 August which ran until the 8 October. Almost 400 responses were received from members of the public, industry and stakeholder groups. The consultation paper was based on the key findings of a Value for Money Policy Review completed by my Department earlier this year. Views were sought on a series of questions based on each of the Value for Money recommendations which can be generally categorised as pertaining to the Basis for the Charge; Eligible Households; Applicable Businesses; Payments; Collection; and Compliance and Enforcement. I am considering the responses received during the Consultation and will use them to inform proposals on the Charge which I will bring to Government with the intention that the Charge will be introduced in 2015.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 9.

Climate Change Policy

Question No. 13 answered with Question No. 8.

Questions (12)

Michael McGrath

Question:

12. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he is concerned at Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels in view of the recent report on climate change produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; the steps he will take in view of this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44976/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

Government climate change policy has been developed in line with the ambitious EU climate and energy targets set for 2020. These targets set three key objectives for 2020: a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20%; and a 20% improvement in the EU's energy efficiency. The Government is also cognisant of the need for a carefully planned 2030 energy and climate framework. This will be critical in the context of establishing a structured, and cost-effective, transition to a secure and competitive, low-carbon European economy and energy system by 2050.

While responsibility for climate change policy is primarily a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, my Department, which has responsibility for energy policy, has a critical role to play in delivering effective interventions required to achieve climate policy objectives. Ireland is currently heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. While it is acknowledged that fossil fuels will remain part of the energy mix for some time to come, progress is being made towards increasing the share of renewable energy in our energy requirements and improving energy efficiency. The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set Ireland a legally binding target of meeting 16% of our energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet this target, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand, 12% of heating and 10% of transport power from renewable sources, with the transport target also being legally binding. In 2012 19.5% of our electricity demand was met by renewable generation. Provisional figures show that at the end of 2012, 5.1% of heat demand and 2.3% of the energy in the transport sector was met by renewables.

Energy efficiency remains one of the most effective methods of lowering emissions, reducing energy bills and decreasing our dependence on imported fossil fuels. In the second National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to a 20% national energy savings target and outlined a range of ambitious, but realisable, actions to be taken. While we are progressing towards meeting our current targets under the EU 2020 framework, it is critical that we also address the task of developing and implementing the new EU 2030 climate and energy framework. The timely progression of this work, which is being led by the European Commission and is scheduled for discussion at the European Council in early 2014, will provide much needed policy and regulatory certainty. This certainty will be key to releasing the investment necessary to deliver the energy infrastructure, without which, long term energy and climate objectives cannot be realised.

Question No. 13 answered with Question No. 8.

Postcode Implementation

Questions (14, 17, 28)

Mick Wallace

Question:

14. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the costs and perceived benefits associated with a postcodes system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45041/13]

View answer

Michael Moynihan

Question:

17. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the full costs associated with the introduction of a national postcode system; the date on which this project is to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44947/13]

View answer

Clare Daly

Question:

28. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will justify the new postcode system in view of serious concerns among postal workers that jobs will be lost by the move. [45043/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 17 and 28 together.

On 8 October 2013, I obtained Government approval for the launch of a new national postcode system that will provide a unique seven character code to every letter-box in the State in 2015.

The Government also approved, subject to contract, the appointment of a consortium headed by Capita Ireland as the company which will develop, roll-out and operate the Postcode System. This announcement follows a procurement process run by my Department. The postcodes contract is expected to cost around €16m as the postcode system is developed and rolled out over the next 3 years and there will be a cost of about €1.2m per year over the remainder of the licence period.

Most countries have had the benefit of postcodes since the mid 1900s. In making the move now Ireland has been able to use the technology and systems available today to move to a next generation system. The Irish code will be the first in the world to be unique to each individual address. This will alleviate the current situation whereby more than 30% of all domestic addresses are not unique. It will mean that even individual apartments and offices in large developments will each have an individual code as long as they use their own specific post-boxes.

The introduction of Postcodes will give rise to significant economic and social benefits. These benefits include:

- Enabling organisations to improve existing services and develop new service offerings;

- Delivery of improved efficiencies with regards to logistics including emergency service response;

- The innovative approach proposed will act as a strong support for the development of digital applications in the Irish economy;

- Improved efficiency and accuracy of internal business processes as a result of improved accuracy and consistency of databases across public and private sectors;

- Better planning and analysis capabilities across public and private sectors;

- Providing a stimulus to mail volumes through improved direct marketing capabilities; and

- Facilitating improved efficiencies and quality improvements in the mails sector.

An Post will see a substantial benefit as the introduction of postcodes is likely to result in an immediate and sustained increase in mail volumes as businesses update database systems to include postcodes.

Offshore Exploration

Questions (15)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

15. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to increase oil and gas exploration activity in Irish coastal waters; his views on whether we need to see more activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45046/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Government's strategy for the exploitation of the State's natural hydrocarbon resources aims to maximise the level of exploration activity and increase the level of production activity, while ensuring a fair return to the State from these activities. It is important then that the State provides suitable opportunities for international investors and provides the right environment to encourage private industry to take the risk associated with investing in exploration.

This is achieved in a number of ways, including:

- 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;

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

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

Exploration activity levels in the Irish offshore have ebbed and flowed over the past four decades. However, Ireland currently has the highest number of exploration authorisations in place since exploration began. In addition, the success of the 2011 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round is now becoming evident. The 2011 Round represented a new approach and was designed to take account of lessons learned from earlier rounds where the response had been less positive. The 2011 Round resulted in the award of 13 new authorisations, with a two year life, and close to 90% of the Licensing Options awarded are now set to convert to Frontier Exploration Licences.

Defined Benefit Pension Schemes

Question No. 17 answered with Question No. 14.

Questions (16)

Brendan Smith

Question:

16. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his position regarding the classification of the ESB's pension scheme; if he is satisfied that the ESB pension scheme meets the Pension Board's minimum funding standard. [44962/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

In late 2008, the Trustees of the ESB Superannuation Scheme brought forward the Tri-Annual Valuation of the Scheme by one year to assess the financial health of the Scheme. The Actuarial Valuation to 31 December 2008 showed an ongoing valuation deficit of €1.9 billion and a Minimum Funding Standard deficit of €1.8 billion. Consequently, the ESB and the ESB Group of Unions formed a working group to assess how best to address the reported deficit and to protect as far as feasible the interest of ESB and the current members of the Scheme. ESB reached an agreement with staff in 2010 to resolve the pension deficit. The measures adopted under that agreement have, I understand, had a positive effect, resulting in the Scheme Actuary recently reporting that the Scheme is now in balance on an on-going actuarial basis.

Aside from the on-going actuarial position, the Pensions Board also requires the ESB Scheme to assess whether it could meet a certain prescribed standard, known as the Minimum Funding Standard (MFS). This effectively tests whether the Scheme could meet all its current obligations if it were wound up immediately. Neither the Government nor the ESB envisages the winding up of the Scheme but regardless, the Scheme is currently still required to meet the requirements of the MFS. I understand that the Scheme Actuary reported at the end of 2011 that the ESB scheme, like many others, did not, at that time, satisfy the MFS requirements. I understand that the Pensions Board does not require the MFS deficit to be addressed immediately but does require that a plan be developed to address it over a reasonable time. I am informed that the Trustees of the ESB scheme, with the agreement of ESB, submitted a funding plan to the Pensions Board, which was approved in October 2012. In light of the fact that the funding plan was submitted in 2011, the then existing rules relating to the Minimum Funding Standard applied. The Pensions Board published revised MFS rules in June 2012 for addressing pension fund deficits. I am advised that the ESB plan aims to eliminate the deficit by 2018 and that this plan remains on track.

Regarding the manner in which ESB accounts for the Scheme in its financial statements, my Department has been advised by the ESB that, having taken expert legal and financial advice, the Company is satisfied that the current accounting treatment for the Scheme is correct and in accordance with applicable laws and international accounting standards. I understand that the ESB Scheme remains registered with the Pensions Board as a defined benefit scheme, based on the relevant definitions as set out by the Pensions Act.

Question No. 17 answered with Question No. 14.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Questions (18)

Robert Troy

Question:

18. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the date on which new guidelines for the planning of onshore wind farms will be published; if he is concerned that wind energy companies may seek to submit their planning proposals in advance of new planning guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44965/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

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, and there is nothing to preclude wind energy projects submitting planning proposals for wind farms to meet Ireland's domestic renewable energy requirements while the review is being completed.

Planning permission for major renewable energy projects of significant scale for export, 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 an 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 12 to 15 months 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.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (19)

Micheál Martin

Question:

19. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Communications; Energy and Natural Resources the procedure that is followed by his Department when appointing members of the public to State boards or other agencies under the aegis of his Department; if he will outline all appointments made by him to all boards or agencies since March 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44974/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

This Government has made changes in relation to appointments to State Boards and bodies with new arrangements involving advertisement of vacancies for applications from suitably qualified candidates and, in accordance with the government Decision of 12 April 2011, I have, each year, on my Department's website, invited Expressions of Interest from persons wishing to be considered for appointment to vacancies on state Boards under the aegis of my Department. This information has been used to inform decisions for appointments to State Boards. Such invitations are designed to extend the range of suitable persons from which a Minister might make appointments – not to constrain that range.

In 2011 there were 31 applications received following the advertisement for Expressions of Interest from which 3 appointments were made. In 2012 there were 37 applications received following the advertisement for Expressions of Interest from which 5 appointments were made. It should also be noted that about one third of the appointments in the following table were either ex-officio appointments, reappointments, the appointment of worker directors chosen by election, or appointments made from nominations made by an Oireachtas Committee. The table details all appointments to State Boards which have been filled since 9 March 2011 to date, including the appointments made from the Expressions of Interest received, taking into consideration qualifications and legislative requirements where applicable.

Body

Appointee

Date Appointed

An Post

Mr Donal Connell

14/08/2013

-

Mr Christoph Mueller (Chairperson)

26/03/2013

-

Mr James Wrynn

15/09/2011

-

Mr Paul Henry

15/09/2011

Mr Noel Adamson (worker director)

01/11/2012

-

Mr Patrick Compton (worker director)

01/11/2012

-

Mr Thomas Devlin (worker director)

01/11/2012

-

Mr William Mooney (worker director)

01/11/2012

-

Ms Martina O'Connell (worker director)

01/11/2012

-

Mr William Scally

11/12/2012

-

Ms Lorraine Tormey

01/01/2013

-

Mr Tom O'Brien

11/06/2013

Bord na Móna

Ms Denise Cronin

15/09/2011

-

Mr. John Horgan (Chairperson) 

24/04/2012 (as a Director) 27/09/2012 (as Chairperson)

-

Mr Gabriel D'Arcy 

01/02/2013

-

Mr Gerard O'Donoghue

02/10/2012

-

Ms Elaine Treacy

17/07/2012

-

Mr Barry Walsh

16/10/2012

-

Bord Gais Eireann

Mr Finbarr Kennelly

11/12/2012

-

Mr Michael McNicholas 

07/05/2013

-

Ms Mari Hurley

11/06/2013

-

EirGrid

Dr Gary Healy

15/09/2011

-

Ms Regina Moran

15/09/2011

-

Mr Liam O'Halloran

15/09/2011

-

Ms Bride Rosney

15/09/2011

-

Ms Doireann Barry

22/12/2011

-

Mr Fintan Slye 

17/07/2013

ESB

Mr Lochlann Quinn (Chairperson)

21/01/2013

-

Mr Pat O'Doherty 

09/01/2013

-

Ms Noreen Wright

28/06/2011

-

Mr Seamus Mallon 

03/05/2011

-

Ms Anne Butler

13/11/2012-

-

Ms Noreen O'Kelly

23/04/2013

Irish National Petroleum Corporation (INPC)

Mr Sean Fitzgerald 

01/06/2011

-

Mr Vincent Caffrey 

01/06/2011

-

Ms Aoife MacEvilly 

18/07/2012

-

Mr Aidan Donnelly –Chairperson 

18/07/2012

-

Mr Pat Meehan 

10/07/2013

-

National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA)

Ms Aoife MacEvilly 

11/04/2011

-

Mr Pat Meehan CEO

01/01/2013

-

Mr Aidan Donnelly (Chairperson)

12/07/2013

-

Mr Oliver Whelan 

01/04/2013

TG4

Mr. Micheál Seoighe

17/04/2012

-

Ms. Mairad Ní Cheoinín

17/04/2012

-

Mr. Joe Connolly

17/04/2012

-

Mr. Des Geraghty

17/04/2012

-

Ms. Andra Ní alaithe

17/04/2012

-

Ms Mairead Nic Suibhne

17/04/2012

-

Ms. Michelle Ní Chróinín

17/04/2012

-

Siún Ní Raghallaigh (Chairperson)

17/04/2012

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI)

Ms Julie O'Neill

01/05/2013

-

Mr. Edgar Morgenroth

24/04/2012

-

Mr. Michael Conlon

15/09/2011 (but resigned on 21/08/2012)

-

Ms. Anne Farrell

24/04/2012

-

Mr. Declan Waugh

29/05/2012

-

Ms. Michelle Green

29/05/2012

-

Mr. Brian Carroll 

26/06/2012

-

Mr. Brendan Halligan (Chairperson)

01/10/2012

-

Dr Brian Motherway 

01/05/2012

-

Mr Pat Gilroy

14/05/2013

-

Mr Michael McGarry

14/05/2013

-

Ms Anne Connolly

02/05/2013

-

Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA)

Mr. Paul Holden

29/05/2012

-

Mr. Seamus Ratigan

29/05/2012

-

Mr Leonard Donnelly (Chairperson)

24/11/2012

-

Mr Brendan McDonagh

09/04/2013

-

Ms Alice Davis

24/10/2012

-

Mr Owen Keegan 

07/10/2013

-

Ms Edel Flynn 

19/04/2013

-

Mr Philip Maguire 

09/04/2013 (but subsequently resigned on 06/10/2013)

-

-

Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi)

Mr. Ronan O'Reilly (Chairperson) 

22/05/2012

-

Ms. Anne Butler 

22/05/2012 (but resigned on 25/10/2012)

-

Mr. Robin Simpson

22/05/2012

-

Dr. Enda Howley

22/05/2012

-

Dr. Denis Kelliher

22/05/2012

-

Ms. Marion Coy

22/05/2012

-

Mr. Justin Gleeson

22/05/2012

-

Ms Sandra Ryan

22/05/2012

-

Mr. Padraic Jordan

22/05/2012

-

Mr. Oliver Hickey 

19/06/2012

-

Mr Noel Ward

21/12/2012

-

Inland Fisheries Ireland

Mr Fintan Gorman 

10/09/2013

-

Mr Peter J Nally

10/09/2013

The Mining Board

Mr Michael Neary 

17/11/2011

-

Mr Michael MacGrath S.C. (Chairperson)

12/03/2013

National Broadband Plan Implementation

Questions (20)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

20. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications; Energy and Natural Resources if the national mapping process to identify those areas which would not be served with high-speed broadband without State intervention is complete for County Donegal; and if not, the percentage of the county which remains to be mapped and when he expects the mapping process to be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44935/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The objective of the national mapping exercise under the National Broadband Plan is to identify and map current and planned broadband services, both basic and next generation access (NGA). The process for participating in the mapping exercise has been published on my Department's website

(www.dcenr.ie/nbpmapping) and notified to all undertakings authorised by ComReg. Information has been sought from participating operators in respect of current coverage as well as investments planned up to July 2016 and beyond, where appropriate.

Mapping data has been submitted to my Department by a total of 23 operators and the process of analysing the data and supporting information is now underway. The mapping data is being assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the EU State Aid Guidelines, not on a county by county basis. Accordingly, it is not possible to categorise the mapping in terms of percentages of particular counties. When all of the information has been analysed, a clear picture should emerge of coverage throughout all of the country, including County Donegal.

It is my intention to publish the map showing existing and planned NGA broadband coverage early next year, along with the Government's proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country.