Petroleum and Gas Exploration

Questions (378)

Andrew Doyle

Question:

378. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the action he has taken to ensure that the negative environmental implications of fracking gas extraction techniques on local water supplies and Irish farming international quality standards are included in any decision on the cost-benefits of extraction of gas by fracking, before exploratory gas fracking licenses are issued. [5441/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I have stated on a number of occasions that I do not propose to consider applications for petroleum authorisations in respect of projects proposing the use of hydraulic fracturing until the EPA Research Programme has concluded and there has been time to consider the findings.

In November of last year, the EPA launched a call for tenders to appoint the relevant expertise to conduct detailed research into the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing. The key questions to be addressed by this programme of research are (i) Can Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction (UGEE) projects/operations be carried out in the island of Ireland whilst also protecting the environment and human health? and (ii) What is ‘best environmental practice’ in relation to UGEE projects/operations? In addressing these questions the programme of research will consider baseline characterisation with regard to water, seismic and air quality, potential impacts and mitigations and best practice regulatory framework.

I have also made it clear that should the EPA research conclude that this technology can be used in a manner that protects the environment, that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas programme would be subject to a full environmental impact assessment (EIA). An EIA entails consideration of the potential impacts of a project on population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climactic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage and landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors including cumulative impacts.

It should be noted that it is not possible to permit a project unless it can be determined, following assessment, that it would not have an unacceptable environmental or social impact.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (379, 405)

John Deasy

Question:

379. Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps being taken to improve broadband quality in rural areas of County Waterford, thereby facilitating home-based businesses and remote working. [5482/14]

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John Deasy

Question:

405. Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to address broadband penetration deficits in County Waterford, including rural blackspots without even basic connectivity, in view of the targets set by the EU 2020 initiative in respect of next generation networks; and if the new ESB fibre broadband plan will prioritise these areas. [5484/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Question Nos. 379 and 405 together.

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 can be found on a number of websites, including ComReg’s website at www.callcosts.ie as well as the websites of individual commercial operators.

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, including those in County Waterford. 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 and in some instances have been accelerated in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services. In the fixed line segment of the market, eircom has announced plans to pass 1.4m properties with its next generation broadband service, with speeds of up to 100Mbps, while UPC has increased its entry level and maximum speeds to 120Mbps and 200Mbps respectively. Mobile operators have also made announcements regarding network upgrades and are rolling out enhanced product offerings.

I am aware of at least one service provider announcing that it will be providing advanced broadband services in 21 locations throughout County Waterford before July 2016 and my Department will be happy to discuss this further with the Deputy. These developments have been facilitated through the implementation of measures in the National Broadband Plan, including the conclusion of ComReg's multiband spectrum auction, and the new regulatory regime for fixed line Next Generation Access and service bundles. Both of these measures are designed to incentivise the rollout of services by operators.

The ESB Electronic Communications Bill, which I introduced last month, is a further step in promoting investment in competitively priced high speed broadband. The Bill will, when enacted, enable the ESB to utilise its electricity distribution network to provide telecommunications services in the Irish market.

In tandem with these developments, intensive work is underway in my Department to progress a State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access. 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 over the coming years, the results of which will inform the 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, 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.

Petroleum and Gas Exploration

Questions (380)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

380. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding fracking (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4859/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Three onshore licensing options were granted in the term of the previous Government for the two year period from 1 March 2011 to 28 February 2013, over parts of the North West Carboniferous (Lough Allen) Basin and parts of County Clare. The licensing options conferred upon the holder the first right, exercisable at any time during the period of the option, to an application for an exploration licence or licences over all or part of the area covered by the option.

Two of the three companies, Tamboran Resources and Enegi have submitted applications for a follow-on exploration licence. My Department has carried out a preliminary examination of these applications, however further consideration has been put on hold pending the outcome of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies in relation to the use of hydraulic fracturing, the results of which cannot be expected before early 2015.

I have made it clear that should the EPA studies conclude that this technology can be used in a manner that protects the environment, that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas exploration programme would be subject to a full environmental impact assessment. An environmental impact assessment entails consideration of the potential impacts of a project on population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors. Under the EIA Directive, it is not possible to permit a project unless it can be determined following assessment that it would not have an unacceptable environmental or social impact.

Bord Gáis Privatisation

Questions (381)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

381. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if there will be job losses, redundancies or voluntary redundancies at Bord Gáis Éireann once the commercial portion of the enterprise is sold; if so, the number of redundancies he expects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4919/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Under the Bord Gáis Éireann (BGÉ) Voluntary Severance/Early Retirement Scheme, which closed for applications in September 2013, 43 applications have been accepted, with employees exiting between 2014 and 2017. This is part of an ongoing drive for operational efficiencies within the company.

It is not anticipated that there will be job losses following the proposed sale of the Bord Gáis Energy, either in the competitive energy business or in the BGÉ gas networks subsidiary company, which is to remain in State ownership.

Appointments to State Boards

Question No. 384 answered with Question No. 377.

Questions (382, 383)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

382. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will itemise in tabular form the occasions on which his Department has engaged the services of external professional advice such as a company (details supplied) on the appointment of persons to State boards; if he will list the fees paid in respect of such services; the persons who were ultimately appointed on foot of advice received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4983/14]

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Catherine Murphy

Question:

383. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will identify any instances where a person appointed to a State board after recruitment advice was received from professional external consultants was subsequently deemed to be unqualified for the duties and responsibilities attached to the role; the costs incurred in obtaining advice in respect of each such instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4999/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 382 and 383 together.

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.

My Department does not engage the services of external professional advice in relation to the appointment of persons to State Boards.

Question No. 384 answered with Question No. 377.

Electricity Transmission Network

Questions (385)

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

385. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the consideration that has been given by him and his agents to utilising the routes of the existing 110kvAC transmission network in County Mayo to build out the 400 KV line proposed under Grid West; and the reason this option is not being pursued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5170/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

While this is an operational matter for EirGrid and not one in which I, as Minister, have a role, I have asked EirGrid to set up a telephone “hotline" to allow deputies to contact the company with queries relating to Grid25. That telephone line has now been established and the number is 01 2370419. This telephone line is available 5 days a week, Monday to Friday, between 08.30 and 16.45. Any calls outside those times will be recorded and EirGrid will endeavour to return the call the next business day. The deputy may wish to address her question to EirGrid.

Renewable Energy Projects

Questions (386, 387)

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

386. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason the development of wave energy potential off the western seaboard is not being prioritised in efforts to increase electricity generation from renewables; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5171/14]

View answer

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

387. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will report on the findings to date of ESB International in respect of its offshore monitoring and wave testing off the coast of County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5172/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 386 and 387 together.

I will shortly be publishing an Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP). Informed by the findings of a Strategic Environmental Assessment, the OREDP will set out how best to coordinate action across the environmental, energy and economic development policy areas in order to realise Ireland's abundant offshore renewable energy potential, including that of wave energy.

It is clear from the work that my Department has been undertaking to develop the OREDP, that cross cutting action is required to maintain support for the ocean energy sector, which includes both wave and tidal technologies, if it is to reach commercial viability. Full coordination across government departments and agencies on areas such as environmental monitoring, research and development, consenting procedures, infrastructure requirements and enterprise development, will all be critical to realising the potential of this sector as a source of sustainable employment and economic growth, especially in those coastal communities where job creation initiatives would be particularly welcomed.

My Department already supports ocean energy through the funding for the Ocean Energy Development Unit in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), which administers the Prototype Development Fund, designed to support the development and deployment of both wave and tidal energy devices. The SEAI has also been allocated €5 million for the development of the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site (AMETS), which will be a site of international importance for open sea testing of wave energy devices. In conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my Department also provides funding for the Integrated Maritime Energy Research Centre (IMERC) in Cork. A partnership between UCC, Cork Institute of Technology and the Irish Naval Service, IMERC is developing an integrated maritime research and enterprise centre at its campus at Ringaskiddy in Cork, which includes internationally recognised expertise in ocean energy. In total, my Department has allocated €26.3 million in funding for ocean energy for the period 2013 to 2016.

I understand ESB International has provided engineering expertise to the SEAI in the development of the AMETS project. The ESB is also developing the Westwave Project, which aims to deploy a demonstration wave energy installation off the west coast by 2018. For this project, the ESB has successfully completed a year of monitoring of the wave characteristics off the Mayo coast. They also collaborated with the INFOMAR Programme, a joint programme of the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute, to survey the seabed in the area. I understand that the preliminary results of this work have been published in an Environmental Scoping Report available on the ESB's website, www.westwave.ie.

Renewable Energy Generation Targets

Questions (388, 397)

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

388. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way he expects the new climate change package just unveiled by the European Commission to impact on the Government's renewable energy policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5173/14]

View answer

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Question:

397. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his proposals for the next gate to facilitate connection of renewable energy sources to the national electricity grid in view of the decision by the EU to set one overall target of 27% for renewable energy for the entire EU area; his proposals for the way in which he will interpret this target; the likely target in percentage terms; if he will provide a breakdown of the way this will be divided up between electricity, thermal and transport; and if he will provide an indication as to when his Department will be in a position to set the new national targets for renewable energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5285/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 388 and 397 together.

The Government’s overriding energy policy objective is to ensure competitive, secure and sustainable energy for society and for the economy. Renewable energy has a critical role to play in regard to each element of this objective.

I welcome the recognition in the European Commission’s proposals for a 2030 Climate and Energy policy framework that renewable energy has an important contribution to make to the 2030 goals. Not only is the renewable energy sector of key importance in the context of how we reach overall climate change objectives, it also provides a real, and sustainable, economic opportunity for Ireland, both in terms of providing a secure, indigenous source of energy, and potentially as a clean export.

The Commission's proposals are an important milestone in a complex policy development process that spans two major EU policy areas. Considerable analysis is now required to ensure that the framework allows for action that is cost effective and does not place a disproportionate burden on EU energy consumers.

My Department will, over the coming months, work closely with other government departments in Ireland and with our European partners to establish the scale of the contribution Ireland should make to the achievement of the EU-wide binding target for renewable energy of at least 27% in 2030. The development of a new governance system as proposed by the Commission will also be part of this work and the Commission's forthcoming guidance on this will also need to be examined in due course.

In the meantime, the Government is fully committed to the delivery of the existing target of 16% of energy coming from renewable sources by 2020. In 2012, 19.6% of electricity demand was met by renewable generation, with 5.2% of heat and 2.4% of transport energy requirements coming from renewable sources. Overall, at the end of 2012, 7.1% of our energy was provided from renewable sources. It is critical that every effort is maintained if we are to reach the 16% target for 2020, as it will provide the basis for reaching our 2030 objectives.

The Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, has oversight of the process for connecting generators, both renewable and non-renewable, to the Grid. I understand that the CER is currently reviewing the situation regarding the most recent Gate process, Gate 3, and expects to publish a public consultation paper regarding connections later this year. This process will take account of Government energy policy.

Postcode Implementation

Questions (389, 390, 391, 392, 393, 394)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

389. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the value of the contract awarded to a company (details supplied) for design of a new postcode system. [5196/14]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

390. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of companies that competed for the contract to design the new postal code system; and if any bids indicated that they could complete the system in a shorter time period than the winning contract. [5197/14]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

391. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if the contract to design the new postal code system was awarded through an open bidding process; if other bids came in cheaper than a company (details supplied); and under what criteria was that company judged to be the best bidder. [5198/14]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

392. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will list the bidders for the contract to design a new postal code. [5199/14]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

393. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of staff that will be involved in the company contracted (details supplied) to design the new postal code system. [5200/14]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

394. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if An Post placed a bid for the contract to design the new postal code system; and if so, the reason it was not deemed to have the most experience and ability to deliver the system. [5201/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 389 to 394, inclusive, together.

On the 8th October 2013, the Government approved the appointment of Capita Business Support Services Ireland Limited as the company which will develop, roll-out and operate the National Postcode System following the conclusion of the public procurement process. This company will operate the postcode under licence for an initial ten year period extendable at the discretion of the Minister for Communications by a further five years. The contract for these services was signed in December 2013.

The postcodes contract is expected to cost around €16m as the postcode system is developed and rolled out over the next 2 years and there will be a cost of about €1.2m per year over the remainder of the licence period.

It is intended that householders will be informed of their postcodes in 2015 when the system will come into operation. In the meantime the ground work required to design the code and update private and public sector databases to accommodate the new postcode system has just been commenced by Capita.

Three parties qualified for the procurement process. The Department subsequently received two final bids from consortia led by Capita and An Post. Landmark, a UK company, withdrew from the process at the final tender stage.

An open and competitive procurement process was conducted in accordance with Department of Finance and EU procurement frameworks. The criteria for award of the contract included financial, technical and operational considerations and the winning bid from Capita best met the criteria set out in the tender documentation which included a standard time-frame for implementation.

Capita is still engaged in putting together a number of project teams in order to design and deliver all strands of the project. At this juncture, it is not possible to give a definitive view of the number of staff to be employed on the project.

Electricity Transmission Network

Questions (395)

Sean Conlan

Question:

395. Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in view of the massive response to the Grid Link consultation, which received huge national media coverage, if 18 submissions in comparison to 36,000 was an adequate and acceptable level of public consultation with regard to the North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5245/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

In the Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure of July 2012, the imperative for the State Companies, and all developers of energy projects, of early, transparent engagement and consultation with local communities and stakeholder was emphasised. The Government also affirmed that EirGrid is obligated to adhere to all relevant guidelines and standards and that they act in the national interest, and on behalf of all electricity consumers. The Government has confidence that the forward planning process from the national planning framework of the National Spatial Strategy, to Regional Planning Guidelines and local development planning and the Strategic Infrastructure Act provides the necessary framework for ensuring that all necessary standards are met and that extensive statutory and non-statutory consultation are key to creating public confidence to this effect.With regard to the North-South transmission line, the Government does not determine the scale of submissions on any given project. However, the Government must be satisfied that the necessary framework is in place for ensuring that all necessary standards are met.

I am also advised that it was part of the opposition campaign to the North-South line that citizens were advised not to make written submissions in response to the public consultation. I am not aware of the impact of this advice.

Electricity Transmission Network

Question No. 397 answered with Question No. 388.

Questions (396)

Sean Conlan

Question:

396. Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will include the North-South interconnector as part of the report by Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness on the best underground route options for increasing the capacity of the grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5279/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

On 28 January last, in response to EirGrid’s recent public consultation process, I announced that I have appointed an independent panel of experts, to be chaired by Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, to decide terms of reference for comprehensive, route-specific studies of fully underground options for both Grid Link and Grid West.

Studies of the overhead and underground options will then be published side-by-side, in objective and comparable terms, before proceeding to the next stage of public consultation on those two projects. The two studies will take account of environmental (including visual amenity) impacts, technical efficacy and cost factors. The independent panel will have power to commission its own work if there is any perceived deficiency in the studies presented.

Subsequently, on 31 January 2014 I met with former Supreme Court Justice Catherine McGuinness, chair of the expert panel.

The Taoiseach and I agreed last week that I would ask Mrs Justice McGuinness to consider what work, if any, her panel might usefully undertake to establish that there has been parity of treatment between the North South project, in terms of the work undertaken to date, and Grid Link and Grid West, in terms of the studies that are now proposed. The Chairperson said that she would discuss the issue with the expert panel to consider what, if anything, the expert panel can do. Mrs Justice McGuinness also indicated that she would be convening a meeting of the panel as early as possible.

Question No. 397 answered with Question No. 388.

Inland Fisheries

Questions (398, 399, 400, 401, 402)

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

398. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the analysis that has been carried out by Inland Fisheries Ireland to establish the viability of the proposed interpretative centre at Cong Salmon Hatchery; if a feasibility study has been carried out; and the consideration that was given to the already proposed Ballina Salmon Life Centre, plans for which are well advanced and which is shovel ready; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5388/14]

View answer

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

399. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the estimated cost of the proposed interpretative centre at the Cong Salmon Hatchery; the way Inland Fisheries Ireland proposes to fund same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5390/14]

View answer

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

400. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way the operational costs of the proposed interpretative centre at Cong Salmon Hatchery will be funded once it is operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5391/14]

View answer

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

401. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland ratified the plan to open an interpretative centre at the Cong Salmon Hatchery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5392/14]

View answer

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

402. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether it is feasible that there could be two fisheries-based interpretative visitor centres in County Mayo or in the country considering Inland Fisheries Ireland involvement in such plans for a National Salmon Life Centre for Ballina and IFI's most recent plans for the development of an interpretative centre at the Cong Salmon Hatchery. [5426/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Question Nos 398 to 402, inclusive, together.

I am advised by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) that there is no proposal to establish an interpretative centre at Cong, Co Mayo. IFI owns and operates a fish hatchery located in the centre of Cong, and is currently carrying out a review of hatchery operations generally with a view to rationalising and improving efficiency and cost effectiveness in this operational issue. The primary focus of the proposal is business efficiency, centred on examining the feasibility of using existing capacity at Cong to yield efficiencies and cost savings in line with the Government's reform agenda.

In developing rationalisation plans for its core business, IFI is keenly aware of the existing educational value of the Cong operation in facilitating requests for school visits to a working hatchery. I am advised that as a modest element of the strategic operational review, IFI is examining possibilities to improve the visitor experience within the Cong facilities. IFI is anxious, that in the context of business improvements, they should not lose sight of the educational and community benefits of the existing Cong facilities which are consistent with the organisation’s statutory role to promote all species in the inland fisheries resource.

In particular consideration has been given to increasing understanding and awareness of the rare ferox trout which is unique to Cong. The area is a vital link in the life cycle of this rare, separate and ancient species that originates in Cong, and has existed in Lough Corrib since the ice age.

IFI is also cognisant and supportive of the existing proposal in Ballina for the development of a Salmon Life Centre, which is being led by the local Town Council. The feasibility study in relation to this proposed development was undertaken by Tourism Development International and was completed in November 2008. I understand that the Local Authority led proposals could entail a very significant investment should the estimated €6m to build the facility be secured for this stand-alone development proposal.

IFI's commitment to Ballina and the importance of the River Moy to the salmon species and to inland fisheries is well recognised as demonstrated by the investment of over €1m by IFI in the restoration and development of the iconic salmon weir in the centre of the town.

I have undertaken to meet with the Deputy and the Chief Executive Officer of IFI to discuss the issues she has raised.