Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme

Questions (281)

Willie Penrose

Question:

281. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if in the context of a recent review carried out by his Department in respect of raised bog NHAs and the recommendations arising thereof, he will indicate the compensation provisions that might be available to turbary owners and if same are immediately available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11831/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

The Review of Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs), which is available to download from my Department’s website at http://www.ahg.gov.ie/en/Publications, provides detail on future arrangements regarding turf cutting on those raised bog Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) which are to be conserved. The review envisages the complete or partial de-designation of 46 existing NHAs where turf-cutting may continue into the future. In these de-designation cases, it will not be necessary for individuals to seek consent to cut turf. The effective cessation of turf cutting is on 36 NHAs by 1 January 2017, in order to preserve their conservation value. Management plans, which will be subject to environmental assessment, will be prepared for each site. Turf-cutters on these sites will require consent from my Department before cutting this year. The proposed designation of 25 new sites as raised bogs NHAs later this year is to replace the habitat lost through de-designation of the more heavily cut sites. Many of these proposed sites are in public ownership, or have relatively few or no turf cutters.

It may be noted that it has been possible to subdivide seven current NHAs in such a way as to allow for a continuation of turf-cutting in one part and conservation elsewhere on the site. This has resulted in a total of 82 separate units within the original 75 NHAs.

Any turf-cutter required to cease turf-cutting on an NHA is being offered compensatory measures similar to those available to turf-cutters from raised bog Special Areas of Conservation. Such compensation will be available to qualifying persons with effect from 2014. The maximum payment available under the scheme is €23,000 currently made up of payments of €1,500 per annum (index linked) over 15 years with a once-off incentive payment of €500, upon completion of a legal agreement with me as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. As an alternative to financial payments and where feasible, qualifying turf cutters will be facilitated in relocating to alternative non-designated sites to continue cutting turf.

Qualifying applicants who wish to take up the option of relocation may receive compensation until such time as alternative sites can be provided and the terms of the relocation will take into account any compensation received under the compensation scheme. These applicants may opt for the payment of €1,500, index-linked, or a supply of 15 tonnes of cut turf per annum while awaiting relocation. Application forms for the compensation scheme or for permits to continue cutting over the next 3 years will be available shortly from my Department. Relevant contact details are published on my Department’s websites.

Departmental Legal Costs

Questions (282)

Denis Naughten

Question:

282. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will set out in tabular form, by reference to each named firm, the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by his Department to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; if he will provide in a similar format the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by State bodies including commercial or non-commercial and regulatory bodies established by or under his Department, to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11865/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

I have been advised by my Department that no legal payments were made in 2013 to law firms either in or outside of the State. For completeness, I would bring to the Deputy's attention that my Department makes payments from time to time to the Chief State Solicitor's Office in respect of legal services that it provides to my Department. With regard to bodies funded from my Department's Vote Group, the Deputy will appreciate that the matters raised are part of the day-to-day operational responsibilities of the bodies in question. I am arranging, therefore, for the terms of the Deputy’s Question to be transmitted to the heads of relevant bodies with a request that they provide information, to the extent feasible, directly to the Deputy.

Wildlife Conservation

Questions (283)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

283. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the supports he will provide to farmers whose lands have been sterilised because of the hen harrier; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11961/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

Under the terms of the EU Birds Directive, Ireland is required to identify, designate and protect the most important sites for Hen Harrier. Traditional farming is generally conducive to supporting hen harrier in these designated areas. At the time of designation, my Department opened a voluntary incentivisation scheme to support farmers to improve habitat for the Hen Harrier and various other species that share the same landscape. In 2010, the scheme was closed to new applicants due to budgetary constraints. My Department continues to honour existing 5 year contracts. This scheme has been integral in supporting not only the Hen Harrier and its ecosystem, but also the viability of farmers in these agriculturally marginal areas.

Within a Special Protection Area (SPA), a landowner has to seek permission before undertaking the following:

1. Construction, removal or alteration of fences, stone walls, hedgerows, banks or any field boundary other than temporary electric fencing (consent is not required for normal maintenance).

2. Agricultural improvement of heath or bog.

3. Off-road recreational use of mechanically propelled vehicles.

My Department is in discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine concerning a range of measures for the protection or restoration of biodiversity in Ireland’s next Rural Development Plan. This includes measures focused on Natura areas – that is, those areas designated as Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive and Special Conservation Areas designated under the Habitats Directive.

It is envisaged that these will be implemented primarily through the proposed GLAS agri-environmental scheme under the Rural Development Programme. The draft Programme is currently subject to a public consultation process, as announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Hare Coursing

Questions (284)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

284. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in view of the fact that the NPWS stated uncertainty about the reproductive viability of hares post-coursing and the impact on local population demographics of hare removal and return (details supplied), if he will acknowledge and take on board ICABS's statement that coursing poses a serious risk not only to individual hares but also to local populations and the species as a whole; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12023/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

My responsibility under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2012 relates to the protection of populations of protected species, such as hares, rather than to individual animals. Under the Wildlife Acts, hares are a protected species and may only be hunted during the Open Season, as prescribed by the Wildlife (Wild Mammals) (Open Seasons) Order 2005. The NPWS statement referred to comes from the 2006 Report to the EU on the status of Habitats and Species protected under the Habitats Directive. That part of the Report references a number of scientific research papers which are used to inform the comments on hare population demographics. The quote reflects an opinion that further scientific research would be useful to ascertain the effect of hare coursing captures on hare population demographics. However overall, the evidence suggests that the impact of coursing on the conservation status of hares nationally is negligible and may in fact have direct and indirect benefits for hare populations.

In 2013, Ireland submitted a second such report, which is available online at www.npws.ie. This second report identified changes in agricultural practices as the main pressure facing this species, in particular intensification of grassland usage. The scientific assessment was that the species is in favourable conservation status and the report on the hare concluded that “the hare is widespread and common in Ireland with a broad habitat niche. None of the identified threats are considered likely to impact on its conservation status.” The most recent population estimate for the species was 535,000 animals. Coursing Clubs affiliated to the Irish Coursing Club capture in the region of 5,600 hares each coursing season, equivalent to approximately 1% of the national resource, and figures show that an average of 97.5% of the hares used at hare coursing meetings are returned to the wild.

Ferry Services Provision

Questions (285)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

285. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht when the next meeting of the co-ordinating committees in relation to the ferry services to Inishbofin Island, the Aran Islands and all other islands around the coast will take place; the number of meetings that have taken place in the past three years of the co-ordinating committee in relation to each island; the dates of these meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12075/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the operation of monitoring committees for various ferry services supported by my Department. I can confirm that the ferry service contracts that my Department holds with different operators allow for the setting up of monitoring committees to oversee the operation of these contracts. The monitoring committees tend to meet on a regular basis when particular challenges or difficulties need to be addressed. In other instances, meetings tend to take place as the need arises. In regard to the Aran Islands, for example, I can inform the Deputy that meetings of the monitoring committee have taken place on the following dates since March 2011: 19 May 2011, 3 February 2012, 7 September 2012 and 25 January 2013. A date has not been set for the next meeting.

I am satisfied that my Department has a robust system in place whereby officials are in regular contact with individuals, island co-operatives and development companies where complaints/observations/opinions in relation to the services are received and followed up, as required. The Deputy will also appreciate that my Department has limited resources available to it and that it is necessary to prioritise the work accordingly.

Offshore Islands

Questions (286)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

286. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht his plans to make the airstrip on Inishbofin available for use by private aircraft; the reason that this has not been done to date in view of the potential of aero-tourism to Inishbofin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12077/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

A decision has been made to dispose of the airstrips on Inishbofin and at Cleggan in Co. Galway. This decision has been made in view of the economic downturn, the ongoing cost of maintaining the airstrips and the position that my Department is unlikely, at any time in the near future, to have the resources to subsidise a regular air service between the island and the mainland. My Department is currently assessing the disposal options available to it and a decision in this regard will be announced in due course. The airstrips on Inishbofin and at Cleggan in Co. Galway are not open or licensed for use by the Irish Aviation Authority at present. Therefore, landing aircraft on the airstrips is currently strictly prohibited.

Mountain Access Schemes

Questions (287, 288)

Eric J. Byrne

Question:

287. Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if his attention has been drawn to the land erosion on traditional walking paths on the mountain ranges here; if he will confirm that it is his intention to establish proper developed pathways in order to prevent the erosion from the increased footfall of hill walkers and in particular the use of bikes, motorbikes and quad bikes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12099/14]

View answer

Eric J. Byrne

Question:

288. Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in view of the increase in participation by walkers using for recreational purposes the magnificent mountain ranges of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, if he is satisfied that he has sufficient funds to develop pathways to alleviate the erosion that is occurring on this mountain range; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12104/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 287 and 288 together.

My Department actively encourages visitors to its properties, which include National Parks and Nature Reserves. To facilitate enjoyment of the properties, my Department has developed a number of dedicated trails and boardwalks, and within the resources available, these are maintained on a regular basis. Such works include the clearing of drains to prevent erosion.

The use of motorbikes and quads is not permitted in National Parks such as Wicklow Mountains National Park. More generally, I have power under Regulation 29 of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 to make directions for the prohibition, except where my consent has been obtained, of specified activities that may damage European sites or other sensitive areas. I have issued some 14 such directions addressing some 18 locations, including in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains. Many of these relate to the use of quads, bikes and motorbikes at the sites concerned.

My Department will continue to develop walking trails in National Parks and Nature Reserves for visitors, where resources allow.

Commemorative Plaques

Questions (289)

Derek Nolan

Question:

289. Deputy Derek Nolan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the process by which a County Galway man (details supplied) who died in the Spanish Civil War could have a plaque marking his death erected in the city; if there are plans to undertake such a process for the man in question; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12120/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

As the Deputy will be aware, hundreds of Irishmen were motivated towards voluntary service in the civil war in Spain between 1936 and 1939, and almost a hundred died in that war. Without prejudice to the consideration of a more inclusive monument on a signal anniversary, I am not aware of any scheme to support the provision of a personal memorial or monument at this time for an individual from that conflict.

Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme

Questions (290)

Brendan Smith

Question:

290. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the total funding paid to date by county under the turf compensation scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12156/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

2,883 applications for compensation under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme have been received and acknowledged by my Department. A total of 4,273 payments and 442 deliveries of turf have been made in respect of the applications received. In addition, 1,050 once-off incentive payments of €500 have been made to applicants who have signed and returned legal agreements under the scheme to my Department. Details of the expenditure under the scheme to date by bog are set out in the following table. This expenditure is comprised of the amount paid in respect of annual payments, turf deliveries and once-off incentive payments. A number of raised bog special areas of conservation straddle more than one county and it is not possible to give a single figure per county where this arises.

Site Code

Name of raised bog special area of conservation

County

Expenditure under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme

000006

Killyconny Bog (Cloghbally)

Cavan/ Meath

€6,000

000231

Barroughter Bog

Galway

000248

Cloonmoylan Bog

Galway

000285

Kilsallagh Bog

Galway

000296

Lisnageeragh Bog and Ballinstack Turlough

Galway

000301

Lough Lurgeen Bog/ Glenamaddy Turlough

Galway

000326

Shankill West Bog

Galway

001242

Carrownagappul Bog

Galway

002347

Camderry Bog

Galway

002350

Curraghlehanagh Bog

Galway

002352

Monivea Bog

Galway

002356

Ardgraigue Bog

Galway

€1,669,412

000297

Lough Corrib

Galway/Mayo

€387,010

000382

Sheheree (Ardagh) Bog

Kerry

002351

Moanveanlagh Bog

Kerry

€70,824

000391

Ballynafagh Bog

Kildare

002331

Mouds Bog

Kildare

€449,464

000440

Lough Ree

Roscommon/ Longford/ Westmeath

€830,997

000497

Flughany Bog

Mayo/Sligo

€45,144

000566

All Saints Bog and Esker

Offaly

000572

Clara Bog

Offaly

000575

Ferbane Bog

Offaly

000580

Mongan Bog

Offaly

000581

Moyclare Bog

Offaly

000582

Raheenmore Bog

Offaly

000585

Sharavogue Bog

Offaly

€346,188

000592

Bellanagare Bog

Roscommon

000595

Callow Bog

Roscommon

000597

Carrowbehy/Caher Bog

Roscommon

000600

Cloonchambers Bog

Roscommon

000604

Derrinea Bog

Roscommon

000614

Cloonshanville Bog

Roscommon

002338

Drumalough Bog

Roscommon

002339

Ballynamona Bog and Corkip Lough

Roscommon

002349

Corbo Bog

Roscommon

002354

Tullaghanrock Bog

Roscommon

€1,387,617

000641

Ballyduff/Clonfinane Bog

Tipperary

000647

Kilcarren-Firville Bog

Tipperary

002353

Redwood Bog

Tipperary

€310,652

000679

Garriskil Bog

Westmeath

002336

Carn Park Bog

Westmeath

002337

Crosswood Bog

Westmeath

€329,232

001818

Lough Forbes Complex

Roscommon/ Longford

€7,518

002110

Corliskea/Trien/Cloonfelliv Bog

Galway/ Roscommon

€276,528

002298

River Moy

Mayo/ Roscommon/ Sligo

€89,500

002332

Coolrain Bog

Laois

002333

Knockacoller Bog

Laois

€280,991

002340

Moneybeg and Clareisland Bogs

Meath/ Westmeath

002342

Mount Hevey Bog

Meath/ Westmeath

€372,017

002341

Ardagullion Bog

Longford

002346

Brown Bog

Longford

002348

Clooneen Bog

Longford

€121,284

002343

Tullaher Lough and Bog

Clare

€542,491

Inland Waterways Development

Questions (291)

Brendan Smith

Question:

291. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the current position regarding the proposed restoration of the Ulster Canal; when this project is likely to proceed to the next stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12157/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

As the Deputy will be aware, in July 2007 the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) agreed to proceed with the restoration of the section of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne. The then Government agreed to cover the full capital costs of the project, which were estimated at that time to be of the order of €35m. It was always the intention that the Ulster Canal project would be funded from the Waterways Ireland annual allocations, as agreed through the annual estimates processes in this jurisdiction, as well as the deliberations of NSMC in relation to annual budgets. It was a key consideration throughout the process that the Ulster Canal project would be supported by a significant level of projected income from the commercialisation of certain Waterways Ireland assets. However, the economic downturn has had a negative impact on those plans.

I am continuing to explore all possible options to advance this project within the current fiscal constraints. In this regard, I established an Inter-Agency Group on the Ulster Canal to explore ways to advance the project and to examine possible funding options for it, including existing funding streams and the leveraging of funding from other sources. The Inter-Agency Group has met four times, last meeting on 9 December 2013. The Group continues to examine leveraged funding opportunities for the project. This includes the exploration of EU funding which may be potentially available in the next round of structural funds covering the period 2014 - 2020.

In the meantime, the Ulster Canal project is progressing on an incremental basis. Planning approvals have been received for the project in both jurisdictions. Compulsory Purchase Order land maps are in preparation and consideration is being given to how the construction work and other technical aspects of the project will be structured and the necessary lands secured.

Arts Council Funding

Questions (292)

Clare Daly

Question:

292. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will put in place a criterion for Arts Council funding which ensures that public moneys awarded by this body are not used for unethical purposes. [12203/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Arts)

The Deputy will be aware that responsibility for the promotion of the arts at all levels throughout the country is primarily devolved to the Arts Council. Under the Arts Act 2003, the Arts Council is statutorily independent in its day-to-day operations and my Department has no role to play in its executive or funding decisions. Full information on the Council's funding decisions is made available in its funding decisions' database on its website – www.artscouncil.ie.

Public Broadcasting Charge Introduction

Questions (293)

Jim Daly

Question:

293. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if An Post will continue to retain the contract to carry out inspections regarding the payments of the public broadcasting charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11526/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Programme for Government commits to transforming the TV licence into a household based Public Broadcasting Charge to be applied to all eligible households and applicable businesses, regardless of the device used to access content or services. It also commits to reviewing new ways of TV licence collection, including the possibility of paying in instalments through another utility bill (electricity or telecom), collection by local authorities, Revenue or a new contract with An Post.

In line with these commitments, my Department is involved in the ongoing analysis and policy development work that is necessary in advance of the implementation of any changes that may be required. I am currently considering the results of a public consultation process on the introduction of the proposed Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) Charge. The consultation was based on the outcome of a Value for Money (VFM) Review on the charge, which was conducted by my Department last year. The VFM Review and public consultation will inform proposals on the shape of the charge, including decisions with respect to the collection agent, which I will bring to Government in due course. As the Deputy will appreciate, the replacement of the existing funding system based on the collection of television licence fees with one based on the imposition of device-independent charge on eligible households and businesses is a complex process and the logistics involved require thorough attention. Identifying the most appropriate collection method and agent will necessitate detailed consideration and will have regard to national and European procurement rules.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (294)

Paul Connaughton

Question:

294. Deputy Paul J. Connaughton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding broadband. [11567/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The broadband service contracted under National Broadband Scheme (NBS) is a basic, affordable, scalable product in keeping with EU State Aid clearance for the Scheme in September 2007. Under the terms of the contract which my Department has in place with Hutchison 3G Ireland Ltd (trading as “3”), the NBS broadband service has been available to all premises within the designated 1028 Electoral Divisions since October 2010. All persons with a fixed residence or fixed business within these designated Electoral Divisions are eligible to avail of the NBS service and can do by contacting "3" either by phone, online or at any of the authorised retail outlets located nationwide. Under the terms of the NBS contract, the service costs €20.32 per month, with a maximum once-off connection charge of €50, and these rates apply regardless of the channel chosen to avail of the NBS service.

Customer acquisition is an operational matter for “3” and I understand that it is standard industry practice to request relevant payment information in connection with the commencement of post-pay contracts. Service providers, as part of their product offering, may offer additional devices such as wi-fi routers and other hardware to enhance the customer's experience. Any such offerings and pricing structures are operational matters for "3” and not one in which I have a function. Officials in my Department have however spoken with "3" and confirmed that the company does run promotions for telesales and web customers where discounts can be offered for wifi devices and other hardware. The price of these promotions are not governed by the Department's contract with "3" which relates to specific NBS areas and services only. "3"'s customer service centre is based in Mumbai, India and customers who are in any doubt can contact "3" via its dedicated customer care line that is advertised on its website to confirm that such offers are valid.

Postcode Implementation

Questions (295)

Simon Harris

Question:

295. Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide an update on the implementation plan for post codes here; if post codes will be required for businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11570/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

On the 8th October 2013, I announced that the Government had approved, subject to contract, the rollout of a new national postcode system that will provide a unique seven character code to every letter-box in the State in 2015.Capita Business Support Service Ireland Limited will operate the postcode under license for an initial ten-year period extendable at the discretion of the Minister for Communications by a further five years. Under the new system, Ireland will have a postal address database of unique identifiers for all addresses in the State including business addresses.

The design phase of the project is currently being finalised and work has commenced on the public sector database implementation which is due to be completed later this year. Later in the year, an information campaign to be launched by the Postcode operator aimed at SMEs and other businesses will help organisations to prepare for the launch date.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (296, 309, 310, 314, 315, 318, 328)

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy

Question:

296. Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to provide a broadband service to the residents of an area (details supplied); when this area will receive a broadband service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11618/14]

View answer

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

309. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will set out the investments by the commercial sector and by the State under way in County Mayo in both fixed line and wireless high speed broadband services pursuant to the Government's national broadband plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11799/14]

View answer

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

310. Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide an update on the mapping of fixed line and wireless broadband services in County Mayo and nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11800/14]

View answer

Charles Flanagan

Question:

314. Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will review the provision of broadband services available in rural areas (details supplied) in County Laois; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11955/14]

View answer

Charles Flanagan

Question:

315. Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will review the provision of broadband services available in rural areas (details supplied) in County Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11956/14]

View answer

Jack Wall

Question:

318. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding broadband; if there is a timeframe for this project to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12040/14]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

328. 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 addressed 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. [12191/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 296, 309, 310, 314, 315, 318 and 328 together.

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 Counties Offaly, Mayo, Laois and Westmeath. 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 addresses 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. The ESB Electronic Communications Bill, will, when enacted, enable the ESB to utilise its electricity distribution network to provide telecommunications services and is a further step in promoting investment in competitively priced high speed broadband.

Many of 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 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.

In tandem with these developments, intensive work, including a comprehensive mapping exercise, continues in my Department in relation to the 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.

Under the national mapping exercise, information has been sought from all undertakings authorised by ComReg in relation to current and planned broadband services, both basic and next generation access (NGA). 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 continuing. The mapping data is being assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the EU State Aid Guidelines. When all of the information has been analysed, a clear picture should emerge of coverage throughout all of the country. I expect that this process will be completed later this year, after which it is my intention to publish a map showing existing and planned NGA broadband coverage, along with the Government’s proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country.

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 later 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.

Better Energy Homes Scheme Administration

Questions (297)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

297. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will consider an increase in the budget to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to include dry-lining under the better energy warmer homes scheme (details supplied). [11635/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Better Energy Programme is administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and has been allocated Exchequer funding of €57 million in 2014, of which the Warmer Homes strand will receive €20 million. While the majority of funding under the Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme will be disbursed through the installation of the standard package of measures (cavity insulation, attic insulation, lighting, boiler lagging etc.) in an estimated 12,000 homes this year, some monies may be made available to provide a deeper retrofit, which could include the option of dry-lining for those houses experiencing extreme or severe energy poverty. All upgrade works are subject to a survey of the home and the needs of the occupant.

Broadband Service Provision

Question No. 299 answered with Question No. 29.

Questions (298)

Robert Troy

Question:

298. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the poor broadband service in Ballinagore, County Westmeath; and if a telephone mast is being considered for the area. [11643/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the commercial service providers operating in the Irish market. Where there is evidence of poor broadband service this should be raised firstly with the service provider. Failing resolution of the issue, the matter should be referred to ComReg for investigation to ensure operators are fully complying with their licence obligations.The State can only intervene in cases of clear market failure such as in the case of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS). 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 Westmeath. 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 addresses 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. The ESB Electronic Communications Bill, will, when enacted, enable the ESB to utilise its electricity distribution network to provide telecommunications services and is a further step in promoting investment in competitively priced high speed broadband.

Many of 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 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.

In tandem with these developments, intensive work, including a comprehensive mapping exercise, continues in my Department in relation to the 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.

Under the national mapping exercise, information has been sought from all undertakings authorised by ComReg in relation to current and planned broadband services, both basic and next generation access (NGA). 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 continuing. The mapping data is being assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the EU State Aid Guidelines. When all of the information has been analysed, a clear picture should emerge of coverage throughout all of the country. I expect that this process will be completed later this year, after which it is my intention to publish a map showing existing and planned NGA broadband coverage, along with the Government’s proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country.

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 later 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.

Question No. 299 answered with Question No. 29.

Offshore Exploration

Questions (300)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

300. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of recommendations of the report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the oil and gas exploration industry that have been implemented; the number he intends implementing; the number he does not intend implementing and the reasons in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10852/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

In May 2012 the former Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture published its Report on Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration. The Report contains a number of recommendations in respect of the fiscal and regulatory framework applying to oil and gas exploration in Ireland. At my request the Report was debated in Seanad Éireann on 27 June 2012 and in Dáil Éireann on 14 May 2013, with the debate concluding on 9 July 2013.

Some of the report’s recommendations are both sensible and desirable, others are already provided for in the existing licensing and regulatory regime while there are a number of recommendations that could usefully be explored further, including several which have wider public policy implications. There are also a number of recommendations in respect of which I have strong reservations and remain to be convinced that their adoption represents the best way to proceed.

With regard to the recommendation in respect of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960, this Act provides the legislative underpinning to the regulatory framework applying to oil and gas exploration in Ireland. Since it was enacted, a broad body of legislation at national and European Union level that is directly relevant to petroleum exploration and production activities, including planning, safety and environmental legislation, has been passed. Against that background, my Department is currently engaged in a review of the 1960 Act. I concur with the recommendation that there should be no changes to the fiscal and licensing terms applying to existing agreements, given the need for the licensing regime to communicate both stability and certainty to industry. This is especially true where Ireland is competing with other countries to attract investment and where the nature of the business requires the taking of a long-term view.

With regard to the recommendation in respect of obtaining geological data from all licensees, this provision is already included in the work programme of licences issued by my Department. The recommendations relating to the maximisation of production from a commercial field, the principle of unitisation and the issue of flaring of gas are already addressed to a considerable degree by the existing licensing terms, together with my Department’s own industry-specific rules and procedures.

On the matter of public consultation, all major infrastructure consent processes in this State involve a public consultation phase, which generally includes an oral hearing. These requirements are not industry-specific and they flow from both national and European legislation. This means that any future oil or gas development project would be subject to a number of consent processes, each of which would have a detailed public consultation phase.

The “community gain” concept discussed in the report is clearly not industry-specific. The Strategic Infrastructure Act now enables Bord Pleanála to attach specific community gain conditions to a planning consent. The Government fully supports a community gain approach in the delivery of energy projects. This is explicitly referenced in the Government’s Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure which was published in July 2012 and which now guides the planning authorities in their decision-making. That Policy Statement stresses the need for developers to examine appropriate means of building community gain considerations into project budgeting and planning.

My Department’s policy regarding oil and gas exploration is outlined in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Statement of Strategy 2011-2014. My Department has also contributed to the Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth: An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland policy document.

Regarding the recommendation that my Department should have on-going contact with other countries, my officials have regular interaction with their equivalents in other administrations at EU and International fora.

In respect of the recommendation that a forum comprising key stakeholders be established to improve communications between stakeholders and maximise the potential for the Irish people of Ireland’s hydrocarbon resources, I would point out that my Department engages on a regular basis with elected representatives, other state bodies, industry interests, community interests, non-governmental organisations and the general public on this issue.

Insofar as the changes in the tax regime proposed by the Report are concerned, these are not minor or modest in nature. The Report proposes a fundamental re-positioning that would raise Ireland’s tax to a similar level as that of the UK and, in the case of very profitable fields, would impose a higher tax here than would apply in Norway. During the course of the Dáil debate I stated my intention to seek further independent expert advice on the “fitness-for-purpose” of Ireland’s fiscal terms, such expert advice to focus on what level of fiscal gain is achievable for the State and its citizens and, equally important, on the mechanisms best suited to produce such a gain.

On 5 March 2014 I announced that my Department had selected international oil and gas experts Wood Mackenzie to advise on the “fitness-for-purpose” of Ireland’s current oil and gas fiscal terms. Wood Mackenzie, who have considerable experience in providing fiscal advice to a broad range of clients, including governments, have now commenced their work and I look forward to receiving their expert advice. It is intended to bring consideration of this matter to a conclusion in the coming months. This will ensure that the next licensing round can be launched against a backdrop of regulatory certainty and encourage new investment in exploration.