Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Oil Supplies.

13.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if a professional publicity agency was engaged in the preparation of the advertising material for the petrol and oil conservation campaign launched in the media on 4 June 1979; and, if so, when this agency was first briefed.

A publicity agency was engaged to prepare the advertising material for the petrol conservation campaign which is at present in progress. The agency, in common with four other agencies, was invited to make proposals for a campaign on 22 May 1979.

In other words, a fortnight ago?

22 May is the date.

That would have been substantially later than the date on which it emerged here in reply to questions from me that only £150 had been spent in 1979 on the promotion of energy conservation, is not that so?

That is an argument.

As I informed the Deputy in reply to an earlier question, the estimate for this year is £422,000, which I anticipate will be fully spent. In addition a further £300,000 for use by the IIRS in respect of energy conservation is also now proposed for this year. That will make a total of £722,000.

The Minister will hardly deny that he has totally wound down the energy conservation promotion programme which his predecessor, Deputy Peter Barry, inaugurated, and it would still be at nothing had it not been raised here and had we not discovered that he had only spent £150.

I certainly do not agree. These advertising campaigns were always short-term campaigns.

The Minister got this idea a fortnight ago, even though the whole country was shouting at him about energy conservation.

Question No. 14.

14.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he has issued any directives to oil companies to reduce the supply of petrol to retailers and if so, why.

I have not issued any such directives. In fact I have put considerable pressure on the oil companies to increase the supply of all oil products to the maximum extent possible in current circumstances.

15.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if in view of the scarcity of petrol he is satisfied that supplies are being distributed to motorists in a fair and equitable manner and if he will make a statement on the matter.

16.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he will assess the impact of the measures announced by him on 15 May, in regard to the supply of minimum/maximum quantities of petrol, on the general petrol supply position.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 16 together.

I am satisfied that supplies of petrol are being distributed to motorists in as fair and equitable a manner as is possible in present circumstances.

I am also satisfied that the orders made by me last month have contributed materially to the easing in the past week or so of the supply difficulties previously experienced.

I might add that the supply and distribution of petrol is being kept under very close review by my Department and such additional measures as may be necessary to ensure fair and equitable distribution of available supplies will be taken as required, if circumstances so warrant.

Would the Minister agree that a rough public consensus would be to the effect that the petrol queues reached their worst in the weekend of 25, 26 and 27 May, ten days after the introduction of this measure? Will the Minister therefore agree that the ostensible target of this measure, namely the toppers up, were not at fault at all in the creation of this shortage?

I do not agree with the Deputy's conclusion. The days to which the Deputy refers were days immediately preceding a long holiday weekend and it was well known that a large number of motorists would seek to get as much petrol as they could in those days. Since that weekend the position has eased considerably.

I concede that the situation has eased somewhat. Is the Minister now saying that the reason why the measures of 15 May in regard to maximum quantities did not put an end to the shortage is that people were hoarding petrol?

I am afraid that that problem has existed for some time past but the gardaí and the inspectors from my Department are now taking steps to actively discourage that practice. The Deputy may be aware that there have been some prosecutions, and as far as I am aware some others are in train. That regrettable practice has declined very significantly over the last week or so.

Could the Minister give us a percentage figure representing motorists who he believes were hoarding petrol by filling their tanks, syphoning them out and refilling them?

It would be impossible to guess.

It was not more than 1 per cent and the people spending hours on the queues could not understand the Minister saying that that was the trouble.

Is the Minister confident that there will be no shortage towards the end of this month as there was towards the end of last month?

I cannot give the Deputy or the House an absolute guarantee in that respect, but I have seen the allocations for this month and provided that people do not seek more petrol than they need for immediate use we should get through the rest of this month without any particular difficulty.

Is the Minister confident that the allocations for this month are so significantly greater than those for last month that the situation which arose at the end of last month cannot arise this month?

The allocations for this month are greater than those for last month and there is now a greater awareness of the problem. There has been a cut-back in recent weeks in unnecessary motoring for which we should all be grateful. Between those factors and the increased allocation I am hopeful that there will be no serious problems. Obviously, it is likely in all the circumstances that there will probably be localised problems. One can give no guarantee that that will not happen. However, it is a situation that we share with several other countries.

Is the Minister satisfied with the present position? Can the Minister explain why at the moment so many garages are closed and are not supplying petrol?

I am aware that a number of garages are closed. In some cases it may be due to the fact that they do not have petrol but in other cases it could be because they have sold out their allocations quickly. In other cases it may be due to the proprietor deciding not to open. I certainly encourage filling stations which are in a position to do so to remain open as long as they reasonably can.

How much is the percentage increase in the allocation on last month?

It is difficult to say. One could not say until the end of the month but, on the face of it, it looks like probably a few per cent anyway.

A few being two or three?

Would the Minister agree that it is strange that on my journey from Clontarf to here five different garages at which I tried for petrol were all closed?

Question No. 17.

17.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he will give an assessment of the effectiveness of the 55 mph speed limit, announced on 15 May, as a petrol conservation measure.

An assessment of the overall contribution to petrol saving arising from the reduced speed limit is difficult for a number of reasons. A major factor is that a large proportion of motoring is done at speeds substantially below 55 mph. Nevertheless, I am advised that the reduction in the speed limit is a very useful contribution to petrol conservation.

How many prosecutions have been initiated since 17 May for breach of the speed limit?

I have no idea.

Is the Minister in a position to assure the House that there has been even one prosecution for breach of that speed limit?

I have not got the figures; I do not know. I presume there have been. I certainly see it being enforced by the Garda.

Would the Minister be in a position to deny that there has not been a single one?

I would be very surprised if that was the position because the Garda are clearly enforcing it. I believe that, in general, there has been very good compliance with the limit. I would think it would be unlikely that it has not been breached over the last number of weeks.

Has a single 55 miles per hour speed limit sign been erected anywhere in the country?

No, I think it would be unrealistic and enormously expensive to do that. I am quite sure that the Minister for the Environment has not the slightest intention of doing so unless we were to retain permanently this limit as, for example, they did in the United States after they introduced it at the end of 1973. That is something that could be possible in the long run but there is certainly no decision or thinking on those lines at present.

Unless people read the newspapers they would have no way of knowing.

Are there trilingual signs at the entry points to the country, at harbours and at airports, announcing that the old 60 mph speed limit has been changed since 17 May?

I could not say. It is not a matter for which I am responsible.

Would the Minister accept that if they have not been changed this whole 55 miles per hour speed limit, even though ostensibly well-intentioned, is only a spoof, as Deputy Bruton says? Would he agree that if those signs have not been changed that is the simplest possible indication that the thing is not seriously intended?

It is seriously intended and I am glad to say that it is accepted by most people.

With not the least intention of enforcing it.

18.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he is aware that a retail petrol outlet (details supplied) exhibited notices saying that it had run out of supplies of a certain brand of petrol but that it had for sale another brand of petrol at £1.20 a gallon and if he will make a statement in the matter.

I am aware that this particular retail petrol outlet is selling a brand of petrol at the price quoted by the Deputy. The price of the brand in question is not controlled by maximum prices order. The retail outlet to which the Deputy refers has been visited by prices inspectors from my Department whose report indicates that the outlet's operations do not warrant any action by me at this stage.

Is it possible, simply by changing the brand name, to evade the price control procedures?

No, it is not possible by changing the brand name; a different brand of petrol must be sold if it is being sold at the higher price. Inspectors from my Department examined this operation—when it was in operation, which is over a month ago—and they did not find any cause for complaint in relation to it.

Is the Minister suggesting that the chemical composition of this petrol is different from that of other petrols?

I do not know whether or not it is. But what is important is what company delivers it, to the station.

Then it is just a matter of the brand name.

It is not a matter of the brand name. It is a matter of their being able to sell petrol that is delivered to them by this very small company at a different price from that at which they sell normally. The way that it operated was that they sold their normal brand of petrol during the week, their tanks, I understand, were empty by Friday evening, and on Saturdays and Sundays they sold the other brand. The inspectors from my Department were satisfied that nobody was misled, that there was no attempt to pass off the cheaper petrol as the dearer petrol.

Is there any difference in substance between this petrol and other petrol apart from the name of the people who supply it?

I presume that depends on the refining process, where the crude oil came from and so on. The Deputy will be aware that all brands of petrol in this country are sold at different prices.

19.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he will give an assessment of the impact of the "priorities" established under the Fuel (Control of Supplies) Act, on the distribution of diesel oil.

A full assessment of the effects of the priorities established under the Fuels (Controls of Supplies) (Regulation of Deliveries of Gas Diesel Oil) Order, 1979 is being undertaken. Meanwhile, I am satisfied that the order has achieved the main purpose for which it was made, namely to ensure the availability of reasonable supplies to the priority categories specified therein.

Would the Minister not agree that since these categories apparently rank pari passu and do not rank as a system of priorities, inter se, the only substantial category excluded from his priority is domestic heating oil?

That is correct.

That is the only substantial category excluded. As between the rest it is a question of the devil take the hindmost?

But domestic heating oil accounted for approximately 30 per cent—it varies somewhat from company to company—of the usage of gas diesel oil per annum so that when that extra 30 per cent is available as between the priority categories it should and indeed has ensured that there are ample supplies to meet their needs.

Is it not the case that the oil companies were actually seeking, weeks before the Minister made this order, to have just such an order made in order to, as they thought, release them from their legal liability of delivering domestic heating oil under existing contracts?

Can the Minister tell the House whether there is any danger that shortage of diesel during the coming winter will in any way adversely affect employment?

No, I would hope that there would not be any shortage of diesel in the areas which might affect employment. That is the purpose of the order which has been made. I would expect that we would be able to maintain that position.

Would the Minister accept that there are some employment-related categories—not the domestic heating categories—still experiencing very severe difficulty in getting regular and stable supplies of diesel oil?

They are occasional and isolated cases only. They relate mainly to licensed hauliers who have difficulties if they are going on long journeys to remote parts of the country because they may not be able to refill their tanks easily for the return journey. That is the only instance where there is a fairly widespread problem in regard to that category. In conjunction with the trade concerned we are examining how we might be able to overcome that problem. I think it had eased somewhat for them in the last week but it is still a problem for some of them.

Is the Minister aware—if my information is correct—that one of the trade associations connected with heavy haulage made nine separate attempts to contact his Department, none of which was acknowledged until a week ago?

Umpteen people have been in touch with my Department over the last month or two in connection with this kind of matter. I think it is true to say that 99 per cent of them got satisfaction.

20.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he is aware of the shortage of petrol, home heating oil, agricultural diesel and commercial diesel oil that exists in the west of Ireland and the action he is taking to remedy the situation.

I am not aware that supplies of petrol, home heating oil, agriculture diesel and commercial diesel are more restricted in the west of Ireland than anywhere else in the country. All necessary steps are being taken to ensure that oil supplies are distributed as equitably as possible, having regard to the level of supplies available and also to the provisions of the order I have made regulating supplies of petrol and gas diesel oil.

21.

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he is aware that Cavan County Council propose to lay off approximately 40 workers because of the shortage of fuel oil; that the oil company insist that the intermediate supplier has been given sufficient supplies for the Cavan County Council but that the oil has not been delivered to the local authority; and if he proposes to take steps to rectify the situation.

I am not so aware and from inquiries I have made I am satisfied that the position is not as represented in the Deputy's question.

If the situation in this area worsens and employment in the area is threatened will the Minister take steps to ensure that the possibility envisaged in the question does not arise, that workers will not be laid off?

From inquiries made I understand that there is no question of that happening and I do not envisage any likelihood of it.

22.

andMr. Kenny asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, in view of the difficulty being experienced in obtaining central heating fuel, if he will, in conjunction with the other relevant Departments, make arrangements to develop further boglands in western Ireland and allow for the maintenance and creation of an adequate road system to service these areas.

I am informed by Board na Móna that under their third development programme which is at present being implemented, they propose to produce about three million extra tonnes of milled peat of which about two million tonnes will be produced on bogs in Counties Galway, Roscommon and Mayo. Additional areas in western counties are at present being assessed for future development.

The provision of and the improvement of roads including by-roads is mainly the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment. I understand that a substantial proportion of local improvements scheme grants are for works in western areas and that the allocation for 1979 represents a considerable increase over that for 1978.

Roinn na Gaeltachta also give grants for the improvement of minor access roads and bog roads in the Gaeltacht areas. I gather that since the fuel crisis of 1973-74 the emphasis by that Department has been on grants for the improvement of bog roads.

Special financial assistance has been provided by my Department for many years for the improvement and maintenance of bog roads serving the four small turf-burning electricity generating stations located at Gweedore, Screebe, Miltown Malbay and Cahirciveen.