Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, 2001 [ Seanad ] : Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share my time with Deputy Connaughton.

The Gas Act, 1976, as amended by the Gas (Amendment) Act, 2000, now comes before us in the form of the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, 2001. There has been much controversy in recent times about unequal infrastructure, provision of energy and attractiveness for the location of industry in different parts of the country. This city on the east coast has become a monstrosity. It soaks up the vast majority of funds under the NDP and the consequences, because of inadequate facilities, include loss of business, stress and pressure. This is detrimental in terms of people's quality of life and social well-being. Governments, especially this Government, are very good at general discussion but it is never followed through. Conviction and direct decisions are required to influence the problems of which I have spoken.

Speaking as a former Minister for Tourism and Trade, there is no question that a supply of natural gas is a critical factor when a decision is being made about the location of an industry. It confers an industrial advantage and results in job opportunities. Since natural gas is attractive for industry as a stable power supply and every local authority should have a supply within its region. In the west, we laboured long under the delusion that we had no problems in this regard. However, a number of years ago the ESB admitted that we did not have the capacity within the power loops to attract major industry to the west. Now that the Corrib field has been determined to be commercially viable and this enormous national asset is being examined for possible exploitation through the planning process, together with the possibility of exploitation of the Rockall field and other fields further west, it would make sense for the Government to have a focused and clear agenda in terms of possibilities for the new board and direction, in policy terms, from the Minister.

It is a real asset, in speaking to potential industrialists abroad, to be able to say that there is a stable power supply. I know the Minister of State will agree that industries such as Allergan, Baxter Healthcare, Hollister, Coca-Cola and Abbotts, all of whom are major employers in the Mayo-Sligo region, should be able to plan now for the existence of a gas line by a certain date so that they can supply combined heat and power processes for their own plants and sell the remainder into the grid or supply the local town. That makes absolute sense.

There is currently a hearing in Ballina about Mayo County Council's decision to grant planning permission to Enterprise Energy Ireland for the building of a gas terminal at Ballagelly South, Bellanaboy Bridge, Belmullet. In many ways this exercise is necessary from a democratic point of view. The question being examined at the moment has nothing to do with Dúchas or the EPA or the issuing of licences. It is about the decision of the council on physical structure. Bord Gáis, which is to construct the pipeline from Bellanaboy to Galway, has already completed its way leaves and its site clearance construction for the holding of pipes and has made legal arrangements with farmers about passage through their lands. It appears, in many ways, as though the exercise were just that. I hold no brief for those who have objected, but they have stated their views quite clearly. However, I strongly believe in the necessity of bringing gas ashore, harvesting it and harnessing it for the economic well-being of all our people.

The Government should make a clear statement that it and the new commission will ensure under this Bill and under the direction of the Minister that a line will be supplied from Bellanaboy through Ballina and on to Sligo. We should able to say that the gas network will be as efficient and as prolific as the telephone or the ESB network. I understand that not every rural household can have a supply of natural gas, but it should be without question that local authorities be able to plan now for an expansion of the gas line through their towns so that roadworks can be co-ordinated to cater for gas ducts. Industrial agencies promoting Ireland abroad should be able to state with confidence that combined heat and power processes can be an integral part of any major industrial plan locating in the west.

Under the relevant section Bord Gáis has been given approval in the last few weeks, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to spend €305 million on the development of a second interconnector from Scotland. While this is necessary, it creates an impression of confusion. Will there be gas through Ballina and Sligo or not? It appears that we can have Siberian gas on the east coast but we cannot have west of Ireland gas for west of Ireland industry. I do not believe that is the case and the Minister, in responding to this Bill, should make that absolutely clear. There is confusion about the issue. Industry in the west labours under great disadvantage. There has been no publication of the national spatial strategy or the national decentralisation programme, despite the fact that the mission statement of every Department mentions equal opportunity for development throughout the country.

I have here a letter from the managing director of a firm which employs 1,000 people in County Mayo. Last year that firm spent €130,000 in product damage limitation and was obliged to invest heavily in technology and re-packaging formats. Its representatives travelled as far as Japan to explain to customers why products had been damaged. It had happened because of the poor and inadequate road surface on the N5, the main commercial artery for the province of Connacht. This is not strictly relevant to the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, 2001, but it is one of the disadvantages suffered by industry in the west.

The Minister should clarify these issues in his reply. The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources has said on two or three occasions that there will be a gas line through Ballina to Sligo, yet the spokesperson for Bord Gáis has said that this is not so because the board must first examine all aspects of the proposal, including economic issues. I understand that. Under the Gas Act, 1976 the Government is entitled to set down conditions. Will the Government see to it that gas is provided for the towns on the line through Ballina to Sligo? They should not be left wondering whether they will be connected to the national grid or not.

Under section 9(4) of the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, 2001 the holder of a consent for the construction of an upstream pipeline, a line from the source on, has to take into account "all reasonable steps to prevent injury to any building, site, flora, fauna, feature or other thing which is of particular architectural, historic, archaeological, geological or natural interest,". I assume that Enterprise Energy Ireland will be committed to that when the line develops.

Recently I made the case in the House that the discharge pipe from the terminal at Bellanaboy should go further out than the six kilometres west of Glengad Head as proposed. Fishermen have a valid point. This line will be there a long time and, however clean the discharge into the bay, there will be trace elements in it. Over time that is bound to affect the juvenile fish population and stock. We should listen to the fishermen and if the pipe cannot be put out as far as the well head it should at least be put out further than planned at present. This issue needs decisive Government action.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill, the basis for which is the introduction of an independent regulator for the national gas sector. At present matters are regulated under the aegis of the Minister for Public Enterprise. I cast no aspersions on the Department but with new competition rules it is important to have an independent regulator.

Bord Gáis is one of our best companies. It works efficiently and the hallmark of that efficiency is that it has laid hundreds of miles pipeline without causing the problems other service providers seem to create. Bord Gáis seems to deal well with landowners and has had no particular problems in laying pipes through farmlands and towns.

Now that there is a huge reservoir of gas off the west coast, the west will have access to gas for the first time. I raised the access issue with the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources on a number of occasions. With this Bill, we want to ensure there will be no deviation from the promise of access to gas for towns in the west. Gas is a clean, efficient fuel. The new line will be built from Dublin to Galway and then connected with the Mayo coast. That will only connect the Mayo find to the national grid but will be of little use to towns like Tuam, Claremorris, Sligo and Letterkenny unless local lines are interconnected. This is our only chance to bring gas to the remoter areas of the west.

The BMW region is being promoted world-wide for industry and 50% of foreign based industrial jobs are to be channelled to the west. I doubt that will happen but it is Government policy. A main attraction for any industry coming to the west is access to natural gas. Until now it was not available but it will shortly flow through the pipeline. Irrespective of what the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, said in the Dáil, I want a clear indication from Bord Gáis and the Government that this gas will flow through the towns I mentioned in the west and north-west.

This gas find will create competition in the energy field. We have had too many monopolies in this country. Until recently, only the ESB provided electricity, only Bord Gáis provided gas, a telephone call could only be made through Telecom Éireann, a person could only take a train with Iarnród Éireann and, until private bus companies came on the scene, a person had to travel with Bus Éireann. The result was that the price to the customer was higher than it should be. European Union competition laws brought external pressure on us to change and we had to introduce competition.

We must use this gas find to ensure we become competitive. Energy is an important aspect of all industrial development and this find is a lifesaver for the west in terms of job creation. It is important to write into the preamble to the Bill that the towns and villages of the west get gas as of right. We do not want to hear mention of social clauses. Some people would say that because a person lives in the west, he is not entitled to what a person living in Dublin would get. I do not want to hear that. The only way to build sustainable, vibrant communities is to get people back to work and the only way to do that is to encourage the best and brightest to create jobs. Energy and natural gas are vitally important if we are to do that.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Ring, by agreement. I welcome the opportunity to speak and wish the Minister well. Some time ago, I tabled a question to the Minister regarding the extension of the gas pipeline to Longford and the surrounding region. In reply, he told me it was a matter for Bord Gáis to decide based on commercial criteria, that Bord Gáis was carrying out an assessment but that, at that time, it did not feel Longford would be included in its overall plans. That was like taking down a gun and shooting everybody in that region.

We have heard from the Government about its interest in advancing industry in the BMW region. We have been told it is the policy of Enterprise Ireland and of all State agencies to advance the prospects of industry, commerce and the economy of those areas. This is a golden opportunity. Is the Government serious about this? It appears not. It is a major disappointment to me, as a Deputy for that region, that this Government has let the people down. The Taoiseach is to visit the area next week. I put down a marker and say to him that if he does not have plans to bring natural gas to Longford and the surrounding region, he is in for a bit of a roasting.

In the past two days, I have spent two hours meeting various people involved in industry, including the largest employer in that area. That employer told me that if gas is not available and infrastructure not in place that region is going nowhere. I cannot understand how a Government that proposes to spend €1 billion on a sports complex, which every expert and every independent opinion has called a waste of public funds, can justify not putting infrastructure into the midlands under the natural gas programme. I want to hear from the Minister, as a Member of the Government, that the advancement of infrastructure in that region is an important policy of this Government. I give a commitment to this House and to the people that I represent that such a policy will be my first call on a new Government.

Through the years, the Fianna Fáil party has been quick to tell us that it was the party that brought energy and industry to the various regions. It was my party, Fine Gael, that advanced the ESB. When that power was brought to every corner of Ireland, it was approved by all and sundry. The advancement of the ESB gave domestic, industrial and commercial power. Such an opportunity exists again. Never before has any Government had the opportunities this Government has had. Whether this Government is re-elected or not, it is well-known that it has squandered the past four years and many opportunities.

I call on the Government not to waste this opportunity and to stand by its word and commit ment. It should not let down the people of Longford and the surrounding area. The Government must bring the pipeline, the infrastructure and the energy to that area so that the area can be sold and people can be enticed to come in. If the power and energy are not there, industry will not come in. I hope, when the Taoiseach comes to Longford next week he will be in a position to give a clear commitment to the people that he will ensure that Bord Gáis will include Longford in its overall infrastructure plan.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. A number of years ago, when the Corrib gas field was first heard of, the people of the west were delighted. They said this was the first time since the foundation of the State that the west would get its fair share from the national cake, and that it would get the infrastructure, roads, industry and jobs that the region badly wants. That belief only lasted a short time. People then realised this was not all it was supposed to be. They then learned that Enterprise Oil had done a deal with the Government. The then Minister, former Deputy Ray Burke, tied up the negotiations and this country was sold short in relation to the money that will come to the taxpayer.

Many people are now complaining that local people in north Mayo are objecting to this gas coming ashore. The people of north Mayo are not objecting to the gas coming ashore; they are objecting to the gas terminal coming to Ballinboy in north Mayo. This is the first time a gas company is bringing gas on to the mainland. We must be fair to those people who must fight the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The money spent by those Departments is taxpayers' money so that we now have a situation where taxpayers' money is being used to fight taxpayers.

The reason local people are upset and are objecting to this building in Ballinboy is best highlighted by some examples. One example is that of a young man who lives within a couple of metres of where this building is to be built. He owns 40 acres of land approved by Mayo County Council for planning permission, but he is not allowed to build. The local doctor was trying to build six old folks' homes for the people of that area in need of accommodation but he also was refused by Mayo County Council. However, the multinational company, Enterprise Oil, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources and Mayo County Council together saw fit to grant planning permission for this terminal when they would not do so for local people born and reared in the area, and who had lived there all their lives.

I have been in politics for 21 years this year yet I never knew of a State agency – I am talking about the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources – that wrote to a local authority to ask it to let the agency know before planning permission was granted whether it would be granted. I will quote from a letter sent from the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources to Mayo County Council, reference AA05/01, which reads: "In this context, the Department is seeking your co-operation and would appreciate if you would inform us in advance of any approval being given for this development". The letter is signed by an official in the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources.

The Mayo county manager then wrote on the letter the words: "Please ensure that the information required by the Department of the Marine request is complied with." Is that not interfering with the planning process? The local people must fight the State with their own resources, their own time and their own effort. These people are not objecting for the sake of it or because they are opposed to gas. They are doing so in an attempt to protect their environment, their livelihoods in tourism and fisheries and the future of the area. They will get nothing from the State. The State will not gain one penny from this which is the daft thing about this gas find. Enterprise Oil, a private company, will make something like £800 million out of this. The taxpayers will not gain one penny and the people of the west will not gain anything. These rights are being sold for nothing. What is upsetting and annoying about all this is that these local people have to fight for their rights and have to fight the State, be it the Department of the Marine and Natural Resource or otherwise. What is happening is wrong. I support the residents 100% and make no apology for so doing. I support the gas but also support the residents. I see nothing wrong with bringing that gas in from the sea as was done in Kinsale and elsewhere.

Other speakers have spoken about the gas going to Longford. I would like to see it going to Longford, which is in the BMW area, but it will be the greatest national scandal if this gas is taken out of north Mayo and if the people of Mayo do not benefit from it. It is planned to take it to Galway, Northern Ireland and to Scotland but the towns in Mayo will not get gas. They might get it in the second phase but the Minister of State and I are long enough around to know that if they do not get it on the first day, they will never see it. The daft thing is that investors all over the world – in Dublin, London, South Africa and elsewhere – will make millions upon millions of pounds. Bord Gáis has been given the responsibility for taking the gas out and Mr. and Mrs. taxpayer will pay for that. If we want a connection to Westport, Ballina and Longford, the taxpayer will pay for it.

I want to highlight something that happened recently which will be of interest to football followers. Arsenal Football Club decided to relocate in London. It had to apply for planning permission and it went through the process. The club was granted permission but part of the deal was that it would spend £300 million on the local community now, not when the club is up and running. It has now outlined to all the different agencies what it will spend. The Government has sold the taxpayer and the country short in relation to these rights. If the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources is so interested in the planning process, in helping Enterprise Oil and in making sure these guys make plenty of money, why can it not put a condition on whatever support it is giving Enterprise Oil that it would give £300 million to the people of north Mayo to spend on roads, infrastructure, water schemes, hospitals and schools? It should say, "Right, we may not be able to give you the gas, but we will give you something in return", but instead it would prefer the people of north Mayo to take all the disadvantages and the abuse with nothing in return. That is wrong.

Why did the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources interfere with the planning process in this country? I hope fair play will apply to the residents of north Mayo when they appeal, that An Bord Pleanála will see they were not properly treated and will make the correct decision. How dare people condemn the people of north Mayo when they do not know what is happening. These are not unreasonable people; they are decent, honourable people fighting for their children, their rights and their area as they are fully entitled to do.

Recently the local radio station did a programme on the planning process for the gas field. I think it was called "Deficiency in Democracy". I compliment the local radio station because it went through the process stage by stage and showed what was happening – big brother taking on the small people of the west. Please God, if there is any justice, it will be shown that these people are doing the right thing and should not be condemned by people who do not know what is happening.

It is a great scandal that we sold our rights. The taxpayer and the country will not gain anything. As a result of a certain Minister, some lord in Dublin, London or South Africa will probably take all the profits and laugh at the people of Ireland. There will be a tribunal some day in relation to this gas, the way the rights were sold and the way the planning process was dealt with. It will be called, the north Mayo Corrib gas field tribunal. We will get to the truth of what went on. I am in favour of the gas as are the people of north Mayo but people do not like being abused by the system. State agencies, taxpayers' money and the lawyers paid for by the taxpayers should not be used against the people of this country.

Let us call a spade a spade. We want to see the people of this country getting something from this gas. When representatives of Bord Gáis came to meet Mayo County Council, I left that meeting in protest because I had to listen to a State agency giving a State view and telling us why we could not and should not get the gas. It said we did not have enough users and consumers to justify the gas. When I left that meeting a lot of members of my party, present and former politicians, gave out about me but now they realise I was right. They now realise that the big guys will gain but the west will not.

For 50 years, the west has suffered as a result of deficiencies in infrastructure. Every other place in the country has a national primary road to this city. As Deputy Kenny said, we have few jobs in the west. Companies are now complaining that when they bring their goods from the west to Dublin or elsewhere, they are damaged as a result of problems with the roads and infrastructure. Many people in the west do not have running water in their houses or access to proper sewerage schemes.

The planning process is supposed to apply to the whole country. Why is it that in Bellanaboy local people cannot getting planning permission but Enterprise Oil can with the assistance of the county council, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources and Dúchas? Dúchas objects to every young person seeking planning permission in County Mayo and in the west, yet it did not see fit to make an observation, an objection or submission in relation to this big gas terminal in Bellanaboy. People who apply to Mayo County Council for planning permission are aware of the location of the SACs and NHAs. On this occasion, somebody said, "Keep your mouth shut." Shame on them, the Department and the Minister.

There are people in north Mayo who have suffered over the years and have lost family members at sea. They have worked hard to build up little businesses such as lobster and salmon businesses. Instead of going out and taking on the Spaniards, the Dutch and others, the fisheries and patrol boats spent their time down in north Mayo following the poor the little fellow who might have spent an hour longer fishing than he should have or who might have had left the nets out for an extra hour. By God, when they want to use the resources of the State against them, they do so in this way and through the planning process. Shame on the politicians, particularly those on the Government side, who allow this Government to take a natural resource from north Mayo while the people of the west gain nothing from it. Shame on us all, we will have to answer to somebody for that.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Deasy.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Kirk): Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. Gas is a very important means of power and support for this country. We are very fortunate to have discovered it off Kinsale and now in Mayo.

The Bill deals specifically with how gas will be piped through the various land structures and dis tributed. It is important to recognise the good relationship between the gas installers and landowners in this regard. It took a long time for the NRA, which is trying to blame farmers for the delay in the construction of bypasses, to enter such an agreement with farmers.

I am extremely disappointed that it is proposed to bring the gas from north Mayo down the coast to Galway and across the midlands. Once again, the northeast and Border region is being ignored. The obvious route would be to pipe the gas through Leitrim and Cavan into Monaghan and then join up with the Northern Ireland pipeline. Instead, through whatever pressure or power, this pipeline is to be constructed along the west coast and across into the midlands leaving many areas without supply. That is unacceptable. Monaghan, which I represent, has a 100 mile border with Northern Ireland and has suffered more than most over the last 35 years as a result of the Troubles. Monaghan was to receive a peace dividend as a result of the British-Irish Agreement and the ceasefires. What have we got? We still have no indication that the pipeline will run through Clones – one of the most hard-hit towns in the country which was completely cut off from its hinterland – Monaghan, Ballybay or Castleblayney. There is a small link, through Kingscourt, with Carrickmacross and Lough Egish Food Park but the remainder of the county is left wide open with no support of any kind.

Gas is a natural resource. Deputy Ring spoke of what he felt this should mean for the west. I believe it should benefit all areas not just the west. Handing over this project to private companies who have no interest in the well-being of rural areas is dangerous. Piped gas should be available to all. When electricity was being distributed throughout Ireland in the 1950s, every person received it at the same cost. People may have had to wait some time for a telephone service – I had to wait three years for my line – but when they got it, they did so at the same cost as everybody else. However, in this situation isolated areas may never receive piped natural gas. The Government must intervene to ensure all areas are treated equally and are given the same opportunity.

The Government said it will give 50% of all IDA created jobs to the BMW region. They may give them to Galway and Athlone but is Monaghan, especially north Monaghan, not entitled to some of these jobs? How can we compete with areas that have good roads, railroads, broadband and natural gas? The Government promised a great deal five years ago. However, its promises are becoming very hollow at this stage. It is now proposed to remove the accident and emergency unit from Monaghan General Hospital, which is a further downgrading of services in that area.

I ask the Minister of State to intervene at this late stage to ensure the gas pipeline from north Mayo is brought through the Border region thereby giving service to areas most severely hit by the Troubles.

Monaghan town has witnessed the closure of Pattons Mill, one of the most renowned feedmills in the country. Two thirds of Ireland's poultry was produced there yet the mill was closed. The swimming pool, which could have benefited from natural gas, was also closed. St. Patrick's Agricultural College has been closed with no effort being made to re-open it as a third level college. Monaghan Poultry has also closed. Natural gas would be extremely beneficial to anyone wishing to re-open that plant. The bakery, the jeans factory and Monaghan maternity unit have also closed. Monaghan has suffered more than most – I cannot repeat that often enough – as a direct result of the situation in Northern Ireland. Like Dublin, it is famous for all the wrong reasons, namely, the Monaghan-Dublin bombings. The onus is on the Minister of State and others to ensure Monaghan receives justice. That is all we are looking for; we are not looking for hand-outs. It is impossible to explain how the shortest way of joining a pipeline with Northern Ireland is to go south, cross the midlands and go up again. Surely a decision could have been taken to bring the pipeline from north Mayo across into the Border region.

This Government will be judged not on what it has done but on what it has not done. The Government should and must ensure that the British-Irish Agreement and all it entails works not just for the island of Ireland, not just for Dublin and Belfast but for the Border region also. One of the major cross-Border bodies is located in Cork. Perhaps it was a recognition of the fact that Monaghan did not have gas, roads, railroads or the services required to service that organisation. It was a chicken and egg situation. If we do not provide the services we will not get decentralisation and multinational companies will not locate in Monaghan. The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, promised that if people in Monaghan wished to set up broadband they would receive the necessary grant aid to do so. As yet, there is no indication of that happening.

I do not like to be negative. I have tried to work with Government to the benefit of my constituents, to try to lift them from the mire they are in through no fault of their own. Clones is cut off. There is a meat factory that is doing well and the food industry is growing in the town. Are those industries to be put at a disadvantage because they cannot get natural gas? Is the town to be impeded? Is the new school not entitled to clean heating? Laws are being introduced to prevent the use of ordinary coal and all coal may eventually be banned. What will the costs be for those who live outside areas where natural gas is available? The Minister must reconsider the situation.

The Government has influence over big industry. Deputy Ring spoke of the efforts to help with planning matters. At this late stage, a genuine effort should be made to make sure that the areas that are most isolated are recognised and given the service to which they are entitled.

A person cannot fart here but someone will object. It is an objectionable activity but it begs the question does natural gas stink? Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us in his reply.

When the curtain comes down in a few weeks time, I will retire from the Dáil. In moments of madness, however, I am tempted to run again as an anti-protest candidate. Every day of the week someone protests about this, that or the other and it really gets under my skin when I see how ridiculous some people can be. I have no objection to the introduction of natural gas to Ballyglass, County Mayo. It may lead to the Erris peninsula becoming a hub of industrial activity, creating jobs for the western seaboard. Surely we want to see that, not mass emigration from the area.

The Minister should tell the House the dimensions and projected life-span of the Corrib gas field and the remaining life-span of the Kinsale gas field. We have been told over the years that it is virtually exhausted but then renewed estimates tell us that it will be able to supply the needs of the State for a further year or two. There should be an accurate assessment. Does the Minister have such an assessment? What other fields are potentially commercially viable? Is the Helvick field viable in terms and what other pockets of oil or gas exist around the Irish coast? The Minister of State would do the House a service today if he would answer those questions instead of our having to table parliamentary questions about each specific item. Will he do that? He has been struck dumb ever since his appearance on the "Marian Finucane Show", he does not even nod now. That is a good policy – keep the head down when in trouble.

I am taking it all in. I am always very attentive to Deputy Deasy.

I would like an assessment of the situation.

The more natural gas we have the better. We are all aware of our lack of natural resources and the impact that has on our economic progress. There is no coal or oil in Ireland. When anyone suggests a wind farm, however, particularly in the west, there is an avalanche of objections. I support the Government in its plans to provide more power through the use of wind farms The House was told that wind farms could meet 30% of all our electricity needs. On a windswept island like this, we should be in a position to provide 100% of our energy needs from wind power. Flying over Holland or Denmark, dozens of wind farms are visible. They get great benefit from this cheap energy source. We have an even greater capacity for wind generated energy because of our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Every effort should be made to encourage people to provide wind farms and the objectors should be faced down wherever possible.

I have no sympathy with those who object to gas being brought in from the Corrib field through the west coast. Likewise, I have no sympathy for those who object to wind farms. I sympathise with those who object to pylons – there are dangers where electricity is concerned, particularly the electromagnetic fields that surround high tension cables. I also have limited sympathy for those who object to masts, which are often just antennae similar to television or radio aerials.

Natural gas use will benefit the community but it will encourage the production of more greenhouse gases so it is not welcome in that regard. The less oil, coal, turf, timber and gas that we burn, the better. We should attempt to reduce the emission levels for this country and the way to do that is by using wind power.

There should be a national strategy to become self sufficient in electricity – 30% is not good enough. The maximum we can hope for from hydro-electric schemes would be another 10%, but we should aim for 100%. We have the wherewithal at our disposal and we should use it.

I welcome the proposal for a major wind farm on the Arklow bank of the Minister of State's constituency. We are fortunate that Deputy Timmins has been promoting such projects for County Wicklow, be it the wind farm off the county's coast or the completion of theJeanie Johnston project.

That project was foisted on the people of Tralee, County Kerry where there is no shipbuilding tradition. There is such a tradition in Arklow where, as Deputy Timmins rightly pointed out, the ship should have been built and should be completed.

I hope the Minister of State will take cognisance of that fact and support Deputy Timmins. I have not seen any Deputy from County Wicklow supporting him because it is a case of sour grapes. If a Deputy had a bright idea, his or her constituency colleagues would clobber him or her rather than support him or her.

Deputy Timmins is a very fine fellow, but does Deputy Deasy not have his own constituency to look after?

I have looked after it so well for 30 years that I do not have to worry about it. The people are so happy that they will elect another Deasy in my place, so it is never ending.

I wish the other Deasy well.

Yes. We do not need Ministers blowing hot air on the "Marian Finucane Show" or here in the House.

And we do not need Deputy Deasy to tell us how to run County Wickow. I am being totally parochial in that regard.

What is new?

Acting Chairman

Deputies should stop engaging in exchanges. The Deputy's time has expired.

I am delighted to see that the Minister of State is alive. He was as dead as a door nail ten minutes ago.

I am totally on top of my brief.

As dead as a door nail.

Deputy Deasy has that effect on people.

Acting Chairman

Two Deputies from Connacht are waiting to make their contributions to the debate.

Yes and they will use that gas to best advantage. It will revitalise Connacht and the west generally.

We hope so, if we can get it.

A power plant project in Dungarvan, which will use natural gas, is awaiting a decision by An Bord Pleanála. I hope the objection will be overruled. In the interim, until we have a sufficient number of wind farms, natural gas will provide the best option for making up the shortfall in our electricity supply. The ESB is having tremendous problems in satisfying prospective industrialists who wish to locate here, because it cannot provide sufficient power supplies. That is the case in Waterford's Belview industrial estate. Industries which want to consume large amounts of electricity are being referred elsewhere because the power supply is insufficient. The Minister of State should address that disgraceful situation in his reply. What will the Corrib gas field do in this regard? Will it provide self-sufficiency? Will it encourage people who wish to start up heavy industry to come to Ireland, or will they be told that we still do not have sufficient electricity? I would like to know the answer because that matter has been swept under the carpet. Apparently, we do not have sufficient electricity to service industry, in particular, heavy industry.

Yes, we do. Security of supply is assured.

Will the Minister of State tell me the reason the development of the Belview industrial estate in Waterford is being curtailed?

That is not true.

I have been told by the ESB that it does not have the power.

That is not true. Security of supply is assured now and into the future.

Belview industrial estate is not being developed because sufficient electricity is not available.

I beg your pardon, a Chathaoirligh, but that is not true. Security of supply is assured.

Acting Chairman

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

I support the moves to bring natural gas ashore in the Ballyglass and Erris Peninsula, County Mayo. It will be for the betterment of the west, in particular, and the country at large.

Acting Chairman

I understand Deputies Gerry Reynolds and Ulick Burke wish to share time.

That is correct, yes. I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on this Bill. I listened with interest to what my senior colleague, Deputy Deasy, had to say. I do not want to go over the same matter again, but his fear about the supply of electricity into Dungarvan echoes mine about Sligo. It has been stated publicly on numerous occasions that the 220 kV line is unable to carry sufficient power supplies to Sligo town and on to County Donegal. The ESB is seeking to upgrade that supply. We have also been told that the lack of an upgraded electricity supply is one of the reasons Sligo town, as well as parts of counties Leitrim and Donegal, have not received the major boost in employment that other areas have enjoyed about which there is a concern.

It is the lack of infrastructure rather than the power supply.

Yes, but we cannot get the power supply into the region. That is one point.

That is not what the Deputy was calling it.

The issue of natural gas has been bandied around the constituencies of Connacht-Ulster for a number of years, ever the since the announcement of the Corrib gas field. There are local objections to the project on the Erris Peninsula, but the overview is that this will be of tremendous benefit to the country. I fully support the legislation before the House which is necessary to ensure a natural gas supply for the west coast with the necessary infrastructure. In my capacity as Fine Gael spokesperson on western and regional development, I have visited the Erris Peninsula which has suffered from a lack of job creation and infrastructure over the past 70 years. With Corrib gas field supplies coming onshore there, the existing infrastructure will have to be upgraded. The development of the gas field should bring much needed employment to the area, including parts of the constituency I represent. I hope the gas supplies will be brought ashore as quickly as possible and that this will play a major role in halting the emigration of young people.

Much information has been provided in recent years about the gas field and it takes time for such matters to be developed. I am hopeful that when the Bill is enacted the Government will be in a position to move forward apace. The biggest issue in the west is where the pipeline will go and what towns will be provided for, about which the Government has made numerous announcements.

In his reply the Minister of State should outline where over the next five to ten years he envisages the gas pipeline being laid. In the local media I have heard Government Deputies stating the pipeline will eventually go to every small town and hamlet in the west and north west. That surprises me greatly because I have tabled numerous parliamentary questions to the Minister and have always received the response that the situation is under review. The Minister of State says that Bord Gáis wishes to extend the gas pipeline to Sligo, but a cost analysis must be undertaken and numerous other obstacles overcome before that will happen. On a local radio programme I heard that the pipeline would go to Carrick-on-Shannon, Manorhamilton, Letterkenny and most towns and villages in County Donegal and Sligo, which was news to me. The impression was that it would happen in the very near future.

I was on a local radio programme with the Minister, Deputy Fahey, and Deputy Ruairí Quinn last week when other issues were debated and when Deputy Fahey found himself in hot water. He gave a commitment that regardless of price the natural gas pipeline would go to Sligo and it would certainly run from Ballina to Sligo. I welcome that decision but I ask the Minister of State to clarify when it will happen, be it next year or in three, five or ten years time. My information is that it will be in the longterm because other areas have been prioritised already by Bord Gáis. I do not understand how a Government decision stating categorically that the gas pipeline will be going to Sligo can be made without the money being provided. A future Government could decide otherwise. It is imperative for the development of the north west and the western region in general that natural gas be brought into the area. The Western Development Commission has published some alarming statistics in its report on the state of the west. It is noted that only 7.8% of Leitrim third level graduates and 12% of Sligo graduates find employment in their native county and 48% of Leitrim graduates and 43% of Sligo graduates find their first job in Dublin. That is a huge brain drain from the north west and it is happening because we do not have the necessary infrastructure to provide jobs in the area. The development of the natural gas pipeline is vital to job creation in the west. I ask the Minister of State to provide some concrete information regarding the timeframe and the security of the Government decision. While I welcome the Bill I ask the Minister of State to say how licences will be granted and what companies have declared an interest in becoming involved. Will the Minister of State say whether the necessary planning permission to lay the pipeline is being applied for and whether compulsory purchase acquisitions of land will be required? I would be grateful for a response to those questions. I welcome the legislation and hope the Bill will be passed as quickly as possible so that the Corrib field gas supplies can be brought ashore and delivered to the west and the midlands as speedily as possible.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on Second Stage of this Bill. I hope that this Bill will not facilitate the great western robbery. Natural resources are scarce in the west. The products of the fishing and forestry industries have traditionally been brought elsewhere for processing and finishing. Natural gas is another western natural resource and I am pleased that it will be brought ashore in County Mayo and distributed from there throughout the west. This House should not facilitate a robbery of this gas from the west without any of its benefits accruing to the west.

The west has a great energy deficit. The Department, local authorities and regional bodies have all indicated the need to redress that imbalance. This Bill is another opportunity to utilise a natural resource to the advantage of the area where it reaches land. The designation of the BMW region has meant nothing to us in the west in terms of job creation and infrastructural development. We have a new cliché in the west at present: the Atlantic corridor is now the phrase in vogue. The Minister for Public Enterprise has responsibility for the delivery of broadband infrastructure to the west but she has failed miserably in that task. It is just one more of the Government's failures in a time of plenty. The Sligo – Tuam – Gort – Ennis – Limerick rail line is lying disused for a long time. There is traffic chaos in many towns in the west because of the inadequacy of the infrastructure and the Government has not considered redeveloping this railway line. The phrase "Atlantic corridor" means nothing to us in the west.

The Minister of State has a duty to deliver the necessary infrastructure to the western region and this Bill provides that opportunity. The proposed pipeline from Dublin will meet the north-south axis in Craughwell, County Galway, about seven miles from my home. I compliment Bord Gáis for the manner in which they dealt with the landowners through whose land the pipeline will be laid. They dealt with them in a positive manner, held meetings with them and resolved any difficulties. This contrasts with the NRA whose communications with the farming community and landowners have been a monumental disaster. Will the Government allow pipelines to traverse and dissect our county yet not provide a service? Loughrea is five miles from the junction point and Ballinasloe, Gort and Athenry are within a narrow radius. If that happens it will amount to a great western robbery. We will not allow it.

The Government has failed in its policy of job creation for east Galway. Not one IDA assisted job has been created in Ballinasloe in the past 25 years. That is a record of monumental failure. With an election approaching we are told that 1,000 jobs will be created in County Galway, yet the Government is afraid, for considerations of political advantage, to say where they will be located. In the past 15 to 20 years all new jobs have been located in Galway city, where there has been an enormous rate of development. However, it has been at the expense of the county's satellite towns, such as Loughrea, Ballinasloe, Gort, Athenry and Tuam. Despite the Government's neglect, private enterprise has managed to provide additional jobs without which these would be ghost towns, even though they are so near the fastest growing city in Europe. This gas pipeline must benefit the development of the infrastructure, which will help to provide additional jobs. In view of this, there is an obligation on the Minister of State to ensure that the resources of the gas field will benefit the west, especially County Galway.

South County Galway presents an ideal environment for the development of wind energy, which will help to balance the energy deficit in the west. We are continually told by industrialists that the west does not have sufficient energy resources and back-up to ensure a guaranteed supply to industry, especially the very important IT sector. According to The Irish Times today, the ESB has been granted approval by An Bord Pleanála to proceed with the construction of an electricity generating station at Shannonbridge. I welcome that but it is regrettable that An Taisce was the main objector.

An Taisce and Dúchas, acting together, have determinedly stifled the production of a clean form of energy in south County Galway in the form of a £40 million project. It was turned down but is now with An Bord Pleanála for a final decision. If sanction is withheld, Dúchas should be disbanded forthwith because it objected on the grounds that a pair of hen harriers were found, not on the site but within the immediate vicinity. If a Government agency is to stifle the improvement of infrastructure, especially in energy supply, in the west, where it is so badly needed, because of the possible influence it may have on a pair of hen harriers, what has the country come to? Are we serious about the development of the west or are we paying lip service to it?

Nobody is suggesting we must wreck our natural environment or wildlife to develop the west but there must be a balance. It will not be provided for as long as a Government agency, operating under the auspices of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, seeks to stall a £40 million development, involving a co-operative of farmers who have come together to make an investment in wind energy as an alternative to farming, which is so difficult to conduct at this time. On five occasions I have asked the Minister of State examine this. I again ask him to examine it as a matter of urgency.

The Minister of State must ensure the gas will be distributed to the benefit and the potential development of the west. Connection spurs should be constructed to Loughrea, Ballinasloe, Athenry and Gort. If there is to be yet another great western robbery we will object in the most strenuous manner possible.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McGinley.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Natural gas is one of the most important natural resources at our disposal, economically and otherwise. Since the Government took up office many consultants have been appointed to analyse the energy capacity of the country but despite their reports, which have been brought to the attention of the Minister of State, the country faces an energy crisis. Hardly a month goes by when various groups and organisations, especially IBEC, express their concern.

In view of this, I welcome the sanction given to the development of a wind farm by Eirtricity off the coast of County Wicklow, beside the Minister of State's constituency. The decision was long overdue. It will add to the national grid.

Despite the country's huge economic growth and the fact that the Minster for Public Enterprise has been long aware of the ESB's need to generate greater capacity, it has taken until the eleventh hour of this Government's term of office before a substantial decision has been made to address the problem of energy generating capacity. The next Government will also have to address it. There is a lack of planning at present but a planned approach to the problem is urgently required. The interconnector from Scotland to Ireland is one aspect and the additional resource off the west coast will provide another source of gas supply which will feed into the energy sector. However, much more could be done to connect natural gas to industries, ports and households throughout the country.

Some time ago I made representations to the Minster of State's Department indicating that a private company in south Kilkenny was willing, through public private partnership and in conjunction with Bord Gáis, to connect to the Belview port, which is based in my constituency in south Kilkenny and which services a large number of industries and businesses in the south east. It is situated on the edge of Waterford city and the planning authority is Kilkenny County Council. I got an acknowledgement, but I heard nothing else about it. This was a case in which people were prepared to put up their own money to help the State, through Bord Gáis, to supply an important natural resource for the benefit of port related activities and jobs for the south east region at a time when they are badly needed.

The attitude of Bord Gáis in recent years through its monopoly has been disgraceful. I have never come across a State monopoly which has been so unwilling to assist, through public private partnerships, in the connection of its gas and energy network to towns throughout a region, in this case the south east region. In spite of my best efforts to have gas connected to Belview Port, with the assistance of a private company which is willing to take on the project, it has not happened. It is about time we introduced legislation that will ensure we have a more accountable Bord Gáis than has been the case heretofore.

Some of the people engaged in the operational work of the board of Bord Gáis do not realise they are working on behalf of the people. It was taxpayers' money which allowed the gas from the Kinsale gas field to be brought ashore. Taxpayers' money also ensured that we have the network that exists today, and it is to the taxpayers that these people should be accountable through the Minister of State. There has been no accountability on the part of Bord Gáis to this House or to the Minister of State, and he has not gone out of his way to ensure proper stewardship of the operations of Bord Gáis.

I express my deep disappointment at the attitude of Bord Gáis towards any proposal it received to assist it in the provision of natural gas to towns and port related activities at Belview in Waterford. I hope in the course of this debate the Minister of State will take the opportunity to determine the up to date position in terms of the provision of natural gas as an essential part of the energy infrastructure to create employment opportunities and economic activity at Belview Port in Waterford.

I made representations on the need to connect natural gas to the town of Callan in County Kilkenny. The national gas grid from Cork to Dublin goes through Kilkenny and is only 500 metres from the town of Callan. Industrial users indicated they were prepared to take on natural gas. There are approximately 700 dwellings with planning permission yet to be built in the town of Callan, but all I got from Bord Gáis was the standard reply to the effect that it is not possible to do it at this stage because of the economic cost involved. What is the economic cost of allowing the national gas grid to be connected for the benefit of the people of Callan? There is a gas station 500 metres from the town of Callan yet in its usual replies Bord Gáis states it will not connect the town to the national grid. This highly efficient, clean fuel would create economic activity and a better quality of life for the domestic users of Callan in County Kilkenny. I cannot understand the economic cost of connecting a pipe to a gas station 500 metres away. Perhaps there is precedent involved but I was not told that. It is ridiculous that people who are willing to put up money to ensure the provision of this essential, cheap and efficient energy supply have been turned down again by Bord Gáis. That is an abuse of the monopoly vested in Bord Gáis since its foundation and the Minister of State, through this legislation, should ensure that we have proper accountability and a better service from Bord Gáis on behalf of taxpayers.

We are not fortunate enough to be in the BMW region. All the statistics in recent years indicate clearly that the south east lags behind other regions in terms of economic development and prosperity. We need the provision of this cheaper form of energy to create a more competitive environment in the south east region. Our region is affected by the weather but we do not always get the necessary assistance other regions receive in terms of hand-outs. This form of energy stimulation in the region would be of considerable assistance in generating additional economic activity. There are people in the private sector who are willing to help out and I hope the Minster of State will be able to compel Bord Gáis to be a little more reasonable in terms of the provision of this important energy resource to the south east region.

Emissions from various fuels are unsavoury. Greenhouse gas emissions are a major issue and will become more so here in the future. One of the areas where there is great concern and which contributes enormously to the level of greenhouse gas emissions is Moneypoint. A decision is required to connect gas to Moneypoint and to deal with that clean energy source off our coast as quickly as possible. I am aware the Government is considering that matter but I hope it will be fast-tracked to ensure that the issue of greenhouse emissions is dealt with by the provision of natural gas to Moneypoint station as soon as possible.

We need greater accountability from Bord Gáis. We need more connections to the areas I have mentioned, particularly in the south east region, and we must help Bord Gáis to realise that a new era is developing in the provision of services and that there are private individuals who wish to contribute to developing greater energy capacity. Bord Gáis must modernise its thinking and with leadership from the Minister of State, we can ensure that happens.

Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá ar an Bhille tábhachtach seo. Aontaím i bprionsabal leis an dearcadh atá taobh thiar den Bhille ach, mar dhuine a thagann ó iar-thuaisceart na tíre, tá deacrachtaí móra agam chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé le dálú gáis ins an tír.

Natural gas is an efficient and cheap form of energy, and we were all delighted when the Kinsale natural gas field was discovered in the early 1970s. That was a tremendous boost to the south region because it contributed to economic development and provided an efficient and cheap source of energy not only to domestic users but to industry and business in that area.

In one of the papers last January there was a press release from Bord Gáis announcing a €1 billion expansion of the national gas grid to embrace the midlands and the west regions. That is a huge investment which will expand the grid to different parts of the country. It is excellent news that a field has been found off the north west coast of Mayo, the Corrib gas field, which is comparable to the Kinsale field. It was also stated in the press release that the gas will be brought ashore at Pollatomish, in County Mayo, and will be piped from Pollatomish down to Galway where it will join the new proposed pipeline from Dublin to Galway, which is envisaged to pass through Ennis and on to County Limerick.

I am amazed the entire north west region has been left out of the proposed extended national grid. According to the map included in the press release, the north west, and particularly Donegal, is a barren desert. It looks as if nothing exists there. A map of the national primary roads in the country also shows that in terms of investment in road infrastructure, the north west, including Donegal, is a barren desert in that provision has not been made for that part of the country. A natural resource was found in an area off the north west coast and the priority is to pipe that gas resource to other parts of the country as quickly as possible and overlook the hinterland where it was found. That priority is difficult to understand and justify.

I do not need to tell the House again of the economic difficulties in the north west, including Donegal, where there are major deficits in road and energy infrastructure. The ESB had plans to bring a 110 kv line into different parts of Donegal, including the western side of the county from which I come. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that the ESB ran into difficulties with An Bord Pleanála and that its plans to bring an adequate supply of energy to support and underpin industry and attract new industry, particularly in the IT sector, to Donegal, have been temporarily held up.

Natural gas is usually piped underground and, in that way, does not intrude on the landscape. Natural gas piped underground could be an ideal way to supply energy to the picturesque parts of the country in the north west without despoiling the landscape.

There may be plans to bring the natural gas supply to Sligo, but it is disappointing that there does not seem to be any plan to bring it further north. Donegal and other towns in the north west have been overlooked. I refer to Balllyshannon, which would benefit from an investment in industry, Donegal town, Letterkenny and the Gaeltacht areas in the west of the county. It is unforgivable that when such a resource is in abundance, the priority is to pipe it to regions of the country that already have adequate sources of energy not alone to provide for domestic consumption but for industry.

One of the difficulties in the north west is that the energy infrastructure is not sufficient to attract industry to locate there. There is not a constant supply of energy to that part of the country. That has been brought to my attention on numerous occasions and I am sure the Minister of State is also aware of that. The unemployment rate in Donegal of between 15% and 20%, compared to the national average of 4%, is one of the highest in the country. Unless we examine the energy needs of regions such as Donegal, we are not serious about attracting industry to locate there.

Gas is a valuable natural resource, but the most valuable natural resource we have is the people living in an area. Our aim must be to allow the people who live in that region to remain in their own environment and to provide employment for them in their own areas. We must keep that valuable natural resource, our people, at home. One of the ways of doing that is to provide the necessary industry and jobs, but that cannot be done unless the necessary infrastructure, of which energy is such an important part, is in place.

The gas pipeline from Dublin to Galway will serve Mullingar, Enfield in County Meath, Athlone and other places along that route right down to Galway. One could not help but think that there may have been some political influence at work because Cabinet Ministers live in those towns along that route, including in Galway. A spur line will extend the gas supply to Limerick via Ennis in County Clare and another Cabinet Minister lives there. It is only fair to pose the question, has there been political influence or interference at work to determine where this line will go? It is amazing that the pipeline will go out of its way not to bypass any town along that route where some Ministers live. I do not know whether An Bord Gáis would own up to there having been political interference, but from looking at the map and taking account of the political landscape it would seem to me there has been.

I am very disappointed my region has been overlooked in terms of this gas supply. It suffers from a deficit in energy supply. Difficulties were experienced by the ESB in bringing an energy supply to the region. The provision of a gas supply would be the ideal solution. I hope an undertaking, or at least an indication, will be given that Donegal and the rest of the north west will not be bypassed in terms of this valuable source of energy that would be of such benefit and is so necessary from the point of view of attracting industry, creating jobs and underpinning what is already there.

I am delighted to speak on this Bill. I welcome the announcement yesterday regarding the provision of a new power station in Shannonbridge in Offaly. That decision is good for the peat industry. Coming from Kildare, I understand the essence and meaning of that industry for the region in terms of the many jobs it has provided down through the years.

When I was recently in a public house in Rathangan in Kildare, I noticed an article from a old newspaper on the wall stated that Bord na Móna was looking for 1,100 workers. While I suppose the numbers employed there are far from that now, it is great that it still provides the essence of employment in the midlands. Up to 400 jobs will be generated from the construction of this new power station and a number of permanent jobs will be created when it is built. There is an urgent need to provide such a power station, given the problems regarding the supply of energy by the ESB in the midlands.

A major problem facing the midlands is the reconstruction of the supply of energy by the ESB. There has been major investment in industry in recent years, yet the necessary back-up service does not seem to be in place in the ESB to provide a proper service to facilitate further advances in such development in the midlands.

As part of my local authority's initiative, it will provide for the triangle towns of Newbridge, Naas and Kilcullen. There have been major developments in industrial and commercial parks, but power failures are experienced in those areas on an ongoing basis. The ESB and the Minister need to express an interest in this matter and ensure the necessary finance is made available. A plan should be drawn up to meet the needs of further development of this area.

There has been a major increase in the population of these areas. Kildare has zoomed up the ladder in terms of the increase in population along the eastern seaboard. There is no town or village in Kildare that has not experienced an increase in population and that has led to an increase in the demand for electricity.

It is up to us as legislators to ensure nothing is put in the way of such development and that it will not be hindered or put on the long finger due to the lack of availability of and electricity supply, one of the basic utilities necessary for such development.

The same can be said of the gas lines. There is a major gas initiative in Kildare. Even the small hamlets where I reside, which are on the line, will have their heating provided from a natural resource. I benefited because the line went by my house. Had Deputy McGinley been here he would have suggested I had something to do with it. I had nothing to do with the particular line except to take the connection and appreciate the value of natural gas to a particular household.

However there are shortfalls. Despite the PR exercise by Bord Gáis in respect of the line to which I have referred and the efforts to advance its sale, many people are waiting seven, eight and nine months for supply. Many do not know what to do or whether supply will be available in the shortterm. It is difficult to get a reply from Bord Gáis on the criteria for those connections. It is a slap in the face to those who gave their money to Bord Gáis and yet have to wait eight and nine months for supply.

I attended a meeting of Athy UDC last night where a motion was put down demanding that Bord Gáis attend its next meeting to explain its actions in relation to its failure to honour commitments given at a previous meeting about 12 months ago. At that meeting Bord Gáis had all the brochures and documentation, so much so that I almost thought we would have supply the following morning. Yet nine months on people in that area, especially old age pensioners who have given the money, do not know whether to invest in an alternative supply. Because of this people lose faith in the system. Local authorities are latching on to the value of the natural gas supply. In Lakeside Park, Newbridge, there is a project where 50 houses in the ownership of the local authority will be connected to the gas line. Will the same problem arise in that area as to when they will be connected?

While I appreciate the function of a regulator is not to deal with the bottom level I hope that when a regulator is appointed the commitment given by Bord Gáis will be honoured. I hope those who gave that commitment will come back to the people, instead of a situation where the phone is not answered and where the old age pensioner has to approach the local representative or a member of the local council where their house is located to demand information on the whereabouts of their money, the connection and when supply will be made available. That is bad in the overall context of making supply available throughout the country. It is great to think there will be a natural gas supply to all towns. The local authorities have the will to deal with a connection when it comes into a town. Some local authorities are seeking that the main line, or a spur, go through their town because of the bonus to the town in terms of seeking alternative industrial development.

We have got to ensure Bord Gáis provides a detailed plan of its proposals in relation to pipelines throughout the country. In regard to the proposed line in Mayo, about which much has been said regarding appeals and a counter appeal to An Bord Pleanála, I hope common sense will prevail at the end of the day. This should not be allowed develop to a point where the national plan will be put in jeopardy because we do not appear to come in line with environmentalists or local objections. Every effort should be made to ensure existing problems are met. The only way this can be done is through constant consultation with the local community and environmentalists who appear to take a hold on every local authority.

I was in my local authority office the other day where five men were examining 70 or 80 files for An Taisce. Many of those applications will be appealed to An Bord Pleanála, the result of which may be a disappointment for many families. This appears to be the trend not only in Kildare but right across the country. It is a worry ing trend at a time when there is a need for a natural resource we may have difficulty in bringing it on stream.

I welcome the development of the peat powered stations in the midlands given the closure of stations at Rhode, Ferbane and Allenwood where there had been many problems. It is encouraging that the ESB is replacing the station at Shannonbridge and also providing a new station. In that regard there will be a continuation and an involvement by Bord na Móna which is of major importance to the midlands and has been a great employer in the past. It should be congratulated on its efforts.

On a recent visit to Greece I saw the many wind farms that are being developed. That is another form of power that would be welcome here. There is a problem here in regard to objections etc. but at the end of the day we must have the maximum amount of electricity to allow the country develop. It is necessary to follow up every aspect of that under the remit of all the State agencies to ensure we have the means to allow the country develop in a commercial, industrial and residential manner.

I welcome the Bill and am pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute.

I welcome the Bill. As the Minister of State is aware we had a parallel discussion at the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport on electricity regulation. It appears this is a parallel Bill designed to regulate Bord Gáis and to give us the opportunity to review its activities. I compliment the board on the efficient and effective manner in which it has operated since its foundation.

I have one or two questions for the Minister for State on this Bill. Will it be possible under it, to raise issues in the House relating to the operation of Bord Gáis? We have found over the years, for example in the case of the Electricity Supply Board on matters of electricity generation and distribution, that it has been impossible to raise questions in the House. Such questions are generally ruled out of order as the Minister does not have responsibility in the area. It is important that Members can raise issues in relation to gas regulation and distribution in the House when they wish to do so. Will it be possible to raise such questions under this legislation? I am sure that if it is not possible to do it in the House, it will be possible to do it in certain committees. I have been in this House for quite some years and I have found it a disadvantage at times that Deputies are unable to raise fundamental issues about the operation of the ESB. It may have been better for all concerned, including the ESB, if Deputies had such a function. It is a minor issue and possibly not entirely relevant to the Bill under discussion.

My constituents have expressed some concern in recent weeks since Bord Gáis began to lay its pipeline to Cork through County Clare. I am sure the Minister of State is aware that the line passes near Gort and Ennis and meets the Shannon Estuary near Labasheeda. Many people have complained about the damage to the county roads network in west Clare during the work that was done by Bord Gáis. Will Clare County Council be compensated for the inconvenience caused to many local communities when the pipeline was being laid? Small by-roads in west Clare, where I live, were damaged and local people have made representations as a result. Will Bord Gáis provide adequate financing as compensation or will the ancillary damage that was done during the operations of Bord Gáis be repaired?

I also wish to raise the possibility of extending to Kilrush, which is adjacent to Moneypoint, the gas pipeline that goes to Cork. The original proposals for laying the pipeline through County Clare contained a suggestion that the line be extended to Moneypoint, with the intention of converting the power station there from imported coal to gas at some point in the future. I recommend that we think twice about such a conversion, especially as the reason Moneypoint power station was developed as a coal fired station in the first instance was to move away from our dependence on imported oil. The decision taken at that time was a wise one, as Moneypoint has proven to be an efficient station which is effective in meeting the demand for power. The country would probably come to a standstill if Moneypoint was not there.

There has been some concern about emissions from Moneypoint and we are right to be concerned. It has been suggested from time to time that additional facilities be installed in the power station's chimneys to reduce emissions. A large volume of research has been done in Europe into clean coal technology. A huge investment has been made in this area as Europe is so dependent on coal and may need to diversify its sources of power. It is generally acknowledged that adequate supplies of coal are available at reasonable and stable prices. Ireland should be at the forefront of research into clean coal technologies and additional funding should be provided to Moneypoint so that emissions can be reduced.

It would be unwise, short-sighted and unnecessary to convert the coal fired station at Moneypoint into a gas fired station. The huge expense that would be involved in such a conversion has been estimated at up to £400 million. The converted station may not operate as efficiently as a newly built power station. I strongly suggest that Bord Gáis and the ESB should reconsider the proposal, although I do not think it will happen in any event. It would be far wiser and more efficient to build a new gas fired station adjacent to the existing station at Moneypoint if additional generation capacity is needed. It would be preferable if we retained the coal fired station as a back-up, as it is so important for Ireland's electricity supply. The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, should discuss the possibility of developing a new gas station adjacent to Moneypoint with the ESB, Bord Gáis and the authorities at Moneypoint. It could cheaply and effectively feed into the national grid, while supporting the existing station.

Further research into clean coal technologies, similar to those being developed in Europe, is needed on the part of the agencies attached to the Department of Public Enterprise. The research could be used to reduce emissions at Moneypoint and make the station more efficient, while continuing to provide the dependable generating capacity we have enjoyed over the years. Electricity can be generated at a smaller cost by burning coal than by using gas, which is quite an expensive commodity. The only reason to convert Moneypoint to gas is to reduce emissions, but I believe they can now be dealt with far more effectively than when the station was built. New technology should be put to use in Moneypoint. I compliment the board of the ESB for the work it has done to reduce emissions in Moneypoint and this should be continued.

The point I really want to make is that if there is to be a gas connection to Moneypoint, it should be to facilitate the construction of a new gas station adjacent to Moneypoint. The conversion of the existing station to gas would not make economic sense and would be totally crazy. When the gas line is being extended to Moneypoint, I ask that a spur line be laid to Kilrush, a town that would welcome a supply of gas for industrial and domestic purposes. The people of the town are frustrated that a pipeline bringing gas from the west to Cork will pass near them but will not be of any use to them.

I do not want to delay the passage of this Bill any longer, as it may be possible to receive clarification of certain issues on Committee Stage. I ask the Minister of State to consider the points I made in relation to parliamentary questions and the payment of compensation to Clare County Council for repair of the damage done to roads when the pipeline was being laid. The disruption and inconvenience that was caused needs to be examined and I ask the Minister to outline if this can be done.

I thank the 12 Deputies who contributed today for their valuable comments, as well as those who outlined their opinions on an earlier date. This complex Bill provides for independent regulation of the gas industry. The establishment of an independent regulatory body for the gas sector, unconnected with any operator in the sector, is the best option for ensuring future confidence in the market. I do not take lightly the transfer of regulatory responsibility to independent agencies. However, the model being used has been adopted successfully in liberalised markets in Europe and elsewhere and I am convinced it is the best model all round. I will table amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage and pay particular attention to the constructive contributions of colleagues during this debate.

I will now endeavour to respond to some of the points raised by Members. Deputy Jim Higgins expressed concern regarding the adequacy of the powers of the regulator to ensure competition takes place. I agree with the Deputy on the importance of this issue. However, I am confident that the provisions of the Bill provide more than sufficient powers to ensure all those seeking access to the national gas grid are provided with this assurance on a fair and reasonable basis. Effective third party access is the main prerequisite to developing competition in gas and I am confident that the regulator will be able to ensure this is provided for those who require it.

The Corrib gas field was referred to by a number of Deputies as was the issue of the towns to be connected to the Mayo-Galway pipeline. Other Deputies raised the possibility of connecting other areas to the national grid. Deputy Browne mentioned Wexford, Deputy Enright set out the case for connecting counties Laois and Offaly, Deputy Deenihan spoke in favour of a gas supply to the Ballylongford-Tarbert land bank and Deputy Daly wanted gas to be brought to Kilrush which is close to my heart as it is the town of my birth. I share the Deputy's aspiration in that regard.

However, we are all aware of the reality that in developing and extending the gas network BGE is obliged to adhere to commercial criteria. In other words, such extensions must be capable of paying for themselves. The commerciality of extending the network to a particular area is determined by the size of the projected demand, together with the cost of the feeder main. Following this policy BGE has successfully connected gas supplies to many towns during the years. I understand the question of network extensions to likely areas is kept under regular review by the company. I am as anxious as anyone that a gas supply be extended to as many towns as is feasible. BGE has informed me that it is assessing the economic viability of connecting a number of towns to the Mayo-Galway pipeline and has signalled that Castlebar, Westport, Tuam and Athenry are being considered in the first instance.

The promotion of oil and gas exploration was raised by Deputy Higgins and others in terms of the return to the State from the Corrib field. Deputy Stagg pointed out that when the terms for exploration leases were agreed in 1992 there was a need to give the greatest encouragement to the development of this area. Deputy Sargent called for a renegotiation of the terms of the leases. The question of future possible changes in this area is, in the first instance, a matter for the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey. Deputy Sargent pointed to suggestions that the Corrib gas should be kept in the ground until a later date. However, the reality is that the gas now belongs to those companies which invested in the exploration and they are entitled to it and to sell it as they see fit.

Deputy Sargent also mentioned the possibility that exploration companies may be withholding information on the true extent of their discoveries. If the Deputy has any hard information in this regard, I ask him to present it without delay to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, who is the appropriate Minister in order that it can be properly and expeditiously investigated.

The accountability of the regulator was raised by Deputies Stagg and Stanton. This issue cannot be divorced from the question of regulatory independence. This point was recognised in a document referred to by Deputy Stanton published in March 2000 by the Minister for Public Enterprise which set out the policy on governance and accountability in the regulatory process. The document took account of the experience to date in this area and the wide-ranging views expressed in response to a discussion document issued on the subject the previous year. There is a delicate balance to be struck between ensuring the accountability of regulatory authorities and safeguarding their independence. This balance is achieved in the framework established by the Bill and the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999, by clearly defining the duties and responsibilities of the commission, and ensuring transparency in the decision making process.

The accountability of the commission is further enhanced by the obligations on the commission regarding its annual accounts. The audited accounts, with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, are submitted to the Minister who is required to lay copies before each House of the Oireachtas. Furthermore, the commission is required to account for the performance of its functions before an Oireachtas joint committee whenever so requested by the committee. Deputy Stagg raised the issue of the resources available to the committee to carry out its functions. While there is food for thought in some of the issues put forward by the Deputy regarding the committee system, he will agree that this is a wider issue which is well outside the scope of the Bill.

Deputy Stanton raised the issue of the effectiveness of regulation in Ireland. In this context, I refer the Deputy to the OECD review carried out last year on regulatory reform in this country which highlighted many positive aspects of our regulatory regime and also pointed to areas where progress must be made. Among these areas were the need to establish independent regulation in the gas sector and to increase liberalisation of the sector, matters which are being dealt with in the Bill.

Deputy Stagg suggested that there was a delay in proceeding with the second interconnector as a result of which we are short of gas. I categorically state that the country is not, and will not be, short of gas. The interconnector will be in place next October as planned and fully on schedule, and well in time to meet the forecasted demand for next winter.

Deputies Stagg and Sargent mentioned the issue of security of supply and the need to develop our usage of renewables and alternative technologies. The Bill is primarily concerned with establishing independent regulation in the gas sector, not with the use of alternative energies. I am dealing with the issue of alternative energy sources by other, more appropriate, means in terms of demand side management and the promotion of renewable energy technologies.

The Sustainable Energy Bill completed its progress through the Oireachtas last night and I am grateful to the Chief Whip for facilitating the passage of this important legislation during this session. Deputy Higgins and others are pleased that the Bill has reached this stage. As a result, the Irish Energy Centre will become the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, with increased funding and staffing resources. It will be one of the main agencies contributing to the Government's efforts to meet our Kyoto obligations. I assure Deputy Stanton that the work of the authority will not be impinged on in any way by the provisions of this Bill.

Deputy Sargent mentioned the benefits of gas in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when use is also made of combined heat and power technology. The Bill encourages the use of this technology by allowing that all generators of electricity, including those using CHP, irrespective of their levels of gas consumption, are now eligible to avail of third party access rights to source their supplies of gas. The question of security of supply has been raised by a number of people. I can confirm that the Bill contains provisions to enhance Ireland's security of supply. It gives to the commission a clear monitoring and reporting role with regard to our present and future capacity to meet demand for gas and electricity. It will also give the commission the power to hold a competitive process for the provision of gas pipelines where it determines there is a need that is not being met.

Deputy Jim Higgins raised the issue of safety and the remit of the commission in this regard. Primary responsibility for safety in the gas network, including safety downstream from the meter, rests with the network operator. The regulator's duty is to ensure the operator carries out its responsibilities in full. The regulator will have full powers to impose conditions on operators with regard to safety with any licence it grants. Deputy Higgins also sought clarification on sections 4, 5 and 7, which deal with legal proceedings. I can confirm that the Deputy's understanding of those provisions is correct. Deputy Stagg mentioned the possibility of privatisation. As I stated in my introductory speech, the Bill before us contains no provisions for the future shape or direction of Bord Gáis. It simply provides for independent regulation of the natural gas sector. As for the future of the company, my Department is working on separate legislative proposals including provisions for transforming Bord Gáis Éireann from a statutory corporation to a public limited company. We hope to introduce a Bill later this year. It is my view that establishing BGE as a public limited company will allow it greater freedom to operate in a liberalised market. I should make it clear, however, that there are no proposals on the table for privatisation of BGE.

Deputies Kenny, Reynolds and others asked about proposals for a pipeline to Sligo. As I have said before, the Government has decided in principle to extend the gas transmission system to Sligo via Ballina from the proposed Mayo to Galway pipeline and to Letterkenny from Derry. The decision recognises that these extensions would not be viable on the basis of anticipated gas demand and that considerable grant aid will be required. A formal decision was taken in Cabinet and the Taoiseach has resolved that the gas infrastructure be extended to the west and the north west. That decision was taken in the knowledge that it would not stand on its own economic feet and that State aid would be required.

The next step in moving the project forward involves carrying out detailed engineering and planning work to establish a firm estimate of the capital costs. Once this phase is completed and a firm estimate of the capital costs has been established, the Government will be able to consider further the question of grant aid. Given that there are issues of competition and State aid involved, it is essential to ensure that the approach to the next stage of the project does not create difficulties which might result in the project being delayed down the line. We have all had experience of how State aid works and I have experienced hold-ups in other areas of my own portfolio in the context of State aid issues. We want to get it right first time.

Deputy Kenny raised the matter of the planning process with regard to the Mayo-Galway pipeline. The decision to grant planning permission for such a pipeline, as the Deputy well knows, is a matter for the relevant local authority and, on appeal, for An Bord Pleanála. BGE is carrying out certain preparations in advance of permission's being granted but this must be seen as the prudent actions of a commercial company, given the need to complete such projects in a tight timeframe. BGE has an excellent record of meeting targets on schedule and we certainly want it to do this during the massive programme of infrastructural improvement taking place at present which includes the construction of a ring main, a second interconnector and so on. The company's actions should not be taken as a sign that the granting of planning permission is any type of rubber stamp or formality.

Deputies Connaughton and Ring stated that towns in the west, particularly Mayo, should be supplied with gas from the Corrib fields. Deputy Connaughton asked that a legal right be inserted in the Bill to ensure this. Deputy Belton insisted that the Government give priority to making a supply of gas available to the Longford area. Deputy Crawford asked that the Government ensure that all areas, particularly deprived areas such as Monaghan, should have an equal right to a gas supply. We all subscribe to that aspiration. Deputy Ring stated that the taxpayer would pay for the Mayo-Galway pipeline. It is important that I clarify that. The pipeline is to be funded by the company and the Corrib partners on a purely commercial basis. The taxpayer is not being asked to fund this pipeline.

Deputy Deasy asked about the projected life span of the Corrib and Kinsale fields and the potential of finding any other gas fields, as was the case with the Seven Heads field. I do not have that information here, but I will try to get the information to the Deputy as soon as possible. As an indication, last year BGE celebrated the 21st anniversary of its bringing gas ashore at Kinsale. Gas has been obtained from Kinsale for about 22 years now and I am advised that Corrib is about two thirds the size of Kinsale. I would like to have been able to respond to the contributions of Deputies McGinley, Hogan, Wall and Daly among others, but I have come to the end of my run. I thank all who have contributed to the debate and I look forward to dealing further with these issues on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.