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.