I wish to share time with Deputy Trevor Sargent.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Oil Reserves Agency Bill 2006. It is an important issue and an important debate because we need well thought out legislation in this area.
When we address important issues such as oil and gas, particularly our natural resources, we must have a comprehensive debate and listen to all views in the House. In recent days there have been massive increases in gas prices, particularly for families, the elderly and working people. Many people are upset about the 23% increase in gas prices, which will be a major issue in the coming weeks. I support these people on these issues. It was announced that workers would receive a 10% increase in pay over 27 months through national pay agreements and within 24 hours gas and other energy costs went through the roof. That is a disgrace and it is not acceptable in this day and age.
We need to have well thought out strategies regarding this legislation. We should not be afraid to look to other countries for advice on this legislation and the entire issue of energy, oil and gas. When considering the broader issue of oil and gas we should accept that these resources around our shores belong to the people of Ireland, not oil companies. There should be sensible policies regarding licences in these cases.
The main provision of the Bill is to establish a National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, as a stand alone, non-commercial State body under the aegis of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources with responsibility for the maintenance of strategic supplies of oil, in line with the State's oil stock holding obligations to the EU and the International Energy Agency. The Bill provides for the transfer of the Irish National Petroleum Corporation shareholding in NORA to the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Bill also provides for the continued operation of the agency as a private limited company under the Companies Act. It will provide for a variable levy on disposals of petroleum products to be imposed on oil companies and consumers. Such a levy has operated since 1995 under EU regulations.
The Bill also makes provision for the furnishing of regular returns to the Minister regarding oil purchases, sales, consumption, imports and exports by oil companies, oil consumers and NORA. The Bill provides for the monitoring of compliance by oil companies and consumers with its provisions. The legislation also revokes the European Communities (Minimum Stocks of Petroleum Oils) Regulations 1995.
These are the main provisions in the legislation and they are very important in dealing with this issue. It is important in considering this Bill that we wake up to the future and examine alternative energy sources.
I strongly welcome some of the radical proposals that have been put forward concerning wind and sea as sources of power, as well as other sensible alternatives. On an island such as Ireland, great potential exists to invest in renewable energy, particularly wind farms, and people must accept that this is a clean, positive and constructive form of energy. I do not accept the criticisms from those who complain about the locations of wind farms because wind energy is a very sensible option that should be developed further. I acknowledge that we have made a start and that objectives have been put in place, but we must do far more in the future. Wind can be a major source of energy and we have a climate that is ideally suited to its use. This is the sensible way forward.
We must also be radical with regard to oil and gas. We need a national vision to deal with these resources. I do not accept the power that many oil companies seem to have, whether it be in Ireland, Nigeria or Latin America. I urge people, when they are examining natural resources such as oil and gas, to consider the sensible ideas coming from countries in South America. They are dealing very constructively with their oil resources and distributing it to the poorer sections of their communities. I am referring, in particular, to Venezuela, which has shown a clear vision and is using its wealth for its people. The government there is building houses in the ghettoes, providing people with health care and has even offered low-cost oil to poor people in the United States of America. That is the kind of international co-operation that we should be examining in this debate. It is also the kind of sensible vision which bodes well for the future.
The Corrib gas field in County Mayo is an important issue in this debate. Deputies are aware that there is a major dispute going on in that area. I make no apology for supporting the people who want our gas resources in the control of the Irish people and who also want proper safety measures put in place. I commend people like the Rossport five for their efforts. Perhaps it is not trendy, politically correct nor fashionable to say that at present, but they have sent out a very strong message. They are not just concerned about safety issues but also about the way our natural resources are distributed. Offers of an additional payment of €10,000 have been made to land owners on the route of the pipeline in recent days. My colleague, Deputy Cowley, has been very strong in his position and I commend and support him on the issue.
Many people in the national media, some of those in Government and the oil companies are running negative campaigns against the protesting families in Mayo. The reality, according to a recent opinion poll, is that 61% of people in the local community support them 100%, despite the massive pressure being exerted. The message from the protestors is that they want complete safety for the local people and a clear, well-thought out policy on our natural resources and how they are used. In the context of the recent large increases in the price of oil and gas, we must wake up to the reality that, with Corrib, we are sitting on a goldmine. That goldmine should be used for the benefit of the consumers and citizens of this country.
Section 8 of the legislation sets out the principal functions and powers of the national oil reserves agency. In the explanatory memorandum, the agency's primary functions are defined as "the maintenance of strategic oil reserves to meet Ireland's obligations to the EU and the IEA, the collection of a levy on petroleum products, the provision of advice to the Minister on any matter relating to its functions and representation of the state at meetings of international bodies". The memorandum further explains that section 10 "is a standard feature which provides that the authorized share capital of NORA will be decided by the Minister for Finance after consulting with the Minister".
Section 14 is relevant to the debate we had in the House earlier. It provides for a board of six directors who, with the exception of the chief executive, will be appointed by the Minister. According to the explanatory memorandum "Directors appointed by the Minister are required under subsection (2) to have experience and competence in one of the following areas: oil or oil related industries, chemical or chemical related industries, finance, economics, legal matters and energy production and supply industries.” In the context of the recent row, I would question the competence of some of the people who were appointed by the Taoiseach to State boards.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is important that we accept and acknowledge that the natural energy resources of oil and gas of this country belong to the people. There should be no surrender on this issue. Oil and gas are national resources which should be managed and owned by the people on the island of Ireland, North and South. I commend the cross-Border initiatives aimed at linking both parts of the island in a one-island economy.