Priority Questions

Television Licence Fee Collection

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

90. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when the new broadcasting charge will be introduced; the possibilities of extending the revenue from the charge to more than one broadcasting organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10308/13]

The programme for Government commits to examining the role and collection of the television licence fee in the light of the existing and projected convergence of technologies and the transforming of the television licence into a household based public broadcasting charge to be applied to all eligible households and applicable businesses, regardless of the device used to access content or services. In line with this commitment, my Department is involved in the ongoing analysis and policy development work that is necessary in advance of implementation of any change that may be required.

Whatever the system of funding, the rationale for providing funding will continue to apply and any change that may be implemented must continue to provide a secure funding base for public service broadcasting and content. It is also important that any change to the system of funding should take account of the reality of new mechanisms to access such content and services and the pervasiveness of such content in today's society. Publicly funded public service broadcasting and content are now available to everyone on an ever-increasing range of platforms and devices and, in fact, access is not dependent on the ownership of a device. In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.

The replacement of the existing funding system based on the collection of television licence fees with a system based on the imposition of a device-independent charge on eligible households and businesses is a complex process and the logistics involved require thorough attention. Issues such as identifying the most appropriate collection method, exemptions and enforcement mechanics require detailed consideration and all have a bearing on the timeframe for implementation.

As I have previously indicated to the House, the Department is carrying out a value for money policy review, conducted by an independently chaired group, on the proposed policy. I expect to receive a copy of the group's recommendations and report for my consideration at the end of March.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As the Deputy will be aware, revenue derived from the current model of funding is allocated to RTE, TG4 and also to independent broadcasters through the Sound and Vision fund that is operated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI. I am willing to consider proposals from other broadcasting organisations with regard to the future distribution of funding. However, I have yet to be convinced that the distribution of public funds to independent commercial broadcasters represents a sound proposition in terms of policy for the sector. In line with its legislative obligations, the BAI is undertaking a review of the adequacy or otherwise of the public funding provided to public service broadcasters. As part of this review, I have asked the BAI to consider the potential impact on these broadcasters if television licence receipts were further distributed to the independent broadcasting sector.

In terms of any changes, it needs to be understood that many specific rules surrounding the distribution of public broadcasting funding sourced from the TV licence fee have been put in place as a result of the state aid clearance from the European Commission. Any changes would require similar approval. In respect of the specific proposal from independent broadcasters for access to a share of TV licence fee funding, there are several considerations arising. There would be a direct impact on commercial local radio stations in terms of the content they are obliged to produce, and on the finances of individual broadcasters. There would be a potentially significant impact on public service broadcasters that receive public funding. Significantly, this would also apply to other media service providers which are not currently in receipt of public funds. Furthermore, such a proposal raises a potential scenario in which licences that had been advertised as protected national franchises would be changed during the franchise term.

I thank the Minister for his response. We are aware that he intends to introduce a new household broadcasting fee, although it might have some other name. The licence fee that is collected at present is paid exclusively to the State broadcaster. As this country's significant network of local and community radio stations has developed, it has taken a substantial listenership from the State broadcaster. I am talking in national terms. The stations in question have had to make it in the commercial world rather than anywhere else. Has the Minister or anyone else initiated a discussion in the Department on how we can ensure the entire funding does not go to a single organisation, in line with my suggestion that some of it should go to the independent broadcasters?

The answer is "Yes". I have been talking to Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, for example, which has made certain proposals to me in this regard on the basis that their stations broadcast public service content. I am examining its case. A pretty fundamental review by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is under way. It is about to be concluded. I will examine it in this context. It is important to acknowledge that the stations to which Deputy Moynihan refers provide a public service to their respective regions. They are commercial enterprises, however. They were commercial enterprises when they received their licences, which were much sought after. That has to be taken into account in the context of state aid rules, etc. I have discussed this matter with the independent broadcasters. I will examine it further in the context of the review to which I have referred. I will have to be convinced that the case can be made without encountering difficulties, for example at European level.

There is no doubt that community, local and other radio stations provide an important public service. While I accept that they are commercial entities, I must briefly point out that RTE, which receives a significant subsidy from the State, has always been a commercial entity. When the Minister's discussions are taking place, perhaps there should be an examination of where RTE's funding is spent and a recognition of the importance of local radio stations. People across all age groups and demographics have come to rely on local radio stations, which are helping to keep the fabric of our communities together at a time when many other things are happening in our society. There can be no question about it. How realistic is the possibility of getting the agreement of the European Commission in this regard? Is it likely that the state aid difficulties mentioned by the Minister will lead to a logjam that can be negotiated around, or is there a difficulty in this regard?

There is certainly a difficulty in this regard. There is no doubt about it. We will examine whether it can be surmounted. I do not dispute what the Deputy has said about the value of the output of these regional stations, which undoubtedly carry public service content. This is not the only sector from which I get representations looking for a share of the licence fee.

There are others out there, from which one can draw the inference that spreading the butter so thinly would certainly have an impact on the national public service broadcaster, on which there are statutory impositions in respect of discharging its public service function. That would have to be taken into account as well.

Renewable Energy Generation Issues

Michael Colreavy

Ceist:

91. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will introduce a national wind energy strategy that deals with all issues concerning wind turbines and wind energy, including planning, public consultation, taxation and energy supply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10413/13]

The policy of promoting renewable energy in Ireland has been in existence since the mid-1990s, when the alternative energy requirement schemes were introduced. High dependence on imported fossil fuels and the imperative to respond to the challenges of climate change have underpinned the switch to renewable energy. The policy has been reinforced at EU level, most recently with the decision to pursue a separate directive on renewable energy with a legally binding target at member state level. The target assigned to Ireland under the 2009 directive was that 16% of all energy consumption must be from renewable resources by 2020, with a minimum of 10% in the transport sector. The directive required each member state to complete a national renewable energy action plan, NREAP, setting out how the target would be achieved across the heat, electricity and transport sectors. Ireland indicated it would do this with 40% renewable electricity, 10% renewable transport and 12% renewable heat. The action plan also required member states to provide a technological breakdown. Ireland indicated in this that the bulk of its renewable electricity would be delivered by wind. This was underpinned by the Commission for Energy Regulation's Gate 3 direction of December 2008, which provided for sufficient grid connections to a specified list of projects, most of which were wind energy projects, for 40% renewable electricity to be achieved by 2020. The Grid 25 strategy and implementation plans undertaken by EirGrid underpin the Gate 3 roll-out. The Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012-2020, which I published last year, again highlighted the key role wind would play in Ireland’s renewable energy policy.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

At a national level, the NREAP, the Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012-2020, the Gate 3 grid connection direction issued by the CER and EirGrid’s Grid 25 implementation plans underpin the envisaged development of wind energy. At a local authority level, authorities are required to have regard to the wind energy planning guidelines produced by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government when compiling their development plans. Many local authorities produce wind energy strategies as part of this process. The planning process in Ireland provides extensive opportunity for public involvement, including a third party appeals process.

The Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and other Energy Infrastructure, which I published last July, recognises the need for and urgency of new energy infrastructure. It notes that the planning process provides the necessary framework for ensuring that all necessary standards are met and that consultation is built into the process. It also acknowledges the need for social acceptance and for energy project developers to examine appropriate means of building community gain considerations into project planning and budgeting.

In order to ensure that Ireland continues to meet its renewable energy targets while at the same time ensuring that wind energy does not have negative impacts on local communities, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with my Department and other stakeholders, is undertaking a targeted review of certain aspects of the 2006 wind energy guidelines. This focused review is examining the manner in which the guidelines address key issues of community concern, such as noise proximity and shadow flicker. An initial consultation on the revision of the guidelines has been undertaken in recent weeks and all submissions will be considered prior to the publication of a proposed revision.

While the Minister did not get to finish all of his reply, I would have been happier if he had just acknowledged that this country does not have a strategy for renewable energy. What he has described is an action plan with targets, but that is not a strategy. We urgently need a strategy and, from that, to develop a set of policies in the whole area of renewable energy, whether it is wind energy, hydroelectricity, or wave, tidal or biomass energy. We need to look at getting community buy-in to the proposals for renewable energy and also consider the economic benefit to the country from such energy. Crucially, we need to look at the potential for job creation in terms of renewable energy-----

Will the Deputy frame a question, please?

Will the Minister consider setting up an expert group to consider this issue, and particularly whether we should be encouraging the building of turbines in this country? Must we always respond to the diktats of those coming in to set up these industries? Should we not take the initiative, and would that not form part of a strategy? Can we have a strategy and a resulting set of policies rather than a statement of intent with target dates?

The last thing I want to do is to increase Deputy Colreavy's level of unhappiness, but I have to say to him that what I have just put on the record of the House is that we do indeed have a very refined strategy in this area, and I refer him back to the Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012-2020, which I published last year. I suggest that Deputy Colreavy cannot take up the position he did when he argued that we cannot let turbines in here or let people come in to provide jobs in that fashion.

If we applied that to foreign direct investment generally, we would be 120,000 jobs worse off and a great deal of wealth generated and the development of a professional managerial core would be lost to the country. Deputy Colreavy should go back and read the strategy and accept that what I am seeking to do is to exploit the fact that we have a valuable indigenous resource that is renewable. That resource can be exploited to create jobs and wealth in this jurisdiction.

There is nothing unusual about a process of development that creates a product or service for export. That is as old as trade itself. In the past, we have not been able to export energy for a variety of reasons but this is now feasible technically. I agree with Deputy Colreavy that one must be careful and sensitive as to how one goes about that. I hope that will be possible.

I have read the strategy but I see nothing in it that gives me any comfort that the issue of maximising employment potential, income to this State, the potential return of the investment and energy security in the State has been addressed. Of course, there is nothing wrong with exporting energy provided the benefits are accruing to this State. I see nothing relating to that in this strategy. This area needs to be considered urgently.

I do not see how banning turbines would enable jobs to be created here.

I have not asked for that.

The purpose behind what we are doing is using a resource that has not heretofore been exploited in order to create employment, generate earnings for the State and, in the process, diminish our imports in terms of fossil fuels. There is very careful strategic consideration behind what we are doing. It provides the opportunity for a new export sector in Ireland. The scale of it remains to be seen but Deputy Colreavy knows that a number of developers of scale are interested in the agreement I recently signed with my counterpart in London. The signing was in Dublin but I meant my counterpart in the British Government. There are a number of developers of scale who are interested in making that agreement work and, in the process, creating employment here.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

92. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will consider developing a national plan for wind energy development that will provide for investment in projects by a hierarchy of investors to include landowners, local community, citizens, national capital and international capital to ensure that as many citizens as possible may participate in renewable energy for the benefit of the whole of society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10305/13]

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

93. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans for the development of the wind sector; the proportion of Ireland's renewable sector that he anticipates it will occupy; the action he will take to alleviate some of the concerns about an expanding wind sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10307/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 and 93 together.

The policy of promoting renewable energy in Ireland has been in existence since the mid-1990s. High dependence on imported fossil fuels and the imperative to respond to the challenges of climate change have underpinned the switch to renewable energy. This policy has been reinforced at EU level, most recently with the decision to pursue a separate directive on renewable energy with a legally binding target at member state level. The target assigned to Ireland under the 2009 directive was that 16% of all energy consumption must be from renewable resources by 2020 with a minimum of 10% in the transport sector.

The directive required each member state to complete a national renewable energy action plan setting out how the target would be met across the heat, electricity and transport sectors.

Ireland indicated it would achieve this target with 40% renewable electricity, 10% renewable transport and 12% renewable heat.

The national action plan also required member states to provide a technological breakdown. Ireland indicated in this breakdown that the bulk of its renewable electricity would be delivered by wind power. This was underpinned by the Commission for Energy Regulation's Gate 3 direction of December 2008 which provided for sufficient grid connections to a specified list of projects, most of which were wind energy projects, for 40% renewable electricity to be achieved by 2020. The Grid 25 strategy and implementation plans undertaken by EirGrid to underpin the Gate 3 roll-out. The strategy for renewable energy 2012-20 which I published last year again highlighted the key role wind power would play in Ireland's renewable energy policy.

At a national level, the action plan, the strategy for renewable energy 2012-20, the Gate 3 grid connection direction issued by the regulator and EirGrid's Grid 25 implementation plans underpin how it is envisaged that wind energy projects will develop. At local authority level, authorities are required to have regard to the wind energy planning guidelines produced by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government when compiling their development plans. Many local authorities produce wind energy strategies as part of this process. The planning process in Ireland provides extensive opportunities for public involvement, including a third party appeals process.

Wind farms are commercially developed and require both grid connections and planning permission. When a wind farm is developed in a particular location, payments are made to landowners for rental, while rates are paid to local authorities. There can also be additional benefits and employment opportunities for local communities.

A study undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the Western Development Commission of the potential for community ownership of wind farms in Ireland found that communities were likely to run into significant resource difficulties if they attempted to develop 100% community-owned wind energy projects. It found that the most promising investment option that communities could consider was that of participating in commercial projects once such projects had secured planning consent, a grid connection agreement and a contract for the sale of electricity. I note that the tax based business expansion scheme - relief for investment in corporate trades - may provide some options for local communities for investment in commercial wind farms. The Government's policy statement on the strategic importance of transmission and other energy infrastructure which I published last July recognises the need and urgency for new energy infrastructure. It notes that the planning process provides the necessary framework for ensuring all necessary standards are met and that consultation is built into the process.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It also acknowledges the need for social acceptance and the appropriateness of energy project developers examining appropriate means of building community gain considerations into project planning and budgeting. I also note that wind farms of more than 50 turbines or having a total output greater than 100 megawatts fall under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006. The Act provides that the board may attach conditions to an approval. In the use of community gain such conditions can provide for the construction or financing in whole or in part of a facility or the provision or financing in whole or in part of a service in the area in which the proposed development would be situated which, in the opinion of the board, would constitute a substantial gain to the community.

Many wind farms voluntarily include additional benefits to local communities as part of their project developments. I understand the Irish Wind Energy Association which represents a large portion of the wind energy sector intends to issue guidelines to its members, recommending that a minimum annual contribution per megawatt of wind energy installed be provided for local communities for local projects.

In order to ensure Ireland continues to meet its renewable energy targets, while at the same time ensuring wind energy projects do not have negative impacts on local communities, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, in conjunction with my Department and other stakeholders, is undertaking a targeted review of certain aspects of the wind energy guidelines 2006. This focused review is examining the manner in which the guidelines address key issues of community concern such as noise proximity and shadow flicker. An initial consultation on the revision of the guidelines has been undertaken in recent weeks and all submissions will be considered prior to a proposed revision being published.

I thank the Minister for his response, although very little of it dealt specifically with my question, except for the reference to the report of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the Western Development Commission. The nub of the question is that many communities across the country believe wind energy developments are being imposed on them. They do not see any real benefit for them, even though these wind energy projects may be in accordance with national guidelines. I suggest the Minister's Department should devise a policy with a view to ensuring maximum participation by landowners, local communities, citizens and a hierarchy of investment. This would ensure people could have a sense of ownership of the developments and also that a large part of the revenue stream would remain in the State. Developers of scale are gearing up for developments in the midlands which are primarily internationally funded. There will not be very many opportunities for citizens to benefit from the income stream that can be generated by these projects. It is very important to have a policy. I, therefore, ask the Minister to consider drafting a policy to ensure investments can be made and that people can participate and have a sense of ownership of these projects.

I agree with the Deputy that it is important that these developments take place sensitively and, wherever possible, with the consent and support of local communities.

I set out some ways in which communities might become involved. I also set out, in the strategic policy statement to which I refer, possibilities for community gain and community participation. Deputy Pringle is bringing different considerations to bear in this instance from those which he would, for example, apply in respect of an IDA Ireland plant in his constituency. I do not recall too many examples of people in this country walking into the offices of the managing directors of such plants and asking "Can I have 5% of the action and will you build a swimming pool and provide an all-weather pitch down the road?" We should not lose the run of ourselves. What we are doing is taking another national resource and trying to make it work to create employment and generate wealth. That is the object of the exercise and I agree with Deputy Pringle that this must be done in a sensitive manner which is likely to attract the support of local people. Such support is always important. However, I do not believe we should get up on our high horses and seek to impose, in this instance, the type of regime we would not apply in respect of other foreign direct investment coming into Ireland.

There is a major issue with regard to the development of wind farms and this can become a motive for communities. There is a need for a balanced approach and also a clear strategy with regard to how we integrate wind farms into communities. I am aware of examples where wind farms were developed and where difficulties subsequently arose. The Minister's colleague, Deputy Penrose, has a Private Members' Bill relating to this matter before the House. Will the Minister outline his opinion on that legislation? A recent television programme, on which the Minister appeared, dealt with this matter and everyone witnessed the passion and tension among those on both sides of the argument relating to this issue. We have a huge natural resource which must be tapped. We must ensure that we will integrate everyone as we move forward. What is the best technical advice available to the Department regarding the longevity of wind turbines and is it possible that they might last for longer than the 20-year lifespan originally indicated? There is a need to establish a nationwide public forum to discuss how best we might make progress on integration and education.

I do not disagree with very much of what Deputy Moynihan stated. He is correct - and I repeat - that we must proceed with sensitivity. There are always local considerations which must be taken into account. I am very conscious of that fact. On Saturday last in Galway, I met representatives from the organisation known by the acronym CREWE. The full title of the organisation escapes me but it is an alliance of citizens groups concerned about the fair development of wind energy. Deputy Pringle probably knows its exact title. The arguments put forward by the people with whom I spoke were sensible and rational in the main. They are not trying to stop development of wind energy in this country. Rather, they are trying to ensure that such development will not unreasonably cause incursion on their homes.

I accept what Deputy Moynihan said. I tend to think that he has also encountered groups such as that to which I refer throughout the country. Having spoken to the people given responsibility for discharging our plans, I am of the view that the planning guidelines might be examined because many of the questions I, as Minister with responsibility for energy, am asked relate to environmental and planning matters.

The Deputy probably knows that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, have had a public consultation on this issue, which I believe concluded only last week, and they have had a significant degree of response from the community to that public consultation. I presume the Minister of State will soon start to evaluate the various submissions that have come in. We have to proceed conscious of the rights of the community as well.

I was interested in the Minister's response regarding multinationals in my constituency. It might be news to the Minister to know there are no multinationals in my constituency. We would not be imposing on them that they would fund community facilities if they were coming into the constituency; we would be glad to get the jobs. Unfortunately, there would not be as many jobs from wind energy investment. The crucial difference between wind energy and multinationals is that wind energy is our natural resource and the question is about retaining as much of the benefit of that for society and the people and not handing it over to foreign investors for their sole benefit. That should be the aim of our policy and it should be developed in a way that maximises value for our citizens.

To comment on Deputy Penrose's Bill, where wind farms have developed, and this is an environmental issue as well as everything else, the access to the grid has been developed over huge regions and the companies have engaged in consultation with the locals and always encountered difficulties.

An issue arises also about access to the grid which I am aware the energy regulator is examining with regard to biomass and gas fuel stations in Tarbert and Rhode, and in Lumcloon. It is grand for the Minister to say that turbines are being built in a certain place and that people will have access to the grid. My experience is that the turbine planning process and the integration might have gone ahead but access to the grid subsequently became a huge problem.

The entire exercise we are engaged in is to try to crystallise the benefits to Ireland. That is the entire approach behind what we are doing. As I have said publicly previously, I do not have any intention of settling for construction jobs and making the sandwiches. There must be a return to Ireland, and in terms of the smaller wind farms that have been built already there is a return in rates to the local authority. Leasehold arrangements have been entered into with the local landowners and so on but on top of that there has to be part of the renewable benefit that comes back to Ireland. I cannot agree with the depiction of it that we are doing all this for the foreigner. I have read that in some commentary and I have read a great deal of exaggeration about all of this. All of the developers that I have met speak with an Irish accent like Deputy Pringle's or mine. I do not know any of them. Some of them are well known to the Deputy. The notion that we are giving away all our natural resources to Johnny Foreigner went out with the sitcom in which Art Mitchell used to take part. What we are trying to do is industrialise a precious natural resource and create jobs in the process.

On Deputy Moynihan's question, Deputy Penrose's Bill has provided a valuable function in highlighting the issues about which we have had an exchange here.

My view - I think it is also the view of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy O'Sullivan - is that one can most flexibly deal with this by way of refinement and enforcement of the planning guidelines. There are some communities which believe they are enforced differently from one local authority to another and that there is a requirement for them to be enforced, and I agree with that.

Media Mergers

Shane Ross

Ceist:

94. Deputy Shane Ross asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if it is intended that responsibility for the print media will pass to his Department in future legislation. [10325/13]

As Deputy Ross may be aware, at present my primary function in regard to media is directly related to my remit in the broadcasting sector. The responsibility for control of mergers and acquisitions, including those relating to the media in the State, lies with my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. However, legislation is in train in his Department to significantly update the media mergers function and transfer responsibilities in this regard for all media to my Department in the coming months.

Control of mergers and acquisitions is a vital policy area given the central role of the media in our democracy and the potentially harmful effects of an over-concentration of media ownership. The Government is committed to implementing a new set of robust measures that allow for a transparent and objective assessment of the public good in media merger cases, which will be done as quickly as possible. These revised rules will bring the system in operation here up to date and give full effect to the recommendations of the advisory group on media mergers. Under these provisions, my role will be to conduct a statutory test on the effects on plurality of ownership and content of any new merger or acquisition.

At present, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is charged with endeavouring to ensure the provision of open and pluralistic broadcasting services in Ireland. To this end, it operates an ownership and control policy in regard to its licensing of television and radio services. In doing so, the BAI has regard to concentration of media ownership, including print media, in licensing broadcast media.

The primary regulatory structure for the print media in Ireland today is the Press Council of Ireland. As such, this body is recognised in the Defamation Act 2009. However, it is not a State body per se, being funded and organised by the print industry in Ireland. This model of media governance has worked well and has been held up internationally as an example of good practice. As such, there are no proposals before Government for a change in this structure. The operation of a free, independent and responsible media is a key component of our democracy. It is difficult to marry intervention and freedom.

However, it must be recognised that the media business, globally and nationally, is changing dramatically. Newspaper circulation has fallen significantly in recent years, accompanied by a convergence of new and old media on a variety of online platforms. The same can be said, to a degree, for broadcast media. It is far too early to predict what the ultimate implications of these fundamental changes are, either on a general basis or for a small market like Ireland. The Government must continue to ensure a diverse, pluralistic and independent media, however, and will remain open to new measures to that end.

I thank the Minister for his reply and note that he has achieved in the coming legislation something that was never achieved by one of his predecessors, Michael D. Higgins, who is now President of Ireland and who eyed this particular pathway back in the 1990s with some enthusiasm but never got to it. Under his portfolio, the Minister now has an extremely important position in regulating the print media.

I know the Minister's principal role will be to supervise plurality and acquisitions and mergers, but does he have any plan to impose or propose new interventionist measures which would set a standard or charter for the newspapers and introduce a neo-public sector ethos to the private media? In particular, now that this transfer is being made, does he have any plan to introduce privacy laws to control the print media which have been part of some of his colleagues' interests and declarations in recent times?

My colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will bring the refurbishment of competition law to the House during this term. It will transfer the responsibilities referred to by the Deputy to my Department.

On the point about plurality, the review group examined this issue and the law will reflect the importance the Government attaches to diversity of ownership and content because of the impact the media have on the character of public discourse and our democracy.

I do not have plans to introduce a privacy law. There is a widespread view in the House on occasion that such a Bill ought to be brought before the House. When the Press Council of Ireland was being established, the then Minister for Justice and Equality made it plain that he was prepared to legislate if the necessity arose. Presumably, the Bill he prepared is still lying around. I agree with my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, that some commentary in the media does not appear to be able to distinguish between privacy and prurience, but I do not believe the answer is a legislative measure on privacy. That would be an unwarranted interference with the media. Before or after the transfer of these functions to me, that will continue to be my view.

I welcome the Minister's reply. I do not understand why the Minister for Justice and Equality is involved in this issue if it is not for his Department to be involved, but I take it that the proposals of the Minister for Justice and Equality for a privacy law are now a dead duck and that the Minister will investigate where they are lying around and ensure they are not allowed to do so for much longer.

With a Minister for Justice and Equality as dynamic as the current holder of that office, it would be very foolish to presume his legislative schedule might be abridged in any way by considerations such as those the Deputy raises.

The Press Council of Ireland has worked well. One can say it has not yet had a severe enough test, but in so far as I can observe, it has done a good job. Lord Justice Leveson came to Dublin to learn more about the peculiar construct we have in Ireland and I understand he was impressed.

The protections afforded by the fact that it is rooted in defamation legislation are very important. The fact that he has conferred approval on its reputation to date should not be ignored. If it is working and not broken, why try to fix it?