Other Questions

Independent Broadcasting Sector

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether independent broadcasters should receive a share from the licence fee or the new broadcasting charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35028/13]

At the outset, I acknowledge the contribution of the independent radio sector in bringing diversity to the airwaves and serving the needs of communities, often at a very local level. Having said that, it needs to be borne in mind that these stations were established as commercial entities. Station owners sought and accepted licences on clear terms, which included a limited amount of public service-type content. In many cases, their success in the licence application process was assisted by the voluntary commitments they gave regarding the provision of public service-type content, over and above that required by the relevant legislation. The licences were accepted in full knowledge of the current system of public funding. It is certainly regrettable that some of these stations are experiencing an understandable degree of financial stress. While that is a cause for concern, it does not mean the State should step in and provide funding. They are and remain commercial enterprises. It should also be noted that their popularity in the communities they serve is, in many cases, a distinct result of the local news content and current affairs programming they provide. That, in turn, gives them a strong advertising presence and thus earning potential.

The rationale for providing State funding for public service broadcasters is to provide an independent and reliable income flow that allows these corporations to attain their statutory public service objects while ensuring they can maintain editorial independence. This is especially important in the context of news and current affairs. The overall aim of public service broadcasting is to provide services and content which cater for all interests in society, while ensuring the varied elements of Irish culture and its intrinsic values are protected. Through the obligations placed on the public service broadcasters, which are explicitly set out in legislation passed by the Oireachtas, and through the criteria for the funding of content through the Sound and Vision scheme, the production of quality indigenous programming and the production of minority interest programming is strongly promoted. Over the last number of years, there have been calls from a wide range of media organisations regarding the future distribution of licence fee funding.

I am committed to the introduction of the proposed public service broadcasting charge, which will be household-based. The extent of the additional funding which may be yielded by this measure is unclear. As the charge will replace the TV licence, the first obligation of the revenue from the charge will be to ensure adequate funding for public service broadcasting. Therefore, before considering any wider distribution of public funds than that which applies at present, I would have to be convinced that such a distribution would represent a sound proposition in terms of policy for the sector and would not be to the ultimate disadvantage of public service broadcasters. I should clarify that if I were minded to provide public moneys to private investors, EU state aid rules would apply. It is categorically not possible for the State simply to decide to fund a set of incumbent licence holders during a licence period. Such a move, quite apart from the reaction of the European authorities, would expose the State to the risk of litigation from other operators who may have considered applying for a licence if such a revenue stream had been available.

I recognise and value the work done by RTE and TG4. In general, their broadcasting is of a very high standard. Local radio provides a public service, particularly in areas that cannot access RTE services. I would not argue that State funding should be made available to fund private broadcasting enterprises. However, I think there are community groups and projects that could do with exposure to the wider community. I ask the Minister to consider engaging with communities and supporting them in getting their message out via local radio. I also ask him to consider assisting not-for-profit community radio stations like Near FM in Dublin that provide a public service.

I agree with what the Deputy has said. Local radio is very important. It is quite remarkable that the regional radio stations have 60% of the audience. They provide public service content of merit, above and beyond what the legislation requires.

They have a tremendously loyal audience and perform a very important role, as Deputy Colreavy notes. I spoke at the annual conference of the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland this year and met with people from Near FM. They put certain propositions to me in respect of the issues raised by the Deputy, including the question of representation for local community radio on the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. I assured them that I would be happy to look at that.

The social content of what independent local radio stations do must be applauded because they have contributed enormously to vulnerable and elderly people. Is the report on RTE by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland imminent within the next couple of weeks? When is it likely to be published?

RTE is probably as commercial as any other television and radio broadcaster in the country so I find it very difficult to understand why the European Commission would look upon RTE as being totally different. I know my own radio station in Kildare, KFM, covers a huge amount of local and national issues. Perhaps when the next round of licences is published, the Minister might broaden it so that some form of subvention can be given to some of these stations that provide vital services in their local communities.

I can tell Deputy Moynihan that I intend at 4 p.m. today to lay the report of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland before both Houses. Under the 2009 Act, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is required to produce a fundamental review of funding for public service broadcasting as against the statutory objects in the Act that are on the public service broadcasters. This is the first time this has happened since 2009. The authority produced the report for me and I brought it to Government yesterday. It will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. If the spokespersons want a briefing or material on it, I will be glad to provide them.

In response to Deputy Lawlor's statement that RTE is as commercial as anyone else, I agree with what he said about KFM. However, it is not accurate to say that RTE is as commercial as any other station and, therefore, there is an issue regarding State aid for it or private commercial broadcasters. Under the legislation establishing RTE and as it has evolved since then, there are a number of impositions on RTE and TG4 that they must statutorily perform. Those impositions do not apply to private commercial television or independent radio. They are laid down by law. In the 2009 Act, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is required to measure the performance against those statutory impositions and see whether public funding is adequate.

RTE has been run on a dual-funded model since it was founded, in other words, through the TV licence and commercial revenue. There is significant evasion in respect of the TV licence fee of the order of €30 million. In addition to evasion, technology means that many people are accessing RTE material on their iPhone or iPad. The collapse in commercial revenue is hugely significant. It has come down by €84 million since 2008. The reason for that is not just the recession but the fact that a large proportion of the advertising budget is migrating online. At the end of last year, something like 20% of the advertising budget went online to companies that can target segments of the audience to whom they want to sell product. I must look at the question raised by Deputy Lawlor in the context of the debate that will take place following the laying of the two reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am aware of the argument he makes for the independent broadcasting sector.

Renewable Energy Generation Targets

John Halligan

Ceist:

7. Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to reach the EU targets set for increasing renewable energy here [28076/13]

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

11. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether Ireland will reach its 2020 target for renewable energy; if this target this will be surpassed; and if so, by how much; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35024/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 11 together.

The 2009 EU renewable energy directive set Ireland a binding target where at least 16% of our energy requirements should come from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet our overall 16% requirement, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand, 12% of heating and 10% of transport from renewable sources. Although these targets are challenging, I am confident they can be met. My Department's strategy for renewable energy for the 2012 to 2020 period sets out the key strategic goals for the various renewable energy sectors in the context of Ireland's EU obligations.

In addition, under the directive, Ireland is required to set out in a national renewable energy action plan, NREAP, the trajectory towards meeting its legally binding targets. The NREAP and the first progress report on the NREAP, which are available on my Department's website, show the sectoral and technology breakdown that we anticipate in the achievement of our target. By the end of 2011, we had reached 6.4% of overall energy consumption from renewable sources and the trajectory set out in the NREAP assumes that we will achieve the 16% target incrementally at approximately 1% per annum.

To date, wind energy has been the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. In 2012, 15.5% of Ireland's electricity demand was met by wind generation. By the end of the first quarter of 2013, 1,763 MW of wind generation capacity was connected to the grid. At the end of May this year, the total amount of renewable generation capacity connected to the grid was just over 2,000 MW. It is estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of renewable generation capacity will be required to allow Ireland meet its 40% renewable electricity target.

Under the gate 3 grid connection process, grid connection offers have now issued to just under 4,000 MW of renewable generation, the bulk of which is wind. I understand that gate 3 acceptances are scheduled to complete in October this year. These acceptances will give further momentum to meeting the renewable generation target.

There are a number of policy measures in place designed to incentivise the development necessary to meet Ireland's renewable energy obligations. The primary support mechanisms for renewable electricity are the renewable energy feed-in tariff, REFIT, schemes. These schemes are designed to provide certainty to renewable electricity generators by providing them with a minimum floor price for each unit of electricity exported to the grid over a defined period. Using a fixed feed-in tariff mechanism, the certainty afforded by a guaranteed minimum price allows developers to access finance for renewable developments.

In the second round of REFIT – REFIT 2, a total of 4,000 MW can be supported. In order to ensure the necessary incentives are in place to encourage the level of investment required to maintain the rate of build of onshore wind necessary to meet our national target for renewable electricity, earlier this year I decided to amend the terms of REFIT 2 to extend the closing date for applications to 31 December 2015, with projects required to be built by the end of December 2017. Support under REFIT 2 cannot exceed 15 years and will not extend beyond the end of December 2032.

The REFIT 3 support for biomass combined heat and power, CHP, technologies, is supporting progress on our renewable heat target. Measures such as the bio-fuel obligation scheme to increase the use of bio-fuels and the electric vehicle grant scheme to incentivise the purchase of new electric vehicles are the mechanisms being used to achieve our target for renewable transport.

Policy interventions through the ReHeat scheme, energy efficiency schemes, building regulations, REFIT 3 and CHP and natural market migration to renewable heating technologies will deliver the majority of the 12% renewable heat target.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In addition, later this year I will publish a national bioenergy strategy which will further outline the role energy from biomass will play in contributing to the achievement of our national targets and, in particular, the target for the heat sector.

With regard to Ireland's potential to produce renewable electricity beyond the level required by the 2020 target, expert advice suggests Ireland has the capability to achieve our national targets for renewable electricity from onshore renewable generation alone. However, it is widely recognised that Ireland has an excellent and abundant renewable energy resource which has the potential to produce amounts of renewable electricity significantly in excess of the amounts required to meet our 2020 target. It is in this context the opportunity to harness this resource for the export market, and realise its potential for investment, job creation and economic growth, has been identified and is being pursued with the UK Government.

A number of microprojects cannot progress because of the cost of connecting to the national grid. Individually they are small fry but together a number of such microprojects have the potential to contribute fairly significantly to renewable energy in Ireland. Will the Minister speak to the ESB with a view to having realistic connection charges for small microsuppliers?

Microgeneration has been a problem in the country. The ESB was the only supplier prepared to take it on board and the uptake was not great. I suppose if it were commercially viable the others would be doing it also. Given the step-down in economic activity we have experienced in recent times there is not a big demand at present. We are examining the question of microgeneration and we are in discussion with the stakeholders. It will take a little time.

Hydraulic Fracturing Policy

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

8. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if in view of the fact that a company (details supplied) holds a 100% prospecting licence in the Clare basin, an area of 495 sq. km which includes the entire Loop Head peninsula, and that it now plans to apply for a shale gas exploration licence, his views on the compatibility of sustainable tourism and fracking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30944/13]

Three onshore licensing options were granted by the previous Minister of State at the Department, Conor Lenihan, in February 2011 immediately prior to the general election. Two were over parts of the north west carboniferous basin of Lough Allen and one was over parts of County Clare. These licensing options conferred upon the holders the first right to apply for an exploration licence. I can confirm that two of the three companies have submitted applications for a follow-on exploration licence.

The Government has made it clear that any application for an exploration licence for hydraulic fracturing as part of unconventional gas exploration would be subject to an environmental impact assessment. It has also made clear that such assessment would be informed by the findings of further research to be commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and that absolutely no decision would be made on any proposal for the use of hydraulic fracturing in exploration drilling in Ireland until there has been time to consider the outcome of this further research.

Earlier this year the EPA announced the draft terms of reference for the more extensive second stage of its research, the final results of which are expected in early 2015. The key questions to be addressed by this research are whether this technology can be used while fully protecting the environment and what the best environmental practice in using this technology might be.

I wrote to the EPA on this when the terms of reference were published. I am not at all happy adequate socio-economic impact analysis has been done on hydraulic fracturing, including on the impact on the tourism and agrifood industries. Last year, the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, very graciously came to us in north Leitrim and we went up Boleybrack Mountain to see a red grouse management project. When we were on top of Boleybrack Mountain I pointed over to Thur Mountain, which is a beautiful hillside, and told the Minister it would be the centre of fracking if it is allowed in Ireland and asked him to imagine a tourist coming to look at an industrial wasteland. The Minister's honest answer was that he could not imagine a tourist doing so. I think the very same about the Clare basin. I am not at all convinced the work which will come from the EPA will include the detailed socio-economic research and analysis required before a decision of such import is made for the people of Cavan, Leitrim, Sligo, Clare and Donegal.

Hydraulic fracturing is not an industrial wasteland. I have been to the United States and looked at a site after hydraulic fracturing had taken place and it looks like any normal rural landscape. The assessment which must take place must consider the potential impact of the project on the population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, the architectural and archaeological heritage, the landscape and the interrelationship between all of these factors. Under an EU directive it will not be possible to permit any such project unless it can be determined following assessment that it would not have an unacceptable environmental or social impact. The findings of this EPA research will provide a benchmark for assessment of these requirements. More than 1,308 submissions were received and are being considered. It is expected a call for tender will issue shortly in this regard. We must deal with facts and science in the issues raised. It is wrong to raise issues about industrial wastelands when no such facts exist anywhere.

The Taoiseach was generous in his praise of fracking in Pennsylvania last January 12 months. I have letters in my file from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection advising people the waters were poisoned and there was a risk of explosion in their houses because of escaping methane gas. I ask the Minister of State not to lecture me on hydraulic fracturing. Nobody is speaking to the people who were affected by fracking in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the United States. The Government is speaking to industrialists and those making money from it but not to the people affected by it, who are the very people the Government should be speaking to because they are the type of people who will be hit here.

I spoke to the environmental secretary in Pennsylvania, the person charged with this, about the issue. We must deal with facts, and we will not have the facts until the research is done. All of the issues the Deputy mentioned including the people, the population, the economic conditions, the flora, fauna, the archaeology, the heritage and the landscape are being studied and this is a fact. This is the only fact, and until we have the report, which will not happen until 2015, no decision will be made. People must understand and appreciate this fully, absolutely and categorically. Nothing will happen until this report is in and no other application will be considered by the Department in the meantime. I want absolute clarity on this.

Energy Regulation

John McGuinness

Ceist:

9. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether there is enough flexibility for consumers in the energy market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35035/13]

Responsibility for the regulation of the electricity and natural gas market is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is an independent statutory regulator. I am very mindful of the importance of well-functioning energy markets for business and domestic consumers. The Government remains firmly committed to increasing competition as the best means of exerting downward pressure on prices in the electricity and gas markets in Ireland. There is competition in both markets, with many players competing in the wholesale and retail segments of the electricity market and in the retail segment of the gas market. New players have moved into the various segments over the years, which is a welcome development, and which has increased competition.

The regulator has issued eight licences in the electricity and gas supply sectors. The competitive market gives consumers considerable flexibility in choosing their energy suppliers. Furthermore, the regulator's simple switching process and the accredited independent price comparison websites, bonkers.ie and uswitch.ie help consumers to identify the electricity and gas products and price plans best suited to them.

Business and domestic consumers can choose from a range of suppliers in electricity and gas. They can avail of the various competitive products and services, including discounts, on offer from a number of supply companies. I urge customers to shop around to enable them obtain the most beneficial package suited to their particular needs.

A number of issues arise in terms of the flexibility for all businesses. Arrears is one issue and another is customers who wish to move. Issues also arise in connection with the price increase. The argument has been made in committee meetings with the energy regulator. The industry and people with small businesses have informed us that only three countries in the EU - Cyprus, Greece and Italy - had higher price increases than this country. One could ask why that is the case. It is constantly said that not enough is being done about price. We have had the argument about price increases with the regulator. The ESB is one of the major electricity producers and it has made considerable profits. It is difficult to explain the position to people who are trying to work through arrears of up to €500 when they know they could get a cost reduction by shifting their business elsewhere. There must be more flexibility within the system.

Eight suppliers operate in the electricity market and there are coincidentally eight active suppliers licensed by the regulator in the gas market. For a country our size there is certainly adequate competition, but as the Deputy fairly points out, energy prices in this country are high. That is partly because we are an isolated island that has not generated any of its own fuel in terms of oil or gas to any persistent or regular extent.

There is a practice involved of debt flagging in terms of switching providers. Switching has been significant. There must be a system of debt flagging because otherwise there is the phenomenon known as debt hopping. In other words, one accumulates arrears and then one switches to a different supplier. That must be taken on board as well and acknowledged that it is a problem. Some 250,000 customers switched their electricity supplier in 2012. They were composed of 215,000 domestic customers, 33,500 small businesses, 3,000 medium businesses and 231 large energy users. In the gas market, 110,000 customers switched, almost 17%. They were composed of 106,000 domestic customers and 3,867 business customers. There is competition.

Deputy Moynihan is correct; the profits of the supply companies seem to be large. In the case of the State companies where we have some say as shareholder, of course investment is needed to maintain the system. The capital investment in the ESB alone this year will be €888 million. It is a huge spend that does benefit the economy and whereas the profits might seem large, investment must be made in order to continue to modernise and build out the transmission system.

Energy Security

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

10. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the recently published plans in the UK for energy rationing; if he foresees any such plans being required here; the long-term plans he has to ensure energy security here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35050/13]

The energy regulator for Great Britain, Ofgem, published its most recent annual electricity capacity assessment on 27 June. It analysed security of supply in Great Britain over the forthcoming five winters. It shows that the buffer between peak demand and supply could be lower than previously expected and proposed for consultation certain measures to address this issue. This report and the associated proposed measures were publicised by elements of the British media in terms of planning for energy rationing. However, I understand that there are no plans in the UK for energy rationing. I read in a newspaper today of reports that the Government is back-tracking on its commitments in the national broadband plan.

I assure the House that there is no basis for such reportage, nor is it true in this case that there is rationing planned for the UK.

In contrast, the latest, All-Island Generation Capacity Statement for 2013-22, published in January this year, forecast that the adequacy situation in this country is positive for the next ten years. Indeed there is a considerable generation surplus forecast for the Irish electricity system. In terms of long term plans for energy security, Ireland’s approach is to diversify fuels and supply sources. The use of indigenous gas and access to gas and liquefied natural gas storage will enhance diversity. Continuing to develop indigenous renewable electricity is also a key strategy in ensuring supply diversity and supports are in place to ensure we attain our 2020 target of having 40% of electricity generated from renewable sources.

The network companies, ESB Networks, EirGrid, BGE and Gaslink, will continue to improve the resilience of our electricity and gas networks in their development plans. These actions will continue to enhance our long term energy security. Moreover, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which is funded and assisted by my Department has, over the past decade, been very proactive in maximising energy efficiency. Several successful initiatives have been undertaken and continue. New initiatives are also being considered which will further improve the efficiency of energy consumption. As well as enhancing long term energy security, we must be mindful of the potential for unexpected short-term disruption to energy supplies and in that regard there are detailed operational plans in place. In the unlikely event of a major disruption EirGrid and Gaslink would implement their respective emergency plans to deal with the situation.

Although the Minister said in his reply that nothing could be further from the truth, when one reads the article and the reference to preparing for energy rationalisation-----

We are at cross-purposes. Deputy Moynihan referred to rationalisation but he meant rationing.

Yes. I beg the Minister’s pardon. A couple of issues arise. Are any energy shortage shocks foreseen in the short term or long term in the information received by the Minister from the various bodies? How strenuous have the stress tests been that have taken place? Is the Minister satisfied that the sale of Bord Gáis will not create any difficulty for the energy market in the short, medium or long term?

Touch wood, but I think I can give the Deputy the assurance he seeks in the sense that no such circumstances are envisaged. That said, we are at the end of the pipeline. We are a remote island on the verge of Europe and we saw what happened only a couple of winters’ ago when Russia turned off the pipeline. The Deputy is asking me to look into a crystal ball. In terms of our capacity to meet market demand at the moment and for the foreseeable future, unless there were some kind of cataclysmic event affecting supply from the neighbouring island, no such set of circumstances are foreseen.

I can assure the Deputy that in respect of the privatisation of the energy division of Bord Gáis Éireann, it should have no impact on security of supply because the State will retain ownership and control of the networks in this country, even if Bord Gáis Éireann has a different name at that time. That ought not to be an issue.

I agree with the Deputy that our people generally take for granted that there is no need to be concerned about energy security. They presume that, when they plug in kettles in the morning or turn on switches at night, there will be light and that the kettles will boil. Energy security must be a concern. Yesterday, I met the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, the body responsible for the acquisition and storage of critical oil supplies to meet our 90-day target. It has made tremendous progress in recent times, with 71% of oil stocks being stored in this jurisdiction for the first time ever. Even five years ago, that figure was 43%. Gradually, NORA has built up to 71% of our critical oil stocks needs being sourced in this jurisdiction.

I do not trivialise the question. This is a serious issue, but people would only acknowledge it as being critical if it arose.

With the new Paul O'Connell adverts, this matter is under discussion. People are of the opinion that the supply is endless. There should be an awareness of energy conversation.

A figure was mentioned as regards oil and so forth. The Minister has met various stakeholders. According to the ESB, 40% of its usage was from wind energy at one stage in its production. Can this figure be sustained or does it reflect a low usage point? If it is accurate, is a long-term strategy possible?

There is a limit technically on what the grid can take. The overall target is 40% from renewables, meaning wind in the main, by 2020. I am unsure as to the proportion in the case of the ESB alone, but the extent of reliance on renewables will gradually grow between now and 2020.

Is it not a fact that, at one point-----

I am sorry, but we have gone way over time on this question. I must move on.

-----40% of energy usage was-----

From renewables in terms of generation.

I would be reluctant to agree with that statement without checking it, but I will check it and communicate with the Deputy.

I thank the Minister.

Off the top of my head, most of the power generation stations would not seem to bear out that statement.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 7.

Renewable Energy Generation Issues

Clare Daly

Ceist:

12. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he is satisfied that the ocean energy development unit, OEDU, which has been reduced to two part-time staff, can adequately support indigenous Irish wave energy developers. [34276/13]

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating the Deputy. I am sure she will remember him at Christmas.

We have just two minutes left.

Wave and tidal energy technology is still at the research, development and demonstration stage globally. Ireland has a rich ocean resource and significant potential in this regard. In order to take forward the ocean energy strategy, the OEDU was established in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, in 2009. This unit has been taking forward the development of the sector through administration of a prototype development fund of grants for industry. The SEAI has also been progressing the development of a full-scale grid-connected wave test site near Belmullet, County Mayo, which would complement existing wave testing facilities such as the wave tank in Cork and the quarter-scale wave testing site in Galway Bay.

The Government recognises the potential of our indigenous wave energy resource and the research and development and job potential in this area. In the context of overall reducing budgets, the capital allocation for the ocean energy programme was increased to €5 million for 2013, bringing the cumulative amount of expenditure on ocean energy in the period 2009-13 to almost €21 million. The offshore renewable energy development plan, which will, inter alia, address resources for the sector, is being finalised and will be published following approval by the Government.

In terms of staffing, my Department and all of the agencies under its aegis must operate within the employment control framework put in place by the Government with the aim of reducing public sector employment numbers over time. To assist this process, workforce action plans are used to match resources with business policy needs. Staff allocation within the SEAI is in the first instance a matter for the chief executive in the context of the agency's workforce action plan.

The Minister used to have four full-time staff working in this area, but now he is down to two. They also have other responsibilities, resulting in telephone calls and e-mails on the issue of ocean development not being answered.

There is potential, but large multinationals have their eye on the resources off our shores. Meanwhile, small developers have spent hundreds of thousands of euro of their own money to develop protocols and prototypes, but they have taken that work as far as they possibly can. Should the Minister not bring these small organisations together and work with them, perhaps under the auspices of the ESB, so that we can harness the potential for Ireland's economy instead of allowing the benefit to be hived off to the multinationals? I understand that large Australian multinationals are interested in the development off Belmullet. Would we not be better off supporting our small, indigenous companies?

Wave and tidal energy technology is still at the research stage. Notwithstanding the economic constraints on the Government, we have managed more than to keep the programmes alive. Given our current circumstances and the impact of some of the adjustments that must be made, not everyone would agree that wave and tidal technology ought to be a priority. I agree with the Deputy that wave and tidal energy research could be important for this country. Some international experts affirm the view that we have considerable potential in this regard.

It is true that staffing in the SEAI was reduced from 72 to 55. This is typical of the reductions in staffing that have taken place in various public sector organisations throughout the country, leading to well in excess of 30,000 public servants no longer being in employment in the public sector. We know the history of that and I do not want to go back over it.

However, we have spent €21 million in this area and we have valuable projects extant and being supported. Last week, the Taoiseach turned the sod in Ringaskiddy on the Beaufort Laboratory. This will support the Irish maritime and energy resource cluster, IMERC, facility, which is performing leading edge work and innovation in conjunction with the Naval Service and University College Cork.

We are managing to keep these initiatives afloat, if the Deputy will forgive the pun. Doing so is extremely difficult, given the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I am afraid our time has expired.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.