Financial Implications of the Petroleum and Other Minerals (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018: Discussion

This meeting is to examine the financial implications of the Petroleum and Other Minerals (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and his officials to this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I remind members, witnesses and visitors in the Gallery to turn off their mobile phones or to switch them onto flight mode. I invite the Minister of State to give his opening statement.

I thank the committee for the invitation to appear here today. I will cover the policy implications of the People Before Profit Petroleum and Other Minerals (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018, the steps the Government is taking following on from the recent all-party climate report and the declaration of a climate emergency. I will then remark on the financial implications of the Bill.

As part of its role in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, Ireland has a target of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. All credible models, such as those contained in the work done by the International Energy Agency, IEA, the European Commission and University College Cork, UCC, show that in meeting the Paris objectives there will still be a need for some oil and, particularly, gas out to 2050. As a Government, we must plan for how we are going to source that energy for our citizens. If we know and accept that we need some oil and gas during the transition to a low-carbon economy, then there are several clear benefits of using indigenous sources over imported sources. There will be a less harmful impact on the environment, as energy does not have to be moved over long distances. The State will get a tax return, which can be up to 55% in the case of the most recent licensing terms. There can also be energy security benefits in using the Kinsale and Corrib gas fields. The tax income accrued from indigenous sources could be re-invested in the energy transition by helping with the extensive capital investments we must put towards renewable energy and energy efficiency. That is particularly the case regarding our heating and transport systems.

Regarding energy security, Europe accounts for approximately 15% of the world’s demand for oil and gas. In respect of the world’s proven energy reserves, however, Europe, including Norway, accounts for less than 1% of oil and approximately 3% of natural gas reserves. On the other hand, the Middle East and Russia hold over 70% of proven gas reserves. In essence, this Bill will not keep fossil fuels in the ground; it will mean they are taken out of the ground a long way from Ireland, with all the known disadvantages of doing so.

Turning to action being taken by the Government, a number of steps have already been embarked upon. The all-of-Government climate plan, which will shortly be finalised, will set out how this Government intends to make Ireland climate resilient across our entire society. This will involve setting climate goals in all key sectors, including electricity, agriculture, transport, industry, buildings, waste and the public sector. The plan will lead to a significant step-up in policy ambition and delivery to ensure that we at least meet our 2030 targets and get on a clear pathway to meeting our 2050 objectives. It is clear that the development of offshore wind can be a game-changer in helping Ireland reach its ambitious target of 70% renewable electricity by 2030. This must be the focus of our efforts and doing so will put us in a position to take steps such as that proposed in this Bill.

Moving to the specific financial implications, as committee members are no doubt aware, the Ceann Comhairle has determined that a money message is required for this Bill to progress. The background to this position is that on 31 October 2018 the Oireachtas Library and Research Service reported a direct Exchequer cost estimate of between €8 million and €50 million. On 26 November 2018, I expressed my concerns regarding the financial implications of this Bill in a letter to this committee ahead of its meeting to consider a scrutiny report. I then wrote to the Ceann Comhairle on 8 May 2019 to detail my concerns regarding the financial implications of the Bill and requested further consideration of a money message.

The costs set out in my letter included those that are immediately quantifiable, such as the refund of application and licensing fees. Financial implications would also be incurred if this Bill were to be passed because it would be necessary to prepare for a likely legal challenge from existing licence holders. Other financial implications, which are difficult to assess at this point, include likely compensation to be paid to licence holders. Also to be taken into consideration is the lost potential revenue to the State in the form of direct tax revenue. That lost potential revenue could be used to fund the energy transition and taxes arising from economic activity associated with this development.

If there is an impact on the Exchequer, then I am bound to make that known. I also note that since this Bill was introduced, we have new protocols in place that give helpful clarity to all concerned on these processes in future. The Government has indicated that it is opposed to this Bill. It does not reduce Ireland’s emission, it does not encourage renewable energy and it makes Ireland more dependent on energy imports. It will also oblige us to import all our needs at a time when the Kinsale gas field will soon close and the Corrib field is declining. Within five years, that field will only meet a quarter of our gas demand and will be depleted entirely in approximately ten years.

I thank the Minister of State. Senator McDowell indicated first but I might bring in Deputy Bríd Smith now. It is her party's Bill. I will then call members in the order they indicated.

I have no problem with that.

I call Deputy Bríd Smith.

I do not know how long the Chair is giving me but I have quite a few questions.

That is fine.

I find it shocking that the Minister of State is raising these concerns at this late stage. We have had three opportunities to have lengthy debates on this Bill. I find it insulting, as well as shocking, that he is raising these concerns now. I do not take it personally. It is insulting, however, to the thousands of children who went on strike and the movement that organises and mobilises daily to try to get this Government to do something meaningful to deal with the global corporations that inflict the greatest damage on the planet. That is why we want to see fossil fuels left in the ground. I reiterate that the science is settled on the fact that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.

What does the Minister of State think that other countries should do with their reserves of fossil fuels? If we are not going to import fossil fuels from those countries, and they are also going to transition towards using renewable energy, does the Minister of State then believe those countries should leave their fossil fuels in the ground but we should not? Will he explain why he thinks that this is an Irish rather than a global issue?

Regarding the seven applications for licences that are on hand, when were those made? If any decisions have been made on those applications by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, when did that happen? I want to tease out how and why the fees these companies paid have to be returned and how that constitutes an appropriation of public money. My view is that those applicants paid fees and now we have to give them back. That is not an appropriation of public moneys. We are returning fees that were already given to the State. It would have a net zero impact on the public purse.

Moving to the repayment of the acreage rental fees, does that figure apply to all existing licences? Does it include the three licences that cover the existing four operating sites? Why does the Department think that it must return these fees? This Bill does not stop the holders of existing licences from continuing to explore. It simply stops the issue of any further licences once carbon in the atmosphere is above 350 parts per million. What, if anything, does a climate emergency mean if it is not that we have to take cognisance of the level of CO2 in the atmosphere? Does that not constitute the basis of an emergency? We have just declared such an emergency in Dáil Éireann. I remind the Minister of State of that fact.

One of the reasons we called this the Petroleum and Other Minerals (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 was not because we had the foresight to know that the Dáil would declare a climate emergency some 18 months after the Bill was introduced. We included "(Climate Emergency Measures)" in the title because we were aware of what happened when the financial crash occurred. Overnight, the Government was on that occasion able to construct financial emergency measures and take pay and pensions, and all sorts of other conditions, away from workers in the public sector.

Many of those punitive measures still exist. We do not seem able to take measures in a climate emergency to deal with fossil fuel corporations, for example, companies like Exxon or the Chinese state corporation, which was actually given a licence by the Minister of State a couple of days after the climate emergency was declared to explore for gas and oil off the Kerry coast. The Minister of State has to explain that contradiction, namely, why the Government can deal with one emergency in one way and another emergency in another. If the Government declared a climate emergency, does that not give it a right to be able to deal with the licences that exist?

The Minister of State talked about an automatic right of progression between licences. We have to challenge that. In the 2007 terms, the criteria for an authorisation are as follows:

[H]aving regard to the authorisation applied for:

(a) the work programme proposed by the applicant;

(b) the technical competence and offshore experience of the applicant;

(c) the financial resources available to the applicant;

(d) the applicant’s policy to health, safety and the environment...

Part (d) is the important one, given it concerns the policy of the fossil fuel industry towards health and safety and the environment we live in. If burning fossil fuels is not already proven to be very damaging to the environment and to the health and safety of everybody on the planet, why would the Minister of State believe he had to give a continuing licence and to move on to the next step? Is that not enough for him to be able to say he is sorry but the company is not entitled to the next step because its policy in regard to the health and safety of the planet is not good enough?

I am sorry for taking so much time. I will finish shortly. In regard to the lease undertakings, the 2007 terms state: "In the event that the licensee is unable to subsequently confirm as commercial the discovery so notified but is of the opinion that it may become commercial and the Minister concurs..." If we are told by the IPCC and by the scientists that, within the next 11 or 12 years, we have to seriously start dealing with the level of fossil fuels we are burning, and if a company says to the Minister of State today that it wants to go out and explore for gas or oil which it can prove to him will be commercially viable, what is commercially viable about a product we have been told we have to stop burning? When it is ready to be burned in 20 years, because it takes that period of time, if we even find it, to extract it, manufacture it and then burn it, is the Minister of State suggesting it will be okay to burn billions of tonnes worth of carbon that have been extracted from the seas off Ireland, and that that will be commercially viable? If we are moving to renewables and to a situation where fossil fuels become a thing of the past, where is the commercial viability in that?

On the petroleum lease, the terms clearly state: "When a Petroleum Lease is applied for under paragraph (1) and the Minister is satisfied by reference to the likely production profile and the applicant's outline development, financial and marketing plans that a commercial discovery has been made, it shall be the duty of the Minister to grant that application." I put the question of commercial viability to the Minister of State again. What is commercially viable about a discovery which in 20 to 25 years time has no place on this planet, given we should not be burning it and should not be using it?

We are in a climate emergency yet all of these applicants want to increase the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by extracting more fossil fuels, whether gas or oil, and we know they are frantically engaged in trying to derail this Bill. We can see from the lobbying register that they are lobbying Senators and Deputies very hard to try to stop this Bill going forward. They continue to want to search our waters for more sources of carbon that they can burn. If this is an emergency, would the Minister of State not agree that we have to move from fossil fuels in the next 11 years? How can this be deemed commercial after a decade or more or, equally, how can it be deemed in the interests of the public or of the environment? The Minister of State has many ways in which he is able to say the applicants do not have to progress to the next stage because that is what the legislation currently states. He just chooses to ignore it.

These companies have no claim on public money for compensation. They have no claim on money even to have the fees returned to them because it is explicit in the terms and conditions that Exxon, Providence or any of the companies that apply to the Minister of State have no claim to the future of our schoolchildren or the future of this planet. They have no right to the global commons in order to pursue their own profits.

I wonder whether the Minister of State will be honest with me and come back on these questions in an honest way, instead of trying to use procedural trickery. The game is up for these companies. It may not be up in Ireland yet but it will be up eventually. The Minister of State needs to go back to the drawing board and think very carefully about what he is asking today in terms of arguing for a money message for this Bill. I would argue, as I said in the Dáil, that given a money message at this level, very little public money would be due to be paid out to these companies. By comparison to the sort of waste this Government and others engage in, it would be doing not just the people of this country a favour but also a huge favour for the planet and the fight for climate action. Based on these figures, I find it unbelievable that the Minister of State thinks this Bill should have a money message. It is unbelievable that it should have it and unacceptable that the Minister of State is bringing it forward at this point in time, when we should be sitting here, discussing how we amend this Bill, how we make it better, who wants to put in what and having a real debate about things like energy security and the future for renewables in this country, instead of this pretend debate, where trickery comes before the genuine concerns of Senators and Deputies about climate action.

I will try to respond as best I can and, as always, honestly. First, I do not know who is lobbying who, but I have not been lobbied, and I want to put that on the record.

Has the Minister of State checked the lobbying register? Has he looked at it?

We will let the Minister answer.

The Deputy mentioned lobbying. I wanted to get it on the record that I have not been lobbied.

With regard to the issuing of a licence, the Deputy said a further licence cannot be issued if such and such does not happen. The licence which I sanctioned two weeks ago was based on the fact there was no reason not to give that licence. The applicant met all of the environmental, financial and regulatory standards it had to meet, so I was not able to not grant that licence. By the way, that is an exploratory licence to drill, not to do anything else. There is terminology we use and it is important to say that.

I was asked why it was today or yesterday that I mentioned the whole idea of a money message. I want to put on record that, as I said in my opening remarks, I first raised this in November, when I said there were financial implications. The adjudication as to whether there is a money message is at the behest of the Ceann Comhairle and he has deemed that a money message is required. These are the facts.

I ask the Minister of State to be honest about this. The Minister of State wrote a four-page letter to the Ceann Comhairle arguing for the money message to be given. The Minister of State should not put the Ceann Comhairle before himself. He wrote the four-page letter.

We will let the Minister answer.

I followed up on my previous notifications that there were financial implications and I notified the Ceann Comhairle in writing. He, not I, made the adjudication that a money message was required.

We have to be very clear when talking about the future, in particular about the next ten, 15 or 20 years. Up to 2050 and beyond, we will have a requirement for fossil fuels. We cannot just say we do not need them. We will need them and, even if we meet our targets in 2030, which would mean a move from 30% of energy produced through renewables to 70%, we still have a gap of 30% to make up. Looking out to 2050 and beyond, the important thing is how we manage that.

As I have said before, the Deputy's Bill is well-intentioned and it is important we recognise that. We also need to recognise that we have an all-of-Government approach to climate action which will be published in the coming weeks.

Within that we should be working to see how we can meet our targets. This Bill is well intentioned but at the end of the day, we have to make sure that we have security of supply. Why should we be looking at this from Ireland's point of view? Fossil fuels are not available in every country. Exports and imports are always in play. Do we want to get our gas or our oil for the next 20 or 30 years from fracked shale gas, from sources of which we have no knowledge, which would be a lot more damaging to the environment, or do we want a security of supply? If we have security of supply, we know how it will come into the country and how it will be used. As well as that, we will gain up to 55% in taxation to help us deliver what we require over the next 30 years, to which everybody aspires.

The Minister of State is fooling himself.

Can we just let the Minister of State continue with his answer, please?

The Deputy mentioned the licensing regime. This is structured in a way where if the company meet its obligations, there is a legal expectation that it will be allowed to proceed. That is what we said about the licence we issued two weeks ago.

On issue of costs, the ceann comhairle has looked at the 12 applications for petroleum exploration authorisations involving the award of eight which are currently under consideration. It should be noted that petroleum organisations may progress from one form to another, for example, from a licensing option converting to an exploration office, converting to a lease undertaking, and finally to production phase in a petroleum lease. One cannot expect a company to do so much work and then tell it cannot go any further unless it is in breach of the regulations or cannot meet the high standards that we have in terms of environmental and financial assessments and all that goes with that. It must fulfil all of the obligations within the licensing regime.

Can I interrupt the Minister of State?

Very briefly.

That is precisely what I mean. If this Bill is passed, the Minister of State, or the next one, has it within his gift to say to a company that it is not meeting the environmental standards that are required, because the licensing regime allows the Minister to stop companies proceeding to the next stage on the basis of their environmental record. If the Bill is passed, it would be looking at the overall atmosphere and the level of parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. These companies would breach that requirement. The Minister of State has it in his gift to say "No", and that the company will go no further, without any legal retribution, because it is written in the law.

When a company makes an application for a licence to do an exploration or a drill, it has to fulfil certain obligations within our jurisdiction. It has to provide the impact statements, the appropriate assessments and the financial guarantees. If having done all of that, and it is adjudicated on, although not by me but by an independent authority, I, or any Minister, would have no reason to say that it cannot proceed.

There is no such thing as a climate emergency. Climate change is not real. Some 350 parts of CO2 per million is not the safe level in the atmosphere.

If we want to work towards that - I will be very honest here - this Bill proposed by the Deputy, as a stand-alone Bill, will do nothing to change our carbon emissions. We need to stand together and ensure we bring forward measures to meet our targets in a managed, strategic way, while at the same time that we do not leave people without light, heat or jobs. We have to balance it in a way that we reach the targets while at the same time, transition in a fair way. That is what we need to do.

If in 20 years' time, gas or oil is found and it is brought to the point of being able to be burned in this country, does the Minister of State not think that allowing these companies to pump billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere would not breach our emissions limits and the whole idea of declaring a climate emergency and trying to deal with it?

To answer that question in the simplest way possible, in 20 years' time, we may be extracting gas out of which we take carbon before we use it. Those technologies is being looked at currently. I cannot speak of the advancements we will have in technologies in 20 years' time, but my and the Government's actions are to try to ensure that we meet the targets for 2030 and 2050 based on a managed transition which will be fair to everybody in society.

It does not make sense.

I call Senator McDowell.

I want to make a couple of things plain. I opposed the Deputy's Bill and remain totally opposed to it for a number of reasons which I want to put on the record and I do not believe that in doing so that I am insulting the environmental movement, the children's initiative or anything of that kind. I think I am looking after those children and their interests in the long term. The simple fact, as the Minister of State has stated again and again, and which Deputy Bríd Smith continues to ignore, is that this country is going to remain partially dependent on fossil fuels, or their equivalent, until 2050 at any rate. We are not going to be able to move 100% to renewables and we are not going to achieve absolute carbon neutral energy production for 30 years from now.

The question, which the Minister of State put, is very succinct and it is about where our fossil fuel energy will come from and not whether we are going to use it. Let us look at the energy requirements of our changing society. We have a growing population and an increased dependence on electricity. Electricity can only be generated by renewable sources, such as solar, wind or biofuels of some kind, or, alternatively, by fossil fuels to some extent or by atomic energy. We cannot produce electricity other than by those means.

The next point we have to face up to honestly - Deputy Bríd Smith constantly refers to the need to be honest - is that if, as the Minister of State's figures prove, western Europe is going to be hugely dependent on imported gas over the next 20 to 30 years, we have to remember that in the event of any major disruption to that supply of fuels from eastern Europe, the Middle East or Russia in particular, we would be the first to suffer, because we are one of the weakest and most peripheral economies. We would be the people to whom gas rationing would be applied in a way least favourable to ourselves, if there was a question of a threat to the gas supply to German, British, French or the lowlands industry.

Let us be honest. We are closing down Moneypoint in five years' time and we are going to need back-up gas electricity generation capacity for the next 20 years, no matter what way anybody in this room wishes it to be. The only issue is whether we should say we are going to stop all oil exploration and extraction in Irish waters as a matter of principle, and import everything from somewhere else in the world. It is not a question of saying that we are going to abandon fossil fuels.

Nor does Deputy Bríd Smith's Bill take into account that in the transformation from fossil fuels to other forms of energy, renewables in particular, the taxation policies of the State will be crucial, whether they are carbon taxes or excise duties. They are the economic lever whereby we make some forms of energy generation more economical and others less so in accordance with the public good. I have asked successive delegates before the committee about things like the data centres that are being built which have the potential to increase the demand for electricity by one third at a time when there is supposed to be a climate emergency. I have never received satisfactory answers. To me, it is very simple. We should be utterly honest. We cannot give up the consumption of fossil fuels unilaterally or in the short to medium term. If that is the case, we have a simple choice to make. Will we rely on the goodwill of others if there is a gas shortage in ten, 15 or 20 years, or do we use whatever resources nature has made available to us to avoid that risk? That is the only issue. To portray it as a capitulation to multinationals is wrong.

I want to talk about the legal implications. Under the Constitution property rights are always subject to the common good. Therefore, Deputy Bríd Smith is right in one respect. If it were the case that there was a climate emergency and it was necessary to abrogate the rights of drillers, developers, explorers and licensees, we could do it if it was done in the interests of the common good. It would just be too bad for the people who would suffer economically as a consequence. Property rights are not sacrosanct.

On the money message, I have seen in respect of Palestine and the Occupied Territories the invocation by the Government of the money message method as a way of denying passage to that Bill. I am strongly of the view that it is legally incorrect. It involves a misunderstanding of Dáil Standing Order 179(2). It also involves a misunderstanding of the relationship between Articles 15 and 17 of the Constitution. If the Government can actually point to Deputy Bríd Smith's Bill as having the incidental effect of requiring public funds to be appropriated for a particular purpose, the money message is correct. If it cannot establish this, that it is tax forgone or something like that is not correct.

If we are being honest and non-ideological about this, the State needs to keep its energy options open and should not put itself in a position where if Vladimir Putin was to turn off the taps and there was a crisis in the Middle East, we would have no means whatsoever of sustaining the economy that increasingly will be dependent on electricity. If we are to have electric cars, somebody will have to generate the electricity. If we are to have an electronic, service economy based on the Internet and the like, it will all require electricity. If we are to ban back boilers, solid fuel and all of those things, the country will demand more and more electricity. If we are to have data centres, they will demand even more. The Bill amounts to a gesture. I accept what the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, has said about it being well intentioned. However, it involves the serious risk that other countries would, in the event that there is a gas energy crisis in Europe, put us in the position where we would have to beg for our existence on a network of international pipelines. I agree with the Minister of State. I cannot for the life of me see that this is not about the amount of gas used in Ireland. The relative price of renewable and non-renewable energy can be determined by Government policy, including carbon taxes and the like. We are dealing with a simple question about whether we should expose ourselves to a massive crisis which could destroy the country economically simply on a point of principle and in furtherance of a gesture. Does the Minister of State agree with the points I am making?

We have to consider how it would be if the Bill as it stands was to be enacted. What are we doing with the carbon emissions targets that we need to set? What would the Bill do in that regard? Europe, including Norway, accounts for 1% of our oil reserves and 3% of natural gas. The Middle East and Russia hold over 70% of proven gas reserves. Where would we be if there was to be a crisis? With Brexit and all that goes with it, for gas we are relying on a pipe running through the United Kingdom. As well as this, we have to ask what we want to achieve. The debate is about achieving our targets for 2030 and 2050 in a way that is managed and fair and in order that there will be a transition. We look at the matter holistically to see how we can achieve this, protect jobs and our supplies. We talk about energy. Transport, electric cars and all such infrastructures will have to be part of the transition. We cannot rely totally on wind energy or energy from the sun. We have to have backups. One is to plant a massive number of batteries for the purposes of storage across the country. We have to face up to what that would be like. We have to make sure that whatever we do, it is managed and progressive and will achieve the targets set in a strategic way. We should not make this country any poorer or its people any weaker or poorer in the next 20 to 50 years.

I suggest we seek legal advice from the Oireachtas legal service on what has happened with the Bill. We need a root and branch investigation of the process from start to end. What the Government has done is fundamentally unfair to Members of the Oireachtas and our constituents. I would like to see the legal advice and have the right to question our legal advisers about what has happened in processing the Bill. Deputy Bríd Smith is absolutely right. The truth, as we all know, is that at just the last minute the Government realised it did not have the numbers to block the Bill and that it might actually become law. It pulled a card from under the deck and threw it onto the table to say we were not even going to have the pleasure of debating the Bill on Committee Stage.

It is a constitutional function of the Ceann Comhairle to make a decision. As a committee, we are not in a position to review and do not have any role in reviewing the Ceann Comhairle's decision. To clarify, it is not a legal matter.

When I raised this issue with the Ceann Comhairle on the Order of Business today, he confirmed that we could seek legal advice. I am not questioning his final decision, but I want to look at the approach taken to the legislation from start to end by the Government because it is an egregious insult to the institutions of the Oireachtas that we have been treated in this way.

I would like to have the chance, in a timely manner, to question our own lawyers about the possible implications. The issue we are debating, namely, how the Executive has exceeded its powers in how it has dealt with the Bill, is critical. It is not small. It should be examined by our legal advisers and we should have the chance to question them about it. The Ceann Comhairle seemed to confirm this when I asked him about the matter on the Order of Business.

The Ceann Comhairle's decision is not being questioned. The Deputy has clarified the matter.

Without returning to the Second Stage debate, I fundamentally disagree with Senator McDowell. It is not gesture politics. The four seismic licences granted yesterday will destroy large sections of marine life in the north-west Atlantic Ocean at a time when the wildlife system is in peril. There will be massive damage. If we succeed in finding oil in the north-west Atlantic Ocean, that oil, in being pumped out and into the atmosphere, will pose the greatest threat to our security and the young people whom the Government seeks to represent. It is not a gesture; it is the exact opposite and the most tangible element of the challenge we face.

On the expiration licences for the Chinese offshore oil company with Exxon Mobil to drill off the County Kerry coastline, the field is far offshore, in the Porcupine Bank, several hundred kilometres away. The Minister of State said striking oil or gas there would have a less harmful impact on the environment because the energy resource would not have to be moved over long distances. Will he explain why pumping oil or gas out of the north Atlantic Ocean would be less harmful to the environment?

To answer the previous question, if the committee wishes to invite legal experts to appear before it to discuss the process, I have no problem with that.

The drill licence for the bore hole is for an area 232 km, not 700 km, offshore.

I said it was a couple of hundred kilometres offshore.

It is 232 km offshore.

The Deputy referred to the lateness of the money message and the cost implications. I took up my role on 16 October. On 26 November I expressed my concerns to the committee about the costs associated with the Bill. I am not aware of any outstanding application for consent to conduct seismic surveys. While some site survey applications are outstanding, there is none to conduct seismic surveys.

The Deputy might remind me of his other question.

How is it that pumping out oil or gas discovered in the deep Atlantic would be less harmful to the environment?

We will be able to control how it is extracted. Would the Deputy prefer that or would he prefer fracked or shale gas? Furthermore, it is the closest point to us in transporting gas. There is infrastructure that could be used to bring it ashore for refining. We would be in control, whereas in Russia, Canada or anywhere else, we do not have any control over how they do their business. We must buy gas without any control over how it is produced.

How would it have a less harmful impact on the environment?

For one, the cost of transporting the fuel to the country would be lower.

Where would the oil or gas be brought ashore?

It would depend on where it was found.

Let us take as an example the County Kerry field. Where would the gas be brought ashore?

More than likely, it would be brought ashore in County Cork or County Kerry.

What makes the Minister of State believe that?

It is the nearest land point.

Would a pipeline be run underwater for 232 km?

My point is that gas is normally landed at the nearest point. In this case that would be in Ireland.

My understanding from previous experience is that beyond a certain distance which 232 km would easily surpass a pipeline would not run directly to shore; rather, the gas would be shipped. Is that correct?

It would depend on the proposal once reserves were found. We must adjudicate on that issue before a further licence is issued.

Perhaps the officials might be able to help on this matter. Is it not the case that at a distance 232 km - County Kerry is not necessarily the place where the gas would be landed - a pipeline would not be run to shore but that instead it would be shipped?

Oil may be shipped, whereas gas may be piped.

To where would it be shipped?

To County Cork or elsewhere.

Whitegate is specific in the type of oil it can use. It can take use a particular type of crude oil. There is no guarantee whatsoever-----

The Deputy is asking for an answer to a question that is hypothetical until we know what has been found.

I am asking how it would be less harmful to the environment to have oil or gas pumped out of the north Atlantic. At a distance of approximately 232 km, it would be very expensive and require significant energy and environment-damaging procedures to bring it ashore for refining. The likelihood is that it would never be land in Ireland. It would be shipped here because it is a fungibles traded market. It is utter bunkum to suggest it is in some way greener gas or oil. The Taoiseach tried to make that point at Leaders' Questions earlier. I would love to see the evidence that makes the Minister of State believe it would be less harmful to the environment.

If the Deputy allows me to answer, the other option is that we close all of our exploration-----

That is what I would like to do.

From where would we get our-----

From the international oil and gas markets.

Where are they? Who controls them?

There is shale oil and so on. I presume the Deputy wants it to be brought here in liquefied petroleum gas containers.

It is true that if we are to live up to climate science, we must keep 80% of known reserves underground. We would keep shale oil reserves underground because the last 20% to be used would be the cheapest oil, probably from Saudi Arabia and other countries. Continuing to explore for more, when we know that four fifths must remain in the ground, is wanton environmental destruction - ecocide of the highest order. It must stop.

I do not concur that it must stop because we must ensure security of supply-----

There is no security 232 km off the County Kerry shoreline. In any case, it is a 50/1 bet. Even we were lucky, the oil would be shipped to some distant shoreline, not into Irish waters.

In the case of what we have brought ashore thus far, from the Kinsale and Corrib fields, from the latter there are six pipes bringing gas ashore. It has been designed to absorb future demand-----

Experience suggests that if it was located further afield, the gas would not be brought ashore in that way. That is what makes me believe the security or greener than green argument is utter bunkum.

The Deputy has made that point-----

I would like to hear the evidence.

Will the Deputy, please, allow the Minister of State to respond?

Perhaps the Deputy has more questions to ask before I answer.

Can I see the evidence that has led the Minister of State to believe we would ship oil from the Porcupine Bank? Will he show me the evidence from international oil and gas experts who predict it would be brought ashore to Irish refineries? I would like to see that analysis.

Will the Deputy, please, allow the Minister of State to respond?

In our jurisdiction strong safety and environmental rules for drilling are in play. We have a proven track record. In the case of anything for which we have drilled that has been brought ashore from the Kinsale and Corrib fields, it has been done in an environmentally friendly way. We have infrastructure that could be used. If gas or oil is found at a location - I cannot predict where exactly it will be brought ashore - we will need to ensure we will have the supply required in the country for the next 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. We have to do it in a managed way to ensure there will not be a knee-jerk reaction before finding that the consequences for the economy have been are detrimental in the next 20, 30 or 40 years.

We need to be very clear about this. We have to do it in a managed and strategic way to achieve the goals set. I can assure members that when the climate action plan is launched, they will see what we mean by that. I hope that plan will be taken on board by all politicians and that we will work together for the benefit and security of the country.

I have one last question. The Minister of State says that in 20 or 30 years technology will allow us to take the carbon out of fossil fuels before we use them. Will he explain what he thinks it is? What is the technology?

I am not a scientist, but it involves taking hydrogen from gas which could include 30% hydrogen. It could be delivered to homes and appliances using the existing infrastructure in place Ireland. That type of technology is still in its infancy, but it is being worked on and researched. We must not make all of our existing infrastructure redundant only to find in ten, 20 or 30 years that some new technology could be used with it.

I thank the Minister of State and welcome him to the committee. When it was communicated to it a week or two ago, I was somewhat shocked to hear that the issue of the money message had reared its head again, two years after we had been told that one was not required. The Government is, at best, inconsistent and, at worst, hypocritical. There are no degrees of emergency. There is either an emergency or there is not. If the Government thinks there is no emergency, why is it stating in the Dáil that there is? Why is it voting on motions to that effect and telling us it that next week it will announce the devil and all in measures and incentives? We cannot have it both ways. Either there is an emergency or there is not. If there is one, why are we even debating this?

I do not want to rehash the policy arguments, but I will briefly touch on a few that have been mentioned. We have had the Second Stage debate. The whole point in being here is to discuss a technical measure that has been adopted by the Government to block the Bill. That is the nub of it. We have had a Second Stage debate in which the Bill was voted on by the Dáil. It has been voted on by the committee and again by the Dáil when there were attempts to block it by other procedural means. We have had the policy debates. At this committee we were looking forward to tabling constructive amendments. We thought that today or in the near future we would be moving the Bill on further.

The Minister of State should be aware that Fianna Fáil raised some of his concerns about potential exposure. We will table amendments to address some of the technical issues and lacunae that may have emerged and some of the risks to which the State might be exposed. That was already in hand. For political or other reasons the Government has decided to block the Bill and found a way to do it. This spanner has been thrown into the works at the last minute. This affects the credibility of the Government which is stating to consumers that we have to implement a carbon tax. The same does not apply to the Oireachtas which is more or less on message. Consumers' behaviour is to be influenced by measures such as the carbon tax. The Government is stating they should reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, while at the same time telling the producers to keep on burning and drilling. It seems completely incoherent and hypocritical and very unfair to all involved.

Another point I wish to make before addressing the technical points which are the real nub of the discussion concerns the arguments about our need for fossil fuels and future energy security. How can we begin to make the transition to a renewable energy economy if we do not make a start? The day we begin to move off something is the day we will start to move to the new thing. If we are forever making commitments for ten, 20 or 50 years into the future or discussing our energy needs in 2050, at what point will we begin? When it comes to renewable energy technologies, we need to start the wheel turning on investment, research, education, mindset and companies looking for opportunities. We need to start the other wheel turning in parallel. The longer one wheel is kept spinning, the longer it will take the other to start moving. The green revolution matters to jobs and technology. There are economic opportunities in engineering and research and development. Green energy opportunities are considered to be very rich on this island, but we are not going to get there any time soon if we keep trying to milk the old system.

There is another point about which I wish to ask the Minister of State. I will not say I rebut this as he may be able to tell me I am wrong. This is rehashing Second Stage but I will say it again. We are being told by the Minister of State at the committee and in other places where this issue is debated that we are exposed to energy security risks. In the absence of Irish offshore resources we will suddenly be dependent on the goodwill of President Vladimir Putin or Arab sheikhs. That is a strong argument, but there is no State exploration company. Ireland Inc. is not drilling or exploring for oil in the Porcupine Basin. To my knowledge, there is no State exploration vehicle. Firms such as Exxon and Chinese exploration companies bid for and win licences which they can sell to the highest bidder. That bidder can then explore reserves and extract and sell products. Deputy Eamon Ryan alluded to this also. I have given the Minister of State a good hearing. There is an energy security argument to be made, although I am not convinced by it. If he is correct, why is the Government not bringing forward a Bill to ring-fence future finds for the State? Am I wrong? Is there already a provision stating Irish offshore exploration licences must be ring-fenced for the economy?

I have other questions, but I will wait for the answers to the ones I have asked before moving on.

We will try to get though them, but I am conscious of the time.

The Deputy said we should move away from what we are doing first before doing something different.

We should do both at the same time.

We should move away first and that is what we are doing. Today 32% of electricity is generated from renewable sources. In 2003 the figure was 3%. We are moving. We are making progress in the area of transport. It is important that people understand this. The rhetoric is that we are doing nothing, but a lot of work is being done. It is very important to stress that point. Irish Rail and Bus Éireann are moving towards electric or battery operated vehicles. They are moving away from reliance on fossil fuels. Our target is 70% dependence on renewables by 2030. That is the plan and what we are moving towards. However, we have to think about the other 30%. How will it be kept in play? How do we secure the supplies of natural gas and fossil fuels on which we will still rely? We will not be 100% dependent on renewables. That is the debate. I have been saying all day that we have to do this in a structured way. We cannot just finish with one energy source and then start with the other. We have to make a transition. That is the key word. We have to do it in a fair and balanced way. We have to make sure we do not do anything that will make the people poorer or leave them without a supply of electricity or gas at critical times. That is important.

I ask Deputy Lawless to put his remaining questions. I am conscious of all the members who wish to speak.

I will come in again without a long prelude. The Minister of State did not answer the core question I asked. If the concern is future energy security-----

I did not get a chance.

I apologise. Maybe I pre-empted his reply.

If the Deputy asks his questions, I will answer them.

Is there any requirement in current or prospective licences for finds to be ring-fenced for the economy and supply to Ireland to be guaranteed?

On security of supply, there is no specific requirement that exploration companies sell oil or gas discovered in Irish offshore to the Irish market. That is consistent with international practice in the United Kingdom and Norway, for instance. A combination of practical factors and market forces will provide for local demand.

A discovery will be landed and sold locally to ensure maximum recovery from the feed and a reduced cost of transportation. In all cases the State's fiscal regime applies to the production of all oil offshore. All commercial finds to date - Kinsale Head, Ballycotton, Seven Heads and Corrib - have been delivered into the Irish market.

I thank the Minister of State but it sounds like "No" is the answer. The committee has approved the Bill and the Dáil has approved it twice, yet we are here again two years on. The Minister of State referred to the Ceann Comhairle but the Ceann Comhairle chastised the Government in a message saying it was not in keeping with the spirit or the letter of the memorandum of understanding. As an independent authority, he highlights the fact that this is a political approach by the Government to stymie a Bill it does not like, which is not a precedent he or any Member of these Houses would like. Could the committee be provided with the legal advice given to the Minister of State's predecessor that a money message will not be necessary? Could it also be supplied with the legal advice to the effect that a money message is now necessary? In the spirit of the Ceann Comhairle's directive could we get that in the next week, please?

The committee can be ruled by the Cathaoirleach but my understanding is that the ruling on the money message comes from the Ceann Comhairle.

No, the Minister of State wrote to the Ceann Comhairle asking him to make that ruling.

We cannot question that. The Ceann Comhairle has a constitutional function on this and it is not a matter for the committee to review it. That is what I said to Deputy Eamon Ryan. He said he was not questioning the ruling of the Ceann Comhairle. He has left but he would want to write to the committee about his specific questions because they are unclear.

Perhaps I can ask about the Minister of State's decision. I would like to compare and contrast the advice given to the previous Minister of State which stated that a money message was not required with the advice given to the current Minister of State that states a money message is required. We could then tease out the difference, apart from time and political climate, among ourselves.

The officials are telling me now that in my predecessor's time there was no advice to us about a money message.

Let the Minister of State finish.

My understanding is that the Ceann Comhairle got that advice. I stand to be corrected on that. I was not here but that is my understanding. As I said, it is up to the committee if it wants to bring in the legal people and have a discussion with them.

The Bills Office not the Ceann Comhairle's office wrote to me saying this does not need a money message.

It is the Ceann Comhairle who sends a message about the financial implications of any Bill.

It is the Minister of State's decision we are most interested in. On 26 February 2018, a decision was communicated from his office. Perhaps we could have the rationale for that decision.

I think that came from the Bills Office. The Deputy could be mixing that up with something else. We can clarify that.

Yes, perhaps we can look into that.

I want to make it clear the decision is not made by the Minister of the day. That is done by the Ceann Comhairle.

With no disrespect, I do not accept that.

To clarify that, I have a letter here from the Bills Office dated 26 February 2018, addressed to the then clerk to the committee, to the effect that this Bill does not require a money message, financial resolution or European Central Bank, ECB, consultation. That is the date the Deputy is referring to. I want to be very clear and make sure we have the correct information.

I am not happy with the answers to my last question. The Ceann Comhairle's letter is quite clear. He points out that he has re-examined the Bill and performed a second inspection of it and the surrounding environment. He re-read all the Second Stage and Committee Stage debates in light of the request that he re-evaluate it.

I have another question which the Minister of State may have to take away but in the spirit of the Ceann Comhairle's directive he might come back to us as soon as possible, ideally in the next week. The Ceann Comhairle has accepted that a money message is required because of the direct financial implications being applications, fees for licences, maybe compensation to licence holders or prospective licence holders. Could the Department clarify the number of licences or leases committed to, what types of lease they are, their commencement and expiry dates, what legal agreements have been made, what kind of acreage we are talking about in these fields and the fees associated with each? These are details of all the prospective or existing licences that the Department will have to compensate for if the Bill passes. That would give us a greater understanding of the money message and we can assess its implications in light of that information.

That information will be made available. I think it may be on the website because it is published every six months. We will make it available to the committee.

If that is done in the next week, it would be great.

I thank the Minister of State.

It is a normal courtesy to welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the committee meeting. At no point in Deputy Smith's submission did she suggest that there is not goodwill in this committee on climate change. I acknowledge that she never suggested that because it is not the case. There is goodwill. Senator McDowell was anxious to preface his remarks similarly and his bona fides have to be accepted. I grew up on a farm in Cavan and anyone who grew up with nature is more than acutely aware of all the issues here and has a feel for them.

The all-party report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change makes some recommendations. The Citizens' Assembly has made recommendations. There is a consensus emerging that there is a climate change emergency which we need to deal with. That needed to emerge through the committee, the assembly and public information, and through the actions of young people in recent weeks as a backdrop to any concerted actions because there has to be buy-in or a sense of ownership among the people, to use the clichéd terms. We are at that point. It is very clear from the Minister of State's remarks that the Minister is committed to publishing a climate action plan in the coming weeks.

Deputy James Lawless took the Chair.

I am also aware from parliamentary party meetings that the unveiling of a complete climate action plan is imminent. With respect to Deputy Smith and others, whose bona fides are very sound, given the recommendations of the committee, the assembly and the student movement, it would be wise to wait for the climate action plan, to have buy-in to it and to make sure that any proposals we make are made in the context of that plan. We should go for the holistic approach and then everything becomes a subset of that and is open to amendment and discussion.

It is not fanciful to bring geopolitics into this. We do not know what the geopolitical situation will be. I have the privilege of being a member of the Council of Europe, of which the Minister of State is a former member, and I lead the Irish delegation. Listening to the people from eastern Europe, it is clear that Russia has taken some arbitrary actions from the Crimea into Ukraine and elsewhere, and there is a palpable fear of that. There is no reason to be smug or relaxed about it. There is a risk factor there that we can never forget about.

If, as presented by the Minister and his officials, and as common sense would suggest, we are in transition but we will need supplies of oil and gas for the next 20 to 30 years I do not see the logic in those supplies being sourced from outside of the country. I genuinely do not understand why we would not seek to source them from within, while working to eliminate them. The fact that we get a tax return of 55% cannot be ignored. Should our finances tighten owing to spend on infrastructural projects, health services and so on that 55% tax return could be ring-fenced for use on the climate change agenda in terms of developing green energy and retrofitting etc. It is better that we have that money and use it rather than forgo it. It will ensure we do not run out of money in regard to the green agenda. This has to be a consideration.

On the point regarding the Minister seeking the Ceann Comhairle's opinion, I would have thought it a perfectly normal exercise for a Minister confronted with a legislative change to check if a money message would be required. I do not see anything particularly untoward about that. As I said, I would have thought that to be due process. As the Chairman pointed out earlier, the Ceann Comhairle's position cannot be contravened or argued with. Applying a level of common sense or layman's approach to this, it is hardly conceivable that we could halt licensed operations with incurring costs. Apart from forgoing potential revenue, we would incur costs in terms of compensation. I take on board Senator McDowell's point that the argument of an emergency could be made, but I think that is a questionable proposition. I presume those who would be affected have thought that one through. Senator McDowell is an acknowledged legal expert, one of the finest in this country, but his thesis that given the nature of our Constitution and the place of private property therein we could get away without paying some level of compensation is questionable. We will need electricity to charge electric vehicle batteries. An issue constantly raised with me in my constituency and home area is the absence of an infrastructure to support the proposed increased number of electric vehicles on our roads. This is one of the greatest arguments against that initiative. How electric vehicles are to be powered into the future is one of the questions that remains unanswered.

In regard to domestic energy security, I am concerned on a number of levels. The Minister made the interesting point that as happened in Norway and the UK the intention is to sell the product into the indigenous domestic market, which would make sense in the real world. I am privileged to have three sons, each of whom is interested in the sciences, which I do not understand, but we have discussed the amazing advances in technology. The Minister made the valid observation that into the future we may be in a position to decarbonise fossil fuels. Who knows what science will exist in 20 years? We should endeavour to retain our supply intact as we build up the green supplies as well. We should strive to achieve both in parallel. There have been tremendous scientific advances, including in green technology. We have to keep abreast of science. We should all exercise a level of constraint and calm while remaining determined. I have yet to meet a Member of the Houses who is not committed to the climate change project. We are a small island and given the nature of our economy we do not have a vested interest, nor should we, in doing anything else.

We should await the climate action plan and proceed according to it.

On the question regarding the financial implications of the Bill, neither the Minister nor the Department had any input into the original money message decision. As the committee will be aware, the Oireachtas Library and Research Servic reported to the committee on 31 October 2018 that the direct Exchequer cost would be between €8 million and €50 million. I wrote to the committee on 26 November expressing similar concerns., such that it is not three or four weeks ago that I raised this issue.

Deputy Hildegarde Naughton resumed the Chair.

I welcome the Minister of State and his departmental officials. What has happened is very regrettable. The Bill was well advanced when it was grinded to a halt by a money message. I listened carefully to what Senator Joe O'Reilly had to say. He mentioned that in 20 years we might have technology to remove carbon from fossil fuels such that we could continue to burn them. If we are serious about this, we do not have 20 years. We are already 20 years behind. What happened is disheartening in light of all the blarney about new politics and the Oireachtas working together and playing a greater role. The number of Bills ground to a halt in this way over the last couple of years is staggering. Since 2017, eight Sinn Féin Bills dealing with climate change matters have been introduced. The Waste Reduction (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, which is the only Bill that sets out in a comprehensive way how to reduce waste, is stalled. The Local Authority Climate Obligation Bill 2018 is being bounded around at various levels of bureaucracy. The Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017 is progressing at a snail's pace. The Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016 seeks to put in place regulations that would allow the harnessing of wind in a sensible way, which we need to do. The absence of all of this legislation is allowing multinational companies to inappropriately locate and operate in areas with no benefit to local communities. We should be regulating for the appropriate location of wind turbines to the benefit of local communities. In doing so, we could reap much better rewards in terms of renewable energy. The Bills I have mentioned are four of the eight Bills introduced by Sinn Féin.

The Bill before us, introduced by Solidarity-People Before Profit, is likewise being stalled. I have outlined from the outset that there are parts of the Bill that we would seek to amend but the thrust of it is in the right direction. We need to progress this legislation. What has happened at such an advanced stage is very regrettable. I do not know whether this was the dead hand of Government and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment or other influences being brought to bear.

I mean that in terms of - pardon the pun - a climate being created by stopping all such measures and legislation. We cannot amend legislation and allow this to go through. I read about the exchange of correspondence between the Minister and the Ceann Comhairle. On any reading, the Minister is clutching at straws in trying to stop the Bill from being moved forward. How many times were the Department and its officials lobbied by oil and gas companies or their representatives in 2018 and to date in 2019? How many times have officials of the Department met representatives of oil and gas exploration companies in 2018 and to date in 2019? They were about the Oireachtas and certainly seeking to meet people. They are professional lobbyists.

To finish where I started, this is not 20 or 30 years out. While we recognise the reality that there is a transition which must take place, stopping the Bill on that pretext is disingenuous. It is unfair to the 158 Members of the Dáil, the 4.7 million people living in the State, humankind generally and the planet. Climate change is happening at an accelerating rate. While Sinn Féin is realistic about it, we want to get the solutions right. We know and understand one cannot turn off one switch and turn on another tomorrow morning. To say, however, that we cannot progress legislation to deal with these matters is unfair and unrealistic.

Does the Deputy have other questions to ask?

I have heard about waiting for the Government's climate action plan, but that does not stop any of these Bills from being moved forward. To take just the Wind Turbine Regulation Bill 2016, it is mind-numbing how often other Members and I have raised the issue in the Chamber. My predecessor as Sinn Féin spokesperson on the environment in the last Dáil, Michael Colreavy, raised the matter on numerous occasions. The failure of the Government to put that simple measure in place shows the dead hand that is on top of matters. When the 32nd Dáil came into being, there was great talk about new politics and a new beginning. As such, it is disheartening to see progressive legislation being felled in this way.

Does the Deputy have other questions to ask?

Private Members' Bills were referred to. I remind the committee of two which were passed by the current Dáil, namely, the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Prohibition of Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing) Act 2017 which was introduced by Deputy Tony McLoughlin and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018 which was introduced by Deputy Pringle.

Deputy Stanley asked how often officials were lobbied and how often they met oil companies or their representatives. In general terms, in the course of performing their duties officials within the Department meet on a regular basis companies which hold licences. They talk to them and query their work programmes. They check their financials and seek reports on and data for their work programmes. There has to be interaction.

How many times?

If the Deputy wants us to go back and find out, I do not know if we can.

I would like an answer to that question. I am sure there is a record of the number.

Please allow the Minister of State to finish.

The other question was how many times they were lobbied. I do not know if they have been lobbied, but if there is any such information, I will make it available.

While I am not a member of the committee, I appreciate the Chairman giving me some time to make a contribution. I also appreciate the attendance of the Minister of State.

I will start with the Minister of State's last comment to the effect that the Government of the day had accepted the anti-fracking legislation. It was passed with the goodwill of the Members of the House on a unanimous basis. There were no dissenting voices. If one takes the view that fracking, by its very nature, is subject to licences and exploration, a term I use loosely, it is surely the case that the same concept and understanding could be applied to exploration offshore. Is that not the case? That is my first question.

Will the Deputy clarify the question?

The principles the Government applied in dealing with the issue of fracking and its support, as the Minister of State stated, for anti-fracking legislation included issues related to climate action, the injurious effect on the environment and the disturbance caused for communities. At least two of these three principles can be applied to the Bill under discussion.

One of the major concerns about fracking is that it might interfere with water supply and water quality. That is a big issue. The other issue is traffic. When a licence is applied for through the process under discussion, there are a number of consents to be achieved before a licence is issued for exploration or another activity along the way. The Deputy is asking me to compare fracking and the potential damage it can do to the environment with a licensing process.

I take the point made by the Minister of State. However, if revenues forgone from the issue of licences is the justification for requiring a money message to prevent the Bill from proceeding to the next Stage, why was the same principle not applied to the fracking legislation?

I do not believe we received any application for a fracking licence.

There were licences. Why is the same principle that was applied to the anti-fracking legislation not being applied to this Bill if the Government of the day had, in fact, issued the licences in the first instance?

The licences we have issued, whatever stage they are at, can only be prevented from proceeding to the next stage if the companies holding them do not meet the required standards and fulfil the relevant obligations, including carrying out environmental assessments and so on. Fracking gives someone limited potential, whereas the licences already issued present a greater chance of yielding something of benefit to the State in an environmentally friendly way.

I am not sure I accept that answer which warrants further exploration. However, I realise we do not have a great deal of time.

My second question is related to the process of examining what defines a money message for the purpose of allowing a Bill to proceed to the next Stage. I do not intend to get into an interpretation of the Ceann Comhairle's ruling, except to say there is a memorandum of understanding between all Members of the House and the Government of the day on Private Members' Bills.

It is arguable that the Government has contravened the spirit of that memorandum of understanding and it is arguable that it has been disrespectful to the individual Members of this House who have brought forward legislation. What is the process, in the simplest terms? I do not understand what the Minister of State needs to do to define this for the purposes of justifying the Government's argument on what needs to be done to deliver or not on the money message. What does the Minister of State need to do to justify his position with regard to the requirement for a money message?

Is the Deputy asking what I have to do to justify my position?

The Ceann Comhairle has determined that a money message is required. That is my understanding. For a money message to be delivered on, it is not the Ceann Comhairle who will go and do that business but the Government. What needs to be done to deliver the money message or not deliver it, depending on the Minister of State's justification? I suspect the Government has already made its decision and is seeking now to quash this legislation.

The Government has to make a decision on whether it will provide the money message.

What does that mean?

That means that the Government has to make a decision on it.

I appreciate that but the question is how the Government makes that determination. What criteria does the Government use in making that decision? Does it look at the opportunity cost forgone in respect of licences? What is the process? If I introduce legislation about health or education and I am told that it requires a money message because there is a charge on the Exchequer, whether a first order charge or an incidental charge, if I am the proposer of the legislation, surely I am entitled to know exactly what the Government intends to do with the legislation that I have drafted, as per Deputy Smith's contention, and how the Government intends to deliver the money message? What is the process and mechanism that the Government must now follow to decide on a money message? If that question cannot be answered, then I would contend that there has been a subversion of the democratic process here.


There is to be no applause or talking-----


Please stop talking.


I am now telling those in the Public Gallery that applause and talking is completely out of order and I will adjourn the meeting if it continues.

Deputy Sherlock wants a simple answer. The Government will now decide whether the money message will be given based on the financial implications to the State.

I ask for a further articulation of that to be given to this committee with regard to what exactly that means. It would be useful for me as a Member of this House to understand that process, which I do not understand.

My understanding of the process is that it is up to the Government to give a reasoned opinion on whether to grant a money message or not. That is what I have received here. The Government gives a reasoned opinion on that.

That is fair enough.

It may be the timing of that that could be asked about here but that is what I have here about the procedure. A reasoned opinion could be given on whether it would be granted or not.

I understand that a reasoned opinion and justification would be given. I am seeking to understand, within the Minister of State's line Department, the criteria when the Secretary General or assistant secretary generals and principal officers sit down to go through this process. We must now report to the Dáil on our decision about the delivery of a money message. What are the criteria about the decision on the delivery of a money message? What criteria are we setting out internally for the justification of our position, regardless of what that is? I do not expect the Minister of State to answer that now.

Does the Minister of State want to address this now?

I cannot direct Deputy Sherlock or the committee on what it does.

That is not what I am saying.

The Government will decide whether to support this and set out the reasons why or not.

That is the normal procedure as I understand it and as I have received in writing with regard to a money message being granted or not. If it is not, a reasoned opinion will be given. If it is, it is granted and the Government will issue that.

If I can help to answer Deputy Sherlock's question, the criteria for the money message, as I understand it, have already been set out by the Ceann Comhairle in his very considered letter. On four points, he is allowing a money message, but not on one very serious point, which is the research from the library service, which would be predictive of what we might have gained in the future. He is allowing it on four points. Those four points, as far as I remember, are on the question of having to return the fees for leases and licences and on certain legal costs that accrue to the State. It is only on those. If the money message comes on anything else, then that is not what the Ceann Comhairle ruled.

This is procedure. It is not for our consideration with regard to the Ceann Comhairle's decision. It is up to the Government to come back to the committee to give a money message or not. That is the procedure. Let us be very clear with regard to that. Does Deputy Sherlock have another question?

This is my final intervention. I thank the Chair and Deputy Bríd Smith. It is worthwhile, because we have a Minister of State in front of us, to question the Minister of State in respect of the internal dynamics of the process of examining the money message procedure from his Department's point of view. The Ceann Comhairle has written on this. The Department must now respond.

The Government will.

The Department.

The letter that I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle set out the grounds on which I and the Department understood that a money message would be required. The Ceann Comhairle has made a deliberation on that and a decision. That decision now goes to Government, which will make a decision on whether a money message will be given, based on the four points that Deputy Sherlock is talking about.

That clears up the procedure and is as far as we can go with regard to this issue at present.

May I make a final intervention?

A final intervention before I call Deputy Smith.

The point was made earlier that this should not be caught up as a geopolitical issue. I contend that it is a geopolitical issue. Organisations such as Trócaire are advocating on behalf of this legislation. It is an organisation that is funded from the public purse, which seeks to bridge the divide between the global north and the global south. It seeks to advocate on issues such as the Paris Agreement and the sustainable development goals and in respect of how the global north does its business and how that has a significant impact on the poorest people living on the planet. I suggest that this legislation is germane to this very issue and that is a point I want to address with regard to Senator O'Reilly's earlier point. It is very germane to a geopolitical context.

I will bring in the Minister of State briefly and then call Deputy Smith, who I understand has a short question.

Before Deputy Sherlock goes, neither the Citizens' Assembly nor the Oireachtas committee made a recommendation in favour of this Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill. People might think that but the Citizens' Assembly did not say that this Bill would be the way to go.

There is a complicated voting record from the Oireachtas committee-----

It was the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I call Deputy Smith.

I feel that I have to respond to this accusation that I ignored the question of the future and the reliance that the State will have, after 2030, on some level of usage of gas. I have only used the Minister of State's argument with him. He says that by 2030, we will have 70% of our energy from renewables. Where does the other 30% come from? At present, we import 50% of our gas needs. If, by 2030, we only have to import 30%, is that not an improvement? Here comes the geopolitical argument. I have heard what Senators McDowell and O'Reilly said, what the Minister of State intimated, and what has been said many times in these discussions about Putin, Russia, insecurity and so on.

Most of our imports come from the North Sea. That could and should continue the case if we have to rely on imports for a short period. The Minister of State's logic is that this source will be very insecure for us, that they are not reliable sources and that we would be far better off relying on a combination of Exxon Mobil and the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation which have been granted the licence referred to by Deputy Eamon Ryan. Ireland has just celebrated, or marked, the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests that were dominated by tyranny, abuse, human rights abuses and the suppression, jailing and murder of people by the Chinese state. What makes them nicer guys than President Putin? What makes him such a nice guy that one of the companies that continually lobbies this House, Petrel Resources, does deals with Gazprom in Crimea? I find the entire issue of energy security contradictory, but the fundamental point is that there will be no such security on a planet that will overheat by more than 2° C. That is not disputable. It is the science. If one accepts the science of climate catastrophe and emergency, it is indisputable. Energy security is being used in a spurious way in the geopolitical argument. I do not accept it whatsoever, no matter how many times the Government tries to frame it this way or that way.

There is another obvious argument in that there is no legal obligation on any company that receives an exploration or drilling licence from the Department to sell back to the State whatever it finds. Ireland's natural resources are not ours in that regard. Long ago, during the Shell to Sea campaign, our natural resources were sold and that continues to be the case. I would like to see our natural resources remain in the ground. Reference was made to the possibility of getting 55% tax back on this resource and how that would be great to fund climate change initiatives. That, however, is contradictory. Taking them out of the ground, burning more carbon and then using the tax generated to build an extra bicycle lane or put another electric bus on the streets of Galway is just crazy. That is not doing politics in the correct way.

I put it to the Minister of State that we will continue to fight. We are seeking legal advice on the issue of a money message. People will be outside Leinster House in half an hour to call on the Government to keep fossil fuels in the ground and not to kill the Bill. The movement is big. It involves tens of thousands of schoolchildren and tens of thousands of citizens both here and across the globe. There is no Tricolour flying out of the carbon emitted from the fuel extracted off the Kerry or Donegal coastline. It does not recognise boundaries. It is an atmosphere we share globally as a human race and we need to take responsibility to do something about it. The Minister of State could be famous and a leader in that regard. Ireland is one of five countries that have acknowledged that we need to ban the exploration of fossil fuels. It could be the making of the Minister of State's political endeavours to do something decent for the globe. We are going to keep fighting, legally and outside with the movement, every which way. I thank all of the Deputies who are on side with us on this issue.

I will now go to the Minister of State.

Perhaps Deputy Eamon Ryan has another question.

I will explain again why I am seeking legal advice from the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers separate from the legal advice Deputy Bríd Smith will have. This is unprecedented. In this Dáil the Waste Reduction Bill 2017 has been delayed for two years by the Department by way of a money message, but from the start it was always clear that this would be the mechanism the Government would use. As a result of one and a half years' work on the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 there was a clear understanding in the debates and discussions that a money message would not be required for it. Other mechanisms were used, especially the split vote at the joint committee that looked at the Bill. We finally overcame it, but at the very last minute, when we were about to proceed to Committee Stage, the money message issue arose. One of the outcomes of Committee Stage would have been amendments to the Bill to make it clear that it would not put a financial burden on the State because it would be made clear that the legislation would only apply to new explorations. There are different views on that matter, but I believe that is where the Bill would have gone.

The Executive is exceeding its powers in the use of a money message at the last minute to stop a debate that was due to take place. Other mechanisms had been tried to do that. It is taking the constitutional provision that we cannot have the Opposition writing the budget. That is fair enough and we have to respect that provision, but in this instance the use of a money message was not for that purpose. It was tactical. That is how it appears from the timelines and process involved. That is why it is a particularly egregious example of the Executive showing disrespect to the Oireachtas and the people's representatives. That is the core of the problem, as well as the underlying issue of Government support for the Bill. The process we have been through has been disrespectful of the Oireachtas in a way that exceeds the Executive's powers.

I repeat that I first brought to the attention of the committee last November that there were issues with finance. It has not just happened in the past few weeks. I do not anything underhand. I stated it then and again in the Dáil that I had concerns in that regard.

I am delighted to talk to committee members about the Bill. I have listened to their discussion. As I said, the Bill is well intentioned, but it is being brought forward on its own without a full plan for how we will do things. We have to accept that we have a long-term challenge that we need to meet to achieve a net carbon neutral economy. We should consider our future energy supply and energy consumption, including Ireland's exploration and production, in an holistic and strategic manner. We have to do this. I put it to the committee, not disrespectfully, that the Bill is not the right way to go about it. It is a stand-alone measure that does not consider the wider implications. It will not make Ireland any more carbon efficient. Our efforts should focus on the plan to reduce Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions which is to be announced shortly by the Government. There are difficult decisions to be made by everybody and there are challenges to be rolled out to reduce emissions. I look forward to the committee's support in that regard. I thank members for their contributions.

I thank the Minister of State.

The joint committee adjourned at 5 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 12 June 2019.