Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 14 Feb 2018

Vol. 256 No. 2

Telecommunications Services (Ducting and Cables) Bill 2018: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Galway-Mayo ducting and cables telecommunications network is a vital piece of State infrastructure located in an area of strategic importance for transatlantic traffic and with the potential to provide significantly improved broadband services in an area of the country under-served by broadband. It is built. It is in use to a limited extent to provide vital transatlantic connectivity for a multinational company. It is poised to meet its full potential and the Bill before the House is the key to the fulfilment of that ambition.

The Bill has two principal objectives. The first is to give rights of access to private lands through which the ducting and cables pass so that those managing the network, the MSE, or managed service entity, will be able to fully maintain and operate the network. The second is to minimise impacts to landowners along the route and to provide compensation and safeguards to those landowners arising from the use of their land. I propose to address each of these objectives in turn.

First, I will address the proposal to provide rights of access to all lands through which the Galway-Mayo ducting passes. In 2005, during the planning of the Galway-Mayo gas pipeline by Bord Gáis Éireann, BGE, now Gas Networks Ireland, GNI, my predecessor funded the installation of underground telecommunications ducting alongside the pipeline. The pipeline and ducting were installed between Ballymoneen in County Galway and the new gas terminal constructed in Bellanaboy County Mayo. Construction took place between 2006 and 2008. In 2013 Shell E&P Ireland Ltd, or SEPIL, proposed to install fibre optic cable into the duct and to gift this to the State. This process concludes in the first quarter of 2018. The ducting and cables traverse approximately 500 separate interests in land. GNI managed the ducting build and managed access to private lands for that purpose, and also for the laying of the optical fibre cable. GNI acquired access rights over the majority of the private lands but not all. While the network is built, it cannot be fully managed. maintained or upgraded without securing access rights to all lands along the full route of the ducting and cables.

Section 2 of the Bill is the section that provides the Minister, and consequently the MSE, with the necessary rights to enter lands for the purposes of running the Galway-Mayo ducting and cables network These access rights are described in Schedules 1 and 2 and are limited to those which are necessary to properly manage the ducting and cables network for telecommunications purposes. They are subject also to the obligations contained in Schedule 3.

The access rights acquired by GNI on my behalf stand vested in me by virtue of section 2(2) while access to all other lands along and adjacent to the route are granted to me under section 2(3). GNl's rights stand protected by section 2(4), which ensures that GNI’s other access rights over the lands, such as access to the gas pipeline, are unaffected, and also section 2(5), which releases GNI from any obligations entered into in regard to the access rights acquired by GNI on behalf of the Minister under subsection 2.

Turning now to the matter of protecting landowner interests, sections 3 and 4 provide compensation and safeguards to landowners and ensure that any impacts arising from the presence and operation of the network are minimised. Section 3 provides for a claim for compensation by landowners in respect of any diminution in the value of their land arising as a consequence of the Minister's right of access to the land to tend to the ducting and cables. It provides all landowners along the route with the right to claim compensation on the same terms while also taking account of any moneys already paid as compensation by GNI.

Section 4 is broader in scope. It provides for a compensation scheme to be established in law to reimburse owners or repair damages caused by the MSE or others working on my behalf. This scheme also provides for landowners to be compensated for any such damages or any injury, loss or disturbance suffered by the owner and caused by the MSE or others in the performance of their duties. This scheme or any amended schemes will continue to operate for the entire lifetime of the ducting and cables. Section 4 also provides for regulations which set out the rules to be followed by the MSE and others working on my behalf in order to ensure minimal disruption to landowners and so that they are given adequate notice when works are planned.

Other safeguards also exist. Section 7 requires a map of the route be deposited in my offices and made available for inspection by all interested parties. Section 8 ensures that information is given to all landowners and interested parties at least 28 days before enactment and including details of the legislation, the deposited map and how and where to make claims for compensation under section 3. Section 9 sets the procedures to ensure that all notices are delivered to the intended parties.

Tá an gás ó gháscheantar na Coiribe ina bhuntáiste don tír toisc nach bhfuil muid ag brath go huile agus go hiomlan ar ghás iompórtáilte. Ar an gcaoi chéanna tá feabhas tagtha ar sheirbhísí leathanbhanda i bpobail áitiúla a bhraitheann ar an infreastruchtúr teileachumarsáide. Tá ceantar na Gaillimhe agus Mhaigh Eo in áit lárnach do cháblaí transatlantacha. Cuirfidh an Bille seo go mór le fás shonraí tráchta thar an Atlantach. Chomh maith leis sin beidh muintir na tíre, eagraíochtaí na hÉireann agus eagraíochtaí ilnáisiúnta in ann rochtain a fháil ar sheirbhísí leathanbhanda ardluais in iarthar na hÉireann. Tá an cábla snáthoptaice curtha isteach. Chuir an Stát é ar fáil dúinn agus tá sé ag obair ar an mbonn bunúsach céanna. Mar gheall ar an mBille seo beimid in ann leas a bhaint as an infreastruchtúr, rud a bheidh cabhrach do theaghlaigh agus do ghnólachtaí Chontae na Gaillimhe agus Chontae Mhaigh Eo. Sa mhullach air sin, tá sé tábhachtach a lua go bhfuil forálacha sa Bhille a thiocfaidh le cearta úinéirí talún agus cónaitheoirí.

I am preparing to tender for an MSE to operate and manage the State owned Galway-Mayo telecommunications ducting and cables network via concession agreement. The Bill before the House is the missing piece in the jigsaw that will enable that tender to progress. Its enactment will ensure that the MSE will be able to gain the necessary access to the ducting and cables infrastructure to fully maximise the benefits of the network. Consequently, I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome the Bill and will not delay its passage through the House because it is a very important Bill. Is this a retrospective provision? The ducting is there but there was no legislative authority to provide it through private property, which is the norm. I understand that the gas network would have had legislative authority to lay its pipes. This was an additional idea to provide the ducting which I would fully concur with. The Bill does not seem to involve the purchase of private lands but the establishment of a right of way over private lands to maintain the ducting. I understand that €90,000 has already been paid in compensation to 500 farmers along that route. The Department is providing for €200,000 in further compensation. What exactly is the compensation for? If the pipes have been laid and backfilled was there much damage to the properties involved? I presume compensation was paid by GNI for the laying of the pipework.

In July 2017 Fianna Fáil introduced the Planning and Development (Rapid Broadband) Bill 2017, which provided a consistent and streamlined framework for the development and sharing of broadband infrastructure in Ireland. If enacted this Bill would make it much easier for operators to find and share existing broadband infrastructure, making it more convenient and efficient to provide services to areas not serviced at the moment by requiring new roads and buildings to have fibre optic ready ducting in place. The Bill would also help to bring Ireland's planning laws into the digital age and speed up the roll-out of broadband. I suggest that the Minister of State examine that.

There is quite a lot of ducting laid and I can never figure out exactly who owns what, where and when. Some years ago ducting was laid in a ring around Roscommon and connected up, whether to the Iarnród Éireann lines adjoining them or through the ESB I do not know. There is much confusion about this. The broadband connection to the Oireachtas provided to Members from a designated office in our areas comes through the Eir copper wire instead of fibre optic cable. I understand there is a fibre optic cable around Roscommon which would be more efficient.

I regard this as retrospective legislation which is not a very good idea. Somebody somewhere did not feel it necessary to have separate legislation for the ducting but when the matter was examined the question of compensation arose which could not be paid out unless there was legislation to allow the Exchequer to do so. I hope this does not create a precedent that would allow the Minister and Department to issue approval to private wind operators giving them rights over properties to bring electric power to the nearest major electricity infrastructure. That is one factor we have resisted in respect of the provision of wind turbines in our beautiful, scenic, tourism area. The developers would not have the necessary legislative approval to bring overhead wires over private property. That power rests with the ESB. I hope this is not a back door approach to allowing these rights develop for multinational companies to put pylons on private property with no political oversight. I welcome the Bill. Fianna Fáil supports it and wants to see it passed as quickly as possible.

I welcome this important Bill. In respect of wayleave agreements, and in particular access to broadband, it is important that where we do work of any description we should ensure that we also put in ducting for additional services that may be required in the future. When I was Lord Mayor of Cork city in 2003 and 2004 and we did major work on Patrick Street we insisted on an adequate amount of ducting being put in place, with agreements signed by all the utilities.

We invited them to put ducting in place so that the street would not need to be excavated again for a long period of time. It is important that ducting is put in place in any urban development. This is about providing an additional service along a gas line where ducting is already in place and the need for legislation.

When wayleave agreements are put in place it is important that we work towards making sure additional services can be planned for. We have not done that in the past and we now need to do so. Likewise, when we are building new road infrastructure we should also invite utility companies to discuss whether they want to install ducting in order to plan for the future. Local authorities or the National Roads Authority could install it, and recover the cost of same by granting a licence for the use of that ducting. We are not doing enough in that regard.

I welcome the Bill which is now getting over a legal issue that needs to be resolved. It is important that there is adequate compensation for those who have wayleaves going through their lands. It is not just the case that lands may be disturbed; once a wayleave is put in place there is also a restriction on the landowner in terms of what can be done on the land. A landowner cannot erect permanent buildings or may have difficulties in running other services through the land. That has to be taken into account. That is the reason the compensation element has to be put in place. It is important that recognition is given to that. People do not realise that wayleave agreements create restrictions and it is important that all utility companies make sure that landowners are consulted and take legal advice, and utility companies provide for the cost of that legal advice.

An issue which arises in respect of getting wayleave agreements is a difficulty with titles. I have dealt with a number of cases where estates have not been administered when a person is registered as an owner despite the person having been dead for 30, 40 or 50 years. That causes problems and delays in finalising the process because no one can sign a wayleave until a grant of administration has been taken out. A person working in a legal capacity has to sign the documents. We are not doing enough to make sure that when someone dies who is the owner of a property, the estate is administered and the proper legal processes are followed. This problem can cause delays with putting services in place because there are no legal agreements and the person concerned does not have title to sign the required documents.

I dealt with a case involving Iarnród Éireann going back to 1965. A number of people had died between 1965 and 2005 and we had to deal with seven different administrations while trying to sort out the legal issues before we could sign the documents and a final agreement with Iarnród Éireann. They are issues that arise from time to time. It is important that the Bill is passed, the necessary legal entitlements are put in place and there is adequate compensation for the people affected by wayleave agreements. I again thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill forward to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus gabhaim buíochas leis as an reachtaíocht seo a lagadh os ár gcomhair. Tacaím leis an mBille ach, mar a bheadh an tAire Stáit ag dúil leis, tá roinnt ceisteanna agam ina thaobh agus cuirfidh mé iad anois.

We welcome the Bill and I have to ask why we are only now discussing using existing infrastructure for the roll-out of telecommunications. Sinn Féin has asked the Government to explore the possibility of progressing the national broadband plan, which I presume is a State broadband plan, through State ownership, given the disarray which exists in the procurement process. There is only one bidder left and this leaves the entire plan in utter chaos.

The effects of the decision to privatise the State company Telecom Éireann in the past has had a negative impact on citizens and telecommunications services. State ownership would have facilitated a less complex and possibly less expensive roll-out of broadband and broadband services. There are many possibilities open to the Government now to continue the roll-out of high-speed broadband, including gas lines, railway lines and main haul lines which have already been completed. All of these could be used to bring high-speed broadband to areas which in 2018 have no regular and reliable access to high-speed broadband services.

We have asked that the Government explores the feasibility of using existing State infrastructure held by the ESB for the future roll-out of broadband. I see in the briefing note from the Department that it is stated that Shell EP will gift fibre optic connection to the State in 2018. Who shouldered the vast majority of the cost of building the duct in the first place? Is this really a gift and will the State benefit? What impact will the Bill have on the national broadband plan? The programme for Government has a commitment to provide broadband to every house and business in the country - I presume it means State - by 2020. How will the Bill speed up that process?

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome the Bill which will formalise the situation in respect of fibre optic cables running from Killala to Galway. This was a very sensible move on the part of the Government, which was facilitated through Gas Networks Ireland. While the gas pipeline was being laid, ducting was also laid so that fibre optic cable could be placed within it. It means that the State or a company or agency did not have to go back onto people's land. As a solicitor I am very familiar with the situation having dealt with many people whose lands were required for the purposes of wayleaves.

Wayleaves were originally granted for a gas pipeline and ducting. I assume that all landowners have been compensated in respect of that part of the job which has been done and the Bill makes provision for any loss to land or disturbance which would occur in the future if the State or a company has to fix cables for any reason. I ask the Minister of State to clarify whether people will be compensated because clearly that is required.

The Bill is timely. I am glad the situation is being regularised. Wayleaves can be incredibly complex and can lead to all sorts of complexities in regard to land ownership, rights and entitlements as my colleague, Senator Burke, alluded to. It is best that everything is set out clearly, as envisaged in the Bill. We are at a point where the hot topic is balanced regional and rural development. The national planning framework will be launched on Friday. Ducting and fibre optic cabling is very practical for the economic development of the region.

Killala is the landfall point of a state-of-the-art transatlantic fibre optic cable from New York which connects to London and mainland Europe. There is a break out point in Killala, which means there can be access to the cable for a data centre or any other endeavour which requires access to fibre optic cable.

We are looking for ways to grow our economy. The north and north west have particular issues in terms of a history of poor investment in infrastructure and they also lag behind in terms of job creation, which was identified in the draft national planning framework. There are plans to address this. However, this cable - and the connectivity it provides - offers a golden opportunity to create a technology hub in the area.

The Minister of State was in the House yesterday, as was the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to discuss the national broadband plan. In my county, there are six metropolitan area networks with very good broadband, although many isolated rural areas do not have broadband. There is a metropolitan area network in my home town of Ballina and quite good broadband. The biggest challenge, to which Senator Leyden may have alluded, is to bring fibre to premises because the fibre is there and there is a cost in that. The national broadband plan is ambitious in regard to bringing high-speed broadband to people's homes and premises but this cable presents an obvious opportunity.

The focus must also be on what the cable can deliver for this region because other regions do not have such a facility but we do and are looking for unique selling points. There is an appetite for that. There was all sorts of trouble with the data centre in Athenry in the Minister of State's county in terms of objections to planning permission. The matter is still not fully resolved. At the break-out point at the former Asahi plant in Killala, County Mayo, there is planning permission for a full data centre but we do not have one. I am not sure how that can be so when planning permission is cited as one of the key obstacles to the construction of such data centres.

The region has many selling points and I hope that the Minister of State, as a fellow representative from the west of Ireland, will bear that in mind at the many interdepartmental and intergovernmental meetings in terms of the whole-of-Government approach to and regional strategies for job creation. Something can be done with the opportunity offered by the cable but the progress from an idea to the actualisation of a benefit for the region must be kick-started. This can help to refocus interest and, it is to be hoped, investment in the region and we are ready, willing and able to snap up the resultant opportunities. I ask the Government to try to facilitate that.

I call the Minister of State to conclude.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I thank Senators for their contributions, questions and constructive input to the debate. Senators have recognised the importance and relevance of dark fibre and ultra-high-speed broadband to rural Ireland, particularly Galway and Mayo. I welcome the support of Senators and parties and look forward to consideration of the Bill on Committee Stage.

Senator O'Donovan raised the issue of costs and whether this is a gift to the State. In March 2013, Shell E&P Ireland Limited, SEPIL, offered to install the fibre-optic cable into the duct to a value of €750,000 and gift ownership of the cable to the Minister. SEPIL has spent far in excess of the €750,000 budget. Full acceptance of the network was delayed as the overground cabinets and associated infrastructure did not meet the agreed specification. However, handover arrangements are currently being finalised with a view to closing out the involvement of SEPIL in quarter 1 of this year. Some costs did accrue to the State. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment paid Gas Networks Ireland, GNI, approximately €900,000 between 2005 and 2010 in respect of the costs to GNI of obtaining easement rights. This included compensation payments to landowners in addition to GNI's administrative and overhead costs. The Department frequently consulted GNI from 2006 to 2015 and understood that all easements were in place.

This matter also relates to Senator Leyden's question on retrospective provision. Concerns regarding the nature of the interest acquired by GNI were raised by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor in May 2015 and subsequently affirmed by counsel on behalf of the State. The uncertainty created by legal opinion concerning the nature of the deeds of easement resulted in definitive advice issuing from the Office of the Attorney General on 4 September 2015. That advice recommended that the Minister consider an amendment to section 72 of the Registration of Title Act 1964, which would have the effect of explicitly conferring on the telecommunications a deed of easement, the same legal effect conferred on the gas pipeline deed of easement by that section. The easement was subsequently passed as part of the Energy Act 2016. However, in the course of discussions with GNI between October 2015 and January 2016, it became clear that deeds of easement had not been executed in all cases. GNI advised that approximately 68 interests on land were not closed and, of those, at least 13 would necessitate recourse to some form of compulsory acquisition. The legal counsel for GNI advised that it did not have the necessary vires to exercise compulsory purchase orders for the purpose of securing the remaining easements on behalf of the Minister and the Office of the Attorney General advised that the arguments of GNI's counsel were compelling and could not be dismissed. The Bill has thus been brought forward on the advice of the Attorney General and in the context of advice regarding GNI and easements.

There has been some mention of the national broadband plan. This gas network is a very different proposition. As Senator Mulherin said, it made sense to lay down the ducting and allow for the fibre to be rolled out when the opportunity was there. The State has built the network and the tenderer is permitted to use the network and all of its assets under a concession agreement. The network will not provide access to individual premises but will deliver ultra-high-speed broadband and dark fibre services to businesses and telecommunications operators in the area. A high level of interest in the network will ensure that it can be operated at a profit and developing the network to its fullest potential will maximise those profits. By the end of quarter 1 of this year, the interest of SEPIL will be removed and the State will have control.

Senator Mulherin referred to issues of access and Killala. If the State has control and access, issues such as those can be considered in the context of any projects that might come to the area. She mentioned data centres but there are other issues in that regard, including grid connection, which is separate to what is provided for in the Bill. However, where there are opportunities-----

Grid connection is already in place in Killala.

Adequate grid connection is required. Senator Mulherin knows the geography of her constituency better than I do but grid connection could be an issue for major projects.

Senator Leyden raised the issue of wind infrastructure. That is not the aim of the Bill, which purely addresses telecoms in regard to this specific project.

As regards compensation, €900,000 has been paid by my Department to GNI in respect of compensation payments to landowners in addition to GNI's administrative and overhead costs. The rights of landowners are hugely important because the State built infrastructure across private lands and the House will agree that those landowners deserve to be treated with respect and gratitude for their support, recognition and accommodation regarding this very important telecommunications infrastructure. The Bill, as drafted, meets that need.

I thank all Senators for their support for the Bill. I hope it will pass all Stages as soon as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 20 February 2018.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.