Amendment No. 2 is an alternative to amendment No. 1. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Sustainable Energy Bill, 2001: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 13, after "Energy" to insert "Authority".
I welcome this Bill which is very important given the times in which we live. Much work has been done but much more needs to be done. We have tabled quite a number of amendments today in an effort to improve on the Bill and look forward to the debate on it.
We must treat this legislation and the body it sets up with respect. The body should, therefore, be called an authority; people will take more notice of its deliberations, suggestions and decisions if it is. The subject matter with which the Bill deals is so important, given the Kyoto Agreement and the difficulties we face, that we must give this new authority all the weight we can. I suggest that we do that by calling it the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Let us give the body importance and weight by calling it an authority. That is the purpose of this amendment.
It is misleading to describe this legislation as a Sustainable Energy Bill when it concerns just one State agency. The short title should take that into account.
I am glad to hear the comments of colleagues on this very important Bill. It is obvious from the number of amendments being put forward with the intention of improving its provisions that the Bill has received much thought and consideration. I look forward to a healthy debate. I agree with what is being said about the authority and we will deal with that in later amendments.
Colleagues are seeking two different names for the Short Title. We had deliberations and the interim board had its own deliberations on the name of the new authority. We have had discussions with the Parliamentary Counsel and it was decided to settle on the title as set down. I do not think either of the amendments before us add anything to the Short Title of the Bill. Therefore, I am not disposed to go along with either of the proposed changes.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Carey, Donal.
- Hogan, Phil.
- Higgins, Jim (Mayo).
- Stanton, David.
- Sargent, Trevor.
- Aylward, Liam.
- Ellis, John.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Doherty, Seán.
- Power, Seán.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 3, line 15, before "Authority" to insert "the".
This is a technical amendment. The board is called the board and, for the sake of balance, the authority should be called the authority.
As Deputy Stanton said, this is a matter of drafting style. I am happy to accept the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 66 and 67 are cognate to amendment No. 4 and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, line 15, to delete "body" and substitute "The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland".
These amendments relate to the title of the authority, as did amendment No. 1. In one part of the Bill, the authority is referred to as Sustainable Energy Ireland and in another part it is referred to as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. These amendments are designed to ensure the authority has one title, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. This has to do with the gravitas we attach to this legislation and the importance we give the agency that will be set up and known as "the Authority".
The Irish and English versions of the title are given. The amendments propose the deletion of the title "Sustainable Energy Ireland" and the insertion of "Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland". The thrust of these amendments is about giving the authority a certain amount of status and importance. Most other bodies we have set up are called an agency, an authority or a board. The title "Sustainable Energy Ireland" lacks a certain gravitas and punch. That is why we tabled these amendments. This is a technical matter. While changing the title will not make a major difference, it could make a difference in people's perception of the authority. We want to speak on this matter with authority and, therefore, the agency should be called an authority and should be known by one title, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, not Sustainable Energy Ireland. If it is called Sustainable Energy Ireland, many people will question whether it is an authority, a board or something else. Let us call it an authority and be done with it.
This is a drafting matter. The definition as it stands is adequate for the purpose of the legislation. I am not prepared to accept a change of title of the new authority and, therefore, I cannot accept this amendment.
I accept the legal title of the authority is long and cumbersome. The Parliamentary Counsel advises that the name "Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland" is standard where a new State body or authority is being established. As other Deputies said, it is imperative that the word "Authority" appears in the section and it is there. It is advisable in such cases that a title with the word "Authority" contained in it is used and hence it is there.
On the other hand - this is an important point that I want to explain - the interim board I appointed in 2000 considered the issue of a suitable name for the new body and it was strong on this point in its recommendations. The board felt that a more modern business type name, which reflected the authority's functions, would be more appropriate. It favoured, and I agree with it, the title "Sustainable Energy Ireland". It requested that name. The interim board's views were guided by the need to have a name that was readily recognisable. Colleagues have spoken positively about the meritorious nature of this entity, this new authority. It is important that it should have a name that is recognisable, dynamic, modern and acceptable particularly to a younger regime, a younger audience. In that context, I appeal to colleagues not to press this amendment. The new body will be widely known as Sustainable Energy Ireland and can be more easily branded as such.
The reason it is proposed to change the title has been well outlined by Deputy Stanton. The title chosen has been selected for the sake of optics. As the Minister of State said, this is a drafting matter. The word "body" is inane, anaemic and rather weak. The proposed change of title has been made from the point of view of adding status to it. The title of bodies are shortened nowadays. For example, the title of FÁS has a natural rhythm. The change of title proposed, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland would be shortened to SEAL. The change of title is proposed to give the authority added status and gravitas. I regret the Minister of State cannot accept the amendment.
It could give rise to confusion if the authority were to be known by two titles. For the sake of being trendy it will be called Sustainable Energy Ireland and for the sake of the legal situation it will be called the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. We are setting up a new body. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Industrial Development Authority and other such bodies are called what they are in effect. The establishment of a rail safety authority has also been mooted. The title "Sustainable Energy Ireland" does not mean anything, but if it were to be called the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland it would mean something to people.
With respect to the interim board, the decision on what this authority will be called will be made here. I heard what the Minister of State said, but I remind him that what is trendy today may not be trendy tomorrow. I am disappointed he will not accept this amendment. He might reconsider what we are trying to achieve and accept, as Deputy Higgins proposed, the deletion of the word "body" and its substitution by the words "Sustainable Energy Authority", as proposed in amendment No. 1. That is what amendment No. 4 seeks to do. Will the Minister of State agree to that?
Decisions will be made here, not by the interim board. I merely alluded to it to make it clear that a good deal of thought has gone into this over a long period and I am sure the Deputies, in putting forward the other view, have given it a good deal of thought and aspire to do what is in the best interests of the new authority. For instance, the title "Enterprise Ireland", has been readily accepted, as has the title "Horse-racing Ireland". Having given this matter much consideration, I wish to leave the wording as it stands.
I listened to what the Minister of State said. For the sake of clarity, acceptance of amendment No. 4 would not change anything except the substitution of the words "The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland" for the word "body". It would not change the name of the title of the authority. I am prepared to accept what the Minister of State said about that. I listened to him and he has made a good case and perhaps he will listen to us later when we will make equally strong cases on other matters.
The problem with the proposal to substitute the title "The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland" for the word "body" is that that title is not the full title, having regard to what I said earlier. The full title, Sustainable Energy Ireland - The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, is cumbersome and lengthy. For the purposes of its day to day operations, letter heading, business and functions, the authority will be known as Sustainable Energy Ireland.
There was a trend for a few years to find suitable titles for legislation and bodies. FÁS was mentioned by Deputy Higgins and Dúchas is the heritage body. Before we finalise this matter, it might be advisable to consider whether a short title such as Solas would reflect the business in which the board will be involved. I will not push the title that has been pushed here because in many respects it is not an apt name for it.
Solas is a nice name.
Solas na bhflaitheas might be inappropriate.
Is the amendment being pressed?
I will withdraw it, but I reserve the right to retable it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 3, to delete lines 17 and 18.
I oppose the amendment, which is similar to that put forward by other Deputies. It proposes to delete the words " "employee of the Authority" does not include the Chief Executive Officer;". This definition is not required in the Bill as there is no reference in it to an employee of the authority. The term used in this Bill is "a member of staff of the authority". In all sections where this appears it is clear that it either does not include or specifically excludes the chief executive. I am pleased on this occasion to be apparently ad idem with colleagues around the table.
We were concerned about what those words meant and why that definition was included. The Minister of State has agreed it was superfluous to needs and we are happy about that.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 form a composite proposal and they may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 3, line 20, to delete "as such".
This is a drafting matter. The deletion of the words "as such" would tidy up the wording. Those words are superfluous. The insertion after "section 3" of the words "to be the establishment day for the Authority for the purposes of this Act" would clarify the position.
Amendment No. 6 is a drafting matter and I am happy to go along with the Deputy's thinking on that. With regard to amendment No. 7, what it proposes is unnecessary. The wording of the amendment is cumbersome. The definition is clear as it is set out.
I go along with the Minister of State's thinking on that one and I will withdraw amendment No. 7.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 3, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
" 'household' means the spouse, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, stepfather, stepmother, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, grandson, granddaughter, brother, sister, half brother or half sister;".
The term "household" is not defined in the Bill. The courts are grappling with the definition of a household. The term "household" was defined in other legislation such as the minimum wage legislation. I am trying to define what the term "household" means. Does it mean someone living in the house, a relation or someone who is visiting? It is incumbent on us to put clarity into the Bill with regard to the term "household". It appears elsewhere in the Bill but is not defined. I would be interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say on this. In defining the term "household", we attempted to include the close relatives of the people involved. That is what was done in the minimum wage legislation. This definition was found in that legislation. The courts are trying to define what is meant by a household and the term is important in the later sections. The term may be defined somewhere else and, if it is not, it should be.
I am not sure what Deputy Stanton means by including the word "spouse" in the definition of household. Whose spouse would that be?
It depends on who the person is.
Could it be the neighbour's spouse?
That would be outside the household.
There is a technical point which must be borne in mind and perhaps the courts will enlighten us on this in due course, as Deputy Stanton said. There is no recognition of homosexual marriage here. I presume we are talking about heterosexual households in this amendment.
I am not an authority on that.
There is a common understanding of what a household is and by trying to define it here we might leave out somebody who might, at a particular time, be part of a household. The definition in this amendment, for example, does not include partner or brother-in-law and it could be reasonably argued that the partner is part of a household, given what Deputy Stagg said.
The amendment relates to section 17. The provisions of that section are based on the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act, 1998. The term "household" is not defined for the purposes of that Act and I am unaware that difficulties have arisen in Enterprise Ireland as a result. The existing staff of the Irish Energy Centre are staff of Enterprise Ireland and, therefore, currently operate under similar provisions. They appear to be comfortable with the existing provisions of the legislation.
We gave the amendment considerable thought since our colleagues considered it worthwhile to put it forward. However, it might create difficulties for the future. As Deputy Sargent pointed out, these are changing times and we could omit somebody who might in the future be deemed to be part of a household. In light of this, the parliamentary counsel advised against endeavouring to define "household" for the purposes of the Bill.
Will the Minister look at it again on Report Stage?
If feelings on it are strong, I will have no difficulty in reverting to it on Report Stage.
That would be unwise because in defining the word, people will be omitted. It is common to have uncles and aunts living in households in the west of Ireland, for example. I do not know if that is true of the cities. If we attempt to define it, there will be all kinds of problems. It would be wiser just to use the term "household".
I would prefer to reach agreement on it today but I will not railroad the matter. If it is deemed advisable to have a further debate on it on Report Stage, so be it. However, I agree we might be confining ourselves in the future by defining the word at this time.
I know what the Minister means but the amendment relates specifically to section 17 of the Bill which deals with disclosure of interests. Subsection 17(2)(a) refers to “he or she or any member of his or her household, or any nominee of such person . . . ” while (b) states “he or she or any member of his or her household is in partnership with . . . ” While difficulties might not have arisen, it is conceivable that at some stage it will be necessary to define what is meant by “household”. In other words, where is the line drawn in relation to what is encompassed by the term? We are not pressing the point but the issue could arise at some stage. The fact that it has not arisen until now does not mean it cannot arise.
It has arisen.
As Deputy Sargent pointed out, this is currently being debated in the courts in another context. It is causing difficulties. We are providing in the Bill for the disclosure of interests, which is a relatively new concept. In fairness, therefore, we should not use a catch-all word such as "household" without trying to define it. It has a wide meaning. It could include an aunt, uncle, cousin, someone living in the house or somebody visiting. It could also include a lodger. Is there a definition of household anywhere which could be used? The matter is before a court at the moment in a different context so it is not a theoretical, abstract problem. It is a real problem. The Minister should seek further advice on it and revert to it on Report Stage.
For the sake of clarity, the word "partner" could be included. I have no problem with that. Father, mother, grandfather and so forth constitute close relatives. Does household include one's brother who does not live in one's house? There is a difference between family and household and I understand that that definitions in the Constitution of family and household are not compatible.
This is not an abstract issue. It is real and is currently causing difficulty in the courts. It is our responsibility to have clarity in legislation, not to create a situation where the matter will be sent to the courts to deal with because we cannot or will not do so. It is our job to provide clear definitions. Let us put parameters and a definition on the term, if we can. I will not press the amendment at present but I urge the Minister to consult again with the Attorney General and the other legal eagles about it. It is already causing a problem.
The amendment is not being pressed so it is up to the Minister——
We reserve the right to put it down again on Report Stage.
I prefer to leave it at that. We have given the matter a good airing. Confining ourselves to a definition is fraught with danger but I am happy to consult further on it, particularly with the parliamentary counsel. We can discuss it again on Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 27 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 3, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
" 'the lean economy' means an economy independent of finite and increasingly scarce imported fossil fuels and tailored to maximise energy conservation and rely primarily on renewable energy sources;".
It was mentioned earlier that the Bill focuses very much on one sector, electricity. It is seen as an important part of what sustainable energy could be. Unfortunately, what we are in danger of doing is creating a body that will be little more than a press office to announce or press for measures but which will ultimately not be able to or expected to outline an overall economic vision of a sustainable society where sustainable energy is the important component.
I am arguing for the concept of the lean economy to be inserted as a definition. My suggested definition is that it means "an economy independent of finite and increasingly scarce imported fossil fuels and tailored to maximise energy conservation and rely primarily on renewable energy sources". I hope the Minister will consider the amendment favourably. It would mean inserting in the Bill an indication that this new expanded body has the responsibility to outline ways for society to be truly sustainable. It is the nearest we have come to having such a body.
The amendment is necessary not just because of the Kyoto obligations, which are only the beginning of a long process of negotiations that will probably become more onerous for us even though we do not appear to be capable of living up to the existing obligations, minimal as they may be in the international context. It is also not just because the insurance companies are increasingly insisting that storm damage and other climate change related damages will increase the cost of insurance premia for everybody. It is because I am receiving more and more scientific evidence from people such as Dr. David Fleming, who gave a lecture called The Lean Economy in Trinity College last October, that there is a need to not just try to cut down on energy but also articulate a way in which we can live in the future when the finite resources on which we are absolutely dependent, which is similar to the way many drug addicts depend on heroin, will not be available to us. The concept should be included in the Bill so that the sustainable energy authority can articulate a vision of our society. Many more things could be said about this subject. That is why I tabled the amendment.
The thrust of these amendments is already covered by the existing functions of the new authority. The authority is to promote and assist, among other things, energy efficiency and renewables. It would not add anything to the Bill to insert the concept of a lean economy. The proposed amendment to section 6 could involve the authority promoting such concepts outside Ireland, which would take the remit of the authority beyond what is envisaged in the Bill. Ireland will continue to vigorously promote renewables at all fora available to us, including the United Nations. However, it will not be tied into the important functions of the authority. I reject the amendments.
I am disappointed the Minister of State is not prepared to accept the amendment and has emphatically rejected it. As regards his contention that amendment No. 27 would involve areas outside Ireland, the energy we use comes primarily from outside Ireland. We must recognise that we cannot live in isolation from the energy markets outside the country. We could become pedantic about it and say the wind is not Irish, but that is probably going too far. We must get away from the minimalist approach and from talking about efficiency and promoting renewables - the Minister of State is using that language. I am not being dramatic, but it is similar to speaking at a health committee about the difficulties of drug addiction. We have become reliant and dependent. It is time the Government gave leadership and articulated what will happen in the future. We are not talking about an accident at Sellafield and what might happen, but about what will happen. It will become more difficult to acquire oil, coal and fossil fuel energy supplies. The Minister of State may say that is a matter for another generation or Government. I ask him to consider future generations in the Bill. We are not doing that by adopting a minimalist approach.
I agree with Deputy Sargent. The Bill goes a certain distance, but the amendment goes further. It defines a target for the future and seeks to ensure that we strive to be independent of fossil fuels. We should lead by example in Europe. The Minister of State said our wind and wave energy are unparalleled in Europe. We have totally untapped solar energy. Digesters are rarely used in this country. Fossil fuels are finite and they will run out. The Kinsale field has virtually run out. We are lucky to have discovered the new gas field in the Corrib, but that will not last forever. We must have a goal to become independent of such scarce resources as much as we can. It would be nice to be totally independent of them, but I do not know if that will happen. The amendment sets out that goal. I strongly support my colleague and I urge the Minister of State to reconsider his position. We should strive for the ideal. I am disappointed and surprised the Minister of State emphatically rejected it given that he has consistently said he is in favour of renewable energies and that he wants to move away from fossil fuels. The Minister of State should include it in the Bill.
I assure everyone concerned that the Government is not adopting a minimalist approach in terms of the Bill or this issue. It is distressing to hear Deputy Sargent——
The Minister of State should be where I am sitting.
We must ensure the Deputy adopts a different perspective. It is distressing to hear the Deputy speak about the new authority as being nothing more than a press office. The Irish Energy Centre has proven it is far from being a press office. I expect great things from it when it is put on a statutory basis and I know it will deliver. As regards external matters, there is an implication in amendment No. 27, which states "to promote the concept and development of lean economies, especially in Ireland", that the authority will work abroad.
Like the ESB.
Its work is important and ongoing. The Irish Energy Centre work programme is well known. It knows what it must tackle. Much of it has been outlined in the Green Paper and it has been well received. The future work programme will include major concentration on research and development, such as wave energy technology with which I am enamoured. We were advised the technology must be developed further. Such research and development will be spearheaded by the new authority. I reject the use of the word "minimalist". I am sure we can improve the legislation, but these amendments will not add anything to it.
I will not press the amendment because the Minister of State has set his face against it. However, I reserve the right to come back to it on Report Stage. I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendmentNo. 12:
In page 4, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.-The Freedom of Information Act, 1977 shall apply to the Authority.".
The strange omission of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 1997, glaringly stands out in this legislation. I am seeking to insert a new section 5, as follows, "5.-The Freedom of Information Act 1977 shall apply to the Authority." One wonders why that is not included already.
In the Seanad debate it was mentioned that by virtue of the fact that the Irish Energy Centre has been subject to the Freedom of Information Act since January 2001, one must ask why this new authority will not similarly come under the aegis of the Act. I know that the Irish Energy Centre comes under its aegis because it is an adjunct of Enterprise Ireland. Therefore, we are seeking to have the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act applied to this authority as it applies to others, including the Irish Energy Centre.
My colleague, Senator Ryan, tabled this amendment in the Seanad. I have tabled it here to copperfasten what the Minister had to say so that it will be on the record here as well. In the Seanad debate the Minister stated: "I will ensure that the new authority is included in the schedule for the Freedom of Information Act as soon as possible after the establishment of the new authority." Pressed further, the Minister said: "That will be done expeditiously." I want to copperfasten that here and if I get that commitment from the Minister I will be happy enough.
This amendment seems very reasonable and I support it.
As Deputies have said, in response to a similar amendment in the Seanad I gave a commitment to include the authority under the Freedom of Information Act. The Irish Energy Centre is currently subject to that Act by virtue of being a division of Enterprise Ireland. I am anxious, as are our colleagues here, that in its transition to an independent statutory body, it will continue to be subject to the Act. The proposed amendment is based on recent legislation such as the Mental Health Act, 2001. I am advised, however, that the more appropriate way to achieve the end, with which I agree and to which I am committed, is to amend the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act. On Report Stage I propose to bring forward an amendment to do that. In that way I believe I will meet the objective articulated by colleagues today.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 4, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.-The Authority shall, subject to the provisions of the Act, be independent in the exercise of its functions.".
This is a technical amendment which seems to be a standard provision in other legislation. It copperfastens the provision that the authority would be subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and would be independent in the exercise of its functions. The amendment would make clear that it is a statutory authority which is independent in its workings, subject to the Act. This provision appears in many Acts. It is important for us to signal to the authority that it is independent in the exercise of its functions.
I have a difficulty with this because I am worried about quangos. In stating that it is independent, I want to know of whom it is independent. Does that mean it is independent of the democratically elected Oireachtas? If so, I would require much clarity before supporting it. I am worried that we are transferring authority from the Oireachtas to outside non-responsible authorities. I am worried because the term "independent" usually means that those who are elected cannot give them instructions. If that is the case, I would not agree with it.
I am sure Deputy Stagg has read through the amendments and has noted that, like himself, I have tabled another amendment later seeking that this authority should be accountable to the Dáil through the Minister by way of parliamentary questions for information purposes. The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, has told us there are moves afoot to do so for all the so-called quangos that Deputy Stagg mentioned. At the same time, bodies such as this authority should be independent and should go about their business independent of political interference, including ministerial interference, subject to the provisions of the Act. The Act outlines certain roles for Ministers, Oireachtas committees and Deputies by way of parliamentary questions. The authority should be statutorily independent in order to go about its business without interference. This provision is included in many other Acts.
Independent but accountable.
The authority is an independent legal entity bound by the provisions of the Act. As such, I consider this amendment is superfluous and I cannot accept it.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 4, subsection (1), between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
"(a) to provide a working definition of sustainable energy and to update the definition on a regular basis having regard to developments in available technology;”.
This matter was discussed at great length in the Seanad. I have the advantage of knowing what the Minister might say in response to it here because I have the Official Report in front of me. There was a learned discussion on the matter between the Minister and Senator Ryan. I thought the debate was inconclusive despite its length and learned nature. People are interested in maximising renewable sustainable energy production and what we are doing here, in putting in place the infrastructure for that, is a positive step in that direction. We should state clearly, however, what energy sources we are talking about. I am thinking of wind, solar and wave energy and I am sure no one will contradict me on that. Some people, however, may say "Yes" or "No" to combined heat and power, so we need to know what we are talking about. That is essential.
Some people accept turf as an energy source while others reject it. Turf generally comes under the barrier from the EU's point of view and we have succeeded in doing that because of its special national interest. Many others would argue that turf should be excluded from renewables and that, perhaps, there should be a ban on its use. Being from the Bord na Móna constituency of Kildare I am not making that argument today, but when it is made I understand it. We should specify what we are talking about. I am aware what the Minister said in the Green Paper so I do not require a long answer from him, but we should be specific.
I support Deputy Stagg's amendment. Not only should we be defining the energy there, but part of the difficulty in only having a definition is that it begs the wider question of how one uses that. It is not so much the energy, it is the technology that is involved in making that energy which is what we are really talking about. In many ways, I take issue with the European Union concerning its own belief in incineration, for example, which it likes to call energy recovery. If one were to define the efficiency of energy recovery in such a technology, one would find it is less of an energy recovery than, for example, the proper reuse of the materials which would save production energy in the first place. Let us talk about definitions here rather than simply throw around terms which lead to a false sense of security about a major shift in thinking when it is simply a fashion parade of terminology rather than a real change. I support this because we need definitions to know what we are talking about.
This is a very good amendment. We are setting up the sustainable energy authority and yet it is not defined in the Bill. That is fair enough but when the authority is up and running there should be a clear definition of what it is about. That should be included as part of its function. There is a provision in this amendment to up date the definition on a regular basis as other forms of energy may become available at some stage. Perhaps we will discover some form of geo-thermal energy in Wicklow. This amendment would not take from the Bill. As far as the functions of the authority are concerned, it is a very welcome amendment. It would give clarity to the definition of sustainable energy and provide a mechanism to up date it on a regular basis. I compliment Deputy Stagg on tabling the amendment and press the Minister of State to accept it so we can move on.
I will endeavour to accede to Deputy Stagg's request for a short answer. As regards his reference to the Green Paper, we endeavoured to set down how Ireland would progress towards meeting its energy requirements in an environmentally and economically sustainable way having regard to economic growth and security of supply objectives. "Sustainability" is defined in the Green Paper as ensuring the needs of present generations can be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. I set out in the Green Paper that a sustainable energy policy should do a number of things on which I will not, at Deputy Stagg's request, elaborate.
I am, however, satisfied that the functions of the authority, as set out in section 6, encapsulate all those requirements. I do not agree the sustainability concept needs constant redefining. Those of us who attend different fora throughout the world hear new and very flowery definitions and re-definitions of sustainability and sustainable energy but we know what we are talking about and what we want to achieve. It depends primarily on using best available technology and best practise to achieve that sustainable goal. In all those circumstances, I do not see it as a function of this new authority to define "sustainability". Its role is to ensure this country utilises best practise in all its energy supply and use to limit the harmful effects of energy use. That is my position on it.
I ask the Minister of State to reconsider this. We are not asking the Minister of State to define sustainable energy now, but it needs to be defined on an ongoing basis because the situation is changing and new sustainable energies and technologies are becoming available. Am I wrong in suggesting to the Minister of State that his officials might be afraid their curriculum vitae might be handed over to the new authority and that would take from their power within the system to limit and determine what the authority might do? If one allows the authority to define sustainable energy, it would have a very clear role in saying what it is about. Is that the reason this is being resisted? The reasons the Minister of State has given are not sustainable, if he does not mind me using the word in a different context, and the arguments he has made are like Galileo’s dialogue where one knows very well what one is saying is not sustainable in itself. It is very good to have this debate because this is at the core of the issue. Do the officials want to hold on to the authority to define this on a day to day basis as cases come up? No one will know the definition until they say what it is. Will we now say we have a new authority and that we should let it write its curriculum vitae? It would be much better to give the new authority that authority, particularly with the controls we had previously.
Deputy Stagg has spoken like a true and very worthy incumbent of this office over a period of time. In that context, he will know the incumbent officials would not dream of behaving in the way or adhering to what——
They were in another section when I was there.
——he is suggesting. I am tempted to have another look at this, if I may, and talk to the Deputy about it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 4, subsection (1)(a), line 13, to delete “and economically”.
In a way section 6 is the core of the Bill in that it defines what the authority will do. We should give it a lot of attention and we have done that by putting forward many amendments, although quite a number of them have been ruled out of order. That is, however, another story. The amendment proposes to examine section 6(1)(a) and to rewrite it to state that one of the functions of the authority should be to promote and assist environmentally sustainable production, supply and use of energy.
I was a little concerned when I saw the words "environmentally and economically sustainable production" because when one ties economics into sustainable production, it could limit what could be done. Does it mean that if a certain form of energy production is not economic, or economically sustainable, as stated here, the authority will have no function in promoting, assisting and supporting it? Who will define what will be economically sustainable? A lot of economically sustainable technologies would be made that way by way of Government action in terms of revenues, price structures of energies and so on. The Portuguese, for instance, are making it economically viable for wave energy to be developed whereas so far we are not paying real premium for green energy.
What I am trying to do is to break the link between environmentally sustainable production and economically sustainable production. If something is not economically sustainable - if it does not pay its way - does that mean we do not promote it? There are many forms of green energy - for want of a better term - which are probably not economically sustainable in present circumstances and may never be unless we break the link here. Further on, we have tried to incorporate the economics of it and to state that the authority should be aware of it and should try, as far as possible, to consider economics as well. We should be careful about tying it in here as far as the functions are concerned.
This is an interesting and correct amendment. The words "and economically" should be deleted because to determine what is meant by economical is similar to walking a minefield. The Minister of State will be aware from the Green Paper and the many world-wide fora to which he has referred that the internal costs of the energy currently forming the bulk of our energy supply are far greater than the price we pay, especially if the downstream clean up costs and the difficulties of replacing exhausted resources are taken into consideration.
On what criteria are the economic costs of fuel decided? Is it the short-term economic approach currently in vogue or longer-term economic considerations, which a sustainable energy approach requires us to take? The Minister of State will be aware of the cost of the proposed Arklow wind farm, which I hope will be a long-term investment with a long-term payback. It represents a very different type of economics to the building of peat fire stations.
According to the book, Creating Sustainable Cities, published in 1999, solar energy is approximately eight times more expensive than conventional forms of energy but it is expected to be competitive as early as 2010 as technology develops and markets grow. Some countries have already decided to proceed with it on this basis. The authority should look ahead and not be constrained by the current economic straightjacket, which, on the face of it would consider this kind of approach to be a waste of money and would call for an adherence to existing energy sources, such as peat and coal. In view of this, the insistence on economy of means in today’s prices is wrong, especially when a given energy source could be very economical in the future.
There is a need to retain the words "and economically" in this context. The authority must have regard to the cost element of the equation. Programmes, technologies and any other measures that are excessively costly could have negative impacts where they are least wanted. For example, they could have an impact on fuel prices for the poor and elderly or on industrial competitiveness. The authority must give consideration to cost issues. Given the pace of developments, measures that are not economical today may be within a relatively short period of time. However, to remove from the authority a provision obliging it to take account of the economics of projects would be to irresponsibly give it a carte blanche to act.
The Minister of State said the authority must be exciting and innovative, yet he is imposing economic constraints on it which will defeat that. It is as if he does not want it to experiment. The first function of the authority is to promote and assist, environmentally and economically, sustainable production, supply and use of energy. Does this mean it cannot promote and assist the production, supply and use of a production of a form of energy that is not economically sustainable today and that it could not, for example, consider the use of geo-thermal sources of energy or heat transfer machines because they are not economically sustainable?
There is a need to address this. We can agree that the first function of the authority should be to promote and assist environmentally sustainable production and supply of energy. A later provision should then require it to take note of economic factors without constraining it to the extent that what it promotes must be currently economically sustainable. By breaking the link with the economic requirement the authority could be free to do much more.
This provision requires more detailed consideration. Economic factors are vital because society could not function properly without them. However, there is a need to distinguish between short-term and long-term economics. One of the functions of the authority should be to promote the economic evaluation of energy technologies, having regard to short-term and long-term considerations. Technology projects could be piloted with a view to testing their feasibility. This would allow for their development and expansion when market conditions were right. While economic conditions must be a factor, the function of the authority should be to evaluate the economic viability of the schemes. It should not be constrained to only promoting current economic sustainable production. Wedo not want short-term considerations to dominate.
We could debate this indefinitely but we must take account of the real world. The national development plan will ensure the authority will have substantial funding at its disposal which I have no doubt subsequent Governments will maintain. However, it would be irresponsible to remove a provision requiring the authority to take cognisance of economic factors when evaluating projects. Section 6(1)(b) requires it to promote and assist energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. I am sure the board and its management will adhere to those functions and responsibilities and will demand, and be supported in fora such as this and in the Oireachtas, the resources necessary to proceed with the functions clearly set out in the legislation. I do not believe carte blanche is a realistic way to proceed.
I presume the Minister of State intends there will be value for money in the energy that will be produced arising from the activities of the authority. That is the reason for including the word "economically". I presume that would not prevent research into modes of energy generation that are currently not economical, for example, wave energy. The technology it will require means it is not yet economical. I assume the Minister of State is arguing for value for money.
Yes, I could not have described it better.
It is not that the funding for particular jobs would be cut or shortened but the end product that would be promoted would have a value for money audit carried out on it.
The Minister referred to section 6(1)(c) which states, "to promote and assist the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and transboundary air pollutants associated with the production, supply and use of energy". Does that mean in the case of Moneypoint, for example, where people are already claiming the stacks emit substantial air pollutants and transboundary air pollutants, this new authority could close that plant? Is that the economic aspect the Minister of State has in mind? Where are the economics in that case?
The powers of this authority would not extend to that area.
The section is clear. It refers to the production, supply and use of energy and that is what is happening in Moneypoint.
Yes, but it refers to the authority's function of promoting and assisting sustainable production, supply and use of energy. I could not put it better than Deputy Stagg put it earlier. Basically, the concept of value for money must be part of any real world situation.
One can argue about the value for money with regard to the emission of pollutants from Moneypoint. Would it be better to pay for more expensive electricity so people would have better health or does the cheaper cost of production allow us to export many more goods? Is that the economic choice one makes? The amendment, in seeking to analyse it, hits the point. I cannot see the sense in paragraph (c). Why refer to transboundary air pollutants associated with the production, supply and use of energy if the Minister of State is not referring to Moneypoint and other facilities?
I do not know what point the Deputy is making. He refers to the requirement to promote and assist the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and transboundary air pollutants in the new authority's functions and refers to that function in relation to facilities such as Moneypoint. However, the authority is not in the business of making decisions in relation to Moneypoint. It is there to promote and assist with a view to achieving that which is aspired to in this legislation.
I wish to refer again to the environmental tag. The section states that the functions of the authority shall be "to promote and assist environmentally and economically sustainable production". There is no "or", "if" or "maybe". It is the "environmentally and economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy". It has to be economically sustainable. What does economically sustainable mean? In my opinion, it means that it pays its way and is profitable. Under the section it must be environmentally and economically sustainable.
We are trying to break the link. We areseeking the removal of the phrase "and economically" in that subsection. I intended to insert it further down in the section but my amendment was ruled out of order because of the silly rule under which the Opposition cannot put forward amendments that might impose a cost on the Exchequer. I attempted to insert the phrase further down in the section and link it to conservational efficiency and the economic use of energy. Perhaps the Minister of State would consider doing that.
I am anxious to break the link between environmental and economical. Our focus must be environmental and that must stand out. We are suggesting that the authority promote and assist the environmentally sustainable production, supply and use of energy. We are not suggesting the economic aspects be ignored because they must be taken into account. However, we must break the link in this paragraph between the two. The Minister of State is linking them. English is English and the paragraph reads "to promote and assist environmentally and economically sustainable production". Let us break the link between the two. There is no need to ignore it; it can be inserted further down in the section. The Minister of State has the power to do it.
Is the Deputy suggesting this Government or, more pertinently, this authority proceeds to promote and assist non-viable or non-economical projects and technologies?
What is non-economical today may well be economical tomorrow. That is the point. Wave energy at present may not be economical but if it were promoted, developed and assisted, one could reach a stage where it could become economical. This is the point of the legislation. The Minister of State should break the link; he should be courageous on this issue and make a decision.
I was assisting the Minister of State in my point regarding Moneypoint. The ESB tells us it is uneconomical to install filters in the stack at Moneypoint. The new authority is being given the responsibility to promote and assist in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and transboundary air pollutants. Will the ESB still not say, even if the capital is available, that it is uneconomical? That is what it has been saying for years.
Is it not a fact that the existing power stations are deemed to be uneconomical in comparison with the two new power stations?
I am not talking about Moneypoint but about the two new peat stations. Clearance had to be secured from Europe for a public service obligation and subsidy. If we are serious about the objectives in the Bill, that linkage must be broken and if it means subsidisation, so be it. It is subsidisation in the interests of the environment. It is a short-term consideration from the point of view of achieving environmental objectives.
Most green energy is uneconomic at present. We must work to ensure that its production becomes economically viable. According to the Bill, the authority will not be able to promote and assist green energy production. It must, therefore, be environmentally and economically sustainable.
What is missing among the authority's functions is a mechanism to allow it to evaluate the long and short-term economic dimensions and the internal and external costs of sustainable energy technology. If, instead of just considering current costs, we took account of internal costs, we could present the argument in a way which would ensure the case relating to the economic consideration would be won. The Bill does not deal adequately with the economics of sustainable energy. Perhaps such a function could be conferred on the authority because it might help everyone involved.
I do not believe we are at odds on this issue, we are all aspiring towards reaching the same goal. Perhaps matters have not been explained in the way they ought to have been. Section 6(1)(b) states that one of the functions of the authority shall be “to promote and assist energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy”. In my opinion, this covers what the Deputies are seeking to achieve in their amendment and, rightly so, there is no reference to economic constraints. Section 6(1)(a) states that another of the authority’s functions shall be “to promote and assist environmentally and economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy”. A technology of which I and other Members are enamoured is CHP - combined heat and power - which is economically and environmentally sustainable. Section 6(1)(a) will allow the authority to “promote and assist” the production of CHP. I am sure everyone present would want to facilitate the authority in doing just that. The other renewable sources of energy - wind energy, wave energy, et al - are covered under section 6(1)(b). In my opinion, therefore, we are at cross-purposes in our discussion on this matter.
I do not want to reiterate what has already been stated but the economic aspects of this issue are extremely important and it is vital that we get matters right. I wish to draw the Minister of State's attention to amendment No. 18, which has been ruled out of order. Perhaps he might consider tabling a similar amendment that would meet everyone's requirements by breaking the link with the need for environmentally sustainable production while, at the same time, allowing the authority to promote the economical use of energy. If the Minister of State took this course, we might be able to proceed because all eventualities would be covered.
To which amendment is the Deputy referring?
Amendment No. 18.
It was ruled out of order.
Who ruled it out of order?
I must take responsibility in that regard.
I would not presume to question the Chair's reasons for doing so.
What Deputy Stanton is suggesting is that perhaps the Minister of State might give consideration to the content of amendment No. 18 in the context of the amendment under discussion.
We would be happy to do so.
The danger with leaving such matters until Report Stage is that a guillotine is usually applied which means we do not have a further opportunity to state our case. This happened in respect of a number of previous Bills. I do not believe we have any choice but to move on because the Minister of State is opposing the amendment. I ask him to reconsider the matter and, perhaps, try to reach some compromise in respect of it. In the interests of——
I apologise for interrupting, but I believe I am singing the same song as the Deputy and others present in respect of this issue. He may have grasped the wrong end of the stick with regard to what I have stated. We will look at the amendment in the context of what has been proposed.
It is worth pointing out that amendments Nos. 16 to 20, inclusive, which were ruled out of order, involve potential charges on the Revenue and only the Government can table amendments of this nature.
It is for that reason that we are asking the Minister of State to consider tabling an amendment similar to No. 18 for Report Stage.
The Minister stated that he would do so.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 20, inclusive, are ruled out of order as they involve potential charges on the Revenue.
Are Deputies allowed to speak to the amendments even though they have been ruled out of order?
That is fine.
Amendments Nos. 21, 26 and 31 are related and may be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 4, subsection (1), between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"(e) to propose legislative and fiscal measures to achieve the objectives stipulated in the foregoing subparagraphs of this subsection;
(f) to prepared and publish annual reports on the relative performance of the State and each of the other Member States of the European Union relating to sustainable energy objectives;”.
This amendment was dealt with in the Seanad, where it was tabled by my colleague, Senator Brendan Ryan. It seeks to provide the authority with an additional purpose. We are not suggesting the authority should supplant the Oireachtas by being allowed to initiate legislation. However, the existing section 6(1)(f) states that it shall be the function of the authority to “provide advice, information and guidance . . . to the Minister and such other Ministers or bodies as the Minister may direct”. In that context, our amendment states that it should be able to propose to the Minister, or any other Minister, legislative and fiscal measures to achieve the objectives already stipulated in the section. The authority will probably do so in any event but the amendment would strengthen its hand by giving it an actual role in terms of advising the Minister in respect of legislation.
The second part of the amendment relates to accountability and the need to make information available if it is collected. If the authority collects specific comparative information with regard to other member states, we will be in a position to measure the progress we are making and apply a benchmark. That is the essence of the argument.
Amendment No. 26, which is similar to the second part of Deputy Stagg's amendment, states that it should be a function of the authority to "prepare and publish reports on the relative performance of the State in terms of achieving energy efficiency and sustainable energy measures by comparison with other EU Member States." It is vital that there should be a regular assessment of Ireland's performance in this area and that of the authority we are establishing vis-à-vis its counterparts in other countries.
The functions outlined in section 6(1)(a), (b) and (c), namely, “to promote and assist environmentally and economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy . . . to promote and assist energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy . . . to promote and assist the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and transboundary air pollutants associated with the production, supply and use of energy”, and those in paragraphs (d), (e) and (f), are laudable. However, we should be aware of what is happening in other countries. We should be in a position to carry out a regular comparison of Ireland’s performance and that of the new authority vis-à-vis other countries. That is what the amendment seeks to do.
It is interesting that Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party have all tabled amendments. While they are not the same, they identify a need for the authority to make known its interest in introducing measures and making changes to fiscal policy to assist in the promotion of sustainable or renewable energy, which is the function of the authority. Various fiscal measures are in place in other countries already and such measures need to be set out here because, for one reason or another, the traditional attitude of the Department of Finance has been that the purpose of taxation is to raise revenue and if taxation is ring fenced or gauged to alter behaviour by promoting an issue, for example, tax on cigarettes, the Department becomes uneasy. The authority must set out the arguments and the feasibility of fiscal measures to promote sustainable energy. For example, the UK has introduced a reduced VAT rate on renewable energy while Scandinavian countries and others have introduced a carbon tax to make sustainable energy economical by internalising the costs of the unsustainable energy. Those are important functions for the authority. Who will undertake such functions if the authority does not? The Minister of State should accept the principle of the amendments.
My amendment seeks that the authority should have a function is proposing fiscal or other measures to Government which would assist in the achievement of the authority's objectives. The other amendments are also worthy. I ask the Minister of State to give serious thought to them and to take on board the principle involved.
The first part of amendment No. 21 and amendment No. 31 suggest that the authority should be given the power to propose legislative and fiscal measures. It is strictly a matter for this or any Government to propose legislation and for the current or future Minister for Finance to propose fiscal measures. I cannot accept an amendment that provides otherwise. The role of the new authority on legislative or fiscal issues is to advise Ministers as appropriate and this is already a function of the authority as provided in section 6(1)(f).
The Minister of State is making the same mistake he made in the Seanad. My amendment does not state "initiate legislative measures". The Minister of State was corrected on this point in the Seanad. We are seeking that the authority be allowed to propose legislation to the Minister, not initiate it in the House. The amendment would strengthen section 6(1)(f).
The subsection states that it is a function of the authority "to provide advice, information and guidance to the Minister and such other Ministers or bodies as the Minister may direct".
We propose in that context that the function should include the proposal of legislative and-or fiscal measures to the Minister that might be required.
That is covered by "advice, information and guidance".
I accept that but we are trying to be more specific to give a clearer role to the authority and, thus, remove it from the civil servants sitting beside the Minister of State.
I refer to the second part of amendment No. 21 and amendment No. 26. The International Energy Agency and the EU produce a number of publications which compare energy policies of member states and in such circumstances we cannot duplicate their work. The Department already contributes to a number of EU fora which discuss energy statistics and relative indicators. One difficulty the authority faces is sourcing information in EU member states for comparison purposes. Due to different structural characteristics and climates, it is often difficult to make meaningful comparisons between countries on the relative success of sustainable energy measures. A plethora of studies and publications has been conducted and produced under the auspices of the IEA and the EU. I would hate to think of the level of resources that would be required by the authority to conduct studies of a substantial nature in this area. I cannot accept the amendments.
I do not accept the logic of the Minister of State's argument for non-publication of an annual report which would include a comparison with other countries. Contributing to international fora is fine but the Minister cannot argue that there is a plethora of statistics, reports and other documentation available and it would take too much time to go through them. There should be a small specialised unit within the new authority to evaluate what is happening in other member states and to update statistics regularly so that we can ascertain how our performance measures up to other countries. A number of EU member states have grabbed headlines and led the way and they are light years ahead of Ireland. An annual assessment should be made of our progress in comparison to other member states. The Minister of State's argument is not valid.
I agree with the desirability of producing such information but the onus to do so should not be put on the new authority. Ireland already contributes to international fora and information should be compiled and be readily available with a view to availing of the innovations and progress in other countries. The suggestion is that this should be stitched into the legislation as a function of the authority and that is not on.
Because of the level of resources that would be required.
We are back to economics. The authority will be starved of resources so that it cannot draw comparisons with other countries. What is the Minister of State afraid of? What is being hidden? He should be brave and make a decision. He should talk to his officials and include these amendments.
We discussed real world stuff earlier. Deputy Stagg's terminology was "value for money". He argued that meant value for money. I do not know how we can get away from that if we are to live in the real world.
I do not doubt members of the authority will be exercised about and conscious of the financial and fiscal measures which would be needed and desirable to help promote sustainable energies and technologies. As matters stand, they need not bother their heads about it. They can be like inventors with their own private resources and dream up whatever they like as long as it is in line with the functions already laid down. The actual implementation of their innovations, which could be critically affected by fiscal measures, need not concern them.
Who will give the necessary thought and consideration to these matters outside the international forums, many of which are concerned with common positions such as a European wide eco-tax or some form of multi-lateral measure? The Minister of State said he did not want the agency poking its nose into the affairs of those outside Ireland. In that case it should be allowed devote itself to promoting sustainable energy in Ireland with all the means possible to do it, including giving advice, and not writing legislation or doing someone else's job.
There is a critical element associated with renewable energy, namely, the lack of fiscal measures. I have repeatedly asked the Minister for Finance in the Dáil about fiscal measures on this matter, I am told he is not convinced. Who will do the convincing? Other countries have been convinced, yet the Department of Finance remains to be convinced. This authority is best equipped to do that because it sees the need for sustainable energy and to convince the Minister of State's Department and, in turn, the Minister for Finance on this and it has the expertise to do so. Let its members use that expertise to bring about sustainable energy.
I would not disagree with anything the Deputy said. The Minister for Finance was sufficiently convinced for him to allocate substantial amounts of money to set up and fund this authority. The Deputy and others obviously convinced him.
I am not talking about the authority being set up. I am talking about the work it will do. People have not been convinced in this regard.
We could add on all manner of additional functions to this authority.
No. This is critical. This is not another add-on for the sake of having more to do. Fiscal measures will either create or prevent renewable energy coming into being and the Minister of State knows that.
It is provided for in the Bill and I pointed out where that is done. The legislation specifies that the authority should provide advice, information and guidance to the Minister, such other Ministers or bodies as the Minister may direct, and to energy suppliers and users relating to the matters specified in the paragraphs of this section. The track record of the Irish Energy Centre shows how efficient and competent it is and has been without this additional muscle, to use crude terminology, with which we are endeavouring to provide it.
The Minister of State said that the annual reports on the performance of the State relative to the other member states of the European Union in the matter of sustainable energy objectives should be made available and should be compiled and published. There is an opportunity in the legislation to give that role to the authority. If the Minister of State has decided not to give the role to the authority, who will do it?
I do not understand that question.
The Minister of State, in reply to a question earlier from one of my colleagues, agreed that there was a need for the performance of the State relative to other EU member states in the matter of sustainable energy objectives to be compiled and made available. There is an opportunity in the Bill to give that role to the Sustainable Energy Authority because it is set up to deal with sustainable energy. The Minister of State said it should be done but that this authority should not do it. If it should be done, who will do it?
As I said, Ireland already participates——
I am not talking about that. Who will compile the reports? It is a simple enough question.
The compilation of the reports is done. It is a question, of assessing them.
Who will do it? Can the Minister of State tell me that?
Those who are interested in doing it.
Could the Minister of State give me a name?
Should this authority deem it requires this type of statistical information regarding innovative activities in other states, it will be made available.
It does not state that in the Bill.
We can give the Deputy a list of publications.
The Minister of State said this authority will perform this task. Where is that stated in the Bill? I am seeking guidance, Chairman.
Section 6(2) states:
The Authority shall have all such powers as are necessary for or are incidental to the performance of its functions under this Act, including-
. . . (b) the compilation, extraction and dissemination of information and projections relating to energy production and use (including implications relating to the sourcing, transformation, transmission, distribution and emissions thereof);
I do not suppose I will need to explain the entire legislation. I am sure the Deputy has read it. Section 6(2)(i) refers to, “the exchange of information with organisations outside the State and participation in international activities”. It is included in the legislation.
I am grateful to the Minister of State for the clarity he has brought to this matter. Does this include comparisons between Ireland and other member states?
I would advise that this be done because it would be a productive and business-like way of doing things.
I thank the Minister of State.
He has clarified the matter effectively.
I must leave now. I have four remaining amendments in my name, Nos. 50, 53, 60 and 64. May I withdraw them now and table them for Report Stage?
Yes, you can.
If they are reached and they fall, I cannot.
No, but you can if you withdraw them now.
I withdraw amendments Nos. 50, 53, 60 and 64.
On a similar matter, the Minister of State said we would be here until thecows come home. Unfortunately, the cows comehome for me about now. I wish to withdraw myamendments which have not yet been dealt with.
Those amendments will not be moved and will be treated similar to the amendments in the name of Deputy Stagg.
Thank you, Chairman.
We will have an enjoyable Report Stage.
It will be enjoyable if the Minister of State and I have a good understanding.
Amendments Nos. 22 to 24, inclusive, are out of order as they involve a potential charge on the Revenue.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 4, subsection (1), between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:
"(g) to prepare and publish annual reports on the performance of Government departments, agencies and local authorities in achieving energy efficient measures and targets.”.
State agencies and bodies are significant users of energy and need to begin to consider how they use energy, how efficiently they use it, how they save it and whether they use green energy. In response to a parliamentary question I was informed that such bodies do not use any green energy. The total energy requirement of State agencies is high. This amendment would give State agencies and local authorities the opportunity to take the lead as regards energy efficiency. I hope the Minister of State will take this issue on board.
We are back to the issue of resources. The consequences of accepting this amendment would be that the authority would need resources to audit each Department, agency and local authority on an annual basis. The Deputy's concerns, as expressed in the amendment, are adequately addressed by the reporting requirement as laid out in the Government's decision of 3 July 2001 that all Departments and State bodies be required to report to Government and to the Oireachtas in their annual reports on measures to reduce energy usage in buildings they occupy. This amendment would require the provision of resources well beyond those contemplated for the authority. It is part of the new authority's mandate to assist such bodies in meeting targets, establishing benchmarks and providing information. Publishing annual reports is an onerous task in terms of auditing and resources which, after all the work and expense, may not provide the desired results.
The Comptroller and Auditor General carries out value for money audits from time to time regarding areas of expenditure, including energy. The amendment is meritorious and has been given consideration. However, the Government's decision and its instruction to all Departments and State bodies to report annually on energy usage in their buildings are pertinent and necessary as regards our aspirations in the areas of energy efficiency and conservation.
I take the Minister of State's point. However, I am concerned that State bodies will report and that will be the end of the matter. This amendment seeks to ensure the authority would collate and analyse these reports and prepare an overall report. Reference was made to buildings. However, the Minister of State will know that many State agencies also use cars and other methods of transport which use a significant amount of energy, but this issue has not been mentioned. The agency might be given some role in assimilating and collating information from these State agencies and bodies and, perhaps, producing some overall strategy or advice on this matter. I would be happy to withdraw the amendment if the Minister of State will undertake to consider the matter before Report Stage.
We are discussing the issue of advice and the word "advice" appears throughout the legislation as a major function of the new authority. The amendment's proposal goes well beyond the authority's envisaged functions and requirements.
I accept the Minister of State's point, but will he consider expanding the authority's role a little so it would collate reports produced by State agencies? This would ensure the matter would not end with the presentation of reports, but the authority would collate the information and, perhaps, offer a general overall view as to the State's position in this regard. State agencies and bodies use a significant amount of energy and the State is perhaps the largest user of energy.
I am always loath to give a commitment to examine an issue and come back on Report Stage. I have stated as regards other issues that I will revert to them and that is a genuine commitment.
I know that.
However, I do not intend to do so in this case as I do not see how the objective of the amendment is achievable, regardless of how desirable it may be in the context of the functions of the new authority.
The Minister of State has set his face against the objective of the amendment. I will withdraw the amendment, but reserve the right to table it again on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 4, subsection (2)(b), line 40, after “distribution” to insert “, conservation, efficiency”.
I am concerned that the word "conservation" does not appear in the Bill. The conservation of energy is important and we have tried on a number of occasions to insert the words "conservation" and "efficiency". This is the other side of the coin as regards the production of energy. We have to produce energy, but we must also conserve it and use it efficiently.
Section 2(b) refers to the compilation, extraction and dissemination of information and projections relating to energy production and use. It also lists issues such as transformation, transmission, distribution and emissions. The amendment proposes to include energy conservation and efficiency in this list. Will the Minister of State take on board this suggestion? It adds to the Bill at this stage.
The power under section 6(2)(b) relates to the new authority compiling benchmarks and statistics in relation to energy production and use and refers to the sourcing, transformation, transmission and distribution of and emissions from electricity. In a situation where the electricity market is liberalised and there are a number of electricity generators, the new authority will need to develop and provide statistics on emissions from all of these. In the past, this role would have been carried out by the ESB.
In the context of measuring the implications of such activity, conservation and efficiency are not readily measurable and it is considered that it would be impracticable. The authority has the power to measure, compile, extract and disseminate information in relation to energy efficiency and conservation by virtue of its functions as set out in subsection (1) of this section.
The Minister of State said that under subsection (1) the authority has the power to compile statistics in regard to conservation and efficiency. Perhaps he will assist me by showing me where that is.
The term "efficiency" - I use the word "conservation" quite a lot in that context - occurs throughout the Bill and is deemed to mean the same as "conservation".
Where in subsection (1) is there a function to compile statistics regarding conservation and efficiency in the use and production of energy? I cannot see this in subsection (1).
The Deputy asked me to tell him to what it refers.
We are talking about the compilation, extraction and dissemination of information relating to the efficient use and conservation of energy.
Section 6(1)(b) states that the function of the authority shall be to promote and assist energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy. Section 6(2)(a) states:
The Authority shall have all such powers as are necessary for or are incidental to the performance of its functions under this Act, including
(a) co-operating with the Central Statistics Office and acting as an agent of that Office in relation to matters related to the functions of the Authority.
A number of amendments were ruled out of order. This is unfortunate, particularly in regard to amendments dealing with the transmission of energy, which is an important area. We are told, for instance, that if energy is transmitted through high voltage lines over long distances, quite an amount of it is lost. I would have thought it would have been useful for the authority to have functions in that regard, which is why we tabled the amendments.
We also tabled amendments relating to education as education is different from training and providing advice and guidance. It takes place in schools and universities and has not been mentioned in the Bill. I know there is advice in regard to the development of technologies. Education also deals with lifestyle and getting people to change their mindsets. Education, as such, has not been mentioned. Perhaps the Minister of State will look at this aspect at a later stage. The Irish Energy Centre is involved in education, including schools programmes and so on and I have seen some of the work it does on the world-wide web. It has produced nice material, including little thermometers and so on. However, it could do a lot more, not just by way of education in schools but by educating the general public too. Perhaps the Minister of State will consider an educative role for the authority.
The whole area of energy conservation and efficiency needs to be strengthened in the Bill. The use of energy conservation, including insulation, is very important. A number of years ago, people were trying to use paper as an insulating material. Every obstacle was put in the way of the company which eventually folded. We need to look at insulating buildings and how they are situated and designed. That is why energy conservation and efficiency was included.
I ask the Minister of State to note the points I have made.
I have absorbed the Deputy's comments. He spoke about the educational function of the authority, or the Irish Energy Centre as it currently stands. I agree the centre has a superb record in regard to the educational functions on which it embarks and have witnessed its personnel's performance in both first and second level schools. The programmes have been effective and efficient and their interaction with pupils of all ages in conveying the message of energy conservation and efficiency has been superb. Education at the level on which the centre has embarked in the past has been superbly executed and very effective. The management and staff of the centre deserve our compliments and congratulations on their work.
The amendment relating to the wider education people may have envisaged was disallowed because it impinged on the Exchequer. However, I take the very valid points made by the Deputy.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 5, before section 7, to insert the following new section:
"7.-(1) The Authority may, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, perform any of its functions through a subsidiary and, for the purpose of such performance, may acquire, form or establish one or more than one subsidiaries (within the meaning of section 155 of the Companies Act 1963) and for that purpose may acquire, hold or dispose of shares or any other interest in a company or become a member of a company (within the meaning of the Companies Acts 1963 to 2001).
(2) In relation to the exercise of its powers under subsection (1)-
(a) the Board of the Authority shall ensure that the memorandum and articles of association of a subsidiary are in a form consistent with this Act, and that the prior approval of the Minister and the Minister for Finance are obtained in relation to such memorandum and articles, and any alterations to them;
(b) the Minister may give a direction in writing to the Authority on any matter relating to a subsidiary, and the Authority shall comply or ensure compliance with any such direction;
(c) the Minister shall not issue a direction to the Authority under paragraph (b) which relates to the disposal of any assets or surpluses of a subsidiary without the consent of the Minister for Finance;
(d) the grades of staff and the number of staff of a subsidiary shall be determined by the Board of the Authority, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance;
(e) the staff of any subsidiary shall hold office or employment subject to such terms and conditions as are approved by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance.”.
The amendment provides for the authority to have the power to establish subsidiaries in order for some of its functions to be performed through such subsidiaries, if it so desires. I believe it to be a valuable instrument for the authority in the exercise of its functions. It could allow it establish subsidiaries that could, for example, support the development of new services in the marketplace and realise the value of intellectual property accruing from research expenditure, and establish a new activity of a regulatory certification or data holding kind where there is a formal need to establish it on a stand-alone basis because of possible conflicts of interest with promotional activity. Trading and verification schemes are possible examples. While the current centre has no immediate plans to establish subsidiaries upon its establishment as the new authority, this section will allow it the freedom to delegate functions as the need arises in future, subject to the agreement of the Minister and, of course, the Minister for Finance.
Amendments Nos. 35 and 39 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 5, subsection (1), lines 27 and 28, to delete "the production, supply (including security of supply) and use of energy" and substitute "sustainable energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy".
This section currently provides for the possible assignment of additional functions related to the production, supply, including security of supply, and use of energy. After further consultation with interested parties, including the Commission for Electricity Regulation, concern was expressed that such a precise reference to security of supply in this Bill would be likely to lead to legislative confusion, in so far as the mandates of the CER and the new authority are concerned. This would be primarily because the CER accepts it is accountable for ensuring the security of Ireland's electricity supply, as mandated in section 9(4)(b) of the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999. This section imposes a duty on the CER to have regard to the need to ensure that all reasonable demands by final customers of electricity are met and to promote the continuity, security and quality of supplies of electricity.
I am, therefore, proposing these amendments which will limit the scope of possible additional functions that can be given to the authority to functions that relate to sustainable energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy. It was considered that the current wording of this provision is too wide in scope, referring to energy in the widest sense. The new authority has a huge job of work to do over the next number of years as climate change issues grow and I am anxious to ensure the authority retains its focus and directs its resources to the vital area of promotion of sustainable energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Additional functions could arise from the implementation of EU directives, regulations and policy in the energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable energy area or the Minister may wish to transfer functions relating to energy from existing agencies or bodies to the new authority. This may be done only following consultation with the authority, the Minister for Finance and any other Minister who would be concerned with such an assignment.
The assignment of additional functions to the authority by the Minister can be done only by positive statutory order and Deputies will note that under section 8, any such order must first be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas before being made by the Minister, thereby giving the Oireachtas a say in any function to be transferred or given to the authority under this section.
I agree with what the Minister has said. It makes sense and was something I was going to raise because I was curious about the security of supply aspect.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 5, subsection (1), line 29, after "appropriate" to insert "in accordance with the energy sustainability objectives of section 6”.
This amendment was tabled to strengthen the section but the Minister of State's amendments have strengthened it. I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 5, subsection (2), lines 32 and 33, to delete "the production, supply (including security of supply) and use of energy" and substitute "sustainable energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy".
I have no major difficulty with this section except that the area of insulation, conservation and so on could be strengthened. My amendments have been ruled out of order but I may introduce them in different ways on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 41:
In page 6, subsection (1), line 3, after "members" to insert "at least one of whom shall be elected by the employees of the Authority".
When this matter arose during the debate on another Bill the Minister for Public Enterprise agreed that it was important the staff of an agency or authority be represented on the board of the agency or authority. This amendment would allow staff to elect a representative to the board. The Minister strongly agreed with the need for such a provision when we debated the Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Bill. Because the Minister established a precedent in the previous Bill we thought it useful to continue the practice here. It was felt at the time to be a good practice and I hope the Minister of State will follow the practice of the Minister for Public Enterprise.
It is Government policy that the appointment of worker directors to commercial State bodies is needed. This is provided for under the worker participation Acts. It is not Government policy to provide for staff to appoint a member to the boards of non-commercial bodies. There appears to be legislative provision for this in a limited number of cases only. What has become custom and practice for such companies is the appointment of a representative to the board from the trade union pillar of the social partnership.
The new authority is, of necessity, going to be a small State body with, perhaps, no more than 50 staff. Sub-board structures can be implemented to ensure adequate information flows to the staff and the authority would be failing in its duty if it did not provide for proper communication channels to the staff.
I undertake to appoint a representative of the trade union pillar of the social partnership to the board.
I am amazed at this. During discussions on previous legislation is was clear that the Minister for Public Enterprise was happy with this proposal. It is important that employees be represented on boards. I will revisit this matter on Report Stage and I reserve the right to move an amendment then. In the meantime, the Minister of State might consult his senior colleague to see if there is some way whereby employees can be represented.
It is possible that this authority will grow in size and increase its functions, importance and responsibilities. It is a good precedent that employees be represented on the board and to tell the board directly what is happening on the ground. While it is a good idea to have a representative of the trade union pillar, that is not the same as having an employee, like a worker-director, on the board's agency in accordance with good practice. We all agree on the need for whistle-blower legislation and a worker-director on the board would help in this regard. I ask the Minister to look at this again.
I will be happy to discuss this issue again on Report Stage in light of what the Deputy said about the rail procurement agency with which I want to make myself au fait.
I move amendment No. 42:
In page 6, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The members of the Board shall direct and carry out the functions of the Authority in accordance with this Act and shall satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the systems in place for that purpose and shall otherwise manage and review the workings of the Authority.".
We are trying to expand the board's functions in this amendment. Such a provision is found in many pieces of legislation and should not be a problem here. Perhaps the Minister will accept the amendment.
This amendment covers in general terms what is in the Department of Finance's new code of practice for the governance of State bodies. Due to the existence of this code, it was not the intention to include anything on this matter in the Bill. One of my concerns is that the amendment refers to the board managing the workings of the authority as that is the role of the chief executive under his contract of employment. My previous career was at managerial level in the State sector before moving into this lifestyle and, because of that, I am anxious to avoid the board's having a statutory duty to manage the authority. However, we will look at it again and return to it on Report Stage in light of Deputy Stanton's comments.
I accept what the Minister said, but this provision is found in other legislation and we must outline what the board does. I will withdraw the amendment in light of the Minister's undertaking to examine it again.
I move amendment No. 43:
In page 6, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Minister, with the consent of the Minister of Finance, shall nominate people to be members of the Board and each person so nominated, on accepting the nomination, and prior to appointment to the Board by the Minister shall appear before a Committee of Dáil Éireann established under the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann in order to answer questions regarding his or her suitability, qualifications and experience and the Minister shall not appoint a member without prior approval of the said Dáil Committee.".
This is a crucial amendment which brings into the public domain the nomination and appointment of members of boards of State bodies. Although one or two people should not have been appointed to certain boards, many excellent people are appointed to boards of State bodies and do great work, yet the public, for the most part, does not know anything about them. In other jurisdictions, people appointed to such bodies present themselves before a committee of Parliament to answer a few questions. This is done in public with the media present and people can view the official record afterwards. I am not suggesting that matters are not above board as they are conducted now, but this process would be open and transparent. This amendment seeks to have nominated people appear before an appropriate Oireachtas committee to answer committee members' questions prior to their appointment by the Minister. Unless something arose in the proceedings to cast doubt over a person's suitability, the committee would approve the nomination.
I recognise that this is a groundbreaking amendment, and that something similar has only been proposed in a few cases, but it would establish a good precedent. I ask the Minister to consider it seriously and, as we are establishing a new authority with a new name, we should allow the board's members, who will undoubtedly be people of the highest calibre, to come before this committee to explain what they have to offer and what benefit they will be. This is new and positive. If the Minister does not accept it now, perhaps he will consider it on Report Stage. The public would be happy to see politicians opening State boards to such scrutiny.
There would be many committee meetings when the next Government fills all the boards.
This amendment is without precedent regarding the appointment of members to a State body. It would be unique in our system. Many people, who would be eminent board members, might not be prepared to submit to questioning about their suitability or qualifications.
This proposal would make it difficult to get sufficient suitable people to sit on the board. The suggested mechanism would also be a problem given the volume involved. There may be another forum or device by which such an innovative idea might be introduced, but it has no place in this Bill. I do not accept the amendment.
I did not think the Minister would. He cited volume as a reason for rejecting it, but the board members only change every ten years. He also said that people would not be prepared to appear before this committee, but that should not be so as we would like to meet board members who are appointed by the State and do good work on its behalf. Why should this not be in the open with the public and the media allowed to see who is appointed to State boards? It would give these people a chance to outline their background and qualifications are and their reasons for wanting to serve the State. There is a great clamour for board membership when the process is not open and transparent, so why should there not be when it is? If we had hearings, people would still be anxious to serve. I do not wish to press the Minister on this, but put it down as a marker of the manner in which I would like to see these boards conducted.
We all know there are eminent, excellent people serving on our State boards who do not do so for financial gain as it is not a profitable exercise. We are fortunate to have these patriotic people who are prepared to give of their experience and expertise. I do not suggest these people would want to be anything other than open and transparent but they treasure their privacy and, while willing to serve their country on a State board, might be reluctant about this proposal.
I will withdraw the amendment, provided I can resubmit it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 45:
In page 6, line 6, before ",and" to insert "as soon as may be after the establishment day".
At this stage, I will be happy whether or not the Minister accepts the amendment.
I am glad the Deputy feels that way as there is no need for the amendment.
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 6, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following subsection:
"(4) Each member of the Authority shall be a person who, in the opinion of the Minister, has wide experience and competence in relation to one or more of the following areas:
(a) renewable energy methodologies and technologies,
(b) conservation and efficient use of energy,
(c) environmental matters,
(h) the construction industry,
(i) urban development,
(j) energy production and supply,
(k) motor engineering,
(l) legal matters.".
This follows on the previous amendment concerning State boards. It seeks to ensure that the members of the authority will have experience and something tangible to offer and that each appointed member will have one or more of these competencies. In putting a board together, it would be useful to have some member with expertise in renewable energy methodologies and technologies or in conservation and efficient use of energy. I know the Minister has a problem with the word "conservation" but we can remove that and leave it as efficient use of energy. It would be desirable that members would have some experience or knowledge of environmental matters. We mentioned education earlier, not just education in schools but broad-based community education. Engineering would be a desirable area of experience for at least one member of the board. The Minister himself mentioned economics as an area of expertise and finance is related to that. The construction industry is a huge user of energy both at construction stage and later in the use of energy by the constructed buildings. Urban development is related as houses are built where energy is needed all day. Energy production and supply, motor engineering and legal matters are also areas where it would be desirable to have some person with experience on the board.
This expertise would make for a board that was competent, professional and wide-ranging in experience. Every member of the board should have at least one area of competence. In the future, any Minister appointing a member to this authority should have to take account of these requirements. The Minister may wish to add or delete some areas. This amendment is a positive one which shows we are serious.
In appointing members to the board, it is natural that the Minister and the Minister for Finance seek people with experience and competence in areas relevant to the work of the authority. I decided against including a list of relevant experience or competencies on the grounds that they could be restrictive. Certain competencies or experience could be overlooked or, due to development, new competencies could become relevant. I agree with the Deputy's list of desirable areas of experience and expertise and we are fortunate that the members of the interim board are competent in these areas. However, issues may arise in the future which we have not anticipated. We see entrepreneurs, with no apparent background or identifiable expertise in a particular area coming forward every day and doing great things. Let us not limit that. I am not opposed in principle to such a list. I will take more time to consider it and will come back to the matter on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 6, subsection (5), line 15, to delete "monies" and substitute "moneys".
This is a drafting amendment. The amendment proposes to align the spelling with that more commonly used in legislation.
It is approaching 5.30 p.m. and we have been here for three hours. Next week, we will have the Meteorological Protection Bill to complete and there are very few amendments on it. Does the committee wish to take the remainder of this Bill next week with that?
The Select Committee went into private session at 5.28 p.m. and resumed in public session at5.29 p.m.
Amendments Nos. 48 and 49 form a composite proposal and will be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 48:
In page 6, lines 36 to 37, to delete subsection (10) and substitute the following:
"10) (a) A member of the Board shall not be eligible for reappointment if he or she has served two consecutive terms as a member of the Board.
(b) the Minister, when appointing members of the Board (other than the Chief Executive), shall fix such members, term of membership which shall not exceed five years.”.
In the Bill, as drafted, a member of the board shall not serve more than ten consecutive years. We are anxious to ensure a review takes place after five years. I know there are roll over mechanisms in the Bill. We proposed this in the Railway Procurement Agency Bill and the Minister thought it was a good idea and incorporated it in the legislation. The membership should be for five years, but a member can serve two consecutive terms. There would be a possibility of reappointment after five years if things are going well. It does not greatly change the Bill's intent, but it gives the Minister of the day the opportunity after five years to review the membership of the authority and to make changes, if necessary. The Minister felt ten years in the Railway Procurement Agency Bill was a long time for one person to be on a board. This gives the Minister the opportunity to review it after five years. I ask the Minister of State to follow the Minister's precedent in the legislation.
In framing the Bill's provisions relating to the period of service of board members, I sought to ensure some continuity while, at the same time, allowing for change and new blood on the board. I have also allowed for the possibility of reappointing board members if the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, feels the board would benefit from further service by that member. The provisions of subsections (7), (8), (9) and (10) are a package designed to meet the objective of continuity and change at the same time. Any change to that package, such as limiting the period a member of the board can serve, could render the provisions of these subsections inoperable. I would be disinclined, therefore, to alter the package because of the way the elements are interrelated to bring about the desired result. The proposed amendments are too constraining. The proposal in the Bill will give us the opportunity to change the board after three years. We also have the possibility of changing three members in the fourth, fifth and sixth years. There can be a full change within that time or the expertise we mentioned can be retained. I am sure we will have good people. There is flexibility to get new blood depending on the individuals' circumstances, but there is also the possibility of achieving the continuity to which we aspire. I would like to keep it as a package.
I am aware that is included. I will withdraw the amendment on the basis of what the Minister of State said.
I move amendment No. 51:
In page 7, subsection (13), lines 5 and 6, to delete ", in the Minister's opinion,".
The phrase, "in the Minister's opinion", is too subjective. It would be better if the member was incapable through ill health. The subsection allows the Minister to remove a member of the board if he or she is incapable through ill health or has committed stated misbehaviour. That should be proven; it should not be subject to the Minister's opinion. Ill health and stated misbehaviour are clear reasons. We want to delete the phrase, "in the Minister's opinion", because it is too subjective.
I am reminded of the discussion on Second Stage in the Seanad when I put forward the view that it is important to retain the current wording for a number of reasons. The step proposed is a serious one which is necessary if a member of the board becomes incapacitated. Before a Minister removes a member of the board he or she must form an opinion that the board member is ill or otherwise unable to fulfil his or her duties. Any Minister taking such a course of action must seek advice and consult the appropriate people in advance, including medical people if health issues are involved. If, however, the individual removed from the board feels it was done unreasonably by the Minister, he or she has recourse to question the decision through a judicial review. That is only right and proper and should alleviate the concern that the provision would be open to abuse. Colleagues will also be aware that the provision in question is standard in many Acts setting up bodies to which appointments are made, including one brought forward by my Department, the Aviation Regulation Act, 2001, the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act, 1998, the Comhairle Act, 2000, and the Irish Sports Council Act, 1999. I am not inclined to accept the amendment.
I probably agree with the Minister of State. If a person was removed by a Minister and the reason was not ill health or stated misbehaviour, the Minister could possibly be challenged by the person. The phrase, "in the Minister's opinion", is subjective. We are concerned that the Minister could decide to remove a person from the board if he or she believes the person is not well enough to do the job. I accept what the Minister of State said and I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 52:
In page 7, subsection (14), line 10, after "Board" to insert "other than the Chief Executive".
I propose to insert the words, "other than the Chief Executive", after the "Board" as this subsection must exclude the chief executive who is not appointed by the Minister. The chief executive is appointed by the board and is an ex officio member of the board. As the chief executive leaves the board by virtue of leaving his post as chief executive, there will not be a casual vacancy to be filled.
I move amendment No. 54:
In page 7, subsection (1), line 37, after "functions" to insert "but shall hold at least one meeting in each quarter of the calendar year".
This is a technical amendment to require the board to have at least one meeting in each quarter of the calendar year. Perhaps it would have a certain number of meetings per year. This requirement is found in other legislation. I am not sure if it is required, but perhaps the Minister of State might advise us in that regard.
The interim board which we appointed in December 2000 to oversee the transition of the centre to the new authority has met on a monthly basis since then, which is what it deemed necessary to properly execute its functions. While recognising the safeguard the amendment provides, I will impress on the chairman of the new authority that I expect board meetings to be held more frequently than that specified in the proposal. I consider the provision to be the minimum required for the proper execution of its functions. I am prepared to accept the amendment which provides for at least one meeting in each quarter of the calendar year.
I move amendment No. 55:
In page 9, subsection (8), line 24, after "Authority" to insert "and shall be responsible to the Board for the performance of his or her functions and for the implementation of the policies of the Authority".
This is a technical amendment which seeks to expand the role of the authority. It would serve better to define its role.
The amendment seeks to define the responsibility of the chief executive to the board. Its thrust is clearly implied in the Bill. The board appoints the chief executive who will have a contract of employment from it. That contract will clearly set out his or her duties and responsibilities. We are trying to provide in law for operational matters of the authority, something we discussed earlier this afternoon. We are appointing a board to do certain things and I believe strongly that we should let it get on with them. I do not know how strongly Deputy Stanton feels about the matter.
I take what the Minister of State says, that generally the chief executive will be responsible to the board for the performance of his or her functions - the board appoints him or her in the first place - and the implementation of the policies of the authority. All the amendment seeks to do is state that it would strengthen the relationship between the board and the chief executive. Without formally pressing it, I would be inclined to ask the Minister of State to accept it.
I will accept it.
I move amendment No. 56:
In page 9, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following subsection:
"(9) Such functions of the Chief Executive as from time to time may be specified by him or her may, with the consent of the Board, be performed by such member of the staff of the Authority as may be authorised by the Chief Executive.".
This is a standard amendment where the chief executive is away from time to time and can delegate. It may not be necessary, but perhaps the Minister of State would inform us of his advise on the matter.
The amendment is covered by section 15(5). The requirement for the consent of the board could constrain the effective operation of the authority. It is clearly the chief executive's job to ensure the functions of the authority and the chief executive are carried out properly and adequately. He or she must make all necessary arrangements.
I accept what the Minister of State has said and will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 57:
In page 9, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following subsection:
"(10) The functions of the Chief Executive may be performed in his or her absence or when the position of the Chief Executive is vacant by such a member of the staff of the Authority as may from time to time be designated for that purpose by the Board.".
This amendment would cover a situation where the chief executive is absent or ill, in order that somebody else might be appointed to take over his or her role in the interim. It is a standard provision in many Bills, although I do not see it in this one. It would be useful to specifically insert it.
I am sure this amendment is well intended. This type of situation occurs under good governance requirements and contracts of employment. As I said concerning the previous amendment, perhaps we should not legislate for it. The amendment may constrain good practice.
It may be the practice, but is it covered in legislation anywhere else?
Many pieces of legislation have provided for this particular requirement that when the chief executive is absent somebody else can be designated to take over his or her role. I do not know whether it is required to be included under statute, but by inserting it it would ensure the board could appoint somebody in the interim to take over the functions of the chief executive. Can the board do so if it is not provided for in the legislation? That is the question that arises. Perhaps it can, but it would be amazing if the board came back to us at a later stage to state, "The chief executive is sick and we cannot appoint anyone to take his or her place because we do not have the power to do so." That is what the amendment is about, although perhaps it is already covered in the legislation. I do not know.
I will give the matter further consideration and provide clarification on Report Stage.
On that basis I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 58:
In page 10, subsection (6)(c), line 13, to delete “section 19 of” and substitute “Part XIII of the Second Schedule to”.
This amendment is moved to maintain consistency with section 13(c) which excludes a member of the board from membership of the European Parliament. While section 19 of the European Parliament (Elections) Act, 1997, does refer to the filling of casual vacancies, these vacancies will be filled in accordance with Part XIII of the Second Schedule to the Bill.
I move amendment No. 59:
In page 11, subsection (7), line 13, to delete "member of staff or Chief Executive" and substitute "person".
This amendment is necessary in order to more accurately reflect the reference to section 15(1), in which there is no reference to the chief executive officer.
I move amendment No. 60:
In page 12, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following subsection:
"(7) The Chief Executive, a member of the Board, a member of the staff of the Authority, or a consultant, advisor or person engaged by the Authority shall notify the Board of a potential conflict of interest or circumstance in which the person has a doubt about a conflict of interest and shall desist from pursuing an interest that they know to be in conflict with the working of the Authority.".
This amendment concerns conflicts of interest. I have come across a similar provision in other legislation. It may already be covered in the Bill, but I have moved the amendment in case it is not. The amendment concerns a situation where a person may have a doubt about a conflict of interest. He or she may be doing work he or she knows is in conflict with the work of the authority. He or she will, therefore, have to let the authority know he or she is doing so and desist from it. As this is an energy Bill, people may be involved in particular areas that could be in conflict. Perhaps the Minister of State will comment on the matter.
The concern behind the amendment is already covered to a large extent by the existing text. In addition, the new code of practice for the governance of State bodies provides that all State bodies should have written codes of business conduct for directors and employees. Appendix B of the Department of Finance's code contains the framework for a code of business conduct. One of the items it embraces is the issue of conflicts of interest.
The proposed amendment is far too broad. I am concerned about the reference to a "potential conflict of interest" which goes beyond the norm, which is simply to refer to a conflict of interest. Either there is a conflict of interest or there is not. If a person has any doubt in regard to a conflict of interest, then he or she is required to do something about it, both under the existing provisions and the code of business conduct.
The last part of the amendment appears to be something of a blunt instrument. A person faced with a conflict of interest should be given a choice of continuing to work with the authority and giving up his or her other interest, or leaving it and continuing with his or her other interest. The legislation adequately covers any fears or reservations we might have with regard to a conflict of interest. I am not inclined to accept this amendment.
I will withdraw the amendment at this stage. I saw it in some other legislation and felt it might be useful. It has appeared in other legislation and it is curious that the Minister called it a blunt instrument, but I take his point.
I move amendment No. 61:
In page 13, subsection (2), line 3, to delete "(£1,575.13)".
This is an amendment to delete the Irish pound figure from section 18 in line with the policy in all Bills to be enacted after 1 January 2002 which should only contain the euro figure.
I move amendment No. 62:
In page 14, subsection (1), line 21, to delete "six" and substitute "two".
I felt six months was a long time for the Minister to have the annual report before laying it before the Houses of the Oireachtas and that two months would be better. Maybe there is a reason for deciding on six months but perhaps two months would be more appropriate.
Recently-enacted legislation establishing State bodies provides for six months, as is the case with the Comhairle Act, 2000. The six month period for publishing reports and accounts is also consistent with the recently published code of practice for State bodies by the Department of Finance which allows State bodies up to six months to submit their annual reports and accounts. The accounts of the authority will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It would be impractical for his office to meet the tight deadline required by this proposed amendment. Needless to say, the authority will be anxious to publish its annual report with all haste. To shorten the period in which the new authority will be required to submit its annual report would be impractical and I am loath, therefore, to accept this amendment.
I am enlightened by the Minister's reply. I thought the Minister would have the report after six months but it seems the time between the Minister receiving the report and its production are included in the six months.
The Minister must lay the report before the Houses of the Oireachtas within six months but within that time, the authority must submit the report. There is no particular time scale for that. Am I right in saying it could submit the report to the Minister five months after the end of the financial year but that the Minister must then, by law, submit it within a month?
I move amendment No. 65:
In page 15, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following subsection:
"(6) The Minister shall make information on the finances and operation of the agency available to Dáil Members in response to Parliamentary Questions and the Authority shall co-operate in the matter when requested to do so by the Minister.".
This matter came up in previous legislation. On Second Stage of this and other legislation, many colleagues voiced concern in regard to the difficulty in obtaining information from State bodies. Even by way of parliamentary question, we are often told the Minister has no responsibility to the Dáil in regard to a matter. The public is perplexed by this. If elected Members of Parliament stands up in the Dáil and asks the Minister under whose remit the State body operates for information regarding the workings of the body, they are told they cannot get it. The Member will write to or will contact the body only to be told it is not obliged to tell him or her anything. There is a problem of democratic accountability.
Basically what this amendment proposes is that the Minister would make information on the finances and operation of the agency available to all Members in response to parliamentary questions and that the authority shall co-operate in the matter when requested to do so by the Minister. We are not saying the Minister should be responsible to the Dáil for the operation of the agency but should make information available. This is something that should be done. This would be useful in respect of many State bodies. The Minister could look for information in the same way as a Minister could look for information from health boards and Iarnród Éireann. The Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, has been doing that very well in her office and has brought forward information even though she does not really have to do so.
This amendment means that in the operation of this authority, the Minister would be able to make information available to Members of the House by way parliamentary question and that the authority would co-operate when asked to do so by the Minister. It is something I would like to see explored as far as all State bodies are concerned. Maybe the Minister will take the opportunity to allow it to happen here.
I suppose all of us at one time or other have experienced frustration at being told by Ministers that something was not a matter for them but for the State board. We have all felt that frustration. However, under Dáil Standing Orders, parliamentary questions may be put to the Minister in relation to Government policy as regards any State under his or her aegis. I do not think we can approach this in a piecemeal manner and endeavour to cure it, be it a very desirable innovation. If there is to be change in this regard, it should be more appropriately made to Standing Orders than by including it in the legislation which I would consider to be more or less in a piecemeal fashion.
I will not call a vote on it at this time but I may table it again on Report Stage.
This section provides that the authority has the power to accept subscriptions and donations, subject to the approval of the Minister. Are other State bodies allowed to do this?
The Irish Energy Centre doesnot have the power to receive subscriptionsbut it will be important for the authority to do so as it develops its networks. For example, it may wish to put the self-audit group or companies in the boiler programme on a membership basis. At present the centre receives sponsorship from time to time on specific activities or products. An example is sponsorship received for products produced for Energy Awareness Week or contributions towards the cost of producing school books on energy efficiency.
I thank you, Chairman, your predecessor in the Chair and your officials for taking this important legislation today. I also thank Deputy Stanton, his colleagues and my officials for their excellent work. The committee has improved the legislation and I look forward to Report and Final Stages.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for facilitating some of our amendments and for agreeing to consider others. We look forward to further robust debate on Report Stage. This is important legislation and we have treated it as such, having considered the Bill section by section. I thank the Chairman and his officials for their patience.