Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Select Sub-Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 Jul 2013

Vote 29 - Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Revised)

The Dáil ordered that the following Revised Estimate for public services be referred to this committee for its consideration: Vote 29 - Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I welcome the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, and his officials. The purpose of the meeting is to consider the Revised Estimate and the supplementary performance information on the outputs and impacts of the expenditure programme. A draft timetable has been circulated. Is it agreed to? Agreed. The briefing material providing details of the Revised Estimate was circulated to members. The committee agreed to the arrangements for today at its meeting on 22 May. I call on the Minister to make some opening comments.

I thank the Vice Chairman. I apologise for the unavoidable absence of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd.

I agree that perhaps the best way for us to proceed is by way of questions and answers. There are some very large policy issues hanging or dependent on some of the subhead items which I am sure colleagues will want to take the opportunity to query. The gross Vote figure for 2013 is almost €416 million, with a net Vote figure of €173.4 million. As I said, there are some major projects in hand. The nature of the Department is such that there is a time lag between conception and execution in the case of major energy, telecoms and other projects. I am in the Vice Chairman's hands and happy to proceed in whatever way he wishes.

The committee will consider the Estimate programme by programme, with each programme being considered under the following headings: context and impact indicators, key outputs, financial and human resource inputs and 2014 allocation and targets. The subject of administration will be considered under these headings when each of the programmes has been disposed of. In view of the limited time remaining in 2013 and as a result of the bringing forward of the budget to October, there may be an element of engagement on the 2014 allocations when the 2014 Estimate is being considered. I propose that questions on the programmes be taken together, at the end of which the Minister can respond.

Will we go through the different programmes - communications, broadcasting and so forth?

The Vote covers a raft of areas in the Department. I will deal with communications. There is a provision of €500,000 under subhead A6, change management fund. Will the Minister give us an explanation? Our aspirations for broadband services have been discussed previously by the committee and in the Chamber. Will the Minister outline the progress that has been made to date in mid-2013 and the expected roll-out by the end of 2013? From the individual's point of view, the roll-out of broadband services is akin to the provision of electricity in the 1950s. A raft of change is coming down the tracks on media platforms. Will the Minister speak about the formation of policy on both the print and broadcast media?

We are talking about expenditure on communications, broadcasting, energy and natural resources and inland fisheries. Such expenditure makes it easier for people and society to get better value for their work. This must be borne in mind.

From my perusal of the figures, which I also did in my previous occupation, I do not see too much padding to be cut out. I wish to question only a few figures. Under the heading of communications, the figure for office equipment and external IT services is just over €1 million. Consultancy services and value for money and policy reviews are mentioned. I would like to know what that refers to and I would like to know the names of the companies involved. If the Minister does not have the information with him, he can communicate it to me after the meeting.

To which subhead does Deputy Colreavy refer?

Subhead 5, office equipment. I am referring to a response to a parliamentary question.

I must clarify that we are dealing only with communications.

This relates to communications. In a response to a parliamentary question I tabled, headings 5 and 7 refer to office equipment, external IT services and consultancy services; however, these headings may not correspond with the high-level summary that is shown here. The Minister may not have the information, but if he has it, I would appreciate if he could provide it to us.

Under the programme for communications there are some increases in capital expenditure. Could the Minister briefly outline and account for the increase of 132% and the Department's proposals for that expenditure?

Will the Deputy repeat that?

There is an increase of 132%-----

Which subhead?

It is subhead A3, which is probably a combined total under the communications programme heading.

I am with the Deputy.

Deputy Harrington is referring to the total figure for communications, which has increased by 132%.

I think it is only fair that the Minister outline the policy that accounts for this increase. I have a particular interest in postcodes. Will he comment on whether postcodes come under this programme? I presume provision has been made in the Vote for bringing the work on postcodes to a conclusion.

Deputy Moynihan is correct. When one sees the various subheads of the Vote one appreciates the expanse and variation in the area encompassed by the Department. In his questions he put particular emphasis on the importance of broadband, the progress that will be made by the end of the year and the financial issues that will arise from that. This relates in part to Deputy Harrington's question. The outturn was so low for the past year that the increase of 132%, if one looks at it in terms of global figures, is not really that significant. As Deputy Moynihan knows, the spend will be modest again this year. This is because the policy formation process was a task force that I chaired between industry and the Department. We had some expert advice available. That report morphed into the national broadband plan. The problem is that in the area that has been identified in which State intervention is unavoidable, one cannot make provision in the Estimate and spend it in 2013 because State investment is regarded as State aid. While it is a significant part of the country geographically, the population is not nearly as significant, but people who live in less densely populated areas have as much right to high-quality broadband as anywhere else. It has been acknowledged that the private sector, in which there is significant competition, is performing well in urban Ireland. We have regular discussions with them on the roll-out of their investment plans, but when State intervention is necessary, we have no choice but to comply with European requirements on State aid and procurement. For that reason, about six weeks ago - do not hold me to that date - we signed a contract with an Irish consultancy company to perform a detailed mapping exercise in conjunction with, among others, the providers themselves and the main telecommunications companies in the area. It is necessary to conclude that exercise, including handling the procurement side and making the submission to Brussels. There is a provision in the Estimates for this year but it is minor compared to what the demand will be in 2014 and 2015. It is only the cost of the preparation of the plan, but in terms of expenditure, we have committed some €350 million, of which the State will pay at least half. The consultants may well have a different figure by the time they have finished their exercise. To be truthful, there will be no spending on the main item in 2013, but it will be accelerated and ramped up in 2014 and 2015. As Deputies know, the commitment in the plan is that by the end of the lifetime of the Government there will be no area of the country that does not at least have a broadband service of at least 30 Mbps.

On policy formation in respect of the print and broadcast media, I will deal with Deputy Moynihan's question in more detail when we reach the broadcast heading. We have regular interaction with the print media for a variety of reasons. The significant responsibility in this area will only transfer to my Department when the consumer and competition Bill is enacted. That legislation will be brought through the House by my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. We have been working with the Minister's Department in respect of over a dozen sections of the Bill. Responsibility in respect of the invigilation of print media ownership will be transferred, via those sections, to my Department when the legislation is enacted.

In the context of the Deputy's question in respect of broadband development, etc., I should have stated that there are myriad initiatives taking place in different parts of the country. I previously made reference to the fact that the ESB has invited expressions of interest from the industry in respect of the creation of a joint venture, the purpose of which would be to use the company's supply system to roll out fibre to rural areas. If this joint venture proceeds, it would provide a tremendous fillip. The ESB is interacting with the industry. I had hoped that it would make public the identity of its chosen partner prior to the summer recess. I do not know if it intends to do so, however, because a great many details must be taken into consideration with regard to the planning in respect of this matter. Such a development would be significant. Eircom experienced difficulties in the past and has emerged from examinership. That company's commitment to do better than that to which it originally committed is very welcome. The improvement in 3G services throughout the country as a result will also be welcome.

Deputy Colreavy is correct. One would have to examine the accounts closely before one would find any padding. The Deputy referred to consultancies and value for money. I do not know if he has a particular heading in mind in this regard but the figure for consultancies in the area of, for example, natural resources is significant. This is because a great deal of work is taking place in that area. The figure to which I refer is broken down into a number of areas including petroleum-energy engineering support, the consent conditions monitoring committee, the Corrib verification process, geophysicist consultancy, monitoring of Corrib gas consent conditions, environmental impact assessments, seismic surveys and an economic value assessment of the mining sector. The spend in this regard is not insignificant but the information obtained by means of it is essential if policy formation is to be based on the best available evidence.

The alternative would be that these skills would be retained in the Department. I am persuaded that this would not give rise to value for money in the sense that one does not need to have recourse - on a daily basis - to individuals who possess skills in the areas to which I refer. The services of such individuals, who are relatively few in Ireland, are immensely expensive. As long as there are in the Department people who are capable of assessing the data to which these consultants have access, that is fine. If, however, we were to employ people possessing the range of skills to which I refer, we would be obliged to spend significantly more than we currently pay out in consultancy fees. The largest amount in respect of consultancies, €789,000, relates to the subhead entitled "Other". This is a contingency provision and some of it may well be drawn down as the year progresses while some of it may remain unspent. In the context of communications, in particular, natural resources and, to some extent, energy, my research indicates that having resort to consultants is unavoidable. The alternative would be to retain people with top skills in a variety of disciplines on the direct payroll of the Department.

On office equipment, some of it is purchased and some is procured on a contract basis. We replaced all the personal computers, PCs, in the Geological Survey of Ireland this year and, as a result, there will be no need to replace them next year. Each year different items of equipment, etc., must either be replaced or renewed and expenditure is required in this regard. In the context of the amount to which the Deputy refers, the replacement of the Geological Survey of Ireland's PCs was the major item of expenditure.

Deputy Harrington referred to an apparent increase of 113% for 2013. If one compares the outturn for 2012 to the Estimate for 2013, one will see that a significant saving has been made. The Estimate was €28.5 million, whereas the outturn was €15 million. As a result, it appears that the percentage increase for 2013 is far greater than is actually the case.

I presume that, in the context of the financial and human resources inputs, the numbers listed to the left on the relevant page indicate the number of personnel employed by the Department. The number for 2012 is 67, while for 2013 it is 63. Am I reading the figures correctly?

Will the Deputy pose his question again? I am finding it quite difficult to locate the figures to which he refers.

On human resources inputs, the total number listed for 2012 is 67, while for 2013 it is 63.

What is the Deputy's point?

These figures appear to show that the pay element has increased.

If the Deputy looks at the total figure - this applies to communications as well as across the Department - he will see that the level of staffing is below the ceiling we were permitted. There are a variety of reasons for this, such as people taking retirement, etc. The position in this regard will be corrected as the year progresses because as Deputy Colreavy noted, we certainly do not have any fat in the system. Those numbers will be brought up to par as the year progresses.

We will now move to the broadcasting element. In view of the level of overlapping that exists in this regard, perhaps we might focus on the topic as much as possible in order to avoid the necessity to jump back and forth.

On the broadcasting side, I note that in subhead B3, the grant to RTE for the broadcasting licence fees will increase from €179 million in 2012 to €186 million in 2013. Does this mean that more television licence fees were collected this year than last year? In this context, I note the An Post fee for collecting television licence fees is 6.7% of the total fees received. How was that fee set? There is some indication that the introduction of the broadcasting charge will bring in a larger amount or the amount required might be lower than the present television licence fee. In respect of communications, An Post is also an important part of the Minister's brief. Will it be part of An Post's brief to collect the broadcasting charge? I ask the Minister to respond to these questions.

Does the Chairman wish me to deal with these matters now?

No, at the end. We will take all the questions together.

I asked a few questions on policy formation in the area of broadcasting with which the Minister might deal. As the Chairman has noted, the figure pertaining to the licence fee sticks out. In addition, the Minister might explain the position regarding the capital grant for TG4. Many people have noted that while almost €200 million goes into RTE from the public purse each year, it also has other revenue. One can then consider stand-alone broadcasters, which can and are making it simply on the basis of their revenue. One would question where all the money is going and the first point people highlight is the big money being paid to RTE's leading broadcasters. Is there a factor pertaining to details such as the cost of programming that is available to the Minister? I believe the amount of resources, number of researchers and so on it has on its programmes compared with the independent broadcasters are way out of line. In addition, I note the figures on the home-made or indigenous programmes on RTE. While some such programmes have been excellent over the years, there appears to be a tendency to move away from them. I hope the Minister, in so far as he can, encourages RTE to go into the home market and make sure the great talent available is harvested for the national broadcaster on its own. I will leave it at that. My first question went over and back from communications and broadcasting and in addition, I raised the capital grants for TG4 and the home-produced programmes on RTE.

Under subhead B7, no figure is included in respect of grants for digital terrestrial television. What will happen in this regard?

First, in response to the Chairman's own question, the €185,724,000 really is what it claims to be, namely, an estimate. If one looks at the 2012 Estimate, it is the same Estimate. However, the Chairman's point is that it is more than the outturn for 2012. The reason for that is the outturn was somewhat less than the Estimate for reasons of evasion, non-collection, the recession or whatever.

Perhaps people are getting rid of the televisions.

It may be so. In any event, the outturn of €179 million fell short of what was the Estimate. While the 2013 Estimates include a figure of €185,724,000, as Zhou Enlai replied when asked about the impact of the French Revolution, it is too early to say yet where that figure will end up. However the Chairman is correct, in that there is a significant evasion problem that could be of the order of €30 million. The Chairman also wished to ascertain what is the fee accruing to An Post for collection and in terms of the agency fee that is payable, it is €12,457,000. That is what the contract, which requires An Post to perform to certain standards and so on regarding the collection of the television licence fee, stipulates as to its particular allocation.

The Chairman's critical question is whether the transition to the public service broadcasting charge will mean more revenue. Truthfully, I believe the answer is that it will depend on the collection system. Much of the strong argument that exists for the transition to a public service broadcasting charge would be undermined were the collection system not effective. There are two principal arguments for the transfer, the first of which is technology. It pertains to the fact that a great many people are accessing public content other than on traditional television sets and that in a society, it is fair that everyone should contribute for that public service content and that therefore, one is liable to pay the charge like everyone else. The second argument concerns the scale of evasion and the need to do something about that. Therefore, in answer to the Chairman's question, it appears as though one should be able to raise more revenue if 99% of people are paying and that without increasing the television licence fee, one should bring in more revenue. However, that depends on whether the collection system will be effective. Colleagues will have opinions about the efficacy of the existing collection system but the question is whether it can be improved upon.

If it were highly effective, could the charge be lower?

The answer to that is "Yes" and "No". Yes, more money will be there but the Chairman already has heard from Deputy Moynihan that others are contending for a share of the revenue. For example, the independent production sector makes an increasingly valuable contribution these days in respect of creativity, innovation and that kind of thing. The Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, that is, the regional radio stations, undoubtedly produce public service content. They are, however, commercial enterprises and therefore a state aid question again arises, apart from any other consideration. Theoretically, the honest answer to the Chairman's question is if one had a 99% effective universal collection of a new public service broadcaster charge, theoretically of course it could permit of some reduction. However, it would be a public policy decision as to whether that would be wise. There are policy objects imposed on public service broadcasters by law. Everyone in this committee meeting will have an opinion as to how well they are discharged but in terms of Deputy Moynihan's question on whether it is a large amount of money compared with what he called stand-alone broadcasters, the answer is while it is a lot of money, the public service objectives imposed by law on the public service broadcasters are not imposed on what Deputy Moynihan described as stand-alone broadcasters.

Some Deputies, including Deputy Moynihan, asked me about personnel-related costs in the main public service broadcaster, RTE. There is no doubt but that, in the recession, the cutbacks in RTE have been very serious. There are some 500 fewer staff. I am not saying the organisation is as efficient in every respect as it might be. That is a matter on which colleagues will have an opinion. In 2008, personnel-related costs in RTE amounted to €220 million. This slipped back to €173 million last year, which is very significant. What legislators have to bear in mind is that we legislated to impose a requirement on the public service broadcasters to comply with certain public service objectives and, therefore, we must make a judgment as to whether there is sufficient wherewithal to do as desired. There has been a collapse in commercial revenue at the same time, and there has also been a problem with the migration of advertising from the public service broadcasters not to TV3 or other competitors but to companies such as Google. This is a huge issue that cannot be avoided.

I do not know whether the organisation is as efficient as it might be. However, the figures exist in terms of the very severe cutbacks that have taken place, and there may be more.

Deputy Harrington and others asked about home-produced content. It is a matter of judgment. I was asked whether there is as much home-produced content as there ought to be based on the big subsidy from the taxpayer. The television licence is a big subsidy; there is no other way to describe it. The broadcaster is still a very small player, however, by comparison with the one on the neighbouring island. RTE is a minnow if one compares its television licence revenue with that of the BBC.

Let me address the point made by Deputy Colreavy on the digital terrestrial television grants. There is no provision because after the switchover to SAORVIEW last October there was no more need for provision. The issue does not arise.

Let me return to the definition of public service broadcasting. When we are watching the news or "Fair City" on RTE, do they constitute public service broadcasting? Is there a definition of responsibilities with regard to public service broadcasting by comparison with those of a local radio station, for example?

To some degree, it is in the eye of the beholder. The Act sets out broad principles. Philosophically, we are talking about the obligation on public service broadcasters to reflect society back to itself in terms of current affairs, news reporting, quality productions, drama and culture, for example. I refer also to the support of symphony orchestras. Regional radio stations produce public service content, national and local news and information of public service merit and value for their listeners. The argument is not that regional radio does not do public service work of merit, because it does, but that regional radio stations originated as commercial enterprises. The licences were much sought after at the time. Some would have problems that derive from having inherited debt, which is most unfortunate. It is very important that if there is anything that the Government can do to ensure they continue to provide public service content, it should do it if it can within the constraints. If the stations were to revert to playing wall-to-wall music, for example, it would not be public service content. If, however, they produced a local documentary about matters of historical, cultural, public or political interest, it would constitute public service content. A portion of the television licence goes to the sound and vision fund. Local radio has access to that, but perhaps not as liberally as it should. Perhaps that is a matter we should examine.

The stations would argue that RTE also has access to that.

Yes, but it was to facilitate the independent sector which constitutes people who are not RTE employees although they may be former RTE employees or just young people have come through the education system who make documentaries or other programmes and sell them to RTE. They do have access to that fund.

We will move on to head C, on energy.

On the issue of energy, there is a raft of questions that could be asked. I refer, in particular, to the sustainable energy programmes, the warmer homes scheme and the impact of these on reducing energy consumption, particularly through retrofitting, for example. Perhaps the Minister will state how the new system of grants is operating. Is there sufficient funding within the sustainable energy programmes? What kind of take-up is there?

Fuel poverty also falls under the energy subhead. This covers the difficulty people face heating their homes, disconnections and the number whose energy bills are in arrears.

The committee has been pursuing safety within the energy sector. Lastly, the Minister referred to the regulation of Registered Electrical Contractors of Ireland and the registered contractors dealing with certain electrical work in households. An issue arises with regard to the need to have fully qualified and certified people dealing with any issues that may arise with regard to supplying gas to houses. This needs to be examined further. We have been in negotiation with the Commission for Energy Regulation. Perhaps there is progress in the Department also.

On the energy sector, one could talk about wind turbines and the programmes for finding considerable onshore and offshore energy resources. I will deal with the sustainable energy programmes, the issues in regard to fuel poverty and the concern that must be in the Department given the figures that are coming back.

I am puzzled by a few headings.

Under subhead C1, energy administration, the figure for administrative pay seems to have increased significantly, while there seems to have been a somewhat smaller increase in the figure for non-pay administration. I do not understand what is meant by the reference in subhead C5 to "energy research programme (cash - limited)". I would have thought the reference should be to "Government (cash - limited)". I do not understand what is covered by strategic energy infrastructure, although I accept that the figure in question is quite small. I do not know why subhead C7, gas services, is identified as a separate heading in this programme expenditure document. I would like more information on subhead C8, subscriptions to international organisations. What does it consist of? Will the Minister identify the organisations in question? Should we be making provision for some sort of work programme, whereby the Government would work with suppliers to reduce the number of people who are in energy poverty and being cut off? I am not sure whether this is the proper forum at which to raise the plight of those who are finding it difficult to pay for the energy they use.

Is there a correlation between the totals listed for subheads C4 and C5? Perhaps they might be explained by a change in policy direction, or by an emphasis on research rather than grant aid.

I agree with Deputy Michael Moynihan that the merit of the energy efficiency drive is that it is a win-win. It reduces our consumption of energy. It leads to a reduction in our import bill, contributes to healthier living and leads to savings for the consumer. There is no doubt that given current constraints, we should be targeting money at energy efficiency measures. As the Deputy said, the Government has provided aid in this regard through a grants based incentive scheme. I think we are all reasonably familiar with the various grants to which one is entitled when one is putting in a new boiler, converting the attic or working on the outside walls. There is no doubt that the scheme has been very successful. There is a difference between the approach to private housing and that to what we call the warmer homes dimension. If the owner of a private house applies for a grant for energy efficiency works and that application is approved, he or she is expected to put up some money also. In the case of the warmer homes scheme, the State bears 100% of the cost of the work. As the Deputy said, that scheme is aimed at homes at risk of fuel poverty.

We are required to make a transition from the grants based system to what has been described as a pay-as-you-save model. A substantial amount of work has been done in this regard by officials in the Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. They have had regard to similar developments in Britain and made adjustments to the model accordingly. A fairly sophisticated model is ready to go well in advance of the 1 January deadline. The real litmus test will be whether it will be attractive to householders. I sincerely hope it will. Last year there was a decline in applications for the traditional grants scheme. There has been a similar experience in Britain. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, in particular, has done a great deal of work to analyse why that is the case and uncovered a number of factors. Undoubtedly, the biggest is that consumers and householders are not spending money that they are not required to spend. In some cases, they do not have the money to spend. While that is the main factor, there are others. There is some evidence to suggest people who are aware of the energy efficiency message and convinced of the merits of energy savings were attended to in the first belt. We are looking at what we can do to sell the message better to householders who are not persuaded by the value of these efforts. I hope we will be able to maintain the two schemes in parallel for a little while because of the inevitable time lag, but I am not in a position at this time to say that will happen. It is right that the householder has time to select a contractor, put a contract in place, settle on all the messing that has to be done and so on. Inevitably, there is a time lag between the making of application and execution. We are looking at that issue.

One of the big anomalies in the warmer homes grants scheme is that local authority housing which is being rented to tenants does not qualify. The Department is stating it is up to the local authority to provide for improvements that may be needed, but there is not enough money in the system to facilitate this. I accept that there has been a pilot scheme. Some of the local authority stock that was built many years ago leaves a great deal to be desired when it comes to energy consumption. Many people in that bracket have a huge difficulty and the warmer homes scheme should be extended to this sector. Many people would benefit enormously if that issue was tackled, as would the State.

That is correct. I accept that much of the built environment is not up to the standard that it might be if we were developing it now. That is true. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, was allocated €50 million in the past few weeks to address the precise issue identified by the Deputy, which relates to local authority housing. That should see a fairly quick result. In that case, the relevant local authority can get on with the work straightaway. The arrangement is between the authority and the Custom House. As the Deputy suggested, a couple of pilot schemes - one in south Dublin and one in Longford - are in place and it will be interesting to see what they throw up. We are moving towards an area based approach, whereby a cluster of houses in a certain area is refurbished with a view to seeing whether savings can be made and value for money achieved. When one examines the issue of fuel poverty and affordability, one comes back to persuading people that the best contribution we can make is to make our domestic dwellings more efficient, given that we have to import our energy resources. Separately, we have put in place the energy efficiency fund to concentrate on public and commercial buildings in which there is immense waste. I refer to schools and hospitals, for example.

If one looks at hospitals, experts will say there is an immense waste of energy. The Government put €35 million of seed capital into the €70 million fund. We expect that this will at least be matched by the private sector. A model has been worked out in considerable detail that will be put into the public domain shortly. We have already announced Exemplar projects that will be eligible in that regard. We have to address the reason for the decline in applications. I know consumer spending is flat and that is a significant factor. However, we have to do more to persuade householders of the value of this approach.

Subhead C5 is essentially research. With this we are trying to keep alive our hopes of progress in the renewables areas outside of wind such as in wave and tidal energy generation. Even in these straitened circumstances, we are trying to keep programmes that are under way going. Deputy Harrington will be familiar with the developments at Ringaskiddy, County Cork, where we have managed to ensure the Beaufort building is completed. Some of the work going on there is internationally regarded as leading cutting edge. We are also providing additional funding for the prototype development fund. There is a prototype test site off Belmullet in north Mayo. The effort in this regard is to maintain our interest in the research area.

That is not unconnected with the question raised by Deputy Colreavy about the international organisations to which we subscribe a modest amount of money, I think. It is important that we stay abreast of developments in innovation, research and development in global energy. An organisation such as the International Energy Agency is important to us. It carried out an assessment of Irish energy performance last year and published an interesting report on global energy trends. The Department’s assistant secretary is on the agency's board in Paris. The fee is €112,000 per annum but the contacts and networks made available are good value.

The separate heading for gas is exactly for the reason raised by the Deputy - that safety is paramount. There is no reason to stress that standards in the gas network just simply have to be maintained. Any cowboy activity in that sector could have serious consequences. It is a modest enough provision in subhead C7.

I was not being critical about the modest figures for membership of these international organisations. I just did not know what the funding is for but the Minister has clarified it.

In the context of impact indicators, we seem to be going in the wrong direction in the level of CO2 emissions avoided from the use of renewable energy.

The whole thrust of policy is to get control of emissions and to decarbonise the energy sector. We have had considerable success so far. International experts regard Ireland having 17% of its electricity generated from wind as a considerable achievement.

The figures Deputy Colreavy referred to relate to the amount of renewable energy added per annum. It is not even. We have targets to 2020 with which we must comply. The development on an annual basis will not be equal, however. There will be more megawattage put in place in one year than another. Last year was not the best year we had in this regard. This was, to some degree, due to difficult regulatory questions that arose and had to be resolved. They have been resolved now and, as a result, in 2013 and 2014 one will see progress in this area.

Under subhead D4, I note an increase from €256,000 in 2012 to €3,692,000 in 2013 for mining services. Will the Minister elaborate on this? Under subhead D3, the allocation for petroleum services was reduced from €1.1 million in 2012 to €398,000 in 2013. Will he explain this reduction? People believe we are going to have a significant oil or gas strike. I know there are several explorations going on. Will the Minister give us an indication if they seem promising?

Which companies providing external IT and consultancy services are being paid for the services accounted for in this subhead? What is the purpose of this amendment? Is it the same organisations in subhead C8 that are covered in subhead D9? Is it that the expenditure is spread over different headings?

Deputy Colreavy is correct. The accounting system is changed somewhat so that, other than straight pay, additional costs are spread over the different areas of the Department in line with some proportionality of the significance of each division.

As I explained, there are particular reasons that the Department is required to take external expert advice in this area.

The increase in the 2013 Estimate, as compared to the 2012 outturn, is accounted for by three different items. The first is the health and safety works being carried out at Avoca, an issue raised during a previous discussion of Estimates in the sub-committee. The second is the issue of remediation at Silvermines, which is regularly raised by colleagues in the House. The third element is the issue of mining compensation. Approximately €3 million has been approved in expenditure over three years for the necessary work at Avoca. Money was spent last year on safety work and monitoring at Silvermines, which has been a bugbear for some time.

It is difficult to answer Deputy Moynihan's question on the prospects for progress. There is certainly some excitement that there is more activity, which is good in itself. The rate of conversion of the licences that were granted in 2011 is also very promising. I believe seven or eight have been converted and a further two may be converted. This is significant as only 13 licences were awarded. While the Barryroe find is encouraging, more work will be required to establish if it is commercially extractable, as we all hope it will be. This issue has been in the public arena. The drilling being done off Dunquin is expensive. I understand approximately €200 million will be spent on drilling at that location. It would be a major fillip if it were to prove positive and a disappointment if it were to prove negative. The scale of drilling here is minuscule by comparison to what would be required for one to be able to definitively answer Deputy Moynihan's question. A rate of below two wells per annum for a dozen years is simply not sufficient to be able to state that it has been established that there is significant potential or otherwise.

We concluded the debate on the report of the Oireachtas committee last night. It is important that any decisions made on foot of the report will continue to facilitate enhanced prospectivity. It is vital that we increase the rate of economic activity offshore in terms of exploration and drilling. We will return to this issue at another forum.

On external consultancy services, the Minister made the point that it makes economic sense, where one has expensive skills or resources, to engage with non-public service supports occasionally. While I understand the economic rationale for this approach, one is also entitled to assume that anyone working on behalf of the public service will show complete independence. We must be very careful in this regard. While this may not be the appropriate forum for asking questions on this issue, is there a mechanism to ensure that anyone from outside the public service who has certain skills and is engaged in key positions is not compromised in respect of the advice provided to the Government? What safeguards are in place in this respect?

It is a fair point that in seeking professional advice on which one is likely to rely when making policy decisions, this advice must be evidence based, impartial and fair in so far as this can be achieved. We have people in the Department, albeit a small number, who have experience of all these matters and are able to assess ongoing performance and the feedback we receive. None of those with whom we engage are tied to a particular external company. They do work for a range of companies and, therefore, would not be in the pocket of any particular company.

Normal procurement standards would have to apply and companies that are successful in winning tenders to do certain work would have to comply with standard procurement precautions in this area. The Department has been compiling information to enable decisions to be made about future licensing rounds. There is also a certain amount of give and take on this. If it was the case, as Deputy Colreavy fears, that it would be possible to undermine the process, without wishing to resort to puns, this would come out in the wash fairly quickly. To answer the Deputy's question, I am convinced that great care is taken to ensure the Department is not the subject of partial advice that would advantage a particular company. In any event, we are not dealing with a particular company. A range of companies is involved and I am satisfied in respect of the matter the Deputy raises.

We will move on to inland fisheries.

Capital funding for inland fisheries has increased by €334,000, which is a significant sum. Will the Minister provide a breakdown of the figure? Inland fisheries and waterways are among our great untapped resources. A significant level of activity has been developed around inland fisheries in various areas.

We should encourage that as far as possible. When I see the heading "inland fisheries", I think of the stories we hear about fishing during November when it is not permitted. The embellished stories one hears from all parts of the country would often make one wonder how the salmon survive at all. Overall, I believe our inland fisheries are a massive, untapped resource. Significant money is being generated around the country in the area and I ask the Minister to explain how the capital funding is being spent.

I note that patrol man-hours have decreased from 164,000 in 2012 to 139,000. I also note that the pay estimate has decreased. I assume these are linked.

What does the Deputy say is linked - pay and what else?

The reduction in patrol man-hours.

On inland fishery patrols, have we any figures regarding successful prosecutions or prosecutions pending? What is the level of activity in that regard?

The main issue raised by Deputy Moynihan relates to the rationalisation of premises. As members are aware, there has been a great deal of rationalisation here in recent times. Nine boards have become a single board, there has been considerable restructuring and the organisation is extracting itself from expensive rental accommodation in north Dublin. A new headquarters has been acquired and it is intended the move will take place this year. Considerable control has been exercised in terms of staffing. There have also been advances in technology in terms of the capacity of the Inland Fisheries Organisation to use new technologies, particularly remote sensing on waterways. All of this has an impact in terms of man-hours and staffing.

In regard to the question raised by Deputy Harrington, I do not have that information with me, but I will forward the information to him. As the Deputy probably knows well, coming from the constituency he does, prosecutions are a last resort. For a variety of reasons, it is not practical to shoot first and ask questions afterwards in this area. A great deal of work has gone into trying to encourage more responsible fishing locally and the staff are very good and have worked assiduously at doing this. On the number of prosecutions that have taken place, I will supply that information to the Deputy by way of a letter.

We will move on to the final appropriations in aid. Are there any questions or comments?

I have just one question on the broadcasting licence fee and its appropriation among the independent broadcasters and RTÉ. How is that broken down percentage-wise? Would it be possible to take a look at how it is shared? Many independent broadcasters, particularly local radio stations, find it extremely difficult to operate and have cut their costs to the minimum. I do not need to describe the services they provide, but will the Minister give us a breakdown of how the fee is divided?

Essentially, what happens is that the money comes in on one side of the balance sheet and goes out on the other side. It is broken down by way of an allocation of 7% to the sound and vision fund, with a fixed figure of just over €9 million to TG4. Also, as mentioned earlier, 12.5% goes as an agency fee to An Post for collection of the licence. The allocation to TG4 was enshrined in the legislation a couple of years ago. Other than this, the money comes in on one side of the balance sheet and goes out on the other. Its use and apportionment in RTÉ is a matter for the board and management of RTÉ.

I know from experience that there is no significant grandstanding on this committee in comparison with a couple of years ago, when there was not a high-profile person working in RTÉ who was not trailed in terms of his or her hourly or weekly earnings. We seem to have matured a bit and that is welcome. However, there are still questions to be raised about the efficient allocation of what is taxpayers' money and about ensuring value for money and fairness in the allocation to different categories within RTÉ. We have had regular meetings with the management of RTÉ to make that point and to stress that onerous commitment, following the hugely depressing accounts for 2012, when the cost of the redundancy programme was factored into the accounts. It is a huge undertaking for RTÉ to bring in accounts that break even at the end of this year, but that is what is required of it. We will look at that as the year progresses.

We have now completed our consideration of the Revised Estimates for Vote 29. I thank the Minister and his officials for assisting us with our consideration of the Estimates and the programmes.