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ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013: Instruction to Committee

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

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ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013: Instruction to Committee

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 177, Standing Order 131 is modified to permit an instruction to the Committee to which the ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013 may be recommitted in respect of certain amendments, for which it has power to make provision in the Bill in relation to the change of name of Bord Gáis Éireann. Accordingly, to change the title of the Bill to take account of these provisions.

I am proposing this motion on foot of the Government decision, which I announced last December, to change the name of Bord Gáis Eireann to Ervia in the context of the sale of the energy business of Bord Gáis Éireann. The Gas Regulation Act 2013, which was enacted late last year, provided for the sale of the energy business of Bord Gáis Éireann. The transaction process is well advanced. On 12 December last, a consortium comprising Centrica plc, Brookfield Renewable Power and Icon Infrastructure was selected as the preferred bidder. As part of the sale process, the ownership of the Bord Gáis Energy brand will transfer to the new owner. When the bidders have acquired the Bord Gáis Energy business and its brand, Bord Gáis Éireann may no longer use the words "Bord Gáis" in the name or brand of its group or network business.

  This amendment will provide for the change of name and allow brand transition arrangements to be put in place when the sale has been completed. It is envisaged that the overarching sale agreement will be signed in the coming weeks, with the transaction to be completed in the following months. Bord Gáis Éireann has given careful consideration to appropriate alternative names, having regard to the changing nature of its business in light of the sale of the energy business and the establishment of Irish Water as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann. The name change from Bord Gáis Éireann to Ervia will take account of the expanding functions of Bord Gáis Éireann. The word "Ervia" is based on the Irish word "Éire" and the Latin word "via" and is intended to capture Bord Gáis Éireann's new role as the parent company of Irish Water together with Gas Networks Ireland, the subsidiary of Bord Gáis Éireann that will have responsibility for the gas networks infrastructure and interconnectors, which are to remain in State ownership.

  It is important to note that Ervia will simply be a corporate name. The main interactions with customers and the public will be through Irish Water and Gas Networks Ireland. Therefore, there is no strategy to advertise or market the Ervia name and the costs of rebranding will be kept to a minimum. The change of name requires a statutory footing. I believe the ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013 represents an excellent opportunity to make this provision. Bord Gáis Éireann and the ESB are demonstrating the dynamic and ambitious nature of our State energy companies. They are underpinning economic growth and job creation by investing in critical network infrastructure. This change of name provision will facilitate the ongoing sale process of Bord Gáis Energy. The proceeds from this sale will be available to the Government to support stimulus measures, including through the infrastructure stimulus plan that was announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in 2012.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan I suppose this is just a change of name. We debated issues relating to the sale of Bord Gáis and other issues before Christmas. I do not have any issue with the amendment proposed by the Minister.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy Likewise, we have no objection to this proposal, which is more of a technical amendment than anything else.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I object to this proposal. When I saw last week that it was proposed to place this direction to committee on this week's agenda, I thought it was great because I thought it meant the Minister was going to make provision in legislation to instruct the ESB to roll out broadband to the whole country. I was greatly disappointed when I read the briefing note and realised that this involves changing the name of Bord Gáis Éireann to Ervia, as it is to be called. This is quite a significant proposal as it brings into context the idea of privatisation and the sale of State assets.

The suggestion in the Minister's briefing note that Bord Gáis Éireann is a significant and strong brand is true, of course, because it has been built up over the years by the State and the Irish people. Bord Gáis has been supported and its brand has been developed, but now it is being sold off to the highest bidder. Rather than asking the new company to develop its own brand, we are giving them the assets, customer base and sales of Bord Gáis. We are being asked to change the name of something that was developed as a strong brand for Ireland and for the Irish people. I think it is a sad and retrograde step. We should not be considering it.

Unfortunately, this proposal will be accepted today and the change of name will happen. It is probably a sign of things to come. The Minister's contention that what will be left of Bord Gáis Éireann will operate as "Irish Water" and as "Gas Networks Ireland" signals to me that there is really no need for this change. If it is just a question of Bord Gáis Éireann's corporate identity, how will the company be able to compete with Bord Gáis Networks, or whatever the new company will be called? While I think it is a pity that this change is being made, I accept that it is going to happen anyway.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan I am curious about who exactly came up with the new name. Were consultants employed to create this new word? If so, how much did that cost? Would it not have been possible to come up with a name in the Irish language? There are many words that could have been used. In light of the future plans for Irish Water - the Minister has told us he does not intend to privatise it, but we all know what will happen down the line - I suggest that it could be called "an bord imithe" because that it what is going to happen to it.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte As Deputies Moynihan and Colreavy have said, we had this debate a long time ago. I can go back over the entire history of this initiative if colleagues would like me to do so. I do not think that is necessary because people understand what happened when this country had to seek outside assistance in 2010. They appreciate that it was a stipulation of the bailout programme that we should make some contribution from domestic resources - in particular, from the National Pensions Reserve Fund - and, on the other hand, that we should engage in a programme of disposal of State assets. A similar imposition was made in the case of Greece, for example. In the Irish case, the new Government over a period of seven months gradually whittled down the size of the programme of disposal of State assets and negotiated a facility for the reinvestment of more than half of the funds in question for domestic employment purposes.

The problem is that one either accepts that this is being done on the basis of an agreement that was made in 2010, or one does not. There are commentators who say we got off very lightly, given that this is virtually the only significant disposal. Regardless of whether that is true, it was decided that the energy business of Bord Gáis should be put on the market and marketed as part of a proper and competitive process. The selection of a preferred bidder was announced on 12 December last. That is the position.

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