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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] In 2009 the carer's allowance was cut by €16.50 per week, or €850 per year, by the Fianna Fáil Government. The blind person's pension was cut by €16.30 per week, or almost €850 per year, and the widow's pension was cut by the same amount. There is a lot of hypocrisy here. This Government has to make very difficult decisions.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I feel for Mr. O'Mahony and his wife Margaret, but the carer's package and the home care package are untouched-----

Deputy Sandra McLellan: Information on Sandra McLellan Zoom on Sandra McLellan There are choices. Tax wealth.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny -----and the grant is still being paid at the rate of €1,375. People should say that to the Deputies on the other side when they tell people to vote against the Government.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The clock applies to both sides of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I do not know whether people understand plain English.

A Deputy: The Taoiseach is over time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Hold on a moment. I reminded everybody that the rules apply to both sides of the House. If Deputies give me a chance-----

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I expect people to comply. Who is speaking for the Technical Group?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I am.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Deputy Boyd Barrett again.

Deputy Michael Ring: Information on Michael Ring Zoom on Michael Ring He gave up the €40,000 leader's allowance. Fair play to him. Now will Deputy Finian McGrath give up the allowance too?

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath The Minister of State should give up the €75,000.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I will suspend the House if Deputies will not stay quiet. I am sick to death of this. Complaint after complaint comes into my office from the public. I ask Deputies to behave. It is very easy to stick to the rules or else to change them. However, Deputies should not ask me to apply rules they will not obey. I want to make that clear. I will not proceed with this. Deputy Boyd Barrett has two minutes.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Struggling families throughout the county are all too aware of the cruel and impossible cuts and taxes the Government has imposed on them, and that its grim determination to impose this suffering is in order to pay off the debts of bankers and bondholders. Will the Taoiseach explain to me and the nation how, at the same time it imposes this suffering on ordinary people in order to obey the diktats of the troika, the Government is simultaneously maintaining a planning, licensing and tax regime that effectively gives away an estimated 180 billion barrels' worth of gas and oil sitting off the coast of this country? Will he also explain how, in the case of Rossport and now also in Dublin Bay, he is awarding licences to multinational oil companies to ride roughshod over the concerns of local communities-----

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin That is a local issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Do you mind?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett -----refusing their demands for public inquiries to look into the environmental dangers posed by drilling for oil six kilometres off the coast of Dublin Bay? Why is he refusing their demands to look into the benefits - or lack of same - for ordinary citizens of this country of these unprecedented deals with multinational companies? That amount of gas and oil, which is given in detailed estimates provided by the actual companies, could pay off our national debt five times over. Why is the Government giving away these resources to private multinational companies when our nation is being beggared? Why is it allowing them to ride completely roughshod over the legitimate concerns of local communities, both in the Taoiseach's county and in the capital city? Will the Taoiseach revoke the licences of these companies to drill or extract oil until we know that our environment is safe and that the benefits of this gas and oil will go to the citizens of this country?

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Hands off Dublin Bay.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I am not sure how Deputy Boyd Barrett determined there are 180 billion barrels of oil to be found. There is a great deal the Government can do for the country in this regard. In the regime that applied previously, contracts were drawn up between the State and exploration companies to determine whether finds were real and commercial and should be developed. One of the major finds, off Kinsale, has been in operation for many years and has come almost to the end of its capacity, while for the past 13 years the development process of bringing ashore the gas from the Corrib field has continued.

I spoke this week to the Norwegian Prime Minister, who made the point that by a law laid down many years ago Norway has never spent any of the money arising from North Sea oil or gas but has put the entirety into a national pension fund, now worth more than €500 billion. None the less, Norway is a high-tax country, as Deputy Boyd Barrett is aware. In letting out the exploration blocs, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, is determining the interest level of companies that wish to explore options. The technology has changed and if it is possible to determine whether there are finds of oil or gas it follows that environmental sensitivities must be taken into account. There must be exceptional licensing requirements and a determination of whether there is value in following up the development of the kind of well that may be there.

As the Deputy is aware, the State, via the Government, can make a judgment in respect of determining the value to the State of any find. That issue is central to the Minister's policy in this regard. First must come the development of interest from commercial operations to explore and determine whether there are finds that should be developed and, if so, in what circumstances. This can make an impact on our economy in the future.

I am not in a position to alter contracts that were signed years ago between the State and companies in respect of gas finds or whatever. It is important and in everybody's interest that where blocs are let out for exploration the licence to explore can be used or lost, and if there are finds or reservoirs, we must examine very carefully in what circumstances and capacity, and to what value to our country, these should be developed.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett The estimates come from the oil companies. I brought a little file to hand over to the Taoiseach which details the oil company estimates and shows 90 billion barrels off the west coast and a similar amount found off the rest of the country. At current market prices that is approximately €1.5 trillion worth of estimated gas and oil. If even a small fraction of that is commercially extractable it would pay off the debts imposed by the troika on this country.

I am glad the Taoiseach mentioned Norway. I have a simple question for him. Will he adopt the Norwegian model? Norway does not allow any drilling unless there is a public inquiry and thoroughgoing public consultation. There can be no drilling within 25 km of the coast; 78% of the profits go to the state in taxes and royalties; and ownership of the gas and oil stays in the hands of the national company, Statoil, which is owned by the state and the citizens. Will the Taoiseach halt any permissions for drilling or extraction by oil companies until we have established a Norwegian model to manage our natural resources in order to keep the environment safe and so that the citizens of this country can benefit from the resources in our waters?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny First the Deputy asked me to withdraw the licences. Then he asked me to adopt the Norwegian model.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Just do not grant the licences in Dublin Bay.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I assure the Deputy I am as interested in this as is anybody working on behalf of the people of this country. If there are reservoirs of either oil or gas offshore, the first thing that must be done is to determine where they are, whether they are commercial and the value and range of what they contain.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Here is the map. There are 87 prospects in specific locations.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The level of interest expressed by commercial companies has been higher lately than for the past 30 years. Clearly, finds have been made in other places around the world. In a major drilling operation off the west coast last year, where it had been assumed there was a really big reservoir of gas, this assumption turned out to be entirely negative. The map the Deputy has is not consistent with the facts. First, one must advertise for expressions of interest in exploration rights.


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