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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 511-525
 Header Item Exploration Licences Approvals
 Header Item Offshore Exploration
 Header Item Broadcasting Service Provision
 Header Item Broadband Services Provision
 Header Item Mobile Telephony Services Provision
 Header Item Postal Services
 Header Item Exploration Licences Applications
 Header Item Corrib Gas Field
 Header Item Cyber Security Policy
 Header Item Motor Fuels Prices
 Header Item Electricity Generation
 Header Item Wind Energy Generation
 Header Item Cloud Computing Issues

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 134 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 511-525

Exploration Licences Approvals

 511. Deputy John Deasy Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if he will list the oil and gas companies that have current licences for exploration, onshore and offshore; the number actively exploring; and the locations.  [26609/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  My Department publishes details relating to exploration authorisations granted together with a map of the locations concerned on a regular basis on its website at: http://www.dcenr.gov.ie/Natural/Petroleum+Affairs+Division/Acreage+and+Activity+Reports/. The latest report and map known as the Acreage Report and Concession Map respectively, is in respect of the position on 1 May 2013 and a copy of this report and map is available on the Department's website. The report gives details of each authorisation including its holders, period of activity and location. Since the publication of that report only one new authorisation has been granted, an offshore petroleum prospecting licence to Spectrum Geo Limited. There are no exploration authorisations extant at present in respect of the onshore.

Offshore Exploration

 512. Deputy Eamonn Maloney Information on Eamonn Maloney Zoom on Eamonn Maloney asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte when he proposes to appoint consultants to carry out a review of the fitness for purpose of Ireland's fiscal terms for oil and gas exploration as indicated recently in Dáil Éireann; the procedure for appointing these consultants; the terms of reference for the review; when this review will be completed and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; if the review will consider retrospectively amending any licensing agreements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26872/13]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Fergus O'Dowd): Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd At the commencement of the Dáil debate on the Report of the former Joint Oireachtas Committee for Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture on Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration I outlined my intention to seek independent expert advice on the "fitness-for-purpose" of Ireland's current oil and gas exploration fiscal terms. I also stated that I proposed to listen to the views of Deputies through the course of the debate before commencing the process of seeking such expert advice. That debate has yet to conclude.

The procedure for the appointment of the necessary expert advice must necessarily adhere to public procurement requirements. Certainty as to fiscal terms is a prerequisite to attracting oil and gas exploration investment to Ireland, with a view to establishing the true oil and gas potential of the Irish offshore. In that regard, and particularly in the context of planning for the next licensing round, it would be my intention to bring my consideration of this matter to a conclusion before the end of this year. That would ensure that the next licensing round could be launched against a backdrop of regulatory certainty and encourage much needed new investment in exploration in our offshore.

Broadcasting Service Provision

 513. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if his attention has been drawn to the fact that some BT customers in Northern Ireland are unable to access RTÉ Player programmes, that there is an issue with dynamic IP addresses being provided from an address pool from Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and for copyright reasons these customers are presented with the international version of the RTÉ player, that this is negatively impacting upon some BT customers in Northern Ireland; if he will consider allowing BT customers who prove they are resident in Northern Ireland access to the RTÉ Player; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27014/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte RTE is an independent national public service broadcaster whose remit and obligations are set out in the Broadcasting Act 2009, and, as such, I, as Minister have no role in its day-to-day operations including in relation to controlling the access to content on the RTE Player outside the jurisdiction of the Republic of Ireland. Section 114(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act, 2009 states that one of objects of RTE is to establish, maintain and operate a national television and sound broadcasting service which shall have the character of a public service, be free-to-air service and be made available, in so far as it is reasonably practicable, to the whole community on the island of Ireland. Section 98 provides that it shall be independent of the pursuance of these objects.

That said, I have instructed my Officials to contact RTE in relation to the matter which the Deputy has raised regarding the access of content on RTE Player by BT Customers who are resident in Northern Ireland and I shall provide the Deputy with RTE's response when it has reverted to me.

  Question No. 514 answered with Question No. 81.

Broadband Services Provision

 515. Deputy Tom Fleming Information on Tom Fleming Zoom on Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if he will introduce as a matter of priority a high speed broadband pilot scheme initiative to cover the triangle in the Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry, that is, Caherciveen to Waterville to Portmagee, in view of the fact that this area is poorly serviced and it is having a negative impact on job creation in this part of the county as it is hindering small firms from starting up and existing businesses from expanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27007/13]

 516. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the extent to which his Department has identified specific areas throughout the country, currently experiencing poor quality or total lack of access to any level of broadband; if he will put in place any particular provisions to meet such requirements in the short and medium term having particular regard to the increased public dependency on such high quality services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27335/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I propose to take Questions Nos. 515 and 516 together.

Ireland's telecommunications market has been fully liberalised since 1999 in accordance with the requirements of binding EU Directives. Under EU State Aid rules, the State can only intervene to ensure access to broadband services in areas where the competitive market has failed to deliver such services. The National Broadband Scheme (NBS) and the Rural Broadband Scheme are examples of two such interventions. Under the NBS, basic broadband services are available in 1,028 Electoral Divisions throughout the country. With more specific reference to the areas of County Kerry mentioned above, NBS services are available in 4 of the 6 relevant Electoral Divisions, namely St. Finan's, Ballinskelligs, Teeranearagh and Emlagh.

With basic broadband services widely available across Ireland, the focus is now on accelerating the roll out of high speed services as outlined in the Government's National Broadband Plan, which I published in August last. It aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed services of 30Mbps are available to all of our citizens and businesses, well in advance of the EU's target date of 2020, and that significantly higher speeds are available to as many homes and businesses as possible.

In order to progress the State-led investment, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained. My Department will shortly embark on a formal mapping exercise to identify those areas where State intervention will be required to enable the delivery of high speed broadband services over the coming years in line with the commitments set out in the Plan. This exercise will inform an EU State Aids application in respect of the State-led intervention and is a necessary prerequisite for State Aids approval.

In devising any State intervention to deliver high speed services to areas of the country where such services are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market, my Department will be adopting a technology neutral approach, as required under EU law. In doing so, it is of key importance that the solution is future proofed, scalable and capable of taking advantage of technological advances so as to meet the ever-increasing bandwidth requirements of citizens and businesses. Intensive technical, financial and legal preparations including stakeholder engagement will be ongoing throughout 2013 with a view to the launch of a procurement process in 2014.

Through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, we are committed to increasing the availability of next generation speeds significantly, with a view to ensuring that all citizens and businesses, wherever they are located, have a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business in the digital environment.

Mobile Telephony Services Provision

 517. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if any report has been undertaken to assess the quality of mobile telephone services countrywide; if attention has focused on any particular areas, urban or rural where poor quality mobile telephone service has been identified; the steps he will take to address this issue which he inherited from his predecessors; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [27336/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The provision of telecommunications services in Ireland generally occurs within a competitive liberalised market. The provision of mobile telecommunications networks within that market is also subject to a requirement to secure the necessary wireless telegraphy licence to access the required radio spectrum. The terms and conditions of the required wireless telegraphy licences and the associated monitoring of compliance by licensed providers with those terms and conditions are matters for the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), which is responsible for regulating both the postal and telecommunications markets. ComReg, which is accountable to Committees of the Oireachtas in accordance with s34 of the Communications Regulation Act 2002, is independent in the exercise of these functions.

I am confident that with the continued significant investment being made by the mobile operators, including the imminent roll-out of 4G services, the overall quality of telephone and broadband services will continue to improve. I am aware also that in addition to its 4G rollout plans at least one mobile operator has announced plans to upgrade its network, particularly in rural areas, providing enhanced voice and broadband services.

Postal Services

 518. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the extent to which he anticipates the retention and development of services at An Post incorporating maximum utilisation of post offices and sub post offices including counter services and next-day, five days a week delivery services nationwide without exception; if consideration has been given to extra compatible services which might be added to An Post’s portfolio; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27337/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Operational matters in relation to the post office network are a matter for the management and Board of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function. As shareholder, however, I have a strong concern in relation to the ongoing commercial position of the Company and I regularly liaise with the Company in this regard. An Post has many strengths and has the largest retail presence in the country. I have impressed on the Company the need to further exploit its unique position in this regard and have been supportive of its attempts to diversify its income streams and to win a wider range of commercial contracts offering higher margins. I welcome the progress An Post has made towards diversification with its enhanced arrangement with AIB and its agreement with Aviva for the transfer of Aviva Ireland's branch offices personal insurance business book to One Direct.

In the context of the public sector transformation agenda, I will continue to engage with my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to consideration, as appropriate, of the post office network for transactional elements of the business of Government Departments and Agencies, and have stressed to my Government colleagues that the network is ideally configured for over the counter transactions. While I have overall responsibility for the postal sector, the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011 charges the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as the postal regulator, with the promotion of the development of the postal sector and particularly the availability of the universal postal service, the promotion of the interests of users and the facilitation of the development of competition in the sector.

Under this Act, An Post is statutorily required, as the designated universal service provider, to provide a universal postal service. The essential element of this obligation is the collection and delivery of mail to every address in the State on every working day. The universal service obligation ensures by way of regulatory obligations that a minimum set of services is provided at an affordable price for the benefit of all users, irrespective of their geographical location. It is a fundamental principle of the regulatory framework for postal services and is an explicit requirement of the EU Postal Services Directive which has provided for the gradual and controlled opening of the postal services market to competition.

My Department maintains regular contact with ComReg in the context of its role as both telecommunications and postal regulator.

Exploration Licences Applications

 519. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the extent to which oil, gas and other mineral exploration incentives available for on and offshore exploration are competitive in every sense with those available in other jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27338/13]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Fergus O'Dowd): Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd The principal incentive that impacts on decisions by exploration companies to invest in exploration for oil, gas, or other minerals in the Irish onshore, or offshore, is the likelihood of making a commercial discovery. Other factors of relevance would include the fiscal terms, the regulatory regime, the relative harshness of the operating environment, along with access to infrastructure and markets. Perception of the various relevant factors will vary amongst exploration companies and indeed is likely to vary over time within individual companies. The Government seeks to maintain a balance between the relative factors that encourage mobile international exploration investment to locate in Ireland.

Corrib Gas Field

 520. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if he will outline the ongoing progress towards the provision of gas supplies to the market from the Corrib gas field; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27339/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Completion of the Corrib gas field development works by the developer is the principal factor that will determine the date for first gas. Pending such completion, it is not possible to state a date for when gas from the Corrib gas field will become available. It is estimated that construction of the onshore section of the pipeline, which began in 2011, including the construction of a 5km tunnel, will take in the region of three years. First gas cannot therefore reasonably be anticipated before end 2014.

Cyber Security Policy

 521. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if in the context of the development of modern IT, it has been found possible to introduce technical safeguards to prevent cyberbullying with particular reference to identification of the perpetrators; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [27340/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte As the Deputy will be aware, Social Media are online platforms that allow people create, share and exchange information, and to comment amongst themselves in virtual communities and networks. To date, these media have not been subject to a formal regulatory regime akin to that used to "regulate" traditional radio and television broadcast media, either in Ireland or in other jurisdictions. There is a range of reasons for this, not least the rapidly evolving nature of the technologies involved, the sensitivities around regulating media and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Internet.

It is important to acknowledge the economic and social benefits that the widespread use of social media have brought to people, communities and to business. However, some of the issues that have arisen as a consequence of this bear consideration. These challenges include dealing with harassment and bullying online, as well as issues around defamation, data protection and copyright. There has been a very considerable amount of discussion on these matters in the recent past at EU and Council of Europe level, in which my Department has been involved. This matter is also the subject of a fundamental debate at EU and national level, a fact reflected by the recent decision of the Joint Oireachtas Committee to examine the issue. I await the Committee's report in this respect.

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have policy responsibility for providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment to facilitate the development of high quality communications infrastructure and services. However, I should highlight that I do not have sole responsibility for addressing as to how that infrastructure is used. Responsibility, in the context of abuse over the Internet in particular, also sits with the Minister for Justice and Equality, and the executive agency of his Department, the Office for Internet Safety. It is clear that there are no simple answers to the challenges posed by the development and abuse of social media, not least because of the international basis of the services and because any possible policy responses fall across a range of Government Departments. In recognition of this complexity my Department maintains open and regular contact with all Departments and State Agencies with responsibilities in this area.

The sheer volume of material posted on social media daily is such that formal policing is not feasible, an issue complicated by the international and multi-jurisdictional nature of the internet. Also, the operators of these networks have only limited liability for such material – they are generally required to remove offensive material once they have been notified but this does not prevent it from being seen in the interim. This has obvious implications in terms of material that breaches copyright, or is offensive or harmful in some way. I am continuing to work with colleagues across Government, industry and the EU, to identify practical measures that can be implemented to address the challenge of cyber bullying.

Motor Fuels Prices

 522. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the extent to which motor fuel prices at the pumps have been reduced in line with the prices on world markets with particular reference to the fall in such prices in the past six months; if the prices at filling stations will fall proportionately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27341/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Recent trends in international oil prices have indeed been downwards and pump prices in Ireland in the last 6 months indicate that motor fuel pump prices have also been falling. The average price at the pumps at the start of November 2012 for diesel was €1.57 per litre, while the average price for unleaded petrol was €1.64 per litre. By the end of April 2013, the average price for diesel at the pumps was €1.51 per litre, while for unleaded petrol it was €1.59 per litre and, more recently, has fallen somewhat further.

  A study into motor fuel prices at the pumps was carried out by the National Consumer Agency in 2008 in its Investigation into Petrol and Diesel Price Movements. Among the main findings were that:

- There is little evidence to suggest unwarranted delays in the passing on of wholesale price changes to the consumer at the pump.

- Direct comparison between fluctuations in crude oil prices and petrol and diesel pump prices is inappropriate and does not reflect the reality of the petrol and diesel supply chain. To more accurately assess flow through of price changes in refined oil products (such as petrol and diesel) to the consumer, it is necessary to compare fluctuations in Platts prices, these being the prices for refined oil products such as petrol and diesel paid by wholesalers, and prices at the forecourt pump (Platts is a provider of energy information including crude oil and refined prices.)

- Platts prices and wholesale prices should differ by a margin comprising the impact of exchange rates, taxes, transportation and associated costs. The subsequent difference between wholesale and pump prices is typically dictated by the purchasing power of the end retailer (discounts accrue based on volumes purchased, membership of a "branded" chain etc.) and an allowance for the retailer's margin.

- Analyses of these fluctuations over the time period of this study suggest a strong correlation between Platts prices and wholesale price fluctuations and the price of diesel and petrol at the pump, allowing for changes in the euro/dollar exchange rates.

- A large proportion of the pump price of fuel in this country comprises taxes and duties. The manner of their calculation can depress overall pump cost savings to consumers, notwithstanding drops in the underlying cost of the refined fuel product.   

- Overall, Ireland's service station/retail petrol and diesel supply market would appear to be competitive by international standards.

Electricity Generation

 523. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the extent to which electricity generation is now sourced from alternative non-fossil fuel sources; the extent to which such sources now meet the daily requirements of the national grid; his plans for future development in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27342/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Ireland currently has 1,763 MW of installed wind generation, 238 MW of hydro power and 71 MW of smaller renewable sources (combined heat and power, solar and bio-energy). In 2012 this installed renewable generation capacity met 19.5% of overall electricity demand.

As regards proposed targets for the future, under the Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland is legally required to increase the use of renewable energy from 3.1% in 2005 to 16% in 2020, with minimum targets of 10% in the transport sector and 12% in heating. The intention is to reach Ireland's overall target through 40% renewable electricity, 10% renewable transport and 12% renewable heating, which together amount to 16% of all energy consumption.

Under the Renewables Directive, Ireland was required to set out in a National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) the trajectory towards meeting its legally binding target. The NREAP and the First Progress Report on the NREAP, which are available on my Department's website, show the sectoral and technology breakdown that we anticipate in the achievement of our target. Wind generated electricity is expected to play a major role.

Wind energy is the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. However, if we are to reach that target, the build rate of onshore wind farms must accelerate from an historic average of 180 MW per year to at least 250 MW per year. It was for this reason that I decided to amend the terms of REFIT 2 to extend the closing date for applications to 31 December 2015, with projects required to be built by the end of December 2017. Support under REFIT 2 cannot exceed 15 years and will not extend beyond the end of December 2032.

Wind Energy Generation

 524. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the extent to which wind generation now supplies power to the national grid; the extent to which this national source is planned to grow in the short to medium term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27343/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte In 2012 15.5% of Ireland's electricity demand was met by wind generation. By the end of quarter one 2013 1,763 MW of wind generation capacity was connected to the grid. Under the Renewable Energy Directive Ireland is legally required to ensure 16% of total energy demand is met by renewable sources by 2020. Ireland proposes to meet this target through 40% in electricity, 10% in transport and 12% in heating.

  To date, wind energy has been the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. However, if we are to reach that target, the build rate of onshore wind farms must accelerate from an historic average of 180 MW per year to at least 250 MW per year. It was for this reason that I decided to amend the terms of REFIT 2 to extend the closing date for applications to 31 December 2015, with projects required to be built by the end of December 2017. Support under REFIT 2 cannot exceed 15 years and will not extend beyond the end of December 2032.

  In order to take a structured approach to connecting the necessary amounts of renewable generation to the grid, the Commission for Energy Regulation established the Gate 3 process. Under this process, grid connection offers have been made to around 3,900 MW of renewable generation, the bulk of which is wind. It is now a matter for project developers to accept or reject these offers in the coming months.

Cloud Computing Issues

 525. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the extent to which he envisages cloud computing to become of major, commercial impact in the context of economic recovery and job creation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27345/13]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte Cloud computing has the potential to revolutionise the IT investment model in Ireland and elsewhere. It allows companies to use the internet to efficiently access vast amounts of computing resources that would otherwise be beyond their reach. A report undertaken by A&L Goodbody and commissioned by Microsoft has suggested that Cloud Computing sales by Irish firms could be worth €9.5 billion per annum by 2014 and provide for 8,600 jobs as business migrates to the Cloud.

  The Programme for Government commits to a range of initiatives aimed at making Ireland a leader in the emerging I.T. market of cloud computing. My colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, established a group to implement this commitment on Cloud Computing. The group, on which my Department was represented, was tasked with addressing all aspects of cloud computing, including expenditure, IT, procurement, security, infrastructure, and industrial strategy. The group made recommendations in its report of June 2012 and compiled a work programme and actions on foot of these recommendations. These actions were incorporated into the 2013 Action Plan for Jobs.


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