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Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 915 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock] We have some minor queries, which the Minister might address. Will the Minister, in his reply, give us some insight into the role and remit of the CRU after water charges have been suspended?

What is the Minister's perspective regarding the market provisions regarding the North-South interconnector? Where does the North-South interconnector project stand? Will the integrated single energy market be completed by the end of 2017? We welcome the Part 5 changes regarding the restatement in primary legislation of remit penalties. The harmonisation of penalties on a par with neighbouring jurisdictions is desirable.

Although it is not within the remit of the Bill, it would be remiss of me, given the vagaries of the House and the normal course of action whereby we take some indulgence on Second Stage speeches, not to mention Whitegate oil refinery in my constituency, which employs approximately 155 workers. The obligation to operate the refinery ends in July and we are all very conscious of the potential of the site to ensure security of supply. We are very conscious of the need for decarbonisation and the associated targets. Our obligations under transport for delivering non-carbon additives, for example, could be realised within a site such as Whitegate if the State can maintain a relationship with potential buyers. I ask the Minister to keep the lines of communication open and see if there are possibilities to partner strategically with any potential buyer of the site in the future to ensure we meet our biofuels obligations. This is just one element. We must also be mindful of the need to maintain a strategic site on this island for the provision of carbon-based fuel, which will be a feature of our economy and society for many years to come.

I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which we will support. There may be an opportunity for us in the House with the new Minister to demystify the energy market and try to distil the language we use when we discuss energy production into language that is easily understandable by consumers. Consumers, myself included given that I am new to this remit, see the public service obligation, PSO, on their bills. We refer to the market mechanism, market clearing mechanism, system marginal price, REFIT schemes and PSOs. We could work on a cross-party basis in the House to distil the language down, particularly regarding issues where there are sensitivities regarding, for example, the provision of pylons, wind energy and, now, solar energy, which is gaining more prevalence in our landscape. If we can distil the language of energy production, we can assist consumers and people living in communities to understand better the dynamics of the market as it relates to them as consumers. There is a job of work to be done and a challenge. We welcome the Bill and will support it.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy The Bill contains some positive elements, such as increasing the penalties that can be imposed on companies for market manipulation for insider trading. However, the enhanced powers are weak, given that they must be confirmed by the High Court, even if the company concerned does not bother to lodge an objection. This reflects a fear of interfering too strongly in the artificial market in utilities, which the EU is bent on creating, and the interests of multinational utility companies which would oppose regulators with strong powers to impose sanctions on them.

  The Bill must be seen as part of a process of completing an all-island and EU-wide single market in utilities and EU markets that will enable large utilities and utility oligopolies to compete across borders, and of furthering the process of liberalisation and privatisation of public utilities. A single EU market in utilities would make privatisation of Irish publicly owned companies such as the ESB or Irish Water more financially viable by giving them easier access to foreign markets in which to expand and compete. It would also open the door to foreign multinational utilities buying up the Irish electricity, gas and water networks, which has already happened in the case of Transdev and the Luas, destroying the previous operation of rail transport as a fully publicly owned service.

  Beefing up the powers of supposedly independent regulators of these markets is a further step in the process of capitalist accumulation by dispossession, whereby big business appropriates previously commonly owned public goods for private profits. This has had disastrous results across the world where utilities have been privatised with increased prices, power cuts, attacks on workers and so on. Supposedly independent, bureaucratic regulators are part of a wider trend of separating public services from democratic oversight. It allows governments to disclaim responsibility for important matters affecting workers, ordinary consumers and households, and for issues such as utility prices.

  This is part of a broader technocratic process of what is called constitutionalising neoliberalism, whereby political aspects of economic policy are put beyond democratic discussions by bodies such as the Dáil and put beyond politics and democratic input. The defining characteristics of this include the delegation of economic policy-making, monitoring, supervision and enforcement to supposedly impartial, independent, technocratic experts. We have seen this process regarding the fiscal treaty and the fiscal rules. Another defining characteristic of constitutionalising neoliberalism is the enshrinement of neoliberal, free market norms in legislation, including by putting them in constitutions as we have done here, to make it as difficult as possible to reverse neoliberal policies in the future.

  The EU's role in pushing this and the creation of a single European utilities market is another example of how the EU remains one of the prime actors in continuing to enforce neoliberalism internationally, even though the International Monetary Fund, IMF, is in some senses questioning the excesses of neoliberalism. We know the role the IMF has played in Latin America. In an article published a few weeks ago, the IMF questioned whether neoliberalism had been "oversold" and concluded there was little evidence that adhering to neoliberal principles had increased economic growth but stated it had definitely led to significantly increased inequality. In spite of this, the EU is pushing full steam ahead with the imposition of neoliberal dogma in as many fields as possible, just as it did when it imposed maximum neoliberal austerity on the Greek people at a time when even the IMF could see it was counterproductive, given the overall picture of world capitalism.

  From the look of things, the EU and its ever faithful servants in the Irish Government will be the very last to notice what The Guardian described as the "long death of an ideology" or the "death of neoliberalism from within". On the one hand, it is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions, despite the best efforts of the EU and successive Irish Governments to resuscitate it since the global financial crisis. On the other hand, it is being defeated by popular pressure, as the success of fighting water charges demonstrates. Not only did it rip off the veil of faux neutrality and independence of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and all the other so-called independent regulators, it exposed the neoliberal, political nature of seemingly technocratic directives such as the Water Framework Directive and showed how their creation and continued existence are a result of political decisions made in the interests of the 1% and which can be defeated by the struggles of the 99% against neoliberalism, the privatisation of public services and the erosion of democracy.

Debate adjourned.

  Sitting suspended at 3.50 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.

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