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Sustainable Energy Bill, 2001 [ Seanad ] : Report Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 6 February 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 547 No. 4

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Debate resumed on amendment No. 15:

In page 4, line 38, after “distribution” to insert “, conservation, efficiency”.

–(Deputy Stanton).

Mr. Stanton: Before we adjourned the debate I was speaking of the importance, as I saw it, of highlighting the need for conservation and efficiency where energy was concerned. To insert these two words in line 38 would strengthen and add to the Bill. The subsection mentions the use of energy and goes on to state, as the Minister of State said, “(including implications relating to the sourcing, transformation, transmission, distribution and emissions thereof).” It should also mention conservation and efficiency. It is a worthwhile amendment. The Bill should highlight the fact that we need to conserve and be efficient with energy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Is the amendment being pressed?

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Is the Minister of State accepting the amendment?

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob I am afraid not.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive, not moved.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 19:

In page 6, line 29, after “members” to insert “at least one of whom shall be elected by the employees of the Authority”.

We see a need to have worker directors involved. We are aware that this is a small agency with a small staff but the principle is an established one. The Minister for Public Enterprise accepted an amendment that was tabled when the Railway Procurement Agency was being established. She said she thought it was a good principle to have worker directors involved. One of the members of the authority should be elected by the employees of the authority. It gives them a sense of ownership of the authority and gives the authority an opportunity to see its operation through the eyes of its workers. It is a principle that is accepted by all sides in the House. I expected that the Minister of State would follow the example of his colleague, the Minister for Public Enterprise, in this regard and continue this practice. I look forward to hear what the Minister of State has to say.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins (Mayo): The Minister of State acknowledged today that one of the difficulties in relation to doing some of the things we were recommending was the size of the authority. He referred to a staff of 50. Now we are talking about a board of 12 to regulate an authority with a staff of 50. To put it bluntly this seems to be excessive in terms of staff numbers. I am at a loss to know [1551] why provision was not made for a worker director in the original draft of the Bill. We have worker directors on the boards of Iarnród Éireann, Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann, Bord na Móna, the Railway Procurement Agency, Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta and so on, yet on the board of this particular body the powers that be who drafted this legislation decided there would be no worker director.

The staff and unions have done everything possible to obtain a worker director or trade union representation on the board and my understanding is that negotiations with the Department have broken down and their demands were firmly rejected. We urge that this sensible amendment to give participation by workers on the board be accepted.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I support the amendment and am hopeful the Minister will have a positive reply.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob On Committee Stage I undertook to consider this matter further and having done so I am more convinced than ever that it would not be appropriate to have worker directors on this board. My views coincide with current Government policy on the appointment of worker directors to State boards. It is not policy to appoint such directors to the board of non-commercial State bodies.

On Committee Stage, and again this evening, some colleagues referred to the fact that the recently enacted Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Act, 2001, which was sponsored by my colleague the Minster for Public Enterprise, provided for one of the members of the agency to be elected by the staff. There is a big difference between that body and the one proposed here. The Railway Procurement Agency is a commercial body with a range of functions which are essentially commercial in nature and the new authority we are talking about here is a relatively small non-commercial State body with a current staff of less that 40.

I am satisfied that the communications channels and sub-boards structures which will be put in place in the new authority will ensure the maximum flow of information relating to decisions of the board right to the staff and conversely from the staff to the board, obviating the need for a worker director.

I am anxious to go some way to meet the Deputies' concerns so I have included trade union representation among the list of competencies of prospective board members. I repeat the undertaking I gave on Committee Stage that I will appoint a person from the trade union pillar of the social partnership to the board.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton It is disappointing that the Minster of State is not of a mind to accept this amendment. I believe workers would have much to offer [1552] a board like this because this authority will require imagination, energy and flair. It is a new, young authority and it is important to tap into all the resources available to it.

I agree that having somebody from the trade union pillar is important but it is not the same as having a person who is on the shop floor, as it were, represented on the board who can bring the concerns and ideas of the workers to board level. Like my colleague, Deputy Higgins, I am mystified as to why the board is so large, and we will address that issue later on. The Minister alluded to the Railway Procurement Agency which has only seven members while this has 12. There would be plenty of room on this board for a worker director. That would be a very democratic step and would add to the authority rather than take from it.

The Minister of State said he is of a mind to meet us some of the way. Why does he not meet us all the way and accede to this amendment? It should not make that much difference. What harm would it do? The Minister has not given us any reason for not accepting it. Would it be damaging in some way? We are all agreed it would be beneficial. Perhaps the Minister of State will reconsider even at this late stage and allow this amendment to be made.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon Amendments Nos. 20 and 22 will be taken together by agreement.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob I move amendment No. 20:

In page 6, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(2) The Board shall direct the functions of the Authority in accordance with this Act and shall satisfy itself as to the adequacy of the systems in place for that purpose and shall keep under review the performance of the Authority.”.

An amendment was proposed on Committee Stage in relation to the functions of the board, which I undertook to examine further and revert to on Report Stage. Arising from that examination I am proposing this amendment, which I believe meets the requirements of colleagues who raised the matter on Committee Stage. The amendment differs in a couple of respects from that tabled on Committee Stage.

I am anxious that the responsibilities of the board and of management are clear and not in any way compromised by what we might put into the legislation. The Committee Stage amendment provided it was a duty of the board inter alia to manage the workings of the authority. The changes I made to the Committee Stage amendment were necessary to ensure the demarcation [1553] between the functions of the board and those of management. I hope the Deputies appreciate the changes I made and will accept my amendment which is geared to take on board the spirit of the Opposition amendment.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I am happy the Minister of State has accepted the thrust of the amendment we put forward on Committee Stage and I am pleased to agree with his version of the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon Amendment No. 21 in the name of the Minister arises out of Committee proceedings. No. 26 is related and they may be discussed together, by agreement.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob I move amendment No. 21:

In page 6, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(3) Each member of the Board shall be a person who, in the opinion of the Minister, has experience and competence in relation to one or more of the following areas:

(a)renewable energy methodologies and technologies,

(b)conservation and efficient use of energy,

(c)environmental matters,

(d)education,

(e)engineering,

(f)economics,

(g)finance,

(h)the construction industry,

(i)urban development,

(j)energy production and supply,

(k)motor engineering,

(l)legal matters,

(m)trade union matters,

(n)transport,

(o)industry,

(p)commerce.”.

I said on Committee Stage that I was not opposed in principle to including in the Bill a list of experiences and competences that members of the board should have. With a few changes, I have adopted the text as proposed by Deputies Stanton, Higgins and Naughten on Committee Stage. The first change is to delete the word “wide”. The problem with this word is that it is too wide, pardon the pun. For example, would experience of wave energy count as wide experience of renewable energy methodologies, or would experience of other forms of renewable energy be [1554] required also? I am advised it would be better not to have the word “wide” included. Second, I have added some new categories to the list – trade union matters, transport, industry and commerce. Those are areas of experience and competence would be of value to the board. Basically, I have taken on what was proposed on Committee Stage.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I am happy the Minister of State has more or less accepted the amendment we put forward on Committee Stage. The amendment was designed to ensure that members of boards would have something to offer the board and that the Minister, in selecting members of boards, would have to, in a sense, stand over the selection and be able to defend it on the basis of the experience or competence of those appointed. I am also happy the Minister of State has expanded and improved on the amendment as drafted, by adding trade union matters, transport, industry and commerce to the list of requirements. My only reservation is that the Minister of State has taken out the word “wide”. The amendment now reads:

Each member of the Board shall be a person who, in the opinion of the Minister, has experience and competence in relation to one or more of the following areas . . .

I had included the word “wide” to provide, in some way, that a certain amount of experience would be required but I accept the Minister of State's comment that it is somewhat vague. We could possibly debate indefinitely what constitutes experience and competence. Each of us has competence and experience in education because we have gone through the school system. I believe the thrust of the amendment is that a person would have some expertise. Perhaps “expertise” could be added in as well as “experience and competence”, if the Minister of State can take it on board at this stage. However, I am happy that he has accepted the thrust of our amendment.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent This is a wise amendment. It gives people who read the Bill an indication of the make-up of the board in terms of the background of members. However, there is still a certain wide aspect to it even now. With regard to economics, it would do no harm if we were to specify “sustainable economics”, to give an indication that we are referring to economics in the context of the work of the Sustainable Energy Authority, as opposed to simple economics as such. There are many kinds of economists, some of whom would be quite scathing about the objectives of the Sustainable Energy Authority. I presume it is implicit that we are referring to sustainable economics but it would be useful to give some indication of that. As [1555] the Minister of State has said, it is not advisable to have an unduly wide definition.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 22 not moved.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon Amendment No. 23 in the name of Deputy Stanton arises out of Committee proceedings.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move amendment No. 23:

In page 6, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

“(2) The Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, shall nominate people to be members of the Board and each person so nominated, on accepting the nomination, and prior to appointment to the Board by the Minister shall appear before a Committee of Dáil Eireann established under the Standing Orders of Dáil Eireann in order to answer questions regarding his or her suitability, qualifications and experience and the Minister shall not appoint a member without prior approval of the said Dáil Committee.”.

Establishing a board of any State agency is an important matter. We have already improved on this Bill by laying down a list of requirements that members of the board should have. It is also important that the appointments be made in an open, transparent and public manner. In other jurisdictions, members who are to be appointed to state boards and other such bodies are interviewed by select committees. That gives the public a chance to see who will be on the board and the prospective members of the board have an opportunity to say what they have to offer to the board and why they should be appointed. It also gives an opportunity to expose, for the want of a better term, any skeletons in closets.

There are people on State boards who are doing excellent work. Unfortunately, much of it is hidden and the public is not aware of it. Occasionally, matters of an unsavoury nature come to light, resulting in a big hue and cry. This amendment seeks to put into the Bill a provision whereby “the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, shall nominate people to be members of the board and each person so nominated, on accepting the nomination, and prior to appointment to the board by the Minister shall appear before a committee of Dáil Éireann established under the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann in order to answer questions regarding his or her suitability, qualifications and experience and the Minister shall not appoint a member without prior approval of the said Dáil Committee.” I know this is a ground breaking proposal. On Committee Stage, the Minister said people would be loath to come before a Dáil committee [1556] because they do not wish their appointments to be made public. Why should such appointments not be made public? After all, we represent the public and those people will also represent the public. The public has every right to know who is being appointed and, as representatives of the public, have we not every right to ask them questions and give them an opportunity to say what they have to bring to the board? I have no doubt the people a Minister would nominate would be excellent people and that there would not be any problem with this suggested procedure. It is a new proposal but it should be taken on. This is an opportunity for the Minister of State to show his courage and tenacity by doing something that will go down in history.

I am interested to hear what other Members have to say. I know the Minister of State had two reservations on Committee Stage. One was that people would be slow to come before a committee. On the other hand, people might be happy to do so and to show what they have to offer. Everything would be open and above board and the innuendo that is sometimes attached to appointments to State boards would be dispelled. Members of Dáil committees are very respectful of people who come before them and the Chairs of committees ensure that that is the case. I ask the Minister of State to accept this amendment. Perhaps he has had time to discuss it with his colleagues since we discussed it in Committee.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I do not support this amendment. We are discussing a non commercial board for which we will have to seek out people to serve on it. If they are informed they will be obliged to appear before an Oireachtas committee to be cross-examined, they will state they do not want the job because it does not pay anything. There might be a nominal sum of £50 per week paid in respect of jobs of this nature, but when tax is deducted net pay only amounts to about £25 per week. These are “good citizen” jobs as opposed to paid employment. I accept that political hacks occupy a number of these positions, but they would have to be qualified hacks under the amendment. If it is accepted, it will be impossible to attract people to serve on the boards.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I appreciate the intention behind the amendment. I regret that I was not present to move amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18. However, the amendment before us, because it follows the pattern of the Bill, states the consent of the Minister for Finance would be required. Although that requirement did not originate with the authors of the motion, it is a flaw because the Minister for Finance is directly opposed to many of the fiscal measures that would be important in terms of promoting sustainable energy. I refer, for example, to the type of hypothecated taxation that would need to be ring-fenced and know the [1557] Minister for Finance struggled when presented with this challenge by other Ministers.

I am not sure whether this measure is designed to stop the board spending money or whether its members have to be friends of the Minister for Finance. As matters stand, however, this board will be hampered by the requirement that the Minister for Finance must grant approval. That is the more important point to be made in respect of the amendment. I take Deputy Stagg's point and would not like anyone to be dissuaded from serving on a State board. At the same time, however, board members should be people of conviction and I hope they would have no difficulty in declaring their membership of the authority or being strident in expressing their views.

Mr. Jacob: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob We discussed this amendment on Committee Stage. I repeat what I said then, namely, that the proposed amendment is without precedent in regard to the appointment of members to a State body. I venture to say that it would be unique in our system.

Deputy Stanton stated there are many excellent individuals serving on our State boards and I endorse his comments in that regard. From his own experience of appointing directors to certain bodies, Deputy Stagg is aware that the people concerned do not grow on trees and are not overpaid for the work they do. We need qualified, capable people of integrity to serve on our State boards. It would be a deterrent to ask them to run the gauntlet in the manner outlined in the amendment.

There are many people who would make eminent board members, but would not be prepared to submit to such questioning with regard to their suitability or qualifications. What we are discussing here is some kind of interview board comprised of Oireachtas Members. This amendment would make it difficult to attract enough suitable people to sit on boards and I regret that I cannot accept it.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright Zoom on Tom Enright The Minister of State indicated he does not believe it would be suitable for a board comprised of Oireachtas Members to interview people for membership of State boards. We are not concerned with the appointment of judges to the United States Supreme Court, but with the appointment of people to serve on State boards in Ireland. What Deputy Stanton is proposing is quite unique.

I usually find myself in total agreement with Deputy Stagg and favour and support many of the views and ideas he puts forward. However, there must be a certain level of openness about the people appointed to serve on semi-State bodies. It is only when one consults the relevant guide that one realises who is serving on these various committees, boards and commissions. [1558] The people to whom I refer attain their positions by means of Government appointment.

I accept that Deputy Stanton's proposal is ground-breaking. However, not everyone would be asked to appear before a committee of the Houses. Between 95% and 99% of those appointed will be perfectly acceptable to everyone. Members of the Oireachtas are elected to protect the public good and must be able to ensure those selected for appointment are suitably qualified in every respect. The committee to which the amendment refers should, if necessary, be able to request a person or persons to appear before it. I do not believe this would lead to people being taken to task for holding a particular political viewpoint or committing a minor misdemeanour. Where it is believed that a person nominated for appointment may have an important vested interest, an Oireachtas committee should be allowed to examine him or her.

The committees of the House have had their ups and downs and been proved right and wrong. Overall, however, they have gone from strength to strength and perform an important function. For this reason, it would be in everybody's best interests to allow a committee of the House to examine people's credentials and ask them to appear before it. If we do otherwise, we are stating we should not be delegating this power to committees. We should delegate such power to them because it would be a good development.

If, after a long and illustrious career in the Houses as both a Deputy and Minister, Deputy Sargent decided to continue in public service and was asked to appear before a committee, I have no doubt that he would be happy to do so.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent Zoom on Trevor Sargent I would have no problem in doing so.

Mr. Enright: Information on Tom Enright Zoom on Tom Enright I am sure Deputy Stagg would also be willing to do so. There are many well-intentioned and good citizens who are open and honest and would be concerned about appearing before such a committee. Whether they would be paid £50, £500 or £5,000 for serving on a board, if they are open and honest, they would be happy to appear before a committee to have their appointment approved. Such a process would be open, transparent and good.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg I regularly find myself agreeing with Deputy Enright. I agree with him now also, but what he is saying is not contained in the amendment. Deputy Stanton's amendment advocates the compulsory grilling of everybody put forward for consideration and their approval by the committee before the Minister can appoint them. What Deputy Enright said is fine, but that is not what the amendment states.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton Another advantage of accepting the amendment would be that the members of [1559] the Oireachtas committee would become familiar with board members because they would be in a position to meet and discuss the operations of the authority with them. This would be a learning process for everyone – members of the committee and prospective members of boards. The way the Bill is structured, there will be a rotating membership. People, therefore, will seldom be obliged to appear before the committee. It would actually be an event when somebody appeared before it. The person or persons in question would have the honour of being nominated by the Minister. They would then meet the committee for a discussion about the role of the authority and what they have to offer the authority. Grilling occurs only when there is something that requires it.

Mr. Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg Zoom on Emmet Stagg They would be required under the Deputy's amendment.

Mr. Stanton: Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton They would be required to answer questions with regard to qualifications, experience and so on, if the members so wished. There are very few positions in society nowadays that do not involve some form of interview or discussion beforehand. People are interviewed for positions no matter what the job it is, and I will not men[1560] tion any because all work is of value. It would be a learning process for the members of the committee and for the nominee.

If there was a reason somebody should not be appointed it could be brought out into the open in public by the committee and dealt with. The Minister might then decide to withdraw a nomination. Alternatively, the committee might decide not to approve somebody for a particular reason. That could only be beneficial if something did arise. There are all kinds of reasons this is a good amendment. We should not hide and do things under cover. Most Members of this House probably do not know who serves on the boards of State bodies. The public do not know. It is time we opened it up. It is only when something hits the media that we discover that somebody is a member of a State board. This would give us the opportunity to open it up. There are excellent people on the boards of State companies. They have nothing to fear by meeting members of an Oireachtas committee to discuss what is involved. They would at least have to have some knowledge of the workings of the authority before going forward. That could only be beneficial to the authority, the members who will serve on it and the members of the committee.

Amendment put.

Belton, Louis J.
Bradford, Paul.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Burke, Ulick.
Carey, Donal.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cosgrave, Michael.
Coveney, Simon.
Crawford, Seymour.
Currie, Austin.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
Enright, Thomas.
Farrelly, John.
Gormley, John.
Hayes, Brian.
Hayes, Tom.
Higgins, Jim.
Hogan, Philip.
Kenny, Enda.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Naughten, Denis.
Neville, Dan.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
Owen, Nora.
Perry, John.
Ring, Michael.
Sargent, Trevor.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Stanton, David.
Timmins, Billy.

Níl

Ahern, Noel.
Aylward, Liam.
Blaney, Harry.
Brady, Johnny.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Pat.
Collins, Michael.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cullen, Martin.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel.
de Valera, Síle.
Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fleming, Seán.
Flood, Chris.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.[1561]

Níl–continued

Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Tom.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
McGennis, Marian.
McGuinness, John J.
Martin, Micheál.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Molloy, Robert.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
[1562]O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Michael.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Wright, G. V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Bradford and Stanton; Níl, Deputies S. Brennan and Power.

Amendment declared lost.

Debate adjourned.


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