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ESB (Electronic Communications Networks) Bill 2013: Report Stage (Continued)

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey] I have already expressed the concern to the Minister on Committee Stage that the service providers will cherry-pick some of the larger urban areas. It is obvious from a commercial sense that this service provider would target the larger urban areas initially. However, I still believe this legislation empowers them and offers the potential, once they go beyond that step where they can capture a commercial customer base, to reinvest the funds raised and extend this to the next phase, which will go out into rural Ireland, where quality fibre is needed. We are predominantly a rural nation. Agribusiness in this country is growing at an exponential rate and we will be exporting food and dairy products around the globe. With all of that production will come business needs in rural areas, where people can work from home on their farms and in their villages. I believe this legislation will give the potential to this service provider to reach those customers.

Given I have the opportunity on the floor of Dáil Éireann, it would be remiss of me not to commend ESB Networks on behalf of the Members of Dáil Éireann and to thank its staff for the extraordinary work they have done in recent weeks and continue to do in terms of addressing the storm damage that has hit the country. Vast areas of the south and south-east were hit by hurricane winds yesterday, as well as having been hit previously. Hurricane wind speeds in excess of 141 km/h were recorded at the Waterford Institute of Technology campus yesterday. More than 260,000 customers were without electricity last evening. I know that ESB Networks, with the help of colleagues from Northern Ireland who have come down this morning, are working with the emergency services, the local authorities, the fire services, the Garda, the Civil Defence and many others to restore power to people's homes. Electricity is a fundamental requirement in any society. I ask the Minister to pass on my compliments to ESB Networks workers and contractors, as well as anybody who is assisting at this time, for their courage and for the work they have done.

I offer my support for this legislation. I hope Sinn Féin can accept the continual reassurances that have been given by the Government side that we recognise critical infrastructure. We have learned from past mistakes, where critical assets in Eircom were sold and it suffered from a lack of investment. What we are seeing now is further opportunities for the people. I will certainly be supporting the Minister on this legislation.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy It feels like I am getting a bit of a lecture. However, it sounds as if the lecturer did not listen to or hear what I said in my introductory remarks. I said that I thoroughly welcomed this legislation and that it is something I had put forward myself some 18 months ago. I said I had proposed just two amendments to the legislation. On one of these, I accepted the Minister's contention that my amendment should not have been in primary legislation. On the amendment we are discussing now, I have accepted the bona fides of the Minister and that he has no intention of selling the network infrastructure. Unless, however, the word "selling" is removed from the Bill or a clause is inserted to specify that the infrastructure cannot be sold, any future Minister could sell that infrastructure. That is why it is so important this amendment be made.

I have no intention of trying to block the passage of the legislation but I feel passionately that this amendment needs to be made and that the legislation would be better and stronger if it were made. Perhaps Deputy Coffey now understands why I will be calling a vote on this proposed amendment.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan To follow on from Deputy Coffey, I have one concern which the Minister might bear in mind as the legislation concludes. Landowners are concerned about the wayleave that could be given to companies other than ESB to go onto people's lands for the purposes of installing new cables. Perhaps these concerns can be addressed by the Minister or his departmental officials. There is no difficulty with the concept of the Bill among the farming community and among landowners in general because they view the transmission of broadband into rural areas as something that will benefit them as well. Their concern is that the current legislation, going back to 1927, was very specific in regard to the transmission of power across the country and the compensation that was in place at that time. Landowners are concerned that the legislation would, for example, allow people who have commercial agreements with the ESB to wander on and off and string other cables across people's lands that are not in line with the intended purpose of this Bill. The Minister might be able to clarify this point during his summing up or subsequently with the farming organisations.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I will be disappointed if Deputy Colreavy divides the House on a Bill that, fairly exceptionally in my experience, has attracted support from all sides of the House, including not just the parties and formal groupings in the House but also the Independent Deputies and so on. This is especially so since, I repeat, I am satisfied there is a misunderstanding between the Deputy and myself. The insertion of the word "selling" where it is contextualised in the Bill is not about the selling of the company or shares in the company, or anything like that. Taking it out is not going to achieve what Deputy Colreavy seeks, but it would remove the vires that is essential for the company to make the services available, which is the purpose of this Bill in the first place. Therefore, if we removed "selling", where the Bill enables leasing, licensing and selling, it would make a nonsense of the legislation. I repeat it is not an enabling term to facilitate the privatisation of the company.

  I can give Deputy O'Donovan the assurance he has sought in respect of the wayleave issue. There is no question of workers, employees or staff of companies other than the ESB's direct workforce being enabled by this legislation to incurse onto private lands. This legislation will enable the use of the existing supply system and, irrespective of it being open access and so on, the actual technical works necessary will be done by the direct employees of the ESB.

  In that regard, I can certainly join Deputy Coffey and repeat what I have said in public in acknowledging the extraordinary effort made by ESB workers in the unprecedented severity of the weather conditions we are experiencing. Ever since 18 December last, there have been severe difficulties every week. This has posed enormous strain on the workforce concerned.


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