FIE Work

Read the excellent attack mounted by Dail Deputies Sargent and Bruton on the farce of authorizing the surcharge on electricity bills to subsidize peat powered electricity under the Sustainable Energy Bill!!! Only in Ireland could the extraction of 80,000 hectares of peatlands be authorized under a Sustainable Energy Bill. The Report Stage shows up the farce. There were 64 members of the Press in the Dail Gallery during this day - for other reasons - and yet not one word ever surfaced in the media.


12 o'clock

http://www.gov.ie/debates-02/6feb/sect1.htm#eng

Sustainable Energy Bill, 2000: Order for Report Stage.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): I move:

That Report Stage be taken now.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe): Is that agreed?

Mr. Stanton: Despite a long and intensive debate on Committee Stage we were presented yesterday with a raft of amendments we had not seen before. Some of them are technical. This has happened with previous legislation.

Given that the Bill was passed by the Seanad on 23 May 2001, I fail to understand why, at the 11th hour, the Minister of State has introduced technical amendments. Why could they not have been introduced on Committee Stage or shortly afterwards?

The Minister of State is aware that we have taken the Bill seriously and have tried to be as constructive as possible. We have devoted much time to it and it is unfair to treat the House in this way. The Minister of State should have introduced these amendment earlier to give us the opportunity to research them and hold a proper debate.

Mr. Sargent: The amendments introduced by the Minister of State stretch the credibility of the Short Title of the Bill. What is the motivation behind these amendments? Do they stand up scientifically or are they simply political?

Acting Chairman: I will permit the Minister of State to make a brief statement.

Mr. Jacob: I understand the comments of colleagues on the other side of the House. The House passed a motion earlier permitting the reversion to Committee Stage, where necessary, without debate. A number of very important matters set out in the amendments were not included in the Bill as published. If I was on the same side of the House as Deputy Stanton and Deputy Sargent I would ask the same questions. There are cogent reasons for including these important urgent technical measures in the Bill, which was deemed to be the most appropriate vehicle for their implementation. They are not politically motivated.

The POS order needs to be made as soon as possible to facilitate the rapidly narrowing timeframe for the construction by the ESB of the two new peat fired stations at Shannonbridge, County Offaly, and Lanesborough, County Longford, and the orderly closure of existing peat stations. All in the House would aspire to that.

The amendments are also urgently required to pave the way for the issue of contracts to the successful bidders in the most recent alternative energy requirement competition, AER V. Deputies will be aware that the announcement on AER V was made by me on Monday and I am anxious to see the early development of all the successful projects. I am sure colleagues in the House will join me in that resolve. In that context, it is appropriate that the Bill should be the vehicle for the necessary amendments, especially given the time constraints. These provisions will be consolidated in the forthcoming electricity Bill, which will shortly be sent to the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting. It is due to be introduced in 2003.

Mr. Sargent: The Minister of State did not give the reasons for introducing these amendments.

Mr. Jacob: I did.

Mr. Sargent: I do not agree with them.

Mr. Jacob: That is the Deputy's prerogative.

Question put and agreed to.


Sustainable Energy Bill 2001 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages.
An Ceann Comhairle: Recommital is necessary in connection with amendment No. 1 as it does not arise out of Committee State proceedings. Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 43 and on amendments Nos. 44, 45 and 46, which form a composite proposal. I therefore propose to take amendments Nos. 1, 43, 44, 45 and 46 together by agreement.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 1.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 10, after "IRELAND" to insert "; TO AMEND THE GAS ACT 1976, TO AMEND THE ELECTRICITY REGULATION ACT 1999,".

I thank my colleagues across the floor of the House for their co-operation in the recommital of amendments to Committee Stage for the purpose of dealing with these very important issues. Amendment No. 1 proposes to amend the Long Title of the Bill to reflect the changes I propose to make in amendments Nos. 43, 44, 45 and 46.

Amendment No. 43 provides for an increase in Bord Gáis Éireann's current borrowing limit, from £550 million to €1.7 billion. This increase is an integral component in ensuring the completion of the ongoing major infrastructure developments being progressed by the company, including the pipeline to the west and the second Scotland-Ireland interconnector. In the next two years the majority of the capital expenditure involved in this huge investment programme will be utilised as materials are ordered and construction begins. This increase in the statutory borrowing limit of the company is essential as it will provide BGE with the flexibility to manipulate its borrowings to obtain the best value in terms of interest rates and allow the board the resources it requires to manage and successfully complete the projects.

Amendments Nos. 44 to 46, inclusive, provide for necessary technical amendments to the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999, which deals with public service obligations. The principle of public service obligations was debated in detail and accepted at the time of the passing of the Act. The Minister there proposes to introduce a public service obligation order under the Act, requiring the ESB to purchase the output of certain peat and renewable electricity generating stations in the interest of security of supply and environmental protection.

The EU Commission approved PSO arrangements in respect of peat generation on 30 October last and in respect of renewable sustainable generation on 15 January. The Office of the Attorney General has deemed it necessary to amend section 39 of the 1999 Act to ensure compliance with the EU Commission requirements in so far as the PSO funding mechanism is concerned.

These amendments essentially constitute a technical modification to section 39 to ensure the PSO funding mechanism relates to the maximum import capacity of various categories of electricity accounts held by final customers rather than the actual consumption of electricity by final customers as had been provided for in section 39 of the 1999 Act. In the latter case, the EU Commission would have insisted that imports of electricity be exempted from the levy and this would have an extremely distorting impact on the Irish electricity market. The revised PSO funding mechanism will not result in an unfair burden on any category of customer and will not distort the market. There are other related amendments to section 39 of the 1999 Act to facilitate the smooth operation of the PSO levy mechanism.
The Sustainable Energy Bill was identified as the most appropriate vehicle to provide for such urgent technical amendments. The PSO order needs to be made as soon as possible to facilitate the rapidly narrowing time frame for the construction by the ESB of the two new fire stations at Shannonbridge and Lanesboro and the orderly closure of the existing peat stations as already stated. The amendment is also urgently needed to pave the way for the issuing of contracts to the successful bidders in the most recent Aer 5 competition. Deputies will be aware that the announcement was made on Monday. I am sure everybody joins me in the aspiration to see these projects built at the earliest possible date. In that context it is appropriate that this Bill is the vehicle for the amendments.

The provisions relating to the amendment of the Electricity Act, 1999, will be consolidated in the forthcoming electricity Bill which will shortly be sent to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for drafting. It is due to be introduced next year.

Mr. Sargent: I was shocked to learn that the Sustainable Energy Bill was being used as a vehicle to put through the PSO aspect to burning peat. It is strange to regard the gas loans as part of a sustainable energy strategy in the long term. As mentioned during the debate on the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Bill, gas has a role in a transition period to a sustainable energy economy but it cannot be depended upon. It is finite. It is also a greenhouse gas emitter. The Minister did not refer to that. It is simply a case of increasing the loan facility for Bord Gáis and thereby increasing gas consumption. That is not in line with what I would think is supposed to be the spirit of sustainable energy legislation.

As the Minister for Foreign Affairs mentioned in his letter to us in the committee, this is a miscellaneous amendment to the Sustainable Energy Bill. If it is miscellaneous it should be in line with the spirit and the principles of the Bill. Whatever about the gas amendment, the PSO that allows for favourable treatment for peat fired generating stations is certainly an oxymoron in terms of sustainable energy. It is not reconcilable with sustainable energy strategy, no matter how strong the case for peat fired stations is from a political rather than technical background. It does not stand up to scrutiny.

The Minister mentioned security of supply. Security of supply is a short term consideration when it comes to peat. We are running out of peat. I fail to see how he can argue that this is helping security of supply. It would be far preferable to focus on energy conservation and renewable energy sources if we are serious about security of supply and having our fossil fuel resources safeguarded for use in emergencies rather than burn them as quickly as possible and then wonder what we will do next. That appears to be what is happening.

When the Minister mentions environmental protection as a reason for this PSO it is even more mystifying as to where he is coming from. It is widely known, and the Minister knows it as much as anybody else, that peat fired electricity generation is not good in terms of greenhouse gases. It may be cleaner than it was in the past but there is still a low level of compliance with greenhouse gas emission targets. When all is said and done, this set of amendments turns the "polluter pays" principle on its head and we have a new principle, the "victim pays principle". Not only will there be a surcharge on the ESB bill initially from this public service obligation to burn environmentally unsound peat but in only a matter of years, 2008-2012 most likely, greenhouse emissions trading will be introduced and again taxpayers will pay on the nose, on top of the surcharge on the ESB bill, for having overshot our greenhouse gas emissions targets once more. It is astonishing that we have integrated into a Sustainable Energy Bill, if the Government amendments are passed, dimensions which are at variance with the principles of such a Bill. That is the view of many environmental NGOs and people who are interested in the energy question. It is important to relearn our obligations under the Kyoto protocol and the definition of "sustainable energy" because these amendments are an oxymoron when set beside the principles and objectives of an energy sustainable policy.

Mr. Stanton: It is unfair to present us with these amendments at the eleventh hour. It raises questions as to why this is done. People will ask whether the Minister of State is trying to get something through quickly without proper scrutiny. There is always a danger when this practice takes place that mistakes will be made. I ask the Government not to do this. The least the Minister of State could have done was to let us know three or four days ago that he was about to do this and give us an opportunity to reflect on the amendments and to provide a briefing. To surprise us with these amendments at the eleventh hour is wrong and most unfair and raises all kinds of suspicions as Deputy Sargent has said. Why does the Minister of State insist on doing it this way? I accept he mentioned that certain developments occurred on 30 October. That is a long time ago. I am sure he had these amendments in mind for some time and he could have let us know about them.

I recognise the importance of these amendments and the importance of a PSO but I see a contradiction in having them inserted in the Sustainable Energy Bill. However, there is a debate as to whether peat is a sustainable energy source. In Scandinavia, it is said it is a renewable energy source and it has mechanisms in place where the bogs can be renewed.

Mr. Sargent: After about 10,000 years.

Mr. Stanton: It is happening much faster than that. I have been there and I have seen them. Will the Minister of State tell the House what acreage of peat remains in the country and how long he expects the resource will last? It is important to know that. How will the price of electricity affect the consumer? Will it go up or down or remain the same? If the price rises, will domestic or industrial consumers be affected? What will be its impact? I understand there has been a shift in various rates. I ask the Minister of State to clarify the impact the measure will have on the consumer for the benefit of the many thousands listening to this very important debate and the reporters taking copious notes in the Press Gallery?

Mr. Gilmore: I am deputising for my colleague, Deputy Stagg, who is attending a meeting of the party Whips. Perhaps the Acting Chairman will assist me on a point. I understand we are now on Committee Stage having recommitted amendments Nos. 1, 43 and 44 and several attendant amendments. Is this correct?

Acting Chairman: Yes.

Mr. Gilmore: I draw the attention of the House and the roughly 60 journalists who cover its proceedings to what is going on here. The proposal in amendment No. 43 is to increase the borrowing limit under the Gas Act by in or around €1 billion. Immediately after debating this Bill we will debate the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 2001, which proposes to increase the borrowing limit of the Housing Finance Agency by in excess of €4 billion, not for housing purposes, but for a variety of infrastructural purposes, including water, sewerage and waste management.

Like a conjurer, the Government, in the personage of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, held up a budget before Christmas and informed the House there would be no borrowing as it had balanced the books. All the Fianna Fáil Members lined up behind the Minister to applaud him for reaching the line without borrowing. It is now clear what is happening. The Government is using legislation which would not normally attract front page headlines to introduce borrowing by the back door. For example, today the House has before it two legislative proposals which will increase Government borrowing limits by €5 billion. As it happens, the Labour Party agrees with the principle of borrowing for capital and infrastructural purposes. Therefore, I have no great difficulty with this.

We know that all aspects of the national development plan, whether in relation to energy or physical infrastructure, are way behind schedule. The construction industry has criticised the Government because the national development plan and infrastructural projects are not proceeding apace and for effectively holding back funding for it. A person with even a minuscule appreciation of economics can see that borrowing is going to be a fact of life with regard to the funding of the national development plan. The problem, however, is that we have a Government which publicly pretends it is not borrowing and will not do so, and a Minister for Finance who, in his five years in office, has made a career of declaring he will not borrow. Because he has got himself into a hole in which borrowing for capital and infrastructural purposes cannot be avoided, the Government has found a means by which it can borrow by the back door, namely, using legislation which, as I said, would not normally attract front page headlines, to introduce borrowing at the last minute.

We have reached Report Stage of the Bill. However, because a Government amendment contains a new proposal to introduce borrowing, it must be recommitted. The Government, which preached a message of no borrowing and based its budgetary strategy on the fiction that there would be no borrowing is, in effect, introducing proposals by which borrowing will take place through State agencies rather than directly through the Exchequer. The amendment is very simple. It is a proposal by a Government which pretends publicly it is not borrowing to borrow by the back door.

Acting Chairman: Before I call Deputy Connaughton I wish to correct a comment I made earlier. I understood we were on Report Stage when in fact this amendment had been recommitted which means Members may speak as many times as they wish.

Mr. Connaughton: I wish to raise several points, particularly with regard to the PSO and the relationship between Bord na M??na and the ESB. I make no secret of the fact that my angle on the issue is different from Deputy Sargent, for whom I have great respect.

Mr. Gilmore: There are not many bogs in north Dublin.

Mr. Sargent: There is a very important bog in north Dublin, the Bog of the Ring.

Mr. Connaughton: I want to bring a little balance to this very serious matter. There is no reason we will not be left with a huge amount of bogland, given its immense size. Despite the tiger economy of the past five to seven years, vast areas did not benefit from a single job created by the promotion of foreign investment by the IDA. My constituency, which is peripheral to this debate, happens to be one such region, as are parts of counties Offaly and Longford. The only asset these regions have possessed since my childhood and for generations before were the boglands.

About 25 years ago Bord na M??na decided to build a peat briquette factory in Ballyforan on the border between County Galway and County Mayo, a place Deputy Gilmore will know extremely well. The company went to the trouble of buying 20,000 acres of virgin bog which, to put it in the language of east Galway, a snipe could not stand on. In other words, it would cost too much to drain, had never been cut for turf and could not, therefore, be used. It was bought from the farming community and others at a knockdown price in Count Galway, which I know best, County Roscommon and parts of County Offaly.

While it may not have been worth much, I distinctly remember a commitment was given at the time to create jobs in the factory. Because there would be jobs where there were none and the sons and daughters of the bog owners would get them, they felt they would get their money back indirectly. Unfortunately - in this respect successive Governments share the blame - the factory was not built because there were no markets.

What happened? The half drained 20,000 acres, which could not be used for any other purpose, changed from a bird sanctuary to another use during the years. The power station at Shannonbridge, like the one in Lanesborough, operated using a technology that did not fit the environmental standards of this age. Believing it had an absolute right to proceed with the work, Bord na M??na went to a great deal of trouble to successfully acquire a technology compatible with today's standards. Because it is almost drained out, the area of bogland concerned, located in four counties, cannot be used for other purposes. This bogland has no connection with raised bogs which have environmental value. This is a very important point. The technology and the funding are in place. I understand there was an objection to An Bord Pleanala and that a decision will be made on it in the next couple of weeks.
I refer to the several hundred families in the midlands, east Galway and in Roscommon and to the PSO about which we are talking and the amendment the Minister of State is introducing today which has to do with the electricity regulation Act, if I understand it correctly. What this means, in effect, is that the ESB and Bord na M??na via the Government have been able to do a deal on the price of the raw material. If I am wrong, the Minister of State should tell me, but that is my understanding. Furthermore, I understand that for a number of business reasons, it is important that this amendment is passed today. If it is as important as I think, I thank the Minister of State for introducing that part of it. It is important that we show everyone concerned that there are much needed jobs involved in this development and say that we are not, under any circumstances and irrespective of the lifetime of those bogs, talking about the raised bogs which many botanists and others want to preserve for generations. I want to make that clear. A specific area of the country has been earmarked for this purpose for many years.

When replying the Minister of State might outline the exact connection between the amendment which will be put through via Bord na M??na and the ESB. Will he explain the significance to the ESB under that set of circumstances?

Mr. Sargent: I have listened with great interest and, as Deputy Connaughton will know, I did not mention the habitat issue because I appreciate there are different types of bogland and areas where peat has been extracted. They have different values in terms of habitat protection. That is something to be dealt with presumably by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera. I listened carefully to Deputy Gilmore as well and the points he made reinforced a suspicion I have in regard to the public private partnerships which are another form of borrowing given that it is the people who have to repay the investment over the years. The Government can claim it is not involved in the repayment but ultimately it is infrastructure.

The real issue I wish to home in on is that first of all we are talking about making an amendment to a Sustainable Energy Bill and that presumes we can stand over everything in that Bill being in line with the principles of sustainable energy. We have fallen far short of that objective in pursuing these amendments from the Government because there are alternatives if we are to have a debate on peat and the economic life of populations and communities in the midlands, in particular.

It is important to recognise that money will have to be spent on these peat stations. It is not as if they are going to grow on trees - to use the term which would be an introduction to a discussion on biomass which has potential where there is cutaway bog and where there is a need for energy generation, employment and the associated advantages and benefits. The cost of investing in peat fired stations is significant and involves major investment in those communities. I would not for one moment take away from the need for investment in those communities. This is not, however, the best way to spend the money, particularly as the rest of the consumers of electricity will pay part of the cost through a public service obligation. All of us will pay again on the double when carbon trading is forced on us because of our failure to comply with internationally agreed obligations, such as the Kyoto protocol which, as the Minister of State knows, is only the start of those obligations. That is a cost at which we are looking down the line.

It is very short-sighted to say this will be an assistance to communities when those communities will benefit from only part of the money being spent. In the long term, they will end up paying for the mistakes we are about to embark on if this Government amendment is passed. The thinking here is short-sighted and, to add insult to injury, it is being included in a Sustainable Energy Bill where it does not belong. Let it be separate and let us discuss the merits of the issue. To try to tag it on, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, would say, as a miscellaneous amendment to this Bill is wrong and it certainly does not assist us in developing a sustainable energy economy.

Mr. Jacob: In an ideal world, the Sustainable Energy Bill would not be the place in which to introduce measures which involve fossil fuels such as peat and gas, even though gas is the cleanest of all our fossil fuels and a fuel on which we will be dependent for the foreseeable future. In the same ideal world, if we could become fully dependent on sustainable energy production in the morning, next week or next year, we would all be very pleased but that will not happen in the real world. As a matter of principle, however, it is difficult to disagree with what Deputy Sargent said. Deputy Connaughton emphasised the social aspect which is important.

I regret these measures became necessary and that they were not incorporated in the original drafting of the Bill. However, it is not quite the 11th hour as Deputy Stanton said. Last week I wrote to colleagues opposite to inform them of the two sets of essential amendments to the Sustainable Energy Bill I hoped to bring forward following the passing of a necessary Dáil resolution I understood would be ordered immediately before Report Stage due to be taken on 6 February. That resolution was taken earlier today. I set out the detail of the amendments and I concluded with an invitation to Deputies. I said that if they considered it useful or necessary, I would be more than happy to arrange for relevant Department officials to discuss the proposed amendments with them in advance of Report Stage. It was all above board. I wanted to facilitate colleagues and I know some availed of that invitation while others decided not to.

I will now endeavour to deal with some of the comments made by Deputies. The existing peat stations will operate under an interim PSO until their closure in 2004-05. The new peat stations will ensure a better environmental option, they will be more thermally efficient and will be benchmarked to best international practice. We are assured they are state of the art new plants which will be far more environmentally friendly and emit far fewer noxious emissions than the antiquated ones in use at present. The six older and existing peat stations will close as the new stations come on line. As I said, these will be more efficient and, from an environmental point of view, it is better than keeping old stations open.

Deputy Sargent queried the surcharge on bills. The costs of peat and AER generation to be included in the PSO order are already embedded in the ESB's franchise tariff and in order to avoid any illegal cross-subsidy or over-recovery through a combination of the levy and existing tariffs, the Commission for Electricity Regulation will ensure the costs already allowed for in the franchise tariff are offset against the PSO levy when introduced. Essentially, therefore, there will be no net overall increase in electricity bills. The PSO levy element will be separately identified and explained on each electricity bill. The indicative amount to be recouped by way of levy for the PSOs is €617 million up to 2019, which represents no more than the additional cost incurred by the ESB, by comparison with the cost of a best new entrant.

Deputy Gilmore queried the increase in borrowings. I am sure he is sorry to be gone; he was really enjoying himself.

Mr. Stagg: He told me about it before he left.

Mr. Jacob: I hope the Deputy does not take up the cudgel. In terms of its current major gas infrastructure and investment programme, it has come to light that the current borrowings limit may not be sufficient to allow Bord Gáis the freedom it requires to receive the most advantageous loan arrangements. The company's projected borrowings at the end of July this year amount to almost €1 billion. In addition, it intends to issue a euro bond of €500 million this year, which will bring its potential borrowings to €1.629 billion. This euro bond is an ideal method of finance for the company as it is a long-term loan with no immediate repayments which will allow the company greater flexibility in managing the debt. That is the important aspect. This makes good commercial sense because we are talking about a company which has served the country well as a State body.

Bord Gáis is required by a Government decision to obtain an equity injection from a partner for the second interconnector. The amount catered for in its forecast is €165 million. There is no certainty, however, that the partner will be on board before the end of this year and this amount may have to be borrowed in the short term pending the equity injection.

Deputy Connaughton raised a number of issues, particularly with regard to the social aspect of this matter. The price of peat in the fuel supply contract between Bord na M??na and the ESB for new peat stations is subject to the agreement of the Department of Public Enterprise in accordance with the PSO notification approved by the European Commission. That approval was given on 30 October last.

On the relationship between the PSO, the ESB and Bord na M??na, the position is that the State is requiring the ESB to build these new stations for security of supply purposes. That has the European Union's blessing, as the Deputy will be aware. As he emphasised, there will also be social consequences because it will ensure some employment in both State companies.

Mr. Stagg: I thank the Minister of State for making his officials available to Members on this side of this House, which I found very useful. In fact, I felt like a Minister again when the five officials arrived in my office with a great deal of information on the whole issue of PSOs and the requirement for this amendment, which I found very useful. It surprised me that the PSO level is as much as 2% of the total cost; I thought it would have been much less than that. I did not see any improvement in the PSO level arising from the new, more efficient use of peat which I thought would have reduced it somewhat. There is a rather complicated method of applying it to separate bills, but I welcome the idea that people will now be able to see the amount being used to support wind energy, other alternative energies and peat, which is a welcome move. There will be wide public support for this transparency.

As somebody who lives on the edge of the Bog of Allen in my constituency, I welcome the idea of more efficient use of peat and the closure of the old plants which were giving rise to pollution and other difficulties. That was an inefficient system of using the particular fuel. The new plant will give a better return per unit and result in better use of the energy, which is welcome.

I compliment the Minister of State and the Department on finding a method of convincing the European Union that imported electricity would not be exempt from the PSO. It was critical to Ireland's interest that that method was found. It is important that an acceptable method has been agreed with the European Union on the matter of state aid.

This is State borrowing and the calculations are hidden from the Department of Finance, which I am not sure should be the case. We support the necessity for borrowing for infrastructure. Because the company, with the support of the State, can make the borrowing, the need for part privatising the interconnector with a partner is thereby eliminated. I urge the Minister of State not to press too hard to find that partner because I am fearful that Bord Gáis is being fattened up and prepared for the kill, as it were, in the form of privatisation. If the Labour Party finds itself in government in the future, our policy is clear. We will not support the privatisation of State enterprise, including Bord Gáis, but I welcome and support the amendment the Minister of State has tabled.

Mr. J. Bruton: I am completely opposed to the amendment. It is an imposition on consumers for a project that is environmentally wrong from every point of view. This country is one of the worst offenders in Europe as far as the global warming problem is concerned. Not only does our agriculture contribute to methane, but our transport and, particularly, our electricity generation sector through coal and peat burning contribute disproportionately to Ireland increasing its emissions of global warming gases such as methane and CO2 more quickly than any other country. This is a serious problem facing the country and will cost us major amounts of money.

I had the privilege of attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs last week where representatives came before us from the Department of Enterprise and Employment to explain, which they did extremely well, the situation in regard to emissions trading. As the House is aware, CO2 emissions trading will be introduced from 2004 and from 2006 we will have emissions trading for all the others. This means that the Irish people will be paying hard cash for the privilege of polluting the world's atmosphere, but what is proposed in the amendment is a form of double taxation because the Minister of State wants the permission of the House to impose a levy on us, as electricity consumers, in order that we may have the privilege of paying a further levy when we have to buy the right to pollute when an emissions trading regime is brought forward and we exceed our quota. This is a classic case of double taxation. Many left-wing politicians complained about double taxation when water charges were introduced and on other occasions, but I have heard no such complaint from Deputies of the left today.

I am amazed the parties that purport to be concerned about the environment have been silent about the outrageous proposal to introduce a levy on electricity consumers for the privilege of building something that will emit gases that destroy the environment. Non-polluting means of generating the same amount of electricity are available. Natural gas is available in abundance.

It has been argued that generating electricity in this way secures power supply. I respectfully suggest that such a notion is arrant nonsense as, once burnt, peat is gone. I understand the argument for building a peat powered station so that it would be there when all other means of electricity generation are unavailable. To operate such a station, however, does not make sense in relation to security of supply as every bale of peat that is burned reduces Ireland security of supply. As the House knows, there is a finite amount of peat in Irish bogs. If we want energy security, it makes sense to build a station for use in times of need, but it does not make sense to operate it now. Every day that the station operates will diminish the amount of peat available.

I do not know how long it is expected that peat will be available in the bogs contiguous to the proposed station, but let us say for the sake of argument that there is enough peat for 25 years. It is likely that difficulties regarding security of supply, when we are in genuine need of peat as a means of generating electricity, will arise about once every 50 years. We needed peat during the Second World War, which ended more than 55 years ago, and we should thank God that we had it. If this amendment is accepted by the House, we will destroy the peat so that it will be unavailable if there is a genuine lack of supply 25 years from now. Not only will we have burned the peat, but we will have paid for the privilege of burning it through the levy introduced by this amendment. We will pay for the privilege for a second time by entering into an emissions trading deficit when we have to pay for the right to generate electricity in this way.

I know there are constituency considerations and that Deputies representing counties Laois and Offaly feel this is the best way to proceed. Since the foundation of the State, Laoighis-Offaly has probably suffered more from depopulation than any other constituency. I do not think the west has fared as badly as Laoighis-Offaly in that time. The two counties have been held back by an excessive dependence on certain natural resources. An economy, whether of a county or of a country, will not prosper if it becomes overly dependent on one resource. Economies in the Middle East are dependent on a single product and would be unable to survive if anything were to happen to the oil industry. The economic structure of these countries has been built around one industry, which is similar to what has happened in County Offaly, which has become unhealthily dependent on the peat industry. The same could have happened to County Kildare if it were not for the fact that so much effort has been put into bringing foreign industry there. About 68% of jobs in County Kildare are in foreign owned industries, but that is certainly not the case in County Offaly.
If the Government has money to spend and wants to impose a levy on electricity consumers, it should allocate money to Counties Offaly and Laois. This needs to be done in an ecologically sustainable way, however, and research is needed into the sustainability of peat. Resources can be used in ways that do not deplete them so quickly and do not pollute the atmosphere with gases that cause global warming. I do not understand the Government's political strategy, as it does not seem to be informed by long-term thinking.

Deputy Stagg congratulated the Government earlier for succeeding in pulling the wool over the eyes of the European Commission on this matter, but I do not join the celebration. There is no doubt that Irish politicians and officials are the best negotiators in Europe, but it can be argued that we sometimes negotiate too well for our own good. I was guilty of doing this in the 1980s during discussions on the extension of a gas pipeline to the North, when I got too good a price. The result of this was that the project did not go ahead as there was not enough money in it for the people to whom we were trying to sell the gas. The skills displayed by the Minister and his officials during the negotiations in Brussels, for which they have been praised by Deputy Stagg, have done the country no favours as the policy being pursued is not a good one in the long term.

More needs to be done for counties Offaly and Laois than for any other counties in the BMW region, as they have suffered to a greater extent historically. Polluting the atmosphere and forcing consumers to pay levies is not the answer, however. A broad based economic strategy for the parts of Ireland that are dependent on peat is needed. The strategy should not be built on the depletion of natural resources, but on the enhancement of the substantial human resources of those areas. I have visited schools throughout counties Laois and Offaly and I have met some of the most talented young people in Ireland. The true natural resources of these counties is represented by their young people and not by the peat in their bogs. It is a grave error to ignore the under-exploited human resources of the midlands, while proceeding with the incineration of peat and the resultant pollution of the atmosphere.

It is entirely wrong of the Minister to have introduced this amendment, especially given that the name of the Bill it proposes to amend is the Sustainable Energy Bill. If one is to take seriously the advice of the Attorney General, it may be argued that this amendment does not come within the terms of the short title of the Bill. Amendments may not be introduced if they do not come within the short title and it is certain that this amendment has nothing to do with sustainable energy. The Minister's proposal relates to energy development which is not sustainable, the direct opposite of the stated subject of this Bill. It reflects badly on the Minister and his officials that an amendment has been introduced which is contrary to the short title of this Bill. I ask the Acting Chairman to ask the Ceann Comhairle to examine whether this amendment is in order, as I contend that it is not. The amendment proposes to add to our capacity to generate electricity a structure which lacks sustainability.

1 o'clock

It has become fashionable to refer to threats, opportunities and other matters with the acronym SWOTS. I do not know what the letters "s" and "w" stand for, but I am sure some of the Minister of State's management gurus will elaborate on this point. If I were to rank the threats to and opportunities for Ireland, I would suggest that the biggest threat we face is the progressive ageing of our population because the dynamism which makes this country grow depends on retaining our youth. The second biggest threat we face is the environmental snarl-up caused by the overloading of our infrastructure. The third biggest threat is the fact that Ireland is completely out of order in terms of the generation of greenhouse gases. We have no serious plan for dealing with this. We have Government White Papers comprising evasive speak which commit us to nothing. However, if one wishes to refer to them, one has something on paper which looks and reads well until one realises they contain no quantitative commitment.

The truth is that we have no policy for dealing with the third most important threat to us after ageing and infrastructural deficit, namely, that Ireland is out of control regarding the problem of greenhouse gases. This amendment will only add to that problem in a manner which is out of order as far as the Bill is concerned. I hope the Chair will rule the amendment out of order, but perhaps that is not possible. This is a bad piece of work and I am surprised more Deputies are not in the House to protest. We should help Laois and Offaly, but we should do so in another form rather than imposing an obligation on this country for which everyone, including those who work in the plant, will have to pay.

Acting Chairman (Mr. McGinley): I wish to inform the Deputy that a motion was passed by the House this morning empowering it to debate these amendments as tabled.

Mr. Stagg: That motion was passed unanimously.

Mr. J. Bruton: Was it debated?

Acting Chairman: It was taken on the Order of Business.

Mr. J. Bruton: Putting measures through without debate means there is no analysis.

Acting Chairman: The House agreed to take these without debate.

Mr. J. Bruton: That proves I am right. The measure was out of order and the House had to use a special procedure to allow this to be introduced. This proves I am right and that this is not in order as regards the Bill.

Acting Chairman: We are governed by what was accepted and agreed.

Mr. J. Bruton: I am not quarrelling with the Chair. The Chair is just giving the House the bad news of its earlier misdeeds.

Mr. Stagg: Deputy Bruton made a welcome intrusion into the debate. I respect the Deputy, but he is making an unsustainable argument which should be addressed in the House. I am sure the Minister of State will point out that the Bill will not give rise to an additional charge on anyone. The charge already exists and is being restructured in a manner which takes account of capacity for use, rather than the previous system which was not as fair. The new system is acceptable to the EU and includes the importation of electricity. If this was not provided for it would distort the electricity market and prevent the generation of electricity south of the Border. That would be chaotic and Deputy Bruton's argument is unsustainable from that point of view.

Deputy Bruton suggests that we are building a new structure which will give rise to pollution. This facility will replace older structures which are far more polluting. The new structure will reduce pollution.

Mr. J. Bruton: The older structures did not have to be replaced in this way.

Mr. Stagg: I accept that point, but this measure will reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions from energy production.

Mr. J. Bruton: That is like suggesting two wrongs make a right.

Mr. Stagg: No, this is a positive course of action. I am not here to defend the Government, but I have some knowledge of this issue. It is not like suggesting that two wrongs make a right. This proposal will provide for the building of a new, modern plant which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are also making better use of the fossil fuel which is available, namely, peat.

Mr. J. Bruton: Peat is gone once it is burned.

Mr. Stagg: There is a finite reserve of peat, but the same is the case with all fossil fuels. We have time dates on other fossil fuels, including natural methane gas, for which Deputy Bruton has a preference, which we are using. I have argued in the House that it is dangerous for Ireland to put all its energy eggs in one basket, namely, natural gas. We should be careful as we will have to import most of our natural gas from other sources. Agreements are in place, but in emergencies other states will turn off the tap. We must have other methods of generating energy such as peat, wind, wave and oil so we have a variety of sources. This will ensure a security of supply.

I reject Deputy Bruton's suggestion that this provision will involve double taxation. The Labour Party previously campaigned to end double taxation on water. As Taoiseach, the Deputy supported legislation to end such double taxation and I am sure he did so with a good heart and with full support.

Mr. J. Bruton: I give the Deputy full credit. I did so in the spirit of partnership.

Mr. Stagg: I am sure the Deputy did not do so because the Labour Party pressed for the measure in Government.

Mr. J. Bruton: That is not what the Deputy told the people at the time.

Mr. Stagg: I would suggest to Deputy Bruton's colleagues in Laois and Offaly that the arguments he is making are unsustainable and extraordinary as they take no account of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which this measure will bring about in their area. The Deputy's proposal would have dramatic and disastrous social and economic effects for Laois, Offaly and other areas in which this industry is thriving.

Mr. Sargent: I was interested in the contributions of the two previous speakers. It is important to listen to Deputy Bruton's comments as he was taking account of the social needs of the area.

Mr. Stagg: Has Deputy Bruton applied to join the Green Party?

Mr. Sargent: Deputy Bruton would be welcome. He made his points eloquently. I applaud him for doing so because these points had to be made.

The Minister of State's assertion that this measure is based on best international practice attempts to pull the wool over our eyes in that this kind of peat station would not be allowed to be built in many other countries. It is interesting that a company like Statoil had to come to Ireland to build its fossil fuel burning electricity generating station as Norway's rules and its adherence to the Kyoto Protocol, which is far more rigorous than our adherence to it, would not allow Statoil to construct such a plant in Norway. The international experience to which the Minister of State may be comparing us comprises countries which we would not claim to be in our league and which do not have the standards to which we claim to aspire. I hope we might learn from the best international practice rather than dwelling on a short-term consideration of a finite resource we need.

The argument concerning security of supply also applies to the Corrib field. I raised this issue during debate on the Gas Regulation Bill. Economists suggest that the best way in which we can take advantage of our finite natural resources is to wait until the price is right. They suggest that we should not use these resources just because they have been found. This point also applies to peat. The investment which this station will require is badly needed in these areas and let it be spent there. However, it should not be drained into the pockets of those who will benefit most, namely, those who construct the plant. The benefit should go to those living in Laois, Offaly, Kildare and other areas from which Deputies present come. We are all concerned about such people.

Deputy Stagg is correct in stating that this is not double taxation. It is treble taxation. There is a PSO requirement, which is a form of taxation, although how it will avoid affecting the electricity bill will be worthy of a conjuror's handbook. However, it will also need to be paid for in emission trading. That has not been quantified in any serious way, despite the amount of research available to the Government and the amount of consultancy that the Department of Public Enterprise has engaged over the year. We are still waiting for some estimate of what emissions trading will cost this country, given the present inefficiencies in terms of energy and our transgressions in emissions of greenhouse gases. We are not getting that figure and I can only surmise that we are talking billions.

At the moment we are definitely out of line and increasingly wide of the mark with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. Who will pay those billions? It seems to me this issue will revisit the taxpayer and that the people in the Laois-Offaly area and other areas which currently depend on peat will, in turn, have to pay. We will give them money with one hand and take it back with the other. That is the reality.

In terms of treble taxation, we do not need to cast our minds too far into the past. It was only yesterday that we were talking about storm damages and flooding and the expenses involved, including the compensation that was being demanded from the Government for these appalling acts of destruction. Tonight we will deal with a motion on insurance. If ever there was a barometer of the increasing costs of climate change brought about by ignoring the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions, the insurance industry is it. The premiums associated with storm damage and weather-related claims are increasing year by year - exponentially, in fact, as time goes on. We are dealing, again, with the same people that the Minister claims to want to help with the PSO. This has to be one of the best examples of short-term, narrowly-focused thinking which probably has more to do with the next general election than with the long-term benefits of a sustainable energy policy, which this country needs to consider.

Because the amendment is couched in language that needs to be very closely examined - I do not think the word "turf" is actually mentioned - it is very difficult to say for definite what the Minister was thinking in waiting until this debate before putting it down. However, it is more and more clear as the debate goes on that these amendments do not belong in the Sustainable Energy Bill and it is simply an expedient measure so that the Minister can do the bidding of people like the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who seems to be one of the strongest backers of this amendment and has been pushing it on Committee Stage. Seen in the cold light of day, this is a backwards step and I hope we can get away from the short-term thinking behind this amendment and start benefiting the people we claim to want to benefit, in a sustainable, long-term fashion.

Mr. Stanton: This interesting debate is rendered all the more interesting by the production of the amendments at such a late stage. Did the Minister invite every Member of the House to this briefing, or was it just a few people? I certainly did not get any notification of a briefing or of any changes in the amendments. I put in a great deal of work on Committee Stage, yet I got no letter. Maybe my colleague did, but if something as important as this is being done every Member should be informed by letter that the amendments will be introduced. For that reason alone, the Minister should consider postponing taking these amendments and introducing them another day, because obviously we will run out of time today. In future every Member of the House should be informed a few days or a week in advance when new amendments will be introduced. The Department is not so short of paper that it could not do that.
There is no doubt that we need energy and there is no doubt that we need to become more self-reliant. We cannot remain dependent on foreign gas, foreign oil and so on. I welcome, as I think we all do, the ideal of sustainable energy such as wind and wave energy, biomass and solar power-----

Mr. Sargent: -----and energy conservation.

Mr. Stanton: -----and energy conservation, which we raised on Committee Stage and tried to have included in a specific way in the Bill. However, we must also be realistic. Bord na M??na is a fantastic company and have done a great deal of good for the country throughout the years. Our technology has also been exported world-wide. I asked the Minister of State a question a while ago and he did not give me the information I required, so I will ask it again. Does he have any idea of how long the peat will last? When these stations are constructed, how many years do we have for electricity production through peat-burning? Is it ten, 20 or a hundred years? He might also reiterate Deputy Stagg's point - sometimes it feels like we are dealing with two Ministers here.

Mr. Jacob: On occasion.

Mr. Sargent: It is because they are agreeing with each other.

Mr. Stanton: He might tell us about the price structure. I understand there will not be a price increase for the consumer but I would like the Minister of State to make that very clear and to tell us how the restructuring will take place.

To return to the issue of carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas emissions and so on, we need to consider the carbon sink idea. Instead of peat, we could burn timber, which is renewable, in pellet- or timber-burning stations. Does the Minister think the proposed stations could some day be converted to timber-burning ones? We can grow trees quickly and well in this country and we should explore and invest in this technology. Sustainable Energy Ireland, when it is set up, will, I hope, promote the technology.

It would be useful to know that while we do need the energy and employment provided by peat-burning stations in the short term, in the medium to longer term we could explore the possibility of converting the stations to timber-burning ones. That would keep everyone happy. We could grow our forests, growing different types of wood, providing employment in cutting the trees, processing the timber and so on and then re-plant the forests after burning, thus supporting the carbon cycle and not creating any excess carbon dioxide. Deputy John Bruton spoke of the importance of taking a long-term view and he is right. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response to those ideas and whether they are possible.

Mr. Jacob: This has been a wide-ranging discussion. As Deputy Stagg said, I was delighted to see Deputy John Bruton, an eminent Member of this House and former Taoiseach, entering our debate. That is not to say that I agree with the point he was making. Obviously he made a very valid point in stating the concern that is there, and should be there, with regard to emissions trading. This faces us down the line, as Deputy Sargent has said today and many times before.

Because of our strong economy we are out of synchronisation with what we signed up to at Kyoto. We undertook to hold our increase of noxious emissions to 13% by 2010 over and above the level that obtained in 1990 but if we continue on a business as usual basis, we will be at 35% rather than 13% by then. It needs to be tackled and it is being tackled. Deputy John Bruton said that there was no plan or policy and I totally reject that assertion. There is a very strong policy and there are plans in situ. My Green Paper on sustainable energy was published two years ago and the Minister for the Environment and Local Government published his national climate change strategy. These are the plans and the policies are contained within those documents.

We have already embarked on developing renewable energy resources, particularly wind energy, to the extent that we will have 12% of our total energy requirement produced in this way by 2005. The EU requires us to have 13% by 2010 and I am convinced that we will be way ahead of 12% by 2005 from the response to AER 5 which was oversubscribed by more than 40%. We were offering 255 megawatts of electricity and we were able to announce offers of 370 megawatts earlier this year. Offshore fuel is coming on stream and we have a number of concerns talking about 1,500 megawatts of offshore production off our east coast. If that is put into the context of a total energy consumption of 3,500 megawatts we see the very real potential of renewable energy sources, particularly wind. That technology has improved a great deal and is best suited to the climatic conditions of this country. There are problems regarding the grid and connection allied to the fact that the source of energy can be interrupted - when there is no wind there is no production. We cannot rely on it in toto but we are certainly moving rapidly to harness wind energy.

Security of supply has to be paramount. There is no use talking about a strong economy as current and potential investors would soon turn away if there was not an assured energy supply now and into the future. The security of supply factor is important. I am a great advocate of using gas, the cleanest of all our fossil fuels. There is plenty of it around and we have indigenous sources deo gratias in terms of the recent Corrib find as our Kinsale supplies are petering out. We are dependent on imports and are putting the infrastructure in place. That is the reason for what we are doing here today in terms of the most extensive and ambitious gas infrastructural undertaking ever in this country by BGE, in terms of onshore infrastructure and, in particular, the second interconnector, again for the purpose of ensuring security of supply.

All these things are happening and it is essential that we have indigenous supply. There was reference to a variety of sources such as peat, gas and as many renewable sources of energy as we can take on board in addition to wind, such as wave energy, solar energy and so on. I firmly reject the statement that there is not a plan or a policy. It is there and is being adhered to and is progressing rapidly.

The national climate change strategy takes account of the new peat station. It is very important to state that. As I have said already, and as Deputy Stagg said, the new station will replace older stations with more efficient technology and best practice. Earlier, Deputy Stanton asked about the peat reserves and I neglected to address the question. The figure of 15 years is in my mind. I want to check that and I will come back to the Deputy as the area of peat does not come under my remit.

Mr. Stagg: I think it is 25 years.

Mr. Sargent: And then what?

Mr. Jacob: As has already been said, it is a finite resource - as is gas - although as Deputy John Bruton said there is plenty of it around.

There have been repeated questions about the cost and double charges and treble charges. I am getting confused with those interpretations. We should remember that we are dealing here with a change to the levy recovery mechanism. The Electricity Regulation Act, 1999, already provides for a public service obligation levy for the construction of peat stations and renewable energy plants. The work has already been done and we are only changing the mechanism. I am satisfied it makes no material difference to the amount to be recovered or the amount that will be recovered from individual electricity consumers. As I have already pointed out, the change is necessary arising out of European Commission deliberations on the matter and to ensure that the electricity market is not distorted.

Deputy Stanton referred to the use of timber in energy production and I would like to see that coming on stream. It is being looked at in terms of its potential. We have a significant amount of forestry that did not thrive, which would be ideally suitable. I understand there may be difficulties in harvesting it in terms of extracting it from some areas, but it is there and I hope that constraint can be overcome. It is one of the renewable resources that is being seriously looked at and I share the Deputy's aspiration to get to that stage.

Mr. Stanton: The Minister of State has said there will not be a price increase as a result of this mechanism. May I also bring to his attention that, in Sweden and other countries, the technology exists to harvest the type of timber he has mentioned efficiently and effectively. Electricity is being generated in the countries concerned, using the type of timber to which the Minister of State has alluded. I hope the agency, when it has been established, will make it a priority to investigate these matters and support them as much as possible.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

NEXT SECTION







Trevor Sargent, leader of the Green Party, is refused by the Ceann Comhairlean an adjournment of the Dail to allow a debate on the "disregard of the judicial process" through the Cabinet's intervention in FIE's Judicial review of the proposed peat powered electricity plants




Next | Up | Previous D?©ardaoin, 20 Meitheamh 2002
Thursday, 20 June 2002


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Dáil Éireann


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Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.

Paidir.

Prayer.

Request to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 31.

An Ceann Comhairle: Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with a number of motions under Standing Order 31 concerning three different topics. I propose to deal with them separately and will call on the Deputies in the order in which they submitted the notices to my office.

Mr. Crowe: I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 on an important matter of public interest requiring urgent consideration, namely the latest evidence of how British Crown Forces planned and organised the murder of Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane, attempted to thwart the Stevens inquiry, and were involved in widespread institutionalised collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.

Mr. J. Higgins: I also seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to discuss an issue of vital public importance, namely the new evidence offered by the "Panorama" BBC television programme that an organised and sustained conspiracy existed involving members of the British Army and the RUC to secure the murder of alleged republicans in Northern Ireland, in particular the murder of a professional solicitor, and to have an independent inquiry into these matters.

An Ceann Comhairle: Having considered the matter fully, I do not consider it to be in order in accordance with Standing Order 31.

Mr. Boyle: I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 to raise a matter of national importance, namely to allow the Minister for Foreign Affairs to correct the Official Report regarding incorrect information given during the Adjournment debate of 19 June concerning the report of the National Forum on Europe and the status of Irish neutrality under the terms of the Treaty of Nice.

An Ceann Comhairle: Having considered the matter fully, I do not consider it to be in order in accordance with Standing Order 31.

Mr. Sargent: I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 31 in order to address the seeming disregard of the judicial process represented by the Government's determination to construct two peat fired stations in Lanesborough and Shannonbridge despite the fact that there are two court cases pending on the problems associated with new peat fuelled stations and the ESB's extracting peat without an environmental impact statement.

An Ceann Comhairle: Having considered the matter fully, I do not consider it to be in order in accordance with Standing Order 31.

Order of Business.

The Tánaiste: The Order of Business today shall be as follows: No. b1, Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill, 2002 - Second Stage (resumed); No. c1, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill, 2002 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

Mr. R. Bruton: I am sure the Tánaiste will have read this morning the criticism of the Institute of Engineers in Ireland of the transition year programme in schools saying that it leads to a reduction in standards in the Leaving Certificate and an erosion of our capacity to develop the scientific basis of the economy. Does she agree that there is growing evidence, of which this is more, of the need for a radical overhaul in our education policy in view of the fact that the system is failing many young people? Almost 1,000 children fail to enter secondary school at all, one in six leave without an adequate level of literacy for the modern economy, and 20% of the cohort of children do not sit the Leaving Certificate. Would the Tánaiste agree that An Agreed Programme for Government fails to consider the radical restructuring of education policy that is needed to address this matter? Will she take on board the need for radical reform?

Mr. Quinn: Regarding the value of transition year, will the Tánaiste agree that for the vast majority of young people in second level education it is a unique opportunity to explore options and develop their overall maturity as distinct from a narrow application of academic excellence or study, that part of the problem is that too many young people are under pressure to select a course which they subsequently find to be unsuitable in whatever third level college they attend, and that we have a very high and undocumented drop-out level of students in the first year of third level education because of a combination of academic and financial, especially accommodation, pressures? Could she indicate whether the Department of Education and Science and the Government intend to review the matter of people dropping out of third level education on the one hand and, on the other, their failure to get the necessary qualifications in the first instance?

The Tánaiste: I have not read the article in this morning's paper containing the comments of the Institute of Engineers, but I share the views expressed by both Deputies that we need constantly to examine our education system to ensure it is equipping our young people with the skills required not just for the world of work but for their own personal development. I share Deputy Quinn's view that young people are under enormous pressure to secure a place in third level education. A good education is a passport to a good job and good prospects.

Our education system remains one of the main attractions for investment to take place here. It is rated either first or second by most investors as the reason they chose Ireland. There is much emphasis on this in the programme for Government and a number of reforms were made in recent years. We must continue to customise our education system to make sure it meets our needs, particularly those of young people who drop out of the formal system at a very early stage. The new Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey, proved to be a reforming Minister in the Department of the Environment and Local Government and I believe he will apply the same reforming zeal-----

Mr. Hogan: God help us.

The Tánaiste: -----to his position in the Department of Education and Science.

Mr. R. Bruton: The Tánaiste is perpetuating this self-congratulatory approach to our education system when the reality is that one in six children leave school without an adequate level of literacy. Will she agree we have what might be described as a dinosaur in the Department of Education and Science in that it is highly centralised, it stifles innovation and is not properly geared to the needs of a modern and scientific community? Will she agree we need to institute serious reform in the Department, which is not in any way reflected in the timid programme for Government her party and colleagues in Government offered the people for the next five years?

The Tánaiste: I do not accept that. Ireland has a much higher participation of those under the age of 35 in third level education than is the norm in the OECD. There has been an enormous change in recent years. I accept that too many people are leaving education early. Perhaps economic success has acted as an attraction for people to take what is unfortunately a short-term option of going into the world of work at a very early age and not acquiring a skill. Everything we are doing in lifelong learning, training and education is very much geared towards encouraging people to continue to participate in formal education and in some of the training schemes that have been customised to the needs of the disadvantaged in particular. I agree we cannot take our eye off the ball in relation to these matters. Education is important. We have terrific schools and teachers and we need to do more as a society to encourage young people to stay in education. We need to encourage families in that regard. In communities where there is no culture of education perhaps we need to do an awful lot more to promote the benefits of continuing in education.

Mr. Quinn: Last night the country watched the "Panorama" programme, which was very disturbing in the footage it presented and the revelations it put on the screen, some of which had been referred to previously but which were brought forward in a stark manner. Will the Tánaiste agree that in the murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane there is now substantial prima facie evidence of collusion between the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries? Will she agree, notwithstanding the appointment of the retired Canadian judge, Mr. Peter Cory, to investigate a number of such murders, in respect specifically of the Pat Finucane murder there is now no longer need for delay and the authorities should move to immediately establish a full and comprehensive inquiry into his murder? Will she, on behalf of the Irish people, take this matter up through the Irish Government with the British Government?

Mr. R. Bruton: I join Deputy Quinn in expressing concern at the extremely disturbing evidence that there may have been collusion, leading to the death of the solicitor Pat Finucane. Will the Tánaiste indicate to the House what commitments the Government received from the British Government that the review being conducted by the Canadian judge will result in an inquiry if, as is now very clear, prima facie evidence is in place that an inquiry is warranted? Has the Government received commitments that this will occur? Will the Government have access to the findings of that preliminary review in order that a proper and balanced judgment can be taken that is fair to all communities?

The Tánaiste: I share the views expressed by Deputies Quinn and Bruton. It has been the view of the Government for some considerable time that there should be a public inquiry. The allegations that formed the basis of the programme last night were submitted to the Government in a file given by members of the family in 1999. At that time the Government called for a public inquiry. What was agreed at Weston Park was that a judge of international standing would be appointed to examine this and other cases. The Taoiseach met Judge Cory on 11 June. The judge intends as a matter of urgency to deal first with the Finucane case. Both Governments are committed to having a public inquiry, if that is what the judge recommends. It remains the position of the Irish Government that there exists a case for a public inquiry in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Finucane.

Mr. Quinn: I welcome what the Tánaiste said, but in light of what has been put into the public domain in a comprehensive way and will be followed up no doubt by the second part of the programme on Sunday, will she raise with the relevant authorities in Britain that Judge Cory, as a matter of priority, should examine the Finucane case following which he must surely come to the conclusion that a public inquiry is necessary? If we are to maintain trust, faith and belief in the peace process and the security system both sides of the Border, it is absolutely essential that such an inquiry proceed as quickly as possible. Will the Tánaiste give an undertaking that the Government will raise this matter with the British Government and Judge Cory to prioritise his investigation into the Finucane case and make a recommendation leading to a public inquiry?

The Tánaiste: The Taoiseach raised with Judge Cory when he met him last Tuesday, 11 June, the need to deal with this case as a matter of priority, and I understand that will happen. It is important that it happens. The allegations contained in the programme were the basis on which the file given to the Government was passed on. That is why since then the Government has called for a public inquiry. It is important that we should have one, but we must await the publication of the Stevens report and the outcome of the deliberations of Judge Cory. I hope that will happen very quickly.

An Ceann Comhairle: We will now move on to relevant questions on the Order of Business.

Mr. Stanton: With reference to the useless Bill put forward yesterday by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and pronouncements by the Minister for Health and Children of concern about alcohol use, does the Government propose to introduce legislation to limit or regulate the advertising of alcohol, in particular in relation to sport?

Will a Supplementary Estimate be introduced at some stage to cover the high cost of the contingency plan where supervision and substitution are involved in second level schools?

The Tánaiste: In relation to the second matter, no legislation is planned. In relation to the abuse of alcohol, the Minister for Health and Children and others have expressed their about this matter for some time. It is one the Government intends to examine, but we have not made a decision in relation to specific measures. Substance abuse generally and particularly the abuse of alcohol in our society by young and old is something that must concern us all. In addition to what it does to public health, it places enormous financial and other pressures on our health system and causes major problems for families in our community, as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said yesterday. These matters will be examined, but no commitments have yet been made on the matters raised by the Deputy.

Mr. Quinn: I understand the Government will publish legislation next week to deal with a second referendum on the Nice treaty. Is it the Government's intention when the Dáil resumes in September to take, in conjunction with this legislation, the European Union Bill, passed on Second Stage in the previous Oireachtas and which was recommitted to the Order Paper as it deals with some of the concerns about the democratic deficit expressed during the campaign?

The Tánaiste: Yes, the Deputy is right. The Government will publish the Referendum Bill next week to provide for the enlargement of the European Union. In agreement with the parties in the House, that debate will not take place until September when the Dáil will be recalled early for that purpose. I do not think it was the intention to take the Bill to which the Deputy referred, but I am sure that can be discussed between the Government Whip and the party Whips.

Mr. Sargent: My question relates to the programme for legislation. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to understand that it is difficult for the Green Party, Sinn F?©in and the Independents to remain in order when one of the few opportunities we have to contribute is on the legislation programme. However, we do not have a new legislative programme as yet. At this point we are looking at legislation which may be promised. Will the Tánaiste ensure we have an early or interim legislative programme that might make it clear on the Order of Business what it is we are asking to be published? There is no consensus as to how the House does its business because the larger parties have not ensured that the smaller parties can be facilitated. It is important that the Oireachtas be given the respect to which it is entitled.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not appropriate to make a Second Stage speech on the legislative programme.

Mr. Sargent: It is not a Second Stage speech. I am simply saying that we do not have the wording of the declaration on neutrality, we do not have any arrangement with the smaller parties, we do not have a legislative-----

An Ceann Comhairle: The Tánaiste to reply on the legislative programme.

The Tánaiste: The legislative programme will be published before the Dáil resumes in September.

Mr. R. Bruton: What is the state of the proposal for legislation to reform the Road Transport Act, 1932 which was promised by the Government in 1997 and again in 2002? The Minister is aware that there has been no serious bus competition in Dublin and the number of bus passengers in Dublin is in decline.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must not make a statement but ask a brief question on the legislation.

Mr. R. Bruton: How serious is the Government about the introduction of bus competition? Have the heads of the Bill been passed and where does it stand now?

The Tánaiste: There is a commitment in the programme for Government to have bus competition and to bring in the legislation. The new Minister for Transport will deal with that as a matter of urgency.

Mr. R. Bruton: Have the heads of the Bill been passed?

The Tánaiste: I do not think so.

Mr. M. Higgins: Will the Tánaiste inform us about the completion of the legislative programme that arises from the Good Friday Agreement? Recently, a monitoring committee in Geneva in relation to human rights rejected Ireland's suggestion that it could not make social and economic rights justiciable. It had made a previous conclusion in 1999. In view of the Good Friday Agreement and the British legislation in relation to rights and its commitment, is it the intention of the Government to bring forward human rights legislation that will ensure the same level of human rights across the same spectrum will be available to all citizens in all parts of the island? When will such legislation be introduced?

The Tánaiste: The European Convention on Human Rights Bill has been reinstated and it will go to Select Committee in due course.

Mr. J. Higgins: The language equality legislation is to guarantee the rights of citizens to do business with State bodies as Gaeilge más mian leo and to help expedite the setting up of Gaelscoileanna. Will the Tánaiste bring it forward as a matter of urgency? Also, will the Minister for Education and Science intervene to prevent the sacking of the principal of Gaelscoil D??n B??inne?

An Ceann Comhairle: The question on legislation is relevant.

Mr. J. Higgins: The Chair does not understand my question.

An Ceann Comhairle: I understand the question but it is not in order. The Deputy must find another way of raising it.

The Tánaiste: The legislation is before the Seanad at the moment.

Mr. Hogan: In view of rising costs in our economy will the Tánaiste indicate, in relation to promised legislation, when she will bring forward proposals regarding deregulation of professional and other services?

The Tánaiste: There is no specific legislation promised in this area but the Competition Authority is currently carrying out a review of the professions and I look forward to the report.

Mr. Stagg: Deputy Quinn raised the issue of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1982 with the Taoiseach on Tuesday and with the Tánaiste yesterday. An indication was given that legislation might be introduced on an emergency basis to prevent protected tenants from being evicted during the summer when their protection runs out. I understand the heads of Bills were prepared last February but have not gone beyond that. Has the matter been examined and will the slot for this legislation be taken up and the legislation be brought in next week to ensure the protection of tenants?

The Tánaiste: I checked that since yesterday and I understand that regulations are to be drafted under the Rent Restrictions Act to protect those affected by the changes coming on 26 July. Perhaps I will ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to communicate with the Deputy in relation to that matter.

Mr. Hayes: In view of the fact that incineration is part of the programme for Government is it the Government's intention to incinerate the growing amount of meat and bonemeal stacking up all over the country?

An Ceann Comhairle: That does not arise on the Order of Business. It would be more appropriate to submit a parliamentary question.

Mr. Hayes: The reality is that-----

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a discussion on it here. It is not appropriate to the Order of Business. There are other ways of raising it.

Mr. Rabbitte: When the Government publishes the legislative list in September will it include legislation on Campus Stadium Ireland?

The Tánaiste: The Government gave a commitment to build a world class national stadium in the programme for Government. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism will bring proposals to Government shortly and I must await those before I can comment.

Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill, 2002 : Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

Mr. Haughey: I congratulate the Ceann Comhairle on his appointment and wish him well in his endeavours. I know he will be fair and will keep order and discipline in the House. I also congratulate the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, on his appointment. He will be a decisive and reforming Minister and I look forward to the many legislative proposals he will bring to the House.

Crime has emerged as a major issue for the electorate. The view is that the quality of life is seen to be threatened by public disorder and anti-social behaviour, generally by gangs. It is threatened also by under-age drinking, vandalism and lawlessness and by unprovoked attacks. A situation has developed where parents are afraid to let their children go to town at night for an evening's entertainment. In some areas elderly people are afraid to go to Saturday evening mass for fear of attack. In some parts of the city, and elsewhere in the country, our green areas and parks have become no-go areas. We need to tackle this, restore community life to the way it was and allow citizens go about their normal business without fear of attack.

11 o'clock

Many changes have taken place in Irish society as a result of our substantial economic growth. Young people are more affluent and some are consuming more alcohol than they should. This has resulted in the disorder we have witnessed on our streets and which this Bill seeks to address. There is a new aggression in society as well, as other Members have mentioned. There is a problem with senseless, unprovoked attacks, particularly against young men. It is a worry and it affects all classes in society, not just areas of disadvantage. On the contrary, it seems to be affluent young men who engage in such unprovoked attacks. It is they, too, who are at the receiving end of these appalling crimes.

There is a new lack of respect for members of An Garda S??ochána. That issue must be addressed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It should not be tolerated. If the garda?? have a constitutional role in upholding law and order, they must be respected in their role. The training which garda?? receive should deal with that new situation. In particular, young garda?? should not let themselves be abused or attacked. They have an important role to play. We must restore respect for members of An Garda S??ochána, given its important role in society.

In many communities there are no alternative venues to the pub. They do not have a community centre or youth club premises which could provide alternative entertainment for young people. The Government will have to address this through its various programmes. There are several programmes in place but facilities must also be put in place to encourage community and youth activity generally.

Finally, we need to review the licensing laws. Opening hours were extended under legislation last year and this has caused problems, particularly late at night when young people are flooding onto the streets. We need to review and tweak the licensing laws in view of the difficult situation which has emerged with regard to public disorder.

Mr. M. Higgins: I welcome the opportunity to comment on this legislation. It is also necessary to make a statement about some aspects of the speeches that were made yesterday, which were not just of concern but were quite appalling in a number of respects. This legislation seems to be intended, and could be welcomed in that context, to address the issue of widespread concern about crime, particularly late night crime and crime that is associated with alcohol abuse. It is not just an election issue. Many people, particularly elderly people and young, unaccompanied people, are concerned at the disappearance of their right and ability to move from their homes to places of entertainment, places in which they might previously have been able to socialise without fear.

I deplore the fact that so much fear exists at all levels of society and I support legislative efforts to address this issue. However, I cannot accept some of the assumptions in the Minister's speech and I oppose the thinking that was reflected in some of the speeches by Opposition Members yesterday. I spent about 24 years of my academic life lecturing in the area of the sociology of deviance and crime, in Ireland and abroad. In 1962, Albert Cohen published his book, Deviance and Control, in which he said there seemed to be more interest in control than in the understanding of deviance. Even though this was stated 40 years ago, the same fallacy surfaced again as late as yesterday. I feel strongly about this issue. The only construction in some of the speeches yesterday was that we should almost declare war on young people. We announce that we are going to escalate our side of the equation to deal with their behaviour on the other side without an examination of the behavioural sources and what is influencing the behaviour which is causing such problems.

I do not want what I have said to be construed simply in the context of a dichotomy between hard or soft in relation to liberal issues. This society has lived with massive abuse by advertising and alcohol. Sweden, for example, took action to protect its children from the child abuse that forms of advertising directed at children constitute. The former president of the American Psychological Association took the unusual step some years ago of writing to members of the association asking them to consider their position on the ethical grounds that they were lending their skills to the abuse of children through advertising. There is evidence everywhere in the literature of the connection between the promotion of alcohol and advertising. There was a hope that in the Swedish Government's Presidency of the European Union the children's side of this issue might be addressed but that opportunity was lost.

This country, which is now to announce that it is going to war after dark, seems unwilling to look at the sources of its problem. I have mentioned one, the connection between advertising and alcohol. Another is the construction of great temples to the consumption of alcohol. There was a time when in many cities and towns, including Dublin, part of the character of a public house, be it in the public bar or the lounge, was the ability of the proprietor to know a certain proportion of the clients and to be in effective control. One cannot reconcile the thinking that said there is to be no limit on the number of pubs a person may own, no limit on the square footage that can be licensed and no control over or connection between ownership, management and effective control with trying to retain the behaviour of the small and intimate pub.

Look at the example that is being given in this country from the top levels. There is an assumption that when dignitaries visit Ireland, be they presidents or prime ministers, their tongues are hanging out for a pint of beer and that we must assemble the cameras and press and take them to a pub. I have to be careful not to mention any particular establishment but some have been in the headlines more than others. Even when our heads of State visit cultures that are thousands of years old, they head for an Irish pub. That tells us something about the thinking that lies behind the behaviour which will produce legislation that purports to deal with young people. I mention this as background information. The Government claims to be dealing with the consequences of the connection between alcohol, misbehaviour and breaking the law, but it is not addressing the fact that a major alcohol abuse crisis is well under way. I have never seen so many young people who are vulnerable as a result of alcohol abuse and everything associated with it. This issue is not being dealt with.

As a member of the Cabinet which introduced the Public Order Act, 1994, I wish to make clear a second reservation in relation to this Bill. I regret that we did not include greater protection of civil rights in the legislation at that time, as it has since been abused. I recall that it was specifically intended to deal with loutish behaviour, but, unfortunately, I could give several instances of the Act being invoked for little less than political reasons.

If young people are to be interested in politics, they must feel they are entitled to object to the world's unaccountable corporate powers. I could list many corporations, such as Monsanto, which have bought power in several Administrations. They have been granted special meetings with the Commission and ensure topics are shifted from one area of the Commission to the other as they make their way to the World Trade Organisation. The Taoiseach was lobbied as he travelled around New York on St. Patrick's Day. These issues have been well documented. Young people take to the streets to object to an unaccountable corporate power which is having detrimental economic, social and ecological effects on the planet.

The 1994 Act was not intended to be abused in this manner. I ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in his Second Stage reply to tell the House whether there will be an investigation into the use of the 1994 Act. Will he strengthen this Bill to ensure it will not be abused beyond its express intent? If I were to perform a more subtle deconstruction of the Minister's opening speech, I would find it interesting that he saw fit to mention that the Bill "deals with an area of great public concern to ordinary law-abiding people." I am sure there are extraordinary law-abiding people, but moving on from the redundant use of language, I am more interested in the reference to "those who may wish to socialise in the evening and late at night and those who wish to relax in the quiet enjoyment of their property." There is no reference to the role of the family in the quiet enjoyment of property, which reflects in a curious way the shift in institutional emphasis.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): I am sorry that I forgot to mention the family dog.

Mr. M. Higgins: If the Minister wishes to interrupt me, I can respond by saying we move in different social circles-----

Mr. McDowell: Thank God.

Mr. M. Higgins:-----for which I am grateful.

I wish to mention a few other matters that are neglected in the Bill, such as the fact that it does not consider the temples to consumption known as superpubs. I am sure such establishments make it more difficult for Taoisigh who may wish to move from the public bar to the lounge more frequently and with less interruption. It must be difficult to deal with every floor of the superpub. Discussions on alcohol are marked by incredible hypocrisy. While I welcome the sections of the Bill that wish to increase the legal responsibility on owners of licensed premises, I have reservations about the manner in which the provisions may be implemented. The Bill will face immediate difficulties in the case of an offence occurring within 100 metres of three pubs adjacent to each other. How can one determine which publican should be held responsible? I could speak on such matters at length and may do so if the Bill progresses to Committee Stage.

Other aspects of the Bill are similarly important. I wish to be positive about the crime problems we face, many of which are linked to economic factors. As late as ten years ago, people of all ages could be found during the day in communities in Dublin, provincial towns and rural Ireland, but this is no longer possible. Couples have been conscripted to work, which involves leaving their homes early in the morning and returning late at night. Their children are moved around in search of child care, but provision is inadequate. One does not need to be a sociologist to know that if life is emptied from communities during the day, their survival will be placed at risk.

Conclusions may also be drawn about the relationship between generations. I do not consider it strange to note that this is a terrible time for young people in Ireland. The number of male suicides is frighteningly high, for example. Those who talk to young people hear about the alienation and hopelessness to which they are condemned. The Government has allowed for the second lowest social provision in Europe. Teenagers and those in their twenties and thirties throughout Europe go alone, in pairs or in larger groups to skating rinks and similar venues not associated with alcohol. They may decide to drink coffee or beer. There is no such facility in this jurisdiction, although there is one in Belfast. Older legislators do not listen attentively to the requests of young people; they respond to their needs with ideas that reflect their own version of life. Young people write to me at election time asking for facilities associated with particular forms of recreation, such as skateboard parks or ice rinks. Such amenities are provided by civilised societies but not here.

Mr. Gogarty: Hear, hear.

Mr. M. Higgins: Why do we wonder that young people feel alienated and hopeless, given that this country seems to be committed to redistributing wealth to the rich by reducing the top rate of tax? Why is it a surprise that our communities are under stress? I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to assure the House that the powers given to the Garda under the Bill will not be abused. One of his former colleagues on the Bench recently dealt with the case of a young man who had been approached by a garda while standing outside a hotel near the Spanish Arch in Galway. The garda asked him to move on and when he had not done so within a few minutes, the garda accused him of being disrespectful. He explained that he had argued with his girlfriend and was waiting for her to return, but he was arrested. He was threatened with a jail sentence when the case came before the courts. What kind of thinking does this demonstrate? When I examine certain queries from my constituents I am told that they gave cheek or were disrespectful. We live in a culture in which four letter words are often heard on radio and television and seen in the newspapers. If a young person uses such language and is considered by a garda to be disrespectful, he or she will fall under the remit of this new Bill. Are garda?? trained to exercise discretion in such situations?

The new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, is consistent, at least. In his speech yesterday he claimed to be interested in the deterrent effect of the deferment of a custodial sentence:

In this context, I acknowledge that punishment and sentencing are the functions of the judicial arm of the State. While we would not expect the Judiciary to regard imprisonment as a first resort for offenders who cause disorder while drunk, it may be that a judicious combination of immediate substantial fines, coupled with a deferment of the issue of custodial sentences could be part of an effective strategy to curb public order offences, especially in the case of first offenders.

Does the Minister intend to introduce similar measures to deal with white collar crime? The programme for Government states the new Administration will seek to encourage corporate responsibility. The Labour Party is waiting for proof of this. The possibility that a first offender will be punished in this manner is outrageous and draconian. It does nothing to deal with social problems or provide the security demanded by those in communities.

A number of unfortunate speeches were made yesterday. Who in 2002 wants to go down the road of issuing the garda?? with stun guns? Who thinks in regard to this problem that people should be arbitrarily thrown in for the night and when they sober up in the morning they will feel better? Young people are currently going through an unbelievable level of stress. Doctors say that in cases of male suicide, for example, where a young person dies, a whole network of friends and peers are affected by the event. Frequently, there is no counselling service available to enable these people to deal with a very traumatic event.

To suggest that the garda?? are at war with young people is an unbelievably disastrous strategy. I say to those Members of the Opposition who have been advocating the strategy that we will be known as the John Waynes of future Irish politics to think very carefully. The garda?? are called the Garda S??ochána, the guardians of the peace. What about people? I agree with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that ordinary people are asking for the presence of garda??. The issue is not the numbers of garda?? but their dispersal and management. People are asking for accountability from the garda??. They want a distinction drawn between an ordinary individual who is in trouble on a haphazard basis and someone who is a consistent offender. Not everyone is a lout. People want a distinction drawn between those who protest for whatever reason and those who are involved in anti-social behaviour of a totally destructive kind.

There is another interesting point. I listened to Deputy Haughey who suggested there is a neat and simple equation between affluence and alcohol abuse. Believe it or not, there are many societies whose income increased and which did not fall apart. They were able to celebrate forms of social solidarity and social relationships that were enriching and important. One of the most significant factors over the past ten years is the influence of peer groups. Young people are terrorising each other. Young people are taking norms of consumption derived from elsewhere and putting pressure on each other to follow a particular pattern of behaviour. Analysis of social patterns of drinking, for example, will indicate a significant difference. Twenty years ago the number of times people got drunk and were not capable of being in charge anymore occurred over a very long period. It was something that crept up on one. Now the emphasis is on getting out of one's head as fast as possible so as to be totally incoherent and spaced out.

Everything in advertising supports this. The development of the drinks industry and the mixture of spirits with other forms of mixer, for example, is entirely new. No one in this House will ever make progress on the pressures on young people unless they are willing to tackle the alcohol industry, those who believe they have a right to own any size of pub for any kind of consumption and those who are making a fortune out of the child abuse that is advertising connected to alcohol and tobacco.

The Minister places an obligation on those with premises that might possibly face a closure order to ensure order in the environs of their premises. It is one of the great changes in Ireland that one can no longer find such a pub. I look at young people outside clubs late at night and they are corralled like cattle. There is no control over the way in which bouncers behave. It is something which is not currently regulated. One can see people being pushed and shoved into lines and examined for permission to enter and pay over the rate for expensive drink. This is an indictment of Ireland. It is interesting that we have been hearing for five years that the Republic has the fastest growth rate in Europe and that it has performed miracles. The Minister, Deputy McCreevy, cannot finish a sentence without getting excited at what he has done, yet we have produced the largest number of bouncers in Europe from a low rate and the worst queues in Europe.

It will be wonderful if we get a reply from the Minister. I will be interested to hear his views on what is happening to a society for whom alcohol consumption is the only way of forgetting the kind of society in which people live. That is the description for young people, a deeply alienating society where there is little to encourage them. My hope is that these people will reject alcohol and that the next generation of politicians will demand facilities, provide skating rinks, music venues, etc, so that people can enjoy fulfilling lives without getting out of their heads and providing a fortune for multiple pub owners and people who want big temples to their own ignorance.

Mr. Gogarty: Much as I am enjoying the debate and finding it very elucidating, there is no quorum present. I call for a quorum given that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure a quorum is present.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Cecilia Keaveney: I am delighted to welcome this Bill. For long months I have raised the issue of under-age drinking and the associated public order problems at the Committee on Health and Children and at parliamentary party meetings. I did this as it is such an important issue for the towns and villages in my constituency of Donegal North-East.

This Bill is another step on the right road, but it will not be, as many have said, a panacea to all ills in society, nor is it intended to be. Alcohol related and public order offences top the agenda at most of our clinics and are uppermost in our minds and I wish the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform well in dealing with the wider implications of drink for our society. This is not a criticism of the Bill, but seeks to provide food for thought in terms of forthcoming legislation. Deputy O'Donoghue set up the committee on liquor licensing and the recommendations of the task force pointed to the key issue which is the number of Departments involved, including Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, Finance, Arts, Sport and Tourism, Social and Family Affairs and the Environment and Local Government. I congratulate the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, for the expansion in the remit of the task force and for the fact that we have the interim report of May 2002. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must be proactive on the recommendations of the group and ensure interdepartmental development of what is possibly the largest single issue we face in these new years of the millennium.

Indeed, when I sat down to put my thoughts on the issue of public order on paper, I almost felt like a spoilsport because our culture is so drink orientated that it is not trendy to denounce it. I wonder sometimes if we prefer the view of us from the days of poit??n drinking and leprechauns, which was that of the Americans and others, or if we prefer the real view. I speak as someone who takes a drink, usually in moderation, yet I see what is going on particularly with our youth in terms of drinking. Ireland has, as Deputy Higgins said, the fastest growing economy in Europe and the prosperity that has yielded has reached into and become part of the lives of our youth. Their disposable incomes are manifested in the weekly show of prosperity on our streets. It is not all good news and the cost to our economy of the abuse of alcohol is reckoned as being in the region of €2.4 billion, comprising €279 million in health care costs, €215 million in road accident costs, €100 million in alcohol related crime, €1,034 million on loss of output due to alcohol related absences from work, €404 million in alcohol related transfer payments and €234 million in taxes not received on lost output. It would be ironic if the social face of our prosperity, the importance of the pub, became implicated in the loss of our prosperity due to the costs which I have just mentioned.

During the recent election, I listened again to concerned parents who worry about the fact that their children are not coming home until 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. They are concerned that their children do not feel safe on the street as they make their way home from a night out, they bemoan the fact that the streets of rural areas are no longer safe and they feel harassed in their homes when their property is vandalised. The answer provided is always the easy one of suggesting the pubs be closed earlier, but is that really what should happen? Perhaps it is part of the solution. Too often in the blame game it is everyone else's fault, not our own. It is the fault of the child, the publican, the Garda, the parents or the teachers, even of society, but never ours. It is never something quantifiable. What is quantifiable is the scale of the problem facing us.

Let us look at the children and their place in this issue of public order. According to the survey "Health Behaviour in School Age Children", over half of young people begin experimenting with alcohol before they are 12, 20% of 12 to 14 year olds are drinkers and between the ages of 15 and 16 half of girls and two thirds of boys are drinkers. Some drink very large quantities of alcohol, engage in binge drinking and are frequently drunk. The peer pressure on our youth is immense. Nationally, our society celebrates success or consoles itself with alcohol, our reputation world wide still revolves around our drink culture and, despite its wonderful performance, the recent fortunes of the Irish soccer team provide a classic example. We celebrated with alcohol when we won and consoled ourselves when we lost. Our heroic ability to consume alcohol is what is admired around the world. Many young people are getting drink from a variety of sources, including pubs, off-licences, parents, relations, friends or from the cabinet at home. They drink in more and more public places as time goes on. They drink to excess and often become violent.

There is no logic in the manner in which many young people drink in that they mix their drinks and have nasty reactions as a result, which translates into increases in assaults. There has been a steady increase in assaults and public order offences since 1995 and from 1996 to 2000 street violence offences increased by 97%. The Garda Commissioner highlighted the link between alcohol and the rise in street violence. In 2000 there were 62,000 instances of public order offences and 38,000 people were charged and 24,000 cautioned. It is awful that serious assaults increased in 2000 and the fact that most of them were alcohol related gives us pause for thought. Alcohol related offences might be committed by adults, but there is concern that the intoxication in public among teenagers has increased by 370% since 1996. Much of this goes unseen due to the JLO system and I ask the Minister to look at that system in terms of the discretion of local garda??. They have no discretion to intervene and recommend a prosecution of an individual and in many cases the really serious juvenile offender is laughing at the system when they are referred to JLO which they know is soft. JLO works extremely well for the soft criminal who just needs a good sharp shock, but I ask that the Minister look at it possibly to allow a local sergeant, inspector or superintendent to have some input into whether a person should be prosecuted.

I hear people saying that young people have nothing else to do and they speak of the need for sports facilities, with which I agree in part, but I watch reality. I see the impact over the last few years of the national lottery moneys and the associated facilities which have been made available, but they are not utilised by those who would prefer to be in a back alley or on the shorefront with a six pack. Last week when the Irish team was going to play at 12.30 p.m. I was walking along the shore and trying to get back in time for the match while half a dozen young fellows were just arriving down with their six pack of cider, their Smirnoff Ice and their Hooch ready for their session. Even though there was something sporting on television and they all had access to sports viewing, they were not going to be there, they were going to be antisocially "enjoying" themselves. That is not to say that we cannot encourage more drop-in centres such as the one in Buncrana or the after-school and homework clubs operating in many towns, but the Minister should speak to his relevant colleague in relation to a national insurance scheme which must be created to address and overcome the problems for parks, playgrounds and skateboard facilities about which Deputy Higgins spoke.

Young adults in the 18 to 24 year age group are the most directly affected by the issue of binge drinking. This and the younger age groups may live through the consequences of the less exciting part of alcohol consumption which is unwanted pregnancy. Of school going teenagers surveyed, 35% who were sexually active said that alcohol played a significant part in leading to them becoming so. Other problems include sexually transmitted infections, increasing disharmony in family relations, marriage break-ups, depression often leading to suicide, health problems such as sclerosis of the liver and various cancers, which like smoking related diseases make no impact on a young generation because they often take years to manifest themselves, accidents in the house and car accidents.

I ask that the Minister, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, the Garda and local authorities discuss what is to be done with the burnt-out cars that are so prevalent around our countryside due to youngsters gaining access to old cars which have perhaps failed the MOT and are joyridden before being abandoned and burnt out.

When public order is raised with us as politicians, often the Garda get the brunt of the blame, rightly or wrongly. The last Government increased the number of garda?? and there is a commitment to again increase their numbers significantly this term, which I welcome, but there needs to be an examination of how they are deployed. I disagree with Deputy Higgins about whether it is a numbers game. How can we have a visible Garda presence on our streets and towns if there are only one or two on duty at any time? Garda?? on the beat pick up information and are a visual deterrent to people who may think twice in the presence of authority, which goes back to my JLO argument. Some people will not be deterred by a garda - I was told of a recent incident where a person went up to a garda and took his cap - but others will be deterred from soft crime. However, I agree with speakers last night who raised the issue of many young people not having respect for authority, which means garda?? will be faced with very difficult problems on our streets unless they have the proper numbers and back-up facilities.

Many young people do not have respect for authority. Therefore, garda?? are faced with difficulties on our streets, unless they are given adequate resources and supports. The number of garda?? on duty on my peninsula at weekends is in single figures. That may be okay for a rural location, but the Inishowen Peninsula is not such a location. It has a population of 30,000, which increases dramatically at weekends because it is a social outlet for Derry, capital of the north west. Given the advent of a ferry service across Lough Foyle recently, the peninsula's role as a suburb of the large urban centres in the north west is even more marked. I ask the new Minister to examine policing in County Donegal together with the Garda hierarchy and collate figures which take into account that 70 miles of east Donegal runs along the Border while 140 miles of west Donegal runs along the Atlantic Ocean with less than seven miles of the county bordering the Republic.

I am concerned about public order because every week I receive an increasing number of complaints from individuals along the Border whose houses or businesses have been raided, often in smash and grab raids by gangs from the North. I commend the Garda's work in conjunction with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which has resulted in arrests and the return of goods. However, I ask the Minister to examine the duty rosters of Garda stations in Inishowen at weekends and respond regarding how effective garda?? can be and how the community can feel safe given the current level of Garda support. The official reply to this question in the past is that per head of population Inishowen has more garda?? than it deserves, but the area is a suburb of many large urban centres and is not the rural backwater that some people think.

Public order problems are not unique to my constituency. There is a growing problem of drunken children taking over the streets and green areas of our towns. In the past 16 to 18 year olds engaged in under age drinking. Subsequently, 14 to 16 year olds became involved, but nowadays ten to 14 year olds are causing most grief as a result of drinking. A small percentage of our youth cause major problems for their peers, parents and the elderly. A number of garda?? believe parents do not care. When they pick up these juveniles for public order offences and take them home they are abused while the child is not chastised. This leads to the more important question of parental control and responsibility. When the Children Act, 2001, is fully implemented will it address the issue of reduced parental control which we are experiencing as a society?

I am often asked whether a system should be implemented under which the Garda would be provided with sufficient paddywagons to pick up young offenders, bring them back to stations and hold them until their parents arrive to collect them. Garda?? believe many parents would not bother to do so, but a charge could be imposed to cover the cost of keeping these juveniles. Deputy Joe Higgins would be very irate at this concept. Many Garda stations are not big enough to hold numerous offenders. Perhaps the Minister could review the progress of the Garda station building programme.

Deputy Higgins is correct, however, that research must be carried out to examine the problems underlying the reasons these children are drinking to excess in order that we do not resort to the easy solution, which is to lock them up and throw away the key or use stun guns. We are too used to adopting the easy solution. The Garda's frustrations are understandable when one considers the force does not have enough manpower, patrol cars or basic resources in stations and it often does not receive support from parents. A number of garda?? have been reported as saying they have no legislation to assist them to deal with young people causing public order difficulties, but that is not the case and resources will be put in place to implement the legislation fully.

I am most concerned about this issue. I do not want to contribute to a debate on legislation and be a party to putting more paper into a system if it is not workable. I, therefore, ask the Minister to ensure the necessary resources are put in place to ensure the legislation can be fully enacted in order that it will not be something to which we can point and say it is in place if only the Garda is prepared to implement it.

Should parents be assisted to educate children about responsible drinking? I have spoken to a number of experts who deal with alcoholics and people involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and I am concerned to find that the average age of an alcoholic is reducing significantly. What used to be a phenomenon among 40 to 60 year olds has become a phenomenon among 25 to 35 year olds. This is a serious problem which must be tackled on a cross-departmental basis. This issue is not solely the responsibility of the Minister.

I commend the drinks industry on doing a great job. Guinness hijacked the Irish flag during the World Cup, but it is not offence because the company used replicas. However, Guinness made the national flag part of its sales and advertising campaign which was wrong.

Mr. F. McGrath: Hear, hear.

Cecilia Keaveney: Something should be done. It may not be possible to address defacing the flag through legislation, but the House must issue a strong message that this is unacceptable. We do not want the national flag to become a symbol for the drinks industry. Young children have been running around waving replica flags or with tricolours wrapped around them throughout the World Cup and drinks companies have tapped into this. Tennents is the official lager of the World Cup, but I do not know how the company achieved that title.

The drinks industry is at the heart of the sponsorship of sports events. Drinks such as Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice, a mixture of spirits and soft drinks, have taken over from beer and wine in terms of the highest sales in Ireland. It is scary that young children who take up drinking start on spirits. Can we not find a way to encourage them to drink responsibly? The drinks industry does not enforce legislation regarding under age drinking, particularly in pubs and off-licences, and adults are knowingly served on behalf of children. While there is legislation in place, this issue must continue to be addressed. The onus of responsibility on publicans for serving under age drinkers was a good concept, but it is not being enforced rigorously. A good sharp shock in this regard could make people more responsible. As the Minister stated, the drinks industry has a significant role in society because it has a captive market, but it must become more responsible.

No matter what the problem is in society, everybody says if another subject is added to the school curriculum, it will be solved by teachers. Communities must come together because they comprise people from different backgrounds and we all have something to offer in terms of a solution. There should be more collective responsibility. I look forward to the expansion of the CCTV system.

Why can public houses remain open all night in other countries? Why do their residents drink responsibly? Why can many of our citizens not handle drink? The task force on alcohol stated:

"Alcohol abuse is a significant risk factor in suicide and compounds the other factors in suicide...Research in an Irish general hospital reported that 30 per cent of all male patients and 8 per cent of female patients were identified as having underlying alcohol abuse or dependency problems. However, many of these cases were not detected by the admitting medical team. The study highlights the deficiencies and the under recording of alcohol-related problems in the hospital setting".

That is a serious problem and more research needs to be carried out. If the problem cannot be identified, we need to draw on the experiences of other countries. Other countries are not in the same position, even though the pubs may have longer opening hours.

I will conclude on what is perhaps a negative point because I worry about what the future will hold for the 21% of our children who are under 15 years of age. In the period 1989 to 1999, there was a 41% increase in the per capita amount of alcohol consumption whereas there has been a decline in consumption in most of Europe. We have a serious problem. We need to take enforcement very seriously. The task force report contains a review of the policy effectiveness of solutions to alcohol-related issues and I ask the Minister to consider that review.

I wish the Minister well as he begins his term of office. I hope my attitude does not seem too negative but I believe it is such a big issue that we must take an all-party approach and do everything possible to enact workable legislation and introduce other support mechanisms for people who obviously have a problem with alcohol. We must support parents and children to help them overcome the difficulties they are facing in every community at present.

Mr. Connaughton: I wish the new Minister every success. I am sure he will perform very well and I note that he is expected to be a "super" Minister. He has a difficult job to do and it is certainly not getting any easier.

I am not confident that this Bill will solve the problems but parts of the Bill are necessary, given the situation. I am proud to have been a Pioneer all my life but like most of my colleagues I spend a lot of my time in public houses. I have always believed that the less restriction there is on the availability of alcohol the better, although I acknowledge that this is an unusual stance for someone with my background. However, I am beginning to change my mind. This nation is now submerged in alcohol. I cannot find words to express how bad the situation has become at every level. Unless we can put a brake on this over the next few years, we will continue down a road where it appears that alcohol abuse is accepted in circumstances that would not have been envisaged ten years ago. The effects on society of the abuse of alcohol is costing the State millions.

There could be a connection made between the fact that people have more disposable income and their desire to consume more alcohol. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that. This must be examined in the context of wealthier European countries where there is not similar abuse of alcohol. There seems to be a different psychological approach to it.

I agree with Deputy Michael Higgins and other speakers regarding the way the alcohol industry is treated in this country. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children which examined the tobacco industry. Tobacco is hugely injurious to health but I believe it would not hold a candle to the damage done by alcohol abuse.

I ask the Members to imagine a situation where at four and five o'clock in the morning a battlefield is created in every town and city where law and order cannot prevail. Night-clubs are allowed a huge extension of opening hours. In years gone by, I often sat outside night-clubs at three o' clock in the morning waiting to collect my own children. I was a youth officer before I was in politics and I note that 95% of the present younger generation are no different from the youth of 25 or 40 years ago. They do the things that young people should do at that age and there is nothing in the world wrong with them. The loutish behaviour of 5% or 10% has become very vicious and it is frightening to be a witness to such behaviour.

About three or four years ago I was outside a hotel one night in a large town in my constituency. A young person came out of the hotel holding a pint bottle, tapped it against the railings and made a bee-line for another young person who was obviously a foe of his. He tried to imbed the bottle in the other's neck. I spoke to the local sergeant about my shock at the incident and he said that only for the grace of God there would be huge numbers of casualties to deal with.

I see the situation as part of a vicious circle of events. Young people start the night in a pub and usually go on to a night-club. At three o'clock in the morning, five or six hundred youngsters pour out onto the street. The only time one is normally likely to see such numbers on the streets of a town would be if the county hurling final was being held and that would be in broad daylight. The takeaway and chip shops delay them for another hour or two. How can two or three garda?? in a squad car deal with those numbers and with the sort of gusto that some of those hooligans exhibit? They are expected to contain a situation when they are surrounded by five or six hundred youngsters. A situation has been created at that level in which the Garda cannot win.

I believe that however it is managed, the opening hours of the night-clubs must be curtailed. I suppose it could be argued that the takeaways do not create the problem but they need to be better managed. I do not understand why there should be any activity at four o'clock in the morning in any town or village. I am no kill-joy and I know that it is important for youth to have its outlet. We should at least ensure that the Garda are empowered to contain the situation; they cannot do so at the moment. Some Members mentioned that. To put it crudely, long ago it was felt by many households that they would be doing well if youngsters could be kept away from alcohol until they were 18. People hoped that youngsters would then have enough sense to handle themselves with alcohol. That age came down to 16. Some of my family are teachers and that age is ten to 12 years for some of their pupils. It does not matter how good the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or any of the other 165 Deputies are, law and order will be very diffic


Planning Appeal against the proposed Shannonbridge Peat Powered ESB Station


1 July, 2001


This is a development by an emanation of the state and this appliciation must be processed according to European Law not to the inadequate implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directives by Ireland.


We examined the file on the 4 of July and found that there was no report from a planner on file. On enquiry we were informed that it was not available because the planner had not yet finished writing it.


It is difficult to object to an assessment which has not been carried out.


But from reading the conditions attached it is clear that the Planning Authority does not consider that all the necessary information was available on the planning file or in the Environmental Impact Statement.


The planning permission requires that the following essential points on which the public have a right to comment will be decided by them at a later date without public input:


Decommissioning.


Site layout plan.


Construction waste.


Toxic waste.


Landscaping.


Sanitary facilities during construction (The pollution of Lough Ree a Sac will occur from this, it has not been assessed).


Surface water has not been assessed.


Variations of the layout have been permissioned but have not even been applied for.


Adequate measures shall be put in place at the disposal site… These must be in the Environmental Impact Statement.


Vehicle washing facility is an activity which requires planning permission and has not been applied for.


The routes of the peat delivery trucks has been excluded from public consultation.


The decommissioning of the old power station a development which could have a major impact on the environment and has been excluded from public consultation.


Decommissioning of the proposed plant is excluded from public consultation.


It is our submission that a development which requires Environmental Impact Assessment must show all this likely significant effects in the Environmental Impact Statement. It is clear from the grant of permission that this is has not been done in this case. The public has a right to be consulted on all matters where an Environmental Impact Statement has been submitted. It is our submission that this point of law excludes a planning authority and An Bord Pleanala from imposing conditions for matters to be agreed with the planning authority, which excludes the rights of the public to comment.



This grant of permission is invalid in law. It should be returned to the Planning Authority for proper consideration as required under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directives.


The Lehery River at the landfill has not been properly assessed.


Should the Board decide to consider this appeal we will comment on an complete Environmental Impact Statement when submitted, which shall include all the likely significant effects on the environment, including the assessment of the sites of the peat mining as required under the Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitats Directives. It is our submission that some of the bogs from which it is proposed to extract the peat may be Priority sites under the Habitats Directive. The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice has found Ireland to be in breech of the Habitats directive, because Ireland has not submitted an exhaustive list of sites as required by the directive. The judgment of the EUCJ is expected in September 2001.


CONCLUSION

This application is invalid and cannot be grated permission in its present form.



Yours faithfully




Peter Sweetman and on behalf of

Friends of the Irish Environment