Dáil Éireann - Volume 298 - 30 March, 1977

Private Members' Business. - National Energy Policy: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Barrett on Tuesday, 29th March, 1977:

That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to prepare and implement a national energy policy based on the maximum use of the country's natural resources and making adequate provision for the protection of the natural environment.

Debate resumed on the following amendment:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the follow ing:

“approves of the energy policy of the Government which is aimed at optimum development of the country's natural resources, ensuring adequate and secure supplies of energy at reasonable cost and promoting rational and efficient use of energy, while making adequate provision for the protection of the natural environment.”

—(Minister for Education)

Mr. J. O'Leary: Last night the Minister for Education did not come to the real point, that is, he did not state clearly what is the Government policy in relation to energy for the next five years or even for the coming decade. He spoke about what would happen in 30 or 40 years' time. It is clear that there is no Government policy on energy at the moment. There is no clear-cut programme laid down by the Government to cover the energy [742] situation. An energy policy for the coming decade and programme should be clearly stated. Such a policy should be closely linked with physical planning because the location and the siting of power stations and oil refineries must be considered from the planning point of view as well as from the amenity and environmental point of view. One would have thought that the Government by now would have incorporated in a positive physical planning policy the locations of power stations and refineries in the future. Environmental considerations must be taken into account in any such policy. The environment must be protected. It is the duty of the Government to protect it. The Government appear to have no realistic energy policy for the coming decade. They have no positive physical planning policy. They have no policy for the protection of the environment. All three should be closely linked in any realistic energy policy.

Mr. Esmonde: I have heard two speakers on the Opposition benches, Deputy Barrett and Deputy O'Leary. The last speaker dealt with environmental matters. I gather he recognises just three hazards, thermal, some sulphurous side effects and nitrogenous material, or nitrous oxide. This is an over-simplification. I am prepared to look at the whole situation from a broader spectrum. One must divide into air, soil and water. I do not know if the last speaker is aware that one of our most immediate difficulties from the point of view of pollution of the environment is coming from carbon extract. He does not have to go very far from this House to see evidence of that in Dublin Bay, evidence which has been there now for quite a number of years. I am told by those who claim to know all about the technical side of pollution that there is a little plant called ulva, or sea lettuce, which is evidence of the pollution of the water by carbon type materials.

One must bear in mind that nature is very resilient and very adaptable. There is plenty of evidence now coming forward everywhere to show that nature can adjust to what might appear to be a very serious challenge [743] to its survival. These powers of resilience have been monitored and watched by scientists, particularly scientists in the botanical and marine spheres, and I have a recollection of a very interesting programme where environmental damage was under discussion. It was either on Telefís Éireann or the BBC. The gentleman being interviewed, well-known in this sphere, discussed this problem of pollution. The programme was entitled “Bellamy in the Mire”. He said we should not get into a pet or worry too much about pollution because nature has a way of adjusting itself and coming out very often in a stronger position than when it was first visited by antagonistic elements of water or mineral concentrations.

It is not right for the last speaker to say no steps have been taken about preserving the environment by this Government. We have had a planning Act. It was discussed here in great detail in a very lengthy debate and eventually, when the Bill found its final form, it could, I think, be described as a consensus of opinion. We had the Water Pollution Bill. We have a Nuclear Energy Board for monitoring everything connected with nuclear energy.

Deputy Barrett said we have done nothing. Last night the former Minister for Transport and Power, Deputy Barry, refuted allegations in regard to the lack of an energy policy. He said we have not put it in booklet form. We have not produced a book entitled “The Programme of Energy”. Various matters have been brought forward by the Government. We have An Bord Gáis. We have the Nuclear Energy Board. We have the Third Bog Development Programme. That is very significant because the output of milled peat will be increased by 1.7 million tons per annum. This will effect a saving of 170,000 tons of oil imports per annum. There has been an increase in oil stocks. At present they run at an 80 days' supply. That will be increased to 90 days by 1980 or before that. There has been a committee set up constituted of officials of the Departments involved and State bodies involved in energy. It is the [744] Conservation of Energy Advisory Committee. It has done a great deal of work particularly on the domestic use of fuel and power. Grants have been provided by the IDA to modernise plant and machinery in order to effect economies in the use of heat. Grants are being provided to hotels and industry in the same sphere. When one bears in mind the crisis in 1973 in relation to fuel, the only suggestion which emanated from the Opposition in those days was in regard to a rationing system.

Reference was made last night to refining. I do not know if the Opposition are aware that refining in Europe is only working at 60 per cent of its capacity. The experts believe that that situation will last until the 1980s. I do not see much point in increasing our refining capacity which at the moment covers 50 per cent of our requirements. One must look at this from the point of view of the financial implications. Have the Opposition spokesmen considered what is called down side risks, the financial implications of going into some big scheme and finding that you can be undercut and there can be a far cheaper method of doing the work you want to do?

I do not think one can plan at this stage in relation to ten or 25 years' time. It is an on-going situation. The Minister challenged the Opposition spokesman to state what their policy is in relation to nuclear energy. There has not been any statement from them in that regard. The record of the Government is honourable in relation to the fuel crisis when one considers what has been done in a very short time while faced with what was a European and world-wide crisis. The Government's record has been very diligent when one bears in mind that they regard it as an on-going situation, that there is no static view to be taken in relation to fuel, power, energy, conservation or the environment.

Mr. Power: This is a very appropriate time to discuss this motion by Deputy Barrett which indicates that a national energy policy to maximise our potential is needed but, [745] at the same time, we must take adequate precautions to preserve our environment. The Government's amendment appears to suggest that they are happy enough with their progress and that they see no reason at all for any reappraisal of their policies. I do not agree with that view.

Many of our present ills with regard to energy and the cost of it are laid at the door of the Arab oil producing countries. They decided— this coincided with the coming into power of the Government—in 1973 to increase the price of oil. I would not blame the Arabs for doing that. They have a very valuable asset in their oil but it is a very finite one which will be expended in a number of years. Their policy was to get as much as possible out of their particular product, provide for the things they need and improve their standard of living.

We were able to buy oil very cheaply here. We imported it by tankers and charged our people twice as much and, perhaps, a little more for it. Some countries even stopped producing their own oil to conserve their resources and bought Arab oil instead. Oil was looked on by the Minister for Finance as a suitable source for taxation. It is no wonder the oil producing countries woke up to this and increased the price of it. I am sure if we found that our beef was being bought by countries abroad and sold at twice the price we were getting for it, we would do the same. When the price of oil was increased by the Arab countries, the Minister for Finance increased taxation still further and placed a huge taxation load on motorists and others who have to use petrol and oil. We have had regular increases in the price of oil since then. We have now reached the stage practically when the £ a gallon, which appeared to be so outlandish some years ago, will be with us soon.

Some time ago many of us felt happy that the price of our petrol was slightly lower than that in Northern Ireland. The Minister for Finance for some unknown reason decided that this was a drain on us. He corrected that [746] by imposing taxation which ensured that that the price of petrol here would be greater than it is in Northern Ireland or in Great Britain. I believe he overreacted. The position has never been rectified. We read in today's Irish Press that the British Chancellor of the Exchequer increased the price of petrol by 5½p but that still Irish petrol is 15p a gallon dearer. A very valid comment on that was that there is very little to attract the British motorist south of the Border.

We need some new thinking in regard to our energy problem. It should have percolated to the Cabinet by now that less taxation on petrol would mean cheaper petrol which in turn would mean cheaper goods which would be more competitive abroad and it would entice tourists to come here. There would be more jobs and less need for taxation to finance social welfare benefits to people who would work if there were jobs for them. This would be our programme. We would reverse the vicious circle created by the Minister for Finance and replace it with what Fianna Fáil now recommend.

I would like to deal with something which qualifies for attention as a source of fuel and also as a conservation subject for environment eventually. I refer to our bogs and their future potential. I should like to record my admiration for the pioneers of turf production, the Turf Development Board, the predecessors of Bord na Móna, who opened up the bogs and experimented with machinery. They did the equivalent of making the desert bloom. They provided employment in the most distressed areas. They created new towns and villages and brought new life to the centres of population. I suppose after the many repressive plantations we had the bog was the final sanctuary of the sean-Gaedhal, the true Irish, who were victims of landlordism and had to leave their homes.

The pioneering work by the Turf Development Board and Bord na Móna was badly needed in the distressed areas. Progress was continued in the war years and since then. We have now reached a situation where ESB turf fire generators are prominent [747] features on our landscape. They provide jobs and also energy in the cities. Bord na Móna have produced new systems and techniques during that time. Briquettes have now become part of our life and there is greater emphasis on production and sale abroad particularly. Peat moss has now become a very valuable export. It has got a big foothold in the English market and is expanding on the Continent and in the Channel Islands particularly for horticultural purposes.

Milled peat production has become highly mechanised and sophisticated and one should pay tribute to Bord na Móna management and employees. It is one semi-State body that we can point to that has consistently shown a profit. There is very little industrial unrest there, which is probably due to good worker-management relations. A generation of men have grown old in the service of Bord na Móna and have devoted all their working lives to this development. They have come from all over Ireland and have settled in various places including new villages that were created in Kildare such as Coil Dubh, Rathangan, Droichead Nua, Prosperous and other small places all over the midlands. They can look back with pride on their life of labour because today there are 135,000 acres under active peat production.

What concerns me now is what happens next when we can measure the life of the bogs in terms of five, ten or 20 years. What does the future hold for the cutaway bog after that? In my own area of Timahoe it has been indicated that the sale of sod peat to the public cannot be guaranteed after the next two years. This facility that the public had of going to the tiphead at Timahoe and purchasing sod peat is something that commends itself to me. Many of the people there have no alternative fuel; cookers were geared to this. Many people earned a living by buying the peat and selling it from door to door to customers. It would appear that Bord na Móna are committed to supplying sod peat to the turf-fired generating station in Allenwood. Now is the time to produce a policy to make provision for the availability of [748] sod peat elsewhere, and I would hope it would not be too far away. With present haulage prices the product could be priced out of most people's pockets and from a cheap fuel it could become a very dear fuel if it had to be brought long distances.

I would also like to know about the alternative bogs being developed in the area. I am aware of some development going on. Are we sure that such bogs are capable of employing all the labour available? I think not. It has been mentioned to me that we might well experiment with some type of crop that could be sown on the cutaway bogs and harvested with existing machinery, as a crop would in the normal way, and be compressed or processed as a fuel. We certainly have the climate and the expertise to deal with such a crop. Possibly some experimentation is needed in this field.

Despite our best efforts I think we will be faced with the situation of many Bord na Móna workers becoming redundant. Therefore the Government and the IDA need a policy to provide industries in these areas. There are skilled and semi-skilled workers capable of dealing with any type of industry that could be channelled in there. It is in this sphere that the use of cutaway bogs will become very important. Bord na Móna and An Foras Talúntais have done great experimental work and have proved there is a future for cutaway bogs for farming and horticultural purposes. As far back as 1952 the first experiment was carried out on Dunne's farm in Rathangan where 15 acres of cutaway bog were drained and reclaimed. The fruits of what was done under that pilot scheme can be seen to the present day. Further on in 1955 the Department of Agriculture initiated schemes in Kildare and Offaly utilising cutaway bog. I myself have seen and have praised in this House the work done by An Foras Talúntais in Lullymore where excellent experimental work of a very practical nature was carried out in regard to the production of vegetables and of grassland that is capable of feeding cattle over the winter.

In 1972 the Agricultural Science Association examined the future utilisation [749] of peat land. They considered the production of peat and peat products and the possibilities in regard to forestry, grassland and horticultural and other crops. At that time they stressed the need for a national coordinating body to be set up. I would repeat that call to the Minister now, to set up such a body to deal with this problem. We should also examine the possibility of EEC grants being made available for areas like these. I know of no other areas, particularly when the production of peat has finished there, that would better deserve the title of disadvantaged areas. We should also examine the possibility of fen peat being used for horticultural purposes and ensure that it is preserved, because I am sure that here is the greatest potential of all in regard to the future of cutaway bog.

Whatever is done with the cutaway bog, I would suggest—and I am going into a contentious area here because different suggestions have been made —that there should be an overall authority appointed that would be responsible for drainage. It has been suggested in some places that the large tracks of bog be given back to individual farmers. I believe this would present difficulties, particularly with the cost of the drainage that would be required, and it is essential that one body be responsible for drainage. With many farmers involved it can easily be seen that the man who was not so careful about drainage could undo the good work of the others. Possibly I could take this opportunity of advocating the stepping up of the priority of the Barrow Drainage. It will be some years before it is reached if the present priorities are adhered to. I was under the impression that a cost/ benefit analysis was carried out some time ago and I was very confident that this would show that any money spent on the Barrow drainage would prove of far greater benefit than some of the drainage schemes that have priority over the Barrow scheme. In many cases drainage is being done in areas where the land is not good. The land surrounding the Barrow is good, and if the Barrow drainage was finished now it would release a great deal of good land which cannot now be properly [750] farmed because of water.

There should be money made available for joint drainage schemes, and possibly grant aid for pumping stations; Bord na Móna have proved that these function very well, and Bord na Móna are the ideal body to undertake this work. They have the machinery and the expertise; they own the land and they are the people who could best develop whatever type of farming or other activity that would be suited to the land. They could also help to develop the ancillary industries such as the canning of vegetables and fruit. There was an unfortunate experience with Erin Foods and the canning industry, and that is inclined to colour our thinking on this matter. However, with a market on our doorstep and free access to the EEC to feed millions, if we were capable of producing quality food on cutaway bogs a great deal of employment could be provided in the area. In regard to farming in the bog areas of the three counties of Laois, Offaly and Kildare, a recent survey would seem to prove that great strides can be made with a little co-operation.

Cutaway bog could be given to farmers with isolated pockets, but we must ensure, first of all, that sufficient peat is left to work on to give a base for the crops it is desirable to grow. In the main, we should hold on to the huge areas that are there and develop them under an overall authority like Bord na Móna to help to create the maximum employment for workers who want to——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure Deputy Power will be coming now to the energy policy.

Mr. Power: This would allow conservation to go hand in hand with what I am dealing with, the utilisation of the bogs, first of all to produce turf and when their duty in that regard is done we must preserve them for the future from a conservation point of view. I consider I am in order in dealing with that.

It has been proved beyond doubt that we can improve the environment in cutway bogs such as at Roberts-town where it is hoped to have an [751] artifical lake and possibly a sanctuary for ducks. Cutaway bog need not be unsightly if necessary drainage is provided to produce good farmland. The work that has been done by Bord na Móna indicates the possibility of a very good outlook for our land in the future. A poet, William A. Byrne, from Rathangan wrote a poem called The Purple Heather and if I may quote two lines from it, he said:

The purple heather is the cloak God gave the bogland brown,

But man has made a pall of smoke to hide the distant town.

He contrasted the God-given delights of nature with man-made marvels of the town. I hope that the future of our cutaway bog will include homes and work for our people.

I say to the Minister that there is an immediate need for a policy in the EEC which will free us from our dependence on imported energy and, hopefully, enable us to develop a nuclear energy system. I read recently that by the eighties both the USA and the USSR will have exhausted their supplies of oil and we will need some acceptable cheap alternative. Present progress in the nuclear field would not lead to any great optimism that we would reach that target. The EEC countries would need to step up their programme.

In any programme for energy of a nuclear nature there would seem to be proposals from people who are opposed to any change. You may call them cranks, if you like, but we must reach a balance between the conserva-tionists and the progressives. We must avoid the stagnation of the ultra-conservatives and the chaos of uninhibited progress. People who are very keen on progress will constantly harp on the fact that we cannot live on scenery and those interested in conservation will say that any life other than the life they want would not be worth living. Our party propose that we chart a middle course and so get the best of both worlds. The Government will be faced soon with a decision in this matter in regard to the opencast mining proposed for Bula and they will have to balance the jobs created [752] there against the permanent scar which will be left on the countryside.

We in Kildare are faced with the same type of situation. This was highlighted by a recent report of a study in countryside conservation commissioned by Kildare County Council for the East Kildare Uplands. The area involved is bordering on the Wicklow mountains with the dual carriageway to Naas on one side and the Dublin/ Blessington road on the other. This area has been subjected to great development pressures which have been resisted by our county up to now. We feel that we have preserved the ideal scenic area in the foothills of the Wicklow mountains. Most of these hills are Silurian shale covered in the middle and lower levels with deposits of sand and gravel. Gravel pits are a feature of the landscape particularly on the eastern boundary in Wicklow and near to Punchestown. A continuation of this type of exploitation would turn a lovely landscape into a moonscape. We in Kildare have to examine the report and decide whether we should curtail future sand and gravel workings and confine them to selected areas, possibly with a greater insistence that the developer should restore the worn-out pits to agricultural use. There is a possibility too that we might be asked to put a complete embargo on building on the higher exposed reach.

If we decide on such a course of conservation in the hope of preserving our part of the country in its present state and of providing an amenity on the doorstep of thousands of people in Dublin—south County Dublin and west Wicklow have been pushed out to our borders—we have to embark on a policy which will discourage property owners from making a quick “buck” by selling a site or opening a small sandpit and possibly exploiting some minor workings which would be incapable of being restored to agricultural use later. This policy would be highlighted by the developments across the border in Wicklow. The Government need to intervene and channel industry into these discused gravel pits in the Kill area and so provide work at home for those who have been denied jobs by our conservation [753] policy. Government intervention to dissuade them from taking part in the free-for-all is needed.

I want to refer to a minor matter which is causing disquiet in some areas, namely the denuding of the countryside of trees. These are regarded as a source of energy also, and in the process untold harm is done to the country. More intensive agricultural methods in the removal of hedges and trees to form bigger fields has changed the landscape and the distinct agricultural character of some of our land. Possibly new hedge-cutting facilities too have contributed to the cutting of hedges and trees in this area of Kildare, and this is something that will not be replaced within a generation. We would need to preserve the trees and we should endeavour to preserve a proper ecological balance in the preservation of trees and hedges.

The government are fortunate that in the area mentioned they were recently given as a present to the nation two very valuable estates, Russborough in Wicklow and Barretts-town in Kildare. There are lovely trees in these estates and the fact that the Government own them will ensure that they are preserved. I hope that some scheme will be forthcoming to ensure conservation and propagation of copses and spinneys, and to encourage the wildlife to remain there. This should be a subject dear to the Minister's heart as he has spent so much time dealing with it up to very recently. All these areas have a great potential and Kildare County Council have shown responsibility in their attitude up to now and the landowners have too. I suggest that the Government of the day should point the way to conservation in the future development of this area where there is marvellous potential.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy has four minutes.

Mr. Power: We have shown that present Government policy falls far short of what is needed today. I would ask the Minister to get with it even at this late stage. Some of the Semi-State bodies have shown admirable pioneering spirit, particularly the ESB with [754] their new scheme at Turlough Hill which has produced hydro-produced electricity with pumping done at night during the off-peak period. Many of us had an opportunity of visiting there and seeing how it is done but we have not experimented to the extent that we should have with our own natural resources, resources that we hope are not expendable such as the one we are utilising now.

I hope this motion will have the result of improving the Minister's thinking in the matter and in instilling into the Government some of our feelings that something of an urgent nature needs to be done. I would refer the Minister to the thinking of Balfour when he said the energies of our system will decay, and the glory of the sun will be dimmed and the earth, tideless and inert, will no longer tolerate the race which has for a moment disturbed its solitude; man will go down into the pit and all his thoughts will perish. I hope the Government will get away from the inertia that seems to have prevailed in this sphere up to now and do something about giving us a proper energy programme and pay attention to the conservation that we feel is very necessary.

Minister for Transport and Power (Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick, Cavan): I will explain my absence from the opening of this debate yesterday, and apologise to the House if that is necessary. I was engaged in Brussels on an EEC Council of Energies Ministers and later in the day on a Council of Research and Development Ministers. I am not complaining, but when the Opposition put down this resolution I let them know that I would not be able to attend the opening yesterday. I wish to put the record right in that regard.

We had an interesting and very long day yesterday in Brussels. The meeting did not conclude until 4.30 a.m. In the course of this debate yesterday I understood that Deputy Barrett criticised the slow rate at which the EEC was developing an energy policy. In that regard I will tell the House very briefly what transpired yesterday. We reviewed the energy situation in general and I availed of the opportunity to appeal for a community approach, [755] while at the same time safeguarding the circumstances of each country. The refinery industry which Deputy Barrett dealt with yesterday came up for discussion and it appeared from the facts given that the European Community area is labouring under an over-capacity as far as refineries are concerned. I was there as the Minister for energy for Ireland to state our claim to establish another refinery here, if and when the time is ripe. The thinking there is that more refineries are unnecessary and that some existing ones should be closed down and that when they become obsolete they should not be replaced. The question of Euratom loans for the establishment of nuclear energy plants was at long last disposed of and the Community has the power to proceed with the granting of such loans. The question of imports of coal from outside the Community was discussed, and the suggestion was that imports should be monitored to see if any problem would arise. Representing Ireland, which is far from self-sufficient in the energy field, I stated our claim to import coal from areas where we could get it cheapest, such as Poland, and I left no doubt in anybody's mind where we stood there. Energy saving came up for discussion and the thinking was that there should be a special reference to clamping down on oil imports into the Community. Again I had to have regard to our special circumstances as a country which relies on the importation of oil from outside the Community. I made our position quite clear in that regard. In the early hours of this morning a multiannual research programme for the years to 1981 was settled. That programme covers a fairly wide area of research in the sphere of new energy sources, such as solar, wind and water as well as nuclear reactor safety, and matters of that sort. These are the sort of things that are being discussed in Europe. Final decisions are not instant, they have to be worked out as a consensus. It is vitally important that a Minister from this country should be at these meetings to have regard to the circumstances of this country and to make our position clear and to safeguard us.

[756] We are debating a resolution in the name of Deputy Barrett calling on the Government to prepare and implement a national energy policy based on the maximum use of the country's national resources and the making of adequate provision for the protection of the natural environment. My predecessor, the Minister for Education, moved an amendment to that in my name, calling on Dáil Éireann to approve of the energy policy of the Government which is aimed at optimum development of the country's natural resources, ensuring an adequate and secure supply of energy at reasonable cost, and promoting rational and efficient use of energy while making adequate provision for the protection of the natural environment. We have an energy policy, if we had not, it would not alone be a reflection on this Government but on the previous Government and on my predecessors in office I will again put on the record of the House the main points in regard to energy policy. We belive in the optimum development of indigenous energy sources, in access to the cheapest markets for imported energy where that is necessary, in diversification of sources of energy supplied, in the promotion of economy in the use of fuels, in stockpiling against emergency situations and in participating in research aimed at the discovery and development of new energy sources. The optimum development of indigenous energy sources has been national policy since the Electricity Supply Board was instituted many years ago. It is necessary to put on the record of this House that we were probably one of the first countries in the world to recognise the importance of harnessing our natural raw resources for energy.

That was done through the establishment of the ESB, a board that has been so successful that it is at present providing 98 per cent of the population with electricity. That is a record that is not enjoyed even by many of the developed and highly productive countries in the world. Let me give the Opposition credit for commencing the development of peat, another example of our natural resources being harnessed and used for energy purposes. In more modern times we have [757] established An Bord Gáis to obtain gas from our offshore resources and use it for energy purposes with a view to saving imported coal. If that is not enough the Nuclear Energy Board has been established looking to the future with the far-seeing countries of the world to provide nuclear energy.

That is a record I think many countries in the world would be proud of as regards the harnessing of indigenous energy resources and I would be prepared to stand up in any forum, recite that list and say it is a good performance and all credit to those who have achieved it. It is not reasonable to try to downgrade it. I and my predecessors in office gave the land; others followed and between us we have harnessed our natural resources for energy in a way that we can be happy about.

We believe in access to the cheapest markets for imported energy. I was in Brussels yesterday in pursuance of that policy demanding that we should be permitted to import the cheapest coal we could get from Poland because it is cheaper than other coal and that we should be permitted to import the cheapest oil we could get whether it comes from Russia or elsewhere. That is the second plank in our energy policy.

We believe in diversification of energy sources. Few countries have as good a record in this regard. We rely on hydro power, peat power, on oil, on native coal and native gas as well as—thinking for the future—on nuclear power. That is diversification. I put it to the House and to the sponsors of the motion that this is not a bad performance.

Promotion of economy in the use of fuel is very important at present. Four or five years ago this was not so because oil was for next to nothing and there was cheap fuel. Oil is now dear and will never again be cheap and it is up to our people to become educated in regard to the conservation of oil and saving of energy. The Government have embarked on that project. We have set up various bodies to promote saving of energy. We had a report produced by Dr. Henry which obviously Deputy Barrett does not like but I make no apology for [758] saying that it is a worth-while report It has highlighted the necessity for saving where savings can be effected and has brought the whole matter out into the open. As a result of that study four projects, two in the industrial sector and two in the private sector are being studied at present by An Foras Forbartha and the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards and the money is being provided by the Government to make those studies possible so that we may get advice and reports on how savings may be effected in the use of energy. There is much more scope for further studies and advice on ways of conserving dear energy which will never again be cheap. That is part of our policy.

As regards stockpiling against emergency situations, a few weeks ago I made orders complying with EEC regulations ensuring that there will be 90 days supply of oil available here. I have told the House that we are participating in research aimed at the discovery and development of new energy sources. That is the Government's policy in a nutshell. When this motion was put down by the Opposition following many opportunities which they had for discussing energy policy—and there were discussions in my predecessor's time on a number of Estimates, Bills and resolutions on the Government's energy policy time and again—I was notified by my officials that the Opposition were calling on the Government to establish an energy policy, I thought that we would hear something new, that we would get something worth while out of the debate. I was not here yesterday but I have read Deputy Barrett's contribution and I have listened to Deputy Power's speech today and there is nothing new in them. It is another political episode, another piece of play-acting. I do not blame the Opposition; they are entitled to do that but let us analyse Deputy Barrett's contribution. He proposes the establishment of an energy authority and he blames the Government for using offshore gas to generate electricity. I shall deal briefly with those two items.

I assume that in using the word [759] “authority” Deputy Barrett meant some group that would generally supervise the energy area and exercise some sort of policy function in the matter. I want to make clear that responsibility for ensuring adequate and secure supplies of energy for the economy rests on the Government and specifically on me as Minister for Transport and Power within the areas with which I have just dealt. That responsibility must be exercised to ensure the appropriate institutional framework for the production and distribution of energy through policy control of the various agencies involved and by securing adequate provision of capital to meet the investment needed. No board or authority that Deputy Barrett will set up can relieve the Government or relieve me of that responsibility. The institutional framework to which I referred already exists. In the electricity area we have the ESB which has never failed to meet the needs of our growing economy and is providing 98 per cent of our citizens with electricity at prices which compare more than favourably with most other European countries. Our main native fuel resource, peat, has been developed in a comprehensive and imaginative way by Board na Móna who also enjoy a national reputation not only for their sucessful development of a valuable energy source but also for the contribution they have made to the social and economic development of areas in our country.

In recent years we have established two further agencies to meet our needs. We have set up the Nuclear Energy Board to advise on all aspects of nuclear development including particularly the question of nuclear safety. Following the discovery of the Kinsale Head natural gas field, we have established Bord Gáis Éreann not only to ensure the rapid development of that field but to provide the basis for development of the further gas finds which we all hope will be established as a result of our exploration programme. The Government have indicated also their intention of establishing a State oil company in the event of discovery of oil in the Continental Shelf area and the Minister [760] for Industry and Commerce is already taking the initial steps in that direction.

The existing agencies which I have mentioned are answerable to me. I appoint the boards of directors. I indicate the broad policy which they are expected to pursue. Their capital development programmes are subject to my approval. I constantly review their financial performances and I meet all the boards on a regular basis as part of a continuing process of policy review. Not all the energy undertakings fall into the public sector. Our coal supply, which comes mainly from abroad, is handled on a private enterprise basis. My Department maintain regular liaison with the firms involved with a view to ensuring adequacy of supply for consumer needs. We maintain regular contact also with the oil distributing companies and, in conjunction with our partners in the European Community, we are developing and sharpening our informaton systems on the oil companies to ensure a fuller understanding of the working of the industry.

I am not clear what need exists for a further authority. It seems to me that Deputy Barrett is fascinated by the prospect of some kind of superior authority who could by some mysterious means solve problems in the energy field which have confounded countries with greater wealth and stronger economies than ours—countries like France, Germany and the United Kingdom who are also grappling with precisely the same problems as we have here in Ireland. What I am saying is that we already have an energy authority here; it is, in fact, the Government and more specifically the Minister for Transport and Power. I have no intention of shirking my responsibilities in this matter or of passing the buck by setting up some committee or council with vague functions and no powers. I am, of course, concerned that the machinery available to me in dealing with these problems is fully capable of the task and that it is adequate to the increasing demands which have developed and are continuing to develop in the energy area. Within the past year we have greatly [761] improved our knowledge of the energy market in Ireland, of the pattern of energy flows and the breakdown of end uses. We have greatly improved our statistical information and we have been identifying areas where there is scope for improvement of efficiency or elimination of waste.

I propose to go further in this direction by setting up in the near future in my Department to advise me a full planning unit which will be headed by a senior officer assisted by a small expert staff. One of the main functions of the new unit will be the forecasting of future energy needs, maintaining close liaison with the energy undertakings to ensure that supplies will match future demands, advising on such matters as the optimum fuel mix and other energy issues. I announced this very shortly after becoming Minister for Transport and Power.

We should, of course, have no illusions about the importance of energy in our economy or about the nature of the serious issues facing all western countries. Yesterday I discussed these issues at great length and in great depth with my colleague, the energy Ministers of the European Community, during a period of some 16 hours. Even countries richly endowed with resources such as Britain with her coal, oil and gas, Germany with her immense deposits of coal and the Netherlands with her extensive gas fields have no easy answer to many of the problems of the future. If Deputy Barrett considers that the establishment of new committees or that some new extension of bureaucracy can provide an answer to these grave problems, he is greatly mistaken.

I want to make the position clear. We have the policy and I am responsible for its implementation. I am not saying this in any personal way but Deputy Barrett on the occasion of every opportunity that has arisen in the past few months has sought to complain about our use of the Kinsale gas find. I do not expect there is any objection to the use by Nítrigin Éireann Teoranta of 40 per cent of that find. We are using the remaining 60 per cent by allocating some to the [762] Cork Gas Company but most of it to the ESB for the generating of electricity thereby, saving about £16 million worth of oil imports in a year. Fianna Fáil are recent converts to the policy of using gas for a purpose other than the generating of electricity. In the short time at my disposal I would refer the House to Deputy Barrett's comments during the course of a private members' motion moved by him on 13th March, 1974—another motion in which he was critical of the Government's handling of energy affairs. I quote from column 174 of the Official Report for that day when the Deputy said that the Minister:

might tell us what plans the Government have in the pipeline in regard to the natural gas find off the south coast. Is it intended that the ESB should be given access to some of this natural gas? Surely that would be a cheap method of producing electricity? Or do the Government intend to let other interests develop this natural gas into other products? As far as I know, the ESB should be very interested in having access to this natural gas for the purpose of producing electricity.

Does the Deputy wish to go back on that? I wish to go back further to a period when Fianna Fáil had responsibility for energy policy. The then Minister for Transport and Power, Mr. Lenihan, in introducing an Estimate for his Department said while referring to the possibility of the introduction of nuclear power to the ESB generating system, as reported at column 464 of the Official Report for 25th November, 1971:

In this connection I might mention that a new dimension has been given to this problem by the recent discovery off Kinsale of what appears to be a promising natural gas find. While further testing and exploratory drilling will be required before it is established that there is a gas field capable of commercial operation in this area, the ESB will be closely watching developments over the next couple of years.

[763] The capital cost of a generating plant based on natural gas would be about 60 per cent of equivalent nuclear capacity. Existing and planned oil-fired stations could be converted to natural gas at a relatively low cost. A gas discovery within the area would, of course, have enormous advantages from the point of view of security of energy supplies.

The then Minister advised that gas should be used by the ESB to generate electricity. All members of Fianna Fáil cannot be suffering from short memories but it would appear that loss of memory is a party failure where they are concerned because for the past couple of evenings we have listened to Deputy Barrett blaming the Government and me for using gas for the generating of electricity while he is on the record as having advised us to do so while a predecessor of mine, a Fianna Fáil Minister, gave the same advice.

I have as much material here as would keep me going for an hour but there is not that much time remaining to me. I can assure Deputy Power that the bogs of Ireland and, no less, the cutaway bogs are dear to my heart. I agree that there is scope here for planning and consideration. We must reclaim the cutaway bogs. That is being done and Bord na Móna will continue to do it. We must see that the cutaway bogs which will then be productive land will be used in the best national interest. We must see to it that the jobs of the people who have worked in the bogs over the years, and their families, are secure in their present habitat.

In my opinion, that calls for a study by various Departments: the Department of Agriculture who now have as an appendage the Land Commission, Bord na Móna and the Industrial Development Authority under the Department of Industry and Commerce. It is up to those three agencies —and they have plenty of time at their disposal—to see to it that the land is properly reclaimed and that, when it is reclaimed, it is used in the best [764] national interest and that the jobs of the workers are maintained. That is my objective. That is the objective of my colleagues in Government. That is the objective of the Government. I am sorry I cannot deal with the many other matters I should like to deal with. When the Estimate is being debated, I hope to make a much longer contribution.

Mr. Barrett: We were in no way critical of the Minister's absence last night. We fully understood the reasons for his absence, lest he might think we were critical of him. The Minister wondered why we brought forward this motion. We did so because we felt it was time to highlight again the lack of a Government energy policy. It was said last night and again tonight that there were many debates on energy. The last time we had an Estimate from the Minister's Department was about a year-and-a-half ago.

So far as we can see—and we believe we are right—the Government have no energy policy. This debate has again shown the lack of understanding and ability of the Government to take the necessary measures to deal with the energy problems which we have had since October, 1973. The only source of energy displayed from that side of the House by Government speakers was all the hot air expelled in the different debates. Unfortunately, we cannot create energy out of that hot air, and we still have an energy problem. The arguments and generalities we heard have solved nothing.

What we want to know, and what the people we represent want to know, is: why do we have to pay such exorbitant prices for gas, electricity, petrol and heating oil? Why does the manufacturer have to pay so high a price for the energy which is so essential for the production of his goods? Why does he have to pay such high prices for the transportation of the goods he manufactures? Why does the farmer have to pay such a high price for his fuel and the energy he requires?

Why do the fishermen have to pay up to £600 per week for oil to take them to the fishing grounds which so [765] far the Government have failed to secure for them? Why do the glass-house owners have to spend so much time and effort in working for the benefits of the big oil companies? Why have 120,000 registered unemployed and 40,000 unregistered unemployed to remain unemployed? Why have 30,000 to 40,000 school leavers such dim prospects for employment? The Government are in the saddle. It is their job to produce an energy policy, and has been over the past three years. We will set out our energy policy in a very short time, I can assure the Minister.

The Minister for Education last night and the Minister tonight said the main elements of their policy are the optimum development of indigenous energy resources and access to the cheapest markets for imported energy. Bord na Móna are doing a very good job and it was not under this Government that they were initiated. In recent years we had one opportunity to get the optimum benefit for the people from a natural source of energy, the natural gas find. I do not care how many times the Minister quotes the former Minister, Brian Lenihan, or myself who asked what was it intended to do with that find. The fact is that the Government have given 60 per cent of that natural gas to the ESB and the only reason for that put forward by the Minister's predecessor in the debate on An Bord Gáis was that we had to utilise it as quickly as possible. In other words, expendiency was the reason.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): I do not want to interrupt the Deputy but he advised us to give it to the ESB and now he is complaining about it.

Mr. Barrett: I do not look over my shoulder at what was said, four, five or ten years ago. I believe in looking at the problems of 1977 in the context of 1977. When I said we should not give 60 per cent of that gas to the ESB I meant it, and I still mean it, because they are about to waste up to 75 per cent of the thermal value of that natural gas for the sake of expediency where the Government were concerned. This was true at that time, and it is still true. [766] We are the only country within the EEC who will allow natural gas to be used for the generation of electricity. Other countries did so before the EEC made their recommendation. They have not done so since. According to the EEC regulation, we are right in saying it should not be used for the generation of electricity. We had an opportunity to utilise it to the maximum benefit of the country, to feed it into centres where there are gas mains such as Dublin and smaller cities, to build a gas grid to get the maximum benefit from low cost energy. Low cost energy is vital to our industries and will continue to be vital. The natural gas found in the North Sea has proved that to Britain, to the extent that the British Electricity Authority and the Coal Board are unable to compete with natural gas as a means of low cost energy and, about a year-and-a-half ago, tried to get further taxes imposed on natural gas to enable the other two bodies to compete. These are the facts and they will remain facts.

The other part of the Government's energy policy which was spelled out for us was access to the cheapest markets for imported energy sources. We are buying coal in Poland and that is probably the cheapest place to buy coal. That is only a small percentage of the energy we require. Oil is still the big question and will continue to be the big question for many years as far as we can see. Our bogs will run out, just as oil wells run out. We are still refining 50 per cent of our oil products. I said last night and I repeat it now, until we are self-sufficient in refining capacity with a second refinery outside the control of the multinational oil companies that did a right job on us during the oil crisis we will not have control over supply or costs. These are two vital factors.

Last night the Minister for Education told us a refinery is a refinery is a refinery. He said it is nothing more than a method of refining crude oil into the various products needed for petrol, residual heavy fuel oils for the generation of electricity, light fuel oil and central heating. The Minister really gave us some information there.

[767] Of course an oil refinery has all these functions. Nobody denies it. I appreciate the problem of making it economically viable because I know that oil refineries in Europe are running at 60 per cent capacity. There was a proposal not long ago for Dublin Bay and the proposers were able to prove to themselves that the project would be economically viable. In that instance it was not an extensive oil refinery.

However, there is a lot more involved in an oil refinery than the functions I have listed. An oil refinery could do a lot for our unemployment. What about all the downstream industries that could develop as a result of a refinery? Why should an oil refinery not be used as a method of dealing with the 120,000 registered unemployed and the school leavers to put a dent in that unemployment figure? Even though we have not yet found our own oil—hopefully we will but it may be some years before it can be brought ashore as happened in the North Sea—the fact is that we can buy crude oil direct at a lower cost than the multi-nationals are doing. We can deal direct with the source. We can charter tankers very cheaply in any part of the world. They are tied up in dockyards and some firms would nearly pay one to put them into use. How much could we save in the haulage of crude oil from the Middle East to this country as compared with the way the cost is hidden by the Seven Sisters, the big multi-nationals? There is no access to their costings. We would be able to put crude oil into an oil refinery over which we would have some control at far less cost than is being charged at the moment.

What about the 15p increase imposed by the Minister for Finance in December, 1974, on the petrol users? Were the Arab sheikhs to blame for that? They certainly were not. We know the sheikh who is to blame. The same Minister imposed extra taxation on all other oil products in his 1976 budget as though industry and heavy fuel oil users had not enough to cope with. It was an easy way of getting taxation from people who were hardpressed to compete industrially on the [768] home market and in markets abroad.

Who is to blame for all these increases? Certainly it is not the OPEC oil sheiks. It is the Government who are to blame and they cannot escape from that. It would have taken three years to erect an oil refinery. It is now three-and-a-half years since the oil crisis but we would still be in the same position if another oil crisis occurred. The Minister for Education last night said that I keep repeating the same criticisms. My criticisms at the end of 1973 and in 1974 were valid and they are still valid. We are still in the same position as we were in 1973 because the Government have done nothing about it.

Last night I was asked about our attitude to a nuclear power station. We have a nuclear board with a chairman, directors and probably staff. What is the function of that board? The nuclear power station that was envisaged has been deferred indefinitely but we add a little more to the cost by establishing a nuclear board, complete with staff. What is the purpose? We are told it is to advise the Minister. I should like to know what they have to advise him on.

It is now a fact that the nuclear power station envisaged would be uneconomical by present day standards and the cost would be much too great for what it would achieve. It would give us about 16 per cent or 17 per cent of our energy requirements. Would it not have been much more beneficial to put that money into a gas grid to get the maximum benefit from a natural source of energy which we were fortunate enough to find? We could utilise that to provide low-cost energy and the other low-cost fuels that would flow from it.

The Government have no energy policy. The Minister mentioned Bord na Móna and all the other bodies set up under Fianna Fáil. With regard to the energy authority suggested by me, its purpose would not be to take responsibility from the Minister but to co-ordinate the various sources of energy the Minister mentioned. This should be done rather than having them compete with each other, as is happening with the ESB and the Gas [769] Board at the present time with the result that fuels are more expensive for the users. We should co-ordinate all [770] the sources we have for the benefit of all.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 58; Níl, 55.

Barry, Peter.

Begley, Michael.

Belton, Luke.

Belton, Paddy.

Bermingham, Joseph.

Bruton, John.

Burke, Joan T.

Burke, Liam.

Byrne, Hugh.

Clinton, Mark A.

Collins, Edward.

Conlan, John F.

Coogan, Fintan.

Cooney, Patrick M.

Corish, Brendan.

Cosgrave, Liam.

Costello, Declan.

Coughlan, Stephen.

Creed, Donal.

Crotty, Kieran.

Cruise-O'Brien, Conor.

Desmond, Barry.

Desmond, Eileen.

Dockrell, Henry P.

Dockrell, Maurice.

Donegan, Patrick S.

Donnellan, John.

Dunne, Thomas.

Enright, Thomas.

Esmonde, John G.

Finn, Martin.

Fitzpatrick, Tom (Cavan).

Flanagan, Oliver J.

Gilhawley, Eugene.

Governey, Desmond.

Griffin, Brendan.

Halligan, Brendan.

Hegarty, Patrick.

Hogan O'Higgins, Brigid.

Jones, Denis F.

Kenny, Enda.

Kyne, Thomas A.

Lynch, Gerard.

McLaughlin, Joseph.

McMahon, Larry.

Malone, Patrick.

Murphy, Michael P.

O'Brien, Fergus.

O'Donnell, Tom.

O'Leary, Michael.

O'Sullivan, John L.

Pattison, Séamus.

Ryan, John J.

Spring, Dan.

Taylor, Frank.

Timmins, Godfrey.

Toal, Brendan.

White, James.


Allen, Lorcan.

Barrett, Sylvester.

Brady, Philip A.

Breslin, Cormac.

Briscoe, Ben.

Brosnan, Seán.

Browne, Seán.

Brugha, Ruairí.

Burke, Raphael P.

Callanan, John.

Calleary, Seán.

Carter, Frank.

Colley, George.

Collins, Gerard.

Connolly, Gerard.

Crinion, Brendan.

Cronin, Jerry.

Crowley, Flor.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

Dowling, Joe.

Fahey, Jackie.

Farrell, Joseph.

Faulkner, Pádraig.

Fitzgerald, Gene.

Fitzpatrick, Tom (Dublin Central).

French, Seán.

Gallagher, Denis.

Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.

Gibbons, Hugh.

Gogan, Richard P.

Haughey, Charles.

Healy, Augustine A.

Hussey, Thomas.

Kenneally, William.

Kitt, Michael P.

Lalor, Patrick J.

Loughnane, William.

Lynch, Jack.

McEllistrim, Thomas.

MacSharry, Ray.

Meaney, Tom.

Molloy, Robert.

Moore, Seán.

Murphy, Ciarán.

Noonan, Michael.

O'Connor, Timothy.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Leary, John.

Power, Patrick.

Timmons, Eugene.

Tunney, Jim.

Walsh, Seán.

Wilson, John P.

Wyse, Pearse.

Tellers: Tá Deputies Esmonde and B. Desmond: Níl, Deputies Lalor and Browne.

[771] Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.