Dáil Éireann - Volume 303 - 08 February, 1978

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Mineral Ownership.

22. Mr. Horgan asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy the nature of the present uncertainty about mineral ownership referred to in paragraphs 4.9 of the White Paper on National Development; the legislative [847] steps he proposes to take to deal with it; and when the necessary legislation will be introduced.

Mr. R. Burke: Mineral ownership in certain areas of the State is unclear and the issue of ownership is further complicated by a Supreme Court decision of 1974 which declared invalid a Minerals Acquisition Order made under the existing legislation thereby casting grave doubts on the effectiveness of the acquisition procedures in the present mining legislation.

The question of devising legislation to deal with the problem is receiving urgent attention. I have studied the position and have approved the lines on which a solution to the existing difficulties should be pursued. A considerable amount of detailed work remains to be done before I will be in a position to settle finally the proposed legislative measures which would be most appropriate and to indicate exactly when such measures can be introduced.

I attach a very high priority to this matter and it is my intention to have the necessary legislation introduced at the earliest possible date.

Mr. Horgan: Does the Minister recollect when he and his party were on these benches the present Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy told the then Minister, Deputy Justin Keating, on numerous occasions that there was an instant solution to this problem that could be arrived at without any cost to the taxpayer? Has he now come to the conclusion that there is no such instant solution? Does he now accept that the previous Government were at least as responsible as he is pretending to be?

Mr. R. Burke: No, I do not recollect.

Mr. B. Desmond: In view of the disclosure today that the Minister has decided and defined the lines to be pursued in relation to amending legislation, in the public interest will he indicate what the lines are in view of the precise indications given previously by the Minister that there would be no problem whatever in amending the legislation.

[848] An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate question.

Mr. R. Burke: I cannot outline the exact lines of approach——

Mr. B. Desmond: Can the Minister give any indication?

Mr. R. Burke: The approach of the Minister is being discussed by the officials of the Department and senior counsel and other legal staff in the Attorney General's office with a view to drafting a scheme for amending the Bill to remedy the present unsatisfactory situation. I am hoping that this Bill will be introduced before the summer recess.

Mr. Horgan: Can the Minister say whether a fundamental principle of the Bill will be that ownership of all unascertained minerals in the State will become public after the Bill has been passed?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate question.

Mr. B. Desmond: Can the Minister say whether the line being pursued by the Minister, the Parliamentary Draftsman and officials of the Department involves in any way an amendment to the Constitution?

An Ceann Comhairle: Again, that is a separate question.

Mr. R. Burke: I am not in a position to answer the question.

Mr. Horgan: Would the Minister be prepared to consider seeking an amendment to the Constitution if such were found necessary?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling the next Question.