Dáil Éireann - Volume 373 - 24 June, 1987

Gas (Amendment) Bill, 1987: Committee and Final Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.


Mr. P. O'Malley: I move amendment No. 1:

In page 2, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

2.—(1) Where the Board is satisfied that by reason of the presence of any void, space, cellar, machinery, furnace, oil or petrol storage tank or any other duct cable or energy source, in or on any lands or premises which lie adjacent to or in the near proximity of any gas pipeline mains or storage [3461] facility owned or maintained by the Board, there is a danger to persons or property arising from any potential leaks or escape of gas into such lands or premises:

(i) it shall be lawful for the Board to discontinue the supply of gas to any part of the said lands or premises, and,

(ii) it shall be lawful for the Board to make a Gas Safety Order in respect of any such lands or premises whether or not there is a supply of gas thereto.

(2) A Gas Safety Order shall specify the works which the Board considers reasonably necessary to obviate the danger referred to in subsection (1) of this section.

(3) A copy of the Gas Safety Order shall be served on any persons appearing to the Board to have an interest in the lands or premises affected by the Order and shall be advertised in a manner to be prescribed by the Minister in regulations made under this Section.

(4) The Gas Safety Order shall indicate whether the Board proposes to carry out the works or whether it is requiring the owner or occupier of the lands or premises to carry out the works.

(5) The cost of carrying out the works specified in a Gas Safety Order shall be borne by the Board unless the Court shall otherwise direct on finding that the works are necessitated by the unlawful and unreasonable use of the lands and premises by any person, in which case it shall be lawful for the Court to direct that person to pay the whole or part of such costs.

(6) The Court may also direct that a person who has constructed on his lands any space or structure or has installed thereon any machine or thing giving rise to a danger as aforementioned, and has failed to obtain [3462] planning permission specially authorising such construction or installation, shall bear the whole or part of the cost of such works.

(7) In this section “the Court” means the Circuit Court for the area in which the lands and premises are situate.

(8) Any person aggrieved by the making of a Gas Safety Order may apply within 21 days of the service of the Order upon him by way of Appeal against such Order to the Court by Notice of Motion served on the Board, to vary or discharge the Order.

(9) (a) The Board may, by Notice of Motion served on any person appearing to be interested in the said lands or premises, apply to the Court to have an Order made under subsection (5) of this section in respect of that person.

(b) Such application shall be made within 21 days of the service of the Gas Safety Order upon such person.

(10) Where the Board has served a Gas Safety Order in accordance with subsection (3) of this section, it shall be lawful for the Board, its servant, agents or contractors to enter on the lands and premises in respect of which the Order was made and to carry out in or on the said lands and premises the works specified in the said Order and any ancillary works and the Board shall be liable to pay compensation to the owner or occupier of the said lands or premises in respect of:

(a) the disturbance and interference caused by the execution of the said works on the said lands and premises, and,

(b) any diminution in the value of the said lands or premises arising from the execution of the said works,

and the provisions of the Arterial Drainage Acts in respect of assessing the amount of such compensation shall have effect in relation to compensation payable hereunder as though the works [3463] under this section were works carried out by the Commissioners for Public Works under those Acts and as though the Board were liable to pay compensation in like manner as the Commissioners in respect thereof.

(11) The Court may, on an application made ex-parte by the Board, abridge any period of time provided for in this section or deem any notice to be duly served, in such circumstances and subject to such conditions as the Court shall deem reasonable and just having regard to the urgency of the matter and the right of the persons affected by the making of a Gas Safety Order.

This is a proposal to add an entirely new section to the Bill. I suggest it is a very comprehensive and necessary amendment because it deals with the problem of voids or cellars in buildings where there can be an accumulation of gas. This was a major reason for the tragic accident which occurred at Raglan House. It was a very serious accident because gas was allowed to accumulate over a period of time in a void. There is no provision in this Bill and in the law as it stands at present to require the owners of buildings that have voids or cellars underneath them to fill these voids and block them up to prevent the ingress of gas into them. That is the purpose of this amendment.

Let me revert to the Raglan House incident because it seems a most appropriate example in terms of the proposed amendment. Gas will seep along the direction of a pipeline; in other words, it will defuse laterally, given that these underground services are normally in an impermeable soil and if there is a tarmacadam surface overhead there is no possibility of the gas venting. It will ultimately end up in a void and the main difficulty is that it seeps into the basement of a building. The purpose of this amendment is to put an onus and an obligation on the owners of such buildings to ensure that these voids are filled. That is not catered for at this time. In fact, the gas [3464] service need not be going into any particular building. The escape could come from a pipeline in the distribution network that would be in the vicinity of such a building. The dangers are there and we have ample evidence of that in relation to the Raglan House incident.

I urge that this amendment be taken on board. I regard it as being a very necessary amendment and it is entirely right that it should be incorporated into this Bill and become law. The amendment provides that the cost of completing the filling in a void would be borne by An Bord Gáis, except in cases where the building in question did not have planning permission or was in contravention of the law in some other way. There is provision in this amendment for compensation where there is a disturbance when people are having basements or cellars of their buildings filled in or indeed if there is any diminution in the value of the premises as a result of that work being carried out. I urge that this amendment be incorporated in the Bill as it is a very necessary amendment. Such problems as I have outlined are not catered for as the law stands at the moment.

Minister for Energy (Mr. R. Burke): I assure Deputy O'Malley that the whole question of safety is paramount in this legislation. It was the question of public safety that prompted the Government to press BGE for an early bid for the Dublin Gas Company because we were not satisfied that with a gas utility of this size and having regard to the number of users receivership was the right way to carry on the business. We were very conscious of safety, consequently one of the first decisions made by the present Government was that BGE would make a bid for the takeover of the Dublin Gas Company. I do not intend to get into the whole Cremer and Warner report on the tragic incident in Raglan House and I do not think the Deputy wants to do so either.

I regret that I cannot accept the amendment but I assure the Deputy that I am very conscious of the need for the power he is proposing in subsection (1) (i), that is the power to discontinue gas supply to [3465] a dangerous building. My intention is to see that BGE have this power, and it is one of the issues which gave rise to section 2 (1) (c) of the Bill. The Deputy's proposals in relation to safety are covered there.

Regarding compensation for the type of operations the Deputy includes in his amendment, the amendment proposes to impose obligations on BGE and I am going to see that many of those obligations are met. That is what I am doing in section 2 (1) (c) but the amendment goes further in that it provides that BGE pay compensation for any inconvenience which may be caused while this work is undertaken. This would be quite unreasonable for the purpose of getting to where we both want to get to, that is the safety of people living in buildings. It would be an intolerable burden to place on an organisation. Really the Deputy is proposing, probably quite unintentionally, that the total cost would be unlimited. Nobody knows what the cost would be and there would be no limit on the cost of what we would be imposting on BGE. I could not accept that.

The question of dangerous buildings and standards is a matter which the task force who were appointed in the wake of the Raglan House explosion are looking at at the moment. It comes under the area of building regulations mainly. It is more relevant to the Minister for the Environment because the Cremer and Warner task force whose report of recommendations I accepted immediately they were published — probably a record speed for any Minister accepting recommendations of a report — are operating under the Minister for the Environment who is bringing in new building regulations. The type of proposal the Deputy has in mind appears to be more relevant in that regard. However, in terms of its imposition of the cost factor on BGE I find myself unable to accept the amendment as proposed, but I assure the Deputy that safety is paramount with me and for that reason section 2 (1) (c) is drafted as it is.

[3466] Mr. McDowell: I am pleased to be associated with Deputy O'Malley's amendment. When we drafted this amendment we had in mind some deficiencies in the corpus of legislation which now applies to the delivery of gas especially in the Dublin area but I presume, by inference, in other areas also.

We have a grave difficulty in one respect. Most of the Acts relating to the distribution of gas by Dublin Gas Company and their predecessors are private Acts of Parliament which are not available to the country at large. For instance, they cannot be found in the Oireachtas Library here. They are in the possession of the gas company but generally they cannot be found, they are not accessible and the powers of the gas company are not publicly known or publicly stated and have not been the subject matter of any review with a view to updating those powers to take account of present conditions. That was one of the main motivations that lay behind Deputy O'Malley's and my amendment.

Secondly, in support of this amendment as opposed to what the Minister is asking us to do, that is to rely bona fide on section 2 (1) (c), let me say that far reaching powers are needed now for BGE to render safe certain lands on which gas lines do not now run but which, as Deputy O'Malley said, have gas lines near them. I do not want to get into the depths and complexities of Cremer and Warner and Raglan House, but there is a case where a 12 inch main runs along the DART railway line near buildings which are constructed on top of voids. Even if there had never been a gas supply to Raglan House and the Ballsbridge complex of flats, a fracture of the mains along the DART railway line could result in a filling of the voids under those buildings by gas. Even if there was never a supply by the Dublin Gas Company to the Ballsbridge Court complex, the construction of the buildings could give rise to a public danger with no question of the lands concerned having being supplied by the gas company at any time. The present rights of the gas company as set out in all the Victorian Statutes which govern their [3467] operation do not give them the right to go on to a total stranger's land to see if a danger is created, for instance, in the case of a cellar or void. They do not appear to have the right to go on to lands which are not affected by a gas supply and to remedy a possible danger. In that context we sought to amplify the powers of whoever is supplying gas in the Dublin area to cover these dangers to the public. The Minister says he wanted to arrive at the same result as we seek, but suppose, for instance, there were cellars under blocks of flats in Nicholas Street or anywhere else in the city of Dublin or if there was an underground car park which was dangerously close to a gas main and if in the view of BGE or the Dublin Gas company or whoever is supplying gas to the Dublin area, these would, unless ventilated, create a possible danger to the public, the occupant of the building or whatever, there is no power at the moment to force people who are strangers completely to the supply of gas to change their building or to strengthen walls in it or make surfaces in it impermeable.

The purpose of the amendment is to allow BGE to say to an owner of lands with whom they have nothing to do at all that because their main passes by a landowner's premises and because that simple fact gives rise to potential danger, it may be necessary for BGE to carry out certain works on their land to obviate the danger. In such circumstances if an innocent landowner finds himself affected by what is in the view of BGE a reasonable safety measure, and they have power to carry out works on his land to obviate the danger, he should have rights to compensation when he is not at fault for what gives rise to the danger. If that is accepted as a reasonable proposition — I submit to the Minister that it is — then the question arises, are the powers conferred on him by section 2 (1) (c) sufficient to do that? It seems they do not give rise to any right, for instance, to pay compensation to anybody. I do not believe the Minister could make an order under the Gas Acts which would give rise [3468] to a claim to compensation by an innocent landowner whose lands will be affected by certain works which the Minister or Bord Gáis Éireann thought should be carried out on his land.

The Minister's powers under section 2 (1) (c) do not provide fully for the compensation of such people. A landowner who does not want to ventilate his cellars and who wants to ignore the requests of the gas board to modify his premises because of its close proximity to a gas pipeline would be well able to resist any such efforts by An Bord Gáis Éireann unless a clear statutory power is given to the board to carry out these works. Even if the Minister makes very far-reaching regulations under section 2 (1) (c) giving An Bord Gáis Éireann all sorts of functions, a court will not interpret those powers as giving them the right to go on to total strangers' lands to carry out works or to insist that works are carried out, whether or not the landowner is innocent or guilty of creating the danger. It is unlikely that a court will interpret a general section of that kind as giving the Minister such a wide-ranging power. It is in that context that we thought it better to give an explicit power to An Bord Gáis Éireann to carry out these works or, on occasion to require the owner to carry them out in order to keep occupants of lands and premises safe.

We have been careful in drafting the amendment to ensure that the relative rights of landowners, gas consumers, the public at large and An Bord Gáis Éireann would be fairly mediated by a court rather than giving draconian powers to An Bord Gáis Éireann to go on to people's lands and to carry out works irrespective of whether or not there is a gas supply on the land. It has to be conceded by the Minister that the powers of entry on to lands given to the board in section 34 of the Gas Act, 1976, do not extend to the carrying out of works for the purpose of rendering those premises safe from an adjoining gas main. At present the law is not adequate to deal with problems such as that at Raglan House.

Deputy Brady will back me up in saying [3469] that if a landowner who occupies a building with a space of this kind which gives rise to a danger is unwilling to fill that space himself, Bord Gais Eireann and Dublin Corporation cannot do anything about it. It seems, if there is a danger created by the presence of a gas main in an area, somebody should be given a compulsory power to obviate this danger as far as the public are concerned.

The Minister spoke about the open-ended financial obligation that could be placed on Bord Gais Eireann if the amendment in Deputy O'Malley's name and in my name is accepted. We are saying that if certain works have to be carried out, in order to obviate a public danger, by reason of the presence of a gas main and if the affected land is in receipt of a gas supply the board can simply terminate the gas supply. There is no problem in that regard and I am sure the gas company have done that under previous law. If there is no gas supply on the land, cutting off the gas supply or not supplying gas would be no effective sanction to the occupier and therefore this compulsory power should exist. If the works have to be carried out in circumstances of total innocence on the part of the landowner it would be wrong to ask him to pay for it and it would be necessary to compensate him for any inconvenience in carrying out the works. If he carries out the works himself it would be necessary to compensate him for the cost of doing so and also to compensate him for any diminution in the value of his premises which the carrying out of the works would create. I ask the Minister, even if he does not like the phraseology of the amendment in Deputy O'Malley's name and in my name, to accept that it is proper. We will push this amendment and if the Minister does not like it and votes it down he can introduce another one in the Seanad. This is of fundamental importance because the powers given at present do not adequately deal with the problem which arose in Raglan House. Something along these lines is necessary and the Minister should accept the amendment.

[3470] Mr. G. Brady: I am in sympathy with this amendment. Like the last speaker, I made representations to the developers concerned with Raglan House, to Dublin Corportion and to those concerned with giving power to try to do something about rectifying the impasse that obtains at present in that development. There are extreme difficulties when it comes to the question of incorporating within this legislation an all-embracing power to literally go wherever one wanted. On the one hand, I can see that the last speaker would argue that that is not his intention, that it is just to safeguard the people in similar situations to that of Raglan House. Nevertheless, it would give that all-embracing power and I am not sure, for a variety of reasons, that that would be desirable.

On Second Stage of this debate I spoke about the safe production of gas. This is the most important aspect of the whole question of the potential risk from what I would call an unignited fire. Gas, as we realise, has an inherent potential of seepage and can seep in all directions. Perhaps if one could carry out an examination throughout our capital city - the same applies to other cities - one would be quite alarmed at the amount of seepage that is taking place all over the city. Obviously, the key to this problem must be twofold. Areas should be adequately ventilated. In cases where there is a build up of gas it is not unusual for street ventilation to take place and the gas company burn off the residual gas. This also happens in other cities as part of the system of providing for safety.

I refer to gas as a continuous unignited fire hazard once taps are turned on or once the seepage is taking place. It is necessary to have a mandatory system of alarms. This is something which the Minister can consider. He should ensure that, as a start, all new premises would embody such an alarm system, just as smoke alarms are mandatory and their existence in high rise flats has saved the lives of very many people. This would go a long way to preventing accidents from taking place. We are all too familiar with the three explosions that have taken [3471] place. The day before the explosions, and in some cases for the preceding week, residents and shopkeepers when interviewed said there was a strong smell of gas and that they had reported it. An alarm system would not be very expensive but would be effective. The suppliers of the product would be more concerned about efficiency if alarms were to ring when danger arose.

I have sympathy with the spirit of the amendment. I have no hesitation in naming the developers, Holland-Lansdowne, who are not prepared to ventilate or fill the voids under the Raglan House development. We are finding it very difficult to compel the developers to conduct that work. They may be anxious to steer clear of such work because it may be deemed as an admission of liability on their part and in that case they might find themselves facing litigation. The Minister should give serious consideration to incorporating in this legislation, or in a future Bill, a directive that will take this responsibility from the developers if the work is carried out. That would clear up problems like those at Raglan House. A directive of that type is needed.

I am a little concerned about the powers of Bord Gáis Éireann to enter properties or lands adjoining private property. We are all aware that Dublin city has been torn asunder by repair crews and that many roads have been dug up to rectify the gas problem. The board will have to err on the side of caution and if there is any hint of a gas leak they will have to get involved in the work straight away without giving much consideration to roads and soon. It is very difficult to catch up with the problem of seepage.

It is important to get some information on the safety of the product being sold. I am not so concerned about its power but about how the gas moves in the piping system. I wonder if it has the effect of being corrosive and is tearing away at the pipe joints. I wonder if it gives the self-sealing effect that the old gas did. I hope the Minister will comment on those matters because many of the 130,000 consumers, particularly those living in high [3472] rise flats, are living in fear of explosions. The piping system is being slowly destroyed. I do not wish to sound alarmist about this but if the piping system is not safe as a result of a chemical interaction we will have to something about it as a matter of extreme urgency. The Minister should give consideration to the need for mandatory ventilation. It would not be an expensive way of clearing up present problems. The Minister should also consider introducing an alarm system.

Mr. R. Bruton: I note that in his reply the Minister referred to the task force and said that the enforcement of recommendations by the task force would be dealt with in the building regulations. I do not want to enter into the entire Cremer and Warner report but it is important that we get some information on what the Minister has in mind regarding safety regulations. Does the Minister envisage handing over to Bord Gais Eireann his responsibilities given under section 38 of the Act? Under that section the Minister is expected to make regulations regarding the transmission of gas and the use of gas supplied by Bord Gais. The Minister has the power to regulate all aspects of gas distribution but I understand that no regulation has been made under that section. I do not think it is enough for the Minister to refer to section 2 (1) (c) and say that it meets the problem of safety or to say that he will be giving functions in this area to Bord Gais.

Will the Minister tell us his intentions about regulations in this area? I understand that the UK introduced regulations in 1972 and in 1984 that were built upon accident experience there. Those regulations cover all aspects such as the supervision of work being done, materials being used, the connection of gas underground to buildings, the replacement of pipes and so on. It is important that, since no regulations have been made to date in this area the Minister tells the House more about his plans. I tabled an amendment in regard to this because it is necessary to have explicit supervision as well as regulations. In regard to the amendment tabled by Deputy Pat O'Malley it is [3473] important that the Minister gives the House an indication whether he intends by regulation or otherwise to deal with the issues raised in the amendment.

Mr. P. O'Malley: I should like to make a number of points in response to the Minister's comments. The Minister adverted to the fact that the building regulations were to be introduced by the Minister for the Environment. The Minister will recall that on Second Stage yesterday I asked why it was necessary to delay enacting the building regulations pending the report of the task force established following the publication of the Cremer and Warner report. It is II years since building regulations were put together but they have not been enacted. I accept that this is not the responsibility of the Minister but I am curious about it because there is a great need to introduce those regulations immediately. We are all aware that the tragedy in Reglan House was exacerbated by the fact that the building had design features that facilitated what is known as progressive collapse. The building regulations that are to be brought in will, I assume, cater for that problem and ensure that no buildings will be built with those design features. That is something that should happen now and should not have to await the report that is to come from the task force.

I referred yesterday to the whole question of the accumulation of gas in voids and buildings. The question as to why this gas is leaking in the first place has to be addressed. There is great public concern about the fact that there are so many gas leaks from the pipe network in the city of Dublin and I presume other networks. These old systems distributed town gas which was a more moist, heavy gas than the natural gas. I have asked on a number of occasions whether the change-over to natural gas is giving rise to a greater number of leaks than was the case when town gas was being distributed in the pipes.

The Minister informed me some time ago, in reply to a Dáil question, that he expected the report from the Dutch [3474] consultancy company who were carrying out an investigation into the long-term repairs and replacements required in the existing network to be available in June. I wonder if he has it now. I know the public are anxiously awaiting the report to confirm that there are no inherent dangers in the system as a result of the change-over to natural gas.

Mr. R. Burke: The report was actually received yesterday.

Mr. McDowell: Will it be published?

Mr. R. Burke: I would need notice of that question. On the question raised by Deputy Brady about the use of gas detectors by the public, may I quote from the Main Report on the investigation of the Explosion at Raglan House, Ballsbridge, Dublin - I January 1987. Paragraph 9.7.2 of that report reads:

There are an increasing number of fixed flammable gas detectors available to the public. CWL would caution against the use of low price instruments as spurious alarms may result from changes in humidity and carbon dioxide. However, more importantly, all gas detectors require regular servicing and calibration. Improperly maintained instruments can lead to a false sense of security.

The best detector is the 'human nose' and therefore increased awareness and prompt reporting of suspected gas escapes is what CWL would favour. However, there may be special circumstances when a good detector may be worth the investment.

As far as the question of safety is concerned let me read again this Cremer and Warner report as it relates to Raglan House, because Raglan House has been mentioned by practically everybody who spoke on this amendment. Let me read the recommendation specific to the development of Ballsbridge Court. Paragraph 12.2. Reads:

Action should be taken to minimise foreseeable causes of accidental [3475] damage. Such measures should include, but not be restricted to:—

—disconnection of piped gas supplies;

—prohibition of LPG cylinders or appliances, or solvents, petrol, etc. in significant quantities:

—effecting the seal between the ground and building, and ventilating the voids under the ground floors, or the elimination of the voids.

—sealing of all holes through walls and floors, and ensuring that fire breaks are in place.

Only when these measures are complete can a conscious decision be made as to whether, or not, the gas can be reconnected. It is unlikely that this building can be modified in an economic manner to prevent disproportionate and progressive collapse.

The effect of this amendment, if accepted, would be that Bord Gáis, a public utility, would be responsible for going in and ventilating the voids under the ground floors of this building. In this complex two people died as a result of a tragedy. I believe it is the responsibility and should be the responsibility of the developer to do that and not the responsibility of a public utility.

Mr. McDowell: We totally agree but he has no legal responsibility to do it.

Mr. R. Burke: In relation to access to buildings generally. Deputy McDowell was concerned that there was not enough power in the Bill for Bord Gais to take action in examining premises and so on. The very next subsection, 2 (2) reads:

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of this section, an order under that subsection may confer on the Board, and members of the staff of the Board duly authorised by the Board in that behalf, power to enter and inspect any premises and there to take such measures as they consider appropriate (including the evacuation of persons [3476] found on those premises) for the purpose of ensuring that. in the performance by the Board of the functions conferred on it under paragraph (a) and (b) of the said subsection (1), the safety of the public and property is, as far as is practicable, secured.

I can assure the Deputy it is my intention to see that these regulations will be followed in the spirit and the letter. Deputy McDowell mentioned that the old Gas Acts were written in Victorian language. In this Bill we are taking unto ourselves the powers in all of the old Gas Acts. The intention is to rewrite the regulations in modern language and give modern instructions.

I find the idea of imposing an obligation on the board which is the taxpayer, the Irish State, to bear the cost of carrying out changes to a building and compensating the owner difficult to accept. I cannot accept that the taxpayer should be responsible for making these improvements to buildings for people who should do their own work. Bord Gais can carry out works in their own pipeline but should not have any responsibility for buildings, especially buildings which are not supplied with gas. This amendment is asking us to accept that Bord Gais should be saddled with responsibility for carrying out alterations generally and that is not something I am prepared to accept.

Deputy Bruton made points on safety regulations. The regulations made will cover the subject mentioned by him. There have been no regulations made so far but there are standards, and they have been published, on many areas of the operations of gas. I can make a list of them available to the Deputy. There is no difficulty with that.

Mr. R. Bruton: They do not cover this item.

Mr. R. Burke: These standards are under the control of the Gas Technical Standards Committee of the IIRS. The committee are working on updating them with a new set of standards and they will be promulgated [3477] by September. They will deal with the installation of service pipes and safety aspects. By September they will available. I cannot accept the idea in this amendment that Bord Gais should pick up the bill for ventilating roads etc. for any owner whose property happens to be near a gas main, even if he does not have gas. I cannot accept that.

Mr. McDowell: I am not interested in giving public money to any private person, nor is Deputy O'Malley. We tabled this amendment for the following reason. If the Minister or somebody else owned a large bonded warehouse with cavernous cellars and An Bord Gais decided to put a pipeline in the street, the engineers might advise him that if the pipes fractured and the gas went into the cellar there could be an explosion which would destroy a block of the city and they could say that work must be carried out to ventilate the cellar, to strengthen the walls and make them impermeable. I cannot see why the poor landowner should be made liable for changing his cellar because an Bord Gais decided to put the mains outside this warehouse. I cannot see why the cost of making his cellar safe should be transferred to him because An Bord Gais decided in their wisdom to lay a mains outside his warehouse.

We struck a very careful balance in this amendment. In ordinary cases where there is no fault on the part of the landowner, if An Bord Gais put down these pipelines they should have to bear the cost of making the adjoining premises safe, but where there is default in terms of planning permission, reasonable user or unlawful user of a premises - in other words, if, for instance, in the Holland Lansdowne case it transpired that those voids should never have been there and that they were a breach of planning permission, which is questionable I believe - then it should be the landowner's liability to fill them in. We have carefully balanced this amendment to take account of the innocent landowners' interest as well as the culpable landowners' interest and to allow a court to decide. I can fully [3478] accept the Minister's reluctance to burden An Bord Gais with extra expenditure in the interests of private landowners, but I cannot see how any sense of justice could permit a situation in which An Bord Gais could insist that a landowner who had no interest in the gas supply should carry out works on his land and at his own expense because they decided to lay a mains near his property.

The purpose of this amendment is, in my view eminently just and I ask the Minister to accept the principle of it. It is not a zany idea. It is trying to do justice between two legitimate interests, the interests of the public to have a gas supply and the interests of landowners not to be the proprietors of what could turn out to be time bombs.

The Gas Act was brought in in 1976 and section 38 provided for the making of regulations by the Minister after consultation with the Minister for Local Government and An Bord Gais. It is amazing that II years and many deaths later there has not been a single regulation provided. There are powers under the Civil Liability Act which make the local authority responsible for repairing roads. There are court decisions to the effect that an empowering section of this kind may be mandatory and that at some stage one may end up with a very substantial bill for failing to carry out what I consider to be a duty and to make safety regulations. I do not believe it is merely a power; it is a duty. Our amendment attempts to strike a balance of fairness and I am not convinced by the Minister's argument that we have departed from a fair stance. I ask him to accept the principles we are laying down and to accept that section 2(1) and (2) would not give the board the powers we say are very necessary to obviate this kind of danger.

Mr. R. Bruton: When talking about the lack of regulation under the 1976 Act, the Minister referred to standards which are in force. To my knowledge these standards do not cover the precise sort of defects we experienced in the Raglan House case. They are much more limited in their intent. They may deal with items [3479] such as materials but they do not deal with the broader issues of management, supervision, replacement of pipes, connections and so on. He is talking about a much narrower area and I do not think it meets the needs here.

On this amendment, I would like clarification as the to the meaning of “unlawful” and “unreasonable” in subsection (5). It appears the Minister is right in saying that this amendment, as it stands, would be putting a burden on An Bord Gáis to put in order a building which was being supplied with gas if the board felt work was needed and was reasonably necessary. The only case where the board would not bear such a cost would be if the owner of the building had acted unlawfully or unreasonably. The Minister may be pointing to defects, that there would be many cases where the kitting out of say, the Ballsbridge complex would be adequate to receive supplies but I do not believe it would be right for the cost of that kitting out to fall on An Bord Gais. This amendment seems to be defective because while it gives the board the right to discontinue the supply of gas it also says An Bord Gais should specify the works needed and bear the cost. I am looking for clarification on that point.

Mr. G. Brady: Is the Minister satisfied that the product on sale today is as safe as the previous product, referred to as town gas? Is he satisfied that the present piping can cope with the new gas, or is it having a continuing corrosive effect which is causing a breakdown in the system?

Mr. R. Burke: In relation to the relevance of the regulations, I will make available to Deputy Bruton two standards - IS 265 and ICP 3 - both of which were mentioned in the Cremer and Warner Report. They are comprehensive. I will let the Deputy have copies for his information after the debate.

The safety powers I am taking in this Bill are comprehensive and are expressed in the widest terms. I fully appreciate [3480] and recognise the concern expressed by Deputies on all sides about safety, and that is what I am trying to achieve. Unfortunately I cannot accept the amendment for the reasons I gave earlier. I accept what the Deputies are trying to achieve, but I can assure them that the powers I am taking will be firmly exercised by me. I do not want to saddle An Bord Gáis Éireann with the immeasurable and astronomical costs which this amendment would impose. I cannot accept the amendment.

In relation to pipe laying Bord Gais operate in the same way as any other gas utility throughout Europe or elsewhere. They must build and route their pipelines to the appropriate standards. I will continue to monitor this aspect regularly and no doubt future Ministers will act in the same way.

In answer to Deputy Gerard Brady, I am perfectly satisfied that the product is safe. Under the new management, which will be in place when this legislation is passed, there will be an increase in the usage of gas by residential, commercial and industrial consumers in the Dublin area. It also has major advantages from an environmental point of view. I am well aware of Deputy Brady's commitment to a clean environment and natural gas has major benefits as far as cleanliness is concerned.

As the report by Cremer and Warner stated, there is a need for small bore pipes to be installed in high rise buildings and work has been done in this regard without waiting for a report from the new officals who have been put into Dublin Gas in advance of the legislation being passed. If replacements and improvements are required they will be undertaken as soon as possible. The old piping was laid at a time when safety standards were not as stringent as those now in operation and when there was not such a high level of traffic. Consequently, continuous renewal is required and I assure the House that this will be carried out. In the Bill we have increased the borrowing power of Bord Gais far in excess of what is required for a mere takeover of the bank's liabilities and for stamp duty. [3481] There is flexibility so that funding will be available for the necessary improvements to be crried out.

I fully accept the good faith of the Deputies on the far side of the House and that they are trying to achieve the safest possible buildings in which people will live and work. However, I cannot agree to the imposition of a charge on BGE which the acceptance of their amendment would entail. I assure them that the primary aim in finishing the receivership, the takeover by Bord Gais and the drafting of this Bill is the safety of the population of Dublin.

A question was asked regarding potholes. Of course it is disgraceful that many of them have been there far longer than they should have been. At one stage there were 3,000 potholes but the figure is now about 200. I encourage people to report a smell of gas or if they are concerned in any way about safety. It is better to have a traffic delay and safety than a tragedy and a clear flow of traffic.

No Minister could give blanket guarantees that gas is totally safe because, by its very nature, it is highly inflammable and accidents can happen. However, as far as is humanly possible, we are trying to ensure the safety of the people of Dublin in regard to gas.

Mr. G. Brady: On account of the lightness of this gas it has a lower temperature ignition flashpoint so it is very difficult to detect. It does not have the same aroma as older gas. Could the Minister say whether this product is more corrosive on the piping system in comparison to the old gas? This is of critical importance to people who have experienced explosions because they are worried that if piping is replaced, there will be corrosion on older existing piping at the new joints.

Tomás Mac Giolla: I have listened patiently to the arguments for over an hour. I am inclined to agree with the Minister that the builders should be responsbile for ensuring that cavities under their buildings are not susceptible to gas leaks in the piping which has been in the vicinity for many years or put in [3482] after the building is completed. It is up to us to make sure that the legislation forces them to comply with building regulations in that regard. A public utility should not be expected to take responsibility for that. I am glad that the number of holes has been reduced in Dublin but I appeal to the Minister not to call them potholes because many of them are caverns and if a car went into one it would hardly be noticed. I should like the Minister to assure us that BGE are replacing old piping. I am sure they are operating to some plan; it would be unbelievable if they were not.

Why is there no problem in regard to natural gas in Cork? Perhaps there is and they are keeping it quiet. Is piping the only serious safety problem? I understand that Cork have replaced all their piping which was probably not as old as Dublin piping. Do they have any problem now in regard to corrosion or leakage? My information is that they successfully inserted a smaller bore piping, it may be plastic, and that it is not subject to corrosion. This is all technical stuff to me and I only know what people tell me and what I read in the newspapers. It would be important, if the Minister had any information on the Cork experience, if he would tell us and if the danger is mainly due to piping and that there is some plan to work on that, we would know where we stood on the matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It seems that the Deputy is getting away from the terms of the amendment. It would also seem that we have served well the letter and the spirit of the amendment. We have given over an hour to it.

Mr. R. Burke: Could I answer some of the points made?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Of course.

Mr. R. Burke: On the question of corrosion, the suitability of natural gas and whether it has a corrosive effect, in the report that I told the House I received yesterday there was reference to the fact [3483] that an assessment of internal examination for contamination and corrosion of the mains had been carried out in order to ascertain the suitability of the New Dublin Gas cast iron system for natural gas. This investigation revealed hardly any mains corrosion, which is the point we were getting to.

On the question of natural gas which has a lower flash point the odour is added to the gas so that it is an odorous gas. There is a process of replacement going on all the time, I can reassure Deputy Mac Giolla of that. There were some problems originally in Cork but a significant improvement has taken place under the control of one particular man. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that that man, who got the gas situation under control in Cork, is the individual whom Bord Gáis transferred up to Dublin and he has been operating in Dublin for the last number of weeks. I had asked in particular that he be sent up because of the job he was doing in Cork. He is at this stage getting the situation under control, hopefully. It is very [3484] dangerous, talking about the gas network, to say that anything is under control. That would be something that a very foolish or a very brave Minister would refer to and I am neither. We are doing the best we can and this is drafted so that we can, as far as is humanly possible, set down the regulations so that the use of natural gas in Dublin and Dublin Gas generally are safe for the people of Dublin. I have nothing further to add on the amendment. I find myself unable to accept it for the reasons I have outlined over the last hours debate. I can assure the Deputies concerned that I am very conscious of the safety aspects and will be doing everything in my power to make sure that the system is safe for the people of Dublin. I cannot accept the amendment with the unlimited financial implications that it has for Dublin Gas.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is Deputy McDowell pressing the amendment?

Mr. McDowell: We will be pressing the amendment.

Amendment put.

The Committee divided, Tá, 62; Níl, 74.

Allen, Bernard.

Barry, Peter.

Begley, Michael.

Boylan, Andrew.

Bruton, John.

Bruton, Richard.

Burke, Liam.

Carey, Donal.

Clohessy, Peadar.

Colley, Anne.

Connaughton, Paul.

Cooney, Patrick Mark.

Cosgrave, Michael Joe.

Creed, Donal.

Crotty, Kieran.

Crowley, Frank.

Cullen, Martin.

Deasy, Austin.

Deenihan, Jimmy.

Doyle, Avril.

Dukes, Alan.

Enright, Thomas.

FitzGerald, Garret.

Fitzpatrick, Tom.

[3485]Noonan, Michael J.

(Limerick East).

O'Brien, Fergus.

O'Keeffe, Jim.

O'Malley, Desmond J.

O'Malley, Pat.

O'Sullivan, Toddy.

Pattison, Séamus.

Flaherty, Mary.

Flanagan, Charles.

Gibbons, Martin Patrick.

Griffin, Brendan.

Harney, Mary.

Harte, Paddy.

Hegarty, Paddy.

Higgins, Jim.

Higgins, Michael D.

Howlin, Brendan.

Hussey, Gemma.

Kavanagh, Liam.

Keating, Michael.

Kelly, John.

Kemmy, Jim.

Kennedy, Geraldine.

Kenny, Enda.

McCoy, John S.

McDowell, Michael.

McGahon, Brendan.

McGinley, Dinny.

Molloy, Robert.

Naughten, Liam.

Nealon, Ted.

[3486]Quill, Máirín.

Quinn, Ruairí

Sheehan, P.J.

Taylor, Mervyn.

Taylor-Quinn, Madeline.

Wyse, Pearse.

Yates, Ivan.


Abbott, Henry.

Ahern, Bertie.

Ahern, Dermot.

Ahern, Michael.

Andrews, David.

Aylward, Liam.

Barrett, Michael.

Brady, Gerard.

Brady, Vincent.

Brennan, Matthew.

Brennan, Séamus.

Briscoe, Ben.

Browne, John.

Burke, Ray

Byrne, Hugh.

Calleary, Seán.

Collins, Gerard.

Conaghan, Hugh.

Connolly, Ger.

Coughlan, Mary T.

Cowen, Brian.

Daly, Brendan.

Davern, Noel.

Dempsey, Noel.

Dennehy, John.

de Valera, Síle.

Doherty, Seán.

Ellis, John.

Fahey, Frank.

Fahey, Jackie.

Fitzgerald, Liam.

Fitzpatrick, Dermott.

Flood, Chris.

Flynn, Pádraig.

Gallagher, Denis.

Gallagher, Pat the Cope.

Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.

Hilliard, Colm Michael.

Hyland, Liam.

Jacob, Joe.

Kirk, Séamus.

Kitt, Michael P.

Kitt, Tom.

Lawlor, Liam.

Leonard, Jimmy.

Leyden, Terry.

Lynch, Michael.

Lyons, Denis.

McCarthy, Seán.

McCreevy, Charlie.

MacSharry, Ray.

Morley, P.J.

Moynihan, Donal.

Nolan, M.J.

Noonan, Michael J.

(Limerick West).

O'Dea, William Gerard.

O'Donoghue, John.

O'Hanlon, Rory.

O'Keeffe, Batt.

O'Kennedy, Michael.

O'Leary, John.

O'Rourke, Mary.

Power, Paddy.

Roche, Dick.

Smith, Michael.

Stafford, John.

Swift, Brian.

Treacy, Noel.

Tunney, Jim.

Wallace, Dan.

Walsh, Joe.

Walsh, Seán.

Woods, Michael.

Wright, G.V.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Harney and Kennedy; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and Browne.

Amendment declared lost.


Mr. R. Bruton: I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 10 and II, to insert the following:

“(3) The Board shall set up a subsidiary company in which it has a 100 per cent shareholding and to which it appoints the board membership to operate the functions of the Dublin Gas Company.”.

What I am proposing in this amendment is that the relationship between Bord Gais and Dublin Gas should be of the nature of a subsidiary relation to a holding company rather than the intention now being formulated by Bord Gáis that they would totally integrate the gas distribution task in Dublin into the overall operations of Bord Gáis.

[3487] The importance of the amendment I am proposing really stems from the past troubled history of Dublin Gas. It is not a statement of principle that it is completely wrong in all cases that distribution should be integrated with transmission but we have to be very conscious of the troubled history of Dublin Gas - a history that has been of a number of failed attempts to resolve particular problems in that company. There have been special problems in the work practices, there have been problems in the management expertise in the area of marketing and there have been problems in the financial accounting procedures which were brought to light following the appointment of the receiver. These problems are very distinct ones that will not be resolved overnight. This is an important amendment because Bord Gáis are, as presently set up, the major beneficiary of what could only be called a royalty on behalf of the Irish people from the resource of natural gas.

As I said on Second Stage, Bord Gais, according to their latest accounts, those for 1985, earned £94 million on a turnover of £200 million. They have a huge cash flow to which they can tap. A real danger which successive Ministers on both sides of the House have had at the back of their minds is that if Dublin Gas become entirely integrated and linked with Bord Gais Éireann, the cash available to Bord Gais would not act as a spur to resolve the various management problems in Dublin Gas but would end up concealing those problems and the distinct marketing, personnel and financial problems would be buried under the much larger and at present very profitable body of Bord Gais Eireann.

We do not have an up to date prospectus of Dublin Gas as they now stand. We do not know precisely the losses that are projected nor do we have the 1986 accounts of Bord Gais Eireann. There is considerable uncertainty as a result of this as to what precisely is going to happen to Bord Gais if Dublin Gas become wholly integrated into that company and what sorts of problems are going [3488] to be wholly integrated into it. What is involved in this take over is that the taxpayer, through Bord Gais, will be providing funds to subsidise losses in Dublin Gas for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the relationship should be one of a subsidiary to a holding company and under that relationship we could keep at arms length from Bord Gais the special problems that have to be tackled in Dublin Gas. It would be adequately transparent to the taxpayers that these problems were being tackled and that Dublin Gas were coming round to a position where they were capable of performing profitably as distributors of natural gas in Dublin city. It has been the case in many other capital cities that this activity has been done profitably and we want to see that happen in Dublin. The best way of ensuring this is by establishing the relationship of subsidiary to holding company under this Bill.

Mr. McDowell: I share the worries that underlie Deputy Bruton's amendment. He is concerned that a total take over, lock stock and barrel, of Bord Gais by Dublin Gas would to some extent cloud some commercial realities and perhaps transfer to Bord Gais some commercial unrealities which would be to the detriment of everyone in the long run.

If I can say so parenthetically that is why Deputy O'Malley and I put down amendment No. 6 which is aimed at the same general problem but approaching it from a different angle. We assumed that the purpose of this Bill was to enable Bord Gais to acquire separately the assets of Dublin Gas and to take over the contracts and obligations, including the employment obligations of the Dublin Gas Company and that a wholly owned subsidiary would not do all this work, as proposed by Deputy Bruton, that it would be done by Bord Gais. Whichever way it is the intent of this amendment and of our amendment is roughly the same, that is, that in some sense there should be a halt put to the total transfer as a going concern of the Dublin Gas Company as they now stand to Bord [3489] Gais, that somehow some of the problems of that company should be rooted out at this stage and should not be integrated into a semi-State body which, as Deputy Bruton has pointed out, have a monopoly function which enables them effectively to be a revenue generator for the State. It seems unwise to combine a board who are flush with money because of their monopoly position and because they receive the proceeds of natural gas sales on behalf of the State, with a set of obligations and a set of commercial procedures and practices which are outdated and which are the subject of a good deal of industrial dispute and entrenched restrictive practices which could give rise to a waste of taxpayers' money in the future.

It was for that reason that we proposed that there should be a mechanism whereby the Minister would come to this House and say that the board propose to acquire, for example, the pipeline and certain assets from the Dublin Gas Company and put before this House the consideration it is intended to pay for them and justify in each case what is proposed. Likewise the employees of Dublin Gas should not be taken on board without question by Bord Gais with all their restrictive practices and their acculumated entitlements. I would like the Minister to be in a position to have to come to the House and say: “The labour relations package that is going to be in place from now on is going to be substantially different and it is on this basis that I am looking for the sanction of this House to employ X or Y person or X or Y 100 people or that I intend acquiring this asset or that asset of the Dublin Gas Company”.

Perhaps there is a difference of philosophy between the Progressive Democrats and Deputy Bruton in that we are taking the Minister's Bill at face value — that he is in the business of acquiring assets and taking over contractual obligations and that Bord Gáis will do that themselves. We want to put in safeguards to stop that from infecting the new body with all the problems the old one had. Deputy Bruton is saying, no, stand aside [3490] from the Dublin Gas Company to some extent, maintain it as a subsidiary and in that sense effectively keep the revenues of Bord Gáis at one remove from the bottomless hole which the Dublin Gas Company proved to be in years gone by. Both of those proposals are aimed at the same thing which is efficiency and accountability. They stem from a sense of great unease that the Dublin Gas Company is beset with problems. I accept that the receiver, Mr. Somers did his best to overcome and to tackle those problems. I am not satisfied and I do not think the public at large are satisfied either that Dublin Gas and their assets are being taken over on the correct terms. That is the all important thing. What are the terms of take over, whether it be as a separate subsidiary, as Deputy Bruton suggests, or merely a set of obligations and assets as the Minister seems to be contemplating? If it is not clearly understood that every single aspect of the Dublin Gas Company is vetted for efficiency, that every single employee role is vetted in terms of necessity, that every single asset is evaluated as to its effectiveness in terms of being an asset of Bord Gáis, that every showroom and every single item of stock and equipment is the subject of a vetting process, this House stands in danger of sanctioning the purchasing of a series of obligations and liabilities of various kinds including employment contracts and employment practices which would be hard to justify in some respects. This House stands in danger of taking them all on board and giving them to probably the greatest softy of a parent company, one which is flush with these gas revenues. That is our deep seated objection to what is going on: there does not seem to be any sense in which the actual terms of the operation of Dublin Gas will thereafter be subject to public scrutiny.

Deputy Bruton's amendments — this one and the next — are aimed towards making it quite clear that there is to be accountability in the manner in which Dublin Gas is run. We are deeply concerned, and his amendment is to this effect, that all these unacceptable labour [3491] practices, all the waste, all the inefficiencies, will be taken on board and will be impossible to eradicate once taken on board. I presume the Minister will not accept the amendment but when replying I should like him to state what are the terms of the take over. What are the guarantees of efficiency? Who is going to make all these decisions? Who is going to learn from the mistakes of the past? What guarantee has this House that we are not taking on board a series of restrictive practices, a series of over-valued or useless assets or the like. What guarantee have we that we are getting value for money? That is our concern and we want an assurance from the Minister that we will be in a position to criticise and to evaluate whether the consumer is getting good value for money if this deal goes through.

Mr. R. Burke: I accept the need for transparency in relation to the activities of Dublin Gas. Amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Bruton covers some of these fears. It proposes that separate accounts should be published for Dublin Gas and that the transparency question would be covered by that aspect of the separate accounts. He is anxious to see that the true cost of gas distribution in Dublin is clear. I am in general agreement with that. I see no problem in regard to separate accounts for operations in Dublin especially in view of the BGE's role in collecting the economic rent — or whatever way one would like to describe it, from Kinsale Gas. The consultancy report which was carried out in advance of this take over of Dublin Gas looked at this question, dealt explicitly with this point and recommended strongly in favour of transparency. It recommended also that there be separate accounts for BGE and the Dublin distribution activity.

Sections 14 and 15 of the 1976 Act already allows me to specify the contents of the accounts of Bord Gáis Éireann. I am happy to be able to assure the House that not only will separate accounts of the Dublin operations be kept internally [3492] by BGE but that they will also be shown in the boards future annual reports. This will cover many of the fears Members have in relation to Dublin Gas being a possible drag on the operations of Bord Gáis. There will be separate accounts. They will be shown in the published accounts of Bord Gáis and they will separate from Dublin.

Regarding the question as to whether it should be a subsidiary or whether there should have been a general integration, this is a matter which was looked at not just by myself but also by the previous Government. They had a report carried out on it and took the view that integration was the appropriate method of nationalisation. They took that view, among others of maintaining safety and standards and they specifically decided against a separate subsidiary company. I agree fully with their decision. I have confirmed it myself in my approach to it. I am satisfied that the creation of a subsidiary does not automatically supply an answer to the very reasonable concerns which Deputy Bruton mentioned today and which he mentioned also in his Second Stage contribution when he referred to better management of the distribution operation with particular regard to safety. He said that consumers would benefit from friction and competition between BGE and their Dublin subsidiary and he referred to the question of transparency.

There were general questions about which the previous Government were concerned. Those were questions asked by Deputy Bruton and which I asked when I took up the job. Regarding the question of friction the difficulty in the past was that there was too much evidence of friction between Dublin Gas and BGE before the receiver was appointed. I am sure the Deputy would agree that that was not helpful and would not be helpful in the future. One of the primary objectives is to ensure that there is no opportunity for a repeat of that performance. I believe that the correct approach is the one I am taking here which was the approach taken by the previous Government and endorsed [3493] by the consultants who were brought in to advise on this matter. The integrated gas utility which is being proposed for the nation is the right way forward.

The question of the management structure was looked at in the report. The management structure is being taken on board by BGE. There will be a separate regional structure within BGE dealing with Dublin Gas. It will be an eastern regional approach and they will have their own assistant chief executive dealing with it. They will have their own financial and marketing people. The Dublin operation will be tight with its own sets of accounts which will be published in the annual report. I will insist that they show separately the accounts for the Dublin operation; just as the ESB operate the electricity network around the country, Bord Gáis will be operating the gas network. The utility of the gas rather than merely its transmission will in future be the responsibility of Bord Gáis. I am satisfied that with the management changes which are to take place both in Dublin Gas and BGE and with the extension of the board and the strengthening of the whole operation we will have an effective safe utility not just in Dublin but nationally. In relation to the guarantees I am giving to the House concerning the accounts of BGE as they relate to Dublin Gas, we will have this transparency which everybody is anxious for. The right approach is the one I have taken. This is the approach that was decided on by my predecessor and which was confirmed by the consultants who advised on this matter.

Mr. R. Bruton: First, I am glad the Minister accepts the approach of amendment No. 3. However, I would like to tease out further precisely what he has in mind regarding the relationship between Dublin Gas and BGE. I would prefer the idea of a holding company and a subsidiary company. I ask the Minister precisely what sort of relationship is envisaged? I understand that BGE would envisage taking on as head office functions certain elements of the operation of Dublin Gas. While the Minister may be [3494] able to provide us with accounts they would be accounts of the production and distribution aspects. An Bord Gáis would find themselves managing the marketing and personnel areas. Despite the Minister's assurances of transparency we would find on the management side a rather curious cross-cutting relationship between the two companies, which I do not think would be to the service of either company. Even to make the accounts accurate would involve An Bord Gáis allocating costs on some basis which we do not know to the Dublin Gas operation. That would have the potential for clouding the transparency the Minister sees as desirable.

I fear also that the relationship in terms of the price contract between BGE and Dublin Gas could be dubious under the sort of relationship the Minister envisages. There is a very genuine concern that there are others trying to compete in the supply of energy to the Dublin market. Some of them are receiving supplies of gas from BGE, and there would be the rather curious situation that the price contracts that BGE have with the Dublin Gas operation would be at arms' length and open to scrutiny in the way that the price contract to the ESB would be. If we do not have a type of subsidiary to parent relationship there might be some question mark about the fairness of competition between the ESB and Dublin Gas who are competing for consumers in the Dublin market. It would mean artifically that taxpayers' money or as the Minister calls it, the economic rent that BGE have at their disposal was being diverted into unfair competition on the Dublin market for the Dublin Gas activity compared to the ESB.

I would like the Minister to explain in a bit more detail the sort of management structure that would be involved between Dublin and the wider BGE activity and to what extent there would be stand-alone activities in BGE, and how overheads that BGE decided to take on and carry on behalf of the Dublin Gas operation would be allocated as costs to the Dublin Gas operation. At the end of the day my objective is the same as that of [3495] the Minister, to ensure transparency and also that the very real problems we all know about in the management of Dublin Gas are not buried and subsumed into the management functions of BGE, which to date have been very effective as far as we know.

Mr. R. Burke: I assure the Deputy that comprehensive accounts will be prepared. They will not only cover the question of distribution but will be fully comprehensive and will be a separate section of the overall annual accounts of BGE. They will be separate accounts for Dublin. All of these points have been gone into in great detail in the Touche Ross report.

I do not see how the Deputy's amendment to have a subsidiary or otherwise would change any of his fears — let me say groundless fears — on this question of the price contract and the relationship between the BGE pricing and what is being charged in Dublin. The amendment will not satisfy that. Dublin Gas will be part of an integrated gas utility from now on. It will be a region within Bord Gáis Éireann. Roughly the organisational structure will be a chief executive at national level, a director of transmission and engineering, a director of distribution in the Dublin region and the same in the southern region, a director of marketing and sales, and a director of finances and administration. In the Dublin region there will be the grade of assistant chief executive officer and there will be services such as residential and commercial sales, small industrial sales, appliance sales, local marketing and advertising, meter reading, customer services, distribution engineering, distribution system operations, maintenance, national meter control, national management accounting, stores, stock control, recruitment, industrial relations, personnel and training. All of these functions will come under the control of the director in the Dublin region. This is in line with the Touche Ross report which the previous Government called for. All of the detail of the integration [3496] has been studied very carefully. I assure the Deputy and the House it will be implemented for the economic and safety benefit of the gas users in Dublin, for the people of Dublin and for the country as a whole.

Mr. R. Bruton: In my view my proposed amendment of a subsidiary would deal with the question of the price contracts, but I have taken the precaution of including also in amendment No. 3 that details of the contract would be a required part of the accounts the board would publish in relation to Dublin Gas. If that were the case, Dublin Gas would have a similar relationship as the ESB, where the price the ESB pay is published in the annual reports of BGE. It is only right that the same situation should prevail and that a genuine price would be charged to Dublin Gas rather than a transfer price whereby in some other across-the-counter or under the table deal an unfair competition relationship would be set up. I would like to hear the Minister elaborate on how he sees the central marketing, sales and financial functions which he says BGE will take on in the integrated utility as being consistent with showing the Dublin Gas operation as a transparent operation? Does that not leave the BGE operation capable of taking on board many of the overheads that should rightfully be attributed to Dublin Gas, in that way clouding the transparency the Minister is trying to achieve? Is there not a risk in these centralised overheads he envisages that we will not have the result we seek here?

Mr. R. Burke: On the question of the transparency and the cost of the Dublin Gas operation, normal accounting procedures are involved and it would be but proper apportionment of the cost of central services due to Dublin Gas. It is not unique to Dublin Gas; it goes on all over as far as price is concerned. There is no suggestion of “under the counter”. Economic rent, as has been described, and all other things in regard to pricing can be assessed by looking at the detailed accounts which are published and which [3497] will be published in future. There is and will be nothing hidden. We want an operation that is efficient, that runs an efficient gas utility, that expands to be much more economical and is seen to be run in a way that attracts the confidence of the poeple of Dublin so that they will switch to using natural gas. With the type of approach we have in mind and are striving for in this legislation and with this integration it is in our interests to have everything up front and that is what we will be striving for. There is no question of trying to hide anything and nothing will be hidden.

Mr. R. Bruton: I am at a disadvantage in that I have not seen the Touche Ross report to which the Minister referred. In logic it would seem that the most sensible relationship for an operation like this would be one of a holding company to a subsidiary. However, I accept that the Minister has sought and obtained advice on this issue and that he is acting in the best interests, having got the best advice. I do not intend to press this amendment, on the understanding that the Minister is accepting the third amendment.

Mr. R. Burke: I am not accepting that amendment as it is here.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We will dispose of amendment No. 2. It is not being pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. R. Bruton: I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:

“(3) The Board shall publish each year separate audited accounts of the Dublin Gas Company operation showing the full financial position of the company, including details of the contract for purchase of gas and the tariffs for sale of gas to customers.”.

Essentially we have discussed the import of this amendment. It is accepting that [3498] the Minister is not going to set up the relationship of a holding company to a subsidiary which is the most normal arm's length type of relationship which gives a very clear account of what the Dublin Gas operation would be. Therefore, I am pushing the alternative amendment forward which is more minimalist, that BGE be required to publish each year separate audited accounts of the Dublin Gas Company showing the full financial position of the company. We should have access to the contract price that BGE are charging out to Dublin Gas and any other details of contractual relationships such as rebates, price and so on involved. We should have access to the tariffs for sale that the Dublin Gas operation is charging out to both consumers and industrial users. We should have access to the different costs and the numbers employed, the various types of costs allocated into different areas, marketing costs and so on. In other words, the intention is that the Dáil through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies would have available to it all the information needed to enable it to make a realistic assessment of whether Dublin Gas under the umbrealla of BGE was performing in the way it was intended and that there would be no danger that the poor practices that have existed in Dublin Gas would be transferred. Therfore, it is important that we get the fullest information possible and that it includes very clear notes to describe how costs that have been taken on by BGE that relate to Dublin Gas are to be charged out in the financial report for Dublin Gas.

Mr. R. Burke: As I have said, I agree with the need for separate accounts for Dublin Gas and I am going to ensure that they are there. I ask Deputy Bruton to go along with me so that I can accept his amendment. Will he agree to a minor alteration in it, if this is agreeable to the House? With that alteration the amendment would read: “The Board shall publish each year separate audited accounts of the Dublin Gas Company operation showing the full financial position of the [3499] company, including details of the contract for purchase of gas and a general description of the tariffs for sale of gas to customers.” There will be customers and individual contracts will be separate. In normal, good commercial practice it would not be advisable that all details of commercial decisions would be released. If the Deputy can accept that and if it is not going to delay the Bill I will accept it with that alteration. However, I need guidance from the Chair on this.

Mr. R. Bruton: That seems fine to me, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We will have to pursue a certain formality here and ask the House to agree to the amendment to the amendment, that is the amendment as proposed by the Minister.

Amendment to amendment No. 3 agreed to.

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

Tomás Mac Giolla: I move amendment No. 4:

4. In page 3, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following new section:

“(3) An order under subsection (1) may set conditions under which excavations, arising from the provision, maintenance, repair and replacement of pipelines, may be carried out generally or in any specific area, including any of the following matters:

(a) the period of the day or week during which any such work may be carried out,

(b) a time limit for the completion of any such work,

(c) a time limit for the handing back of any excavated area to the relevant local authority,

(d) penalties for failure to comply [3500] with an order made under this subsection.”.

This amendment was put down to endeavour in some way to control the gay abandon with which the Dublin Gas Company have been carrying out maintenance, repairs, excavations etc. This has been referred to under the earlier section. I am aware of the defects in the amendment as put down, but I ask the Minister to accept that there is need for some control in this matter. The defects I see in the amendment that I have put down are that it might seem to be interfering with the day-to-day running of the company and I do not want the Minister sticking his nose in on the day-to-day running of the company. However, from the manner in which the Gas Company have been operating in the past year or two, it seems that every hole they dig is a major emergency. There can be no control of it. There are 3,000 emergencies at any one time. I do not believe they are all emergencies; therefore they are using the excuses of danger, emergency and the need for safety to dig a hole any place they like any time they like, disrupt anybody, traffic or people or whatever at day or night or any time. I am asking the Minister to look at that and to achieve some control over it.

A public utility should not be allowed to operate in that way but it has been accepted because the public think that every one of these excavations represents an emergency. I do not know if the Minister has information on all the excavations that were carried out, on how many of them were emergencies or how many were ordinary maintenance or repair works. On the understanding that they were not all emergencies, I ask the Minister to accept that there should be some directive in regard to the manner in which the planned replacement of pipelines, which has nothing to do with emergencies, repairs and maintenance are carried out. There should be control over the place in which the work is done, over the length of time in which excavations [3501] may remain open and also over the completion of such work. The problem arises when the work is carried out on the gas pipelines but when the closing of the excavation is not completed. Therefore, there should be a time limit in this regard.

The Minister may say that these are matters for the local authority but the local authority have no control over public utilities and they cannot tell them that a certain job is an emergency or that it must be done at a certain time. The local authority have to allow the Gas Company to dig up roads or footpaths whenever the public utility so demands. There should be some control over this and there should be time limits for completing excavations. Penalties should be imposed for failure to comply with these controls. Perhaps the control should be incorporated in the powers of local authorities. In any event, I ask the Minister to ensure that there is control over the operations of the gas company in particular. All those excavations have been a grave upset to the city of Dublin. They have caused enormous inconvenience and enormous cost to commercial concerns, to public transportation and to individuals going to and from work. They have caused a huge headache and huge costs to the local authorities. This problem will continue because when the excavation is completed the street, roadway or pathway is still in a totally unsatisfactory condition, the local authority, while they can never put it back to its original state, must endeavour to rectify it as much as possible.

In this amendment I am asking for control over the gas company in the manner in which they carry out excavations. There can be exceptions for cases which are proven to be emergencies but in all other cases there must be control over the time of the day or night at which the work is carried out. If work is to be carried out in a quiet suburban area it could be done during the day but in a busy area with a lot of traffic the work could be done at night. There must be controls such as this over planned excavations for the replacement and maintenance of pipelines.

[3502] An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: On a small technical point, Deputy Mac Giolla's amendment states: “In page 3, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following new section”. We are deleting “new section” because it is not a new section.

Mr. P. O'Malley: I have sympathy with the points covered in the amendment put down by Deputy Mac Giolla and the other Workers' Party Deputies. On occasion one could be forgiven for thinking that the streets of Dublin were building sites; there are so many excavations going on at the one time. Unfortunately, most of them, in the recent past anyway, have been attributable to the operations of Dublin Gas. I accept also as does Deputy Mac Giolla, that it may not be possible to superimpose the controls on the operation of Dublin Gas to the extent he would like to do. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, it would be putting constraints on them that would prevent them from carrying out necessary works and make it very difficult for them to function. I do not know whether, in routine maintenance works, it might be possible to get Dublin Gas to excavate roads at a less busy time. As Deputy Mac Giolla has suggested, they might be able to plan their work on the basis that a certain amount of the work could be done at night.

The other point that is a source of great nuisance is the partially completed excavations after the work has been completed. The trenches are back-filled and are left in that state for some considerable time. I can accept there is a reason for this and that one has to allow for primary settlement before the local authority can finally reinstate the trench. That problem will be very difficult to overcome because there will be subsidence and it will be some time before there is consolidation and the local authority can properly reinstate the streets.

I would like to draw one point to the Minister's attention and perhaps he can make an input to it. If there was greater co-ordination between the various public utility services that, on occasion, have [3503] to excavate the streets it would be very beneficial all round. On some occasions we have seen the ridiculous situation where one utility had completed their operations and the street had been reinstated by the local authority but where, within a very short period, another utility come along and rip it up again. The whole process seems to go on ad infinitum. Certain portions of Merrion Square have been in a state of siege for years. The number of road openings in that area have been quite legendary.

One is required to get a road opening licence from the local authority before one can get permission to open an excavation in a road. I am not sure if this applies to the various utilities. Perhaps the local authorities should exercise some kind of umbrella control over the opening of excavations in public roadways by ensuring that if they issue a road opening licence to one utility they should at least draw the attention of other utilities such as Bord Telecom, the ESB, the water works or whoever to it. If they have some investigatory work or repair work to carry out in that area it would be appropriate that they would do so at the same time so that the reinstatement and road surfacing could be completed with less risk of the work having to be done again within a short time.

Mr. R. Bruton: I sympathise with the points expressed by Deputies Mac Giolla and Pat O'Malley in regard to this question. In my view it should be left to the Dublin Transport Authority. I had thought that the DTA had some sort of authority to plan and regulate the exercise of excavations. If they do not we should look at that legislation and consider giving them the authority suggested by Deputy Mac Giolla. That reflects a defect in the legislation.

Mr. McDowell: I agree with what Deputy Bruton has said. It seems to me that properly we should not approach this on the basis of this being a gas opening because next week we could find ESB cables disintegrating and resulting in a [3504] similar debate on the ESB. The next day we could have a similar debate on Dublin Corporation. In my view it is a general matter that does not come within the ambit of the Bill. The Minister, who has close experience with the workings of the Department of the Environment, is aware of the issues involved. Every time an excavation is opened at, for example, O'Connell Bridge where such work is in progress at present, a cost should be paid to the community for keeping it open for three days rather than two days. That payment should be sought to ensure that wherever possible the work is done at night and that it is covered with metal plates during the day to make it passable because the cost to the community of snarling up all the traffic in the centre of Dublin is not borne in on the utility doing the excavation. I am not in favour of some massive layer of bureaucracy being imposed on what are on occasions emergency activities but it strikes me that the Dublin Transport Authority or a local authority should be entitled to charge money to a utility who has statutory power of excavation in order to encourage that utility to dig holes at the right time and carry out the work as quickly as possible. Effectively, I am suggesting that they be charged a differential rent based on the fact that they are digging at a busy place and are not doing so at night time.

A sorely pressed utility will not pay people overtime to work at night unless the external cost to the community is in some way borne in on that authority by their having to pay some contribution or charge for having to do the work during the day rather than at night. The Minister should look to his colleague, Deputy Flynn, and ask him to ensure that there is no question of the gas company digging holes in the way they are doing at present. There is one at the corner of Bride Street that has remained open for at least three weeks with no activity around it and a few desultory cones falling into the excavation. Nobody should be allowed do that on a busy thoroughfare without paying back to the community the cost of the disruption they are causing. The liability [3505] to re-instate holes dug by utilities is in dire need of legislative reform.

The Minister, when he is discussing this matter with the Minister for the Environment, should bear in mind that when the main gas pipeline was laid it was done in a very skilled way by highly specialised people. They carried out the reinstatement themselves and they did a fantastic job throughout south Dublin. The work was done almost in military style and that had the effect of minimising the disruption to the community. I wonder why that expertise, which was brought about by employing independent contractors who were paid bonuses to get the work finished on time, is not available now to make sure that this necessary work is carried out with the minimum of inconvenience.

Mr. R. Burke: We seem to have strayed rather dramatically from the debate on emergency excavations undertaken by Dublin Gas around Dublin. We have strayed into debating the need for a co-ordinated operation by all utilities. We are debating when they should open certain roads, do certain jobs, when Bord Telecom, the ESB, the gas company, the water mains or sanitary services sections of Dublin Corporation carry out work. That is far removed from the terms of the amendment before us. I do not see any reason why there should not be greater co-ordination in regard to general maintenance work. I accept that every Dubliner, and those who visit the city, are most frustrated by the amount of excavation work that has taken place. There were up to 3,000 holes open soon after the Raglan House incident but that figure has been reduced to 200.

Safety is my primary concern when dealing with the problem of excavations within the Dublin region. I do not go along with the amendment proposed by Deputy Mac Giolla because it appears that it is prompted by a concern for inconvenience caused by the diggings. I accept that as a legitimate point but the gas utility must be conscious of the need for safety and the need to carry out maintenance and repair work. To meet the [3506] point made by the Deputy, and other Members. I will insist that proper work practices be specified by Bord Gáis Eireann to their work teams and contractors in the Dublin area.

I should like to point out that excavations are carried out when leaks are found. The crews do not go along and dig a hole until they have found the leak. The leaks are classified according to the seriousness of them and work is carried out accordingly. The operation is not as haphazard as it may appear. Some repairs have to be left open for a period of up to seven days for further checks. That causes inconvenience and frustration, as mentioned by Members. Deputies Pat O'Malley and McDowell raised the question of reinstatement and said that after holes are filled there is the primary settlement. The position is that Dublin Corporation insist on carrying out the reinstatement work and I wonder if that is the way it should be. I hope those holes are filled as soon as it is safe to do so. I am not saying that there are not cases where they should be closed sooner, such as in Bride Street. I will have that matter investigated for Deputy McDowell. Perhaps he and I will go along and see the work carried out. I will have that particular one investigated for him.

I am as concerned as anybody else about the inconvenience caused not just to our own population but to our tourists at a time when we are making every effort to develop our tourist industry. However, the primary concern has to be safety. Deputy Mac Giolla made the point that they are not all emergencies but the fact is that when reports come in they all have to be dealt with as if they are emergencies. People have to go out and if there is a leak they have to dig and investigate it. The case where they do not go and investigate is the very case where there will be a tragedy; therefore, they are all dealt with as a priority. I can assure the Deputy that with the passage of this Bill and the integrated gas network we will have, I will see to it that particular work practices are specified to improve the situation for the benefit of the people of Dublin.

[3507] Tomás Mac Giolla: When I spoke about the gay abandon with which the gas company open holes in the roads and streets I did not speak lightly. Up to a few years ago Dublin Corporation had control over openings in the roads. If they were repairing a road they advised all public utilities that if they wanted to do anything with that road that was the time to do it. If the ESB wanted to open a section of road they would apply to the corporation and inform them. The corporation would immediately contact Telecom Éireann and the gas company and say that if they wanted to do anything there now was their opportunity. The same thing happened if Telecom Eireann wanted to carry out work. That was working quite well under the old gas system. When the old gas company wanted to open a road they would advise the corporation. However, the corporation have not been told one thing about any of those 3,000 holes in the city of Dublin. They do not know where and when the next hole will appear until they go around and find it themselves. They are going around counting the holes. They are not informed about them, there is no control. There must still be some normal maintenance and excavation work by the gas company despite all this crisis of leaks. There must be the normal work of putting in new pipes or putting gas into a new area and so on. I am very glad to hear what the Minister had to say about work practices to be laid down. Presumably the Minister will see that they are laid down and——

Mr. R. Burke: I will make sure of it.

Tomás Mac Giolla: —— that these will include informing the corporation and that there will be some control over the normal excavations. As regards the reinstatement, Dublin Corporation do that work. They do the job properly. They do not want a half-baked job done. However, they cannot do the reinstatement until the matter is handed back and that is point C, the handing back of the excavated area to the local authority. They can put in the back filling and it may [3508] be only temporary. They can say they want that held there because they will be reopening it in two or three weeks. An area can be left for months and the corporation are not told it can be reinstated. When the local authority reinstate it they charge the public utility the cost of the reinstatement and that is as it should be. However, they cannot do that until the area is handed back to them. There should be a time limit on that. Public utilities are inclined to leave it because as soon as the corporation do the reinstatement they bill them so they put it off, even for a couple of months, before informing the local authority that they have finished the work. That matter has to be incorporated in the work practices area.

I agree with Deputy McDowell's point that if you do not make it expensive for the gas company to open up O'Connell Bridge in the middle of a Friday, the busiest day of the week, they will do it then, rather than at night because from the point of view of labour and so on it is more expensive to operate at night. I recongise there are difficulties as regards penalties but there must be penalties laid down in order to have the appropriate control. I am sure the Minister understands the position and I think this sort of thing can be referred to the work practices to which he has referred. I hope he will take it on board.

Mr. R. Burke: I will, of course. In particular I will examine the situation in relation to notification and liaison between the gas company and the corporation. The Deputy will understand that when these holes are dug it is in response to an emergency report of a gas leak. I will try to ensure with the new management that there will be greater liaison between themselves and the corporation. As far as normal maintenance is concerned, I agree fully with the Deputy that there should be prior notification to the corporation. That does not just go for the gas company: that goes for everybody. As far as possible I will try to ensure that the work is completed as soon as possible so that as little inconvenience [3509] as possible is caused to citizens and to visitors to the city, with the one proviso that safety is the overriding principle.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 2, as amended agreed to.


Mr. R. Bruton: I move amendment No. 5:

Before section 3, to insert the following new section:

“3. —(1) The Minister shall make arrangements for his Department or designated persons or bodies to act in a supervisory capacity in respect of the safety functions exercised by Bord Gáis Éireann.

(2) The Minister shall ensure that

(a) period safety audits are conducted.

(b) targets for Safety Action Programmes in relation to the activities formerly carried out by the Dublin Gas Company are agreed.

(c) technical management practices in installation, handling, maintenance and response to reported gas leaks are checked, and

(d) a public record of leakages and accidents is maintained.”.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: May I remind the House that we have touched on the spirit of this if not the letter.

Mr. R. Bruton: We have touched on the spirit of this but we were very constrained by the narrow import of amendment No. 1 which we discussed at that time. This gets to the nub of the safety issue. The lesson from the Raglan House experience was that, in the commercial environment in which Dublin Gas operated, and will operate in the future, you cannot put responsibility for policing safety in the hands of the people who [3510] have the responsibility of earning a commercial profit. We have seen, sadly, how easy it is for safety standards to suffer when a company comes under commercial pressure and we all know Dublin Gas will continue to be under commercial pressure in the foreseeable future.

In principle, it is wrong that the body that polices safety should be the same body that carried out commercial operations in this way. With the best will in the world, I do not think Bord Gáis Éireann should be the board to assure us that when a gas hole has been filled and a leak inspected, everything is safe, and that we can take their word for it. That is not an acceptable way to conduct safety. It is important that we have an outside body overseeing the safety aspect.

In my amendment I propose that the Minister should be acting in a supervisory capacity in respect of these safety functions which he is conferring on An Bord Gáis and I have allowed for the fact that he may wish to designate this activity in this area to other persons, such as the IIRS who have experience in this way. In this amendment I have also specified the sort of things we need which are additional to the powers the Minister has under section 38, namely, the promulgation of regulations in relation to gas. The requirements I have spelled out cover the need for periodic safety audits in the company, the need for safety action programmes — the Raglan House report suggested that there be safety action programmes — to be agreed with someone in a supervisory capacity who can monitor their achievement; the need to be assured that the technical management practices in the company, which were shown to be so different in the case of Raglan House — the checking of leaks, the various procedures of passing information we found to be totally defective, need to be supervised; and critically important to the achievement of progress is the fact that we need a public record of leakages and accidents.

The Minister will be aware that the Raglan House report asked the task force to identify all relevant codes and standards which need to be reviewed and [3511] updated and to incorporate the lessons learned. Among these is the amendment I am pressing now, but there is also a very serious need, which I think the Minister has acepted, for regulations under section 38 of the Gas Act which have not yet been made and the sooner we get to the stage where definite standards are enforced by regulation and supervised by the Minister the better.

I accept what the Minister told us on Second Stage, that is, that Dublin Gas have taken on board the recommendations of the Cremer and Warner report. We must remember what those recommendations are because they need supervision if they are to work. They include improving safety awareness, issuing procedures to the staff, drawing up annual safety plans, considering undertaking detailed internal audit of working practice, examining standby cover for holidays, reviewing the replacement policy for pipes, improving the record of gas escape details passed on when a gas escape is discovered and examining the feasibility of periodic safety checks for all consumers. These are the things it would be desirable for Dublin Gas to be doing. To say Dublin Gas have taken these recommendations on board is reassuring up to a point but, having accepted that they will examine these recommendations it is not reassuring if they do not do something about them. The bottom line is that they should need to answer to the Minister for safety and that it be done in the way outlined in my amendment.

Mr. R. Burke: The primary motive of the Government in bringing forward this legislation was concern that a gas utility of this size was being run in receivership. We felt there should be a proper management in place in Dublin Gas. We followed the line of integrating Dublin Gas into Bord Gáis Éireann but safety was our primary motive. We were concerned about the safety of the utility and the dangers to the people of Dublin. That was what prompted us to take quick [3512] action and to bring this measure before the House.

I cannot accept the amendment in its present form. Bord Gáis is a statutory corporation which will be responsible for all aspects of safety with regard to supply and distribution of natural gas in the Dublin area and in any other areas designated by the Minister of the day from time to time. This is the same system that works with the ESB. Deputy Bruton is proposing that there should be a further layer of supervision, another layer of bureaucracy, which would not necessarily ensure the achievement of the legitimate objectives which Deputy Bruton proposed in his amendment.

He quite rightly said that in the Cremer and Warner report on Raglan House, safety was mentioned as well as the establishment of an agency for the investigation of incidents. This is being looked at by the Government and me and already officials in my Department have had consultations with the United Kingdom health and safety executive and we are examining the way forward.

As far as the question of responsibility and supervision is concerned, at the end of the day the Minister of the day will have overall political responsibility to the Dáil for all matters relating to the safety and the effectiveness of any systems which are put in place, but it is a different approach to that proposed by Deputy Bruton, who is advocating another layer of bureaucracy which I do not feel is necessary.

I am, and have, acted on the report of Cremer and Warner in relation to the recommendations which refer to Dublin Gas. There is a liaison officer in my Department, appointed by me, monitoring the effectiveness of the response of Dublin Gas to these recommendations, and seeing that they are acting on those recommendations. When the legislation is concluded in this House this evening and in the Seanad next week, the final takeover will be concluded. That will mean Bord Gáis will have the operations of Dublin Gas under their umbrella. I can assure the House that [3513] safety will be their primary responsibility and their primary task.

I accept that the Deputy is concerned about safety but I cannot go along with the idea of establishing an extra layer of bureaucracy. In relation to paragraph (b), this is already being implemented by Dublin Gas as part of the recommendations of the Cremer and Warner report. Any order which relates to safety under section 2 will of course be laid before the House so that Deputies will have a chance to examine it and to debate the whole issue of safety.

I am taking the right approach in the legislation, that BGE, being a statutory corporation, will retain responsibility for safety in the way the ESB acted in the past and continue to act at present. As I have said a number of times during the debate safety is our primary goal. Although I am very conscious of this, I cannot accept the amendment.

Mr. R. Bruton: I hope I can persuade the Minister to change his mind since I know that safety is his primary objective. He said that Bord Gáis would be responsible for safety. Dublin Gas were responsible in the past but experience has shown that that is not enough unless it is supervised. We have learned from sad experience. In Britain there were a series of explosions although they had promulgated regulations and had a supervising authority in the Department to do this task. We are not breaking massive new ground.

The Minister suggests that this would involve another layer of bureaucracy but that is not the intention of the amendment. Indeed, the Minister already has a certain amount of responsibility for regulating the safety aspects of gas but, as I pointed out on a number of occasions, his Department have chosen not to exercise that responsibility because they failed to issue any regulations under that section. Over the last 11 years, since the Minister has been given that responsibility, his Department have not responded in the way in which the Department in the UK did in response to similar accidents over there.

[3514] The Minister suggested that his agency for investigating incidents will deal with this problem. The intent of that agency is quite different, as the Minister made clear. It was to investigate things like the Betelgeuse and other disasters and to draw lessons from them. I have in mind the very simple matter of supervising the implementation of safety standards and not sifting through the debris of disasters to draw lessons. Many aspirational recommendations were made in the Cremer and Warner report in relation to Dublin Gas but, if they are not policed, in a few years they may not be practised until we reach the sad state we experienced earlier on.

The Minister said he will have overall political responsibility. That is true but if he has not issued regulations under section 38 it is not reality. We need someone to police this and not to leave it to the body delivering gas on a commercial basis.

Mr. McDowell: The House will have to be clearly told where the public stand in relation to the Dublin gas company as a result of all this. The mass of Victorian legislation to which I referred earlier imposes very definite obligations of various kinds on the gas company, for instance, the obligation to supply to a willing customer and to maintain supply and penalties for failure to maintain supply. They are part of the law of the land but I am not happy that we are being told the full story as to what obligations would be put on Bord Gáis. As I understand the substance of the Bill, the Minister will be able to pick and choose the obligations which exist at present in relation to Dublin Gas. He can decide which of them, in his view, would be appropriate for Bord Gáis to continue to labour under. These relate to safety, to continuity of supply obligations and to making a supply in safety. If the Minister decides that a certain obligation is not mandatory he need not transfer it to BGE as a function under section 2 of the Bill. In those circumstances, the obligation, which is part of the law now, will only [3515] continue to bind a husk of a company with no substance left.

In regard to safety and commercial and legal obligations, if the Minister can choose which obligations to transfer, does it mean we are buying a pig in a poke? Will the Minister tell us what Victorian legislation he intends to save? When will we know? Deputy Bruton said that some of the people who have been injured or whose property has been damaged by an explosion will be able to sue. Will they? When the Minister has taken everything and Bernard Somers has tied a few ribbons on his file, will the Minister give an undertaking to the public that BGE will have the obligation of liability? Will the people to whom Deputy Bruton referred get compensation for the damage done? Have the Government made a decision on this point? Will those people be left empty handed staring at a “closed” notice on a dirty glass window in a disused office? Will that be the extent of the vindication of their rights? Bord Gáis Éireann will have the pipeline and all the bits and pieces they want to take from Dublin Gas but what about the person whose house has been destroyed by an explosion following a gas leak? I should like the Minister, in the context of the safety proposal made by Deputy Bruton, to assure the House that every person who has a claim in respect of damage done to his person or property will be compensated by BGE and that they will not just take the advantageous functions of the company and leave the people owed money in damages by Dublin Gas with nothing. An employee who has an outstanding claim for personal injuries will be able to use the ordinary insolvency legislation to protect him but what about someone who has already imagined he has a legal claim against Dublin Gas? Who will compensate the ordinary Joe Soap who has an outstanding claim against Dublin Gas?

Mr. R. Burke: I am delighted to assure the Deputy that the matters to which he refers are covered by insurance. I am delighted to be able to inform the Deputy [3516] that all insurances are up to date in regard to the Gas Company and the matter is clear.

Mr. McDowell: Will they be maintained up to date?

Mr. R. Burke: Oh ye of little faith. The Deputy can be assured that they will be continued right up to the day of the takeover. Then Bord Gáis's own insurance will be in place from there on. Insurance is covered; there is no need to be worried about that. There is no question of taking away anyone's legal rights. I want to assure the Deputy on that.

As far as the thrust of Deputy Bruton's comments is concerned, we are coming near the end of this debate and I want to be as helpful as I possibly can. I cannot accept his amendment as it stands. However, I am prepared to make an order under section 2 of the Bill to oblige Bord Gáis Éireann to make periodic reports to the Minister of the day on their performance as far as safety is concerned. This order can be a matter for debate in this House at the appropriate Estimate time or on any other occasion, as to the performance of Bord Gáis in relation to the reports under section 2. I am prepared to make that order to meet the genuine points Deputy Bruton has put forward.

Mr. R. Bruton: The Minister certainly is making a genuine effort to move towards the amendment. I would like to tease out the sort of order he would make under section 2 to see that it would meet the essential concerns I have. Essentially, we want to see that the best practices that could be operated are being carried out. It involves not just BGE reporting to the Minister but someone other than BGE from time to time conducting a safety audit. That is the nub. There should be available to the public some sort of records. I am quite happy that that element can be picked up in the Minister's suggestion. I should like to hear him specify that the periodic reports he will require will have some content that will meet these matters; secondly that [3517] there will be an obligation for an independent safety audit at periodic intervals. That is an essential element.

Mr. R. Burke: I am quite prepared to go along with the Deputy on that. In the order I will make under section 2 I will specify, for example, probably somebody like the IIRS to carry out the safety audit periodically on the operations of BGE. The order to be made can encompass all the points as laid down by the Deputy and other points if I so decide. When I look at the drafting of the order it may be that I would want to add further points, but I can take what is there on board as the basis of an order under section 2 without accepting the amendment as it is.

Mr. R. Bruton: On those grounds I shall not press the amendment. The Minister is taking a very constructive attitude towards the matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. McDowell: I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, before section 3, to insert the following new section:

3.—(1) Where the Board proposes to acquire the assets of the company or any of them, the Board shall submit a scheme, hereinafter called an “Assets Acquisition Scheme” to the Minister in respect of the assets to be acquired, and such acquisition shall not be made unless the Minister has made an Assets Acquisition Scheme Confirmation Order, under this section.

(2) Where the Minister proposes to make an Assets Acquisition Confirmation Order, he shall lay a draft of such Order before Dáil Éireann and such Order shall not be made by the Minister unless within 21 sitting days of the laying of the Order before Dáil Éireann, a resolution has been passed by Dáil Éireann approving the terms of the draft Order.

[3518] (3) Where within two years of the passing of this Act the Board proposes to employ any persons who were at any time during the period of two years prior to the passing of this Act, employees of the company, the Board shall submit a scheme to the Minister in respect of such proposed employment, hereinafter called an “Employment Scheme”, to the Minister, and no such employment shall take effect unless the Minister shall make an order, hereinafter called an “Employment Scheme Confirmation Order”, setting out all the terms of employment in respect of which the Order is made.

(4) The Minister shall not make an Employment Scheme Confirmation Order under this Section unless a draft of such Order shall have been laid before Dáil Éireann and within 21 sitting days of the laying of the said draft Order before Dáil Éireann, a resolution has been passed by Dáil Éireann approving the terms of the draft Order.

This is the second amendment in the names of Deputy O'Malley and myself and there is very little time to discuss it. The gist of it is that it is our belief that before Bord Gáis propose to acquire any assets of the Dublin Gas Company — and this is what subsections (1) and (2) of the proposed section are concerned with — the Minister should be told what assets are to be acquired and also the amount of money proposed to be paid and whether Bord Gáis regard the assets as necessary or unnecessary. They must convince the Minister that their acquisition is desirable. The Minister must then tell this House that he believes a certain set of acquisitions is desirable and that set is undesirable and that a relevant order has been made. The board have been given very wide power to acquire assets and it seems that this House, especially in times of financial stringency, should be concerned with getting value for money. It should be consulted before assets are acquired and the acquisition should be [3519] justified in full. Subsections (3) and (4) are concerned with employment. This worries me very substantially. There have been accusations levelled against the company — and they may be less substantial than is generally supposed — that there are restrictive practices and over-manning and employment conditions operating in the Gas Company——

Mr. R. Burke: One could say the same thing about the Dáil and well the Deputy knows that this is not true.

Mr. McDowell: It may be untrue. Before Bord Gáis take on a huge new workforce the terms of employment of the new employees should be known to this House and the Minister should agree that those are reasonable terms rather than have a strike in two years' time when everybody says that there have been over-manning and restrictive practices and the employees have said that they were taken on on that basis. There would be a strike against a national utility of a very substantial size and the laws of picketing would mean that it would be a strike that would cripple the whole gas network wherever Bord Gáis have any installation. It would not be confined just to Dublin. People in Cork would be paying the price for a Dublin industrial dispute. The purpose of the last two subsections in particular is to make the Minister accountable to this House for the political decision which is about to be made.

Mr. R. Burke: To be quite honest, I do not understand the Deputy's point because that is exactly what we are doing, discussing the implications of the takeover of Dublin Gas by Bord Gáis Éireann — something which has been talked about for a number of years.

Mr. McDowell: We are not discussing manning levels or wage rates.

Mr. R. Burke: On the question of manning levels, it has become a bit of a cliché, [3520] and I think unfairly to the workers of Dublin Gas. I believe we have the same level of commitment in Dublin Gas to jobs and pride in jobs as in many other companies throughout this country. A figure is thrown around about nonattendance at work on a particular Monday. If some audit on attendance were carried out on a Monday morning in any major concern it would be interesting to see the result in percentage terms.


Mr. R. Burke: What I am saying is that we have a loyal workforce. There have been major changes under the receivership. There has been a major tightening up of operations. There have been voluntary redundancies. We have a company with tremendous potential and this Bill seeks to maximise this potential by taking it into an integrated gas network.

Mr. McDowell: I withdraw the amendment in view of these assurances but I will be holding you accountable for them later.

Mr. R. Burke: That is what I am here for. That is the whole process of democracy. The Deputy would be amazed if he studied it sometime.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. R. Bruton: On a point of order, did the Minister accept amendment No. 7?

Mr. R. Burke: No.

Mr. McDowell: It is not agreed, but we will not look for a vote.

Acting Chairman (Mr. M. Barrett): As it is now seven o'clock, I am required to put the following question in accordance with the Resolution of the House of 23 June: “That the Bill is hereby agreed to in Committee, is reported to the House with an amendment and Fourth [3521] Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put and declared carried.