Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the latest estimates regarding the potential oil and gas reserves within Ireland’s 652,000 square kilometres of offshore; and his plans to encourage greater exploration.
Reply from Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Fergus O’Dowd (left): While petroleum systems assessments for the Irish offshore frontier basins based on geological criteria and regional comparisons may indicate significant potential reserves, I must stress that the only commercial discoveries of petroleum made in the Irish offshore since exploration began in the early seventies are the three producing gas fields in the Kinsale area, along with the Corrib Gas Field which is currently being developed. To date, there have been no commercial discoveries of oil in the Irish offshore. Extensive exploration, including the drilling of hundreds of exploration wells, would be necessary in order to be able to quantify, or at least get a better understanding of the extent of our reserves.
Government policy in this area is directed at maximising the benefits to Ireland from exploration and production of our indigenous oil and gas resources, while ensuring that activities are conducted safely and with due regard to their impact on the environment and other land/sea users.
To this end my Department encourages exploration investment through an active and targeted promotion campaign, regular licensing rounds, supporting petroleum research projects that deepen knowledge of the petroleum potential of the Irish offshore and by maintaining an appropriate fiscal regime. In that regard I recently announced the headline details for the next licensing round to be held in Ireland's Atlantic Margin, with a closing date of September 2015. Providing advance details of the round will encourage industry to devote resources to preparing for participation in the round.
Conscious that the existence of quality data is key to encouraging exploration, last June my Department, in conjunction with exploration company Eni launched a major seismic acquisition programme to provide a regional grid of high quality seismic data over our Atlantic frontier basins, particularly in the Southern Porcupine, Rockall and Hatton basins. It is by far the largest regional seismic survey to be acquired in the Irish offshore and was designed to complement existing datasets and to fill data gaps that exist. The survey will add to the understanding of the petroleum potential of our frontier basins and should provide a boost to our efforts to attract international mobile exploration investment to Ireland in the next licensing round.
Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the progress that has been made through mapping and other means by his Department’s underwater archaeology unit to establish the location of the estimated 15,000 shipwrecks lying in Irish territorial waters.
Reply from Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan: My Department’s National Monuments Service, through its Underwater Archaeology Unit, has been researching shipwrecks in Irish territorial waters since 1999 and, from documentary sources and local research and knowledge has, to date, built up a database of 17,000 wrecks, of which some 3,000 have been accurately located.
With the co-operation and assistance of the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute, the identity and location of a further 300 wrecks has been identified and verified through high resolution seabed mapping techniques. Further analysis of data already collected and continuing research is expected to increase the number of known shipwreck sites as time goes on.
Work is currently being finalised on the development of a shipwrecks database for inclusion in the National Monuments Service website, www.archaeology.ie, where it will be available to the general public. My Department has also produced two related publications in recent years: The Shipwreck Inventory of Ireland: Louth to Wicklow and Warships, U-Boats and Liners, the latter in co-operation with the Marine Institute and the Geological Survey of Ireland.
Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of persons who are accumulating penalties as a result of non-payment of the non-principal private residence charge; and the amount outstanding.
Reply from Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan: The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 broadened the revenue base of local authorities by introducing a charge on non-principal private residences. The self-assessed charge is set at €200 per annum and liability for it falls, in the main, on owners of rental, holiday and vacant properties.
Under the Act, it is a function of a local authority to collect Non-Principal Private Residence Charges, and late payment fees due to it and all Charges and late payment fees imposed and payable to a local authority are under the care and management of the local authority concerned.
Approximately 357,000 properties have been registered for the Non-Principal Private Residence Charge, which has raised in excess of €390m over its five years of operation. It is not possible to state with any certainty the level of non-compliance with the Charge, and therefore an estimate of the amount outstanding would not be sound. However, I am confident that compliance levels are high, given the amount raised by the Charge to date.
This year will be the final year of the operation of the Non-Principal Private Residence Charge. Since its introduction in 2009, the Charge has been an important source of revenue for local authorities and has funded the provision of vital local services.
November 5, 2013
Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Health the checks he has put in place to ensure that doctors cannot overclaim for medical card patients who have died or emigrated; if his Department have a fraud control system similar to the one operated by the Department of Social Protection; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
REPLY / Minister of State Alex White:
Capitation fees are paid to General Practitioners where a person has eligibility for a Medical/GP Visit Card. Fees are not paid where eligibility no longer exists e.g. following an assessment of means, emigration or death. Under the Health Act 1970, there is an obligation on all card holders to notify the HSE of any change in their circumstances, which would put them above the Medical Card/GP Visit Card income guidelines.
In addition to the review of eligibility on expiration of a medical card, targeted reviews of eligibility were introduced during 2012, in relation to medical cards which had been inactive for more than 12 months. In such cases, medical card holders were formally contacted to confirm that they were still resident in the State. In cases where no response was received, eligibility was removed and the payment of capitation fees ceased.
In 2012, the HSE introduced data sharing with the Death Events Publication Service (DEPS) operated by the General Register Office (GRO). Death notifications are received by the HSE from the GRO on a weekly basis and payments to the GP are ceased immediately.
Where there is a delay in recording a death with the GRO, any amounts paid to GPs between the date of death and prior to the notification of the death to the HSE are recouped from the GP immediately the death information is received by the HSE.
In addition, GPs can update the database to reflect the death of patients on their GP list. In 2012, GPs made 4,400 such amendments and in all of these cases payments to the GP are ceased immediately.
Deputy Deasy asked the Minister for Health the number of reviews that were carried out on over 70s medical card applications following the budget changes introduced in 2012; if these same applicants will have to go through a further review following the 2013 budget changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
REPLY / Minister of State Alex White:
The Health (Alteration of Criteria for Eligibility) Act 2013 gave legislative effect to the Budget 2013 measure to reduce the gross income thresholds for an over-70s medical card and to provide for a scheme of assessment for an over- 70 s GP visit card. Following enactment, in the period from 5th April 2013 to 30th October 2013, 82,103 review application assessments have been conducted in respect of applicants and their dependents, if any, holding such eligibility.
Further changes were announced in the Budget 2014 on the gross income thresholds for an over-70s medical card. When the requisite legislation to bring these changes into effect is in place, all persons currently holding over -70s medical card eligibility will be subject to a review assessment. The purpose of these review assessments is to determine if persons will continue to hold eligibility under the revised income qualifying limits.
Deputy Deasy asked the Minister for Health if applicants for the over 70s medical card are subject to the same discretionary conditions as those under 70, whereby financial hardship as a result of medical need may be assessed; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
REPLY / Minister of State Alex White:
Medical Card and GP Visit Card eligibility under the scheme for persons aged 70 or older is solely based on an assessment of gross income.
For persons person aged 70 or older who are assessed as ineligible under the gross income thresholds that apply, they may also have their eligibility assessed under the means tested medical card scheme. This assessment is based on net income and assessable outgoing expenses and the qualifying income thresholds under this scheme are lower than over-70s gross income thresholds.
If a person is means assessed ineligible for a medical card under the general scheme and that person has other social, medical or financial circumstances relevant to an assessment of their ability to provide for their medical needs or the medical needs of any dependants they may have, these factors will be considered to decide if a medical card or GP visit card should be approved on discretionary grounds under the ‘undue hardship’ or ‘undue burden’ provision of the medical card scheme.
Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the recommendations from the International Commission of Experts’ report on the possibility of under grounding all or part of the Meath-Tyrone interconnector he consider applicable to the proposed Grid Link overhead power line route linking Munster and Leinster.
Deputy Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if there have been any advances in technology to change the accepted view that the cost of underground cabling is multiples that of transmission via overhead powerlines.
Deputy Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the Government policy regarding to the erection of electricity pylons and overhead lines in areas of outstanding natural beauty and high scenic amenity generally.
Reply from Minister Pat Rabbitte: The "Government Policy Statement on the Strategic Importance of Transmission and Other Energy Infrastructure" (July 2012), made it clear that the Government does not seek to direct energy infrastructure developers to particular sites, routes or technologies. These are matters for the developers and for the forward planning processes through regional and local development plans and at project level through the development management process. In this context, energy infrastructure developers are encouraged to work with the those forward planning processes to set clear contexts for assessment of individual applications for planning consent and to facilitate as wide a degree of consensus as possible as to how and where to meet grid development needs.
The Government, as detailed in the July 2012 Policy Statement, expects the companies, including the State energy companies, in making their choices of project specific technologies and routing, to take account of all relevant national and international standards, to follow best practice, to ensure value for money and to be informed by detailed consultation at local level. Using the best available advice and expertise the companies are required to address and mitigate, as necessary, human, environmental and landscape impacts in delivering the projects concerned.
I understand that there is no single ‘right’ solution for any particular development and that technical solutions must be project specific. I also understand that conventional overhead lines are still the most common solution adopted worldwide and still offer significantly lower investment costs than any underground alternative.
EirGrid and ESB Networks are mandated to plan developments in a safe efficient and economic manner in accordance with their licences from the Commission for Energy Regulation.
The Grid Link Project is a key initiative under EirGrid's Grid25. Without this project, the electricity grid in the south and east of Ireland will not be sufficient to meet the region’s future electricity needs. The project will facilitate both conventional generation and renewable energy projects. It will reinforce the grid in Leinster and Munster and support future interconnection with grids outside of Ireland. It is a significant upgrade of the electricity grid and is the largest project under the Grid25 programme. The project will involve an estimated €500 million investment and will enable Ireland to meet its 40% renewable electricity 2020 target, while also reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels.
EirGrid is committed to public consultation and has been engaging in a comprehensive process with regard to the Grid Link project. EirGrid's consultation process has involved opening five regional information centres, providing a lo-call project information telephone line (1890 422 122), local radio advertising, and national and local print advertising. The company welcomes observations and views in relation to the Grid Link Project which is still at an early stage. The identification of route corridor options is a key opportunity for public input given that the decision regarding the final route of this electricity line is yet to be made.
To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will explain the differentiation in lower urban and higher rural standing and usage charges applied by Electric Ireland to its customers; and if this price gap will be reduced in favour of rural consumers if and when the existing transmission infrastructure is upgraded.
Reply from Minister Rabbitte: I have no function in this matter. Responsibility for the regulation of the electricity market is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) which is an independent regulator.
The CER was assigned responsibility for the regulation of the Irish electricity sector following the enactment of the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999 and subsequent legislation. Since April 2011 prices in the electricity market have been deregulated and business and domestic customers can as a result avail of competitive offerings from a number of supply companies. It is a function of the CER to regulate the electricity market.
Questions regarding the pricing practices of electricity supply companies should be directed towards the relevant companies or addressed to the CER.
I have no statutory function in the matter of the regulation of electricity prices.
Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide a breakdown of income generated by Electric Ireland from residential electricity charges in the 12 months up to 1 October, 2012, and in the subsequent 12 month period to 1 October, 2013.
Reply from Minister Pat Rabbitte: Responsibility for the regulation of the electricity and gas markets is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), the independent National Regulatory Authority for energy.
The CER was assigned responsibility for the regulation of the Irish electricity sector following the enactment of the Electricity Regulation Act, 1999 and subsequent legislation. The CER's responsibilities include the liberalisation of the electricity retail (supply) market in order to encourage the entry of competition and new investment.
Market rules have been established for the retail electricity and gas markets. It is a function of the CER to regulate the electricity and gas markets, to monitor competition and to monitor compliance by industry with legislation. This is a matter in which I, as Minister, have no statutory role or function.
Dáil Éireann allocates a certain amount of time on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during which Deputies may ask questions of Members of the Government relating to Public Affairs connected with their Departments, or on matters of administration for whch they are officially responsible. The Taoiseach answers questions on his own Department on Tuesdays/Wednesdays.