Communications Energy and Natural Resources, Dáil Issues, Oral Questions

Government stands over appalling decision to appoint a pro-fracking company to carry out a two year “Research Programme” into the potential impacts on environment and human health from fracking!!! Meanwhile residence in Dublin cannot even get access to broadband as a result of privatisation… You couldn’t make it up…

To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the recent Leitrim County Council vote of no confidence in a company (details supplied) appointed to carry out a 24-month research programme looking at the potential impacts on the environment and human health of fracking. Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 16th June, 2015.

REPLY

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Alex White)
I have received no communication from Leitrim County Council in the matter referred to.
As for the appointment of CDM Smith, and the involvement of that company in the multi-agency trans-boundary programme of research commissioned by the EPA on the potential impacts on the environment and human health from Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction projects, I would like to comment as follows. The Programme is managed by the EPA and co-funded by the EPA, my Department and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, with oversight from a broad based Steering Committee that includes my Department.

As is usual in major and broad ranging projects such as this, the project team involves a wide range of expert institutions and companies. CDM Smith is the lead consultant in the consortium engaged to carry out the programme of research and that consortium includes the British Geological Survey, University College Dublin, Ulster University, Queens University Belfast, AMEC Foster Wheeler and Philip Lee Solicitors, each offering a particular specialism required by the project scope.

The contract for this programme of research was awarded following a robust evaluation process in compliance with public procurement guidelines, where the tender submitted by the CDM Smith headed consortium was evaluated as being the strongest bid.

I am aware that there has been some recent focus on the fact that CDM Smith has provided expert advice to oil companies involved in the development of unconventional gas resources. CDM Smith has also provided advices to State bodies and regulatory agencies across its area of expertise.

As I am sure the Deputy will appreciate it is common that a broad range of parties will seek to draw on the specialist expertise available from a firm such as CDM Smith. The fact that disparate entities seek to draw on such expertise, is generally seen as an indicator of a company’s recognised experience.

To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views that it is acceptable that there is no solution identified to provide broadband in substantial parts of County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Clare Daly.

For ORAL answer on Tuesday, 16th June, 2015.

REPLY

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Alex White)
The Government’s National Broadband Plan aims to ensure that every citizen and business, regardless of location, has access to a high quality, high speed broadband service. This will be achieved through a combination of commercial investments and a State led intervention in areas where commercial services will not be provided.

The commercial telecommunications sector is currently investing approximately €2.5 billion in network upgrades and enhanced services with approximately 1.6 million of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland expected to have access to commercial high speed broadband services over the next two years. These very significant investments represent a step-change in the quality of broadband services available.

Last November I published a national high speed coverage map for 2016. This map is available at www.broadband.gov.ie. The map shows Ireland with two colours, BLUE and AMBER. The areas marked BLUE represent those areas where commercial providers plan to deliver high speed broadband services by end 2016. The AMBER areas on the map show the target areas for the State intervention.

Under EU State Aid rules, public investment in a commercial market has to be targeted at areas where there is evidence of market failure. Therefore, the Government’s proposed investment under the NBP will only apply to those parts of County Dublin that are within the Amber areas of our map. Those premises in Co Dublin within the Blue areas will be provided with services through commercial investment.

In additon, eircom recently announced an investment that may address a further 300,000 premises with fibre-to-the-premises technology. My Department will be rigorously examining the assurances from eircom in relation to these new plans, which is a requirement for all operators, and will review how this impacts the proposed intervention area.

Intensive design and planning work is underway in my Department to produce a detailed intervention strategy for the AMBER area. Following a public consultation process on the draft Intervention Strategy this summer, I hope to move to formal procurement phase towards the end of this year in order to select a preferred bidder or bidders.

I expect the physical build of the network to begin in late 2016, and it will take between three and five years to fully complete – depending on the details of the bid or bids selected.

This complex and ambitious project is a key priority for Government and aims to conclusively address current broadband connectivity issues in mainly rural parts of the country.