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Minister Rabbitte's report to conference

Posted on April 14, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Minister Pat Rabbitte's report to conference

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte has a wide brief that ranges from energy security to State assets, from postal services to oil and gas exploration, from broadcasting to broadband. Here is a short list of just some of the issues he has dealt with since coming to office.

Next generation broadband

Pat set up and chairs a high level taskforce on next generation broadband, comprising the CEOs of the main telecoms in the Irish market and senior departmental officials.

The taskforce has finished its work and Pat will now bring forward proposals to assist investment in broadband infrastructure and to accelerate delivery of bigger and faster broadband to more places as soon as possible.

High speed broadband to all parts of Ireland is an essential priority. It will underpin economic growth and recovery, as well as providing important dividends in terms of education, health and other social benefits.

Broadband for schools

Pat secured Government approval for the roll-out of high speed broadband to all the second level schools of the nation. This initiative will make a considerable contribution to new teaching methods, boost learning opportunities for all students, including those with learning difficulties, and ultimately make a major contribution to competitiveness for the workforce of the future.
The national roll-out will be completed over three stages, with 200 schools being connected by next September, a further 200 being connected next year and the remaining 250 schools being connected in 2014.

Digital switchover

The 24th October will see the switch-over from analogue to digital TV . Pat has put an information campaign in place to make sure that every citizen is well aware, well in advance of switchover day, of the basic steps they need to take to ensure a continuous service. The campaign involves detailed planning including dedicated local liaison with the community and voluntary sector , so that no households are left behind.

Spectrum auction
The digital switchover will allow the release of important spectrum for other purposes. Pat is determined to ensure that this spectrum is used to facilitate a more widespread availability of services in rural areas, where wires and cables will not reach, at a lower cost than is currently possible.
Access to new spectrum bands, and new wireless products and services within these bands, will help Ireland to meet the EU's Digital Agenda for Europe targets, under which all citizens must have access to much higher internet speeds of above 30mbps by 2020.

RTE accountability
Pat ensured there was an independent inquiry by the BAI to determine the true facts and circumstances which led to the Prime Time programme on Fr Kevin Reynolds being broadcast on RTE. The BAI findings and recommendations are about to be published.

Media mergers
Pat finalised agreement for the transfer of responsibility to his Department for a new regime on media mergers and acquisitions.
Ownership of media organisations, and the control of media mergers and acquisitions, raise issues above and beyond normal competitive concerns. This is because plurality in the media requires both diversity of ownership and control and also diversity of content.
The legislation will put in place a statutory definition of media plurality that highlights and safeguards both ownership and content.

Sport on free-to-air TV
Pat secured continued statutory protection for major sports events to be broadcast on free-to-air TV. The events protected include the Summer Olympics, the All-Ireland Senior Football & Hurling Finals, Ireland's qualifying games in the European Football Championship & World Cup, the opening games, semi-finals and final of the European Football Championship Finals and the World Cup Finals, the Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby, and the Nations Cup (Aga Khan) at the Dublin Horse Show.

Postal services
Pat steered the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011 through the Oireachtas to protect the universal postal service as an essential public service, in particular for rural communities and disadvantaged communities affected by the digital divide. An Post is designated as the universal postal service provider and the legislation will assist it to remain as a publicly owned and viable company in the face of challenges thrown up by electronic substitution.

Pat introduced legislation in 2011 that allows for an Irish postcode system. Because we are coming to postcodes so late in the day, he is determined that we use this opportunity not just to catch up but to overtake other countries with a scheme that incorporates a unique identifier for every address in the State.
This system will have benefits not just for the postal and other home delivery services but also for our emergency services.

Home energy retrofitting
In the face of unprecedented cutbacks in public capital spending, Pat was able to secure an additional €30 million in 2011 and some €76 million in 2012 for employment intensive energy efficiency measures and supports through the Better Energy programme.
The programme will upgrade the energy efficiency of a further 17,000 low income homes as well as offering grant support to many other home owners to invest in the retrofitting of their own homes.
The programme achieves energy savings worth €400 million to the economy.
Close to 5,000 direct and indirect jobs are supported from this spending.
For every €1 the State invests, the private sector invests €2.

Energy efficiency legislation
After steering the necessary implementing legislation through the Oireachtas, Pat negotiated voluntary agreements with all the major energy suppliers to deliver competitive energy savings upgrades to homes across the country. Energy suppliers will be required to demonstrate a leadership role in the more efficient use of energy and will achieve significant savings on their energy costs, enhancing their competitiveness and that of the economy as a whole.

Energy saving in public buildings
Pat launched a capital fund to support sustainable energy investment in the public, commercial, industrial and community sectors.
The fund leverages additional investment on a 3:1 basis and the annual savings effectively repay Government funding within 12 months.

Renewable energy
Pat ensured that Ireland is on target to deliver 40% of energy from renewable sources - mainly wind power - by 2020. This is good news for energy security and energy prices, as well as making a major contribution to our climate change targets
Pat secured EU and Government approval for two new support schemes ( for electricity from renewable sources. The REFIT 2 scheme supports onshore wind, small hydro and landfill gas, while REFIT 3 supports biomass technologies. Both schemes will apply to projects built and operational up to 2016.

Energy poverty
Pat published Warmer Homes: A Strategy for Affordable Energy in Ireland, a whole-of-Government strategy to eradicate energy poverty for low-income households so that people can live in warm and comfortable homes that enhance the quality of life and support good physical and mental health.
The strategy is designed to protect the most vulnerable in our society in a coordinated, cohesive and effective way. It includes 48 actions that will be implemented over its lifetime, including -

  • minimum thermal efficiency standards for all rental properties
  • a review of the National Fuel and Household Benefits Schemes so as to target cash supports more effectively and prioritise colder homes
  • introducing an area-based approach to mitigating energy poverty, so as to harness community effort
  • a new approach to measuring energy poverty that targets the most at risk households.

The strategy will be implemented and monitored over the lifetime of the Government by the Inter-Departmental/Agency Group on Affordable Energy.

No disconnections
Pat ensured that electricity and gas customers in genuine financial hardship would not be disconnected for non-payment, provided they entered a payment plan agreement or installed a pay-as-you-go meter.

Capital infrastructure investments
2012 will see the culmination of the State's largest ever energy infrastructure project, connecting the Irish electricity grid and Great Britain. The East West Interconnector will cost €600 million in total.
Earlier this week Pat launched the Grid Link Project, a significant upgrade and reinforcement of the electricity grid in Leinster and Munster. This is the largest project under our transmission development strategy and will facilitate further conventional generation and renewable energy projects as well as assisting future interconnection with grids outside Ireland.
Pat established an international expert commission to review and report on a case for, and cost of, undergrounding all or part of the cross-border Meath-Tyrone 400KV power line. This line will lead to a critical strengthening of the all-island electricity grid.
The Oireachtas Energy Committee has held hearings, with expert witnesses, on the commission's report and its examination of the issues is currently being finalised.

Offshore exploration

Despite promising data, there have only been four commercial gas finds in Irish waters in 40 years. The pace of exploration activity - just 14 exploration wells drilled since 2000 - has been very low. In 2011 Pat granted the highest number of new licences in decades. The tax rate for commercial finds will range from 25% to 40%, depending on the degree of profitability.

Following the grant of three preliminary authorisations by the previous Government relating to the search for shale gas, Pat commissioned the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct research and to advise on the environmental dimension of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" as a means of extracting natural gas from onshore underground reserves.
We need to have debate on this subject which is well informed. At present there is currently very little European experience of the process.
Pat is determined that our approach to this issue will be evidence-based and will rule out unacceptable environmental or social impacts. In the meantime, there will be no licences issued for the use of hydraulic fracturing onshore in Ireland.

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