Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
28. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when it is proposed to establish the NewERA company; and the way that this will impact on State companies currently under his remit. [16095/11]
Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd): The programme for Government commits to the establishment of a NewERA authority as a dedicated entity to oversee investment as referred to in this reply. It is proposed that streamlined and restructured semi-State agencies will make significant additional investments over and above current plans during the next four years in next generation infrastructure in terms of energy, broadband, forestry and water.
Proposals are being developed for the Government’s consideration on the formal establishment of NewERA. Intensive cross-departmental engagement is ongoing and I hope to be in a position to set up NewERA within the next three to four weeks. I am committed to ensuring speedy progress is made in this regard. One of the key objectives is the leveraging of additional investment and employment from streamlined and restructured commercial State bodies. The Government has made clear its intention to ensure State companies play a full role in our economic recovery. The energy companies are already engaged in significant programmes of development. We must ensure all the investment programmes of the State companies are cost effective, strategic and subject to rigorous shareholder scrutiny and, where appropriate, regulatory oversight. NewERA will have a key role to play in this regard on behalf of the Government.
Deputy Martin Ferris: Can the Minister of State guarantee that such a company, if established, will not lay the groundwork for the eventual privatisation of what were formerly State assets? For example, a new State company to manage the water network is a part of the NewERA programme. During last week’s debate, the House agreed that such an authority would be required to tackle the significant wastage of water. However, the clear signal coming from quarters that appear to have sympathy with some of the Minister of State’s Cabinet colleagues is that the establishment of such an entity and the introduction of meters would prepare the ground for the company’s privatisation. In light of this fear, I would like it if the Minister of State could clarify the matter.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I will clarify. Irish Water will be a State-owned entity, not a private one, and it will not be privatised. The management of our water infrastructure will be by a State entity. The Deputy need have no fears in that regard.
The Deputy’s second point related to the programme for Government, which states that €2 billion from the sale of non-strategic State assets will be used to finance the NewERA investment programme. However, that which is essential for the State will remain in State ownership.
Deputy Martin Ferris: Regarding another aspect of the NewERA programme, the fate of Bord na Móna and Coillte’s assets, especially Coillte’s forestry, is unclear following the companies’ merger into a new bioenergy company. Will the Minister of State assure the House that the land and forestry will remain primarily for public use?
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: I have met the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coveney, regarding the programme for Government’s proposal on merging Coillte and Bord na Móna. He is discussing his opinions with Coillte and I have sought another meeting with him to discuss what progress has been made. There is no question of the land being sold. It will never be sold and will remain in State ownership.
Deputy Fergus O’Dowd: The commitment is that both companies will be merged and a business plan is being examined with a view to determining what new synergies could result. Taking a decision will be a matter for the Cabinet, but the business plan will be a matter for debate in the Dáil.
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