Broadband Developments will Transform Services in Towns Across Ireland

October 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White, T.D., has welcomed two developments announced this week, which will see fibre-to-the-home delivered to at least 500,000 homes and businesses across Ireland.

The Minister said intense competition has seen telecommunications companies investing some €2.5bn in the Irish telecommunications market. He said the Government was committed to ensuring that every home and business in Ireland will get high quality internet connectivity, of at least 30 mbps, through State-led intervention in communities where commercial services are not likely to be provided.

“The commercial sector is showing clear leadership in delivering quality services to customers. The Government intends to follow this with an ambitious investment in rural Ireland, ensuring that everyone has high speed, high quality broadband regardless of where they are located”.

Today, eircom announced its intention to immediately commence rollout of fibre-to-the-home services to 66 communities in 26 counties commencing in November. This development will see eircom enhance its offering to customers as part of its wider programme of rolling out fibre-based services to 1.6m addresses in Ireland.

In a separate development yesterday, ESB secured approval from the European Commission to proceed with a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone Ireland. Earlier this year, following the enactment of legislation, the ESB and Vodafone announced their intention to enter a joint venture partnership in which ESB’s distribution network will be used to deliver wholesale fibre-to-the-home services. It is understood that the joint venture will deliver these services to 50 towns in 26 counties, with rollout commencing in 2015.

Welcoming both developments, Minister White said “Fibre-to-the-premises is a leading edge product. Whether the fibre goes to the home or business, this is a truly future-proofed product with the capacity to deal with multiple demands, devices and applications. It will bring a level of connectivity to homes and small businesses that will serve generations to come”.

The Minister noted that these announcements signal the growth of intense competition in the broadband market in Ireland, with telecommunications companies investing in the region of €2.5bn in upgrading services and products. “Competition is driving the delivery of new high speed fixed and wireless services to customers across Ireland” Minister White said, noting that eircom in particular has already passed 1 million homes with its eFibre service.

Minister White said he intended to publish a map in the coming weeks, which will show (a) the areas of planned commercial investment by 2016 and (b) the remaining areas, which will be the focus of the Government’s intervention. A public consultation be launched on the map, and on the technical standards that will apply to the State intervention. The Minister said that he intended to move to the procurement stage of the State’s intervention in 2015.

Building towards 2016 – Contract signed for GPO Flagship Project

October 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

GPO

Today the contract was signed for the construction works for the GPO: Witness History Interpretive Exhibition Centre. Construction will begin in November and is expected to take 12 months. GPO: Witness History will officially open on Easter Sunday 2016. The overall development will cost €7.8 million.

The GPO: Witness History Interpretive centre will form a centrepiece of the 1916 commemorations. Its Easter 2016 opening date is hugely significant historically but the centre will also be an enduring facility for the nation’s citizens to enjoy, and an impressive and informative visitor attraction that will help explain Ireland’s story to the rest of the world.

Improvements to 145 & 84x Bus Services

October 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

145 bus

I’m pleased to note that Dublin Bus has introduced extra departures at 15.45 and 17.40 on the 145 service from the 39a stop at Belfield Campus.

Three extra buses have been added to the 145 route from the city centre between 17.00 and 17.45, a move which is intended to alleviate demand on the 84x service.

Two extra departures have also been added to the 84x route for the duration of the peak Winter period at 18.10 from the City Centre and at 17.00 from Donnybrook Church.

These measures should offer a big help to commuters, particularly those travelling to and from Stillorgan, Mount Merrion and Belfield.

Budget 2015 – Minister White’s Budget Debate Speech

October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Budget 2015 – Alex White’s Budget Debate Speech

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Labour TD for Dublin South

Dáil Éireann, October 15th 2014, 5.45pm

 Budget 2015 is the first recovery Budget. The era of tax rises affecting low and middle income earners and cuts in public services is now over. Budget 2015 will help secure employment and a sustainable economic and social recovery for Ireland and our people. Its reliefs are targeted at low and middle income earners, especially families who have borne such a heavy financial burden over the last number of years.

We said that austerity would not last forever and that our collective effort would not be in vain. It is a testament to the resilience of the Irish people and the sacrifices they have made, that we are now entering a period of progress and recovery.

No budget cuts were announced yesterday. The spending announcements of Budget 2015 have been designed to be sustainable, to assist low and middle income families, and to invest strategically in rebuilding our society. There will be an €800 million investment in social housing for 2015, beginning with 2,500 social housing units being built next year. Funding from Budget 2015 will result in 900 new classroom teachers, 480 new resource teachers and 365 new Special Needs Assistants.

The tax cuts of Budget 2015 are progressive measures that target low and middle income earners. An increase in the threshold at which USC becomes payable will take 80,000 out of the charge altogether. In total, this means that 410,000 people will have been taken out of the USC since 2012. Middle income earners who continue to pay USC will pay less. The first rate of USC will fall from 2% to 1.5% and the second rate of USC will fall from 4% to 3.5%.

Proportionately the benefits of tax relief are far greater for low and middle income earners than for those earning more than €70,000 a year. Therefore, contrary to the charges made by the opposition, the income tax changes are clearly progressive – lower paid workers get a bigger percentage reduction in their tax. Deputy Martin stated earlier that the largest benefit is being given to the highest earners. This is manifestly not so. The largest benefit – proportionate to income – is being given to lower and middle income workers. That is something that perhaps Deputy Adams needs to understand as well with his empty charges of tax breaks for the wealthy and a suggestion that the budget was rewarding the highest earners first and foremost. Of course, this is manifestly not so.

Ceann Comhairle, Budget 2015 strikes the right balance between boosting growth, stimulating employment, protecting low and middle income earners and reducing our deficit and debt levels.

The very parameters of this budget debate reflect the progress our economy has made. Tax revenue is ahead of profile. The CSO figures in September showed that the Irish Economy grew by 7.7% in real GDP terms and by 9% in GNP terms year on year.

Most importantly, employment numbers have increased, and unemployment is dropping consistently and steadily. The latest CSO figures released in September showed that unemployment now stands at 11.1%, down from the 2012 peak of 15.1%. There is every prospect that unemployment will soon be below 10% signifying that a strong recovery is in place.

The work of my Department is central to putting the economy back on a sustainable path. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is committed to ensuring that the infrastructure exists for families, businesses, our society and economy to thrive and reach its full potential.

Delivering high speed, high quality and future proofed broadband to all parts of Ireland is a top priority for Government. It will provide jobs and improve social inclusion, including in rural communities, by creating the infrastructure that allows businesses and communities to thrive. To this end, we are in the process of ensuring that high speed broadband becomes available to every citizen and business in the country irrespective of their location.

We are facilitating the expansion of commercial provision. And we are actively preparing a State intervention to provide high speed broadband infrastructure to approximately 700,000 homes and businesses, which are otherwise unlikely to be served by commercial providers. Over the coming weeks, we will publish detailed maps which will show the areas where commercial providers are – or will soon be – in place, and those where state intervention is required. A full public consultation on these maps will follow, allowing operators, consumers and citizens to share their views. Intensive design work is progressing in my Department including the preparation of a comprehensive intervention strategy to be published in mid-2015, with a view to launching a major public procurement process to identify a preferred company or companies to implement this phase of the National Broadband Plan.

While 2015 will be a crucial year for the advancement of the National Broadband Plan, the introduction of a national postcode system will also be significant. A unique seven character code will be allocated to every letter-box in the State by the middle of 2015. This will become a vital part of the national infrastructure, with improved efficiencies for postal delivery and other public and private services.

As Minister for Energy it is my task to ensure a safe, sustainable, economic and cost-effective energy sector, no matter who the consumer is, be they householder, small start-up business, multi-national – or one of our younger citizens needing access to a warm comfortable room for play or for study or just for rest. Consultation is now advancing on the Green Paper published by my predecessor Pat Rabbitte, so that drafting of our definitive Energy Policy White Paper will follow in the first half of 2015, and publication by the summer of 2015. The ultimate goal is an Energy Policy that steers an appropriate course between sustainability, security and competitiveness for the ultimate benefit of society.

For the fourth year in a row, we will deliver Better Energy Programmes across the country. These programmes have successfully delivered significant energy savings, created jobs, tackled fuel poverty and helped reduce carbon emissions. The allocation for the Better Energy Programme will total €47 million in 2015, and will assist in energy savings of over 460 gigawatt hours next year – a significant contribution towards our 2020 energy efficiency targets. It will support an estimated 2,900 jobs and significantly reduce carbon emissions. The Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme will continue to receive substantial funding in 2015. The programme provides free energy efficiency measures to low-income households. Over 10,000 homes are expected to benefit from an energy efficiency upgrade in 2015, bringing to 118,000 the total number of households that have benefited under this programme.

My Department is also responsible for the national digital strategy which is a progressive programme of investment and intervention that is strengthening Ireland’s digital economy so that it supports further job creation.

The Trading Online Voucher Scheme, introduced in 2014, is being continued in 2015 with funding of €3m. The scheme gives small enterprises up to €2,500 towards the cost of online trading investment and aims to get 2,000 small businesses trading online.

Ensuring that citizens are equipped to participate in an increasingly digital world is another objective of the National Digital Strategy. In 2014, we passed a milestone of 100,000 people trained in the use of basic online technologies. In 2015 we will continue to fund this programme, which is delivered nationwide through a network of approximately 700 community based organisations.

In the last three years, the Government has delivered 100 mega-bites-per-second connectivity to every second level school in Ireland, allowing teachers and students to use technology to enhance educational outcomes. A series of workshops to support schools was also organised and we will continue to support this initiative in 2015.

We will also continue our support of the Digital Hub Development Agency, based in Dublin 8, which supports over 70 digital enterprises employing almost 800 people. The National Digital Research Agency, based at the Digital Hub, will continue to be exchequer supported in 2015. 2015 spending for the NDRA and the Digital Hub will be €5.5m.

Public service broadcasting is an indispensable element of our democracy and helps facilitate our national conversation – informing, educating and entertaining. Over €242.47m in TV licence revenue will flow through my Department’s Vote next year to fund the delivery of public service broadcasting by RTÉ and TG4.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources will continue its strategic role in ensuring that infrastructural development continues at a strong pace, in order to advance a balanced and sustainable economic and social recovery.

As Ireland moves beyond the painful era of economic crisis and into a recovery phase, it is vital that we do not repeat the boom and bust economics of Fianna Fáil or adopt the reckless and populist policies of Sinn Féin. The people of Ireland have worked too hard to reach this tentative recovery in order for it to be scuppered now.

The decisions the Government has made in Budget 2015 herald a new phase in the process of economic and social recovery for all of our citizens. We still face significant challenges but I am glad to say that our country’s darkest days are behind us.

Minister White Welcomes First ‘Recovery Budget’

October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White today (Wednesday) welcomed Budget 2015 as the “first recovery Budget” and said the era of public service cuts was over. Speaking in Dáil Éireann this evening, the Minister and Labour TD for Dublin South said it was a progressive budget with reliefs targeted at low and middle income earners who had shouldered a very considerable economic burden in recent years.

“We said that austerity would not last forever and would not be in vain. It is a testament to the resilience of the Irish people and the sacrifices they have made, that we are now entering a period of recovery,” he said.

Minister White said the Budget had balanced economic growth, employment and debt reduction while supporting low and middle income earners. “The tax cuts are progressive measures that target low and middle income earners. The increase in the Universal Social Charge (USC) threshold will take 80,000 out of the charge altogether. In total, this means that 410,000 people will have been taken out of the USC since 2012.

“Middle income earners who continue to pay USC will pay less. The first rate of USC will fall from 2% to 1.5% and the second rate of USC will fall from 4% to 3.5%. Proportionately the benefits of tax relief are far greater for low and middle income earners than for those earning more than €70,000 a year,” he said.

He welcomed increased spending in education, €800 of new social housing investment, and measures to continue boosting employment in 2015. “It is this Government’s hope that unemployment will soon be below 10%. I am confident that the measures in Budget 2015 make reaching this vital milestone more likely,” he said.

He announced that his department’s Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme, which provides free energy efficiency measures to low-income households, will deliver upgrades to 10,000 homes in 2015, bringing to 118,000 the total number of households that have benefitted.

“The allocation for the Better Energy Programme will total €47 million in 2015, and will assist in energy savings of over 460 gigawatt hours next year – a significant contribution towards our 2020 energy efficiency targets. It will support an estimated 2,900 jobs and significantly reduce carbon emissions,” he said.

Minister White said his department would play a central part in economic recovery by, among other things, working to ensure that high-speed, high-quality and future-proofed broadband becomes available to every home and business in Ireland, irrespective of their location.

 

Budget 2015: Supporting Employment & Economic & Social recovery

October 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

My main priority as Minister is to further advance the National Broadband Plan. Delivering high speed, high quality and future proofed broadband to all parts of Ireland will provide jobs and improve social inclusion, including in rural communities. It will create infrastructure that allows businesses and communities to thrive. To this end, we are in the process of ensuring that high speed broadband becomes available to every citizen and business in the country irrespective of their location.

The introduction of a national postcode system will make 2015 a significant year for Ireland as every household will receive a unique ‘Eircode’ by the middle of the year. Eircodes will assist in logistics planning, accurate address capture, better customer service and enhanced fraud detection and data management.

For the fourth year in a row, we will roll out the Better Energy Programmes. These programmes have successfully delivered major energy savings, created jobs, tackled fuel poverty and helped reduce carbon emissions. In 2015 a further €47m will be provided to the Better Energy Homes Programmes and the Better Energy Warmer Homes programme. The total number of beneficiaries of the Better Energy Warmer Homes programme will rise to 118,000 in 2015.

Overall Expenditure on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Allocation to current spending €83.6m

Allocation to capital spending €89.0m

Total Budget for 2015: €172.6m


COMMUNICATIONS

National Broadband Plan

  • Further advance high quality, high speed and future proofed broadband network for Ireland
  • Q4, 2014: Map of priority interventions for broadband to be published.
  • Economic, legal and technical design and scope of plan to be finalised in mid-2015 and published for further consultation.

National Postcode system – Eircode

  • Public Information Campaign to begin Q2, 2015
  • Every household in the country to get a unique code by mid-2015

National Digital Strategy and digital entrepreneurship

  • Further funding of €3m to accelerate Trading Online Voucher Scheme – €2,500 available to small enterprises – through Local Enterprise Offices.
  • Renewed funding for the BenefIT programme, which bridges the internet divide, through a network of 700 community organisations.
  • €2.7m to conclude the Schools broadband programme giving every secondary school in Ireland 100mbs high speed broadband.
  • €5.5m 2015 spending for the National Digital Research Agency and the Digital Hub.

Broadcasting

  • The 2015 allocation is €242.47m. TV licence fee revenue funds the delivery of public service broadcasting by RTÉ and TG4.

ENERGY

Better Energy Programmes

  • €47m allocated to Better Energy Programme, which supports an estimated 2,900 jobs.
  • Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme will continue to target low-income households for energy savings resulting in warmer homes and reduced energy costs.
  • Better Energy Homes will continue to provide retrofitting grant aid to Irish homes.
  • The €70m Energy Efficiency Fund (€35m from the Government) was launched this year. Fund managers believe that as much as €200m in leveraged funding could be achieved.
  • €10m funding allocated to Ocean Energy research in 2015.

NATURAL RESOURCES

Inland Fisheries Ireland

  • Overall expenditure of €27.6m includes funds to ensure patrol man hours and inspections to assist in the detection of illegal activities.

Geological Survey of Ireland

  • Further €3m allocated to GSI to advance Tellus project mapping Ireland’s environment and natural resources and the continuance of INFOMAR, the near shore mapping project.

Minerals exploration and mining

  • The allocation for 2015 is €3.58m, including €1.4m expenditure on the remediation of former mine sites in Avoca, county Wicklow and Silvermines, county Tipperary.

I am working to advance key Labour values in my Department which is strategic by its very nature. The development of an ambitious broadband plan, and the delivery of ‘Eircodes’, demonstrates the capacity of the state to intervene and invest where the market has failed. By doing so, we will ensure that the right infrastructure exists for families, businesses, our society and economy to thrive and reach its full potential.

Speech at Energy Action Conference 2014

October 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry that I cannot be with you there today in person, unfortunately pressing European business means that I am unavoidably detained elsewhere.

I firmly believe that the challenge of energy affordability is one of the most pressing we face as a society. Energy is not a luxury, it is a fundamental requirement of modern life and we have a shared responsibility as a society to ensure that everyone can afford to heat and power their homes.

This is a daunting challenge and there are no quick fix solutions. Addressing energy poverty requires holistic solutions. Industry, Government and consumer groups all need to work together to develop the type of solutions that can make a real difference for those in energy poverty. Today’s conference is a tangible example of the kind of collaborative approach we need to further develop and I would like to commend Energy Action for its organisation.

The case for addressing energy poverty is clear. Studies in the UK and further afield have demonstrated that allowing people to live in homes that are comfortable and warm has an enormous impact upon the quality of their lives, which is reflected in lower costs for our health system.

I believe that it is important that more field research is carried out in this area and indeed that the current body of research is brought together. This evidence-based approach will help to inform policy-makers to identify the most effective solutions to fuel poverty.

Unfortunately it is often the case that the customers experiencing the greatest difficulty with their energy bills are those families living in sub-standard accommodation. In effect, they end up having to spend more money to achieve the same or a lower level of comfort than a family in a home with better insulation. This can turn into a vicious cycle of rising health and energy bills and invariably the point comes when something snaps.

We need to break this cycle and we have the means to do so. Improving the thermal efficiency of our homes replaces imported fossil fuel with domestic jobs, lowers our emissions and lets people heat their homes with less energy and lower bills. Already, working with organisations like Energy Action, the Government’s Warmer Homes programme has upgraded over 105,000 homes, with a further 12,000 homes to be upgraded in 2014 and I will fight to ensure that Budget 2015 protects programmes like the Warmer Homes scheme.

These retrofitting programmes also support the economy by substituting our dependence on imported fossil fuels with local employment throughout the country. I remain committed to the Community based organisations playing a vital role in the in the scheme as we move towards a new tendering system in the new year, alongside private contractors

We also must ensure that the competitive energy market is working on behalf of all consumers, not just the most sophisticated consumers. We need to educate and engage consumers. Through new initiatives like the energy engage code, which protects a customer who engages with their energy supplier from disconnection and the series of workshops my Department is embarking on to seek input on the Energy Green Paper, I hope that more and more people will become engaged energy citizens.

We cannot forget that around seven hundred thousand households in Ireland are using oil to heat their homes. That’s nearly half of the homes in the country. Many of those households are in rural areas and areas without access to the gas grid. The economic downturn has left some of these households struggling to save the funds required to fill their oil tanks for the winter months, particularly as the price of oil can vary making it difficult for them to budget adequately. We need to consider practical and innovative solutions that could be implemented to give these customers some of the protections that other energy consumers already enjoy. For example, working with Saint Vincent de Paul, my Department is about to embark upon an oil stamps saving scheme, that if successfully piloted, we will roll out nationally.

It is a core commitment of the Programme for Government to help people at risk of energy poverty. We will continue to upgrade people’s homes through retrofit measures. We will continue to support the most vulnerable in our society through the social protection system and we will continue to promote the development of healthy competition in the energy market and ensure that the market delivers for consumers. We will also work closely with the organisations represented at the energy action conference.

To this end I would like to inform you all that my Department is currently working on a review of the Government’s Affordability Strategy and I aim to publish a consultation paper on what should form the basis of the Government’s next affordability strategy in the coming weeks. I look forward to your input into this process.

I wish you a productive conference and I look forward to hearing your views in the forthcoming energy affordability consultation and through the Energy Policy Paper process.

Thank you very much.

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