A motion put forward by rural independent TDs seeking oil and gas exploration off the Irish coast was defeated in the Dáil yesterday (Wednesday, June 15).

The rural independent group, led by Deputy Mattie McGrath, sought to ensure the development of Irish oil and gas, including the Barryroe field off the coast of Co. Cork.

A counter-motion by the government, affirming its current policy position on reducing Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels, was carried with 64 votes in favour, 50 against, and one absent.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, Ossian Smyth said the motion would represent significant policy changes, with negative effects on the environment, climate action and energy.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Minister Smyth said:

“Climate change is the single greatest threat to humanity which commits the government to act and achieve a rapid reduction in, and a reversal of, our impact on the climate.

“This means the fossil fuel-based economic model is no longer fit for purpose.”

Irish oil and gas

Deputy McGrath recently said the development of the Barryroe field is Ireland’s only route to self sufficiency and energy security, as oil and gas will be required for decades to come.

Minister Smyth said that while existing authorisation holders may apply to progress through the various stages of the petroleum exploration process, no new applications for oil or gas can be considered.

Since exploration began in the Irish offshore, according to Minister Smyth, four commercial gas discoveries have been made: Kinsale Head; Ballycotton; Seven Heads; and Corrib fields.

He added that while there have been some discoveries of oil in the Irish offshore, to date none of these have been declared commercial. Minister Smyth continued:

“There is no argument for reconsidering the ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration. Transition to renewables is the only way to progress and the proposed change set out in the motion would only distract from this.”

A revised petroleum policy statement will be published in the coming months to reflect the current government position, Minister Smyth said.

Renewable energy

Rural independent group leader, Deputy McGrath said the group acknowledges the potential of wind generation, however, Ireland cannot become a green economy “overnight” as 87% of total energy supply still comes from fossil fuels.

Sinn Féin TD Darran O’Rourke criticised the motion in response to the energy crisis: “To suggest the answer is new fossil fuel infrastructure, which is hugely damaging for the environment, does little in terms of energy security.”

The need for rapid development of Ireland’s renewable energy resources has been raised by Labour Party TD Ivana Bacik, who said “this is the path to take, not the promotion of new extraction of oil and gas”.

“Drilling in the Irish sea is not a solution to the cost-of-living crisis, nor is it a solution to the rising prices of fuel or concerns about energy security,” Deputy Bacik added.