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Concern at proposed sale of Whitegate oil refinery


The sale of the oil refinery in Whitegate was raised in the Dáil last week by Cork East Fine Gael Deputy David Stanton.

"I am interested in hearing the Minister's  (Alex White) reaction to my view that the refinery is of strategic importance to the State," he said.

Deputy Stanton said the refinery supplies 40% of Ireland's transport needs and sells on a wholesale, rather than retail, basis.

"I have been told it turns around about 200 lorries per day, a figure which has risen to well over 300 at times of peak demand. If it were to close, it would be a major shock to the State, and that is why it is of strategic importance," said Deputy Stanton. "The fuel, as the Minister knows, is used for transport, industry, agriculture, shipping, food production, heating, hospitals, haulage, public transport and so on. The refinery also produces liquid petroleum gas for a local company, Calor Gas."

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 All other fuel is imported, mainly from the UK, he said. The refinery acts as a competitor to the importation of fuel.

"No other country in Europe has allowed all of its refining capacity to be closed, and that should not happen in Ireland," he said.  "I ask the Minister and the current and future Governments to support the continuation of refining in Whitegate and to continue the positive engagement that has occurred to date with the owners, any future owners, the workforce and local management."

Locally, he said over 300 workers are employed in the refinery, comprising 157 staff and 130 contractors. About €100 million is spent in the local economy in the Cork region. It is also very important from that point of view.  "I have been told that 600 ancillary jobs are dependent on the refinery, which again shows its important. It accounts for about half of the shipping tonnage in Cork Harbour," he added.

In response Energy Minister Alex White said Ireland has a single refinery, at Whitegate in Cork, which is owned and operated by Phillips 66, a private company. Phillips 66, he said, supplies approximately 40% of the main products on the market, excluding jet fuel. Under the 2001 sale and purchase agreement, when the State sold the refinery, there was a legal requirement on the refinery owner to continue to operate the refinery for a minimum period of 15 years until July 2016. Commercial decisions beyond July 2016 are a matter for the company, which operates in a fully liberalised market.

"Refining in Europe has been struggling since the onset of the recession in 2008," he said. "The local management of Phillips 66 informed the Department on 12 October last of the company's intention to put the refinery and marketing business up for sale. Any sale of the refinery would be a commercial matter between Phillips 66 and a potential purchaser. 

"While this process is under way, Whitegate will continue to operate on a business-as-usual basis. Whitegate's management has repeatedly indicated that it is committed to honouring the 15-year agreement under the 2001 sale and purchase agreement. 

"This commitment is not, and would not be, affected by the planned sale."

Recently, the Minister said he had a number of meetings with Cabinet colleagues to discuss the future of the refinery.

"In summary, the outcome of these discussions is that there is recognition of the strategic importance of the refinery at Whitegate from an energy security perspective," he said. "Security of supply remains a fundamental tenet of our energy policy."

McLellan seeks adequate protection for artists THE proper provision to protect the rights of artists and provide them with adequate remuneration for the use of their copyrighted works was raised in the Dáil by Cork East Sinn Fein Deputy Sandra McLellan. She said the basic principle of copyright is that the creator shares in the economic return from their work and receives equitable remuneration for its use.

"Remuneration is considered to be equitable if it is proportional to the income earned by the work," she said. "Where this produces large quantities of small payments, collective management organisations manage the process. Most European countries consider this to be a good practice, but Ireland is unique."

She asked Minister Heather Humphries if she agreed that many artists are still struggling and that she should ensure they get their fair share of remuneration. In reply, the Minister said her Department is aware of the importance of protecting the rights of artists, including the issues of protection of intellectual property in the digital age. EU policy in this regard is also significant.

"The issues of supporting artists, including with regard to copyright, has been an area of significant discussion during the public consultation phases of developing the proposed new National Cultural Policy, Culture 2025," she said. 

"I expect that these complex issues will be reflected in the final policy document." She said her primary role is to support artists and the creative industries in Ireland using the mechanisms available to her and working across Government on common initiatives such as the Action Plan for Jobs. 

"The Arts Council is the main mechanism through which the Government directs funding to the arts and to artists," she said. "In this regard, the Arts Council recently published its new strategy statement, Making Great Art Work. This sets out the Arts Council plans to lead the development of the arts in the decade to 2025 and prioritises two policy areas, the artist and public engagement."