Contingency plans ‘in place’ should ESB strike occur

Minister for Education says measures taken to safeguard security of electricity supply

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn told the Dáil that the ESB and Eirgrid have ‘contingency plans in place in the event of industrial action taking place’ at the electricty supplier.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn told the Dáil that the ESB and Eirgrid have ‘contingency plans in place in the event of industrial action taking place’ at the electricty supplier. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 15:59

The Government is acutely aware of the seriousness of the situation in the dispute between ESB unions and management about the company pension scheme, the Dáil has been told.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said “the ESB and Eirgrid have contingency plans in place in the event of industrial action taking place”.

Unions issued strike notice that expires on December 16th in the row over the €1.6 billion deficit.

Mr Quinn said there was “ongoing engagement between Eirgrid, ESB and the energy regulator to ensure that, if there is industrial action, appropriate and co-ordinated mitigation measures are taken to safeguard security of supply”.

But Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary said “the contingency plan cannot guarantee to citizens that there will not be a power outage 10 days out from Christmas”.

He expressed concern that the talks between management and the unions were not going anywhere. He said there had been no progress to date and there was still a wide gulf between the two sides.

Speaking about the pension scheme, Mr Quinn said it was his understanding that the procedures adopted in the agreement between the ESB and unions in 2010 “have had a positive effect and the scheme actuary has reported that the scheme is now in balance on an ongoing actuarial basis”.

Mr Calleary agreed and said the pension board had stated that it was “on track to be in surplus by 2018. Minister Rabbitte has said there is no risk to the pension scheme and employees retiring between now and 2018 will receive their full entitlements.”

But he asked during leaders’ questions: “At what stage does the Government intend to knock heads together and ask for an assurance that these negotiations are going somewhere?”

He also questioned whether the Government was going to “allow it to drag to the very last minute”.

Mr Quinn, taking leaders’ questions in the absence of the Tánaiste, said there was an array of industrial relations instruments that could be mobilised at the appropriate time.

“If an intervention is required that would be considered in due course,” the Minister said.

“Everyone shares the concern about disruption of supply. Hopefully the talks will produce a positive constructive settlement but if intervention is required then the machinery for that intervention is available.”