Ireland's oil and gas industry has welcomed a decision by the nation’s government to exclude current oil and gas licences from a new legislative ban on future exploration and extraction.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan obtained cabinet approval to introduce the legislation, which will be included in the Climate Action & Low Carbon Amendment Bill that is set to go before the Irish parliament on Wednesday.

Green Party leader Ryan said: "The decision we have made today to legislate for a ban on new oil exploration and extraction will send a powerful message, within Ireland and internationally, that Ireland is moving away from fossil fuels towards a renewable future.

Pathway to net zero

“By keeping fossil fuels in the ground, we will incentivise the transition to renewable energy and put ourselves on a pathway to net zero by 2050.”

The Irish Offshore Operator’s Association (IOOA), which represents the oil industry, said it welcomed the “renewed commitment” by the Irish government to honour existing licences.

As a result, it said projects around the Barryroe and Corrib fields will be able to proceed.

However, IOOA questioned why a ban was being introduced on a legislative basis, saying it would “limit Ireland’s options for energy security in the future”.

“We remain dedicated to promoting and facilitating government and regulatory support for infrastructure-led exploration, ensuring existing infrastructure at Corrib, Kinsale and Barryroe are optimised,” said IOOA chairman Alan Linn.

'Welcome impact'

Ireland made tentative moves last year to ban oil extraction and exploration, but these were not underpinned by legislation, which would make it difficult for future governments to overturn.

But since then, Ryan said there has been a “welcome impact in terms of the numbers of existing authorisations that have been relinquished”.

“I expect this number to reduce further in the period ahead, given the increasingly challenging global investment environment for fossil fuels," he added.

If successful, Ireland will join the likes of Denmark, New Zealand and France, which have all announced bans on new oil and gas licensing.

'Great to see leadership'

Mel Evans, head of environmental group Greenpeace’s oil campaign in the UK, said: “It’s great to see that Ireland is showing climate leadership, and is set to follow Denmark by moving on from fossil fuels to incentivise the energy transition.

“It’s getting increasingly embarrassing that the UK shows no sign of doing so, and risks failing thousands of offshore oil and gas workers instead of supporting them to secure green jobs.”

Kate Ruddock, deputy director of Friends of the Earth in Ireland, said: "We now need to see a legally robust ban in legislation that prevents any loopholes or legal challenges from the offshore oil and gas industry, especially in the context of existing fossil fuel entitlements and leases.

“We will be calling for the ending of all oil and gas exploration with a specific date for the termination of existing licences.”