Thirteen new licences have been granted for gas and oil exploration for the Rockall, Slyne and Porcupine basins off the Irish coast.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte said the licences were granted following an assessment of 15 applications submitted last May.
Minister Rabbitte insisted the State did not have the resources to fund the exploration and rejected claims that Ireland's licensing scheme was excessively generous.
He said another significant find would do wonders for our energy security and said the tax-take would be significant.
The minister said Ireland needs to see an increase in exploration activity and exploration drilling in particular, if the petroleum potential of our offshore is to be realised.
''The positive outcome of the 2011 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round will help bring a new momentum to the level of exploration activity in our offshore.
''Ireland must continue to communicate the message to international exploration companies that Ireland is open for business and that the Irish offshore has real potential."
He said it was handing over to the private oil companies control of the whole future recovery and development of the natural resources off the coast.
Mr Higgins said a publicly owned exploration and recovery company should be established to set about assembling the expertise for exploration.
A total of 12 companies are involved in the 13 awards.
The companies involved include both new entrants to Ireland, together with companies already active in the Irish offshore.
The seven new companies that will be offered acreage are: Antrim Energy; Bluestack Energy; Europa Oil & Gas; First Oil Expro; Petrel Resources; Repsol Exploration; and Two Seas Oil & Gas Ltd.
The five companies already active in Ireland are: Providence Resources Plc; Chrysaor; Serica Energy; Sosina Exploration and San Leon Energy.
It is expected that exploration could start immediately.