Up to 100,000 illegal gas boilers have been installed since 2009, putting thousands of lives at risk, an Oireachtas Committee has been told.

Representatives from the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors Ireland (APHCI) appeared before the Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee this morning.

APHCI Chairman Sean Giffney explained the "gravity of the situation facing the gas industry" and said that today is "a last-ditch attempt" to seek change.

He said every day the association's members witness illegal operations and little or nothing is being done to stop them.

He said there needs to be proactive solutions and if the industry is not properly regulated thousands of peoples' lives may be at risk.

He said his members are deeply concerned and holding out for a positive outcome today.

APHCI secretary James Egan explained to the committee a number of facts surrounding the illegal operations of natural gas operations.

He said 100,000 illegal boilers have been installed since the regulatory system began in June 2009.

The market is awash with illegal operators, he said, and it is driving legitimate operators out of business.

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has responsibility for putting in place a comprehensive system of safety.

In June 2009, the CER set up the Register Gas Installers Ireland (RGII).

The RGII remit is to regulate registered gas installers and to investigate complaints but is not responsible for looking for illegal installers or works.

The APHCI has argued that the system is not fit for purpose.

The association says that 30,000 gas boilers are installed each year and only 12,000 certs are returned.

By law all gas boilers must be certified and a copy of the certificate returned to RGII within ten days.

The APHCI has asked for an independent public inquiry which would finally establish all of the facts.

CER Commissioner Paul McGowan said all aspects of the gas supply chain are subject to safety regulations.

He said he wanted to reassure that gas is a safe fuel and people can be guaranteed safety when they use a registered gas installer.

Mr McGowan said the commission operates on the basis of continuous improvement and that prosecutions are carried out where people who are non-registered carry out gas installations.

CER director of Energy Safety Sheenagh Rooney said the commission relies on the public to report rogue installers.

She said that the CER runs annual campaigns for people to service their boilers to prevent carbon monoxide.

She said that people are asked to report any suspicion they may have about illegal operators and this leads to prosecutions.

She said that when there is a prosecution they strive to get as much publicity as possible around that prosecution.

Ms Rooney encouraged people to make complaints as they can be made anonymously.

The CER said it attempts to strike a balance between enforcement and audit and inspection.

A number of TDs criticised CER as it emerged that only 45 illegal gas boiler installers have been prosecuted since 2009.

Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan said that "the fact of the matter are that there is a whole lot of work going on that is not regulated."

He said that nearly three-quarters of gas installations are not done by the properly regulated people. 

Mr McGowan reiterated that anybody who suspects any illegal activity should report it and said that if it is reported it will be investigated. 

Sinn Féin TD Michael Colreavy said there is something wrong when it is reported that there are 100,000 illegal boilers and only 45 prosecutions. 

Fine Gael TD Patrick O'Donovan said: "I am stunned that you are just relying on the public to rung up and complain."

Committee hears gas and electricity prices should fall

The committee also heard gas and electricity prices should continue to fall this year.

The Energy Regulator said they are urging gas and electricity suppliers to reduce prices for customers.

Aoife MacEvilly said that while the CER no longer sets the price for suppliers there should be more reductions for customers in the months ahead.

Laura Brien, one of the commission's directors, told the committee wholesale gas prices in Ireland have fallen by about 18% in the past 12 months.