SPEEDY START TO ENERGY REVIEW PROCESS - The Irish Times says applications will be invited today from European and Irish consultancy firms to carry out a major Government review of the ESB and the energy sector.

The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey announced his intention to carry out the review during a recent trade mission to China, but the paper says few people in the energy sector expected the process to start so quickly.

The Minister has said the future of the ESB will form a central part of the review and selling or privatising some ESB assets has not been ruled out. The ESB group has been valued at over €4 billion by industry experts.

Apart from the ESB, the review is also expected to look at the renewable sector, Ireland's fuel mix and its dependence on imported sources of power.

***

BRENNAN WARNED ON PENSIONS BORROWING - The Irish Independent says Social Welfare Minister Seamus Brennan has been lobbied by vested interests to seek a derogation of an EU Directive which prohibits borrowing within pension funds, to prevent an outflow of money to the UK.

What the paper calls a rapidly-formed group of stockbrokers, investment intermediaries and pension fund managers has argued that funds earmarked for pension funds in Ireland could instead be invested in the UK where a derogation exists.

Minister Brennan published the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill on February 11. Section 36, which is to be introduced by September 22, 2005, seeks to prevent pension funds or trustees from borrowing monies for the purposes of their pension funds.

It also prevents pension funds and trustees from pledging assets of the fund for borrowing purposes. While the EU Directive allows member states to choose not to apply the directive for pension schemes which have fewer than 100 members, the Pensions Board has not recommended this.

***

TESCO 'DRAGGING ITS FEET' ON PROBE - The Financial Times quotes retail industry insiders as claiming that Tesco, the UK's largest retailer, has been partly responsible for delaying a highly sensitive probe into the relationship between the top four supermarkets and their suppliers.

The FT says sources from rival companies and industry groups accuse Tesco of dragging its feet during the early stages of the Office of Fair Trading's investigation. The findings were due by the end of last year.

***

JOWELL RAISES STAKES ON GAMBLING BILL - The Independent says British ministers are warning the gaming industry that the British Government will scrap a controversial Gambling Bill and reintroduce it after the election rather than agree to the concessions being demanded by casino operators.

The paper says the warning comes as the gaming industry embarks on a last-ditch campaign to secure changes in the Bill when it returns to the House of Lords this week for its second reading.

Although the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) insisted yesterday that it was determined the Bill would reach the statute book, the paper quotes senior Westminster sources as signalling that the Secretary of State for Culture, Tessa Jowell, would rather sacrifice the legislation and start again in the next Parliament than succumb to the demands of casino operators for greater liberalisation.