The Government has awarded oil and gas licences to companies including oil majors Eni, Exxon and Statoil, allowing them to explore for hydrocarbons off the coast of Ireland. 

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources awarded 14 new licences as a first phase of a tender for offshore blocks that gives companies access to new exploration areas for two years, it said. 

The round attracted 43 applications.

"This is by far the largest number of applications received in any licensing round held in the Irish offshore," Joe McHugh, the Minister of State for Communications, Energy and natural resources, said in a statement. 

He said that at a time of very low oil prices the strong interest in the round was "very positive".

"Industry’s response to the round demonstrates the perceived positive exploration opportunity of Ireland’s offshore and highlights confidence in the Irish regulatory process and the ability of industry to do business in Ireland," the Minister of State added.

Oil prices have fallen around 70% since a peak in the middle of 2014 and many large oil companies, including some of those which obtained Irish licences, have scaled back exploration budgets as they rein in costs. 

Other companies which were successful in securing licences in the first phase include Nexen - a subsidiary of China’s National Offshore Oil Company - Europa, Scotia and Woodside. 

The second phase of licence awards is planned for mid-May, the Department said.