The Government has welcomed an emergency EU plan to curb gas demand in the face of further Russian reductions in supply, but has the option of an exemption from the mandatory reduction requirement of 15%, the Department of Environment has said.

The deal was agreed after striking compromise deals to limit the cuts for some member countries.

Europe faces an increased gas squeeze from tomorrow, when Russia's Gazprom has said it would cut flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to a fifth of capacity.

With a dozen EU countries already facing reduced Russian supplies, Brussels is urging member states to save gas and store it for winter for fear Russia will completely cut off flows in retaliation for Western sanctions over its war with Ukraine.

Energy ministers approved a proposal for all EU countries to voluntarily cut gas use by 15% from August to March.

A statement from the Department of Environment said: "Ireland welcomes that member states across the EU have shown solidarity against the weaponisation of gas supplies by Russia, by reaching agreement on a regulation on gas demand reduction.

"The regulation includes a voluntary reduction of natural gas demand by 15% this winter.

"The regulation also includes a mandatory reduction requirement in the event of a substantial risk of an EU-wide gas shortage.

"This agreement includes a range of flexibilities that reflect different member state circumstances with regard to gas supplies."

The cuts could be made binding in a supply emergency, but countries agreed to exempt numerous countries and industries, after some governments had resisted the EU's original proposal to impose a binding 15% cut on every country.

"In Ireland's case it has been recognised that our gas grid is not interconnected to any other member state and Ireland, therefore, has the possibility of an exemption from the mandatory reduction requirement," the Department of Environment said.

"The Department will now review and consider the implications of this regulation, in conjunction with the Energy Security Emergency Group, to examine options to reduce gas demand in solidarity with other EU member states.

"While Ireland is not connected to the EU gas system, the increasing cost of gas will impact on Irish users."

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Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher has said that the impact of gas prices on Irish households could be "exceptionally bad".

Speaking to RTÉ's Drivetime, he said: "It could get exceptionally bad. The price of wholesale gas is gone up exponentially.

"It's gone up 450% on what it was this time last year and that will have profound implications in terms of the cost of heating and the cost of electricity generation as well."

He said that there will be a need for targeted support interventions to offset the worst effects of this inflationary pressure on households coming into the winter.

Mr Kelleher said that every European country, including Ireland, has a responsibility to reduce gas consumption.

Mr Kelleher said: "The triggering of the mandatory proposal only happens in the event of we failing to reduce our gas consumption by 15% across Europe, or in the event of there being a shortage of gas in Europe, it has then a mandatory trigger system in place.

"So in the meantime, there is the possibility that Europe will actually be able to reduce its consumption by enough so there will not be a mandatory trigger."

'Europe united'

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the agreement would show Russian President Vladimir Putin that Europe remained united in the face of Russia's latest gas cuts.

"You will not split us," Mr Habeck said.

Hungary was the only country to vote against the proposal, calling the plan "unenforceable".

"We were the only ones to signal that we are voting no, that is Hungary is voting no to this decree, given that this decree completely ignores the interests of Hungarian people," Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in Brussels.

"This is an unjustifiable, useless, unenforceable and harmful proposal," he said.

Speaking in Brussels ahead of the meeting, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said the proposals to cut gas demand by 15% will not be sufficient to get through winter.

He said: "15% will probably not be enough given what the Russians have just announced, a further reduction in their gas supplies through Nord Stream 1.

"But it's better than not having it, and I think the signal it sends is also important."

Russia's Gazprom has blamed its latest reduction on needing to halt the operation of a turbine - a reason dismissed by EU energy chief Kadri Simson, who called the move "politically motivated".

Russia, which supplied 40% of EU gas before it invaded Ukraine, has said it is a reliable energy supplier.

It also says the invasion, begun on 24 February, is a "special military operation".

News of the latest reduction to Russian supply has driven gas prices higher, adding to the cost of filling storage, while creating incentives to use less.

Earlier, the benchmark front-month Dutch contract rose almost 10% and is more than 450% higher than a year ago, although down from record highs touched shortly after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.

Countries that meet an EU target for filling gas storage by August could face weaker targets - softening the cuts for roughly a dozen states, including Germany and Italy, based on current storage levels.

They can also exempt the gas they use in critical industries, such as energy-intensive steelmaking, from the target.

In addition, those with a limited ability to export gas to other EU countries can request a lower target, provided they export what they can.

That could include Spain, which does not rely on Russian gas, and has said cutting its own demand would not help other countries since it lacks infrastructure capacity to share spare fuel.

"Everyone understands that when someone asks for help, you have to help," Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said.

"Help can be in different ways, but I believe that the spirit of collaboration will prevail."

The EU plan has tested countries' solidarity, with Greece and Poland among the countries opposed to mandatory gas cuts.

Polish Climate Minister Anna Moskwa said the deal would impose no constraints on Poland's gas use, and opposed the idea that a country should curb its industrial gas use to help other states facing shortages.

Some EU diplomats raised concerns that the number of opt-outs in the final regulation may mean it fails to ensure countries save enough gas for winter.

Although governments including Germany, Europe's biggest gas user, have upped their energy saving measures, EU countries have reduced their combined gas use by only 5%, despite months of soaring prices and dwindling Russian supplies.

The deal requires backing from a majority of countries to trigger the binding gas cuts, after many opposed the commission's original proposal that it have the final say.