Priority Questions

Yesterday the Leas Cheann-Comhairle and I had issues with times in terms of questions so I will be strict on time procedures and I ask Members not to abuse them.

The first question is in the name of Deputy Timmy Dooley but it has been agreed that Deputy Kelleher will take his questions.

Postal Services

Timmy Dooley

Question:

1. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to facilitate the implementation of An Post's new vision programme; and the deadlines by which State services will be rolled out to the An Post network. [24176/18]

What are the Minister's plans to facilitate the implementation of An Post's new vision programme and what are the deadlines by which State services will be rolled out to the An Post network? This issue has been discussed numerous times. The Minister comes from a constituency where villages and communities are very dependent on the An Post service, and this is replicated throughout Ireland. Will the Minister outline his plans and the implementation of same?

As Minister, I am responsible for the postal sector, including the governance of An Post. I am acutely conscious of the value placed by communities in both urban and rural areas on services provided by post offices and I am concerned to ensure the future needs of those communities continue to be met.

As part of its strategy for modernising the post office network, An Post has established a dedicated business unit within An Post, An Post retail. An Post's recently announced vision for the post office network centres around the availability of new services in a modernised, revitalised network. In fact, the company has announced an investment plan of €50 million in the post office network throughout the country, which is equivalent to €45,000 per post office. Such services will include a better range of Government services, financial services and e-commerce services for shoppers and small businesses. The announcement by An Post is supported by an agreement reached with the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, executive following three months of intensive negotiations, chaired by Mr. Turlough O'Donnell, which has subsequently been endorsed by 80% of the IPU membership.

The agreement represents a positive first step in reinvigorating our national post office network and making it a viable, sustainable, modern and vibrant network for the future, capable of adapting to the changing environment in which it operates by providing a service that meets the needs of communities across the country, particularly in rural areas and particularly in light of the fact the current contract dates back to 1907.

We are already seeing a number of important new business initiatives being progressed. In February, a pilot e-local service was launched by An Post in three districts, namely, Bantry, Mullingar and Ennis. This service combines the strengths of online commerce with that of An Post's mail network for the benefit of local business. It gives local business an edge over national and international online operators by connecting retailers with their customers, both online and in person, and provides an overnight delivery service. A key feature of the eLocal.ie service is that An Post gives each retailer an online presence, displaying their goods and services, and enabling online orders.

As part of its consideration of the financial position of An Post, the Government agreed that further opportunities for Government business through the post office network, particularly the payment of motor tax, should be explored.

At the end of the day the policies to support rural Ireland have to be substantial and of the same substance and essence in terms of the direction we take. We cannot be having on the hoof conversations on a regular basis about postal services and the facilities that will be offered to An Post and, consequently, to the public. We need to ensure there is a sustained focus on delivering services through An Post, which is why the policies have to be of the same substance and essence as the rest of the policies to support rural Ireland. Does the Minister accept the postal service is an integral part of providing a service to rural Ireland? If that proposition is accepted, what we need to do is ensure it is supported in a dynamic way. For example, the Kerr report outlines in great detail what should and could be done. There is also the New Zealand-style community banking. I know this is something that is being looked at, but has it been looked at in detail? Has due diligence been done on it? Could we have clarity on what exactly the Government will do to develop policies to support An Post rather than undermining it by closing postal services?

I am not in the business of undermining An Post and the Dáil record of my years in the House will clearly show this. In fact, I am one of the six of the 266 Members of the Oireachtas who bothered to make a submission to the Kerr report when it was sought at the time. I made it crystal clear there will be no compulsory post office closures in this country. Viable post offices cannot close unless there is an opportunity for someone else to take over the business. Where postmasters or postmistresses want to take the package on offer, and there are other retailers in the community willing to take on the operation, they will be given consideration to do this. My objective as Minister is to ensure that as much work as possible goes through the post office network and the control I have as a Government Minister is over Government services. I want the post office to be the offline avenue for all online Government services, including motor tax, passports, and whatever the case may be. We must remember that one in seven people in this country have never used the Internet. They should not be excluded from availing of the efficiencies of online services.

That is why there was huge excitement when the Minister was promoted to his position. It was because of his understanding of the issues and where he comes from and what he is. The criticism is not yet of him, but the reality is that as a Minister with responsibility for An Post, the delivery of Government services through same is within his gift. This is why it is critical at this particular juncture that we accept we can no longer allow the postal service to dwindle. We had 345 post office closures between 2004 and 2010 and 24 net closures between 2011 and 2014. Since March 2014, 16 post offices have closed, which is 1.4% of the overall network. Since 1998 almost 1,000 contracted post offices have closed. There has been a continual reduction of the number of the post offices. We can understand there is not the demand for what was there previously because of the changes in how we live and technological advancements but, at the same time, if we go below a critical mass the postal service will just diminish and will be unable to deliver any form of service. We have to stop and arrest that decline and reverse it with investment in services through An Post.

I will make a number of points. I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Kelleher; one can count on one hand the number of post offices that have closed since I was appointed Minister; and 18 months ago, the chief executive of An Post came into my office to tell me that within 30 weeks the company would run out of cash and would not have money to pay salaries. We cannot have post offices unless we have a viable company, so this was my first priority. We have now put in place a viable structure. My second priority is to ensure we get Government services in. It is my intention within the next couple of weeks to bring a memorandum, with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to the Government to look at how we can put new Government services through the post office network. We are already piloting this. The Minister, Deputy Ring, has given me €80,000, through the post office network, to look at the digital assist pilot. It is not just about Government services. Take websites such as bonkers.ie and switcher.ie through which people can get savings of up to €300 on their electricity bills. Offline customers cannot avail of this. It should be available to them through the post office network because they are the most vulnerable customers. They are using the post office network currently and we should be able to use the local digital avenue through the offline desk in the post office to ensure everyone can exploit the digital economy.

National Mitigation Plan Implementation

Brian Stanley

Question:

2. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to replace the National Mitigation Plan under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. [23936/18]

My question is about the replacement for the national mitigation plan. It is not working and that is not just my view. It is not getting us to where we need to go to. An Taisce has stated it is fundamentally flawed and that it should be withdrawn. Friends of the Earth has stated it is not fit for purpose. Stop Climate Chaos has stated it has to be radically reviewed. What action will the Minister take to redraft the plan or reinvigorate it? As it is not working, we all have to take action on the issue.

Meeting Ireland's EU targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 2030 will be extremely challenging. The latest projections for greenhouse gas emissions, published by the EPA this morning, indicate that emissions from those sectors of the economy covered by Ireland's 2020 targets could be between 0% and 1% below 2005 levels by 2020 in the context of a target that they should be 20% below their 2005 levels. While this is deeply disappointing, it is not surprising, given the recent pace of economic growth and the consequent increases in emissions from the agriculture and transport sectors, in particular. The projected shortfall in our targets is further exacerbated by the constrained investment capacity in the past decade due to the economic crisis.

For 2030, the recently agreed EU effort sharing regulation sets out binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for each member state for the period 2021 to 2030. Ireland’s target under the regulation will be a 30% reduction in 2005 levels of emissions by 2030. That is where must focus our efforts to ensure that at the absolute minimum we meet our 2030 target. 

To meet these targets, I published Ireland's first statutory national mitigation plan. It provides a framework to guide investment decisions by the Government in domestic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The purpose of the plan is to specify the policy measures required to manage Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions at a level appropriate to making progress towards our long-term national transition objective as set out in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, as well as to take into account existing EU and international obligations on the State in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The plan very explicitly defined the scale of the challenge facing Ireland in decarbonising and declared itself to be a first step and not a complete roadmap to achieve the national transition objective to 2050; rather, it began the process of development of medium-to long-term options to ensure we would be well positioned to take the necessary actions in the next and future decades. The plan is a living document which is being implemented and updated on an ongoing basis. In that sense, the issue of replacing it does not arise, although I will shortly publish an update on climate mitigation policy to coincide with the Empowering Communities for Climate Action event on 20 June which will reflect the significant policy developments since the national mitigation plan was published, in particular with the publication of the national development plan.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.   

Building on the national mitigation plan, the publication in February of the national development plan will lead to a significant step change in funding available for climate action in the next decade. Reflecting the strong commitment of the Government on this issue, almost €22 billion will be directed, between Exchequer and non-Exchequer resources, to addressing the transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient society. In addition, the national development plan allocated a further €8.6 billion for investments in sustainable mobility. This means that well over €1 in every €5 spent under the national development plan will be on climate mitigation and this capital investment will enable us to deliver a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the period to 2030.

The key investment priorities in the national development plan that my Department will take forward include energy efficiency upgrades of 45,000 homes per annum from 2021 and providing support for a major roll-out of heat pump technologies; delivering energy upgrades to BER 'B' level in all public buildings and a minimum of one third of commercial buildings; implementing the new renewable electricity support scheme to deliver an additional 3,000-4,500 MW of renewable energy, with the initial focus on shovel ready projects which could contribute to meeting our 2020 targets; the roll-out of the support scheme for renewable heat and national smart metering programme; transitioning the Moneypoint plant away from coal by the middle of the next decade; having at least 500,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030 with additional charging infrastructure to cater for planned growth; and a €500 million climate action fund, which I announced yesterday, to leverage investment by public and private bodies in climate action measures.

Both the national mitigation plan and the national development plan explicitly recognise that the reliance solely on Exchequer expenditure schemes is neither affordable nor adequate to meet the scale of the challenge to be addressed and climate mitigation action will require a targeted balance between Exchequer-supported expenditure, taxation measures, regulation and behavioural change. In certain cases, taxation policy may have a stronger role to play in changing individual or business behaviour and investment decisions, including harnessing non-Exchequer finance.

Carbon tax, in particular, has a critical role in climate mitigation policy and the national mitigation plan commits the Department of Finance to completing a review in 2018, with a view to setting a long-term trajectory for the evolution of this tax. Clear long-term signalling by the Government on the future evolution of the tax is vital, as well as an examination of what other changes to the taxation regime could be considered that would assist with the achievement of climate targets. The low emission vehicle task force is bringing forward proposals in that regard.

As regards significant regulatory change, the national development plan commits the Government to no new non-zero emission cars to be sold in Ireland post-2030, with no NCT certificates to be issued for non-zero emission cars post-2045. There is also to be a transition to a low emission urban bus fleet, including electric buses, with no diesel only buses purchased from 1 July 2019.

In terms of ongoing climate mitigation policy development, the European Union requires that we produce a draft national energy and climate plan by the end of 2018, with the final plan to be developed by the end of 2019. This represents a further opportunity to build on the national mitigation plan and the national development plan to ensure Ireland moves to a pathway of long-term decarbonisation. I am required, under the 2015 Act, to bring forward a new national mitigation plan at least once every five years. The latest date by which this must happen is, therefore, July 2022.

From the response I am led to believe things are actually worse than I thought. We are nowhere near where we should be in tackling climate change. The Minister has said the national mitigation plan is a living document. It is a dead document. I do not mean to be negative, but we have reached the carbon cliff I feared when the climate action legislation was being passed through the House three years ago. The targets included in the plan are not binding. We are not even going to make a 2% reduction when we should be reducing carbon output by 20% by 2020. The Minister and his officials are now saying we will hopefully reach this point by 2030. The facts are that agricultural emissions are projected to increase by 45% by 2020. Transport emissions will increase by 10% to 12%. The SEAI warns that the continued use of coal, peat and oil means that the carbon intensity is 32% higher than in other OECD countries. Where is the energy mix? I do not hear any mention of the replacement of fossil fuels in the Minister's answer. Will he lay out what will displace fossil fuels?

The figures are deeply disappointing. It is clear from the EPA's report that we face an enormous challenge to meet our 2030 targets. Energy policies already announced should mean a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030. There will be increases of 7% in the area of housing, 17% in transport and 6% in agriculture. We have to look specifically at each of these areas now. In the transport sector diesel is a huge problem for us. It is broken down into several challenges, including commercial freight. Last week I launched the first CNG filling station in Ennis for Clean Ireland. Some 80 such filling stations will be rolled out across the country. We have to consider CNG as a transition fuel to biofuels. City travel is another challenge. As part of the first ever clean air strategy that we hope to publish soon, we are considering a system similar to that which will be introduced today in Hamburg which imposes a ban on older diesel cars in the city centre. We have to look at mechanisms to drive the changes we need to make if we are to reach our 2030 targets.

It is clear from the Minister's reply that we are not moving quickly enough. There has been a succession of pilot schemes, but we are only scratching the surface. The national mitigation plan 2017 restates the Government's commitment to replace fossil fuels, but it is now relying on natural gas. The Corrib gas field has less than a ten-year lifespan. We will be relying on the use of imported gas and onshore wind energy. Where is the plan for offshort wind energy projects? It is not being developed. There is no feed-in tariff for solar energy projects; one cannot be connected to the grid to supply surplus solar energy supplies. A company in County Laois has 40 other companies lined up to feed into the grid, but it cannot gain access. I have previously outlined the need to switch to biogas in agriculture. We are scratching at the surface and I am asking the Government to up its game. All of society needs to up its game. We need clear action plans to make the transition necessary. We have lost three, four or five years and now need to play catch-up and make a serious start in moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources.

I reject that comment. A total of €1 out of every €5 spent under the national development plan will be spent on climate related projects. The national planning framework specifically targets brownfield sites. We have a 65% loading of wind energy on the grid, the highest anywhere on the globe. The Moneypoint plant will be decommissioned by 2025. Ireland will be one of the first countries in Europe to take coal out of the system. Smoky coal will be banned by the end of this year. Again, this one of the first countries in the world to do so. Peat will be taken out in power generation by 2030. The support scheme for renewable heat will I hope go live in the coming weeks. It will support the use of biomass and biogas. The broadband plan will be built out in the coming months, which will have a direct impact on transport emissions. We are discussing a ban on the use of non-zero emission cars from 2030. We are banning the use of diesel in new buses from 2019. The climate action fund, announced yesterday, has been allocated €500 million. The smart farming programme which targets a 10% reduction in emissions is being scaled up this year. We have genotyped 1 million beef animals in the past few years. The warmth and well-being deep retrofit pilot scheme is being expanded nationwide through the warmer homes scheme. The carbon tax report will be presented before the budget. We have introduced benefit-in-kind relief on electric vehicles. We have reduced toll fees. We have increased supports for taxis and Government services and business to convert to the use of electric vehicles.

We are improving the charging infrastructure. We have established Bord na Móna BioEnergy. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill is going through the House.

We have Luas cross city, the BusConnects programme and the public sector energy efficiency scheme, which means that the public sector can now hold on to the energy savings we make. We are replacing public lighting throughout the country. We are rolling out compressed natural gas, CNG, filling stations throughout the country. We have established local authority climate action offices.

We have implemented the Kigali protocol and funding for that. We are rolling out brown bins throughout the country-----

-----and we are addressing the issue of food waste. All of this has happened in the past two years since I was appointed Minister.

While there is no limit as such on time for priority questions, I would appreciate it if everybody kept somewhere within the limit. I understand the Minister is trying to get a message across and I am reluctant to interrupt him.

Question No. 3 is in the name of Deputy Dooley and it has been agreed that Deputy Kelleher will take the question.

Renewable Energy Incentives

Timmy Dooley

Question:

3. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the new renewable energy support scheme; the date by which this will be launched; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24177/18]

Does the Acting Chairman not want to interrupt the Minister for the reason that he is a constituency colleague or is it the message he is delivering?

I am a constituent.

In regard to climate action, will the Minister provide an update on the renewable energy support scheme, the date by which it will be launched and if he will make a statement on the matter?

Referring back to Deputy Stanley's question, while the Minister outlined a good deal of progress, the reality is that we are still behind on our targets. Progress has been made but enough has not been made so far and we are now in peril of putting the country in a position where it could be in breach of agreements already made.

It is in breach.

It is in breach, yes.

It will be in breach by 2020 in regard to emissions.

The 2015 energy White Paper presents a long-term strategic vision that is intended to guide the direction of Irish energy policy from now until 2030. It identifies the long-term strategic importance of diversifying Ireland's energy generation portfolio and largely decarbonising the energy sector by 2050. My Department is developing a proposed new renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, which is designed to assist Ireland in meeting its renewable energy contributions out to 2030 and, in addition, I intend that the scheme will provide opportunities for shovel-ready projects that can deliver for our 2020 targets.

The new scheme will support the delivery of Ireland's national policy objectives, in particular the transition to a low carbon and climate resilient society, as laid out in the national mitigation plan, the national development plan and Project Ireland 2040. In addition, the new scheme will deliver capacity building supports for community-led projects, including financial, technical and legal assistance, along with community benefit obligations for all projects looking for support under the renewable electricity support scheme.

The design of the new scheme include an extensive independent economic appraisal which compare the cost of supporting a range of commercial renewable technologies at various scales to ensure that the new scheme delivers value for money for energy users while also delivering on the energy pillars of competitiveness, sustainability and security of supply. The assessment also includes analysis of the optimum financial support mechanisms for renewable technologies, in line with the 2014 EU state aid guidelines. The analysis indicates that a number of renewable technologies have converging and in some cases overlapping cost ranges, and I note the continued falling costs of renewable technologies such as offshore wind and solar photovoltaic, PV.

I am keen that the new scheme encourages the diversification of renewable energy technologies in Ireland while mindful of the need to minimise the costs on consumers through the public service obligation, PSO, levy. At this stage, no final decisions have been made regarding the new technologies or scales to be supported under the new renewable electricity support scheme.

The final design proposal will shortly be brought to Government for approval, including the overall costs and technologies to be supported. Subsequent to the Government decision, a formal application for state aid clearance will be submitted to the European Commission and the scheme is expected to open in 2019.

In parallel with the development of the RESS, I am also developing a pilot scheme for microgeneration which will be launched later this year and will target domestic households and self-consumption.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has assessed that it will cost the State approximately €100 million to €150 million for every percentage point we are over the 16% renewable energy target by 2020. We are facing definite fines. The key question is what we are doing about that. While we have the policies, the implementation of same is the key issue. We have no difficulty drafting policies in this country but the delivery of same is a problem. For example, we have been waiting a long time for the roll-out of the renewable energy support scheme. The REFIT scheme has stalled. The biomass sector also has been waiting on the support scheme. Those are key sectors within the sustainable sector that are literally waiting for decisions to be made by the Minister and by Government to ensure we can stimulate activity that can allow for a reduction in our emissions.

I accept the frustration Deputy Kelleher is expressing. When I went into this new Department that had been formed, the clean air strategy, the wind regulations, the renewable heat incentive scheme, the renewable electricity support scheme, both in terms of microgeneration and broadening the renewable mix, the national broadband plan, NBP, the flat rate bin charges, the mitigation plan and the adaptation were sitting there, so to speak, trying to be progressed. We have progressed all of those now. We will be bringing a memorandum to Government on the renewable electricity support scheme.

During all of this period we have had to deal with the challenges in regard to Brexit and the consequent knock-on issues to do with energy security, the challenges we talked about earlier in regard to An Post, the waste capacity crisis and the ongoing issues to do with RTÉ. A significant amount of work has been done in the past two years. It has been challenging to move this agenda forward, but we will have the renewable electricity support scheme operational next year. I want to see that operational as quickly as possible because there is the opportunity to ensure that some of that can feed into our 2020 targets. It must be remembered that the renewable electricity support scheme was always planned for our 2030 targets, not our 2020 targets. REFIT is there to meet our 2020 targets, and we are looking to see how we can release some of the blockages in the system to achieve as much as we can under that as well.

Carpe diem, Minister. We cannot depend indefinitely on the future. We can say it will happen but there is one thing we can guarantee here today and that is that Ireland is facing substantial fines for failure to meet its targets. There are key areas within the sustainable sector that need stimulation from Government policy and initiative. The biomass area, for example, solar photovoltaic, PV, and many other areas will be key components in moving the economy to a reduced carbon emission dependency, but they are waiting for Government policy. We have major sectors of the economy, so the private sector will respond to stimulation, incentive and demand. We know there is demand and if that demand is not addressed, we will face further fines continually. Rather than the Minister outlining his policies in terms of what he has done to date and the greater plans into the future, in the here and now we should start that stimulation of the private sector so that it can get on with investing in sustainable energy solutions for the broader economy.

We expect to get approval in the coming weeks from the European Commission for the support scheme for renewable heat. That will stimulate the biomass sector. Prior to that we established Bord na Móna BioEnergy because there is no point having demand unless we have a supply chain. That was established this time last year and that supply chain is now in place.

We will also support biogas, which is something about which Deputy Stanley feels very strongly, under the support scheme for renewable heat. We are engaged through Gas Networks Ireland on a working group on district heating which will also provide demand in terms of the bioeconomy aspect.

In regard to solar PV, we will have a microgeneration scheme operational before the end of this year. There are technical challenges with that but I want a scheme that is not just for this year and that can be expanded and developed in the coming years.

In regard to large-scale projects, that will be part of the renewable electricity support scheme. There are 6.5 GW of applications onto the grid. To put that into context, the total peak demand in Ireland on a cold winter's day is 5 GW, so we have more demand for connection than we can use on the heaviest loading day in this country. The pent-up demand is large. We we will never meet that scale of demand but we will be facilitating getting some of those onto the grid as quickly as possible.

Broadband Service Provision

Mattie McGrath

Question:

4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the poor broadband service and deteriorating mobile coverage in County Tipperary; and the measures he will take to improve same. [24178/18]

The broadband service is non-existent in many areas, as the Minister knows, and the mobile coverage on all networks has become a complete joke. In my county, people could have good conversations ten years ago but now they cannot make or continue any conversation due to the calls dropping out. It is appalling.

The national broadband plan aims to ensure high-speed broadband access to every premises in Ireland, regardless of location. In April 2016 approximately 38,500 premises in County Tipperary had access to high-speed broadband. As of March 2018 that has gone up to 40,500 premises in County Tipperary with access to high-speed broadband, with a further 13,000 to be served under Eir’s ongoing rural fibre deployment. Some 30,000 premises will be served under the final phase of the State-led intervention in the national broadband plan.

I included in the programme for Government a commitment to a mobile phone and broadband task force, which works with the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, and stakeholders to alleviate some of the mobile coverage and broadband deficits. The following initiatives are evidence of the effectiveness of the task force in bringing forward proposals that will enhance mobile phone service quality, particularly in rural areas such as County Tipperary. They include the appointment of a broadband officer in every county to act as a single point of contact in local authorities for their communities, the removal of development contributions for telecommunications infrastructure and the revision of exempted development regulations by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for the rollout of 4G and 5G broadband services.

My Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development, together with local authorities, have worked with telecoms companies to achieve greater consensus around site selection for telecoms infrastructure. Both Departments also worked with local authorities to map blackspots and identify infrastructure which could be used to provide additional coverage. I know Tipperary has submitted a list to our Departments in that regard. ComReg is developing a composite national coverage map which will, together with its work on handset testing, better inform consumer choice. The release by ComReg of the 3.6 GHz radio spectrum band, following my authorisation of this, will increase mobile capacity by 86%. In County Tipperary Transport Infrastructure Ireland has completed significant duct installation along the M8 motorway between Cashel and Mitchelstown. In the months ahead the task force will continue to take actions that will further improve mobile phone and broadband coverage throughout Ireland, including County Tipperary.

I know the Minister appreciates how fundamentally important this matter is, not only to households but to the economic rejuvenation of rural regions and the very survival of small rural businesses. I note that, at the beginning of the month, the Minister gave an interview to the Irish Independent in which he was asked whether we should have a universal service obligation for broadband. In addition, he recently welcomed the launch of the EU Wi-Fi initiative, which means public spaces across the country will get free Wi-Fi hotspots and money will be made available for this. I acknowledge these good and positive developments. The problem is we have been listening to announcements like this for years. I was at many of those talks and we all fought for these services but the situation is now worse. I do not know why the Government laid the duct between Cashel and Mitchelstown because there is nothing in it at the moment but water off the mountains, and there is no mobile service. The national broadband plan has been in the pipeline since 2009, including when Pat Rabbitte was Minister. People are sick of announcements. Students cannot fill out their CAO forms, farmers cannot do their business online and businesses cannot operate and have to move from rural areas. It is not acceptable, as the Minister and I both know.

There were announcements followed by announcements but we then had the loss of a competing company. I have asked before that the Minister would buy back Eir because there is no one to deliver this on the ground and we have an antiquated system. We cannot do business either on the road or at home.

There is no one more frustrated with what is going on across this country at the moment in regard to mobile phone and broadband coverage than myself. I was the one who got this written into the programme for Government specifically in regard to mobile and wireless broadband. I know the situation at first hand. As Minister for Communications, Environment and Climate Action, I find it frustrating that I have to turn off data on my phone to make phone calls. It is not good enough that people across the country have to do this to make phone calls. Let us remember there has been a phenomenal increase in the data demand on our mobile network and many people in rural areas are dependent on that at the moment.

Things are improving, however. We are delivering fibre broadband and that will ramp up later this year or early next year with the final phase of the national broadband plan. We are working with the telecoms companies to examine how to address mobile blackspots. The resources are being put in and the spectrum has been given to those companies. What it means is that the industry now has far more space to carry data and this allows it to improve the 4G services that are available across the country, which will improve the quality of mobile services.

We are determined to do this. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, and myself are working very closely in regard to the deployment of the national broadband plan to put initial community hotspots in place so that, if people cannot access high-speed broadband in their homes, they should at least be able to access it in a warm location, such as a local community centre.

I acknowledge and share the Minister's frustration. My own iPhone has no data and I cannot make or hold calls whereas I could do that ten years ago. A con is being perpetrated on the public. We are paying fees and taxpayers' money is going into this. Fees are being waived while the masts are going up but there is no service. It is like liquorice allsorts, where you pick out the nicest one. They are turning off the mobile service to boost the broadband. It is a farce in rural Ireland. I can pick ten areas between Cahir and Dublin where I lose service completely on a national motorway, never mind it happening on the highways and byways in places like Mullinahone, where people cannot do business and families are begging me to make it possible for them to work from home. This would cut down emissions and make life better for people in every way but they cannot do it. Mullinahone, Hollyford and the Glen of Aherlow are no-go areas and it is the same in many areas of Clonmel, a major town in the county, and right up to Thurles. The service is not there and it is slipping by the day. We are being conned by con artists who are telling us they are doing this. They are getting money for jam. They are getting money under false pretences because the service is not there.

I advise the Deputy not to use terms like con artist. I call the Minister.

There is a significant problem. Deputy Eugene Murphy and I travel from Roscommon through places like Ballymurrray, Knockcroghery, Kiltoom and Kilbeggan, and we drop calls on the way to Dublin. It is frustrating and that is why we are putting in the ducting-----

Why is it going backwards?

That is why we are putting in the ducting on the motorways, where 100 km of ducting has been put in by Transport Infrastructure Ireland over the last 12 months. It is currently working with the telecoms companies on the siting of antennae along those motorways and on the national primary network. However, for me and for the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, that is not good enough. We want to address this issue in rural communities as well, not just on the motorways and the national road network. That is why we are working with the local authorities, such as Tipperary County Council, which has presented us with a list of blackspots, and the local authorities in Galway and Roscommon, and working with the companies to see how we can physically address the issues in those locations in the short term.

Recycling Policy

Eamon Ryan

Question:

5. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he plans to take to achieve the measure that 100% of plastics are recyclable and that 50% of such materials are recycled by 2030 as per the EU plastics strategy; and the timeframe for the introduction of such measures. [24175/18]

I ask the Minister to outline how we will completely change our plastics system. The European Commission was out earlier in the week on one aspect, that of single-use plastic, but we have to go far beyond that and tackle a whole range of different issues. This morning we hear the plan of this Government is to burn our waste. An incinerator is to be built in Cork, there is one in Limerick and the one in Dublin is going full steam. I do not think that is the future. I do not think anything this Government is doing in terms of the environment is looking to the future so I am keen to hear what are the real plans to treat plastic waste in a serious way.

Ireland has supported the adoption of a set of ambitious measures to make EU waste legislation fit for the future as part of the EU's wider circular economy policy. The new recycling and land-filling targets set a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe. They include a new recycling rate of 55% for plastic packaging waste by 2035 which will help drive real progress towards the circular economy.

In January 2018 the European Commission published the European strategy for plastics in a circular economy.

The strategy focuses on plastic production and use and sets a goal of ensuring all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030. I recently wrote to the European Commissioner with responsibility for the environment to welcome the EU plastics strategy. I assured him Ireland would fully embrace the ambitions in the new strategy. I asked the Commission to focus, in particular, on the most difficult non-recyclable plastics such as soft wrapping, film and single use items and bringing forward timetables.

I am pleased, therefore, to note this week that the Commission has published a further proposal for dealing with the ten single-use plastic products and fishing gear that together account for 70% of the marine litter in Europe. The proposal includes: a ban on certain plastic products; targets for reducing the use of certain plastics; and obligations on producers to cover the costs of waste management and clean up.

I am urging the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to consider these proposals as soon as possible so that they can be implemented in Ireland and other member states. Before this week's Commission proposals, it would have been illegal for individual member states to take actions to ban packaging or interfere with the EU internal market. Now all 28 member states will be able to move as one to tackle plastic waste.

I am not prepared to wait for EU-wide action. In advance of the EU bans and restrictions coming into place, I am currently considering what financial incentives or penalties I can introduce in Ireland in the interim to tackle the use of the single use plastic items identified by the Commission in a way that is compatible with EU legislation. I am looking forward to bringing forward practical solutions and a package of measures, along with my Government colleagues responsible for marine environment and fisheries, that will work in an Irish context.

I am very glad to hear that. I was also thrilled to hear the EU proposals this week because they mirror exactly what is in our waste reduction Bill. We were a year ahead of the Commission on the key things, including a ban on single use items like knives, forks and cotton tips, tackling single use cups and containers, the proposal for a 15 cent latte levy on plastic cups to fund the compost bin collection system and a deposit refund scheme which is the only way we could achieve the target of a 90% reduction in single-use plastic bottle recycling by 2025.

It is to be hoped our Bill can go to Committee Stage and be implemented. If there are amendments from the Minister on Committee Stage I would welcome them. It is doable. A Bill is in place and we do not have to wait for the European Parliament to legislate. We can legislate ahead of the curve in this instance. Will the Minister agree to allow the Bill to go to Committee Stage? What do we have to do to achieve that?

Given what we heard earlier about how long it takes to do things, should we not act with a certain urgency? The 2025 target is only seven years away. Given what we heard earlier about how difficult it is to introduce renewable incentives and broadband, we need to be quick. Will the Minister allow the Bill to go to Committee Stage quite quickly, enact it and get on with reform?

I agree with everything Deputy Ryan said. As he knows, I fully support the principles behind the Bill he introduced. He might give me a copy of the response he received from the Ceann Comhairle which would help to facilitate the debate. As the Deputy knows, we discussed the issue in the committee in private session, disappointingly, at the last meeting. It would be extremely helpful to get clarity on that issue.

Deposit and return is part of a whole suite of issues. Given the plastic industry here and the brief engagement I had with Athlone Institute of Technology, there may be opportunities in respect of that. I have also said we have a very different waste collection structure in this country. We need to make sure the system we design meets our needs, not those of the Germans or Dutch. We need to primarily ensure that waste is not generated in the first place and where it is generated that it is not going into landfill and can be recycled. That has to be our priority. Speaking privately with my ministerial colleagues at the Council of Ministers on the last occasion we met, I made it quite clear that if private companies can get rid of single-use plastic on a commercial basis within five years we should not wait 12 years to do the same.

We have to make sure the system is right for Irish circumstances, but we also have to make sure that we are not afraid of pushing the industry. In the case of a deposit refund scheme the latest research we have shows that our companies are paying only 0.2% per container towards the recycling system. We think that should rise to the European average, if not slightly higher. That is the primary mechanism by which we can fund the new deposit refund scheme. Companies will like that but it is part of their responsibility. It is called corporate social environmental responsibility. If everyone is doing it, there is no disadvantage to one company over another. There will be a fair and level playing field and companies will not be at a significant disadvantage. I am glad to hear that the Minister seems willing to allow the Bill to go to Committee Stage. I will talk to the Ceann Comhairle and make sure that whatever he needs to do is done.

I wish to make a wider point. This is one very important aspect of what we need to do. Another important aspect of the European circular economy and plastics directive means we have to do much more. I fear that the news today that there will be another 250,000 tonne incinerator - incinerators love plastic because it gives them energy to burn - is in direct contradiction to the European circular economy and plastics strategy. It is not a circular economy when waste is being burned. There is still 20% ash and all sorts of environmental considerations. The wasteful use of material is just plain wrong. How does the Minister intend to implement other massive changes we need to make when we will be burning so much waste?

I am not afraid to push industry. I introduced the ban on flat rate bin charges last year. I am rolling out brown bins across the country, which the industry does not like. Many issues Deputy Ryan touched on are issues we are actively engaged with at the moment.

As the Deputy knows, plastic does not go into incineration; the vast majority goes into other facilities across the country. It should not be going into facilities in the first place. The major problem we have is the contamination of plastic. The reason China is closed to us in respect of plastic is because of the scale of contamination. Since the back end of last year, we now have a uniform list of materials which can go into the recycle bin. Paper and plastic needs to be dry and clean if it is to be put into the bin. Recycling ambassadors are knocking on doors in Roscommon, Galway and every other county across the country to explain to people what can and cannot go into a recycling bin, how it should be presented and what can and cannot go into the brown bin. We want brown bins to be rolled out to every home across the country. We need to encourage homeowners to start segregating their materials properly.

We have spent 50 minutes on five questions. While there is some latitude, we have gone way over time. I will be very strict on time for Other Questions. There will be 30 seconds to introduce, two minutes for the Minister and one minute for each supplementary question and reply. I want to be fair to all of those who have tabled questions. Sometimes as we come towards the end of the debate people who have sat around for a long time unfortunately do not have their question answered.