Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Waste Management

Clare Daly

Question:

47. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the supports available to facilitate communities interested in establishing local community-based waste collection co-operatives in the interests of best waste management and environmental practice. [37314/18]

I do not think it is an overstatement to say that there is a crisis in waste management. Multiple operators trudge up and down the same road every day to pick up the odd bin here and there. There are appalling working conditions, rising prices and one would probably need a university degree even to work out what one is supposed to put in each particular bin. There is a desire in communities to take the service back into municipal, local or co-operative ownership. Does the Minister's Department provide any supports for that?

The Waste Management Act 1996, as amended, and the Waste Management (Collection Permit) Regulations 2007, as amended, set out the regulatory framework for the collection of waste in the State.  The obligations on local authorities with regard to collecting household waste are set out in section 33 of the Waste Management Act 1996, as amended. In summary, it provides that each local authority shall collect, or arrange for the collection of, household waste within its functional area. The obligation to collect or arrange for the collection of waste shall not apply if there is an adequate waste collection service available in the local authority's functional area; if the estimated costs of the collection of the waste would, in the opinion of the local authority, be unreasonably high; or if the local authority is satisfied that adequate arrangements for the disposal of the waste concerned can reasonably be made by the holder of the waste.

It is open to any organisation, commercial enterprise or local community group, to apply for a waste collection permit to the National Waste Collection Permit Office, which is the nominated authority to issue permits on behalf of all local authorities, should they wish to collect household waste in the State. In addition, and depending on the scale of the planned operation, it may also be necessary to apply to the relevant local authority and-or the Environmental Protection Agency for a waste facility permit or licence for the storage and-or sorting of waste.

As Minister, I do not provide any supports to any organisation, commercial or community-based, to facilitate the establishment of waste collection services. As the Deputy may be aware, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, is conducting an independent study on the operation of the household waste collection market.  The ongoing results from the Price Monitoring Group, in conjunction with the study being undertaken by the CCPC, will provide an evidence base for future policy decisions on the household waste market.

I accept the point that Deputy makes about the confusion about what goes into which bin. As of the end of last year, we have a uniform list of what goes into the recycling bin. That is available and we have been running campaigns about that. Whether one is in Cork, Fingal, Roscommon or Cavan, the same material goes into the green recycling bin.

We could spend the rest of the day debating what is not on any of those lists and the confusion that arises, but the point I am trying to get at is that we need to be a bit creative. I am not talking about the responsibilities of a local authority per se but the attitude of the local community, particularly from the point of view of acting on a co-operative basis. Last year, a good community activist in Swords, where I live, Dean Mulligan, and I conducted a survey of approximately 2,000 households which were not impressed with the bin service and were sick of the different bin companies going up and down their roads. There was a desire by over 90% to buy in to a co-operative venture where they would run their own local service, just serving their estate with their own local labour, which they would control on a co-operative basis. In this area of climate change, with our emissions targets and the number of trucks on the roads, not to mention cost and value, surely that is something which the Minister's Department could play a role in, not necessarily subsidising it but stepping in and giving some form of direction and assistance.

From a climate change point of view, not to mind waste management, starting and keeping it local is best for the environment, the consumer and also potentially workers.

I hear what the Deputy says. First, we are open to considering any suggestion or idea to reduce the generation of waste in the first place. That must be the number one priority. The difficulty with the Deputy's suggestion is that the logistical cost involved in collecting, segregating and managing waste for 2,000 houses would make it very expensive for the houses involved. As the Deputy is aware, there are only four landfill sites in the country. We have reduced the number from 24 in the previous decade and by the end of this year will be down to three landfill sites. My priority as Minister is to try to minimise the amount of waste going into landfill sites. We want to reduce the generation of waste in the first place, but where it is generated, we want to make sure it does not go into landfill sites. That requires scale in the segregation of waste, not just green waste but also brown waste and the residual waste that is put into the black bin so as to minimise the amount of material going into landfill sites.

Waste reduction is key. In that sense, householders are small change because, by and large, they are waste receivers, rather than waste producers. If we want to tackle waste generation, we must tackle the business and agriculture sectors.

I fully accept that what I am putting forward is not a solution to the national waste problem. However, it is potentially a solution in some areas. Independents 4 Change introduced a Bill prior to the summer recess to make it easier for people to establish co-operatives. For example, the Magpie Recycling Co-op in Brighton began with three volunteers collecting cans and glass in their locality. It expanded into the collection of recyclable materials such as old furniture and other materials and providing a service for 2,000 houses. Such co-ops could engage people who are not working or who are retired in reusing material in the local economy. Will the Minister consider a pilot project based on such a model? I accept that it would have to feed into a grid for the disposal of some waste, but such a pilot project could point to a really good way forward in terms of an initiative on the ground to deal with the footprint of trucks.

We are quite open to exploring the possibilities in terms of what the Deputy has outlined. My objective is to keep material out of landfill sites and anything that could help to do that would be positive.

Specifically on waste generation, important work is being undertaken by some of Ireland's leading agrifood businesses to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging in the food supply chain. I hope to make an announcement on an initiative shortly. The companies involved which represent significant but different elements of the food processing sector will use their collective power and food production experience to eliminate single use plastic packaging from the supply chain and replace it with new more sustainable alternatives. We will all welcome this in our supermarkets and shops.

To specifically address the other aspect of the Deputy's question, we are trying to focus on reducing the generation of waste in the first place and then to find novel solutions to divert waste away from landfill sites and other forms of disposal and encourage reuse. Next month is reuse month. I encourage all colleagues to participate in the initiatives in their local authority areas and encourage participation by the public.

North-South Interconnector

Timmy Dooley

Question:

48. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when he plans to publish two reports that his Department has commissioned on the feasibility of undergrounding the North-South interconnector and provide compensation for owners of property near high voltage transmission lines; and the status of these plans. [37631/18]

Brendan Smith

Question:

50. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he has received the two independent reports on the proposed North-South interconnector; if so, when he plans to publish the reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37595/18]

Brendan Smith

Question:

80. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when he plans to publish the two independent reports on the proposed North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37594/18]

Shane Cassells

Question:

83. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the North-South interconnector project. [37619/18]

More than a year ago the Fianna Fáil Party introduced motions in this House and Seanad Éireann calling on the Government to commission independent studies of the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the North-South interconnector. It is welcome that following the motions the Minister has commissioned two studies. I understand the reports have been with him for some time. Communities in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath are anxious to know what has been recommended in them. I hope the Minister is in a position to indicate to us that the reports will be published without further delay.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48, 50, 80 and 83 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, in 2017 I commissioned two studies designed to address the main points of the motions passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, as well as key concerns expressed by those opposed to the development of the North-South interconnector, NSIC, as an overhead line. The first is an independent study to examine the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the interconnector. Three international experts in the field of electricity infrastructure development carried out a comprehensive analysis of international developments in undergrounding technologies since publication of the international expert commission's report in 2012. That was a key request of the representatives of the communities concerned about the proposed overhead line development. Two of the consultants appointed were members of the 2012 commission, while the third was a member of the 2014 independent expert group appointed by my Department to review key electricity grid projects. Therefore, all members of the commission were familiar both with the development of transmission grids across Europe, as well as the project in the context of Ireland's all-island electricity grid.

The North-South interconnector is critical to ensuring a safe, secure supply of electricity throughout the island of Ireland. It also supports the core objectives of European and national energy policy, namely, sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness. The project is the subject of legal challenges in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, with important legal dates imminent in both jurisdictions this month and next. EirGrid and ESB Networks are awaiting the outcome of the judicial challenges before they proceed to discharge their operational duties in the construction of the interconnector.

The second study is focused on the levels of compensation provided for land and property owners in proximity to high voltage transmission lines in a European context. This study was undertaken to consider a separate concern raised by public representatives at meetings with me on the impact of transmission lines on land and property values and the level of compensation paid in lieu of such impacts. Levels of compensation provided for land and property owners are considered to be a reflection of the impact of transmission lines on land and property values; therefore, this study, undertaken by KHSK Economic Consultants, analysed the compensation regimes in other European and selected international countries. Both studies have been completed and submitted to me.

In order to have the most up-to-date assessment of the implications of Brexit for the energy sector before bringing the reports to the Government, I sought the views of the energy regulator and electricity and gas transmission system operators on the implications for the electricity market in Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit, including for the single electricity market, SEM, timelines for the delivery of programmes such as DS3, delivering a secure, sustainable electricity system, and the North-South interconnector and continued secure cross-Border electricity trading across interconnectors.  The outcome of this analysis was submitted to my Department last week and is being considered. I have previously indicated to this House that it is my intention to bring the relevant reports to the Government for consideration prior to their publication. I expect to do this shortly.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. He has told me previously in response to numerous parliamentary questions that he expects to bring the report to the Government shortly or within a few weeks. That dates back some time.

The Minister mentioned the people who had been given sight of the report. Has EirGrid had sight of it? Was it asked for comments or submissions on either of the studies? The Minister is fully aware that in no circumstances will communities in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath allow the transmission cables to be overground, if the project is to proceed. The fundamental issue is that if the project is to proceed, the transmission cables need to be placed underground. We know for some time that EirGrid has accepted that it is technically feasible to place the transmission cables underground. In addition, the cost differential in undergrounding or overgrounding the cables has narrowed significantly from the time the project was initially commissioned ten or 12 years ago. The Minister needs to give a very strong commitment to communities in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath that if the project is to proceed, their concerns will be taken into account. Those individuals, families and communities will not accept the transmission cables being placed overground in any circumstance.

The reports were requested by me on behalf of the Oireachtas. A decision was made by the Government in that regard. I will present the reports to the Government. The hold-up has been that it was incumbent on me to consider the implications of a hard Brexit for our electricity system, the single electricity market, our gas market, the North-South interconnector and the ongoing DS3 project. I wanted to have a comprehensive position to present to the Cabinet.

The third report specifically engaged with EirGrid and Gas Networks Ireland on the implications of a hard Brexit. Before the summer, the European Commission requested of me that that be carried out. We will report back to the Commission on the report.

EirGrid has had sight of both reports.

No. My reference to EirGrid and Gas Networks Ireland related to a third report I sought regarding the implications of a hard Brexit for our electricity and gas systems. It will be presented to the Cabinet along with the other two reports. It was only received by my Department at the end of last week. The intention is to turn it around quite quickly and bring all three reports to Cabinet very soon.

A very distinguished and reputable journalist, Michael Fisher, who does a lot of work for The Northern Standard newspaper in Monaghan and is a former RTÉ correspondent, did a great public service in obtaining through freedom of information requests correspondence between the Minister's Department and EirGrid. Reading that correspondence over the summer months, one would think that EirGrid is a division of the Department. It is obvious that it was consulted and its views sought on any move by the Department. It was not kept at arm's length but, rather, seems to be a de facto division of the Department, which is utterly wrong.

I am the first Minister for a long time to meet and directly engage with interested groups-----

We welcome that.

-----and colleagues on the matter. I do not think any Member questions my sincerity or commitment to a fair process in this matter. I have the reports. I hoped to bring them to Cabinet earlier, but having received the request from the Commission, I believed it was fair to bring all three reports together. It is my intention to do so quite soon. Once they have been brought to the Cabinet, I intend to publish the first two reports and report on the third one to the Commission.

I am very interested in where the Minister intends to go with this monstrous pylon project, as are my constituents in County Meath and those of my colleagues, Deputies Niamh Smyth and Brendan Smith, who are present, in County Cavan. As Deputy Brendan Smith stated, we have intently read the weekly publication of what have come to be known as "the EirGrid files" in The Northern Standard over the summer. They comprise documents obtained by the respected journalist, Michael Fisher, who has unearthed some fascinating stuff. Most shockingly, he exposed the "best buddy" relationship which the documents show exists between the Minister's Department and EirGrid officials. More important in the context of the underground review group about which the Minister has today been asked is the fact that EirGrid officials emailed proposed agendas for meetings with the underground review group to his Department. I have those emails in front of me. How can the Minister call this an independent review when the body being looked at put together the agenda for meetings? The last time I checked, the defendant in a court case does not prepare the case for the prosecution. Following the intervention by EirGrid, an email from the Minister's Department to the independent review group stated that EirGrid was trying to structure a Thursday meeting a little and had suggested a draft agenda for the meeting. That is a little more than trying to structure the meeting a little. Like my colleagues and, most importantly, the people of County Meath, I am very interested in the work the Minister has on his desk. However, I would love to hear his insights into those serious revelations by Michael Fisher in regard to the process.

I have not read the articles referred to by Deputies Cassells and Brendan Smith and, therefore, will not comment on them.

The Department has seen everything else.

As soon as the reports have been presented to Cabinet, I intend to publish them so that people can read them for themselves.

As we speak, EirGrid is trying to canvass farmers at the ploughing championships and get them on board with its project to traverse the land of farmers and that of their neighbours with monstrous pylons across counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. It will not succeed. The cosy relationship between the Minister's Department and EirGrid was exposed by Michael Fisher in the EirGrid files which I am holding in my hand. They show a very unhealthy link between the Department and EirGrid which scuppers any belief in the integrity of the process. The Minister spoke of meeting interested parties. Such people no longer have any belief in the process after reading those reports in The Northern Standard which were published over eight weeks.

EirGrid officials went so far as to monitor my social media account with the intent of giving a heads-up to officials in the Minister's office that he should expect questions on the matter from me in the Dáil. I will save them the bother of having to do so. I will add the Minister as a friend on Facebook and he can monitor it himself and read what I intend to say. The only thing such officials will find on Facebook is a resilient community in counties Meath, Monaghan and Cavan which will not be bullied by EirGrid.

I will obtain the EirGrid files published by The Northern Standard for the Minister because they contain serious insights into what is, as has been said, a very unhealthy relationship between the Minister's Department and EirGrid.

I do not monitor anyone's social media account, nor do-----

I have the evidence here. Shall I read it out?

I do not dispute what the Deputy stated but-----

I have it here. I will hand it to the Minister.

------I do not monitor social media accounts, nor do any of the staff who work with or were personally appointed by me. Every Member of this House is legitimately entitled-----

The Minister's senior officials are listed in the email.

-----to raise any issue in the House with me or any other Minister and I will always try to respond to the best of my ability. I understand the frustration that the reports have not yet been published but it was important for me to provide the Cabinet with a comprehensive review of all aspects of the matter, and I think Deputy Brendan Smith in particular will understand and appreciate that. Brexit is a big issue and it is important that we carry out a full assessment of its possible implications. I intend to bring that to Cabinet very shortly and I will publish the two reports to which I have referred as soon as I have done so.

Deputy Brendan Smith had two questions in this grouping so is entitled to another speaking slot.

I anticipate some interesting discussions at the Cabinet table when the Minister presents those reports because his colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, stated some time ago that one would expect civil disobedience if the project were to proceed on the basis of the transmission cables being overground.

I was very surprised that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, allowed the procurement process to continue while the projects are the subject of proceedings in the Irish Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. Why was the procurement process allowed to continue while the project is the subject of those court proceedings? We know that decisions cannot be made on major infrastructural projects North of the Border because of the governance situation in Northern Ireland.

As Deputy Brendan Smith is aware, there are judicial proceedings under way North of the Border and in this jurisdiction. As he is also aware, on 6 September the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Karen Bradley, announced that legislation is to be introduced in the House of Commons to deal with the issues that have been raised regarding the Arc21 waste incinerator judgment. There are similar issues in regard to the North-South interconnector. As the Deputy is aware, we expect that the judicial review in this jurisdiction will be heard soon. No works have commenced during this procurement process. I have stated that on several occasions in the House and explained why the process is proceeding, but there will be no works until we have clarification regarding the consent process.

I acknowledge that Deputy Niamh Smyth has requested to speak on the issue but the time allocated for the matter has elapsed.

Waste Disposal Charges

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

49. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the waste collection price changes have led to a change in customer behaviour, that is, increased use of the green and brown bins; if this aspect of waste collection is being monitored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37453/18]

I have been following the reports of the Price Monitoring Group, PMG, on household waste collection. I note it was to finish its work in June but the Minister extended its remit. Was that considering his concerns about the introduction of green bin charges, about which constituents are deeply unhappy, on foot of the decision of China not to accept any more plastic waste? I fiercely opposed the privatisation of the household waste management system but we do not have a regulation system. It is a totally failed system. Householders, certainly in the Dublin region, are very angry about the introduction of this charge, which is sometimes up to €5 extra per collection per month. They believe the Minister has not been prepared to monitor and control the waste management companies, including what they would allege are the many cowboys in this industry.

In June 2017, in line with commitments set out in A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland, and in the interest of encouraging further waste prevention and greater recycling, the Government decided to phase out flat-rate fees for household waste collection. All waste collection permits were amended by the National Waste Collection Permit Office to require that no flat fees would be charged after 30 September 2018.

Household waste collectors are required to charge fees which respect the waste hierarchy and encourage customers to segregate their waste. The last two months of data from the Price Monitoring Group reported that no flat-rate fees are being offered across the 47 service offerings being monitored.

The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is charged with reporting data on waste management. A wide range of waste statistics are available on the EPA website, including national waste reports and data releases containing information on municipal waste, infrastructure, packaging, construction and demolition, and composting and anaerobic digestion of biodegradable waste generated in Ireland. The most recent data indicate that the quantity of biodegradable municipal waste diverted from landfill and sent for composting and anaerobic digestion increased by 19% between 2015 and 2016, from 194,000 tonnes to 231,000 tonnes. It is very important that timely and accurate data on waste are available so that policy decisions on waste can continue to be evidence based.

In this regard, a new national municipal waste characterisation study, which commenced in December 2016, will be completed shortly. The last study was carried out in 2008 and it is anticipated that changes in consumer behaviour, in products placed on the market and changes in waste policies and legislation will have impacted upon the characterisation of municipal waste since 2008.

My Department has also funded the provision of public information to encourage waste prevention and segregation through the regional waste management offices and the Environmental Protection Agency. These initiatives include a national standardised list of items that can go into the recycling bin, available at recyclinglistireland.ie; a master recycling programme, in partnership with environmental non-governmental organisations, NGOs, to roll out 650 workshops nationwide; Reuse Month, the annual nationwide campaign in October to promote reuse among householders and businesses; the Stop Food Waste programme, which provides comprehensive information about food that is wasted and how to prevent it to both householders and businesses; and information on how to use the organic bin appropriately, at www.brownbin.ie.

The abolition of flat-rate fees, together with increasing use of compost bins and continuing awareness campaigns funded by my Department, will assist Ireland achieve current and future EU waste targets.

Is the Minister not achieving the direct opposite of what he wanted to achieve? We have an increasing problem in our region of dumping on amenity lands over many of the Dublin constituencies. With the major charges on the green bin, people perceive now that prices are constantly increasing and that the market is dominated by a cartel, a small group of companies. I note, for example, that the Minister's own Price Monitoring Group states that of eight companies that changed their prices, six increased them. I note also that there are about 60 waste management companies, yet the Price Monitoring Group is monitoring approximately 26 of them, which is less than half. Has the Minister given any consideration to having a maximum percentage to ensure that larger monthly costs cannot be imposed on consumers? This is a bit like another part of the Minister's Department, namely, the communications area. For ordinary consumers, tariffs from companies, at least one of which seemed to have its headquarters in the Isle of Man, not in this country, are incredibly complicated and difficult. Inexorably, prices are rising, and that often discourages rather than encourages people to recycle.

The Price Monitoring Group reports have been published on our Department website and they show that there is not price gouging across the sector. In some cases, there have been very marginal increases. In other cases, there have been price reductions. All of that data is being collected by an anonymous shopper who is potentially purchasing these services. It is monitoring across the spectrum of companies that are involved in it.

A separate independent review of our household waste collection system is being carried out by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC. That is expected to be completed by the end of this year and will show a clear reflection of what is happening across the sector. We can all welcome the completion and publication of that review and if policy decisions need to be taken on foot of that, we can look at that then.

I am glad to hear about the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission review. We will have it before the end of this year because it is urgently needed. The Minister extended the PMG study.

Did that not indicate that he was concerned about price gouging relating to the green bin? Generally speaking, people are well intentioned about household waste management. They want to do their best for their community, the environment and the country but they need to be encouraged in that regard. I am one of those who bitterly opposed the privatisation of the household commercial waste sector but the continuous stream of complaints I get about the total lack of transparency in terms of household waste management fees is a grave responsibility, which I do not believe the Minister has grappled with yet.

I have a final question. On the proposal for the €75 annual support for people with lifelong or medical incontinence, I understand the Department was talking about providing special support in that area. When will the Minister be able to announce that?

First, if I did not extend the Price Monitoring Group remit until the end of the year, I would have been criticised for being anti-consumer regarding it. Now, the Deputy is questioning the reason I extended it. I extended it to ensure there was consistency in respect of-----

The Minister knows there is something wrong, does he not?

-----the monitoring. I accept there is an array of charges and complexity in respect of them. The Deputy is right. It was an issue in the telecoms area and the regulator has addressed that. This might be something that will be reflected in the CCPC report and which we will have to look at in that context.

Regarding medical incontinence, my Department is continuing to work on the development of a mechanism to provide the €75 support for persons with lifelong or long-term medical incontinence to help meet the average annual cost of disposing of medical incontinence products. Unfortunately, this process has taken longer than I had envisaged due to data protection issues that arose with the introduction of the general data protection regulation, GDPR. I am committed to introducing an annual support as soon as practically possible in conjunction with the relevant agencies and stakeholders. We have the funding, and I hope that I can make an announcement on that quite soon.

Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 48.

Petroleum and Gas Exploration

Bríd Smith

Question:

51. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extensions and renewals to licences for petroleum exploration issued in 2018; and the way in which the issuing of these licences is compatible with commitments to tackle climate change. [37615/18]

I assume the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, is taking this question. He usually does. I think I have asked a similar question previously. I will come to the reason I ask that question but I want to ask him about the extensions and renewals of licences for petroleum exploration issued this year and the way in which the issuing of these licences is compatible with and complements our commitments to tackle climate change.

Details of all petroleum exploration authorisations granted are published on my Department's website on a quarterly basis. In addition, I am required to lay before the Oireachtas under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960 half-yearly reports detailing all petroleum authorisations granted during the period of the report. The last such report was in respect of the six-month period ending 30 June 2018. To date in 2018, 12 licensing options have been converted to frontier exploration licences and the terms of the phases of three exploration licences have been extended.

Ireland will, within the EU and UN climate frameworks, pursue and achieve a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy, underpinned by a secure and competitive energy supply, in the period to 2050. Within that context, it is accepted that Ireland will continue to require and use some, but significantly reduced, fossil fuels to meet the needs of our people, public transport, haulage, aviation, marine, home heating requirements, farming sector, medical device sector, manufacturing and industry. In that transition period, the development of Ireland’s offshore oil and gas resources has the potential to deliver significant and sustained benefits to the people of Ireland in terms of national and local economic development, technology learning, enhanced security of supply, import substitution and fiscal return. What is not compatible with Ireland's commitments to tackling climate change, however, is continuing to use the same levels and mix of fossil fuels that we use today. Demand levels must drop significantly. Therefore, the Government's approach to tackle emissions from fossil fuels is to focus efforts on energy efficiency and renewable energy, which the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has highlighted on numerous occasions and which make essential contributions to all of the major objectives of climate and energy policies, including improved competitiveness, security of supply, sustainability and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Every time I ask a question on climate change, I can locate it in the context of another climate disaster or global event of climate and weather extremity. This week, we saw such extremes in the USA and the far east and the absolute destruction to life and planet they have caused. That is why I bang on about this all the time. Our situation and the threat to our planet and our lives on it are not getting better. The situation is increasingly getting worse and the evidence is out there.

I ask the Minister of State this question again to highlight an issue that was brought to the fore at the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment's discussion of my Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018, which took place on 2 July 2018. Dr. Amanda Slevin pointed out at the meeting that the way in which we issue licences and extensions means that private companies such as Providence can effectively lay claim to huge tracts of the ocean bed for long periods. There is a labyrinthine process of extending licences and leaseholds of which companies take advantage. On top of that, we heard about Ireland's very generous tax regime for oil and gas companies. If they do actually make any finds, the State gains very little financially as a result of that tax regime.

The vast majority of people in this House understand and accept the threat to our planet and the real, visual impact that we see in different parts of the world. That is why the Government wants to reduce the use of fossil fuels. I have been at pains to point out that the Bill the Deputy has proposed will not do anything to reduce the use of fossil fuels. It will mean we will be entirely reliant on other countries for the import of our oil and natural gas into the future. That is not the same as achieving the objectives we all share in terms of reducing the use of fossil fuels and meeting our climate targets and ambitions. That is the issue I have.

Regarding the tax regime, there have been changes which are part of the Finance Bill and which have taken place and have been agreed here in Dáil Éireann at various stages. They have been put in place based on best international practice.

That is fair enough. We have obviously a very serious difference about how to tackle climate change: it emerges every time we have this discussion. The Bill I have before the House passed Second Stage. There was strong cross-party support for it although the Government may be opposing it. What the Government is doing by extending these licences and leaseholds is attempting to sabotage that Bill. If it does pass, the effect of it will be to say that we are leaving fossil fuels in the ground. That is the point of it. Science tells us that we must leave 80% of the known reserves in the ground, never mind finding new reserves, in order to reach our targets under the Paris Agreement. I believe the continual issuing of licences and extending of leaseholds is an attempt to sabotage the essence of that Bill, the aim of which is to say that Ireland will be a leader in terms of challenging the overuse of fossil fuels, their over-burning and over-extraction on a global scale. We could be a leader as one of maybe five countries that will have achieved this. I am just making the point and pointing out to the public that the extension and continued issuing of licences flies in the face of the Government's commitment on climate change.

The Deputy is over time.

The Deputy's Bill passed Second Stage with a lot of support. I know the Bill is currently being debated as part of a wider discussion on energy security. The Deputy cited people who came before the committee and I know there were a number of experts on all sides who spoke. It is up to the committee now to decide on the next step. It may pursue the Bill as is, there may be a vote to end discussion on the Bill or it may be progressed to full Committee Stage with amendments to come back before the House. That will be the democratic decision of the committee.

The Government has its point of view. We are in a minority. We will put forward the case in respect of what we are doing, which is trying to reduce the use of fossil fuels rather than being wholly reliant on importing fossil fuels at the end of a pipeline or shipping lane. Who knows how future world turbulence might impact on the security of supply that we have in this country? That is why we are supporting the continued exploration offshore. However, we are a minority Government and the full Dáil and Seanad will determine the Deputy's Bill if the committee chooses to pursue it.

National Broadband Plan

We will move on to Deputy Bríd Smith's next question but I ask her to forfeit her initial 30 seconds and call on the Minister to respond immediately.

Am I being asked to forfeit my 30 seconds?

If you do so, we will be able to take your supplementary question. Otherwise-----

Am I being asked to do so or is the Leas-Cheann Comhairle assuming it? I have no problem with the request.

-----I can bring the questions to an end. I am only being helpful.

Bríd Smith

Question:

52. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the way in which the national broadband plan will meet its targets; if there have been changes to the costs of the plan from when it was first announced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37617/18]

The target of the national broadband plan, NBP, is to bring a high-speed broadband connection to every single premises in Ireland as effectively and efficiently as possible. This means no home, business, school or community is left without access to high-speed broadband. This is being achieved in two ways, through investment by commercial operators and, where this will not deliver, through a State intervention. Commercial investment has totalled €2.75 billion over the past five years. This means that today more than 15 out of 20 premises have access to high-speed broadband commercially. Without the catalysing effect of the national broadband plan this would simply not be the case. My Department is in a formal procurement process to select a company that will roll out a new high-speed broadband network in the State intervention area.

I am pleased to inform the House and, more importantly, the 540,000 families and businesses that are awaiting high-speed broadband across the country, that today marks a historic milestone for the Government's national broadband plan. Earlier today, the remaining bidder in the national broadband plan procurement process submitted its final tender to my Department. Over the coming weeks, the Department's procurement team will evaluate the submission received today. I am looking forward to receiving the output from that particular evaluation.

I am here just over two years and, in those two years, time after time the Minister has come in here to eulogise the privatisation of broadband. I almost feel sorry for him that by now he is probably choking on his words. He repeatedly says what a wonderful plan this is and what it is going to do for the country. Bidder after bidder has fallen aside but the Minister still comes in here to justify the privatisation of broadband. We are now on the hook to the remaining bidder. The Minister will not tell us who it is or how much it is costing but we will find out soon enough when the decision is actually made.

Will the procurement team that is looking at this bid be in a position to say "no"? If it says "no", where then does the Minister go? Is there any possibility that we could keep in public hands even a fraction of this service? The root of all this lies at the original decision by Fianna Fáil to privatise Telecom Éireann, and we all know what a disaster that was. The Minister is eulogising privatisation when it is made clear time after time that just getting rid of important national infrastructure like this is a mistake. Can the Minister say "no" to the current procurement bidder if that is a decision that his procurement team could make?

Could we realistically see any attempt by the State to hold on to some of this important national infrastructure?

The procurement team will evaluate the tender. It is up to the team to come up with a recommendation. We have received the final tender from the bidder. This must be assessed and evaluated by the 80-strong team that has been involved in this very complex process since the end of 2016. It has been frustratingly slow, particularly for the 543,000 families across rural Ireland and businesses that have been waiting on this. This is something to which I have been personally committed for a long number of years. I want to see this fulfilled to give people access to a basic piece of infrastructure that everyone should have as a right.

I recently heard the Taoiseach eulogise the Land Development Agency comparing it to the electrification of Ireland, a comparison I often use when I talk to the Minister about broadband. I think that is a joke but I also think it is such a shame that we privatised broadband. It will go down in history as one of the worst decisions this Government has made. Of course, I welcome and look forward to those 450,000 homes and businesses getting access to high-speed broadband. They have been promised it for years and it is about time they got it. However, I believe that this is a disastrous decision and that the Minister has been made a bit of an eejit by all these bidders who dropped out one after the other and left the Minister to come in here to try to justify what is going on. When we do find out who the bidder is and how much it has cost, we will see whether the Minister can ever justify what has happened to our national broadband infrastructure.

The assessment of the tender that has been submitted will now take place. I await the report on that from the procurement team. A process must be completed and this process will proceed.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.