Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Broadband Service Provision

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he has given consideration to a model that does not rely on the private sector to roll out broadband infrastructure in view of the difficulties with the national broadband plan's tendering process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41223/18]

This question relates to the roll-out of the national broadband plan, NBP. I have particular questions that flow from the earlier exchanges, which I will perhaps put in the form of supplementary questions. The more general question I have is whether the Minister accepts that the farce of a process, which has effectively seen a bidder, a US venture capitalist, win on the basis of everybody else dropping out of the race, illustrates precisely the problem of relying on the private market to provide for a public utility. Would we not be better off looking at the history of the roll-out of, for example, electricity, telecommunications, etc., and the key role of the State in providing a vital public service?

The Government's strategy for the NBP was devised following a detailed public consultation. The consultation was undertaken against a backdrop where the telecommunications sector in Ireland operates in a liberalised market that relies on commercial operators investing in building infrastructure and offering services to citizens and businesses on a commercial basis.

The commercial sector acting alone, however, has failed to bring high speed broadband to large parts of Ireland. As a consequence, the Government consulted on and brought forward the NBP to address this market failure. Ireland is not alone in facing this challenge. It is a challenge faced by other digitally ambitious EU member states and a number of these member states are making significant interventions in the market to ensure the deployment of high speed broadband connectivity.

As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland does not have a State-owned telecommunications company that owns, operates or builds telecommunications infrastructure. Accordingly, any intervention by the State in the broadband market must rely on commercial entities.  It is worth noting that the previously State-owned company, Eir, now subcontracts the physical building of infrastructure, as do the majority of major telecommunications operators in the State.

The procurement process to appoint a bidder for the State intervention network is at the final stage. Evaluation of the final tender submission is ongoing and will be allowed the time required.  On conclusion of the evaluation, my Department will make a recommendation to me on whether to appoint the bidder as preferred bidder and I will bring the matter to Government for decision.

I want to follow up on particulars from the exchange earlier about relations with Mr. David McCourt. Deputy Dooley asked a question, which potentially presented new information about this controversy, regarding a lunch in Leinster House on 18 April. The Minister replied that he did not have lunch with Mr. McCourt on that day.

Were there plans to meet with Mr. McCourt on or around that day? Were there plans for the Minister to have lunch with Mr. McCourt around that day? Is there a diary entry referring to a lunch or a meeting with Mr. McCourt in Leinster House on or around that day? Can the Minister provide any other information on that?

I have a more general question, as the Minister made a more general statement defending his right to meet with those involved in telecommunications, they being a small number of people and so on. Does the Minister accept the basic proposition that from the point of view of doing things correctly and being seen to do things correctly, it is incorrect to meet bidders during a bidding process?

I will say this again. The vast majority of telecommunications companies in this country have had some role in this procurement process at some stage over its course. If I were the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the effect of what it has been alleged I should have done would be that I would not meet the farm organisations from the day of my appointment until next month or the month after when this process had been finalised. A great deal of work needs to be done in the telecommunications area. The biggest issue we encountered as public representatives going around the country was broadband coverage but the second biggest was mobile phone coverage. Quite a number of the people involved in mobile phone networks in this country were also involved in this process. I decided in the negotiations on the programme for Government, when I did not know I would be in this or any other role, that we should establish a mobile phone and broadband task force to unlock many of the bottlenecks within the system and we have done that. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, and I have been successful in addressing mobile phone black spots, wireless deployment, mobile broadband and getting access to State ducting and infrastructure.

I will repeat the first question, which is the only question I am going to ask to avoid any possibility that another one is answered. Was the Minister due to meet with Mr. McCourt in Leinster House on or around 18 April? Is there a diary entry for a lunch or meeting with Mr. McCourt in Leinster House on or around 18 April? If that is the case, what was going to be the nature of the meeting? What was the meeting going to be about and who was going to attend? Was anyone from the Department going to attend?

It is the same question. On 18 April, the Minister's diary shows an entry for lunch with David McCourt in Leinster House. I confirm to the Minister that David McCourt had lunch in Leinster House on that day. Whether or not the Minister joined him is a matter for the Minister to clarify to the House. I want to know what the purpose of the meeting was, why it was arranged, whether the Minister intended to have officials present, what the expected outcome was from Mr. McCourt's perspective and why, in God's name, the Minister allowed himself to be embroiled yet again on the very day he was explaining to the House why he had inappropriately involved himself in the Celtic Media controversy.

I did not attend the lunch. My understanding is that Mr. McCourt and his family came in for lunch that day to celebrate a birthday, as they had been in Dublin. That was the reason for that particular lunch.

It was the Members' restaurant.

I did not attend it.

Was it in the Minister's diary?

If Deputy Dooley says it was in my diary, it was in my diary. I do not know.

The Deputies can take this up elsewhere. The time is up.

This is the place to ask questions of Ministers.

I do not have my diary here.

Deputies, please. Deputy McConalogue is not here to ask Question No. 7. I call Deputy Browne on Question No. 8.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

James Browne

Question:

8. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position regarding the roll-out of the national broadband plan in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41102/18]

What is the position on the roll-out of the NBP in County Wexford?

There are just over 82,200 premises in County Wexford.  When the Government came into office, only 51% of these premises had access to a high-speed broadband service. Today, 67% of premises in the county have access to a high-speed broadband service. On completion of Eir's rural fibre deployment this will increase to 74% of premises in Wexford. However, more than 21,600 premises in the county are not covered by commercial operators and the Government's State-led intervention network under the NBP will bring a high-speed broadband service to these. The investment in high-speed broadband being witnessed across the country has been significantly influenced by the Government's clear ambition and commitment to the plan.

In recent years, industry has invested more than €2.75 billion in infrastructure deployment and improvement. In addition to Eir's rural fibre network, SIRO has committed €450 million to providing fibre broadband to 500,000 regional homes and businesses in 51 towns across Ireland. SIRO offers high-speed broadband services in Wexford town, with further deployment planned in Courtown, Enniscorthy and Gorey. Virgin Media is investing in its network to 200,000 additional premises in Ireland, including areas in Wexford town, Gorey, New Ross and Enniscorthy.

The procurement process to appoint a bidder for the NBP's State-led intervention network is now at the final stage. Evaluation of the final tender submission is ongoing and will be allowed the time required.  On conclusion of the evaluation, my Department will make a recommendation to me on whether to appoint the bidder as preferred bidder and I will bring the matter to Government for decision.

I thank the Minister. In 2014, it was announced that the NBP would be a Rolls-Royce, but most of the wheels have now come off. SIRO, the partnership between Vodafone and ESB, has pulled out, as has Eir, leaving only Enet and SSE as the sole wheel. SSE and John Laing have pulled out consortium bidding for the tender, leaving the Minister with only an investment fund led by Granahan McCourt. The Rolls-Royce has been left with one wheel and the wheel is left with one spoke. The spoke is getting covered in mire due to questions on the Minister's arranged meetings with David McCourt. Can the people of Wexford or anywhere in Ireland have faith that the national broadband plan will be delivered in a pristine condition?

The Department advises me that the bidder in the NBP procurement process is led by Granahan McCourt and includes key subcontractors, Enet, Nokia, Actavo, the Kelly Group and the KN Group. Enet provides access to the MANs infrastructure together with day-to-day operational activities. Nokia will provide a range of high-speed broadband equipment across the intervention area. The KN Group, Kelly Group and Actavo will provide the necessary staffing and construction expertise when building the fibre over the Eir network. Eir is also a key subcontractor of the bidder and will provide in excess of 1 million poles and 15,000 km of ducting to serve customers in the intervention area. The lead equity bidder in the consortium remains the Granahan McCourt entity. In statements to the media, the Department has advised that this has been the case since the procurement process commenced in December 2013.

My role in this context is limited. The Department is responsible for the governance and evaluation of the tender in respect of which I have no role. As Minister, I have overall responsibility to ensure the Government's objectives under the NBP's State-led intervention area are achieved and I am also responsible for accounting for the timelines to the House.

The Minister's diary shows a meeting between him and David McCourt in the Members' restaurant of Leinster House on 18 April, at which time the NBP was being processed. David McCourt is the founder and chairman of the only remaining consortium in the bidding process, namely Granahan McCourt. I am informed that Mr. McCourt attended the meeting in the Members' restaurant, to which he must have been invited by a Member. The Minister said it was to celebrate a birthday. Was Mr. McCourt signed in under the Minister's name? Did the Minister meet him at any time during that day? Did the Minister speak with him at any time that day either in person, on the phone or by email or in the subsequent days? If so, what was the nature of that conversation and to whom did the Minister convey its nature subsequent to speaking with Mr. McCourt?

The booking was made under my name. I did not speak with David McCourt either in person, on the phone or any other way that day or on subsequent days in relation to that.

I facilitated the family coming into Leinster House, as many colleagues do, but I had no engagement whatsoever with Mr. McCourt.

Waste Management

John Curran

Question:

9. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to set up a waste regulator for the industry in view of the recently published Competition and Consumer Protection Commission report which found that 25% of consumers in the greater Dublin area did not have the option of more than one service provider; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41058/18]

Recently, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, published a report, which found that one quarter of consumers in the greater Dublin area do not have more than one supplier for their domestic waste and that there is a lack of competition in the market. Does the Minister have specific plans to introduce competition to the market in the Dublin area?

I thank the CCPC for the significant body of work it has carried out in this report. The findings of this report clearly support the policy decision that I took to introduce an incentivised pricing model by abolishing flat-rate fees, rather than a blanket pay-by-kilogram system proposed previously. The report notes that it took 19 years for a policy to be implemented to abolish flat-rate fee structures.

The report shows that waste collection costs are between 63 cent and 77 cent per day and only 6% of people cited cost as a reason for not having their waste collected. Furthermore, the CCPC acknowledges the work of the price monitoring group, PMG, which I established in July 2017 to monitor prices for consumers offered by the waste sector and to provide oversight of the industry as flat fees were being phased out. It confirms that consumers have seen price stability across the sector over the past 12 months with no evidence of price gouging.

It is important to be clear that, as a country, we have zero spare capacity in our landfills today. We are now on the verge of an emergency situation with nowhere for any extra waste to go. The ban on flat-rate fees was necessary to incentivise householders to recycle and compost more and to send less waste to landfill. We have invested €3 million in education and awareness in relation to what goes into one's recycling bin and how to use one's brown bin effectively.

I welcome the fact that the CCPC does not call for a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach and that, based on data collection and consultation, different competition models can be introduced for different geographic areas. The nature of the market is complex, as both the CCPC and the PMG have identified. Therefore, the findings of this CCPC report must be studied with care and diligence to ensure consumer well-being is protected and our environmental goals are met. The hybrid model suggested could help to extend the coverage of door-to-door collections nationwide, while ensuring value for money for the householder and providing certainty for investment by the waste sector.

This report, combined with the ongoing work of the PMG, and the finalisation of the European circular economy waste and plastics legislation framework, will inform the development of a future waste management policy, including our environmental goals, regulatory and market structures, and policy instruments and tools.

The Minister's reply did not really address the question, which was about competition in the market. I acknowledge the work the CCPC did but it found that one quarter of households in Dublin do not have an alternative to their current supplier. Even in areas where there is another supplier, I do not believe there is real competition in the market. I live in an ordinary Dublin suburb and auctioneers regularly drop leaflets into my door as they vie for the business of selling my house, even though it is not on the market. Pizzerias and Chinese takeaways all vie for my business in the same way but nobody drops in leaflets about waste. The utility suppliers all compete for business with me but there appears to be no competition over waste and domestic refuse collection. I also do not believe there is transparency in the market.

The report of the CCPC stated that only one in ten of those who could transfer did so. Where people did transfer, the average saving was only approximately €17 per year so substantial savings are not available in this area. The CCPC is looking at moving away from competition in the market, particularly in areas where services are not being provided at present. The report highlights the lack of data and information, though the price monitoring group is helping to provide data at the moment. The CCPC carried out a survey which showed that just 6% of people surveyed said price was an issue for them. It is a complex area and the priority is to reduce the amount of waste going into black bins and to minimise the amount of plastic being generated, as well as recycling the plastic that is generated.

I fully agree with the Minister on recycling but his answer is interesting insofar as it revealed the fact that only a small number of people changed from one supplier to another. That indicates a lack of competition in the market. It also indicates a lack of transparency. If one goes onto the websites of various waste management companies to try to work out what the costs of moving would be, it is very difficult to do so.

The Minister has a role in this. He indicated that when people did change, savings were minimal. Closeness in pricing structures makes it a cartel-type operation, rather than a competitive environment. I fully support moving away from landfill but I do not see competition in the market and consumers deserve protection, which is lacking at the moment.

The CCPC did not find a cartel in the market and said there was no price gouging. The Deputy suggested that the lack of competition was why people were not switching but people can save between €200 and €300 by switching their electricity suppliers, yet a large cohort of the population do not do so. Even when the savings are there, people do not move. I understand from colleagues that the same thing happens with financial services and mortgages, where people can save a significant amount of money but do not do so. There is a certain inertia in Ireland in this regard and the research published by the CCPC highlighted mixed views on whether there should be competition within the market, which might involve two or three trucks driving down a single road, or competition for the market, where an operator bids for exclusive access to a particular part of the market.

Television Licence Fee Collection

Brian Stanley

Question:

10. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if alternative options such as those outlined at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in regard to the collection of the licence fee for RTÉ have been considered. [41194/18]

I ask the Minister whether there are alternative options, such as those put forward by the Oireachtas committee or by me, for the collection of television licence fees. There is a problem with the funding of public sector broadcasting and we need to address it. There seems to be some inertia in the process at this point.

As the Deputy will be aware, I obtained Government approval last year to draft a number of legislative amendments to the Broadcasting Act 2009, including amendments for the tendering of television licence fee collection. The proposed amendments were considered under pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment and I received the committee's report on 8 March. The Bill is currently being drafted by the Parliamentary Counsel and is included as a priority on the Government's draft legislative programme.

As the Deputy is also aware, I requested the committee to examine the longer-term issue of the future funding of public service media and the committee published its report at the end of November 2017. Following consideration of the recommendations made in that report, Government approval was received in July 2018 to establish a working group on the future funding of public service broadcasting.  The group is chaired by an assistant secretary from my Department and comprises senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Housing, Planning and Local Government, as well as the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The report of the joint committee on the future funding of public service broadcasting will form an important input into the work of the group. The working group will examine options for the future funding of public service broadcasting and collection of the television licence fee that include collection by the Revenue Commissioners, tendering for licence fee collection, the replacement of the fee with a broadcasting charge or a variation. The group will also examine related issues such as more equitable contribution from the business sector through the introduction of different rates or categories, for example, for bookies or the Dáil itself. The impact of the new arrangements on the current licence fee collection mechanism also will be examined, as will any legislative, administrative or resource changes required to implement recommendations. The group will also look at the likely timeline for transition to any new arrangement and a communications strategy to inform stakeholders of planned changes.

The working group held its first meeting on 20 September and has agreed a programme of work to progress consideration of all of the issues set out above. It is intended that the group will report back to me in the first quarter of 2019 and I will revert to Government at that stage.

In the meantime, there will be no change to the existing television licence fee arrangements and An Post continues to work as the issuing agent for television licences in accordance with section 145 of the Broadcasting Act 2009.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, has recommended that €30 million of taxpayers' money be given to RTÉ. At the same time there is an evasion rate of between 14% and 15%, with approximately €40 million that needs to be gathered up. I do not want to see an increase in the TV licence fee, and the party I represent certainly does not. People are facing enough in terms of rises in the cost of living. This needs to be addressed. I am concerned that the Oireachtas committee went through the long process of putting a report in place. The committee had many witnesses appear before it and the report is in place. We disagree with the privatisation of the collection of the licence fee. Consider what happened in this regard in Britain with the BBC facing legal actions because they used private companies. I would argue strongly that the collection of the licence fee should be retained with An Post. The main recommendation of the Oireachtas committee was to hand the collection of the fee over to Revenue. It is noted in the report that we disagreed with that recommendation, but we proposed to put in place a scheme to pay at the point of purchase or registration. This process works in other countries and is very easy to collect the fee because everybody is in the net. The minute a person buys a television set or connects to a service or a platform then he or she is in the net and is in the database.

If a person is in the database then he or she must have a licence. It is easy then to leave the collection with An Post.

This needs to be cracked because that €40 million in uncollected licence fees needs to be gathered up.

I thank Deputy Stanley for his co-operation.

I agree with Deputy Stanley that the €40 million needs to be gathered up. We, as a result, should be able to look at and consider a reduction in the TV licence fee, rather than an increase.

With regard to the specific issue raised by Deputy Stanley at the mid-term review of the Estimates on 2 October, I have referred it to the working group for its consideration. I understand that under the Broadcast and Wireless Telegraphy Act 1998 individuals were required to register their details at the point of purchase of a television. These details were then forwarded for inspection regarding the purchase of a TV licence. This provision was repealed in the Broadcasting Act 2009 due to the burden it placed to traders and the poor level of information that was actually recorded on it. Now we could have a situation where many of those sales would be moved online, outside of this jurisdiction, where Ireland would lose out on VAT and taxation, and the lack of collection of that data.

I will take Deputy Stanley now, and I know that Deputy Timmy Dooley also wants to comment.

The situation here is blurring the lines. If a person buys a TV set, he or she must purchase it. There will always be exceptions such as those who go outside the State to purchase a TV set, but people must also connect to a service. There is a delay in taking action on this matter. There is no doubt that the funding is needed.

I also wish to discuss the pay structure in RTÉ. I am aware that it is a personnel matter - I will not use the term "human resources" because I will not reduce humans to being resources. In RTÉ it is a personnel and management issue, but the Minister is the shareholder on behalf of the taxpayer. Members have raised the issue in the past of five presenters receiving close to €2 million in fees. This needs to be addressed.

With regard to funding, when an individual accesses a broadcasting platform, be it hooked up to a cable or a satellite signal from Sky or another provider, the person enters a database. Whatever happened in 2009, we have moved on since then and technology has advanced.

There is a database for the local property tax and a database for dog licenses and so on. We should also be able to do it for TV licences. We should be able to keep the TV licence fee low to spread the cost and not incur extra cost onto low and middle income households.

I ask Deputy Dooley to be brief as we are very limited on time.

Will the Minister confirm the implications of the budget for the State broadcaster? I understand that some €5 million has been set aside from the social welfare budget to cover the free TV licence, and some other support. Perhaps the Minister could alert the House to that.

Perhaps the Minister will stop giving people to believe that the licence fee can be cut if everybody pays. The BAI has taken the unprecedented position of outlining that there is a massive funding shortfall in RTÉ. It needs all of the €40 million that is uncollected, and more, just to take on the challenges from the digital platforms-----

Digital platforms are running riot and the Minister has not put in place a digital safety commissioner-----

-----and the Minister is not in a position, in my view and in the view of most people who have looked at this issue, to reduce the licence fee even if he collected all of that €40 million.

Can I just ask a question on the same issue?

On the same issue as the other Deputies.

I will be brief.

On a point of order, we are on Parliamentary Question No. 10 in the name of Deputy Brian Stanley. I have no problem with Deputies Eamon Ryan or Dooley-----

-----or anybody else asking questions, but the system is that one submits the questions so many days in advance and they are drawn out in a lottery in the order in which they came in, and if one wants to ask the questions they must be tabled as written questions. On a point of order I have never seen this happening before.

I will chair the meeting and I have every right to allow Deputies-----

But this has not happened before-----

Sorry. I have listened to you. I have every right to allow Deputies to come in and make a contribution. I am chairing the meeting. I have been more than fair to you. You have abused your time every time today and I let you away with it. I invite Deputy Eamon Ryan and I ask that he be brief.

I just have a supplementary question. Will the Minister confirm today whether he intends to give an additional allocation of €9 million to RTÉ to partly plug the gap? If so, why and what is the mechanism for doing that?

I will answer Deputy Stanley's question first. The Deputy is correct that most people who buy a television subsequently connect to a service. This was a question I put to my own officials after I was appointed as Minister and if we could get access to that database. I understand that my predecessors had sought access to that database and were not able to access it. I am open to correction on this, but I suspect that the general data protection regulation, GDPR, has made it even more difficult rather than easier.

When a person buys a car, for example, they will have to register-----

Please allow the Minister to finish without interruption.

They are two separate questions. First, the system for registration at the point of purchase was in place and for whatever reason - I do not know - it did not work. As I have said, I have asked that the Deputy's suggestion would be considered by the working group. Deputy Stanley is correct, and he is right that technology has changed since then. We have Eircode postcodes today, for example, that are far more accurate. The other aspect is that people do connect to a service and the question arises as to why we cannot get access to that. Those people are availing of public service broadcasting also and should have to pay for it, if they are not already. The advice I have received following my appointment as the Minister was that we could not get access to that database, and that my predecessors had sought that access. I suspect the GDPR would actually make it more difficult today.

Broadband Service Provision

Bobby Aylward

Question:

11. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he has taken to improve broadband and connectivity services in a town (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41222/18]

Bobby Aylward

Question:

13. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he has taken to improve broadband and connectivity services in a town (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41221/18]

I ask these two questions together because they are connected and both apply to towns in my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. What steps has the Minister taken to improve the broadband and connectivity services in Graiguenamanagh and Urlingford?

I propose to take Question Nos. 11 and 13 together. 

In respect of the two townlands referred to by the Deputy, according to my Department’s high-speed broadband map, available at www.broadband.gov.ie, the majority of the premises in the townlands of Graiguenamanagh and Urlingford in County Kilkenny are in the blue area. These areas of the map are where commercial operators are already delivering or have plans to deliver high-speed broadband services. In Graiguenamanagh, this includes some 461 premises, or 88% of those premises in the townland. In Urlingford 537 or 98% of premises in that townland are in a blue area.

The 60 remaining premises in Graiguenamanagh and 13 in Urlingford are in the amber area on the high-speed broadband map.  Premises in this area will be provided with high-speed broadband through the State-led intervention. When this Government came into office, just 53% of premises in Kilkenny had access to high-speed broadband. When Eir's rural fibre deployment has been completed, 63% of premises in Kilkenny will have such access.

Practical initiatives will continue to benefit premises that are currently awaiting access to a high-speed broadband service, for example through the positive work of the mobile phone and broadband task force.  The task force is working to address specific issues that are having an impact on the delivery of mobile phone and broadband services. It has overseen the delivery of a number of key solutions.  Under the task force, engagement between telecommunications operators and local authorities through the broadband officers is continuing to strengthen.  The broadband officers are acting as single points of contact in local authorities for their communities.  The appointment of broadband officers is reaping rewards, for example by ensuring a much greater degree of consistency in engagements with operators and by clearing obstacles to the development of infrastructure. The Department of Rural and Community Development maintains a list of broadband officers, and a link to access this list is available on the website of my Department. As I explained to the House in response to earlier questions, the procurement process to appoint a bidder for the NBP State intervention network is now at the final stage. Evaluation of the final tender submission is ongoing and will be allowed the time required.

It is all right to speak about colours and everything, but State intervention is urgently required in Urlingford. A significant area of the town is covered by commercial operators, but some areas that are crucial to the local economy, such as Urlingford business park, are awaiting State intervention through the NBP. A new nursing home that is due to open in the business park will cater for 90 patients and will employ up to 90 people. A designated Alzheimer's unit with 30 additional beds will require up to 60 additional staff because of the 2:1 ratio associated with the intensive care needs in such units. This facility will require high-speed broadband services to facilitate modern systems for organising meals, medication lists and treatment plans. My information is that three full-time staff at the facility will be dedicated to data output alone. If they cannot avail of adequate broadband, this state-of-the-art facility will have a Stone Age technology infrastructure. I ask the Minister to liaise with the major service providers on the ground to ensure a temporary solution is provided to facilitate a high-speed service as we contend with the delays in State subvention under the national broadband plan. Like many areas in Carlow-Kilkenny, Urlingford requires high-speed broadband services to facilitate businesses and employees. Improved services will also stimulate local economic growth, attract further business and create more jobs in our rural and regional towns.

Urlingford is a good example for colleagues because 98% of the town is in the blue area. With 13 exceptions, every premises in Urlingford is in the blue area. That means it has access, or has plans to have access, to a minimum download speed of 30 Mbps and a minimum upload speed of 6 Mbps. I accept that there are premises around the country which are not getting such speeds even though they are designated with the dark blue colour code on our database, and some of the premises mentioned by the Deputy earlier could be included on such a list. If that is the case, I plead with colleagues to feed that information back to us. As the Deputy will be aware, when I addressed colleagues in the audiovisual room a couple of years ago I said that such feedback should be sent to broadband@dccae.gov.ie. If any location - Urlingford, Lucan or any other part of the country - designated with the blue colour code on our map is not receiving the minimum level of service, we need to know about it in order that we can amend the plan and ensure access is provided through the State intervention phase of this project.

I accept what the Minister is saying. I tabled these questions on the basis of the information available to me, which is that these services are not available in Urlingford and Graiguenamanagh. It is all right to speak about coloured areas, blue areas and everything else, but these services must be available to new businesses that are coming into these towns. Rural towns that need businesses need broadband. That is the most important thing. I could go through the same issue in the case of Graiguenamanagh. I could use the same language that I used when I spoke about Urlingford. The service is not happening on the ground. When will it happen to boost these businesses and these towns? They need an open chance as they try to rebuild themselves after the strictures of the recession. It is one thing to talk about colours and everything else, but I ask the Minister to focus on the importance of roll-out. When will the service be available to people in Graiguenamanagh, Urlingford and elsewhere? I could mention places throughout the country. That is what I am asking questions about.

I fully understand the frustration that exists. We are all experiencing that on a daily basis in our constituencies. People are hugely frustrated about the lack of access to broadband. The Deputy has dismissed the colour coding, but it is an important part of the development of this network. It is important for places that are not getting a service to be designated with the amber colour code. I ask the Deputy to make sure the premises he has mentioned are not designated with the dark blue colour code. We need to make sure they get broadband. Under the NBP, we are initially rolling out 300 broadband connection points. These access hubs will be publicly accessible right across this country. Free public Wi-Fi will be available at hot desks. This will give people access to services in their communities while they are awaiting the physical roll-out of services to their homes. We are determined to ensure every home gets access to high-speed broadband.

Vehicle Emissions

Catherine Martin

Question:

12. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the actions he plans to take to facilitate an end to the sale of combustion engine private cars by 2030. [41105/18]

Deputy Eamon Ryan will introduce this question, which is in the name of his colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin.

At last week's meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, it was disappointing to hear the Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport say that we are technology takers, in effect, as our transport system makes the transition to a low-carbon system. We have to hope, or push, for higher electric vehicle standards. I know the Minister is doing that in Europe. We are looking to push for higher emissions performance from vehicles. However, that will not be enough. If we are to remove fossil fuel combustion engine cars by 2030, we have to be proactive and we have to make that happen in a real way. Other than waiting for the car companies to change, what are the Government's plans for doing this? What mechanism is the State seeking to achieve to deliver on that objective?

The ambition set out in the national policy framework on alternative fuels infrastructure for transport, which was published in May of last year, is that by 2030 all new cars and vans sold in Ireland will have a zero-emission capability. The national development plan, which was published in February of this year, raised this ambition by proposing that no new non-zero emission cars will be sold in Ireland after 2030. A range of policies and measures will be required across the Government if this ambition is to be realised. Fiscal interventions to dissuade people from purchasing fossil fuel-powered cars will be needed, as will incentives to support the uptake of electric vehicles. Through the work of the low-emission vehicle task force, which is co-chaired by the Departments of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Government has expanded the range of supports available for electric vehicles. These incentives include a purchase grant, VRT relief, benefit-in-kind tax relief, a grant for the installation of home chargers, a grant for the use of electric vehicles as taxis and reduction in tolls for electric vehicles. In this regard, I welcome yesterday's announcement the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform of an extension of the benefit-in-kind relief for battery electric vehicles for three years.

The provision of charging infrastructure is critical to support the uptake of electric vehicles. In this regard, I welcome the publication last month by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, of its approval of the ESB Networks proposal on the future operation and maintenance of the charging network. This development ensures the continued operation and maintenance of the public charging network by the ESB and provides the certainty that users of electric vehicles need when they are purchasing electric vehicles. I would also like to highlight the role of the climate action fund. The first call for applications, which I launched in July, includes provision for supporting electric vehicle charging networks, along with a range of other project types.  The deadline for applications has now closed. I can confirm that almost 100 applications have been received. The process of assessing these applications is under way. It is important that people are aware of the benefits of driving electric vehicles. That is why the Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, launched an awareness campaign in April of this year as part of its electric vehicle public engagement programme. A dedicated website, www.drivingelectric.ie, has been launched.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The website provides answers to the questions drivers have about electric vehicles and shows people why they should consider buying one.  Yesterday, the CSO published the numbers of new vehicles registered to the end of September. In total 1,208 new battery electric vehicles have been registered in 2018. This compares to 586 registered in the same period last year and 664 for all of 2017. There are now almost 4,500 battery electric vehicles on the roads in Ireland. While this is a relatively low base, I am encouraged by the growth we are seeing.

A representative of the ESB said at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Action last month that the direct State investment which is needed should not just happen through the climate fund.

Reference was made to €25 million for fast-charging stations which could be located on State property, in State car parks in schools, Garda stations and public offices. Why was there nothing in the budget yesterday for this? If we are serious about the scale of transition, we should have allocated €25 million yesterday to public charging infrastructure. There was nothing in the budget for that and people do not believe the Government when it says it is ambitious because effectively, it is doing nothing. It is leaving it to the market and waiting for the car companies to do something. It is time for the State to do something. Why did the Minister not get money yesterday for electric vehicle, EV, charging points rather than relying on the climate action fund to build same?

First, there is funding within the budget for EV charging points.

Second, I thank the Deputy for his support. He knows that yesterday Ireland led a campaign at the Council of Ministers to try to agree a far more ambitious set of emissions targets for the transport sector, both in terms of cars and light vehicles. Disappointingly, we could not convince our European colleagues to do that because of the influence of the motor industry across Europe. Ireland led a coalition of four member states and we hope to see progress made in trilogue over the next few weeks in terms of increasing the ambition in that area.

I agree that we need to improve the network of electric vehicle charging points across the country in terms of maintenance, speed and capacity.

The Minister has just said that there is money in the budget for publicly-funded charging infrastructure and I ask him to provide details. When is it intended to build the charging points, where will they be located and how many will be built next year?

They will be in Marino and Clontarf.

The detail on that has yet to be fleshed out. Funding is available for next year, along with the bids that have been put in to the climate action fund-----

-----which will provide us with opportunities. Investment is going in through the local authorities around the country-----

As the Deputy knows, the local authority in Dún Laoghaire has already installed charging points on public lighting on a pilot basis. That is a pilot scheme that I would like to see extended across the country.

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