We move to questions to the Taoiseach.
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)
Before I reply to questions, I made some remarks in relation to sinning priests this time last week on Leaders’ Questions. They caused offence to people. I never intended to offend. I wish to apologise to anyone whom I offended, including the Deputy, and to withdraw the remarks.
If that is a personal statement, then we move on: there can be no debate as per Standing Orders.
European Council Meetings
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the June 2019 European Council meeting. [26282/19]
2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the June 2019 European Council meeting; and if he contributed to the discussion on the agenda on items on the next institutional cycle, the multi-annual framework and climate change. [26559/19]
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if Brexit was discussed at the June 2019 European Council, or at other meetings before or after the Council meeting; and if the issue of the backstop was mentioned. [26561/19]
4. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he had bilateral meetings before or after the June European Council meeting; and, if so, the issues that were discussed. [26566/19]
5. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting on 20 and 21 June 2019. [26760/19]
6. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he met any of the six EU prime ministers who were elected as co-ordinators to select replacements for the President of the European Commission and European Council positions and others when he attended the European Council meeting on 20 and 21 June 2019. [26858/19]
Richard Boyd BarrettQuestion:
7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings when attending the European Council on 20 and 21 June 2019. [26874/19]
Mary Lou McDonaldQuestion:
8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the meeting of the European Council held on 20 and 21 June 2019. [27551/19]
Richard Boyd BarrettQuestion:
9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Luxembourg. [27847/19]
10. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the European Council meeting on 20 and 21 June 2019. [27938/19]
Mary Lou McDonaldQuestion:
11. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagement with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Xavier Bettel. [28085/19]
12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken with Mr. Michel Barnier or the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, recently or since the European Council meeting in June 2019. [28205/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, together.
I attended the European Council in Brussels on Thursday, 20 June and Friday, 21 June. We adopted the new EU strategic agenda for the period 2019 to 2024, inclusive, in which Ireland’s priorities are well reflected. We also had an initial discussion on high level appointments to the EU institutions, a discussion which we concluded successfully on 2 July. We had a substantial exchange on climate action in preparation for the UN climate action summit in September. I emphasised the need for the European Union to show leadership in order that we could credibly encourage others to follow suit. I also briefed leaders on Ireland’s climate action plan. We also discussed the multi-annual financial framework, which we hope can be finalised by the end of the year, the European semester, disinformation, as well as enlargement and the stabilisation and association process.
On external relations, we discussed developments in Russia and eastern Ukraine, Turkish activities in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone; the fifth anniversary of the downing of flight MH17, the eastern partnership, developments in Moldova, the situation in Libya, as well as relations with Morocco and, more generally, Africa.
On the Friday we met in euro summit formation to discuss economic developments across the eurozone and the strengthening of Economic and Monetary Union. We also had a brief discussion in Article 50 format about Brexit and reaffirmed our position that the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, was not for renegotiation. I had a good bilateral meeting with Michel Barnier on the Thursday morning before the European Council. We noted the strong and consistent EU position on Brexit and agreed to stay in touch in the period ahead.
In addition to participating in the formal discussions over the course of the two days, I engaged informally with many of my EU counterparts on the margins of the meetings, using the opportunity, as I always do, to promote Irish interests.
I travelled to Luxembourg on Friday, 21 June, following the European Council. I had a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, at which we discussed the positive bilateral relations between Ireland and Luxembourg, issues on the European Council’s agenda, as well as the growing co-operation between us on EU issues of mutual concern.
At the headquarters of the European Investment Bank, EIB, I met the bank's president, Werner Hoyer, and its vice president, Andrew McDowell. I was present for the signature of an EIB loan of €350 million to the Dublin Airport Authority for the development of operations at Dublin Airport.
I also visited the European Court of Justice where I met the president of the court, Koen Lenaerts, as well as the Irish Judge and Advocate General at the Court of Justice and the Irish judges at the General Court. We discussed the role of the court in upholding the European Union’s treaties and laws, as well as the implications of Brexit for its work.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Has he spoken to European Commission President-designate Ursula von der Leyen since she was nominated to discuss her plans and proposals that she envisages pursuing in her role in the next five years? The current nominee did not campaign for the position. She was not involved in any of the Spitzenkandidat debates which were televised. Many of us are unaware of her specific views on the policy platforms and issues she wants to highlight during her term in the next five years.
The Government has reappointed Phil Hogan for a second term as Commissioner. It is reported that he is being tipped to be given the prestigious trade portfolio in the new Commission. That would be an important and prominent position to hold, given the ongoing uncertainty about Brexit and the impact of the proposed Mercosur deal, for which, as agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, had been advocating. Has the Taoiseach raised with Ms von der Leyen the portfolio Mr. Hogan might be given? Is there an agreement in that regard? If so, will he share it with us?
The greatest challenge facing the next trade Commissioner will be negotiating a new trade deal with the United Kingdom post Brexit. It will be the most significant issue for the European Union, especially for us. There are thousands of farmers outside Leinster House protesting about Mercosur. They are concerned about the beef industry specifically. Likewise, there are other issues which will very much be on the next Commissioner’s agenda.
On that deal and the commitment that was repeated again in the House last night to have comprehensive analysis done on its impact of, I specifically ask the Taoiseach if that overview and analysis will include specific inputs and involvement from the trade union movement on labour law and labour standards as well as involvement and input from environmental groups on climate change?
I welcome and acknowledge the apology the Taoiseach gave earlier and the withdrawal of remarks he made last week.
The Taoiseach did not respond to my question yesterday about Commissioner Hogan's highly irregular intervention during the local elections. From what I can see, there is no precedent for a Commissioner to announce a politically important support scheme during an election, particularly when the full details are not available. We would like the full details of that support package to be published as soon as possible. Can we expect more of this co-ordination by Government with our Commissioner during future elections?
More importantly, at the recent European Council meeting, the Taoiseach decided that Ireland should stand with Kaczyski in Poland and Orbán in Hungary in seeking to block Frans Timmermans, MEP because of his tough stand in favour of core democratic values within the European Union. It is a deeply sad situation that at no stage did the Taoiseach say that Ireland really wants the best person for the job. The Taoiseach instead joined with those who threw a fit at the idea that one party might lose its grip on the Commission presidency. Given that the EPP's vote has fallen from 39% to 24% since it gained the presidency of the Commission, and that it included Orbán's votes in its claims for legitimacy, there is nothing to commend in this party-first approach. It is sad that the Taoiseach did not speak out against the anti-Timmermans campaigning by actively illiberal and increasingly anti-democratic leaders. If we do not call it out when these people are flexing their muscles, it does not send out a good signal for the future of the European Union and our basic values of freedom of speech, an independent judiciary and an independent media. It is worrying when punches are pulled in these instances in terms of those who are advocating the undermining of those values. It is the first time in the history of our membership of the European Union that Ireland has stood against a reasonable compromise on leadership positions.
It is also reported that when Dr. von der Leyen was proposed as President, a series of leaders talked to her and received assurances before the vote. Italy claims it was promised an economic portfolio and Hungary and Poland say they are reassured by her. What assurance did the Taoiseach seek from Dr. von der Leyen before deciding to support her? Can the Taoiseach indicate to us what meetings he has had with her, how often he has met her as a presumptive candidate and why does he believe she is a better appointment than the man whose nomination he helped to veto?
There were two European Council meetings in June and July and the five key positions have been filled, subject to ratification by the European Parliament. To take up the points raised by Deputy Micheál Martin, I would be interested to know the position taken by Ireland in respect of these negotiations. When it became clear that Manfred Weber from the European People's Party would not succeed in becoming President of the European Commission, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron hammered out a deal at the G20 summit in Japan to make the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats candidate, Frans Timmermans, the President instead. It is widely reported that the Taoiseach led the rebellion within the EPP against this deal. His appointment was opposed by several eastern European states. Can the Taoiseach outline his reasons for opposing Frans Timmermans? Was he trying to promote the candidacy of Michel Barnier instead? Have relations with Angela Merkel and the socialist group been damaged as a result of this? We need all the friends we can get as the Brexit deadline approaches. Will the EU still ensure that the rule of law is enforced under Article 7 proceedings in Poland and Hungary, now that Frans Timmermans has effectively been blocked by these eastern European countries? Was Ireland right to side with these countries on this basis? What are the implications of all this for the Spitzenkandidaten process following the outcome of this European Council meeting?
I also express my continuing and ongoing dismay at the way in which the Taoiseach and the EPP continue to tolerate, collude with and co-operate with the vile regime of Viktor Orbán. There are farmers outside today protesting against an EU plan to do a deal with another vile regime, that of Bolsonaro and the Mercosur countries. With that in mind, I would like the Taoiseach to explain to me how we could in any way consider working with a regime that is accelerating a devastating programme of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon rainforest produces 20% of global oxygen, and in the last ten years alone, an area the size of Portugal has been cut down. Bolsonaro is systematically dismantling the Brazilian environmental protection agency, he has called for an extermination of the indigenous people of the Amazon to be carried out on a similar scale to the extermination of the indigenous population in North America and he told a political opponent that she is not worthy of raping. This guy is filthy. How can we give favourable trade status to regimes such as this in order to then destroy beef farmers in this country, with the devastating consequences they are facing? How is that in any way in tune with the progressive values the Taoiseach so often ascribes to the European Union? What about the transport emissions that would be involved in massively expanding the sale of gas-guzzling German cars and pharmaceuticals in Brazil and Brazil in turn cutting down rainforests in order to send beef back here? Does that not just make complete hypocrisy of the European Union's claim to be a progressive and environmentally-forward defender of human rights and so on? Is it not just the purest hypocrisy?
In the absence of any significant developments in Brexit, and everybody is waiting until October to see what happens once the implementation period and the extension end, the big issue emanating from last month's European Council meeting was the failure of Heads of Government to find unanimity in working towards a target of net zero carbon emissions across the EU by 2050. This is something the European Union must do. As we speak, we have a President of the United States of America who wants to tear up the Paris accord and who is talking about the United States not fulfilling its mandate in those targets. It is important that the European Union is a leader in this and strives towards the highest targets that can possibly be agreed and met.
I take a simple view that climate justice and social justice are flip sides of the same coin. What we need to do first is set the most ambitious targets, which Europe has failed to do, and then we have to look at the real solutions, which are public housing of the highest standard, public transport of the highest standard and making sure that people have alternatives. That is simply not the case today. On the one hand the European Council is not in a position to agree targets that need to be met for a zero carbon economy across Europe, and on the other hand we have a trade deal with South America, which will accelerate the cutting down of rainforests and which undermines all the efforts made by Irish farmers to produce products such as beef to the highest quality, with traceability and the highest environmental standards.
While the Taoiseach says that it is not a deal yet and that there are protections built into the agreement, people do not believe it because they know what the view of the Brazilian Government is and its track record in this.
The failure of the European Council to agree targets regarding zero carbon is serious. Why is that the case? When we see what is happening in the United States and the very negative approach by its president, why is the European Union not able to agree binding zero-carbon targets by 2050?
The Taoiseach is quoted from time to time as being very close not just to some of the eastern European countries, but also to Mr. Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, who is part of the Hanseatic League. I understand the Dutch are particularly concerned about the issue of the Border in Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit in the context of Europe's frontier being open. Is the commentary in the media regarding the Taoiseach's European and EPP contacts correct in this respect? Have the Dutch given him a sense of what they would like to see if, unfortunately, a hard border emerges?
It was welcome that yesterday the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was finally more forthcoming about what might unfold. The Taoiseach needs to be more upfront with people in Ireland. What discussions did he have on the side about the implications for the Border in Ireland? We do not want to see a hard border but it would appear that the Dutch and others are very strong on maintaining the European border. How does the Government propose to address this?
When Viktor Orbán's party, Fidesz, had its membership of the EPP suspended, the Taoiseach stood by him, in that he supported that group of countries when it came to making a decision on the potential presidency of Mr. Timmermans. What is the Taoiseach's view at the moment of the Fidesz Government of Hungary led by Mr. Orbán in respect of the vindication of human rights in Hungary and the implications of that for the wider European Union?
I thank Deputy Burton. She very kindly mentioned that I am often quoted as being close to particular EU prime ministers, including Mr. Rutte. I thank her for her comments. Over the past two years I have put tremendous effort into building up personal relationships with all prime ministers in the European Union regardless of their political colour because I need them to be on our side when it comes to Brexit. I have put a considerable amount of time and effort into that. It does not matter which group they are from; I put the effort into it.
She is not correct in suggesting that Mark Rutte is in the EPP; he is actually part of the liberal Renew Europe group. Notwithstanding that, we have a very close relationship, as I do with other liberal prime ministers, such as Charles Michel and Xavier Bettel to give two other examples. I have already built up a relationship with the new Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whom I know very well through the EPP and Sebastian Kurz, who I anticipate will return as Chancellor of Austria in the coming months. I put a significant effort into that and their political family does not matter. Ireland needs friends and allies at this time and I will make sure we have as many as we possibly can.
The Deputy referred to commentary that the Dutch had a particular interest in the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I do not think that is correct. I had a very long meeting in The Hague with Mark Rutte not too long ago and our objectives are shared, in terms of protecting the Single Market and the customs union which the Netherlands will also need to do at its ports. Understandably the Dutch have a particular interest in that and also we will want to do the same in our country.
I understand the comments the Deputies are making about the V4 countries, namely, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Those four countries tend to work together in European Council summits and they are four countries that are under considerable pressure from the European Commission over the rule of law, democracy, academic freedom and so on. I note that the focus of this Chamber is always on Hungary and its Prime Minister, Mr. Orbán, whose party has been suspended from the EPP, but there are four countries in that group. They work together and have similar issues with the European Commission. They include the Government of Slovakia, which is part of the socialist group and has not been sanctioned or suspended in any way from that group.
Members of that government are nothing like Mr. Orbán.
It includes the Czech Prime Minister, Mr. Babiš, whose party belongs to the liberal Renew Europe group. There are some issues there too, of which we are all aware.
We are talking about Hungary and Poland because of the rule of law.
We are talking about the rule of law.
If we are going to have a go-----
The Taoiseach, without interruption.
Crushing academic freedom, the judiciary-----
Closing down the-----
I do not think we in this Parliament should be having a go at other prime ministers, but if we are to be critical of the V4 as a group, as has happened in this debate today-----
No, it has not.
-----I do not think any particular prime minister-----
The Taoiseach is distorting what was said.
I asked about Hungary.
I mentioned Poland and Hungary.
We will move on to Questions Nos. 13 to 17.
The Taoiseach should be fair to people. People mentioned Hungary and Poland, not the four countries. The Taoiseach knows what we are talking about. We are talking about the rule of law and a decision to oppose Frans Timmermans-----
The Taoiseach knows that full well.
-----on the basis of their upholding of the rule of law. That was the question.
I call the Taoiseach on Questions Nos. 13 to 17, inclusive.
On a point of order, there are two minutes left and the Taoiseach should answer the questions.
He is also, on the other hand-----
I am happy to continue but I was stopped-----
I thought you sat down.
-----not by you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but by interruptions.
Do you want to continue?
I am happy to resume.
Okay, the Taoiseach to continue.
Other questions related to Ursula van der Leyen. It is important to say that she has not yet been ratified by the European Parliament - that procedure is yet to happen - nor has Commissioner Hogan for a second term. I hope the MEPs from Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil will vote in favour of her election as President and for the re-nomination of Commissioner Hogan.
I have not spoken to her since her nomination. We are trying to schedule a phone call for this week or next week. I am confident that she will stick to what she has said in the past, particularly about Brexit and the backstop. I am confident that she will be in line with the political programme of the EPP, which is the one to which her party signed up.
I will speak to her about the portfolio that she will assign to Commissioner Hogan. There are 27 posts, or 28 as there will still be a UK Commissioner. I have not sought or received any promises on them. I know it is difficult for a small country to get an influential portfolio. I will be working hard to ensure that our Commissioner gets an influential portfolio.
I have not met Ursula van der Leyen personally, but the Ministers, Deputies Flanagan, Donohoe and Kehoe have, and they have very high regard for her. She was personally recommended to me and to the European Council by Chancellor Merkel.
On the EU-Mercosur agreement, there will be a detailed economic and environmental assessment, which will look at the impact on Irish jobs and business in particular. A similar exercise was done for CETA, the agreement with Canada. It will be headed up by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and her Department. We would very much welcome input from business, trade unions and environmental groups.
The political agreement on Mercosur - it is a political agreement not a trade deal at this stage or a free trade agreement, FTA, to be absolutely accurate - links South American countries, including Brazil, into the Paris accords. I would be strongly of the view that if they do not abide by those Paris accords on climate change over the next two years, the deal is dead in the water.
I do not know if Commissioner Hogan's announcement on beef is unprecedented. Perhaps it is, but I have not gone through that looking for precedents.
Regarding the EU summit, it is important to point out that neither of the Spitzenkandidaten - neither Manfred Weber nor Frans Timmermans - was able to command a majority in the European Parliament or the European Council. Neither was a compromise candidate in that sense. Neither could command a majority in the European Parliament or the European Council.
Eleven countries did not support Mr. Timmermans' nomination of which only four came from the Visegrad Group, V4, countries.
Why was the Taoiseach so hostile?
Four out of 11 is a minority. Eleven countries did not want to support his nomination as President of the Commission, only four of which were V4 countries. His defence of the rule of the law was not an issue for me or for Ireland. I said that to him at our meeting. I am sure that when he continues in his role as First Vice-President, he will continue to pursue those issues. After a certain point, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel agreed that it would not be sensible to appoint a President of the Commission who did not have the support of so many countries, whether that be Manfred Weber or Frans Timmermans, so the compromise candidate, as nominated by President Macron and Chancellor Merkel, is Ursula von der Leyen and we were very happy to support her as the compromise candidate just as we would have been happy to support Michel Barnier if he had emerged as a compromise candidate.
The Spitzenkandidaten system does need to be reviewed. One thing that was evident in the debate was that the different groups had a different understanding of how it might work. For some it was the candidate of the largest group, for others it was not necessarily that, but that groups could come together and find a new majority. It could be looked at as the difference between a coalition and a confidence and supply arrangement. Some take the view that it might make more sense to make the Spitzenkandidat the President of the Parliament rather than the Commission because these are parliamentary elections. Others take the view that we should have transnational lists and should allow people around the European Union to vote for that list. That would make more sense in selecting a Commission President.
We have used up a lot of time on that question; it was important and there were many supplementaries. We will just have time for one more round, that is, Questions Nos. 13 to 17, inclusive. I respectfully suggest that if we are to get an answer from the Taoiseach I will put one and a half minutes on the clock for each of the five Members to question the Taoiseach.
Climate Action Plan
13. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in delivering the Climate Action Plan 2019 and his plans for a climate action delivery board. [26283/19]
Richard Boyd BarrettQuestion:
14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in delivering the Climate Action Plan 2019 and his plans for a climate action delivery board. [27845/19]
15. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in delivering the Climate Action Plan 2019. [27939/19]
16. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the governance within his Department for ensuring the implementation of the Climate Action Plan 2019. [27978/19]
Mary Lou McDonaldQuestion:
17. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the role of his Department in implementing the Climate Action Plan 2019. [28083/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, to 17, inclusive, together.
The Climate Action Plan 2019: To Tackle Climate Breakdown, was published on 17 June 2019. The plan contains more than 180 actions that Ireland needs to implement to meet our EU 2030 targets and achieve our longer-term low carbon emission objective.
Delivering such an integrated set of actions and policies will require a deep level of collaboration across Government. The approach adopted will closely follow the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee and will build on the what was learnt from the success of the Action Plan for Jobs.
The climate action plan outlines significant new governance structures to ensure that climate policy is implemented. These include: a five-year carbon budget and sectoral targets with a detailed plan of actions to deliver them; an independent climate action council to recommend the carbon budget and evaluate policy; strong accountability to an Oireachtas climate action committee; and carbon-proofing all Government decisions and major investments. The governance structure also includes a climate action delivery board to be established within my Department to ensure delivery of the plan. The delivery board will be jointly chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and the Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The membership will comprise Secretaries General from Departments responsible for the actions outlined in the plan.
The first meeting of the board is due to take place on 16 July 2019. The board will ensure co-ordinated, timely and effective implementation of the actions in the plan and hold each Department and public body accountable for its delivery and implementation. The delivery board will also discuss and review strategic projects and areas of work in the plan. It will prepare quarterly reports on delivery for the Government, which will be published. It will also contribute to development of an annual update of the plan, starting in early 2020. This will ensure that this plan is a living document, with new actions being added each year and which will take into account technological change as well. This follows the successful approach which was core to delivering the Action Plan for Jobs. My Department is also responsible for a small number of specific actions outlined in the plan and preparations are already under way to ensure these actions are delivered.
How will the structures the Taoiseach plans to create work? How, specifically, does he plan to hold other Departments to account? He has talked about the new climate action delivery board which, we understand from his response, is to be jointly chaired by the Secretaries General of his Department and of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Who else will sit on that committee? Will this House have any input into it?
We are well past the point of questioning the need for an urgent response to climate change. The question is how to do it quickly and, equally important, fairly. A strong commitment to climate justice is required and that was under-emphasised in the climate action plan, specifically, under the Government's plan, high upfront costs for the retrofitting of people's homes, the purchase of electric vehicles, the roll-out of electric charging points and access to micro-generation of electricity, will impact on all households but immeasurably more on households that have meagre incomes. In terms of a just implementation of the climate action plan, how specifically will the Taoiseach ensure that all households can bear the change that needs to be made now? The ESRI's report on climate taxation illustrated that the twin goals of reducing emissions and alleviating economic inequalities can be achieved. Is that the Taoiseach's objective and if so, how would he go about it?
Is the Taoiseach not seriously guilty of climate hypocrisy? I cite for instance the trade deal that he is talking about tweaking and making economic assessments of. Climate change is an international problem, although the Taoiseach often frames it in Irish terms saying, "if we do this or that". That is nonsense. Climate change does not know borders. If fossil fuels keep going into the air, the environment will choke. That is a fact. Unless the Taoiseach has a different view from the scientists, that is indisputable and there is no point in arguing it. How does that fact tally with a massive expansion of trade in cars going to Latin America? Aside from cutting down the rainforest, beef will come from Brazil to Europe and cars will go from Europe to Brazil. That will massively increase emissions. How can we take the Taoiseach or Europe seriously when they are doing trade deals to massively increase trade in areas where we should not be doing it, if we care about the climate.
Similarly, the Taoiseach states the climate emergency measures Bill will make no difference to our emissions. I want the Taoiseach to answer my next question with a straight face: does he honestly believe that the scientists are wrong when they say that to deal with climate change, 80% of known reserves - never mind reserves we do not know about - have to stay in the ground? Are they right or wrong? If they are right, is the Taoiseach seriously suggesting that we could discover gas and oil off the coast of Ireland and that it would just stay in the ground? Is he suggesting that we would issue licences to explore for it but it will not be burnt and will not add to the overall quantum of choking emissions in the global environment, which are leading us towards a climate disaster? Does he expect anybody to take him seriously when he makes arguments like that?
I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware that in the EU, more people die from air pollution than die in road accidents. Does he have an integrated climate action plan which would address the issue of NO2 pollution in Dublin in particular, and in heavily trafficked areas of the city? I draw to his attention the report by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which shows that emissions at the testing station in Phoenix Park have been above the recommended level. So also have the emissions in Blanchardstown. I mention them as places the Taoiseach would know well, because they are in our constituency.
The Government is also presiding over a regime of smoky coal.
It does not require a great deal of political courage to end smoky coal because it is killing people. The Taoiseach is a doctor. He knows the number of children suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases. Together with poor housing conditions, the use of smoky coal means that significant numbers of children and older adults suffer. The health service is trying, not very successfully, to deal with the high prevalence of asthma among the very young and very old. I would love to see a joined-up plan that goes after those issues we can address relatively quickly and that would improve people's quality of life, as well as a broader, larger plan. Let us think of the pall of smoke sitting over Enniscorthy while the Government does nothing.
Last week, Deputy Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the number of vehicles in the State fleet as of 2019 and the number that are fully electric. The reply was that of 6,573 vehicles registered under the State-owned emergency vehicles and rescue vehicles tax classification, only 13 were registered as electric. That says it all. The National Transport Authority, NTA, recently ordered 200 diesel buses. Nine hybrid buses are on trial in Dublin. I raised with the Taoiseach some time ago the need to ban smoky coal, which Professor Sodeau in Cork has said is making Enniscorthy like the New Delhi of Ireland. It speaks to a lack of urgent co-ordination between Departments to deal with climate change.
I was a member of a Cabinet sub-committee on climate change when I was in government, even though I was in foreign affairs. Cross-departmental Cabinet sub-committees matter, because behind each Minister there is a set of officials, and people have to face one another and be accountable for the respective measures in each Department, whether it be that of transport, agriculture or whatever. The Taoiseach has set his face against Cabinet sub-committees and I think his governance model is wrong. That is reflected in health, where there has been only one sub-committee meeting in six months and the health service is in a deep crisis. The housing issue has not been resolved. The Taoiseach has now proposed that the Secretaries General of his Department and of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment will be essentially without officials. It seems the governance model the Taoiseach prefers is a Minister-less model. It is no wonder that Ministers are detached from the operational details of what goes on around them, and from implementing and delivering commitments and actions.
Most people in the industry and most people I talk to say the 100,000 electric vehicle target is just not obtainable. There is no point producing plans if the Government tells us a dramatically disproportionate number of such vehicles will come on stream at the latter end of the plan. Circumstances have to change very quickly on that front for that to take place.
I raised the following issue earlier but many questions were asked in the previous round and I hope I can get a response on this occasion. People want to embrace climate action and climate change. The vast majority see it as an exciting prospect that there would be a just transition to a zero-carbon economy but they are not fools. As I said earlier, they know that to achieve that, there has to be a clear link between social justice, delivering for citizens, delivering a fair economy and society, and a just transition to climate justice and zero-carbon emissions.
We need to know, and people need to understand, that houses will be built for people to the highest standards. They need to see investment in public transport and, as Deputy Howlin noted, the funding to ensure that electric cars are cheaper and that the infrastructure is there to make the transition happen. If people do not have alternatives, carbon emissions will not be reduced. The Government can talk about carbon taxes, which I acknowledge is only one element of its plan, but people need alternatives, yet all they see coming are punitive measures rather than investment where it needs to be, namely, in public housing, retrofitting people's homes where energy ratings are not what they should be and public transport.
There is no public transport in large parts of rural Ireland. Under the Taoiseach's watch, in some rural towns and villages that had connectivity with Dublin, Expressway bus routes were axed because the State was not prepared to subsidise Bus Éireann and the bus routes. The Government needs to understand that it not only needs to get people excited about the prospect of climate justice but that getting them to embrace it, live it and deliver it means the State has an obligation to deliver. Unfortunately, even if a 2% per annum reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by 2030, as is the target in the Government's published action plan, we will still be 10% behind. There is a great deal of work to be done and much to catch up on.
On Deputy Haughey's question about reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, Ireland and I supported it at the EU summit but a number of countries - the V4 countries - could not sign up to that. They worked together on that, largely because they wanted to see a roadmap as to how it could be achieved, and they were not willing to accept the view that carbon sequestration and carbon storage technologies will be developed in adequate time, although we will continue to press them on it.
On Deputy Howlin's questions about how we hold other governments and bodies to account to implement the plan-----
Yes, other Departments and other bodies. The model we will use is the same model that was used in the Action Plan for Jobs, with which the Deputy will be familiar. It is almost exactly the same model, which worked well, being used again for climate action with a dedicated unit in my Department to monitor the implementation.
The membership of the delivery board includes the Secretaries General of the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Housing, Planning and Local Government, Education and Skills, Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Rural and Community Development, Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The secretariat of the board will be provided by my Department and two staff have been allocated to undertake this work, with further staff being assigned shortly.
They are all civil servants.
Yes. As well as that, a Cabinet sub-committee deals with climate action and the delivery board will report to us. There are some robust structures in that regard. I anticipate that the sub-committee will meet at least quarterly.
On climate justice, Deputy Howlin referred to the ESRI report on carbon tax and how, if it is done properly, it can be progressive. It is a very good report and it shows how the use of the dividend model, in particular, can be socially progressive and reduce emissions. The ESRI estimates that carbon tax could reduce emissions by 1% or 2% per year. There are other ways to achieve climate justice, not least by making sure that workers in old industries get decent redundancy packages or retraining packages, and means-tested grants, such as those that exist already, including the warmer homes scheme.
We need to be honest with people when we talk about climate change. It is estimated that it would cost approximately €50 billion to insulate all the homes in Ireland and probably €30 billion or €40 billion to replace all existing vehicles with electric vehicles. No Government, of any hue, would be able to find that kind of money. The Government can help but will not be in a position to fund the insulation of every home or to replace everyone's car, and we need to be honest about that with people.
Deputy Boyd Barrett asked me if I am guilty of climate hypocrisy. I do not accept that charge and I suggest that the reverse might be the case, given that the Deputy supports a total ban on exploration in Irish waters but opposes increases in the carbon tax. We know the science of this. It tells us a total ban on exploration in Irish waters will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions next year, the year after or the year after that-----
No, either here or globally, next year, the year after, or even any year.
The scientists are wrong.
We know from the science, however, that a carbon tax will reduce greenhouse gas emissions-----
There was no carbon tax last year.
-----next year, the year after and the year after that. If this is a climate emergency, which I believe it is, surely the sensible action to take is to support those actions that will produce a result next year and the year after. The Deputy is opposed to actions that will produce a result in the short term, locally and nationally, and proposes instead solutions that will not produce a result, locally or nationally, next year, the year after, or maybe any year.
The Deputy is accusing me of what he is guilty of, and the scientific evidence supports my view in this regard.
It does not.
The same applies to water metering, for example, which is the best way to conserve water. It was vigorously opposed by the far left. They are very much anti-environment parties in my view.
Why do we have a lower rate of water usage then?
I listened to the Deputy's comments on Mercosur and his position sounds like a general objection to all free trade agreements. By their very nature, free trade between one part of the world and another, one country and another or between different continents requires transport costs.
I spoke about emissions.
I am not sure if I am right but listening to the Deputy's comments, I imagine he was probably against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the Japan and Mexico deals.
Let us not pretend that the objection is to Mercosur, as the far left in Ireland is fundamentally opposed to free international trade. If that policy were to be pursued in this country, hundreds of thousands of workers would lose their jobs and all the others would be much worse off. That is the truth of those policies.
The Taoiseach needs to speak with his Minister, Deputy Creed.
People need to know that socialism is bad for workers and the environment. The Deputy's comments prove this when we listen to them carefully.
The time has expired.
The Taoiseach did not mention air quality.
I answered that in reply to Deputy Eamon Ryan. I can give an answer again.
He did not refer to the smoky coal ban.
What about the smoky coal ban?
What about smoky coal?
One must raise the ire of the Taoiseach to get a response.
The Taoiseach can have another minute if he wishes. I thought he was finished.
I am happy to keep going on the air quality question. This was discussed earlier in response to Deputy Eamon Ryan's question.
We referred to the smoky coal ban.
I am delighted to answer but it is hard to get the answers across if I am interrupted constantly.
We are waiting.
I am in the hands of the House. Interruptions are common enough.
I know and appreciate that.
I was not in the Chair when the Taoiseach was in opposition so I do not know what he was like. We cannot be that sensitive.
As I mentioned earlier with respect to nitrous oxide, the requirement to introduce action plans falls to local authorities and it is important that they do so, although they will be supported by central government. The actions taken are the promotion of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles-----
There are no electric vehicles.
Approximately 15% of those have been bought already this year, and that is an increase on previous years. Deputy Martin's figures on the number in the State might not be accurate as they may not include the vehicles in An Post and Inland Fisheries Ireland, which have bought quite a lot of electric vehicles.
The information is from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The figures came from the Department. There are 13 from 16,000.
Please, Deputies. The Taoiseach will not continue if there are further interruptions.
The DAA also has some. The figures may be out of date.
On a point of order-----
There are no points of orders during Question Time.
What I read into the record was what the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, told Deputy Troy last week.
This is not a point of order.
I specified that these were vehicles registered to the State for tax purposes. These are not my figures but those of the Minister. The Taoiseach should not tell me they are out of date.
I fully appreciate that but they may not include the vehicles owned by An Post, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the DAA.
I did not say they did.
The hybridisation of the bus fleet has begun and the first hybrid vehicles have arrived. There are several hundred on order. The rail electrification project is under way and hybrid rail vehicles are now in the procurement phase. There is much investment in greenways and cycling and there is a move away from diesel cars. These are the kinds of actions being taken to improve air quality and they will work.
The issue with smoky fuel was explained before by the Minister, Deputy Bruton. The advice we have is that if we go down the line of a further ban on smoky coal, we would face a legal challenge requiring us also to impose a similar ban on turf or peat because it does the same amount of damage to air quality. We must bear that in mind as nobody in the House is advocating we should do it.
We are banjaxed so.