I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I begin by thanking our researcher, Sinéad Mercier, who has done all the work on this Bill. She did a fantastic job on bringing together the thinking of our discussions with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and unions including SIPTU and Mandate, as well as local communities who have been engaged in really difficult transitions, to get it right. I also thank the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers for its support which has been very helpful in drafting this Bill. It is a really precise, well drafted piece of legislation.
It is a 2018 Bill. We have been thinking about how we can get a just transition in the radical system change that we need, of which Deputy Catherine Martin spoke earlier, for quite some time. It was very progressive that during 2019 the Joint Committee on Climate Action also considered this subject and spent some time considering what we must do. There are various ideas such as creating a just transition task force. Real concern was rightly expressed at the committee on the specific case of the midlands. The midlands authority's local employment sub-committees are actively engaged in this. However, the specific architecture which we wish to establish in State services through this Bill is essential and will fit in with some of the other actions that are taking place. It establishes a commission which would bring specialist expertise to bear in difficult transition issues. A variety come to mind. I wish this legislation was already in force as in the absence of this architecture, Bord na Móna workers and the midlands are left without this expertise and mechanisms to work out how we move from the extraction of peat towards the creation of a whole new economy in the midlands. There is a similar issue in Moneypoint of how we can make sure that the communities around Kilrush, Kilkee and south Clare can transition away from the burning of coal to a whole new economy which to my mind is open before us in the development of offshore wind and other opportunities which we would like to see developed.
This is not only a matter for workers, trade unions and employers because local communities are also caught. Take the question of how we manage afforestation in counties such as Leitrim and Roscommon where people rightly feel that the current model does not take communities into account. Yesterday, I gave the example of what would happen if we achieve the Government's electric vehicles objectives. That has great implications for the motor car industry. Those cars have a fraction of the number of moving parts and require a fraction of the maintenance of combustion engines. How will we start to retrain our mechanics for that transition in advance so that the change is made smoothly? We need to do so in the midlands especially. Yesterday, my Green Party colleague, Councillor Pippa Hackett, said very rightly that we need to avoid what happened in other towns, villages and other areas, such as south Wales where the mining industry was closed down but there was no regard for the local community, leaving deprived towns and areas. That must be avoided. This Bill sets up a detailed specific mechanism to achieve this objective. It sets up a board that would be appointed on a principle which I introduced in my own time as Minister, namely, that the Oireachtas would engage in appointing some members of the board making it broadly representative. It would not be specific in that there would be an obligation to have a representative from one institution or another, but that this House and the joint committee would be trusted to assist the Government in having a truly representative board. It gives the powers to that commission to prescribe companies. We would immediately make Bord na Móna a prescribed body. Rather than the current situation where there is no systemic approach to the transition in place for Bord na Móna's workers and the midlands communities, the Bill would prescribe Bord na Móna and require it, as a prescribed body, to engage in the development, with the commission, of a just transition plan and look at all the areas we must consider. How do we deal with workers who may be coming to the end of their time in the company? How does one retrain and provide education for other opportunities? I am tearing my hair out because a company with the skills and engineering and energy capability of Bord na Móna should be centre stage in the massive expansion that we require in areas such as retrofitting, renewable power and projects which they could take on but are not taking on at this time.
The Bill allows for just transition plans which are plotted out with the input of all stakeholders into how it is written. When written, it allows for a review procedure of its implementation, whether it needs to be revised and what has been learned to date. If there is a dispute in its implementation, there is a mediation system to address this.
We should do what we do well in this country, namely we must work in the manner of a social partnership to bring all the different actors and players in to look at how it is working, to adapt and to make sure it is delivering for the people of the midlands, Clare, Sligo and Leitrim. We must do so for every other change that will come as well because the scale of the change we need to make is so great.
There are other pieces of architecture for which the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, might be used as a vehicle. That may have to happen in the interim because in the absence of this type of legislative or institutional architecture, the WRC is one forum in which we might be able to tease some of these issues out. This legislation allows for a flexible institution within the State, not a huge additional quango or body. It is designed and set out under legislation to be able to bring in specialist advisers. For going up to Leitrim, for example, it would be bringing in the best foresters and the best people involved in community development to look at the best way of acting. Then, as it switches its focus onto a plan for Moneypoint, it would be able to bring in experts to ask what the prospects for offshore wind there really are. It seems to me that it has a huge opportunity. The development of offshore wind needs locations with deepwater ports with a jetty, which Moneypoint has. It requires large platform areas where the turbines and other engineering needs could be laid out, which Moneypoint has. It needs a grid connection to transfer the power, which Moneypoint has.
Under this just transition commission, we would be able, to take the example of Moneypoint, to bring in the grid experts, the offshore turbine experts and the international people who work in this space to see how we could do it. To think in real detail, we could then ask what the role of the ESB will be, what the role of the workers will be and what are the benefits and the downsides for the local community and we could make sure everyone is heard. This is something that we can and will be good at in this State in carrying out the transition when we work collectively. As a small country, people can be pulled in and we have a long-standing tradition of working in that collaborative way. It is the way to go.
My colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin, when she was making a statement on climate change earlier, rightly said that we have had a terrible record in this Dáil of the Opposition producing precise and effective legislation, be it in the area of waste reduction or in ending offshore oil and gas exploration - I could go on - whereby the Government has stymied it in every instance with the use of a money order or other mechanisms in order not to allow legislation coming from the Opposition to become law. I hope this will be the start of a different and a better approach. I hope there will be a recognition from Government that this Bill is a piece of the architecture that fits in critically within the all-of-Government climate action plan.
I have just come from the High Court and I listened carefully to the judgment on the climate Ireland case. I know a lot of people involved in that case are probably disappointed, thinking they failed to get the necessary order to restrain or pull up the Government for its lack of ambition. The message I got walking away from the court was that the judge was making the point that because of the separation of powers he could not intervene, but I came away thinking that it is up to us now as legislators. The judge specifically said it was the Legislature as well as the Executive that have the responsibility to show ambition. We are going on climate strike tomorrow and the basic message is that the science must be listened to. The science will require us to make a dramatic leap of additional ambition. That will effect change in our society. We need to make sure it is change for the better. This Bill can help us do that in an organised and systemic way. We can and will be good at this and that is why I hope all parties in the House will support it today, as it moves to Committee Stage and to enactment. I yield to my colleague, Deputy Catherine Martin.