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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 19 Sep 2019

Vol. 986 No. 3

Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

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.

Is cúis áthais dúinn í sa Chomhaontas Glas an Bille seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála anocht. Climate change is the greatest threat we face and our response to it must be swift and far-reaching. It must also be socially just. There are no jobs on a dead planet, but there are green jobs in a new green economy. This Bill is designed to ensure that workers and communities have a real opportunity to shape our transition away from fossil fuels and ensure that all Government decisions on climate change take workers' employment into consideration and create decent, high value jobs as a function of their implementation. No one can be left behind.

Some 1,700 workers are directly employed in the peat extraction industry, while a further 2,500 are employed in support roles. There have already been job losses in the sector in recent years and the Government's response to protecting the futures of these communities has been wholly inadequate. There are similar warning signs in the oil and gas industry and this issue will only become more apparent as time goes by. We know that these industries are unsustainable, so there is no excuse not to act now to provide a safety net for those who work in them. We cannot simply leave these workers behind and create a post fossil fuel rust belt in the midlands. Workers who have lost jobs in fossil fuel industries should be able to redeploy to new sectors and it is incumbent upon the Government to provide retraining and opportunities to facilitate this. Providing for that changeover is at the heart of the Green Party's Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2018.

The national just transition commission that this Bill seeks to create provides a range of measures to address this. It will bring together communities, workers, ecological experts and government to provide for dialogue and mediation in finding meaningful solutions for the communities affected by a wind-down in our fossil fuel industry. It will also play a crucial advisory role to the Government and other State agencies in providing them with the expertise they need to maximise the employment opportunities of a low-carbon future.

By taking action and planning for a just transition now, we will reap the dividends of a new green economy tomorrow. If we have the vision to grasp the benefits of a decarbonised economy, we stand to benefit from job creation in climate-smart agriculture, in the smart-grid sector and in expanded solar photovoltaic and wind energy. With this Bill, we will have the opportunity to create a fairer economy while protecting our planet.

Before I conclude, I would like to express my sincere thanks and míle buíochas to Sinéad Mercier for her Trojan work in drafting this Bill. She has been a tireless advocate for the principles of a Just Transition and this Bill is a testament to her commitment to workers' rights and climate justice. I hope the Members of this House will support our Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2018 and stand with us in defending workers and creating a more equitable green economy in the future.

I thank the Deputies for presenting this Bill and I indicate to the House that I will not be opposing it on Second Stage. However, I will be pointing out a number of issues that will have to be closely considered before any money message could be granted for the Bill.

The position in the climate action plan we have produced is that we recognise there are clear obligations on Government to lead, there is a need to have effective policies designed, there needs to be fairness in the transition and there needs to be citizen empowerment. Those are the four pillars on which the plan is built. They are interlocking and they are not to be siloed off into different areas. Each is central to the work of the implementation group that is working from the Department of the Taoiseach with my Department, which is working right across Government to align the actions of all Government Ministries and bodies to support the climate action challenge.

Just transition must inform a wide range of policies that are operated by public bodies. For example, we will have a debate about the climate pricing issue and people will want to know where just transition comes into that. We will want to talk about strategies for retrofitting and just transition will rightly be part of that, as has already been indicated. We will want to look at the design of rural, urban and climate change funds and the type of calls and how they should be used to support initiatives and just transition challenges. We will want just transition to inform the work of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the education and training boards and the institutes of technology as they seek to develop opportunities. We will want to inform our work within the European Union as it looks at coal and peat platforms and how that can be supported.

Every element of government is at the heart of the just transition agenda and it goes to the core of the Government's obligation to lead on climate action. I have some misgivings about the scale of work the Bill envisages for this unelected body, as it flies in the face of the sort of accountability Deputies will demand of the Government and Ministers, in order to account for how we are going to deliver just transition in respect of the different challenges that come our way. A sense of Government responsibility is at the heart of that.

That said, I recognise that the design of just transition must involve a wide range of input and dialogue. That was brought home to me as I sought to grapple with the issues arising in Bord na Móna. I have met with the board and the workers' directors, as well as with public representatives, including some of the Deputies here, the regional transition team that has been set up in the midlands, the regional enterprise and skills teams, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and EU coal and peat platforms, which are all valuable participants. I recognise that in designing a response to both this challenge and others, I need to draw together a cross-Government response. That is why, when we went to the Government after the announcement of the planning decision and challenge that made it established policy to seek a graduated exit from peat, the Government's very first decision was to form a cross-Government group which is being chaired from within the Department of the Taoiseach, in order that we can tap into a wider range of policy and skill areas to inform the sort of response we design.

It is important that just transition is seen as being at the heart of climate action policy, not as something that is hived out to an independent commission. There should be an expectation that the Government, in leading the climate action plan, will be taking responsibility for it. However, that does not mean the Government should not be held accountable, and just as we have recognised that the Climate Change Advisory Council's role needs to be strengthened in order to be more decisive in setting the framework within which the Government works, we also recognise that the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, a body I have worked with over many years which has representation across the social partnership interests, has an important role in helping to evaluate and identify the challenges the Government needs to meet. Within the climate action plan we have assigned that specific role to the NESC in order that it would be able to look at the transition needs of different cohorts and draw on international experience, but also examine the work we are doing in an appraising and critical way. It is important that we seek to develop and deliver best practice in just transition just as we seek to deliver best practice in addressing the wider challenges of climate action.

I recognise the need for us to collectively debate and shape just transition within the Oireachtas, and to interact as we always do in committees in analysing how well we are responding to different opportunities; how we are shaping those opportunities; whether the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, or other bodies are stepping up to the requirements; whether the regional enterprise strategy is adequate to the challenges in particular regions, and so on. That is important, but my concern about this Bill is that it goes way beyond what was envisaged by the Oireachtas joint committee, in that it has created a commission of quite extraordinary powers. The proposed commission would have the power to designate any body, be it public or private, regardless of its size, as coming under the obligations of this commission, and it would impose an onerous process on it without any clear regard as to the feasibility of that identity being able to deliver on those obligations, let alone remain in business while this process is developing.

The Bill will also create new dispute resolution mechanisms which will be parallel to experienced institutions such as the Workplace Relations Commission. I have concerns about the elaborate design that has been put into this Bill, which in many ways is seeking to give powers that most of us would regard as ultimately being the Government's responsibility to a commission. If issues were to arise, such as those in Moneypoint or Bord na Móna, people would want not to write to some commission; they would want us to be in here in the House debating the adequacy of the response, and looking at whether we can do new things, such as wider bog restoration, retrofitting in the midlands, or other initiatives that are needed in the midlands to drive forward our regional enterprise strategy and seize the opportunities of a low-carbon economy. Those issues go to the heart of government. Different Ministers should be taking responsibility for issues within a coherent climate action plan in order to deliver the sort of response we need for just transition. If we take that away and do not make it an integral part of what I and other Ministers have to do, and do not make ourselves accountable to the Oireachtas, we will fall short, and people will feel just transition has been shoved out into this body and is not going to the heart of what we in government need to do.

I understand the thinking behind this Bill and it is important that we bring it before a committee in order to analyse and evaluate the needs and structures we need to deliver. That is worthwhile. However, in developing the structures of the climate action plan and its capacity to work across the Government, and by putting in place actions that are monitored and delivered in a coherent way from the centre of government, I hope we can be in a position to deliver a just transition, which everyone now recognises goes to the very heart of a successful climate action plan.

Some people say town hall meetings are not always the best way of engaging with people but I have held many town hall meetings and have met many people who are anxious, concerned, and who recognise that they need to do something. Tomorrow's climate strike will reinforce that need. Many people are confused and they need to be empowered and engaged with, and finding better ways of engaging with those people is also very much at the heart of government. The climate action plan contains some good initiatives around green schools, expanding sustainable energy communities, and new forms of dialogue at local level to engage people much like the Citizens' Assembly did at national level. Many of these policy instruments are valuable, but I believe they need to be at the heart of the plan, and citizens' engagement, just transition, Government leadership, and the choice of best practice policy initiatives need to be pillars of the plan as well. I understand peoples' concerns, which I am sure will be expressed here, because these issues challenge us and managing a just transition in the face of these challenges will be a test of the Government. We have to design policy instruments that are more attuned to the ability and leverage the Government needs to apply, and to the accountability we need to have in this House.

That is my sense of this and I look forward to the engagements in the committee to tease out how we manage this in an effective way.

I am aware that some Deputies will be concerned about the passage of the Bill. I assure the House that no issue is getting more attention from me than this challenge, especially in respect of Bord na Móna and the midlands region. This is a very serious issue and we are giving it serious attention as we seek to ensure, to the best of our ability, that we protect workers who have been very loyal and committed over a long period. We also recognise that the wider region, beyond the workers who are directly affected, is challenged by this situation. We need to evolve policies that recognise both sets of challenges. We will continue to work hard to develop those responses.

Fianna Fáil supports the direction taken in this Bill. We are committed to protecting workers and communities as we decarbonise the economy. A climate crisis is unfolding and the State must decarbonise in a way that is not only sustainable but also fair, equitable and deliverable for the communities which stand to be most affected.

Before discussing the Bill, I will address the context on the ground. Fianna Fáil is extremely concerned by the announcements by the ESB and Bord na Móna of major job losses at the Moneypoint coal plant and peat-fired plants. The recent An Bord Pleanála decision regarding the operations of the west Offaly power station is also putting more jobs at risk. This summer saw the closure of the Lough Ree power station and subsequent layoffs at the Mount Dillon Bord na Móna works in Lanesborough. These businesses have been central to rural communities for many generations. We met the workers of the Mount Dillon plant during the summer and experienced the sheer frustration and sense of being let down by companies of the State and the Government. The Government's response to these developments has been appalling. We need a proactive, inclusive and equitable approach that prioritises social justice and the welfare of all affected employees, families and towns. Permitting an unjust transition and ignoring the real concerns of workers and communities risk undermining public trust and impeding climate action. The choice facing us is to stay passive and allow the transition to happen to workers and communities or to actively shape this transition together, prioritising social justice and the welfare of all the workers and communities involved.

The Minister spoke about citizens' empowerment. I will place on record what the Longford and Roscommon county councils are doing in bringing together a collaboration group, which has five members from Lanesborough and five members from Ballyleague. They are taking a proactive approach to addressing this issue by treating Lanesborough and surrounding areas within a 30-minute commute as an employment hub. The group will meet on Saturday in a stakeholder brainstorming consultation. As well as members from the local community, the group includes influential business people from far away who have ties to the area and captains of industry in the wider area will attend. It will meet IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland early next Monday to report its deliberations, findings, recommendations and suggestions. The Minister spoke of citizens' empowerment and community engagement. Here is a group of people working for the betterment of its community and we need to respond to that. An official should be designated to liaise with it and help it in its deliberations.

We cannot merely have a managed transition. We need one that is equitable and takes account of the obligations on the State, the responsibilities of employers and the need to protect the most vulnerable. The European Commission has stated:

Ensuring a socially fair transition is crucial to ensure a politically feasible transition. This will be challenging, but nowhere as challenging as facing the economic and social consequences of failing to act.

We also have to avoid any approach that creates a false dichotomy between protecting communities, on the one hand, and necessary climate action, on the other.

The Bill contains several positive elements, most notably the creation of a new body to bring all stakeholders together, mediate and ensure clear plans are produced that would support workers and the wider community. The integration of fundamental principles, such as the principles of climate justice and conservation of biodiversity, into the decision-making of such a body is also very welcome. I recognise that this is a complex area given that we already have a crisis, especially in the midlands. The new body would potentially have to work with several different State actors. I also appreciate that the Bill was developed prior to the deliberations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action and ahead of the proposals agreed in the committee's landmark report. My colleagues will be aware that the committee also recommended the creation of a task force with similar functions to the commission envisaged in the Bill, including carrying out early assessments of social and employment aspects, providing training for workers, examining social protection needs and delivering local economic diversification plans. In the report of the joint committee it was a particular priority of Fianna Fáil that a new national task force would have an independent steering committee and chairman. It was also agreed that it would be structured to allow it to make optimal use of existing structures, draw on expertise and enable investment to be effectively targeted. The issue of membership and appointments is an area deserving particular attention, which should be teased out on Committee Stage. Other amendments may be necessary to align the Bill with the committee's earlier recommendations, including how a new body would overlap with a strengthened Climate Change Advisory Council.

Ideally, we should not need this legislation. The Government could and should establish such a body today. We are discussing this Bill because of knowing neglect and an absence of joined-up thinking.

As I said, the Oireachtas committee stated in March that a task force must be established for the midlands as a priority. The Government's climate plan, which was released in June, downgraded this proposal to the establishment of a just transition review group located in the National Economic and Social Council, NESC. The Government has also pointed to the existing midlands regional enterprise forum. The workers do not need further research. We need Government leadership. Workers deserve immediate supports and long-term investment in the region. The Government's dismissive, disorganised response has undermined public trust.

I welcome that Bord na Móna previously recognised the need to end peat extraction and burning and that the company is taking major steps to diversify its business. We need greater consultation, however, and engagement with workers long in advance of decisions on redundancies and investment. This applies not only to Bord na Móna and peat but also to the ESB and other fossil fuel industries, including operations at Moneypoint.

An effective just transition strategy requires local and bottom-up participation by everybody affected. There are very clear legal obligations on the State to facilitate public participation in decision-making. These must be closely followed. Fianna Fáil is clear that communities must not be left on their own to manage the impacts and I welcome that the Bill seeks to address this.

Fianna Fáil believes that EU funding also should be deployed to respond to those job losses. The Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action was informed of best practice examples, including in Spain where agreement was reached on a significant investment package for affected communities, alongside the phasing out of coal mines. The Government's climate action fund did not prioritise the midlands despite Bord na Móna's long-known phase-out plans. The Government needs to be focused on long-term investment and not merely support for short-term projects or once-off events. It also needs to consider the use of revenue generated from carbon taxation for training and investment, with a particular focus on poorer households.

When we take a long-term perspective to investment and employment, there are real opportunities for the midlands. The State can make good use of the extensive engineering and logistical skills of Bord na Móna and its workers for the long-term benefit. Bord na Móna and the ESB have the opportunity to launch new activities through the development of renewable and energy efficiency projects.

The Oireachtas committee report also highlighted the urgent need for the Government to embark upon a major retrofitting programme, which the Minister acknowledged in his contribution. The Government decision to scrap the deep retrofit scheme, however, was not providing good leadership. I acknowledge that Government acted swiftly to the backlash to that decision and reversed it, but it showed poor leadership to the country at large.

The need for a transformed and fully decarbonised economy is not in doubt. A just transition is a fundamental part of this process but it will not be achieved by quick fixes after decisions have already been taken. Rather, it requires proper assessment of the social justice implications of policies and decisions and for protective measures to be put in place in the first instance. This is urgently necessary for communities in the midlands. This Bill provides a useful opportunity to address Government failings and I look forward to returning to the issue during the next Stages in order that further improvements can be made.

I welcome this Bill, which Sinn Féin will be supporting. I commend the Green Party Deputies who proposed the Bill and I join Deputy Catherine Martin in commending Sinéad Mercier on her Trojan work on the Bill and in the area of just transition. It is a little depressing that even before most of us have made our contributions to this debate, the Minister has signalled that the Government's dreaded money message may be brought down like an axe on the Bill and thus it will join a long list of Bills in respect of which money messages are required.

The Government does not have the courage to vote against it.

The microgeneration Bill proposed by Sinn Féin and many others related to climate change and climate justice could be progressed by the Government but it refuses to allow them to do so.

Before I get into the substance of the Bill, I will respond to some comments made by the Minister to the effect that he was confused by my earlier contribution to the debate on climate change regarding my comments relating to a just transition. The Minister is indeed confused because what he said I said is not what I said. I said that the Government is not taking the action. This Government has failed to make the proper investments in public transport or to put in place proper strategies on afforestation and public housing to ensure we have good homes for people, as well as a fair and just transition and a move to a zero carbon society. Sinn Féin is not holding back progress. The Minister needs to listen to the Members of this House who have put forward numerous Bills and motions regarding investment in the alternatives, which is what this should be about. This is where the debate needs to be, not on false flags and promises that cannot be delivered. I gave the example earlier of the 1 million electric cars, which I do not believe, genuinely, can be delivered in the timeframe set out by the Minister. In any event, I would prefer the investment to be in public transport. We need to be looking to real solutions, not ones that might suit the Government's agenda.

As for this Bill, a just transition provides decent jobs, social protection and security to workers, as well as communities most affected by the transition, to a sustainable economy. It ensures that all climate policies are socially and rurally proofed. No workers or communities can be left behind in the move away from peat production to more sustainable forms of energy generation. This is of prime importance for the midlands and Moneypoint in County Clare. To ensure a just transition for peat workers, we need to establish a national just transition task force based on dialogue with trade unions and other stakeholders. This task force should negotiate a fair deal for fossil fuel workers and their communities and should ensure an orderly exit from coal and peat as soon as possible. We cannot hold back the changes that are necessary in these areas. We have to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. We have to examine the alternatives, such as wind and solar and the other renewable energies in which we need to invest. The people who work in these areas need to be part of that transition. This Bill provides a structure for that process and is a healthy development, one that should get full support across the House.

Deputy Paul Murphy is right that the Government attaches a money message to a Bill when it does not have the courage to say it is not supporting it. The Minister should set out his opposition to the Bill in a clear way. I do not believe some of his arguments, such as the suggestion that the Bill has the opposite effect of not bringing about transparency and that it is politicians and the Minister himself who should be held to account. Some of the arguments he put forward against the Bill are spurious and without foundation. This Bill provides an opportunity to develop a clear, coherent just transition template that can be applied in other sectors and regions as part of the wider transition process. This requires a whole-of-Government approach, with key energy production semi-States such as the ESB, playing a central role. Given the urgency of the situation, it is vital that this work begins immediately with the establishment of the just transition forum for the midlands. This forum needs to be tasked with developing the appropriate measures within a specific timeframe to ensure that neither the workforce nor the local communities are left disadvantaged.

The Government’s current recommendation is to establish a review group positioned within the National Economic and Social Council, NESC. This is not good enough. We need a full task force that brings together all stakeholders. Communities in the midlands region are already affected by the move away from peat production for energy. The idea of just transition first emerged in the 1970s, when it was proposed that people whose jobs were threatened by nuclear disarmament should be compensated for the loss. In the 1990s, the argument was broadened to refer to workers in environmentally damaging jobs whose employment is affected by new policies aimed at reducing pollution. Today, the definition of a just transition was widened again to bring in the communities in which those workers live. Unfortunately, the Government is trying to drop the word "just" from the concept. It has started to talk about the transition to low-carbon as though this is something that can happen through changes in consumer choices. In a point to which the Minister took exception, I mentioned earlier that the Government puts market solutions front and centre, rather than State investment and the State taking a leading role, being the driving force in bringing about the just transition that is necessary and bringing the communities with us. We will not make a transition, just or otherwise, unless we bring people with us. That is the point I was making earlier in regard to carbon tax increases. We can have different opinions and I respect that there are sincerely-held views on that issue but we can all accept that notwithstanding increases in carbon taxes, in some respects there are no alternatives in place for people to make the transition which is necessary. That is what we need to do. There is nothing stopping us investing in public transport or in retrofitting people's homes. In my view, this should start with older people and public housing and should build outwards from there. We should not be putting in place schemes for deep retrofitting for those people who might have money to spend. Rather, we should supporting people across society and doing so in a fair and just way.

There is nothing stopping us from building good quality public housing. It is the Government that did not build the houses which are necessary.

That is what I mean when I use the word "hypocrisy". There are people in Dublin and elsewhere who do not have homes in which to live. There are people renting apartments that are substandard. We have heard of three or four people living in small and tight apartments that are certainly not environmentally sustainable and have very low energy ratings. Some people have talked about the return of tenements in certain parts of Dublin. Rather than continuing to allow that, which is what the Government has done, how about building the good-quality public housing about which many of us have spoken?

We need a truly ambitious afforestation programme. This is something that can be done. We can bring rural communities with us. Such a programme would truly make a difference because, as we know, planting forests in a sustainable way creates natural habitats for biodiversity and forests act as carbon sinks. Through aggressive and ambitious afforestation, we can become carbon-neutral more quickly.

Retrofitting housing stock would help. The only people who are stopping the Minister doing any of this are the Minister himself, his colleagues in government and those in Fianna Fáil who support him, not us.

I referred to public transport in the earlier debate. Public transport is central to the concept of a just transition. Unless we invest in public transport, people will not have the alternatives they need. Emails obtained through a freedom of information request reveal differences of opinion between the Department and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport about the potential of the Government to reach its target of 1 million electric cars. Everybody in this Chamber and anybody who has an ounce of sense knows that this cannot be delivered. If the Minister talked to the people who sell the cars, they would tell him that this cannot be done even if we wanted to do it. It is not going to happen even if everybody wants to do it. That is why the Government needs to refocus and reshape its policy and look at what the real alternative is, which is public transport first and foremost.

It must also be underpinned by proper spatial planning. If we want to build regions outside Dublin to act as a counterbalance to growth in the capital, we need to focus on regional cities such as Galway, Cork, Waterford and Limerick, all of which need integrated transport hubs. There are parts of Waterford city in which people do not use public transport because it is not as accessible as it should be. This is madness given the necessity of reaching our emissions targets and climate justice goals. The brake is not being applied on this side of the House. The brake on reaching our targets and doing what we need to do in terms of a just transition, unfortunately, is being applied by the Government and, in part, Fianna Fáil.

I acknowledge the hard work of the Green Party in drafting and bringing forward this Bill. As a representative of a county in the midlands, I am only too aware of the challenges posed by a failure to progress adequately the process of a just transition to a decarbonised economy. I am also aware of the frustration of my constituents in west Offaly where the future of the power station there is still uncertain and where clarity is needed. I forwarded a parliamentary question to the Minister earlier this week and I hope I can go back to the people of west Offaly with answers because there is a sense that communities are being left in the dark and that there is not enough clarity or engagement with communities, particularly in the midlands. This needs to be improved.

I have raised with the Ministers for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and for Business, Enterprise and Innovation many matters which need to be addressed. Both of their Departments have a vital role to play in the roll-out to 2020 of the regional enterprise plan for the midlands. In May, I was critical of the Government's delay in accessing a significant amount of EU funding to assist job creation and investment for the midlands region, particularly in light of the

ongoing impact of job losses at Bord na Móna. It is of serious concern to me. Most of the constituents I meet raise this issue with me so it is a matter of serious concern and we need answers and pragmatic solutions. I made it clear to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation that initiatives such as the midlands enterprise plan are welcome and important but I also told her on the floor of the Dáil that there appeared to be a lack of joined-up thinking on the part of various Departments when it comes to addressing problems in the midlands. I specifically asked her to explain why there was no mention of the European Commission's coal regions in transition platform in the midlands regional enterprise plan. This platform was launched in early 2017, a full year before Bord na Móna made its announcement regarding the 430 job losses. The reason for its existence is to promote funding and structural investment in areas exactly like the midlands that have traditionally relied on carbon-intensive industries. Yet at that time, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation informed me that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment only wrote to the European Commission asking for funding support a couple of months ago. We have lost valuable years in which jobs could have been created, particularly as the coal platform is already delivering tailor-made assistance to 13 pilot regions in seven member states. We also know that regions in Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Czechia and Germany have benefited from its support. This is to say nothing of the fact that in Silesia, which was the EU's largest coal region, €120 million has been ring-fenced to provide support to projects in the area of urban infrastructure and clean air and to prepare former mining sites for investment. This is exactly the type of funding that the Government should have been applying for on behalf of the midlands in 2017 in order to give us time to plan.

I acknowledge that having pursued the matter further, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment confirmed to me in a reply to a parliamentary question that at the most recent meeting of the platform on 15 and 16 July, the European Commission announced that the midlands region has now been included in the platform. I welcome this development. As I understand it, membership of the platform enables the midlands region to avail of the support of a dedicated country team comprising Commission experts to assist with the development of strategies and projects for the region focusing in particular on the employment challenges faced by workers affected by decarbonisation. The team will also assist in identifying appropriate EU funding opportunities for the midlands. The meetings of the platform also enable the exchange of knowledge and ideas between carbon-intensive regions. While no new EU funds have been set up under this initiative, the European Parliament has proposed a €5 billion budget line in the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, for the period 2021 to 2027, which is being negotiated, to support the just transition. I welcome this but counties such as Offaly and Laois must have immediate access to the funds that become available, particularly in light of the increasing threats to employment that we have seen very recently at Bord na Móna. These threats are being taken seriously. People are very concerned. What is happening will have a detrimental effect on communities and on the local economies in those communities.

What I would also like to hear from the Minister is a solid commitment that the funding provided under the platform initiative will be ring-fenced for the midlands region and that it will not be allocated in respect of a range of other strategies that may be of value but will do little to develop job creation in the midland counties, which need an urgent focus. We are lagging behind the rest of the State in many ways. We have the second lowest rate of income in the State. We need a firm commitment.

While I accept that this is an issue of national concern, Offaly and Laois are the counties most directly impacted upon by decarbonisation in light of the historical legacy and their dependence on organisations like Bord na Móna for employment. It is all well and good to have a grand vision of a decarbonised society and to tell people that there is a plan and a strategy to compensate for the inevitable disruption that this process will bring but families, workers and communities cannot live on sentiment, however noble.

They need to see a clear and dedicated pathway toward employment stability. I also call for a task force to be set up for the midlands region. This would be a pragmatic solution. If all stakeholders were involved, particularly unions representing workers, the outcome would be fair for everybody and nobody would be left behind. That is the core of what a just transition is. These families and workers are owed that, given the scale of the challenges that areas like the midlands are going to face. I conclude by saying that I support the principle of a just transition. The world and the employment realities in it have changed. I believe we can adapt, maintaining a balance with the past in the process of a just transition which is fair and built on common sense and pragmatism. The three things I would like to see with any transition are common sense, pragmatism and fairness.

I welcome the fact that this discussion on a just transition is taking place. I thank the Green Party for tabling this legislation to facilitate it. It is important that any discussion about a just transition is based on reality. The failure to recognise the basic reality of the climate issues and their impact on the ground, and to constructively engage with communities, has in large part undermined our ability to drive the change needed to bring about the transition and meet our climate targets. There has been a serious failure on the part of those advocating for climate action to come up with innovative solutions that reflect the unique challenges Ireland faces. There is a responsibility not just to highlight the problems but to come up with real and practical solutions that can be applied in communities throughout this country.

More often than not, advocates have tabled ideas that are simply copied and pasted from other jurisdictions, solutions which fail to reflect the reality on the ground in Ireland. This has led to the alienation of whole sectors of society and communities throughout this country. As Minister, I established the climate action fund to incentivise innovation in Ireland that would produce solutions that address the Irish challenges, rather than simply copying and pasting on the basis that what is done in some other part of the world can apply here.

One very practical example concerns carbon tax and transportation. It is important that any model does not disproportionately hit those living in rural or regional parts of the country, who are so reliant on diesel and who were encouraged through Government incentives to take up this fuel. As an alternative, the current review of the national car test operator is an opportunity for the Government to revise the testing regime to provide an emissions profile for each individual vehicle. This would treat those living in rural areas and driving longer distances more fairly, as their vehicles would have lower emissions profiles than a similar vehicle driving on congested city streets. Such a measure would encourage the retrofitting of diesel vehicles, including retrofitting to alternative fuels, and would support the conversion of the fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles. Most motorists would see the direct benefit in their rate of motor tax based on the actual emissions profile of their vehicle. On the other hand, this measure would not disproportionately hit the haulage or agricultural sectors, which are so reliant on diesel as a fuel. It would also act as a very effective congestion charge as vehicles driving on congested streets or at times of heavy traffic would have a much higher emissions profile and thus pay a higher motor tax. Will we see that happen? That is the type of thing we need to look at, addressing global issues in local and practical terms.

We also need to look at IDA Ireland's perverse policy of forcing more jobs into the city of Dublin. This leads to further demands for construction of offices and housing instead of utilising the infrastructure in our regions, which has already been developed and paid for by the taxpayer. That includes the need to provide high-speed broadband investment to every single townland and community in this country, spreading economic growth across the regions and not just compounding the problem we have already seen in the city of Dublin.

I now turn to a local issue which many colleagues have raised, namely, Bord na Móna. This has an impact not just in the midlands region as designated by Government, but also in Roscommon and east Galway, where Bord na Móna staff are directly employed in harvesting peat. We have seen an abject failure by environmentalists to acknowledge the reason Bord na Móna was established in the first place, namely, to create jobs in a part of the country which was an unemployment black spot. That applies equally today. Many of those working in this region are forced to travel long distances to access employment in the congested cities on our coast, such as those construction jobs in Dublin. We need to create employment in the region which supports the existing skill set of staff and small farmers. Co-firing of biomass is key to that. That is why it is imperative that the ESB submits a new application to Bord na Móna for the Shannonbridge power station that is based on co-firing.

Second, we must put in place a new economy so that the next generation and the generation after that can be employed locally. There is a failure to acknowledge that this is not just about the people employed in Bord na Móna today. It is about their children and the children who come after that. They do not have opportunities for employment in our region at the moment. I offer the example of County Roscommon. It has the highest rate of third level graduate education in the country and yet it has one of the lowest levels of graduate employment in the country because the jobs are not there. We are haemorrhaging those jobs to the cities, which is compounding the congestion and climate problems there.

We need to facilitate a just transition away from peat production to long-term sustainable jobs in our region. We need to tap into the huge potential of communities in every single parish in counties Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and east Galway. To do that, we need to have a just transition fund. As I have already formally put to the Minister, we need to ring-fence 5% of the climate action fund, the rural regeneration and development fund and the urban regeneration and development fund to provide alternative job opportunities for the employees of Bord na Móna and the ESB and the communities that are dependent on those jobs. That will allow us to leverage funding from the European Commission and the European Investment Bank for the region.

The decommissioning of cutaway bogs is also an important part of any rehabilitation of the bogs. This work could commence tomorrow morning and provide sustainable jobs for seasonal staff and Bord na Móna staff who have been laid off. There is a very serious threat to next year's seasonal employment. A substantial number of staff, particularly in Mountdillon, have not been able to avail of seasonal employment this summer.

Work could start tomorrow morning on the removal of plastic and rail lines, an examination of existing stockpiles of peat and an investigation of the silt and settlement ponds and that would provide employment for seasonal staff.

It is also important that we see full implementation of the Government decision, taken in 2017, to establish a new semi-State entity called Bord na Móna Bioenergy. It was established by the Government and tasked with setting up an entire biomass industry, from contract growing by farmers to harvesting and processing, all the way through to contract delivery. It was initially envisaged as supplying the three power stations and subsequently meeting renewable heat demand. If that company had been operational, I do not believe the planning application at Shannonbridge would have been rejected.

We need to start implementing Project Ireland 2040. I refer to establishing the national wetland park in the north midlands. That work needs to be prioritised because it presents major opportunities for employment creation in ecotourism, as well as recreational employment. It has to include the development of the Cloontuskert works in County Roscommon which are owned by Bord na Móna as an interpretive centre. There must also be development of the Ballinasloe parkland project. It would examine how we could develop cutaway bogs in the vicinity of Ballinasloe and also tell the story of bog rehabilitation. It is located right beside the Dublin-Galway motorway and easily accessible. It could be a major tourist attraction in the area.

I thank the Green Party for bringing forward this Bill. As my colleagues said, we support its thrust and acknowledge that it builds on the commitment given by the all-party committee. We will seek to play our part, as will many others, in debate, change and alteration in order that, by agreement, we can arrive at a conclusion and move forward to address the issues. Everyone here realises what is necessary to ensure the planet, the country, the economy and the environment work as one to the benefit of all, rather than to the detriment of anyone.

I was surprised to hear the Minister say he would allow the Bill to pass on this Stage but that he might proceed with a money message at the relevant crossroads. He might perhaps supersede it by hypothecation of carbon tax revenue and having legislation in place to ensure it will meet the demands of a commission. Since the announcement by Bord na Móna last October of the acceleration of its decarbonisation plan, I have, to put it mildly, been disappointed on two fronts by Fine Gael's and the Government's response and reaction. I was disappointed by the announcement. Despite the mood music and the right sentiments being expressed, as is often the case, the rhetoric was not matched by the actions needed. I was also disappointed, to say the least, by the Government's failure to insist on entities such as the ESB pursuing Government policy and moving forward by last Thursday with a request for an appeal or judicial review of the decision made by An Bord Pleanála. That decision flies in the face of Government policy to co-fuel biomass and peat in power plants and transition towards moving away from peat. We all acknowledged and accepted the part we had to play in ensuring that changeover happened in a timely fashion. However, the time afforded would have allowed possible alternatives to be found. There might also have been options, instead of the economy being thrown off the cliff, as is now possibly the case.

I remember speaking during Leaders' Questions in October in the days immediately after the announcement of An Bord Pleanála's decision. I sought the establishment of a transition forum and commission. I also sought verification that Ireland had applied to the Coal Regions in Transition Initiative fund and information on the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, EGF. I also requested the ring-fencing of funding from carbon tax revenue, which stands at €400 million to date. The Tánaiste answered and stated both he and the Government would work with others to ensure they could plan for a fair deal and manage it in a way which would not undermine income or regions. We have not, however, seen a relevant forum being set up. We have seen, in County Offaly for example, a transition team made up of stakeholders and State bodies, the job of which would have been to respond. I saw it as a member of the forum. Adequate Government funds have not been targeted to deal with the situation. That should have been the case, instead of drawing from existing funds through the wide range of options mentioned by the Minister. Those option are available to the country as a whole.

Regarding the recent Shannonbridge decision, it is Government policy to co-fuel. It was contained in all of the relevant documentation submitted by all of the relevant Departments to the European Union. An Taisce's contention that there should be an immediate cessation was upheld by An Bord Pleanála. There were issues with transportation and so forth. Those issues could, however, have been addressed as a condition of a commission favourably and to the satisfaction of those raising concerns. During our discussions in the immediate aftermath of the decision the Minister visited Tullamore and met representatives from the region. It was incumbent on him to ensure the ESB would seek a judicial review of the decision. I would have thought that in the democratic process we have grown to love and appreciate that the Government set policy and others followed it, rather than An Taisce setting policy and the Government and An Bord Pleanála following it. That appears to be what has happened.

To me and all those I represent, the knock-on effects of the decision are all too plain to see. I am especially mindful of Lanesborough and Edenderry power stations. The decision will mean almost the immediate closure of these two stations. It will also mean the immediate cessation of harvesting associated with supplying peat to the stations. The workers, communities, counties and regions are being thrown off a cliff. That is happening, instead of the fulfilment of the commitment given to us last year that the power stations would be phased out over a period of seven or eight years and that a transition forum with adequate funding would be put in place in the meantime to deal with the fallout from the closures. The localities, communities, counties and regions bought into that commitment. To be now thrown off the cliff flies in the face of the commitment given.

A body such as the one proposed would fund, reward and assist local authorities and local transition forums in the various counties. I am mindful of the special status of my county which has 1,000 of the remaining 1,500 or 1,600 members of the workforce in Bord na Móna, notwithstanding the efforts, commitment, willingness and appreciation of other counties to participate. Others have mentioned the role Bord na Móna has played in their counties, communities and economies. Any such body would seek to reward and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. It would also look at the options for alternatives, not only in the energy sphere but in other spheres of employment also I am conscious too of the Minister's recent visit to the new battery power plant that will support renewables and wind energy generation. It was opened last week by an indigenous company in Tullamore, Lumcloon Energy, which has partnered with backers in Korea at no cost to the State. If we put independent private investment in place, that innovation and success can be the prototype for exportation to other economies in the future. That is the innovation and alternative form of employment within the energy sector that can succeed.

To get back to the carbon tax funding and any increase there may be, any legislation to ring-fence those funds would have to contain three strands. It would have to be poverty proofed, it would have to include initiatives, programmes, grants and rewards and it would have to include relevant and efficient products and renewables to assist those we represent to provide alternative renewables and methods to assist the climate action plan mentioned by the Minister. It would have at its core a targeted fund allocated to those regions most affected by the transition, particularly given that the pace of transition is no longer the eight or nine years envisaged at this time last year.

In the 1940s, the Government of the day gave the remit to create jobs in the midlands region to Bord na Móna which, in the 1980s, had a workforce of approximately 8,000. With the best will in the world, Bord na Móna can no longer meet that remit, notwithstanding its efforts such as trials in the growth of herbs and cannabis and looking at using the land for energy parks. I hope and expect those lands and properties and the industrial plant will be there for others to invest in and that these forums and the commission will bring forward ideas and initiatives to benefit the communities and regions. It could lead to energy parks that would reward communities, including through their profits. This is the type of innovation we now pass over to the Government.

The remit is back with the Government. Bord na Móna can no longer meet the commitment it made and the remit it was given in the 1940s. It is for local authorities to build on the success of Bord na Móna and provide the package comprising Lough Boora, greenways, Clonmacnoise and all the midlands has to offer. It is about all of the stakeholders working together with availability of the right funding, innovation and representation, as is prescribed, to allow communities bring us forward in a way that recognises the needs associated with climate change and the contribution made by the State and its bodies to areas such as those I represent.

The State is now in a position to recommit to them in a different and new way but equally in a way that can reward those communities and allow the people in them the opportunity to succeed, provide jobs and remain in the counties they love with the lifestyle they love. This can be done with the right will and effort. The Minister should make no mistake about it. In the absence of this being done in the short few months available to him it will be an election issue. Support is growing for the type of commitments contained in the Bill and the sentiments expressed in our policy, which is at variance with that of the Minister. This has been obvious and plain to see since last October.

Four speakers remain and there will also be a response from the Minister. There is 39 minutes remaining for the debate. I do not want to curtail anybody but I want this to be borne in mind. The proposer must also speak again, as must the Minister, with ten minutes and five minutes respectively.

I do not intend to take my full allocation of time. I support the Bill. The Labour Party unambiguously supports the Bill and we welcome it. We believe that given the level of correspondence we have received on the issue and the level of engagement we have had on it, particularly with the trade union movement, the Bill is timely and worthy of our support.

I respectfully take issue with the Minister's opening remarks. It appears his intention is to curtail the Bill with the provision of a money message. We feel this is a disappointing departure. It runs contrary to the spirit of the legislation and the views and recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. There is a very clear and unambiguous determination in the committee's report that a just transition taskforce would be established. While the Bill does not per se call for a just transition taskforce it does call for a just transition commission.

The Minister seeks to use the auspices of the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, as the mechanism by which many of the issues contained the Bill would be articulated. We see no reason the Minister could not continue to use the NESC as a valuable resource for the Government and ensure a policy direction that is consistent between all of the stakeholders.

The point is that the Government is not the sole stakeholder or owner of this agenda any more. Just like our colleagues in the UK House of Commons, we must recognise there is a shift of emphasis towards the Members of the House and towards the sovereignty of Parliament relative to the powers of the Executive. I am a little bit worried that the Minister in his statement seeks to undermine the legislation. By my interpretation, he has expressed an opinion that the power of the Government would be usurped by the enactment of such legislation. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong but this is certainly my impression. We do need coherence on the recommendation of the joint committee on the very specific task of establishing a just transition taskforce in 2019 and the intention of the Bill, which is the establishment of the commission. Perhaps on Committee Stage we can iron out some of these potential differences. The Bill has the potential to give voice to the Minister's opinion or intention regarding the use of the NESC as a tool in a complementary way to ensure we can drive the agenda of a low carbon or carbon zero economy and society.

As I have said, I have received much correspondence in respect of this issue. The Labour Party made the establishment of the just transition taskforce a red line issue during the course of our deliberations in the Joint Committee on Climate Action. We wanted to ensure there would be no watering down of this proposal by those on the Government side. We wanted to ensure we would give voice to those stakeholders in civil society who feel strongly that they have a voice that is equal to that of the Government and that the voice of the Citizens' Assembly would be heard in terms of the implementation of Government policy.

We have no hesitation in supporting the Bill. We will seek to amend and strengthen it. By our reading, the Bill sets out a very clear set of functions in section 5 but we are just a little bit fearful that some of the functions may not be robust enough to ensure the idea of a just transition is firmly fixed in policy provision.

We argue for policy coherence between the Government and the Oireachtas with an equal role between the two. Where a legislative proposal is robust and worthy of enactment, it should be supported. We have no hesitation in supporting this legislation. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Green Party to ensure that the people we seek to represent on this issue whose voices have made themselves heard since the publication of this Bill and during the Citizens' Assembly are accurately and robustly reflected in the legislation.

Three ten-minute slots and a five-minute slot remain. I must call on the Minister for a five-minute slot at 7.15 p.m., followed by the closing contribution.

I will try to do it in five minutes.

With the most politeness I can muster, I have to say that the Minister has a brass neck. The response in the previous debate we had was to say to us, "Sure, you have no concrete proposals. You just want to get rid of capitalism. You've been banging on about that forever. You want socialism; of course, you do." He would say that, ignoring all the concrete proposals we made in our various speeches, such as free public transport, investment in low-carbon public housing, public investment in renewable energy and the transition to sustainable agriculture. The Minister then went on to do what has become the Government's traditional trick of agreeing to let the Bill on the just transition pass on Second Stage so it cannot be held to account for voting against it and then just let it sit there and not proceed while using the undemocratic veto the Government has of the money message.

That is precisely what the Government did when we introduced a concrete proposal passed by the Dáil to prevent further fossil fuel exploration. It claims we do not have concrete proposals. We do, and they have been passed by the House, but the Government is blocking them undemocratically.

I support the Bill. The concept of a just transition is key. The bottom line of a just transition is that no worker or small farmer should lose out as a result of transitioning to a zero-carbon economy. That means no loss of wages or jobs and no loss of income for small farmers. That requires an important role for the State to ensure that anybody whose current job no longer exists after such a transition is guaranteed alternative quality employment.

A series of graphs published in 2004 became famous in the 2000s. They outline in a very graphic way what was known as the great acceleration, the most rapid and pervasive stage in the human-environment relationship. They are in a range of issues, such as CO2, surface temperature, tropical forest loss, methane, ocean acidification, etc. They all basically show a hockey stick-shaped graph from 1945, shooting upwards as industrial fossil fuel capitalism post the Second World War took off and began to affect the environment in a substantial way. That is also the period that is increasingly accepted as the beginning of the Anthropocene, the geological age where human activity has had the dominant impact on the climate and our environment.

In 2015, the same authors of those great acceleration graphs did an update which showed that the process was accelerating even further. They also did an equity element of the graph which showed that not everybody in the world is contributing to the destruction of our planet. The very richest are contributing to it and the rest of us, working-class people and poor people, pay the price and suffer the consequences of it.

That is true on a country-by-country basis and within countries. The workers at Bord na Móna, coal miners, and oil and gas workers are not responsible for the crimes of the fossil fuel industry and the destruction of our planet as a result of its action. They are exploited by those companies and they lose out; in many cases, their health is badly affected. They are not just victims of those companies. They are potentially powerful allies in building a movement for the kinds of eco-socialist policies that are necessary to stop us reaching a climate catastrophe very soon. An alliance of workers, communities, young people, environmental activists, etc., is a very powerful force, an element of which we will see tomorrow on the streets.

During the summer, I visited the occupation by workers of Harland and Wolff, famously known for building ships. Ships burn a considerable volume of dirty oil. The increase in shipping in the world is a significant contributing factor to the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Those workers were striking correctly to defend their jobs. As part of that, they raised the demand for the nationalisation of Harland and Wolff. They particularly advocated that the skills and machinery they have would be perfectly positioned to play a role in green energy through the construction of wind turbines. They explained that to us in particular.

It shows how workers can play a key role in the struggle and how the just transition brings together workers, communities and everybody affected. It is reminiscent of the Lucas plan from the 1970s in Britain where aerospace workers got together and fleshed out an alternative mode of production, not in the interests of the profits of their bosses but in the interests of society as a whole.

The same is true for the Bord na Móna workers whose skills are needed. We do not need to use them in other damaging production processes, as was suggested earlier. Instead they are needed above all in shifting to properly green energy. It has been estimated that at current prices the shift to green energy, particularly wind energy, will require €21 billion in investment. Going with that would be an enormous number of jobs with resources invested in that. That needs to be mobilised. It will not be mobilised by the private sector. It must be mobilised by the State stepping in. The ESB should step up. All those workers should have alternative employment. There is very necessary socially useful employment and those workers should be brought to the heart of a rapid just transition to a green economy.

We have about seven minutes before I need to call the Minister.

I think I will come in under that.

I support the Bill, which has relevance to my constituency. I was struck by the comment that there are no jobs on a dead planet, which is very evocative. There is no green economy unless there are rewards for workers and communities that make this happen. There needs to be support for communities that lose their fossil fuel industries. This is the basis of fair transition. I, therefore, fully support the Bill.

The key is the Title of the Bill. Those who work in fossil fuel industries should be given opportunities to transition to new jobs via retraining into environmentally sustainable jobs or other careers to sustain their communities. If one applies this to Moneypoint or to the peat-burning industry in the midlands, companies such as the ESB and Bord na Móna should have a responsibility to support those losing their jobs who wish to be retrained or upskilled to find alternative employment.

The Bill proposes a national just transition commission, which is important. In west Clare, we have come together organically over the summer to put together a task force that will redefine the future of Moneypoint. It involves workers, community activists, local representatives and national representatives.

The employers unfortunately were not there. We have called on Government agencies to join the task force. The local authority and the trade unions are fully behind it. That is the core of a just transition commission. Organically we have identified that in west Clare. The task force is tasked with maximising the potential of Moneypoint which has vast potential, not only to generate power but its deep sea port could be developed into a fantastic resource for transit of cargo to and from Europe. The site needs to be developed into a facility which will generate energy, offshore wind, tidal or wave energy or a combination of all three. All are available in abundance on the west coast of Clare.

The Bill also proposes to provide a mediation service to allow communities a forum to discuss and place on a legal basis their chosen transition path. It is important for that to be done on a legal basis. It also proposes to develop just transition plans for new alternative jobs, infrastructure to support those jobs and upskilling and not to leave an area where fossil fuels come to an end to be a wasteland. It also proposes to develop alternative low or no-carbon industries.

Moneypoint has to cease burning coal by 2025 and that has already happened. There are proposals to bring in 104 redundancies out of a total workforce of 198. Those negotiations are under way. Unfortunately, there are no alternative jobs in Moneypoint. This is a loss to the individual who loses his or her job and to the local economy, and reduces the viability of the community. Communities should not be penalised as we move away from fossil fuel industries. They need to be supported by maintaining just employment and invigorating them in a fair and sustainable way.

I thank the Deputies who participated in the debate. There is a great deal of consensus in the House to have proper systems of consultation; workers protected; evaluation of new opportunities in the decarbonised economy and enterprise agencies supporting those; development of appropriate skills and reskilling of people who need to be re-skilled; funding set aside to support not just individuals but regions which are affected; and development of the role of the EU, particularly with its coal platform, applied to Ireland's particular problems. I agree with all of that.

The only area where I have contention with the Bill is in the way it is proposed to structure this. Instead of the whole Government developing a strategy to do this, the Bill envisages a commission which will designate individual enterprises and public bodies and ask each one to come up with a separate plan then put that through a wringer of individual agencies consulting on each plan, having objections to a plan, going to mediation through a commission and then perhaps to adjudication by that commission. That superstructure is not well designed to achieve the consensus approach set out here. The only reason I mention money messages is that we have to be satisfied that whatever is proposed by the Oireachtas is an effective way of using resources to achieve the objectives.

By going on to Committee Stage we can tease these things out. Deputy Cowen put it fairly plainly when he said he regarded the development of a response to just transition as a political responsibility. He did not say that the person on this commission and the multiple bodies it might designate as prescribed bodies, and the process of each of body evolving plans, is what we want. He talked about consultation, worker protection, evaluation of opportunities and funds to back change. That is what we have to try to design together. I am not being negative about just transition. It is at the heart of this but the superstructure created by this Bill is not the appropriate one. The Oireachtas will not want a commission that is not answerable to the House, working in mediation and in a semi-planning process as envisaged here, but coherence across Government, the ability to bring the various agencies of Government together to support the workers and the region, to identify the opportunities and to see that the regional representatives, including the Industrial Development Authority, IDA, and Enterprise Ireland, are empowered to deliver the change in the affected regions. That goes to the heart of governance. Governments work to serve the needs of citizens.

I am absolutely convinced this is very well intentioned and that Deputy Eamon Ryan will defend it. That is the purpose of debate, that is why we come here, to exchange views. People may say they are surprised at the Minister taking a different view or whatever but that is what we are all here to do, to challenge one another. That is the consensus, we all want the same thing, a transition that delivers the changes we need to make, demanded by the need for climate action, the science and the generations coming behind us. We also want to make sure that we protect, insofar as possible, the skills, the commitment and the regions that are impacted. It is an argument about whether this Bill succeeds in doing what we want to achieve. That is why we will tease out that issue in committee.

I could not agree more with the Minister. Debate is healthy. It is the lifeblood of this place and the voters decide. We will put it to the people. I think I have my poster designed for the upcoming election, which is not that far away. It will be a quote from the Minister's earlier contribution to the debate when he said, "This goes way beyond what is envisaged." It does because we need to start thinking a hell of a lot bigger about what we are doing for the climate. The Fine Gael mantra that the status quo is good enough is not good enough. I really relish the chance to come back to the Minister on the specific concerns he has raised, to reassure him that this is absolutely the right structure. It is a superstructure but one that is going to work and be relatively easy to introduce. The Minister said this asks a company in advance to set out a plan and engage with stakeholders and mediate. That is exactly what we need. That is exactly what we do not have at the moment with Bord na Móna. As Deputy Harty said, they are trying to do this in Moneypoint but the business is not there. The status quo under the Fine Gael-led Government is not good enough and needs to change.

The Minister said we could do this through the Workplace Relations Commission, that we have an existing structure. The problem is that under the legislation it is set up to specialise in trade union disputes with employers. It does not have experience or expertise in climate change or in dealing with communities. Deputy Harty and other speakers said that when we are doing this we need to get the workers, the communities and other businesses in. We need a community-based stakeholders' response. As good as the Workplace Relations Commission is, it will not deliver that.

The Minister, along with others, suggested that NESC should do it. I have the highest regard for NESC, which has a critical role, and in the climate committee report we outlined that it would have a specific role in this and other areas, but NESC's skill, best capability and best addition in the jigsaw of pieces we need is in strategic policy. I do not believe that NESC wants to get down and dirty in an individual, local dispute where it would try to work out what the specific response should be because that is not its specialty.

The Minister also mentioned the Climate Change Advisory Council but I know from speaking to its members they were terrified by our climate report because they feared we were throwing too much on them and they know they do not have adequate resources in the existing system. Moreover, the council wants to maintain the high level strategic view in how we make the transition and does not want to be involved in dispute management resolution.

The Minister also suggested that the Government and his Department could be responsible. In the Department there are probably approximately 250 officials, perhaps 50 of whom work in the energy section, for example. The work required will not just be in energy, however. It will involve transport, agriculture, forestry, housing and a range of areas. I know that the officials do not have enough time. They manage all the European legislation, all our legislation and all the policy initiatives and regulation. They are not well placed to do it.

Last but not least, the Minister seemed to indicate that the House should do it. While we are well placed to write legislation, hold the Government to account and consider the big policy issues, the House is the last place that would be appropriate. If one wants to find a resolution to a thorny local issue, one wants to be down the country, wherever that is. We heard it in the case of the midlands, where there are such conflicting views. Some people say the answer concerns burning biomass while others say the answer is something else. It would be almost impossible for us to act in the way the community needs, namely, as a neutral specialist service with real expertise in mediation. Mediation is not a dirty word. On page 13 of the programme for Government, it is recognised the State is not working well and one of the reasons outlined is that it does not consult well. It has to start listening, consulting and engaging. I am glad the Minister is holding meetings throughout the country but the problem cannot be resolved in a town hall meeting. One needs to be in the town for months, teasing through some of the specific local issues, which is what the proposed agency will do.

I look forward to the Committee Stage debate, even with the sword of Damocles of no money message hanging over it, to tease the matter out with the Department. Does the Department really believe it is well placed for doing it, or does the Government really believe that the Department of the Taoiseach should do it? The latter Department has a critical role. I am supportive of the all-of-Government action plan approach, the new legislation we have planned and all the measures on which we have agreed. We also agreed, however, that we need a just transition architecture.

I have slightly different views from my colleagues, such as on whether the body should be called a task force. To reassure Deputy Sherlock, whose support on the Bill I very much appreciate, along with the support we have received from trade unions and others, on page 17 of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action report it is stated the just transition task force will include a specialist mediation service for workers, communities and businesses and that it should make recommendations for action to the Government and the parties. That is what the Bill will do. It provides for a specialist mediation service. We have thought a great deal about the structure outlined. We have sought advice from the best lawyers and talked to all the interested parties that have a good interest in and knowledge about the matter.

To allay one of the concerns the Minister outlined, namely, that the service would be all powerful and would not be democratic, it will be democratic in the sense that it will be appointed in the same way we appoint directors to the board of RTÉ and to the Inland Fisheries Board. It will be appointed by both the Government and the Oireachtas. It will be representative, therefore, of the House. One matter keenly fought with trade unions and others is that the commission's decisions in helping to devise a plan will not issue mandatory instructions. It is mediation, not compellability, but it will bring transparency, expertise and neutrality. The Minister stated we are planning an agency that would bring in all the various actors but that is what we need in order to ensure a good transition.

The Bill is technical and specific and is only one piece of the architecture. The Government opposes it because it does not want to lose control, it could not possibly agree to a Bill coming from the Opposition and it could not possibly support a Bill from the other side of the House, but it would make the Government work better. It would be useful for the Department to have it rather than everyone running after a problem like that of Bord na Móna, after the fact. It would be thinking three or five years ahead about where will be the next Bord na Móna problem down the line. It will allow us to set up the systems here and now in advance, instead of the usual reactive response to crises when we turn up too late. We need to get in early and engage all the parties. It will not be expensive. We are not talking about a large organisation but rather small teams of mediators with specialist capability and with the legislative structure to empower them. Compellability is needed. I heard tonight that the ESB is not talking to the workers at the Moneypoint plant. Everyone I speak to in Bord na Móna has stated the process is not working there either. If a single person thinks differently about the Bord na Móna transition issue, I would love to hear about it but the word on the ground is the current system - the status quo - is not working.

The Bill goes beyond what is envisaged because we envisage a massive change to our entire transport, energy, waste and industrial systems. That is what the climate strikers tomorrow demand. They say they listen to that Swedish girl and that the science is so clear and true about the scale of the changes required. We have 430 gigatonnes remaining but we use 41 gigatonnes a year. In eight years, we will be over the tipping point. It will be such change and we need to envisage it and how we plan and prepare for it. The Bill will do that in a just way. It will bring social and ecological justice together, which is what we need to do. I look forward to Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 7.30 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 September 2019.