Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Recycling Policy

David Cullinane


6. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to provide public water fountains as a measure to combat the use of single-use plastic bottles; the cost of such a project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49223/19]

This question is on single-use plastics and the need to reduce their use. More specifically, to facilitate that reduction, I am asking about plans to provide public water fountains. Some local authorities have them and others are beginning the roll-out of such fountains. Does the Department have plans to facilitate, help and fund local authorities to enable an expansion of this initiative?

The Government is committed to leading the way in reducing all single-use plastics and is working at national and European level to tackle the problem. In this regard, the Government has agreed that Departments and bodies will no longer purchase single-use plastic cups, cutlery and straws. We have also strongly supported new EU legislation on single-use plastics, which will ban straws, cotton bud sticks made from plastic, plastic plates and cutlery, plastic coffee stirrers and plastic balloon holders. That is due to be transposed into legislation by 3 July 2021 at the latest. A clean oceans initiative has also been commenced and the Government is legislating to ban microbeads.

These measures are intended to bring a concentrated focus on the reduced prevalence of single-use plastics and on quality recycling throughout all Irish organisations, public or private. Many organisations are taking steps to improve their resource use and all public bodies will be submitting a report shortly on the progress that they have made as a result of the decision made last January. My Department provides direct funding for the local authority prevention network, managed by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. One of the initiatives funded involved approximately €150,000 being provided to 17 local authorities in 2018-19 to provide public drinking water fountains in public buildings, including schools and leisure centres, at events and on greenways to reduce single-use plastic consumption.

The local authority prevention network will shortly publish a handbook on providing public water stations, based on the experiences of local authorities to date. Further consideration of measures to tackle single-use plastics will be undertaken in the context of Ireland's waste action plan. A full public consultation on the development of the plan will be launched before the end of this year.

I welcome the Minister's response. There is support for these practical initiatives across the House. Focus is often devoted to macro issues, such as the need for more renewables and a reduction in our carbon footprint derived from the use of fossil fuels. However, practical things can be done. Based on my experience, some local authorities have, temporarily provided access to water for the public at major outdoor public events. What we are talking about is putting in place permanent infrastructure so that people fill up reusable flasks with water instead of buying plastic bottles of water in shops.

I welcome the Minister's comments on the local authority prevention network providing funding in this area. How much has been spent by local authorities so far? It is fine if he does not have those figures, he can send the information to me in a note. I would like to see how much money was made available for this purpose and how much was drawn down. I welcome a handbook being made available. I assume that is to inform local authorities about how to access the available funding and how this these fountains can be rolled out in a coherent manner. I welcome the progress but more is necessary because the more of these practical measures that are put in place, the more people will recognise that the State is engaging with them and providing alternatives in the context of reducing our carbon footprint and strengthening our environmental protections.

I agree with the Deputy and that was one of the reasons we included other requirements of public bodies, in addition to banning single-use plastics. I refer to the inclusion of a report by the end of this year on resource use in areas such as water waste and energy. It is important that public bodies start to think about how they can reduce the extent to which their staff, clients or customers rely on plastic bottles when there could be alternatives. As far as I know, the €150,000 was all spent, but I will inquire further. Many other organisations, other than public bodies, should also engage in this initiative. I would love to see more private sector organisations getting involved in similar schemes. It is encouraging to see many supermarkets, for example, signing up for plastic pledges. It would be helpful to see fountains in supermarkets and shopping centres. There is, therefore, significant scope to roll out, as part of our waste management plan, some of these ideas that have been rightly identified by the Deputy.

Would the Deputy Cullinane like to make a final comment?

No, the Minister has responded.

We turn now to Question No. 7. Deputy Jack Chambers is attending a committee meeting and has received the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to ask his question and he will be given time if he comes into the Chamber in the next half an hour. He also informed the staff. I am willing to give him that time, if I can have the assistance of the House. Is that agreed? Agreed. I think anyone in committee has to get a chance. Deputy Stanley is also not here at the moment. We will move to Question No. 9.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Electric Vehicles

Thomas Byrne


9. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the timescale for the roll-out of electric car charging points in County Meath under Project Ireland 2040. [49416/19]

This question is to ask the Minister the timescale for the roll-out of the network of electric car charging points in my county of Meath in the context of what is planned as part of Project Ireland 2040.

Under the first call for applications from the climate action fund, funding of €10 million is being provided to the ESB to develop a nationwide, state-of-the-art electric vehicle charging network. The ESB is matching that with €10 million in funding. The project includes the installation of 140 fast chargers and consists of 90 150 kW chargers, each capable of charging two vehicles simultaneously. They will be able to charge vehicles fully in six minutes, so they are very powerful. Another 50 existing standard chargers will be upgraded to 50 kW chargers. The project will also involve replacing more than 500 existing standard charge points with next-generation high reliability models.

This is a multi-annual project and is expected to be fully completed by 2022. The locations of the chargers installed as part of this project have not been finalised. However, a provisional map of the planned network, showing indicative locations, was developed by the ESB and has been published on my Department’s website. The location of the planned installations will, once finalised, be published by the ESB.

An allocation of €36 million has been provided for electric vehicle uptake in 2020. This includes €2 million in funding to support local authorities in the roll-out of on-street public charge points for electric vehicles. This can support the installation of up to 400 on-street chargers in 2020. All local authorities can now apply for funding to the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland, SEAI, in respect of that initiative. In addition, in the first quarter of 2020, we will develop a charging infrastructure strategy and we will also carry out an updated needs analysis for fast chargers based on having 75,000 electric vehicles by 2022. Each year, there will be additional inclusions, meaning there will be some 1,200 local chargers over time.

The indicative map published just before the local elections is typical of this Government. It was all talk, all announcements and no action, as far as I can see. It is not right to simply publish a map of where chargers might be. When money is being committed and major announcements made, my constituents are entitled to know where the chargers will be and when they will be installed. There are a couple of chargers in Kells and Dunboyne and a fast charger halfway between Ratoath and Ashbourne in my constituency. Other than that, however, there is little in the way of electric vehicle infrastructure. That has to change.

When these announcements are made, we are entitled to find out where the Government is planning to carry out these measures. On major infrastructural projects, what is repeatedly happening is that something is announced and the action is then nowhere to be seen. That is the difficulty I have with this announcement.

The information I have is that there are 22 standard charge points and four fast chargers, including non-ESB units, in Meath now. Regarding the roll-out of the project, I announced the funding and the roll-out is now proposed, with that provisional map. Of the 90 fast chargers, 45 will be put in place in 2020 and we currently have 98 50 kW chargers. That number will increase to 52 in 2020.

The upgrading will continue. We will also have the local authority ones I have mentioned. Meath County Council has an opportunity to apply to participate in the scheme that involves 400 additional chargers. I am sure that at the Deputy's urging, the council will get in its application quickly.

I am trying to work out where are the four fast chargers. There is one between Ashbourne and Ratoath and there is one in Navan. I do not know whether the Minister is including the two on the M4, which are just over the border in County Kildare. Maybe the Minister could list them. I have an electric car.

I will get the list for the Deputy.

Are the other two fast chargers at the Applegreen facility?

I will find out.

If the Minister can do so, it would be appreciated. I drive around the county. I know where they are. I use them. They are simply absent in many of the towns in my constituency of Meath East. This is a big problem. There are simple things that we could do. The Minister must do what is needed to fund them. Local authorities should not be allowing service stations to be developed without chargers. That is a very simple thing that could happen immediately. More and more petrol stations are opening, or reopening after being refurbished subject to planning, without being required to have electric car chargers from the start. This must change. It could happen without any Government money. Somebody must end this inaction by telling local authorities to do this. I hope that when the Department makes a submission on county development plans, including the County Meath plan, it will recommend that local authorities should insist on the installation of these chargers as part of their strategies. I think that can be done as well as providing money and plans.

I agree. The planning system already provides certain conditionality. New buildings with ten parking positions must have a charger. From 2025, every building that has 20 parking places will need to have a charger. The Deputy has proposed that we make a change in respect of service stations. I think many of them are planning the installation of these facilities. I suppose this has been triggered by the plan to introduce a charge for fast chargers. That gives people in the private sector an incentive to install such chargers. I believe we will see growth in public chargers and an increase in these alternative sources. Of course the optimum which we try to encourage is for people to charge their cars at home at night.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

Tom Neville


10. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the number of premises which will be passed each year during the deployment of the national broadband plan. [49337/19]

I would like the Minister to tell us how many premises will be passed each year during the deployment of the national broadband plan.

The national broadband plan is the Government's plan to roll out high-speed broadband to the 1.1 million people who live and work in almost 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms and 695 schools, where commercial operators will not commit to deliver the service. The contract to deliver this service was signed on 19 November. Work will begin immediately. A deployment plan will be made available by National Broadband Ireland, NBI, shortly. All counties will see premises passed in the first two years. Over 90% of premises in the State will have access to high-speed broadband within the next four years. Approximately 300 community centres, schools, library hubs and local GAA halls in every county will be connected to high-speed broadband during 2020 to enable communities to get free public access to high-speed broadband. A list of these community centres is available to view on the high-speed broadband map on my Department's website. NBI will pass approximately 10,000 premises by the end of 2020 and approximately 115,000 premises by the end of 2021. Between 70,000 and 100,000 premises will be passed each year thereafter, with the roll-out of the network competed by 2026.

I welcome the roll-out of the national broadband plan. This new superhighway communications infrastructure will combat isolation in rural Ireland and foster population growth and development. This issue has been raised at the doors in recent years in the context of remote access, remote working, reduced commuting times and the compliance concerns of the farming population. A great deal of documentation has to be uploaded through web portals by those involved in farming and by people in rural Ireland who are seeking to avail of various services. High-speed broadband is needed for such uploading, for businesses like website design and for retail. A great deal of bandwidth is needed to design websites. Will the actual roll-out of the plan be done through the local authorities? Are there teams in place, particularly in County Limerick, to decide on which areas outside the hubs that have been chosen will be moved on first? I ask the Minister to make a statement on this matter.

I agree that the future potential of this technology is way beyond the benefit-to-cost ratios we use. It was estimated that there would be a 4% rate of participation in remote working, but we heard this morning that the rate is already 10% and is growing rapidly. I think that will be really valuable for people. It will allow companies to move to more regional locations because they will have confidence that these connections will be available. The roll-out of the broadband connection points has been agreed with local authorities, which have been involved in the selection of such points. NBI will set up the process of providing the 150 Mbps wireless connection to those points. With the support of the Department of Rural and Community Development, we will ensure those centres are properly equipped and functioning so people can use them. There will be different types and different standards of broadband connection points to meet different needs. There will be a sort of hierarchy of what they will deliver. All of them will be in place by 2020. The Deputy also asked about the detail of the wider roll-out. The country is being divided into 110 different boxes, each of which contains approximately 5,000 premises. As I understand it, the company will publish its full roll-out in early January. It has guaranteed that every county will have active laying of fibre during 2021.

I want to digress slightly from this issue by referring to the question of advertising mechanisms in community radio stations, which has been raised with me. Obviously, broadband will have an influence on this. It has been suggested to me that the advertising model for community radio stations is quite restrictive. A community station in my local area, West Limerick 102, has been running since 2005. The area from which it is allowed to gain advertising is confined to the region from which it broadcasts. It cannot go outside that area when it is looking for advertising. I will give the Minister an example of what I am talking about. The station in question cannot go to the next town or the next parish to-----

I think this is a different issue.

I understand that, but this is in relation to online advertising.

I believe the Acting Chair may have an interest in this area. I ask for his indulgence.

Will the Minister re-examine the advertising model for community radio stations? Strictly speaking, a radio station that is broadcasting from Rathkeale, for example, should not take advertisements from Adare, which is the next town, or from Limerick city. These community services have an impact on people in the area. There is a symbiosis between the city and the county. The directly elected mayor is coming. I am raising this issue in the context of online advertising, which has changed the landscape for these radio stations.

In my view, the Deputy's supplementary question is not related to Question No. 10. However, I will allow the Minister to respond if he wishes to do so.

I will have to get the Deputy a separate briefing on this matter. I presume it is tied up with the licence issued by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to the relevant local station. I do not know what is the process for amending a licence. I will revert to the Deputy.

Bord na Móna

Gino Kenny


11. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will meet trade unions representing Bord na Móna workers; his views on their demand that Bord na Móna management attend the Workplace Relations Commission to discuss issues relating to a just transition for their members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49437/19]

I will allow Deputy Bríd Smith to introduce this question, which is in the name of Deputy Gino Kenny.

I must say I learn something new every day when I come into this place. I have learned today that under the same question, a Deputy can skip from the national broadband plan to community radio advertising in a couple of seconds. I am just amazed.

I was asking about online advertising, which is affecting local community radio stations

I must remember that trick as a way of getting a neat little video of myself out ASAP. Question No. 11 happens to be about Bord na Móna and the just transition. I ask the Minister to meet the trade unions representing Bord na Móna workers to hear their views. The unions are demanding that Bord na Móna management attend the Workplace Relations Commission on the question of a just transition for their members.

I assure the Deputy that I have met representatives of the Bord na Móna workers on a number of occasions in recent months. I met the workers most recently on 11 November last, when myself and a number of my Cabinet colleagues visited the Lough Boora Discovery Park and Lough Ree power station. I also met Mr. Tom Donnellan, who is the CEO of Bord na Móna, and Mr. Pat O'Doherty, who is the CEO of ESB, on that date. This followed previous meetings I had held with the worker directors of Bord na Móna, representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Bord na Móna group of unions, and the chief executives of both companies following An Bord Pleanála's decision with regard to the west Offaly power station. I have also met the midlands regional transition team and the regional skills forum on achieving a just transition for the midlands.

On the Deputy's question regarding the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, I dealt with this issue earlier, but I am not sure if the Deputy was here at the time. Essentially, Bord na Móna, while independent, has a joint industrial relations council, which was established under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission. The council is well placed to facilitate discussions between Bord an Móna and the group of unions. However, if there are difficulties around finding solutions, issues could be, as is the normal approach, moved from the joint industrial relations council to the WRC and, if matters remain unresolved, onwards to the Labour Court. The WRC, the services of which I am familiar with, provides useful advisory, conciliation, mediation and arbitration services. It is a useful facility for resolving the undoubtedly difficult issues that are arising.

Like everybody else in the country, I could not help but note the Minister's visit to the midlands and the flurry of fast cars involved in that regard as it was well flagged by RTÉ, etc. I am not accusing the Minister of not understanding the issue, because I would not do that. Various committees have spent hours quizzing the CEO and the unions on the nature of a just transition and how it is dealt with, including two days ago, with officials from the Minister's Department. It has become apparent that there is a complete misunderstanding or disagreement on the meaning of a just transition for workers. On the one hand, it is seen as normal day-to-day business as usual and industrial relations issues that can be dealt with by the joint industrial relations council and on the other it is seen as a major issue to do with a society trying to move away from carbon fuelled industries, the latter being how I see it. If it is about major issues then it has to be dealt with in a different forum to the normal business as usual joint industrial relations council, which is not capable of dealing with the plethora of issues facing these workers and their communities.

I have recognised that much wider context as well. I have appointed a just transition commissioner in the person of Mr. Kieran Mulvey and I have given him a very wide brief in terms of the proposals announced in the budget around developing retrofitting opportunities, repurposing the public service obligation, PSO, to allow work occur on the bogs to do a high level of restoration of bogs so that they become genuine carbon assets of the State. I am also making sure there is wide participation such that we will get good redeployment opportunities and the skills that workers need to transfer will be developed. In this regard, the wider involvement of agencies such as the education and training boards, ETBs, and the institutes of technology is important. The Deputy will be aware that the regional enterprise strategy has at its core the transition to a low carbon economy. I believe that through the just transition commissioner we can assist the development of good projects that will see opportunities develop.

Ultimately, just transition is about finding alternative opportunities that will provide both workers and the regions with a strong prosperous future.

I thank the Minister for his answer because it clarifies for me the dispute I have with him on what a just transition for workers means. It is all of the above as mentioned by the Minister but it is also about how they are treated while their jobs are being done away, what access they have to voluntary redundancy, what that amounts to and who is covered by this agreement. There is a cohort of Bord na Móna and subsidiary company employees who are not covered by the joint industrial relations council. Where do they go? The just transition commissioner's terms of reference are limited to the areas mentioned by the Minister such as retrofitting, restoration of the bogs, etc., but that does not deal with workers who are being dumped on the scrap heap, some of them after 35 or 40 years, with inadequate pensions and redundancy payments and many of them without a choice in terms of whether or not they avail of that redundancy. For many of them, their working hours have been changed and their pay has been cut. Where new industries have been provided, such as the plastics recycling facility at Littleton, contracts of employment are subject to renewal annually and, thus, workers are denied access to the industrial relations machinery because, as the Minister will be aware, to be eligible to access to that machinery an employee must be in employment for a particular length of time. Also, these are minimum wage jobs as opposed to the properly paid jobs that Bord na Móna workers had for decades.

There is a problem with the Minister's interpretation of a just transition for workers. We have to get it right. It is not only about the bogs and redeployment, it is about what happens to workers when they are made redundant. If we do not accept that and we do not give Mr. Kieran Mulvey the scope in his terms of reference to deal with this, as is currently the case, then the only place to deal with this is the Workplace Relations Commission. At a meeting yesterday of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, the committee would not back a proposal from me to send a letter on the issue to the Minister. I am pleading with him to prevail upon Bord na Móna management to attend a just transition forum in the Workplace Relations Commission, which the latter has agreed to facilitate.

The just transition commission is not replicating the industrial relations service of the Workplace Relations Commission. In terms of what I am doing, for which I have obtained funding, I am putting in place a fund that can allow alternative developments to occur, including training for workers. I am also making sure that we repurpose the PSO so that we can continue to employ workers on the same terms and conditions as they have enjoyed before in doing work that will be of real value long-term to rehabilitating the bogs and opening up new opportunities. I am also making sure that we support the emerging opportunities. Some of the assets of Bord na Móna and the ESB can be core to seeing new quality jobs emerge. We need to make sure that the opportunities to develop those opportunities are in place. Mr. Kieran Mulvey will be in a position to make recommendations to Government, through me, on additional measures that he believes are appropriate.

Question No. 12 replied to with Written Answers.

Climate Action Plan

Paul Murphy


13. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will include a four day working week without loss of pay as a measure to significantly reduce emissions in the future climate action plans of his Department. [49324/19]

I am interested in hearing the Minister's views on the introduction of a four-day working week without loss of pay as a measure to substantially reduce carbon emissions. This is a measure that is included in the UK Labour Party manifesto. There are varying estimates regarding what level of carbon savings would be made, including one of 16%. This measure forms part of our green new deal with socialist policies, which precisely illustrates how we can stop climate catastrophe and dramatically improve people's lives.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

The focus of the climate action plan is on the sectors generating the major greenhouse gas emissions. These are agriculture, power generation, the energy use of buildings, transport, industrial processes and resource-use by all sectors. The plan has identified the policies that can deliver change at least cost and offering most opportunity. More flexible work patterns can be a part of the strategy which individual bodies can consider as part of a climate plan, such as through remote working. The plan encourages public bodies and enterprise to consider the actions which can assist. The Government is committed through Future Jobs Ireland to developing and implementing a range of measures aimed at making participation in the workforce more flexible and, therefore, easing barriers to entry into the workforce. This includes measures aimed at intelligent working arrangements, such as the development of guidelines for employers on flexible working options; child care provision; reducing disincentives for those who wish to work longer; and targeting certain cohorts through the public employment service

The climate action plan recognises that the implementation of the national planning framework will help to underpin these measures by promoting development involving reduced travel distances and greater proximity to employment and services, which will enable a greater proportion of journeys by means of active travel. The successful roll-out of the national broadband plan will also stimulate remote working opportunities and increase the creation of local employment opportunities, which allows more people to work closer to their homes, reducing the emissions associated with longer commuter journeys.

Policy matters in regard to working hours falls under the remit of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

I asked the Minister to comment on proposals to reduce the working week to four days. I would argue that that should be combined with no loss of pay such that people are not harmed. This is part of a green new deal vision for transforming our society, avoiding climate catastrophe and giving people time to contribute to society, taking advantage of massive productivity increases the benefits of which overwhelmingly go to the bosses and the capitalists.

There is a trade union campaign in Ireland for a four-day working week. It refers to the study in Sweden that shows that for every 1% reduction in working hours, energy consumption and emissions are reduced by 0.8%. If that was translated to Ireland and we worked to a four day working week, emissions could be reduced by 16%. Various studies show clear benefits in productivity, mental health and workers being happy and contributing at work and in society. It would benefit workers in this country.

A four-day working week without loss of pay raises far wider issues than climate. I am happy to look at evidence of any policy initiative and its impact on climate. If there is data, I will examine it. Clearly, things such as remote working which reduce people's use of public transport is a way of doing the same. If people work one day from home, they will get much of the savings. Every year, we will review policy proposals that are submitted. We rely on the advice of the Climate Advisory Council to evaluate some of those policies. It depends on what happens when a person is not working and if output is the same will there be a saving of carbon emissions. Many other accompanying policies would have to be put in place to see whether such an initiative would have a significant impact. In the short term we must work on the fabric of our buildings, on the make-up of our transport fleets and the shape of our generation capacity. Those are the big items we must shift.

There was a time when workers worked seven days a week, working six full days and a half day on Sunday. It was a gain by the labour movement to get rid of the Sunday and eventually the Saturday. Effectively since that time working hours have remained quite stable as each productivity gain delivered by workers has been gobbled up in the form of profits. I agree that this goes beyond climate change, there is no question of that; it goes to the question of the kind of society that we want to have, what we want to spend wealth on and whether we wish to continue merely to boost the profits of big multinational corporations or to improve people's lives and take significant action to reduce carbon emissions. The demand for this will grow and grow. The trade union campaign on this is building. The research in Britain showed that workers were ill less often, less stressed, happier, more productive, developed their skills, travelled less and it attracted workers into the industries where four-day weeks applied. As part of a vision for a socialist society where people participate, a participatory democracy, freeing up time for people to be able to participate in their communities and workplaces to have democratic control is important.

The Deputy is articulating a position which is a valid aspiration, however what I have been asked to do is ensure that our power generation shifts to renewable sources, that our buildings are more energy efficient and that our industrial processes are less carbon intensive and that we change the shape of our transport system. I must focus on those as they are the areas that will deliver a shift in the dial of carbon emissions. The Deputy will recognise that what he raises is a much wider issue for Irish society to consider. I must focus on my own work.

Just Transition Fund

We agreed earlier to return to Deputy Jack Chambers' question. He is now back from the committee and will put his question to the Minister.

Jack Chambers


7. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the way in which he will ensure the participation of ESB and Bord na Móna workers and affected communities in the development of a coherent just transition response; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49382/19]

I appreciate the Acting Chairman and the House facilitating me. Although a just transition commissioner has recently been appointed and carbon tax revenues have been allocated toward the challenge there is still considerable uncertainty around how existing Bord na Móna and ESB jobs will be protected, contracts honoured and workers provided with alternative employment. Will the Minister set out how workers and communities will immediately be included in the development of a fair and transparent just transition process and not a mere brief consultation phase?

The Government has appointed Mr. Kieran Mulvey as the Just Transition Commissioner on a non-statutory basis to facilitate discussions and work with stakeholders to develop, mobilise and deliver opportunities for the midlands for both the workers directly affected and the wider community. I have asked the commissioner to engage with all relevant stakeholders, including local community organisations, Bord na Móna, ESB, the Midlands Transition Team, local authorities and public representatives, and relevant trade unions and workers' representatives.

The commissioner will report to Government through me and I have asked him to consider specifically the following matters in relation to recommendations to be made. This includes the delivery of the just transition measures provided for in budget 2020, the optimal structures or processes to support co-ordinated and effective delivery, including developing liaison channels between institutions in the region and central Government, the implementation of other actions underway, or planned, by Departments and agencies that could assist in the just transition and any additional actions or measures that he considers appropriate for Government consideration.

The commissioner has also been invited to take account of relevant existing plans and programmes such as the regional enterprise development.

On immediate resources that are available, the budget announced €20 million for a new energy efficiency retrofitting scheme to be focused on the midlands, €5 million for peatland rehabilitation outside of the Bord na Móna estate, €6 million for a dedicated new just transition fund, with ESB agreeing to contribute an additional €5 million. We are also seeking to repurpose the public service obligation, PSO, to support a much higher level of bog restoration on Bord na Móna bogs so that workers will continue to work on the bogs but instead of extracting, will work to rehabilitate the bogs. Finally, we have succeeded in having peat included in the EU coal platform which will be relevant to the commissioner's work.

The Minister has given little clarity on the steps the Government is taking immediately to address, redeploy and reskill workers in the communities affected. There is a 2020 deadline for the ESB. As the ICTU told the Committee on Climate Action this week, when the jobs are gone, they are gone and the people are unemployed. That transition and certainty is still absent. It is vital that the newly appointed commissioner meets with worker representatives, community and environmental groups before the end of the year. Local input into planning and implementation is essential to the success of this process. The Government has not put forward any specific timeline or deadlines for the new commissioner's recommendations. It is important that the Government's quarterly reports include ongoing activities, conclusions and recommendations and are brought to the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Will the Minister confirm that these steps will be taken? What responsibilities will the commissioner have for allocating any funds in communities in the midlands and Clare? On new sources of funding, will he outline how and when the PSO level will be repurposed to support job creation and clarify whether the EU platform for coal will provide financial support?

We are providing immediate funding for bog restoration on both non-Bord na Móna bogs and Bord na Móna bogs. We are working to get final approval from the EU under state aid. We have submitted a Bord na Móna proposal to get the additional repurposed PSO which will allow significant numbers to be re-employed on the bogs doing restoration to a much higher level. We have also committed to rolling out a retrofitting programme in the midlands. We recognise that will require retraining. No doubt the regional skills forum, which has already adopted a low-carbon transition objective, will look at the sorts of skills that are needed to complement those already available to Bord na Móna workers to make the change.

The commissioner will make recommendations as to how the just transition fund should be best deployed. It will obviously seek to select the best ideas that emerge from the local communities for the development of alternative opportunities along with those I already outlined. I mentioned that we are part of the EU coal platform. It will be a question for the new Commission under the multi-annual funding framework as to whether it provides funding. There was no such funding element by the last Commission but I understand the President of the Commission has given positive indications for the future.

The block allocation mentioned by the Minister is necessary and welcome but we need to know what that will mean for workers in Bord na Móna and the ESB. There is uncertainty and the fear of worker representatives is that jobs will be lost and not regained. Does the Minister accept the point made by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, that a forum for immediate and direct engagement with Bord na Móna workers is urgently needed that is above and beyond what is there from the just transition commissioner and that the Minister must take the lead in ensuring dialogue between the two sides? As the Minister knows, Bord na Móna representatives have said it will not engage with the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, process and the Minister stated before that the just transition commissioner has no role in these matters.

On a separate but related point, the Department's public consultation on the long-term climate strategy for submission to the European Commission by year-end is open for only 15 working days. Why was such a short period provided when we have known about the importance of the strategy for over a year? How will the Department be able to review and incorporate input from the public consultation in just nine working days? It seems to be a token public consultation process and I am concerned about it. There is genuine public willingness to provide input to the Department and the Minister on these matters.

The Deputy is asking whether the just transition commissioner will have an industrial relations role. It has been clear that he will not have an industrial relations role. We have a joint industrial relations council between Bord na Móna and its unions chaired by the WRC. Unresolved issues can be escalated in the normal way to the Workplace Relations Commission. As Mr. Kieran Mulvey was formerly the director general of the Workplace Relations Commission, people may presume his new role will be similar but the Deputy understands that the professional Workplace Relations Commission must fill that role. It has great experience in dealing with difficult matters. We must ensure alternative opportunities emerge, which is the primary purpose of this process, and we must also ensure that the redeployment and retraining that Bord na Móna workers will need to avail of these opportunities will be available. It will form the core of Mr. Mulvey's work, although he will be empowered to make recommendations to the Government as he sees fit.

Question No. 14 replied to with Written Answers.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

Pat Deering


15. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the impact the provision of high-speed broadband in rural areas will have on remote working and flexible working arrangements; the impact this may have in tackling climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49341/19]

The Minister knows that one of the most important announcements of the past number of weeks concerned the national broadband plan. It is long-awaited by rural Deputies like me. Many people have been waiting to see how they could change their working lifestyles or implement a more flexible pattern of working from home. What will be the impact of rolling out high-speed broadband to rural areas, with consequent remote or flexible working arrangements, in helping to tackle climate change as well as everything else?

There is no doubt the availability of high-speed broadband in rural areas will have a transformative effect. As I have stated, high-speed broadband will be the most basic service in the long term and will be thought of like rural electrification. We will look back on this as being a very important decision, with people probably being puzzled as to why there was so much controversy about it. The changes it will facilitate are very broad-based and home working is very definitely one of those. I recall from the estimates of benefits to be accrued in the cost-benefit analysis that currently only 4% of the working population avail of remote working. There are reports today that this has moved to 10% and many companies are now making a standard provision in this respect.

There will be an additional benefit in that in more rural locations, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will find it much easier to locate new investment because they will have the confidence that staff and employees can have access to high-speed broadband and the sort of connectivity that this provides. This has been a barrier to investment in the past. There is extraordinary potential in other areas, including remote health or remote education. As we have already seen in the past couple of years, we are increasingly dependent on connectivity to run our lives. This dependence will increase, which is why it so important that rural Ireland can be involved with the very same technologies as urban dwellers.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I come from Carlow, where 8,000 homes will be connected over a period and there will be €32 million in investment. People say we are an hour from Dublin but, as I have regularly seen, one can sit in a car for over two and a half hours to get to Dublin even coming here to work every day. It applies to many people. It is very important that this service can be up and running as soon as possible so people can get the opportunity to use it. I welcome the Minister's comments on IDA investment into rural Ireland getting more jobs into that area. Has the Department had any conversations with IDA Ireland on the fast-tracking of specific areas for broadband connections, which may help attract businesses to more rural areas?

IDA Ireland is always consulted in any of these initiatives. We have identified 300 broadband connection points right across the country in every county and there is a focus on more remote areas. Many are on islands that might otherwise have no access to such a connection. During 2020 we will deliver 150 Mbps capacity to those centres and some of them will be very significant; they could represent hot desk and enterprise hubs, while others will be smaller and community-related. In the long term, we are guaranteeing that all 540,000 premises will have access to high-speed broadband, which is future-proofing the process. This is fibre to the home, which is the highest standard of connection and it is protected against future needs. Within ten years it will offer capacity of 500 Mbps or 1 Gbps to business users. This will be transformative in enterprise development.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I emphasise again the importance of this project getting up and running as soon as possible. We must clarify the timescale of the initial roll-out of the scheme. We initially said it would happen in early 2020 but that is only six weeks away at this stage. What is the timescale for getting into the regions?

We will deliver the 300 broadband connection points during 2020 and also in that year the laying of fibre will commence in 15 counties, with 10,000 homes or premises to be connected. In 2021 we will see the big impact, with every county involved and 115,000 homes or premises getting connected. There will be 70,000 to 100,000 premises connected each year thereafter. There will be a major ramping up in the process, with 146,000 km of fibre being laid. It is a huge logistical operation.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.