Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements

I am pleased to make the annual sectoral adaptation transition statement to the Dáil on the steps taken by my Department in 2019. As part of the Government's climate action plan and in accordance with the national adaptation framework in October 2019, my Department published two sectoral adaptation plans, one addressing biodiversity and the other on built and archaeological heritage. My Department also has responsibility for implementing several mitigation measures in the climate action plan, including those relating to peatland conservation and the development of guidance for the retrofit of historic buildings. The two sectoral adaptation plans published by my Department are part of series of five adaptation plans covering our natural and cultural capital. My colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, spoke last week about plans for seafood, agriculture and forestry.

As we know, biodiversity is fundamental to our natural capital, the stock of natural assets required to sustain a healthy economic and social life. Biodiversity provides us with clean air, water, food, materials, medicines and health benefits. It supports pollination and soil fertility, regulates climate and protects us from extreme weather and other effects of climate change. Despite the important role that biodiversity plays in underpinning our economy, health and resilience to climate change, we are losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during previous mass extinctions. By the end of the century, climate change is likely to become the most significant driver of biodiversity loss. Increases in temperature will change the timing of life cycle events and the distribution of species. The physical impact of more intense storms and increased winter and spring rainfall will accelerate the degradation of habitats that are already compromised by unsustainable practices. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity needs to be escalated.

Actions within the biodiversity climate change adaptation plan are aimed at improving sustainable agriculture, including better soil and land management and, most urgently, the restoration of natural systems. We have moved into the implementation phase of this adaptation plan and many actions are being progressed. One of the most foundational actions to be taken will be the action to account for the economic value of biodiversity and the role it plays in sustaining our economic and social life. This occurs through the provision of ecosystem services, such as pollination, and, as we are now most aware, on the risk of disease in humans.

We are working with the research community to value ecosystem services and to develop a roadmap towards the integration of natural capital values into national accounts and reporting systems. This will strengthen the business case to promote nature-based solutions as a climate adaptation tool for other sectors. I welcome the inclusion of nature-based solutions as part of the local climate adaption plans. Together, we can address the societal challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Some of the actions my Department is taking will assist us to adapt to climate change and, through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate its effects by improving data availability and taking action on foot of that data. My Department has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency as part of a transnational research call to investigate the consequences of climate change on biodiversity and the potential of nature-based solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Submissions are currently being evaluated. We will also provide technical support to the Geological Survey of Ireland, which will be monitoring and modelling groundwater levels to further understand how possible climate change scenarios might impact on a range of Irish groundwater systems. My Department funds the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which is undertaking important work deriving climate change indicators through monitoring programmes and citizen science.

As we are all aware, our peatlands can play a strong natural role in climate regulation. Carbon loss from drainage and damage to peatlands can be stopped or reduced through the restoration of bogs and good hydrological management measures. That is why our aim, as outlined in the climate action plan, is ultimately to restore over 22,000 ha of our unique raised bog habitat. The national protected raised bog restoration programme is being accelerated this year with funding of €5 million for peatlands restoration allocated from revenue raised from the increase in the carbon tax in budget 2020. This funding will allow for restoration measures to be undertaken on over 1,800 ha of designated raised bog in 2020 on up to nine sites across seven counties in the midlands. The 2020 programme has already commenced with the appointment of Bord na Móna, through a public procurement process, to project-manage the programme, to provide other necessary professional services and to undertake the work on the nine sites.

I hope that the restoration works will commence in the coming weeks. A specialised piece of equipment, called an eddy covariance flux tower, is also scheduled to be installed at a designated raised bog site to monitor ecosystem scale fluxes of turbulent energy, water and greenhouse gases between the bog and the atmosphere. Twenty-three other raised bog designated sites have been identified for restoration works over the next number of years under the national protected raised bog restoration programme.

We are also taking action in respect of our blanket bogs. My Department led a recent successful bid to secure EU LIFE funding to implement concrete actions in 24 blanket bog special areas of conservation, SACs, in Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim. Conservation measures will increase the resilience of these blanket bog complexes to climate change and contribute to carbon sequestration and water regulation.

Our built and archaeological heritage is as irreplaceable a resource as our natural environment, not only for its intrinsic value and contribution to our individual and collective well-being, but as a cornerstone of our tourism industry, which is vital to many of our regional economies. Our heritage is vulnerable to climate change impacts, including flooding, storm damage, coastal erosion, microbiological growth and wildfire. It is also vulnerable to maladaptation, which is the inadvertent loss or damage to heritage structures and sites during adaptation works by others.

The built and archaeological heritage sectoral adaptation plan that my Department published in October 2019 has five key goals: first, improve understanding of each heritage resource and its vulnerability to climate change impacts; second, develop and mainstream sustainable policies and plans for climate change adaptation of built and archaeological heritage; third, conserve Ireland’s heritage for future generations; fourth, communicate and transfer knowledge; and fifth, exploit the opportunities for built and archaeological heritage to demonstrate value and secure resources.

Among the tasks identified to achieve these goals are conducting risk and vulnerability assessments, undertaking monitoring of climate change impacts on heritage assets and integrating heritage issues into national and local policies. Capacity building, disaster risk management and increasing heritage resilience will also be vital steps in implementing the plan. Climate change issues will be fully integrated into forthcoming policies of my Department, including the national heritage plan, Heritage Ireland 2030, Places for People - National Policy on Architecture, and the national vernacular strategy.

Cross-sectoral impacts, including in the areas of flood relief, agriculture and energy efficiency measures, will be critical to manage in protecting Ireland’s heritage assets. My Department has revised its built heritage investment scheme criteria to allow local authorities, on a pilot basis, to fund works of maintenance and minor repair in order to increase the resilience of historic structures to climate change. In 2020, we will publish guidance for the custodians of historic buildings on dealing with disasters, including climate-related disasters such as flooding, weather damage, decay and rot and catastrophic collapse.

Under the climate action plan, my Department has been tasked with leading the development of retrofitting guidance for traditionally built or historic buildings. This work is necessary to support the commitment in the climate action plan to retrofit 500,000 homes, most public sector buildings and up to one third of commercial or mixed-use buildings by 2030. The guidance is intended for designers, specifiers, installers and property managers and will make an important contribution to achieving our target of reducing emissions from the built environment by 5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030.

A working group has been established, chaired by my Department and including officials from the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Communications, Climate Action and Environment, and Education and Skills, the Heritage Council and the OPW, to oversee the preparation of this guidance. It is anticipated that a draft will be issued for public consultation in late 2020.

With both climate change adaptation plans published on 31 October 2019, my Department continues to welcome close ongoing working relationships with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and other stakeholders. We are continuing to work with our adaptation partners across government in establishing the framework for the plan's implementation in the years ahead. This collaboration is a vital component in the delivery of our plans as we seek to make effective use of limited resources. In light of those limited resources, the initial focus on both sectoral adaptation plans to date has been to establish baseline data, undertake risk vulnerability assessments and continue to integrate climate change adaptation into our existing plans and policies, such as heritage management plans and future polices.

There is no doubt that we must do much more to halt the decline of biodiversity in our country, protect our built and archaeological heritage and take steps to improve the resilience of our built and natural environment to climate change. Our quality of life and our future prosperity depend on the steps we take now. I hope that Deputies across the House will continue to advocate for and support the necessary steps, beginning with a commitment to implement fully the actions outlined in the sectoral adaptation plans.

I call on Fianna Fáil. Deputy Niamh Smyth is sharing her time.

I will be sharing with Deputies Niall Collins, McAuliffe and Pádraig O'Sullivan.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the opportunity to debate the annual transition statement as it relates to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Unfortunately, due to the time lapse between when this debate was supposed to happen in January and now, the circumstances in which the transition will take place have changed utterly. Though only six months old, the document is in many respects a relic of another time. For example, it makes no mention of the European Green Deal, which will now play a pivotal role in climate action over the course of the next 30 years, and it predates the Covid-19 pandemic and the changes that have flowed from same.

While there may have been some positive developments in recent times, the current action plan is not capable of delivering the necessary annual emission targets to meet our Paris Agreement commitments. The latest data from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, indicated that Ireland ranked 26th out of 28 EU countries for progress to the 2020 renewable targets. If we do not make the significant changes required now, the opportunity will be lost forever.

We must look to the future, and this debate gives us an opportunity to highlight some of the commitments contained in the draft programme for Government, Our Shared Future. Protecting our national heritage and biodiversity is a key ambition of the programme and it makes concrete proposals and commitments in terms of how that will be achieved. More than a year has passed since the Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. The next Government needs to respond to that. The programme will see improving biodiversity as an all-of-Government ambition, one that will see significant involvement by our local authorities. A citizens' assembly on biodiversity will be established. All actors with the State need to be on board if we are to execute the change that is so desperately needed.

In the draft programme for Government, commitments in the areas of biodiversity and natural and built heritage are made. We commit to progressing the establishment of a citizens' assembly on biodiversity. We commit to promoting biodiversity initiatives across primary, post-primary and third level sectors and ensuring that our schools, colleges and universities across the country play an active role in providing areas to promote biodiversity. This is about the next generation. We have often seen our schools raising their green flags in respect of biodiversity. It is the promotion and development of those types of initiatives that the next Government will have to ensure if we are to improve biodiversity.

We will renew the remit, status and funding of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, to ensure that it plays an effective role in delivering on its overall mandate and enforcement role in the protection of wildlife. It was only a number of weeks ago that the House held a good debate on that very issue.

We will ensure that all local authorities have sufficient numbers of biodiversity and heritage officers among their staff complements. All of us have good relationships with our respective heritage officers. For example, I have a good relationship with our excellent people in Cavan and Monaghan who go to great lengths under their five-year heritage plans to engage with local groups and organisations and with people on the ground who care passionately about biodiversity and natural heritage. They are the people whom we need to support with resources if we are to deliver on those plans.

Plans are one thing but implementing and delivering those plans is the measure of them.

We will support biodiversity data collection, publish a new national pollination plan and encourage public bodies to promote and protect biodiversity. We will review the protection of our national heritage, including hedgerows, native woodland and wetlands. We will develop a national invasive species management plan. We will co-ordinate the actions in the programme for Government regarding peatlands and the maximising of benefits for biodiversity. We will introduce policies and supports for urban biodiversity and tree planting while encouraging and supporting local authorities to reduce the use of pesticides in public areas. We will continue to implement the third national biodiversity plan 2017-21 and support local nature groups and local authorities to work in partnership on local biodiversity projects.

We all have had connections with different community groups around the country that have won the Golden Mile competition. I have seen the huge importance of that initiative locally when people begin to take note and become more aware of their natural and built heritage. It also encourages people from outside a particular area to go and enjoy the national treasures to be found there. Projects like these, managed by local authorities, need to be enhanced and that requires funding and resources. We will continue to raise awareness of biodiversity through initiatives like the annual biodiversity awards scheme. We will build on the success of the UNESCO Dublin Bay biosphere and achieve further UNESCO designations for Irish sites, including the Lough Allen region. We will appoint education liaison officers in each of our national parks to work with schools across the country to promote the importance of biodiversity and the natural world and involve pupils in the work that goes on in the parks.

In regard to our built heritage, we will publish and implement the new whole-of-government heritage policy and begin its nationwide implementation. We will explore multiannual funding models and ensure adequate funding is made available for the implementation of each county heritage plan. I compliment the work of Anne Marie Ward and Shirley Clerkin in the local authorities in Cavan and Monaghan, respectively, for the amazing work they do with very few resources. We will continue to support the role of heritage officers in the areas of heritage, education, health, well-being and citizen science. We will encourage each local authority to appoint a conservation and repurposing officer. There is a huge amount of important work to be done in this area when people have the backing.

We will build on community-led schemes such as the built heritage investment scheme and the structures at risk fund and provide grant aid to protect and maintain important historical buildings in our local communities. All over the country, we can see how the Heritage Council, the built heritage investment scheme and the structures at risk fund have made an enormous impact in protecting buildings where there would not otherwise be the funds to save, protect and conserve them. Old farmhouses and coach houses, for instance, are some of the important buildings right across the country which we need to do all we can to save and maintain.

We will encourage traditional building skills and devise an apprentice programme that will help to build a sustainable construction sector focusing on heritage disciplines and crafts. We will expand the heritage in schools scheme so that more students can enjoy our rich natural heritage and culture. We will continue the expansion of the national inventory of architectural heritage and include modern and industrial buildings in it. We will continue to develop and implement the master plan for our national parks and national reserves. Finally, we will establish a scheme for all schools promoting visits to our historic OPW sites.

I would like to address two issues in respect of which I hope the Minister will get back to me in her own time, through her Department. The first concerns the village of Bruree in County Limerick, where the home place of the late President of Ireland and former Taoiseach Éamon de Valera is located. A museum dedicated to his life and times is situated in the village and just outside the village is the home place itself, known as De Valera's Cottage, which is vested in the OPW. The museum does not do our history and culture and the part Éamon de Valera played in building and developing this country any justice at all. There is a local committee which is doing its best to support and keep the museum going but, to the best of my knowledge, there has been absolutely no input or support from the Minister's Department. There is a huge opportunity for the Department and the State to explore the possibility of developing an interpretative centre in Bruree and harnessing the history, culture and heritage of the area and its association with Éamon de Valera, who grew up there. Will the Department look into this issue and engage with me, the local committee and the public in Limerick on it? For such a high-profile person who played such a significant role in the history of the State, what is there in Bruree at the moment completely undersells the importance of it.

The second issue I want to raise is not directly under the stewardship of the Minister and her Department but she will have an interest in it. The Shannon Group, through its subsidiary Shannon Commercial Properties, which manages a number of heritage sites - I understand it runs 12 to 14 sites between Galway, Limerick, Clare and Dublin - is proposing to close these sites after opening for only a six-week period. The most high-profile site is King John's Castle in the centre of Limerick city, on which Shannon Commercial Properties has a lease from Limerick City and County Council. It also manages Bunratty Castle in County Clare and other outstanding heritage and tourism sites. If we are serious about promoting holidaying at home, closing these sites at the end of August is really crazy. There is a huge groundswell of support right across the mid-west for these sites to remain open for far longer. While I recognise that this matter is not directly under the Minister's stewardship, I ask her to express a view that these cultural and heritage sites, which the public up and down the country will want to visit in numbers far beyond the end of August, should remain open.

I have two queries for the Minister. First, I welcome the announcement of €25 million in funding for the Arts Council. Many politicians here and at local authority level were lobbied hard on this matter over recent months and the funding is broadly welcomed. Following on from that, a number of small cinemas, theatres, local arts groups and arts centres are looking to reopen post-Covid but many of them have charitable status and, therefore, may not be eligible for the programme that is being offered in terms of rates rebates and so on. Has any facility been opened specifically for those groups, particularly if they do not qualify for the existing programme because they did not pay rates in 2019? We all know the importance of the arts, especially in this period. Many of us who attend small cinemas and local theatres miss that form of entertainment. As soon as we can get those buildings retrofitted and kitted out for life post-Covid, it will be most welcome. I would like to hear what steps the Department is taking to allow that to happen.

The second issue I want to raise concerns the Harper's Island bird sanctuary in Glounthaune, County Cork. Both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Cork County Council are doing a great job in funding that facility, which protects the predominantly winter birds there, and the associated local amenity walk. As I was reading the programme for Government document, I was hoping that all the funding that is being sidelined for greenways and that type of activity will have a trickle-down effect on wildlife habitats like Harper's Island. Anybody in this House who, like me, comes from a local authority background - I spent six years on Cork County Council - will know that we are great to talk about heritage, ecology and biodiversity but when it comes to boots on the ground in each of the local authorities, it can be a different matter. In Cork County Council, for example, we have one heritage officer and one ecologist. We are great in here at talking about the tremendous work these people do but that is not much use if we do not resource them.

I hope that if a Government is formed and a programme for Government is delivered there will be real emphasis on these areas. We need to stop using the issue as a talking point and deliver on the ground. Unfortunately, while the local authorities are doing great work in this area they are under-resourced and so much of the responsibility is surrendered to local community groups. That needs to change.

Deputy Niamh Smyth raised a number of issues. On the documents, they are effectively organic and they will be continuously updated taking into account some of the changes mentioned by the Deputy, including the EU Green New Deal and Covid-19. I welcome all the very extensive provisions delineated in the programme for Government. It is really comprehensive around biodiversity in particular and heritage. Deputy Smyth mentioned built and archaeological heritage as well.

Deputy Niall Collins mentioned De Valera's Cottage in Limerick. There are departmental schemes to which the committee could make an application. I am not sure if it has already done so. I am not familiar with the history of the particular place mentioned but my officials could take a look at it.

It is a cottage and a museum.

Yes. There are departmental capital grant schemes under which the committee could make an application. My officials can meet and liaise with them in regard to their application. The other places mentioned by the Deputy are not under my remit but they would be subject to the guidelines of the roadmap in terms of reopening.

Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan mentioned local arts centres. That area is covered as well. There is additional investment there in terms of the €5 million I announced yesterday separate from the Arts Council funding, which will go towards assisting those regional arts centres. I am aware of Harper's Island as well and the good work it does.

Táim ag roinnt mo chuid ama leis na Teachtaí Mairéad Farrell agus Darren O'Rourke. The Minister's opening statement and in particular the programmes of her Department are laudable. If is often very difficult to find any fault with what is contained within them. The fault is usually inaction and not just in terms of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht but in regard to many other plans that are put before us in that timeframes, targets and so on are never complied with or often do not exist. When we talk here about sustainable development and biodiversity often the words do not reflect the urgency required or the funding required to reverse the damage that we have done in recent times to the sustainability of our island.

Over the past number of years, I have raised with the Minister and her Department a number of issues on which I do not believe we have moved as quickly as we should have, including the pollinators' campaign. It is laudable that local authorities have taken this on but more needs to be done in terms of ensuring bees, the red squirrel, curlew and other species that are endangered in our countryside can start to thrive again. There is always a conflict or, at least, a clash between development and wildlife as we try to get more out of the land. We have seen the consequences of this in terms of our hedgerows throughout the country. Farmers need to be able to earn a living from the land. The policies of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which force them to try to extract more from the land, have endangered the sustainability of that very agriculture or the sustainability of our biodiversity.

My criticism is directed not at the Minister but at the Department as it has existed for the past number of years. Taking the example of New Zealand, in its last budget, €1.1 billion was provided to preserve and conserve its biodiversity, thus creating 11,000 new jobs to try to ensure that as a society it will benefit into the future. This presented no threat to its agriculture. Many of the policies provided for within the €1.1 billion enhanced agriculture to ensure that it and wildlife could live side-by-side or benefit from each other in many ways. I would like the Minister to outline how many of the new jobs that have been created in the wildlife or heritage services were created in the last year and if all of the local authorities now have a designated heritage officer to ensure this aspect is delivered. How much has been spent on the removal of noxious weeds and alien species in comparison to the damage they are doing in many of our wildlife parks and also in our urban centres?

The Minister spoke about our role in protecting our architectural and historical built environment. On Moore Street, when will the State move to protect the walkways of history that is Moore Street and its environs? The committee, of which I was a member, submitted its report to the Minister last July but no additional action has been taken since then to protect and preserve that aspect of Moore Street. I have previously raised with the Minister the issue of funding for local museums and heritage centres to ensure they can put their collections online. How much of that funding has been drawn down or has money been set aside to allow them to do that work?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus ba mhaith liom an t-am a roinnt idir mé féin agus an tAire chun deis a thabhairt di freagra a thabhairt ar no chuid ceisteanna. Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil sé dochreidte agus go hiomlán do-ghlactha nár tugadh deis dúinn an Ghaeltacht a phlé go dtí seo agus nach mbeidh plé iomlán air seo os comhair na Dála mar is os comhair an Choiste Speisialta um Fhreagra ar Covid-19 a bheidh é seo á phlé. Tá na ceantair Ghaeltachta buailte go dona ag an bpaindéim seo agus ba chóir go mbeadh sé pléite ann cheana féin leis an Aire sinsearach, a bhfuil dualgais aici maidir leis an nGaeltacht.

A Aire, we are in a climate emergency and we need action to be taken by every sector to ensure that we fulfil and deliver on our targets. The restrictions on movement over the past few months have provided people with an opportunity to visit local woodlands and beaches. I live in Galway city and I am very lucky that Merlin Park Woods and Ballyloughane beach are within a 2 km radius of my home. Merlin Park Woods is a fantastic amenity for those living in the large estates in the area. It is a fantastic amenity owing to the work carried out there by Friends of Merlin Woods, a voluntary organisation which has kept it to the fore. For us to ensure our woodlands, beaches and heritage sites remain fantastic amenities this work should be led by local councils. They should not be solely reliant on voluntary organisations.

Another interesting point in regard to the past few months is that many people have for the first time visited local heritage sites in their area.

An absolutely fantastic resource that so many people I know used was the historic environment map viewer. This documents the different historic sites and monuments across Ireland and it gave people an opportunity to look at those sites within a 2 km radius of their homes. There was an awful lot of excitement when the latter changed to 5 km and people could look at the viewer again. This shows the importance of these sites and of ensuring that they are not allowed to become dilapidated, which is unfortunately the case for many of them. This year has shown us the importance, for everyone, of our own local cultural sites in our local areas, especially if we are looking to promote holidaying at home. The Minister mentioned the upgrading of these sites and that is absolutely essential.

I also want to raise an issue relating to the arts sector. The arts sector has long been very vocal and to the forefront on heritage, promoting climate action and so on. For example, the green arts initiative has worked with Creative Carbon Scotland and that has been organised through Theatre Forum Ireland. Their work has shown that while venues have a lack of environmental policies, 80% of them have green ambassadors in their organisation. This shows clearly that there is a willingness to make theatres more green. However, the supports might not be in place. What role is the Department playing in supporting venues, theatres and arts centres to develop their own environmental policies in order to ensure that work continues?

This comes on the back of the fact that I am from Galway. If we are looking to promote the environment and our heritage, it is very important that it is involved in everything we do. Galway had the honour of being awarded the European Capital of Culture 2020. There was a huge amount of buzz and excitement about it and it included all different aspects of organisations, though there have been issues with it since. Has a formal request been made to extend the Galway European Capital of Culture programme 2020? As a result of the Covid-19 restrictions, many of the events that had been planned, which would have promoted the culture, environment and heritage of Galway city and county, have been cancelled.

The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says precious little about our heritage, our past or our archaeology. There is literally one line in it which states: "There will be detrimental impacts to social and cultural assets." Sin é - that is the sum total.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important matter. It is very important that we recognise the importance of our built and archaeological heritage, including sites of historic and cultural significance and also recognise that they are threatened by climate change. Most importantly, we must recognise what we might lose if that were to happen, not only in terms of the physical artefacts but also the heritage, identity, stories, memories and meaning those sites carry. It is important work. Sites are at risk of damage as a result of flooding, storms, coastal erosion, soil movement, pests and moles, fires and maladaptation, among other things. We have seen examples of this across the island, such as the partial collapse of Dunbeg Fort in Dingle in 2018, the impact of coastal and inland erosion on the Spanish Armada wrecks off the Sligo coast and the collapse of Rathcannon Castle during Storm Ophelia. There are many more examples which were well identified during the consultation relating to the drawing up of the sectoral adaptation plan. The consultation document is interesting because it gives an insight into the importance people place on their local heritage sites. I commend the work of local heritage groups. I am familiar with the work of many of them in my constituency, including those in Kells and Ashbourne. Ashbourne is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year.

On the other hand, we have also seen some benefits, for want of a better word, from extreme weather events. In Meath in 2018, the very dry weather resulted in the discovery of further archaeological features across the Brú na Bóinne world heritage site. Similarly, ancient skeletons were unearthed by Storm Ophelia. Overall, it is a story of threat and risk and a question of conservation, protection and management.

I have two questions. First, at what stage of progress are the management plans relating to Tara and Sceilg Mhichíl and will they adequately consider the potential impact of climate change? Second, what plans has the Minister to address the challenge of climate change and heritage in the context of tourism demand?

I will try to work backwards and answer all the Deputies' questions. Deputy O'Rourke mentioned Tara, Brú na Bóinne and Skellig Michael. My Department has responded to climate change risk to our built and archaeological heritage with a comprehensive adaptation plan, which I outlined earlier. This aims to reduce vulnerability to developing risks and monitoring climate change impacts. As a result, climate change adaptation will be built into all heritage management plans and policies.

The Deputy's second question related to tourism, but I did not hear the full question.

It was about the challenge of dealing with climate change in the context of increasing tourism demand.

It is a challenge and we are fully aware of it and dealing with it all the time.

One of Deputy Mairéad Farrell's questions relates more to the cultural capital scheme, which runs up to 2022. It would be worth looking at that to address some of the matters she is talking about. The Minister of State, Senator Kyne, will be in front of the Covid-19 committee tomorrow to discuss Gaeltacht issues.

The Deputy also mentioned mapping. The National Monuments Service recently won an innovation award for its map viewer and other online resources. That is a positive development.

In the context of the arts, the report, Engaging the Public on Climate Change through the Cultural and Creative Sectors, is a really innovative and exciting document that the Department put together in the context of trying to connect climate change mitigation and adaptation. If the Deputy wishes to have a copy, I can certainly furnish it to her.

As regards Deputy Ó Snodaigh's questions, the programme for Government seeks a review of the all-Ireland pollinator plan so we will be looking at that. My Department also published a report this week confirming the resurgence of the red squirrel and the pine marten, which the Deputy mentioned. Some 31 of our local authorities have heritage officers, but there are one or two that do not have biodiversity officers, so that needs to be rectified. We give €1 million a year to deal with invasive species. I know the Deputy played a very important role on the Moore Street advisory group and I am in the process of setting up its successor.

I am sharing time with Deputies Higgins and Carroll MacNeill.

I acknowledge the progress that has been made by this Government in restoring our peatlands. While I refer to this Government, one of the toughest times in my political career was when we took office in 2011 and there were huge issues regarding turf cutting. At the time, I said at a public meeting in Athlone that we would set up a peatlands council, and we did. I thank Conor Skehan and Seamus Boland for chairing that council. One of the most embarrassing times was when we went to Brussels with Conor Skehan, who was head of the Peatlands Council, former Deputy Paul Connaughton, Deputy Heydon and Councillor Jimmy McLearn. We met Mr. Janez Potonik, who was the Commissioner at the time, and said this was an issue that needed to be dealt with and that we needed another six months. There had been a derogation for ten years. We were fully sure there was a derogation. The next thing, the Commissioner and his officials asked: "What derogation?"

We were stunned. We said there had been a derogation for ten years. There was no derogation. The Fianna Fáil Government at the time, rather than dealing with the serious issue facing turf cutters, said there was a derogation. The then Minister, Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív, came into the House and said they thought there was a derogation, but we understood there was not one. At the time, solicitors' letters were being sent and we had to deal with an issue which should have been dealt with nine years beforehand. It caused significant concern in my constituency and thankfully it has been dealt with. I am very happy that up to €30 million has been paid out over the past nine years and over 3,000 people are getting €1,500 per year on a tax free index-linked basis for not cutting turf in special areas of conservation. This is good news. I would like to tell those who are shouting on behalf of active turf cutters in special areas of conservation that an awful lot has been done.

We have tried, but have been unable, to deal with commercial contractors. I went to Clara bog with Seamus Boland, where people were relocated. This is good news. I do not want to be in a situation where we blame Europe for everything but are in a position to deal with an issue ourselves. In my old constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim over 1,000 people are on their ninth year of getting money for not cutting turf, something we need to applaud the last Government for. It also worked with turf cutters. The situation should never have been allowed to get out of control.

I welcome that natural habitats will be an important element in dealing with climate change. We have done a lot but we need dialogue with all of the various stakeholders in order to get the best possible deal. I again welcome the fact that €30 million has been allocated over the past nine years to active turf cutters for not cutting turf.

Climate change is affecting 19% of the species that are categorised as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list. This means that they are at serious risk of extinction. The Minister's Department, in collaboration with other bodies and experts, keeps watch on the red lists in Ireland. They include the curlew, the grey partridge and the corncrake. Each of these species is subject to ongoing targeted conservation measures. In Ireland red lists have also been undertaken for three groups of pollinating insects: bees, butterflies and large moths. Some 42% of wild bees, 30% of butterflies and 13% of larger moths are considered to be threatened or declining. For these species, the biggest threat has been the loss of habitat. Bees in particular have requirements for habitats in order to be able to find food, for pollinating plants and for nest sites. Simple initiatives like the all-Ireland pollinator plan have helped to improve the situation.

The Minister and her Department have had a notable success with conservation projects for well known bird species that are endangered. The grey partridge, one of Ireland's iconic native game birds, was on the verge of extinction in the late 1990s with a dwindling population of about 20 birds surviving in the wild. Since then, we have reversed that trend. Supported by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Boora project in County Offaly pioneered new techniques in captive breeding and land management that are paying dividends. Following an intensive programme of habitat management and nest protection, which involves captive breeding, the grey partridge population in the area today is now estimated to be about 800. Conservation efforts like this are literally breathing life into species.

Many of us have used the lockdown as an opportunity to explore our natural surroundings. The birds seem louder to all of us. Walking trails around Lucan, where I live, are busier than ever and the Lucan Weir is bustling. People appreciate now more than ever the need to invest in conserving nature and our natural heritage. Last winter the Minister met the Society for Old Lucan which put together some fantastic initiatives and projects that promote local conservation. It would be great to see projects like the restoration of King John's Bridge and the Silver Bridge at the Strawberry Beds receive investment. I hope her Department will consider these initiatives as it invests in conserving built heritage as well as our local heritage and historic cultures.

I would like to mention some of the targeted initiatives the Government has undertaken to promote increased energy efficiency in historic buildings, something which will become more and more important as the years go on. Every year the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht provides funding via the built heritage investment scheme for maintenance and minor repair works to historic buildings. Along with the historic structures fund, this year's funding for historic buildings came to over €4 million. This was used to fund 449 projects so that repairs could be carried out in order to protect buildings over the coming decades. In my area, Dún Laoghaire, this money will be very welcome as it will be used to fund work on a number of important buildings including churches in Killiney, Ballybrack, St. Joseph's parish church in Glasthule and Monkstown meeting house, as well as a number of private buildings where people have lived for a long time and need some assistance in order to weather the change - no pun intended - of climate change and its more extreme impacts.

Protecting our historic buildings from damage due to the more extreme and varying weather, such as very cold winters and hot summers and the impact that can have on buildings, is an important part of our overall national response. In the 2020 built heritage investment scheme, a pilot microgrant stream was included specifically to try to help the owners of smaller buildings who have perhaps not been able to access funds to increase the resilience of their buildings and historic structures to withstand the constant effects of climate change.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. Deputy Feighan acknowledged the work being done on peatlands and the bogs. I acknowledge his contribution. Deputy Carroll MacNeill mentioned built heritage. Along with the historic structures fund, this year's funding for historic buildings came to €4.3 million which will fund 449 projects with the aim of carrying out repairs to buildings to protect them over the coming decades. A significant amount of work is being done. Protecting our historic buildings from damage due to climate change will be an important part of our national response. As part of the 2020 built heritage investment scheme, a pilot microgrant stream was included.

I thank Deputy Higgins, who mentioned Silver Bridge. I am aware a campaign to restore the Guinness Bridge, as it is also known, has been ongoing in Lucan for a number of years and I met some of those involved, along with the Deputy, some months ago. It is an historic cast-iron bridge that crosses the Liffey between the Lucan and Palmerston area and the Phoenix Park and I know Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council are positively disposed to this and are co-operating on planning and funding. I hope that works out.

Deputy Higgins made some very valid points about species. Climate change is currently affecting 19% of the species listed as threatened on the International Union for Conversation of Nature red list of threatened species globally. I note she also acknowledged the work we have done in regard to the grey partridge and other species at risk of extinction. The all-Ireland pollinator plan will go a long way to assist in protecting species and I am glad it is in the new programme for Government. There is all-party commitment on ensuring that we protect our species.

Before I come to the subject of today’s debate, I would like to welcome the important announcement made yesterday on additional support for the arts community. As the Minister knows, I spoke about the issue not long ago and drew attention to the enormous contribution the arts sector makes to our society despite the precarious nature of the work for many artists and staff. The Covid-19 crisis has magnified this vulnerability, not only today but possibly for months or years to come. Therefore, it is a very welcome move to see further funding going to the sector. The arts community is inherently versatile, so it lends itself well to the efficient use of resources and in planning for a very different future which the sector faces.

I will now turn to the subject of today’s debate. It is over a year since our country declared a climate and biodiversity emergency, the second country in the world to do so.

I often question what that declaration means to us and for us - whether it was tokenistic or if it was a genuine signal of our intent to act on a crisis which threatens the very fabric of our society and economy.

As the Minister knows, before taking my seat in the Dáil I was a primary school teacher, a job that often involves explaining complex things in a simple way. Biodiversity is an extremely complex thing, but it can be explained and understood in a very simple way. It relates to the balance and interdependence between us and the natural environment. The balance of our society and economy depends on a healthy ecosystem and broad biodiversity. We may not fully know the extent to which humans depend on biodiversity, but what we know shows us we cannot maintain a stable climate or provide sufficient food for ourselves if we do not stop biodiversity loss. We need the plants that provide the basis for medicine and medical treatments. We need a large and diverse forest cover that soaks up thousands of tonnes of CO2 emissions produced by humans. We need the coral reefs that protect our coasts from increasing erosion and sea-level rise. We cannot just look at biodiversity as something that needs to be protected; it is a vital resource and service on which we depend. Unfortunately, it is now undisputed that the very service provided to us by our natural environment for free is being exploited and attacked by us, the service users.

We need not be reminded of the countless statistics and trends about biodiversity loss, all of which point in the wrong direction. My party has long pointed out the worrying developments in Ireland, such as the drastic decline in bird species, the dire pollution of our waterways and the threats to over half of Ireland’s bee species. While I do not wish to paint an exclusively negative picture, I just want to set the context of where we are starting from in regard to the efforts of the national climate action plan and, in particular, the work being done under the auspices of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to protect biodiversity and enhance mitigation and adaptation to climate change in our built heritage. Despite the drastic threats that biodiversity faces, it is gifted just a few short sentences in the climate action plan and the national transition statement. However, when we learn of yet another species under threat, headlines are made, concerns are raised and more statements are delivered in respect of the need to take action. By the same token, if we were to lose key cultural and historic landmarks to climate impacts, I do not doubt that such occurrences would make national news. It reminds me of the lyrics in the Joni Mitchell song:

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got

Till it's gone

When it is gone, it is too late. We simply cannot afford to be too late when it comes to biodiversity.

I acknowledge the work that the Department has undertaken, both as part of the climate action plan and also more broadly in maintaining Ireland’s culture and heritage and the protection of biodiversity. As this debate is on the national transition statement, most of my points and questions will address this. Leis sin, ag an deireadh, ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoin nGaeilge freisin, agus go háirithe faoinár gceantair Ghaeltachta mar atá siad faoi láthair agus mar a bheidh siad sa todhchaí.

I commend the efforts made by the Department to develop sectoral adaptation plans for built heritage and biodiversity. As a former councillor in the heritage city of Waterford, I am familiar with the importance of protecting our historic buildings and sites. Not only is it vital for restoring our culture and history, it is a lifeline for tourism in Ireland. Waterford's Viking Triangle is an outstanding example of this. However, our historic sites are also difficult in terms of energy. Heating them is both highly expensive and frustrating, with warmth escaping through every crack and corner - not to mention that we still rely mostly on fossil fuels to heat these buildings. Given that the Department is responsible for the retrofitting of heritage buildings, can the Minister provide more information or an update on the retrofit plans for sites and buildings? How costly an undertaking is it and how much will retrofits of heritage sites contribute to the overall emissions reductions of the built environment?

On climate adaptation, I did not need to read the Minister's entire sectoral plan to understand the adverse vulnerability of built and archaeological heritage. It is quite sobering and definitely resonates with those of us who appreciate Irish history and culture. It seems like a lifetime ago that Ireland experienced five consecutive storms in the month of February alone. This is most likely going to be the status quo when it comes to our weather system. Are enough resources available for the Department, local authorities and institutions to sufficiently prepare for a future of more frequent and severe storms? What is the safety net for public institutions to be able to pay for damages done to property, for example the library in UCC that experienced severe damage as a result of flooding, as referenced in the Department's adaptation plan?

On the same topic of losses, damages and costs, I want to raise the insurance sector. While insurance is by no means the answer in climate adaptation of buildings, it should play some role, particularly as we now have a much greater understanding of the potential impact and damages. Are there any provisions for working with the insurance sector so that local authorities and the Department do not face exponential costs brought on by climate induced damages?

As I have already spoken about the stark biodiversity reality that we face as a country and globally, I will now refer specifically to the plan undertaken by the Department. It is most definitely welcome to see a sectoral adaptation plan for biodiversity, though I would propose that our country needs to go further to make biodiversity a much more central pillar of our policymaking. I know that the ink on the biodiversity plan is not long dry, but I would appreciate an update on some of the actions specified in plan, for example, peatland restoration and the reboot of Invasive Species Ireland. Are the incentives for farmers to protect biodiversity sufficient? Have they gone far enough to meet the challenge? Having read the EU's biodiversity and farm-to-fork strategies, do we need to go back to the drawing board in order to be in line with forthcoming legislation on land and biodiversity restoration?

I will briefly touch on the Gaeltacht region. The Gaeltacht is a part of Ireland that for decades has been just surviving. Gaeltacht regions are often marked by migration of young people to cities while their economic lifeline depends heavily on tourism and summer schools - two sectors that will be severely hit this year. Like so many parts of our country and economy, the Gaeltacht is resilient and adaptive to change. Over the past three months we have heard time and again about the merits of remote working and digital hubs that save many of our workforce long and stressful commutes, high rents and cramped office space. In an effort to achieve a better regional balance across our island, Gaeltacht regions strike me as perfect places for further developing business, cultural and community hubs. Continued improvements in broadband and connectivity are bringing our islands and remote regions closer to us and providing viable options for people to work where they are most productive and comfortable. Can we build on the impressive initiatives that are catching on across the Gaeltacht such as, for example, the Údarás na Gaeltachta Gteic initiative, which has supported digital and working hubs in locations throughout Ireland's Gaeltacht regions?

The Deputy asked a number of questions and I will do my best to answer them in the two minutes available. On retrofitting, the built and archaeological adaptation plan helps reduce the vulnerability of built and archaeological heritage against climate change. On the funding the retrofitting of heritage buildings, we are piloting a scheme this year to allow local authorities to grant aid maintenance and minor repair works as part of the built heritage investment scheme in order to build resilience in our historic buildings to climate impacts. Action 50 of the climate action plan aims to enable the roll-out of deep retrofit - it is called near-zero energy buildings - and also new technology installations. However, my Department is not tasked with retrofitting heritage buildings directly under the plan, but rather with leading the development of it.

The Deputy also spoke about the adaptation of built heritage. I mentioned piloting a scheme this year to allow local authorities to grant aid maintenance and minor repair. The national development plan was developed in concert with the national planning framework, which should be of assistance. That recognises the crucial importance of balanced regional development, and clustered and compact growth.

As the Deputy will be aware, it is a general rule of Government that no insurance should be effected against the risk of any loss which, if it arose, would fall wholly and directly on public funds. This is based on the understanding that the risks for which the Government is liable are innumerable and widely distributed and that losses maturing in any one year are never so large as to materially disturb the financial position of the year so that it is cheaper in the long term for the Exchequer to carry its own insurance. The local authorities purchase insurance in certain instances, such as for public employers, motor and property insurance. I think we also spoke about biodiversity. I do not really have much time.

Regarding the Gaeltacht, we have Gréasán Digiteach na Gaeltachta, which is a network of innovation and digital hubs, being developed by Údarás na Gaeltachta in locations throughout the Gaeltacht. I appreciate the Acting Chairman's patience.

I congratulate the Minister on the announcement on the investment in the arts. I also congratulate the campaigners from the National Campaign for the Arts who were making the case. The arts are extremely important to this country. This area is often one of the only avenues where people from disadvantaged or diverse backgrounds can give voice to their experience. It is a very welcome investment and greatly needed. Hopefully there will be more to come.

I will start by reading into the record a quote from the summary of the biodiversity climate change sectoral adaptation plan:

By the end of the century, climate change is likely to become the most significant driver of biodiversity loss. Increases in temperature will change the timing of life cycle events and the distribution of species. The physical impact of more intense storms and increased winter/spring rainfall will accelerate the degradation of habitats that are already compromised by unsustainable practices.

I am delighted to be able to come here and report on the Minister's actions under the 2019 annual transition statement. I remind the House that it was my colleague, Deputy Alan Kelly, who introduced the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, under which the Minister is here reporting on her Department's responsibilities under the annual transition statement.

It is important that the work started by a Labour Party Minister is continuing here today. While specifically holding the Minister, Deputy Madigan, to account, it is also important that the next Government kicks on to deliver on climate change with an urgency that perhaps the last Government failed to do. The climate is too important an issue to be the subject of petty wrangling for political positioning or to be the preserve or responsibility of one party.

In 2018 I am happy that we in the Labour Party helped to lead and drive the Committee on Climate Action to adopt the concept of carbon budgets and we look forward to supporting appropriate measures in the strengthening and implementation of these budgets. There may be times when support is needed from across the Chamber and I speak for my party colleagues when I reassure all of those who are serious about tackling climate change that the Labour Party will intend to share the responsibility of everyone in the House to deliver on Ireland's international target commitments.

This brings me to two sectoral areas for which the Minister and the Department are responsible - the built and archaeological heritage sector and biodiversity. I have three broad questions for the Minister. My first question is on the Department's own direct emissions. What action has been taken to evaluate emissions from within the Department or subsidiary organisations such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service? Have they invested in electric vehicles and in making buildings more energy efficient? Does the Minister know if the Department is walking the walk in its own day-to-day emissions?

My second question is on the built and archaeological heritage climate change sectoral adaptation plan. It is clear from the plan that the Department has identified significant threats to some of the most important cultural physical heritage in the State. There are a number of case studies. The threat identified to Trinity College Dublin and the damage done to coastal areas in Portrane are examples of the scale of the potential threat. What, if any, framework does the Department propose to put in place to identify when hard coastal measures will be justifiable to protect Dublin city and our heritage? What coastal defence measures will be needed?

My third question is on the responsibilities of the biodiversity adaptation plan. Will the Minister indicate what work has been put in place to resolve the inevitable conflict between the protection and preservation of habitats, and the need to develop the infrastructure needed to help reduce our emissions? I am referring to transport infrastructure such as cycleways and walkways, renewable energy infrastructure such as offshore and onshore wind, and coastal defence projects. It may be necessary to protect our coastal towns, villages and cities, which are often built close to areas under the responsibility of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Are any measures being taken to try to have a standard and scientific approach to decide how we will resolve the conflict between such projects and our biodiversity responsibilities?

I commend the Department and the Minister for the depth of both sectoral reports, and I commend those who worked on and prepared those reports.

The Minister has six minutes this time.

I will do my best. My Department has done a significant amount of work to maintain departmental leadership in this space. The Deputy referred to electric vehicles. The National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department has been a leader in deploying electric vehicles through its fleet by piloting the use of commercial electrically operated vans in the Wicklow Mountains and Killarney national parks, with a view to reducing its diesel fleet as resources permit. It installed e-charging points at Glenveagh, Connemara and Wild Nephin Ballycroy national parks in 2018, which was prior to the climate action plan. It has also procured two electric buses to service Glenveagh National Park. The contracts for electric buses, which have been co-funded through my Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development, were signed on 26 May last. These buses are the first of their type to enter into use in the Irish transportation network. The Department has, in fairness, been at the cutting edge of trying to show leadership in using electric vehicles into the future.

I acknowledge the Deputy's thanks with regard to the arts announcement yesterday and I hope we will be able to do more into the future, as the Deputy said. It is certainly a step in the right direction.

I shall now turn to the question on the built and archaeological heritage climate change sectoral adaptation plan, which is extremely detailed and technical. The Deputy emphasised the effects of extreme weather on our built heritage. There will be projected changes to the Irish climate that will have implications for our built and archaeological heritage into the future. These changes may be immediate or cumulative. We have to be prepared to adapt to events that can include warmer, wetter winters with hotter, drier summers. We will have increasingly intense and frequent storms and rising sea levels. We will have coastal erosion, some of which is natural, and we will have increased flooding. The Deputy is correct that we will have to try to mitigate the damage from all of these factors. These climate changes can be expected to give rise to structural damage to monuments and to historical properties. The changes will undermine structures and there will be a loss of ground adjacent to structures. There will be exposure and erosion of archaeological sites, a collapse of unstable masonry elements and an additional slow onset of risks including the loss of historic landscape features and the decay of building fabric caused by increased corrosion of metal elements. A further threat is posed of maladaptation, as mentioned earlier by Deputy Darren O'Rourke, which is the inadvertent loss or damage to heritage structures and sites during adaptation works by others.

We are aware of all the points raised by Deputy Ó Ríordáin. We have the adaptation plan to try to mitigate them. On biodiversity, I have been in this Department for two and a half years and I may not be back there again, but I am glad to say we achieved a lot in biodiversity in the time I was there. I had the inaugural national biodiversity conference with a number of stakeholders. The 40 seeds for nature initiative came from that. I also brought the biodiversity duty to the Cabinet, which puts an onus on public bodies to take biodiversity into account in their planning for the future. We have the national biodiversity action plan up to 2021. The need to bring this forward is mentioned in the new programme for Government. I note that the Irish Wildlife Trust said today in the Irish Examiner that many of the elements we have put into the programme for Government, especially for biodiversity, are potentially "transformative". I believe they are. The Deputy is right that climate action is something we had to take a grip of. It has probably been ignored to a large extent when there have been many words as opposed to action. The good thing I have noticed in this Department is the constant monitoring and progress reports on the actions that are taken in the climate action plan, which, as the Deputy is aware, will be in the legislation and going back to the original Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act also.

We have had to step it up and be ambitious. We have allocated approximately €2 million to local authorities for many biodiversity projects that will bring the issue back into communities. We have also funded 56 community biodiversity plans through the Community Foundation for Ireland. All of those elements will help. I also refer the Deputy to the Heritage 2030 plan.

If the Minister is agreeable, we will go back and forth with questions and answers. I welcome this opportunity to discuss biodiversity. Last week, I raised the issue with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton. Fundamentally, biodiversity and its capacity as a nature-based solution to climate change and dealing with climate change adaptation and mitigation is very important. It is an area that has not been given the emphasis it requires. Its value and potential have not been recognised. Climate change and biodiversity are intrinsically linked. We will not be able to address climate change without addressing biodiversity and using nature-based solutions and, vice versa, our biodiversity will be impacted heavily by climate change. We need to address those two issues in tandem. Essentially, climate change and biodiversity are two sides of the same coin.

There is much good work happening locally. The all-Ireland pollinator plan has enabled individuals, residents' groups, businesses and councils to make an impact and a difference at grassroots level in the context of biodiversity in towns and villages. The excellent biodiversity handbook has been distributed to many households this year. It has inspired not just children, but also adults to make a difference in their own gardens and streets. That work is very important and I wish to acknowledge and commend it. However, grassroots action can only go so far when it comes to the important issue of biodiversity. We need leadership and a national vision on what we wish to see for our country when it comes to biodiversity.

In my view, an Ireland that is strong and robust in its nature and biodiversity and rich from a natural perspective would involve a series of core heavily protected areas that are not subject to economic, tourism or recreational pressures and in which we just let nature be and regulate itself. It will find its own balance. We would need to connect those areas with spaces people can visit and enjoy, but which also have a level of protection for biodiversity. We would need to create a web across our countryside to enable biodiversity to move and find space and protection in those areas and then connect them to our urban areas. Towns and villages should be as environmentally friendly as possible, with green buildings and green streets. Developers would be obliged to use existing hedgerows to ensure we provide as many habitats and environments as possible in order to allow nature to grow and expand. That is the kind of vision that has been outlined in recent weeks in the EU biodiversity strategy.

The most recent time the Minister and I discussed biodiversity in the House was the day after the EU biodiversity strategy was launched. At that stage, she had not had an opportunity to read it, but my understanding was that she was to meet the parliamentary state secretary to the German federal minister on the biodiversity strategy. What was the outcome of that meeting? What are the next steps relating to the strategy? Is it something the Department can support in its current form?

The Deputy has a good memory. I had a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the German minister on climate change in general. Most of the matters discussed fell under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, but I dealt with the biodiversity aspect. Under the EU Green New Deal, member states must ensure that at least 30% of the EU's land and marine areas are protected by 2030 and that 10% of these are strictly protected. For Ireland, that will mean a doubling of the protected area on land and a trebling of protected marine area. Much of this was discussed at that meeting. We are making good progress on land designations, including national heritage areas, NHAs, special areas of conservation, SACs, and special protection areas, SPAs, as well as any further designations. We are of the view that the changes need to be made in partnership with the owners and users of the affected lands as it must be done in a transparent manner. I know from my experience in this Department that trying to ramrod changes through, particularly in respect of climate change, does not work. That is why we have the just transition. One needs to bring people with one. We had a very positive discussion on those issues.

Ireland is a member state of the EU. Obviously, there must be joined-up thinking. It is interesting to learn how other countries are dealing with the proposals in the strategy. We will continue to do that. As Deputies are aware, biodiversity and nature are crucial to our health and ability to sustain life. We all recognise the urgent need to reverse biodiversity loss. We will attempt to do so by seeking to reverse declines in habitat richness in order to increase biodiversity, as well as managing emerging threats from pollutants and invasive species and expanding national park areas. As I mentioned, we will also implement the third national biodiversity action plan and develop a successor action plan for the period beyond 2021. I am unsure whether the Deputy has read the programme for Government. It contains numerous elements and tasks that could revolutionise the way biodiversity is looked on in this country and improve water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and seas.

I have gone through the EU biodiversity strategy, which contains many really good proposals. As the Minister stated, there is a commitment to protect a minimum of 30% of not just terrestrial areas, but also marine areas and, within that, to have a heavily protected area of 10%. That would be quite a significant change from the current situation, but it is an important goal to aim for. Those commitments to be implemented by 2030 and, as such, there will be a lot of work to be done. As the Minister stated, it is best to bring people with one on these issues. There will be a significant amount of work involved in getting us from the current situation to 30% of our land and water being protected.

Is the Government in favour of those targets in principle? Does it agree with the 30% target? The Minister referred to the programme for Government, but it does not contain any targets in respect of land or marine protected areas. What is the thinking of the Government on the 30% commitment by the EU? Does the Minister envisage that the Government will sign up to it? What steps is the Department taking to ensure we can reach it? A significant amount of mapping, monitoring and other work on the ground will be required in order to identify ecologically coherent land and marine areas that are suitable for these kinds of protections.

Targets are necessary. Some 14% of our land is already designated, which is quite substantial. We have 440 SACs, 150 NHAs and 154 SPAs. One quickly gets used to anagrams in this Department. We will look at the EU targets. It is recognised that in order to meet the needs of the EU strategy at least €20 billion per year should be unlocked for spending on nature and that a significant proportion of the 25% of the EU budget dedicated to climate action will be invested in biodiversity and nature-based solutions. We should ensure that we maximise these opportunities to increase the resilience of biodiversity to climate change. My officials are still examining the contents of the EU strategy. We are liaising with other key Departments in that regard. I very much welcome any engagement with the Deputy on these matters. We are in the process of developing a strong set of positions on nature and biodiversity that will feed into the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework which is due to be adopted at a meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity next year.

That should be of assistance.

One of the things we have written into the programme for Government is that a baseline biodiversity study will be conducted in respect of every farm in order that we might inform future policy development. There are many other areas referenced in the context of reviewing natural heritage protections, including hedgerows. We have committed to establishing a citizens’ assembly on biodiversity within 100 days of a new Government being formed. We have also committed to promoting biodiversity in primary schools, post-primary schools and at third level, and to ensuring that schools, colleges and universities play an active role in providing areas to promote biodiversity. We have also committed to supporting biodiversity data collection and to publishing the new pollinator plan.

We all have to acknowledge the magnificent efforts by local communities and environmental groups to tackle the problems relating to biodiversity and nature. The situation is dire, however, and last year's report showed just how dire. Some 50% of fresh waters are polluted, 90% of protected habitats are classified as being of an unfavourable status and of the 3,000 or so plant and animal species in Ireland that were studied, approximately one quarter are facing extinction. One third of bees could be extinct by 2030 and our butterfly population has declined by 12% over the past decade. We know from the UN report that, globally, this is the biggest ever decline in history. More than 500,000 species on land have insufficient habitat for long-term survival and are likely to become extinct within decades.

I say all this because I am listening to the Minister's plans for action and her comments on the studies and reports that are promised, but none of them can mask the truth. The truth is that at the heart of the policies of the Government which, supported by Fianna Fáil, has been in office in recent years and at the heart of the new programme for Government, which has been given a greenwash, there is a pretence about what causes biodiversity loss and climate change. That pretence may be masked by using the right language, ticking the right boxes, making all the right noises and applauding the climate activists, the school's students and the local communities who try to tackle biodiversity loss, but, at the end of the day, it is essentially business as usual. We will continue with economic growth built around foreign direct investment, a low-tax and light-touch regulatory regime, and Ireland Incorporated as a tax haven for weary multinationals who are looking for a place to rest.

The Green element in the new Government will talk very earnestly about the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and what we all must do, but I know that, in five years' time, this programme, just like the programme of the outgoing Government, will not have delivered on climate change, biodiversity or building a sustainable society. It will not do it because it ignores the real causes and, instead, tweaks and pretends that it is dealing with this and delivering a solution.

The biggest driver of biodiversity loss in the world is growth - not just economic growth, but economic growth predicated on increasing profits, the drive to create new markets and the ever-increasing abuse of resources and materials from nature. The National Parks and Wildlife Service's recent report identified the causes of the loss of biodiversity in Ireland and stated that the factors contributing to the declines include agriculture, forestry and aquaculture, and the ambitious growth targets set for these sectors by the Food Wise 2025 strategy. The new programme for Government, while ticking all those boxes, cannot really deliver because it does the same as Food Wise 2025 in that is based on the search for new markets and new growth, the very basis of biodiversity loss here and across the globe.

The reason we have immiserated farmers and rural communities is an incessant need for growth, profits and increased output that only serves those at the top of the corporate chain. Whether it is in beef production, dairy herds or cereal production, it has not served farmers or consumers, or, indeed, nature. We know from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, that he is pretending that methane emissions can be looked at differently and that, somehow, his Department will find ways of calculating methane problems and find a new way of creating the figures. The fact that methane is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat can be conveniently ignored. As climate scientist Kevin Anderson has said, we can fool ourselves but we cannot fool science and we cannot fool nature.

That equally applies to the fossil fuel industry. We now pretend we have ended oil extraction but the licences that exist are good until 2035. The pretence that we are now banning the use of liquefied natural gas is also a lie because, although we are banning the importation of fracked gas, we continue to allow the importation of other forms of liquefied natural gas. Just as this Government and the future greenwashed Government will not challenge the power and the dominance of agribusiness and those who pollute the planet, it will not challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry.

I want to conclude by appealing to those who are pouring the greenwash over this new programme for Government not to do this. I appeal to the climate campaigners who came out in their tens of thousands on the question of biodiversity, nature and the future of the planet to look to that movement, bring it back out onto the streets and look to a radical transformation of society, not one that is poured full of greenwash.

The UN environmental programme was very clear that the bare minimum emissions reduction that we need to avoid catastrophic climate change is 7.6% a year. In reality, as a developed country, Ireland should be aiming for much more than that. The proposed programme for Government is full of fluff on climate change but it is empty of binding commitments to tackle this crisis in the next five years. As Extinction Rebellion said earlier today, it is simply not good enough and it should be rejected.

On the core issue of reducing emissions, the deal actually contains no commitments in terms of reductions in the lifetime of the Government for which it is a programme. Instead, there is a commitment to an average 7% reduction over the course of the next decade. However, in terms of what will happen in the next five years, that is, the period of office of the new Government, the Taoiseach yesterday made it clear that not much will change. Instead, he said most of the reductions will happen in the second five-year term. Therefore, the Greens are being asked to sign up to five years of inaction and austerity on the premise that the next Government will tackle climate change. That is a bad deal for the planet, it is a bad deal for workers and it is a deal which, hopefully, grassroots Greens will reject.

The proposed programme for Government lets agribusiness, the number one sector responsible for emissions in Ireland, completely off the hook. The devil is in the detail in the sentence on recognising the "special ... role of agriculture and the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane". The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine's inability to explain the sentence, never mind the science behind it, on RTÉ radio this morning clearly shows that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are using this as a means to create a carveout for agribusiness. It potentially means no reductions whatsoever targeted at the number one emitting sector in Ireland. The truth is that methane is methane. Its special role is to be a particularly damaging greenhouse gas. It does not stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide but it traps heat at 84 times the rate of carbon dioxide. To quote Professor John Sweeney: "There is unlikely to be any scenario whereby - without an absolute reduction in Irish methane emissions - the end product will be compatible with the 7% emissions reductions target."

The proposed programme for Government is a trap being laid for the Greens and it should be rejected by their grassroots membership. It is an attempt by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to lure the Greens into propping up their rule for another five years, with empty promises that they really will change this time and that, in the five years after the Government is finished, they will get to the business of serious climate action. Grassroots Greens and others should read the deal for themselves. There are 127 reviews promised, there are 68 things to be examined and they pledge to consider 44 promises and establish 12 commissions. These are classic tactics from the political establishment to kick the can down the road and to achieve the pretence of doing something by setting up more talking shops.

The science is clear that now is the time for action on climate change. Grassroots Green Party members are being patronised by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and many political commentators. They are being told to tone down their expectations on climate action. We have heard all of this before. When it came to repeal, the political establishment and the media told pro-choice activists that we were being too radical in calling for free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland. We were told to compromise and water down our principles. We refused, we built a movement and we won as a result. I encourage the grassroots Green Party members not to be bullied or conned and to follow the science and face the truth. The truth is that this is a bad deal that should be rejected. There is an alternative based on joining with the left to build social movements for climate justice, housing justice and social justice, and in doing so to win victories today and prepare the way for a left government with an eco-socialist programme in the future.

I thank the Minister on behalf of the people of Wexford for the funds received last week for local historic buildings and for her continued commitment to the Wexford Opera Festival, particularly this year in light of Covid. It will not be going ahead as normal but it will have a more streamlined approach to see it through to next year when, hopefully, we will be back to normal.

Planning permission in rural Ireland today requires 180 m of clear vision either side of the proposed entrance to a new house. This is what has proven to be a safe distance for road visibility. This is mind-boggling because from March to September we can hardly see 5 m on either side because of overgrown hedging and ditches. I have lived in rural Ireland all my life and while it used to be wonderful to consider going for a walk and enjoying the countryside it is now only a mere thought. It is more like taking our lives in our hands. During Covid, more people than ever were walking and cycling and more often than not I received a call to say just how dangerous it was and that people had spent most of the time standing in the ditch because they knew the car, truck, tractor or bus could not see them because the hedges were so overgrown.

People in rural Ireland have difficulty understanding why the Minister's emphasis is more in favour of biodiversity than road safety. I would like the Minister to understand why it is difficult for people in rural Ireland to envisage a nice safe stroll out the gates of their homes, or to get on bikes with their children, without having to drive to somewhere safer, usually miles away, to undertake the activity, and why they feel it will not work to encourage their children to cycle to school as in the good old days when no one drove children to school. The reasons are that traffic has increased a hundredfold and tractors, trucks and buses have got bigger. Pedestrians are not safe on the roads in rural Ireland because the hedgerows are not maintained at the time it is most required. People feel the green agenda does not tie up with road safety and most of those in this position will not take the green agenda seriously.

In Dublin during Covid, cyclists were free from traffic and safe cycling became a pleasure and not a hazard. However, Dublin is not rural Ireland and it does not have the hazards of overgrown hedges and large tree branches that can break off and fall down at the most inopportune time causing injury. I am aware of a cyclist who almost died when a high vehicle passed and struck a branch that fell on him. I had a call last week from a parent who went cycling and whose seven year old was cut to shreds by briars and brambles until finally a briar caught her clothing and pulled her off the bike and they had to return home, knocking her confidence but avoiding serious injury. It would be nice if city slickers were to understand that to avoid such briars means cycling in the middle of the road, which is not something people wish to do in the countryside, with respect for all road users.

Roadside hedging accounts for 15% of Ireland's total hedgerows. We have more hedgerows than any other EU country per kilometre but we have fewer cyclists and fewer walkers. If we really think about why, it is not because we are lazy or because we are not bothered but because the roads are not safe from a traffic visibility perspective for any mortal human being due to the lack of roadside hedgerow maintenance. The less time we allow for hedge maintenance, the worse it is going to get. If we take this year alone, we had a very wet winter. As we have heard from other Deputies, it is going to change. No one could countenance maintenance until the closed period started, which was 1 March, because the lands were too wet and to do so in those conditions would cause soil compaction. Teagasc will tell us that poor soil drainage leads to poorer carbon and knocks sequestration in soil. Therefore, little or no hedge maintenance was carried out and now, with the beautiful weather we have had, which is not typical either, and the rain, we are in a growing spiral. This is out of control and we can see noxious weeds developing. This is bringing us to the most dangerous time on our roads. The most enjoyable part of the year will have passed when the closed season ends. I hope it is without incident or fatality because of the lack of hedge maintenance.

Lack of maintenance on our hedgerows is counterproductive as it means they grow tall and grappy and cease to function as a boundary or a shelter. A grappy hedge is no good to wildlife or biodiversity. These types of hedgerows will not serve as a habitat or provide shelter for nests or the hibernation of native flora or fauna. To state otherwise would be a fallacy. I wish it were different but, as I have said, Ireland is different. We have more hedges to maintain. We have 85% that we need not touch outside of the closed season but we need to strike a balance. A total of 85% untouched hedgerows versus 15% maintained in the interests of road safety for all concerned still sways enormously in favour of any wildlife or biodiversity issue. If the programme for Government is to be taken seriously or to achieve its aims that balance must be met. Hedgerow maintenance is to a pedestrian or a cyclist what a seat belt is to our driver and safety is paramount to us all.

I do not wish to hear from the Minister that hedge cutting is permitted for road safety reasons all year round because that just does not work. If it did I would not be here putting any case to her for an extension. I hope the Minister understands that an extension of the allowed maintenance season would be a step in the right direction that ensures we can all safely take pleasure from our environmental surrounds. I ask the Minister to ensure she will use her discretionary power and her sense of balance regarding life and wildlife by allowing an extension into August and March to the season for roadside hedge and tree management beginning this year. The Minister has said we need to reduce risk and vulnerability. I ask her to apply this to pedestrians, cyclists and road users in rural Ireland. I ask the Minister to respond.

I thank the Deputy. Unfortunately, I will have to disappoint her and say it is allowed all year round for road safety purposes and that I do not have any discretion. The dates for the cutting of hedges are set down in primary legislation under the Wildlife Act 1976, as the Deputy knows. Section 40 of the Act prohibits the cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation with certain strict exemptions from 1 March to 31 August. There is provision in the legislation for some restricted exemptions from the prohibition during the closed period, for example, works undertaken in the ordinary course of agriculture or forestry, for health and safety reasons, the clearance of vegetation relating to road and other construction works, including the preparation of sites for development, and in respect of works permitted under statute. The Heritage Act 2018 includes a provision whereby works undertaken for road safety reasons under section 70 of the Roads Act were considered exempted works under section 40 of the Wildlife Act. The reason behind this provision was to align the provisions of the Wildlife Act with the Roads Act. Section 70 of the Roads Act 1993 obliges landowners to ensure a tree, shrub, hedge other vegetation on their land is not a hazard to road safety.

There is also a provision which allows the local authority to serve notices on landowners to undertake works-----

I am aware of that.

-----I will just finish the sentence - such as hedge cutting and clearance for safety purposes along public roads.

The Minister said she has no discretion. Does she accept it is unsafe for a cyclist or a pedestrian in rural Ireland with overgrown hedges and that it is a road safety issue?

The Deputy is answering her own question. Roadside hedge cutting is always allowed for road safety purposes, so the question is a bit of a paradox.

It is quite obvious that is not happening and that is what I am trying to emphasise. The Minister should use her own sense of reason and sensibility in order that the legislation allows for an extension either side so that it may be undertaken in real time and completed. I thank the Minister.

To be clear, the Wildlife Acts dictate when hedge cutting takes place, which is September to February, and the Minister, which is me at the moment, has no discretion. Roadside hedge cutting is always allowed for road safety purposes and other hedge cutting is allowed for agricultural and forestry purposes.

I thank the Minister. We now move to the Rural Independent Group. Deputy Collins is starting us off, I believe.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

Over the past number of years, we have had many discussions on climate action and low-carbon development. Time and again, we hear of action needing to be taken. While any self-respecting Deputy would know that climate action is of vital importance, action by this Fine Gael Government supported by Fianna Fáil has been minimal, to say the least, in the past few years.

When one sees ordinary farmers from rural Ireland having to fight for their rights in the courts after they have been severely fined by the Department for having scrub on their land, that in itself says it all. These fines were dished out to hundreds and hundreds of farmers in rural Ireland, and in particular west Cork, and they are still being pursued for having pure nature on their farms. Sadly, this had a totally wrong result, as it forced these honest farmers to rid their land of pure beauty and nature. In many cases, the only way this could be done was by burning the hills. A bad step, but a forced step.

I remember quite clearly a meeting I and other farmers had in Portlaoise with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine a number of years ago. We could not get it to understand or step back and stop forcing farms on these farmers in west Cork. I pleaded with it that if it did not step back, in the years to come it would be the cause of forcing innocent farmers to burn their ground against their will. Sadly, I was right.

As I said at the time, this was an attack on the people of rural Ireland. We know the chase of these people from rural Ireland is not going to change. When previous Governments could not get people away from rural Ireland by fining them, it is now going to be done with carbon tax. Families will pay hundreds, even thousands, of euro extra yearly. It is simply attacking those who live in rural Ireland. Carbon tax is a direct attack on rural Ireland. Since the publication of the programme for Government, I have been inundated by hundreds of people in west Cork asking me who in their right mind would support the attack on people who live in the constituency I live in in rural Ireland. This carbon tax may well be okay in urban Ireland, but not in rural Ireland, a place where public transport is almost non-existent. If this proposal is to go ahead, it will destroy agricultural contractors, our lorry and bus operators and everyone who has no choice but to use his or her car in rural Ireland. Of course, it is rural Ireland and it was secondary to the last Government. It looks like it is going to be no different this time and it may even be worse.

Time and again in the last Dáil, I called for removing the VAT from, or at least lowering the VAT, on all insulation products to encourage people to buy them and insulate their homes but no one listened. Instead, I heard a Fianna Fáil politician saying on television the other night that we will have to live without our fireplaces and without coal. What have we to replace this? Is it a candle in the corner? Is this all that is on offer? The millions of euro required to replace the fireplaces and coal will not be made available. Nobody in rural Ireland should be fooled that funding will be made available. It will not be. A huge number of my constituents are begging to get the retrofit carried out in their houses and are waiting 12 months or more. Warmer homes groups are starved of funds for years and years and announcement after announcement of millions of euro in the Dáil for retrofitting and for insulating people's homes have led to nothing on the ground for the ordinary people. This is where the Government's attention should be directed, not at penalising the people of west Cork or rural Ireland to pay for retrofitting our bigger cities by raising carbon tax to unacceptable levels. No right-minded rural Deputy will ever support this.

As I said earlier, no matter what climate action idea was presented to the last Government, it was never looked at. A proposal I put to the Taoiseach was taking cars off the road and running a park and ride bus scheme from Clonakilty. It was simple and a no-brainer. It needed a little work, with all of us working together, but sadly it was rejected. It was guaranteed to take dozens of cars off the road daily in west Cork and lead to lowering our carbon emissions and less stress on overstretched families who are forced to have two cars plus per house in rural Ireland. This would have accommodated people in Clonakilty, Ballineen, Bandon, Timoleague, Barryroe, Kilbrittain, Ballinagree, Kinsale and Innishannon, all the way back to Skibbereen and Bantry. To prove our research was right, when the State turned its back on this opportunity to lower our carbon emissions, a private operator, Dave Long Coach Travel in Skibbereen, started up this type of service from Skibbereen. Only for Covid, it was stretching this excellent service to Bantry, looking after the people from there to Cork and from the Beara, Mizen and Sheep's Head peninsulas.

Climate action should mean climate action, not climate attack on rural Ireland. My time as a Deputy so far, and it looks like the same going forward, has been given to policing the anti-rural stand which looks like continuing, leading to further hardship for families in my community. The Minister attacked democracy in this Dáil. We approved the extension of the burning season to rid us of illegal burning and to have proper legal, controlled burns in this country. After a majority in the Dáil committee and the Dáil approved it, the Minister struck it out by the stroke of a pen. As Deputy Verona Murphy said, it was the same with verge cutting.

The Minister will not have time to answer me verbally, so I ask that she write to me with the answers.

First, I want to highlight the fact that Skellig Michael is closed. This has had a devastating effect on the entire locality around Ballinskelligs, The Glen, Portmagee and the entire area around Waterville and Cahersiveen. Boats and ferries licensed by the OPW are idle. Businesses are doing nothing and will do nothing even though the pubs and restaurants are supposed to open at the end of the month. I appeal to the Government to open Skellig Michael to visitors. Otherwise, the whole place will be closed and it will have a massive adverse effect. Will the Government open Killarney National Park to the jarvies?

I want to highlight the fact there is much talk in the programme for Government about transport. Regarding the summer bus service, which operated twice daily from Killarney to places like Kenmare, Lauragh, Castletownbere, Glengariff and Sneem and around the Ring of Kerry, there has been an announcement today by Bus Éireann and CIÉ that it is not going to operate this summer. That is terrible for many people who look forward to that every year and it is not going to happen this year.

How much of the €25 million of the Minister's budget will be allocated to Killarney National Park? The State got 26,000 acres for nothing. It stayed open during the lockdown, which meant a lot to people, but it was very costly to keep it open.

I am very disappointed with Deputy Micheál Martin for what he has done to the people of north Kerry. He promised them during the election campaign that he would support Shannon LNG. He has turned now in order to become Taoiseach and to get support from the Green Party. He is going to shut it down and stop the company that has spent €70 million already on this project from spending more money, from creating 350 temporary jobs for three or four years while it was being built, and from creating 50 permanent jobs. That is what he has done to the people of north Kerry and I am very disappointed in him.

It looks that the whole debate on forming the Government has been about carbon and climate change and little else is being considered except how to get the support of the Green Party and to get it on side. This programme for Government is the Green Party's programme for Government. It is not the case of the Green Party joining Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil; it is Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael joining the Green Party. That is the way it is going. Rural Ireland is now set to pay, by way of carbon tax, for new shiny electric buses for Dublin and Cork, while services in Kerry, to the rural places I mentioned, will be closed down.

I refer to the ratio of spending for capital projects. I have been highlighting here the need for the Killarney bypass to be put in place so that the town will not be choked and so that tourism in the town will not be ruined. It looks like there is no mention of that project in the programme for Government. I am glad the Macroom bypass has started because if it had not been started before now it looks like it would be shut down and stopped. Where is the Adare bypass now?

I am asking this incoming Government to consider what it is doing to the people of rural Ireland. It looks to me that this programme for Government will paralyse ordinary hardworking people by charging them as much as possible for carbon tax. It will drive the bag of coal up to €20 and for poor elderly people that is the only means they have for keeping themselves warm. It will drive petrol or diesel up to €2 per litre. People in rural Ireland need a reliable way of getting to work. Electric cars are not that at present. There is no place to plug them in and they will not go far enough. People have to travel long journeys to go to work. I appreciate the people who get out in the morning, travel long journeys, do a hard day's work, travel home again and do the same thing day after to day to keep bread on their tables. Those are the kind of people I support and am representing. It is fine to put €1 million per day into walkways and cycleways but they are for recreation. I do not begrudge them but we should not nail the hard-pressed people who are going to work. They are after getting a break for the last few months with the low price of diesel but sadly there were unable to go to work as there was no work to go to. It looks like they are going to be nailed by the incoming Government if it does get together.

I am calling it the Green Party Government because it is not a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael Government. Those parties are badly letting down the people who traditionally supported them over the years. They are letting the ordinary working people down, such as the farmers and the businesses that are trying to employ people. They are letting the whole lot of them down in order to get power. That is what this is about. It is like the way they turned their backs on the people of north Kerry with Shannon LNG. Deputy Micheál Martin sincerely promised in the election campaign that he would support Shannon LNG but now he is shutting it down and stopping the company that is spending its own money and not Government money. That is what has been done.

I thank the Minister for the written copy of her speech. It is helpful to have it in my hands. I congratulate her on the €25 million allocation for the arts. She clearly listened to the groups working on the ground. The next step is detailed in their 13-point plan. The Minister has answered one of those points and there are 12 other points they have asked for action on. We cannot put a value on the arts so I urge the Minister to go back and follow up on her good work on that.

The Minister mentioned two sectoral plans and biodiversity. She acknowledged the biodiversity issue and it is certainly in crisis. I will quote the recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for as long as I am in the Dáil. It leaves little room for doubt about the lack of diversity. It says that 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, more than ever before in human history. I look at that and at the wonderful plans there are on paper. Then I look at Galway and we have had a biodiversity plan for six years but believe it or not, we do not have a biodiversity officer. I asked the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, why that is so last week and he told me it is a matter for city and county councillors. I go back to the local authority and we have to play all of these games and go through all of these hoops to be told by the chief executive that as of mid-March 2020, there is a moratorium on planned recruitment that was initially budgeted for this year and the appointment of a biodiversity officer is included in that moratorium. The Minister might look at that and try to answer that question for me if we are seriously interested in implementing a biodiversity plan.

I want to focus on one matter and the Minister might have a minute to look at it for me. There are so many aspects but I am looking at the islands when we are talking about biodiversity. I cannot imagine better places to start than with the three Aran Islands and Inishbofin, which happen to be in my constituency, but I highlight all islands in the country. We begged the Government to do up a policy on the islands. If Covid-19 has highlighted anything, it has highlighted how vulnerable the islands are, with the lack of a policy, legislation and serious action on them. I know a task force was set up but almost a year later there has been little progress. Covid-19 interrupted matters and the meetings had to be stopped for a while but I would have thought that, given the history and the fact that we had an interdepartmental task force as far back as 1996 and given that the problems are obvious, there would be more action and quicker action. I would like an answer on that. Where is the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on this because it is the lead Department?

Let me point out a few practical matters. The three Aran Islands, two in particular, are struggling with a lack of water. In the time of Covid-19, there is no water. Sometimes they have water for half a day. They are struggling with a fodder crisis and they have been dried out in recent months. We all delighted in that hot weather but they are suffering as a result with no fodder for the cattle. They are struggling with the absence of basic work on quays, such as Céibh an Chaladh Mhóir on Inis Meáin and the céibh on Inis Oírr. These are simple problems but the county council did not use the money available. There is a balance involved with the power available to local authorities but there is also a role for the Department in overseeing basic stuff being carried out on the islands to ensure the islanders can have a sustainable living.

I will leave the Minister a minute to respond to me on the Department's policy on the islands. Where is that at and can the Minister respond to me on the issue of a biodiversity officer for Galway?

The biodiversity officer is up to the local authority. I was asked earlier about heritage officers and I know that 31 local authorities have a heritage officer but there are about two or three local authorities that do not have a biodiversity officer. My full understanding is that it is a matter for the local authorities themselves to resource for a biodiversity officer. Recruitment is ultimately a matter for the local authorities. The programme for Government, which has not been ratified yet, commits to ensuring that all local authorities will have a biodiversity officer so it will be examined at that point, if not before it. It is something the Deputy could take up with her local city and county councillors.

I am working closely with the Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Kyne, on the issues the Deputy raised on the islands. He has the statutory responsibility for the islands and I know he is before the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response tomorrow. Funding has gone towards the islands but it is something we are aware of. There was a financial package of €4.7 million not so long ago which went towards the Irish colleges, as the Deputy knows, and money also went to Údarás na Gaeltachta. I will let the Minister of State know the Deputy was asking about this today. There is the islands action plan and I know that has to be implemented properly. I can get the Deputy a comprehensive response on that in writing.

The mission statement of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is: "The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht oversees the protection and presentation of Ireland’s heritage and cultural assets." There are some particular parts of Ireland's heritage and cultural assets which I wish to draw the Minister's attention to because they are neither being preserved nor promoted at the moment. They are the cultural assets that fall within the remit of Shannon Heritage, namely, King John's Castle in Limerick; Craggaunowen, which is a crannóg beside a lake in Clare on 30 acres of parkland with a castle and is owned by the Hunt Museum trust and managed by Shannon Heritage; Dunguaire Castle in south-west County Galway near Kinvarra; Knappogue Castle; and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Of all of those sites, only Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John's Castle will open at all this summer. The country is crying out for places to visit. Hopefully we will have a tourist season in Ireland.

It would largely be domestic tourism.

In addition to tourists who might travel from one part of the country to another, there are families all over Ireland, including the mid-west, who may have spent more time in one another's company over the past three months than they had envisaged. There are parents who are desperate for some place to bring their children for a day. I say to the Minister, who is tasked with preserving and presenting Ireland's heritage, where better for those parents to bring their children than a heritage resource such as Craggaunowen, as I said, a crannóg, a living museum with a castle and 30 acres of parkland? Craggaunowen, for the first time in decades, will not open at all this year. Dunguaire Castle on Galway Bay will not open at all this year. A walled garden was developed at Knappogue Castle at taxpayers' expense. Who will see it this year? Nobody. The word "disgrace" is used a lot in the Dáil, but to treat our heritage in this manner is disgraceful. It is not the heritage of Shannon Airport, me, the Minister or the Acting Chairman; it is our heritage. To treat it in this manner at a time when people are looking for places to visit, are desperate for places to visit, is not alone a disgrace but incredibly short-sighted.

I had a meeting with the staff of Shannon Heritage last Saturday. Some 40 staff members showed up. That is much more than the 15 envisaged under law. The Minister can prosecute me if she so wishes. I did not organise the meeting and I am absolutely certain that those who did so did not expect it to be as well attended as it was. I was very proud to meet each and every one of those 40 people. If the Minister or anybody else in government wishes to prosecute me for that, they can go ahead. The staff are outraged by what is happening, not just on their own behalf, not just because of a lifetime of work they have put into these resources, but because of what it says to the people of Ireland about their heritage. It says we shut it off when it does not suit us. At the same time Shannon Heritage is doing this in the mid-west, the GPO experience is being kept open, Malahide Castle is being kept open and Newbridge House is being kept open. What is so special about the heritage sites in Dublin that they deserve to be kept open and ours can be closed when it suits?

I appreciate that I have not left the Minister much time to answer. It was not an intentional policy on my part. I apologise. I ask her to be afforded one minute if she can reply. I know that Shannon Heritage is a private body, but the State has to step in at some point to protect our resources.

I appreciate the Deputy's passion for the subject but it does not come not under my remit. It comes under that of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I will relay the Deputy's concerns to the Minister. I do not know whether he was here earlier, but another Deputy referred to the areas mentioned. From my perspective, the 86 National Parks and Wildlife Service parks and reserves have all been open during Covid-19. Shane Ross, as the Deputy knows, is the incumbent Minister with responsibility for tourism, and I will raise the matter with him.

Sitting suspended at 2.15 p.m. and resumed at 2.35 p.m.