Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

National Broadband Plan

James Lawless


15. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if reductions in broadband roll-out time will be evenly distributed nationwide in view of commitments to seek to reduce the roll-out time of the national broadband plan. [16076/20]

At the outset I offer my congratulations formally to the new Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. We laboured together in the vineyard on the communications committee in the previous term so I have full confidence that the Minister is more than au fait with the issue. I look forward to engaging with him on this and on transport matters, which are also close to my heart. I am aware the Minister's new responsibilities will encompass that also. I wish him the best of luck in the term ahead.

My question is on broadband provision and roll-out. I welcome both the commitment in the programme for Government and reports in The Sunday Business Post recently that there is the potential for some accelerated delivery of the national broadband plan. I ask the Minister to elaborate on how that might be achieved and whether it will be uniformly achieved across the country.

I thank Deputy Lawless. I look forward to his next term in the vineyard of policy ideas. He worked very effectively on the digital transformation that we need to achieve so I look forward to continuing to work with him on that.

Rolling out the national broadband plan, NBP, will be central to that. This plan will provide high-speed broadband to the 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms and 695 schools, where commercial operators currently will not commit to deliver the service.

The State-led intervention will be delivered by National Broadband Ireland, NBI, under a contract signed on 19 November 2019. The NBP network will offer users a high-speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 150 Mbps from the outset.  By the end of next year, National Broadband Ireland plans to pass about 115,000 premises, with between 70,000 and 100,000 passed each year thereafter until roll-out is completed. All counties will see premises passed in the first two years and more than 90% of premises in the State will have access to high-speed broadband within the next four years.

Design work is complete or ongoing in target townlands across 17 counties and steady progress is being made, with more than 40,000 premises surveyed to date. This survey work is feeding into detailed designs for each deployment area and the laying of fibre should commence shortly with the first fibre to the home connections expected around December of this year.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of good broadband to ensuring that citizens across Ireland can avail of remote working, education and other essential online facilities. Recognising this, the programme for Government commits to seeking to accelerate the roll-out of the national broadband plan. The programme for Government also recognises that the NBP will be a key enabler to many of the policies envisaged, particularly around increased levels of remote working.

My Department is currently engaging with NBI to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of the NBP roll-out and to bring premises which are scheduled for connection in years 6 and 7 of the current plan forward to an earlier date. These discussions are ongoing and a preliminary position will be arrived at by the end of the summer. It is premature at this point to speculate on what premises may benefit from this potential change, other than to say that those premises currently scheduled for the latter end of the roll-out are the focus of the analysis.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The Minister listed several numbers of homes with various target dates. This is welcome but I am particularly interested in the potential for acceleration. I must confess that I was a sceptic in respect of the national broadband plan in the last Dáil but it is in progress, so I wish it Godspeed. We need to roll it out as fast as we possibly can. One of the reasons I was somewhat sceptical is that I believed, and still believe, that there are ways to achieve wider coverage in an accelerated fashion instead of or in parallel with the national broadband plan. One of those approaches, contained in legislation I published during the last Dáil, included a rapid roll-out broadband planning framework. This would allow site-sharing, the reuse of kit and the compilation of an inventory of kit, the standardisation of area plans and planning frameworks, consolidating planning regulations across local authorities and many other things. This legislation included a provision for new planning permission to require ducting to the threshold. From previous committee meetings I know the Minister probably shares my view on this. There are several ways this could be done. I may re-examine that Bill for this new Dáil. These measures can be taken in parallel with and as complements to the national broadband plan.

The Minister mentioned years six and seven. To be local about it, some of my constituents in places like Eadestown and Kilteel in north-east Kildare are 20 km from Dublin city centre. In terms of broadband service provision, however, they are as rural as the west of Ireland or parts of Connemara. They cannot wait until year six or seven for this to happen. There is a large contingent of people who are currently working from home or engaged in high-intensity activity. It is imperative that they receive the service as soon as possible.

I thank the Deputy. This plan was debated extensively throughout the lifetime of the last Dáil. Whatever my concerns around ownership issues and contractual arrangements, and they were real concerns, I was always supportive of the need for a rural broadband system. I am happy to take responsibility for making sure that we deliver it. It is not the only critical infrastructure that we need. Outside the areas covered by the broadband plan, ongoing investment from the likes of Eir, SIRO and other operators will be needed. I absolutely agree with some of the options mentioned by the Deputy, such as improving planning permission requirements so that ducting is included in any new building project, including homes. That absolutely makes sense, as does the sharing of masts or other site systems. This plan does not prevent us from engaging with a range of other initiatives. It does ensure that we leave nobody behind. In light of the increased importance and benefits of broadband, I particularly wish to accelerate delivery to those houses that were previously expected to be provided for in latter years. I hope to deliver to them ahead of schedule.

I thank the Minister. Going back to the heart of the question, I wish to reiterate the proposals which I may discuss with the Minister. They are complementary to the national broadband plan rather than an alternative to it. I am trying to get a greater understanding of the suggestion that there is a potential for accelerated roll-out. Is that driven by technology, geography or commercial factors? That understanding will help us to realise whether this acceleration can be applied uniformly across the country or whether particular clusters will be in the fortunate position of receiving broadband more quickly. I hope the acceleration is technology-driven, and in a procedural sense I hope we can apply it uniformly so that the entire country receives a broadband connection in the same advanced manner.

If I may touch on the Minister's other responsibilities and an area of common interest, this has many benefits across the board. That hardly needs to be restated. I travelled this morning by train from Sallins in north Kildare. The trains are not full, but even with the pandemic and the reduced economic capacity they are beginning to get busy again. We are at the very early stages of reopening. The sooner we can enable people to work at home to avoid those commutes, the faster we can tackle multiple issues pertaining to the environment, quality of life, public transport capacity constraints etc. I really cannot stress the importance of this enough. Perhaps we might examine that legislation or other options. I am very interested in the specifics of the accelerated roll-out that has been flagged in the programme for Government and the recent Business Post reports.

Like so many other projects the national broadband plan has been delayed slightly by the Covid-19 pandemic due to the difficulty of completing certain work but it has not been delayed as much as other projects. A lot of the work of recent months, such as surveying poles to see which ones need to be improved or upgraded, could continue. By the end of this year we expect to be pretty much on target in terms of delivery timelines.

I note another factor that may help accelerate progress. We started this project in a world where it was very hard to get construction workers. There were so many different demands and construction activities taking place. Post Covid-19 it may be a possible to access workers and contractors more quickly than was the case six months ago when the economy was at full tilt.

Moreover, hopefully there is a benefit for everyone in this. Acceleration might be helped by increased confidence that the uptake of these services will be on the higher end of our expectations, because we are seeing the benefits of remote working and the use of high-speed broadband in a way we would not have expected six months ago. I hope that might help us to accelerate the process to the benefit of all concerned.

National Broadband Plan

Duncan Smith


16. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when broadband will be provided to each home in north County Dublin under the national broadband plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16045/20]

I wish to congratulate the Minister on his new role and to genuinely wish him all the best. I extend those good wishes to the fellow spokespeople who will be taking a special interest in these portfolios. I hope we can all work together to mount challenges, reach conclusions and move forward with what we want to see in the area of communications, climate action and the environment.

My question is a local one but an important one. It concerns north County Dublin. When will we see timelines for the provision of broadband to the homes and businesses covered in the national broadband plan?

I thank Deputy Duncan Smith. This is one of the most interesting areas. One learns so much about the infrastructure that supports our society. I look forward to working with the Deputy on this common cause.

The high-speed broadband map, which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie, shows the areas in north County Dublin which will be included in the national broadband plan's State-led scheme, as well as areas targeted by commercial operators. The map is colour-coded and searchable by address and Eircode postcode. Premises in the amber area will be provided with high-speed broadband through the State-led Intervention, the contract for which was signed in November 2019. Some 6,050 premises in Dublin Fingal fall into this category.

The blue area represents those areas where commercial providers are currently delivering or have plans to deliver high-speed broadband services. Some 57,338 premises in Dublin Fingal fall into this category.

The light blue area represents Eir's commercial rural deployment plans to roll out high-speed broadband to 300,000 premises, including in Wexford, as part of a commitment agreement signed in April 2017. A total of 194 premises in Dublin Fingal fall into this category.

The NBP network will offer premises within the amber intervention area a high-speed broadband service with the minimum download speeds I mentioned earlier and passing 115,000 premises, also as stated earlier. All counties will see premises passed in the first two years and more than 90% of premises will have access to high-speed broadband within the next four years. Design work is complete or ongoing in target townlands across 17 counties and progress is being made in serving in excess of 40,000 premises surveyed to date. I am advised that contractors are due to begin surveying townlands in Skerries in late quarter 3 of 2020. Further information on deployment activities associated with the roll-out can be found on the NBI website http://www.nbi.ie.

My Department is engaging with National Broadband Ireland to explore the feasibility of accelerating projects, as I said earlier. These discussions are ongoing with a preliminary position to be arrived at by the end of the summer.

The website is useful up to a point, and has been for a number of years, in identifying the townlands. The issue is knowing how long these townlands will remain amber or when they will go live with broadband. That is a big job for the Minister to deliver on. Throughout the pandemic we have seen the benefits of working from home, but we have also seen the challenges. Some households in the constituency I represent may have two adults along with one, two or three children all needing broadband to work or study from home.

People have often had to use the mental health services. Yesterday the Covid committee heard a presentation on the challenges that poor Internet provision brings to online mental health provision. North County Dublin is as rural as areas in counties Mayo, Kerry, Wicklow, Meath and others. Similar to those areas, it needs a broadband service. Those townlands will need timelines as well as their colour coding.

The Deputy is right. Everything has changed following the pandemic. Householders are rightly seeking information.

In Dublin Fingal some 6,050 premises are due to be provided with broadband under the NBP scheme. In the current plans the blue area where commercial operators are delivering or have plans to deliver, it is almost ten times that number at 57,000. That is subject to change. I expect other operators, some of which I mentioned earlier, to respond to what they see as an increase in demand. Even the networks were under serious pressure during the pandemic because the volume of data we were all using went through the roof. Our networks held up for the most part but the current system is probably at maximum capacity. As well as the NBP, we will need significant private sector investment to respond to that demand. I hope to get clarity and certainty on that, working with those operators to ensure they roll out and demonstrate to their customers where they are rolling out new networks because there is demand there.

I urge caution on the private sector and having to row back on them. With a new Government and a Minister with a strong track record in fighting for this, we need to strengthen the NBP and give confidence to people that it will deliver. Those 6,050 households cannot be left behind at the end of the list. The State needs to provide them with what is now an essential service. Communication about this is key. We have had issues whereby broadband technology and infrastructure has gone halfway up a laneway in north County Dublin because they have bundled a number of houses rather than a geographical area. All these factors undermine the confidence in broadband provision, not only in north County Dublin and in Fingal, but throughout the country.

I understand what the Minister is saying about the capacity issues, but we need the State to lead on this. It is his responsibility to improve confidence in the national broadband plan to deliver for north County Dublin and the rest of the country.

I agree with the Deputy. Some very high-profile people have criticised the NBP. Strategically for the State, the guarantee that no house will be left out is critical. It is not relying on the market and we will intervene in areas where the market cannot or will not deliver. The mapping of that has been done and it is effective. The broad approach in identifying those houses is the correct one.

The Deputy is correct that there has been considerable frustration in houses where they see fibre or cable going up part of a road and then stop. The advantage of the NBP is in hopefully now a four or five-year rather than a six or seven-year timeframe - some such accelerated timeframe - we will cover every single house. That will be critical for the entire country.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Bernard Durkan


17. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extent to which he expects to be in a position to achieve emission reduction targets in line with the programme for Government while at the same time protecting economic progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16051/20]

Tá ceist Uimh. 17 i m’ainm féin. The Minister has a choice. He can read the oral reply into the record or I will accept a written reply.

I will read the reply into the record. The question is from yourself.

I congratulate the Minister and convey good wishes to him in his office.

Congratulations to you as well, a Chathaoirligh. I am happy to respond to your question. Over the years we have worked on various committees together and I think you will agree that is where the most important work of the Oireachtas is done.

The programme for Government sets out our ambition to more than halve our carbon emissions over this decade. The action we take in the coming years will be critical in addressing the climate crisis, which renders our current economic model redundant and threatens our safe future on this planet.

As Minister with responsibility for climate action, I will lead on delivering our shared commitment to achieve an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The 2050 target will be set in law in the climate action Bill, which I will introduce in the Dáil within the first 100 days of Government.

With the increased scale and depth of this ambition, new strategies will be needed to sustain a reduction trajectory that will increase over time. I will work with colleagues across government to develop a new climate action plan before year end, with additional initiatives in every sector to bring about the significant change needed to transform our society.

While this will be challenging, requiring fundamental changes in how we live our lives, we will improve the health, welfare and security of our society, as well as realising enormous opportunities in a new, decarbonised economy. Climate change means the fossil fuel-based economic model is no longer fit for purpose. It is crucial that as we rebuild, we make the necessary structural changes to break the link between fossil fuels and economic progress. To this end, the Government is committed to ensuring that the economic recovery is a green recovery, delivered in a fair way that ensures that no sector of our society or community is left behind. The July stimulus and the national economic plan will seek to front-load investment to this end.

Critical to this process will be the Oireachtas joint committee which is due to be set up under the programme for Government. I hope it will carry on the good work done in the previous Dáil by a similar Oireachtas committee. It should be a cross-party and fully collaborative effort.

Climate Action Plan

Jennifer Whitmore


18. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when he will work with the European Commission to advance a stronger national energy and climate plan, NECP, for 2030; when the plan will be submitted; the way in which he plans to make the plan a stronger document; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16063/20]

I wish the Minister well in his new role. I look forward to working with him. We have many of the same goals and I hope we can progress those during this Dáil.

The NECP was due to be submitted to the EU at the end of 2019 but was delayed because of the general election and the Government formation process. When will the Minister work with the European Commission to advance a stronger national energy and climate plan for 2030? When will the Department submit the NECP, which was previously on hold due to having an interim Government in place? How does he plan to make the NECP a stronger document? I ask him to make a statement on the matter.

I look forward to working with the Deputy and bringing her expertise into play on where we go from here.

There was an informal meeting of the European Council of environment ministers yesterday. Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European Commission, set out the approach the Commission is planning to take this autumn and into the new year under the German Presidency. The German minister also outlined that. We hope to see and be part of a major acceleration in ambition across the European Union to help the Union play its part in meeting the Paris climate goals. In that regard I expect to have a further phone call with the vice-president of the Commission, tomorrow I think, to set out our plans for progressing the NECP. I understand data have already been submitted setting out the emissions reduction that could come from the existing climate action plan.

That may well provide a baseline for our contribution but we will immediately switch to working with the European Commission. By the end of September they are looking to do an assessment of what increased ambition might be possible across different nation states, taking into account those baseline national energy and climate plan, NECP, submissions. We look to have climate legislation in the autumn that would commit the European Union towards a net zero 2050 target in CO2 reductions, with a new effort-sharing mechanism to show how the EU as a whole would achieve that by 2030. If this is agreed by the European Union, which I hope it can be by the end of this year, it will lead to the development of a new NECP, which will meet and match the newer higher target that the programme for Government commits to. That is the process I see us working on with the European Union to deliver higher ambition. It has to involve engagement with the Oireachtas joint committee, the special Cabinet sub-committee on climate action, biodiversity and the environment, and all actors in Irish society. This must be central to the new national economic plan. The approach I look to take will put in our baseline what the climate action plan shows, we will immediately start working with the European Commission on how we set out a higher ambition target and get agreement in the European Council for that, and then deliver the NECP, which will deliver on that sort of commitment. That is the approach I am thinking of taking.

I thank the Minister. Can I take it that the existing NECP will be submitted and then the Minister will work on a new version of it that will strengthen aspects of it? During the consultation process, many environmental groups raised a number of issues such as the need for: an overall economy-wide carbon budget to be included in the document; a plan for the cessation of offshore fossil fuel exploration; a formal revision of the national mitigation plan; and nature-based solutions to be incorporated into it, which I am very passionate about. We tend to silo issues of biodiversity against issues of technological advances when it comes to climate. Is the Minister prepared to take nature-based solutions into consideration in the new NECP?

Yes to most, or all, of those comments. The Commission will work now on the new higher ambitions. Sending in the outgoing NECP proposal around the climate action plan will give us a baseline by which the new Commission can do its assessment of what a higher ambition will target, and how we would contribute to the higher ambition of at least 50% to 55% emission reductions across the European Union. This is what we now need to work on with the Commission, having moved on from the old baseline level, which everyone agrees now needs to be increased.

The Deputy also referred to offshore oil and gas exploration, and I would include imports of liquefied natural gas, LNG. We have to achieve that objective at the same time. Critically, I agree with the Deputy on that central fact. I will also seek to call the Cabinet environment committee the committee on climate action, biodiversity and the environment. We are in a biodiversity crisis, as well as a climate crisis, and the solutions to the climate crisis will help us in addressing the biodiversity crisis in a whole range of different ways. It is absolutely critical that we do this as an integrated project, and not just tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis at the same time. I wholeheartedly agree with the Deputy on that.

It will be very important to bring people along on this journey with us. What does the Minister propose for engagement and consultation over the coming year? It seems there will be a considerable body of work to be done in that regard. How will the Minister involve our community and expert involvement in that? How will the Minister ensure that this document becomes, essentially, a living document? Scientific knowledge and technological advances are happening all the time. How do we make sure to incorporate those advances on an ongoing basis to make the NECP the most up-to-date plan based on best scientific knowledge at the time?

Dialogue is key. The Oireachtas committee will have a role in that. We represent communities and can provide a forum where people can come in, on the record, to engage in the whole process. We also need to go beyond that and beyond the regional assemblies that have been set up so far, to much more local and detailed discussions on what this transition is going to look like. From my perspective, the broad European approach gives us room because it is not a case of top down or that the Commission knows best. It is trying to agree on the broad, overall effort-sharing arrangement, while leaving nation states free to be flexible around the solutions that exist. The climate fund, which allows communities or businesses to come forward with ideas, is a good example of the existence of bottom-up solutions here and not just top down. We will debate the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill 2020 later today, which will help to support that. Critically, and particularly in areas such as retrofitting of homes, improvement of local environment through afforestation, rewetting or through other mechanisms, it will not work with just a top-down approach. It has to involve community engagement, community energy and the supply of new systems. That involves us listening and engaging with local communities to make it their plan.

Programme for Government

Bernard Durkan


19. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the mission statement of his Department with particular reference to the main components of his brief; the timescale within which he expects to be in a position to achieve his targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16050/20]

I am happy for the Minister to provide a written reply, or he can read the reply into the record.

The Programme for Government - Our Shared Future sets out the Government's response to the significant challenges facing the country including the fallout from Covid-19, decarbonising our economy and creating a sustainable future for all. My Department is central to many of the transformative changes envisaged in the programme including climate action and the digital agenda.

Programme for Government commitments will be incorporated into a new statement of strategy for my Department, required under the Public Service Management Act 1997. The new strategy, which will be published within six months, will set out our vision and mission for the next three years across a broad portfolio, encompassing climate action, energy, communications networks, environment, waste management and natural resources. It will reflect the commitments to be delivered over the five-year lifetime of the programme for Government. This includes: a national clean air strategy; seeking to accelerate the roll-out of the national broadband plan, achieving an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030; delivering a national aggregated model of retrofitting reaching more than 500,000 homes by 2030; developing a major drive to realise the immense potential of Ireland’s offshore renewable sector; enacting the climate action (amendment) Bill; and completing and implementing a major waste and circular economy action plan.

The statement of strategy will be developed in consultation with interested stakeholders and will identify the steps required to ensure that the commitments set out in the programme for Government are achieved. When complete, the statement of strategy will be presented to both Houses. My Department will commence work with this shortly.

National Broadband Plan

Darren O'Rourke


20. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of progress of the national broadband plan; the amount spent to date; the number of homes and businesses that have been and are yet to be connected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16068/20]

I raise the issue of the national broadband plan with the Minister but I am conscious that he has already handled two questions on this issue. I had thought they might be grouped. For the purpose of making this exchange a little bit useful, perhaps the Minister could focus his response on the plan as it is envisaged to roll out, the weakness of the plan from the Minister's perspective, and what he will bring to the plan in his position of Minister to improve on it and to bring about prioritisation of its rapid delivery.

After years of working in this area, it is my assessment that we often focus on the technology, the wires, the hardware and the way one gets digital information moved from one place to the other. I believe that the key issue for success is in the use and actual behavioural side of it and in what ways the technology is used. The actual soft application side can be more important than the aspect we all focus on, which is the technology side. One must have the technology to be able to start using it but if we can take that as a given, I believe that the real key issue with the national coming in.broadband plan will be what type of societal changes, benefits and usage it will encourage. An example related to the current situation in Covid-19 is that in my Department, there are very few workers

Largely, the Civil Service is working remotely to show a lead in protecting public health and safety. There is a question of how remote working might work best. In the future, it will be flexible in a variety of ways, people might come into work for three or four days a week rather than five, but we might also look at other mechanisms. For instance we can take high-speed broadband connections, particularly in a village or town, and create community enterprise centres where people would work remotely but not at home. There would be an opportunity for social interaction, community enterprise and some of the benefits of being in a shared office where people spark off each other and have ideas. Creating community enterprise hubs around that use of the broadband connection is one example of how we can use the system and services we have. Similarly, what can we learn from the last six months for e-learning and life-long learning, and how we use these video conferencing and other systems? That side of usage is critical for success as much as the technology itself.

I appreciate the response and understand the perspective. Very significant societal changes will come with the full implementation of this plan. During the lockdown, as RTÉ reported, one of the digital hubs in my area did not have high-speed broadband connection. The building existed, with the tables, chairs and offices, but they did not have the broadband infrastructure to make it work. It is crucial that the system is in place to deliver it and that the broadband plan is delivered as quickly and to as high a standard as possible. What is the Minister's view of the timeframe for the roll-out and the model of delivery? The comparison has often been drawn with the ESB. Does the Minister support the model that is there? Will the project proceed as proposed or will there be a review?

On the last point, I do not believe the contractual arrangements are agreed about the exact route network options that will be used. In opposition, and now in government, I have argued there is much strategic sense in using the ESB network in deploying some of this architecture, and that there is real benefit. There is an electricity wire going to every house in the country. That might provide some synergy in developing broadband.

To give a specific example of how the roll-out to work, the first phase of about 300 broadband connection points was to be the first roll-out. Many were in rural areas, perhaps connecting to a local school, GAA club or community centre. People in rural constituencies in particular, might ask how we can benefit from the technology starting with those 300 connection points which we expect to see rolled out by the end of the year.

In my experience information and communication on this are really important. People are really frustrated about access to information. People do a tremendous job in trying to get a forensic knowledge of broadband in their local areas. They are able to say what lines are going where and they have engaged with the different utility providers. The experience of dealing with the utility providers can be very frustrating. Meath County Council has a broadband officer, Cormac McCann. He is a fantastic resource to public representatives in the area, he has a forensic knowledge of what is happening on a county-wide basis. I do not know the basis by which he is employed in the council but I commend the approach. Perhaps the Minister might roll the approach out more widely. Information is key on the broadband roll-out and people really appreciate being well informed.

Often during Minister's questions, a Minister will respond by saying they will revert to the Deputy with further information. In this case, I will throw it back the other way and ask the Deputy if he will provide me with much more details about that officer in Meath County Council. If it is working well, it is something we could examine and support and ensure that every other council does the same. This is exactly the sort of learning by doing, learning by best practice and swapping stories that we need to do. If the Deputy sent me a specific note on that, I would welcome it.

Climate Change Policy

Jennifer Whitmore


21. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the new climate action Bill due to be published within 100 days of the current Government will incorporate all the targets and ambitions as set out in the European Green Deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16061/20]

I fully support increased climate ambition at EU level and welcome the publication of the EU climate law proposal, including the delivery of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions at EU level by 2050. The EU climate law is currently under negotiation in the Council, and the impact assessment to increase the EU 2030 climate ambition will be published this summer with a view to reaching agreement later this year. While the targets and ambitions under the European green deal are still being negotiated, I will continue to progress Ireland's increased climate ambition. The programme for Government sets out our objective to more than halve our carbon emissions over the course of the decade. The action we take in the coming years will be critical in order to address the climate crisis, which threatens our safe future on this planet.

As Minister for climate action, I will lead on delivering our shared commitment to achieve an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.  The 2050 target will be set in law in the climate action Bill. The Bill will also significantly strengthen the statutory framework for governance of the climate challenge in Ireland, including introducing a requirement on Government to propose carbon budgets for three five-year periods and decarbonisation ranges for each relevant sector.

I expect that Bill will be published in the first 100 days of our term in government and hopefully enacted as soon as the Houses are able to do so.

Will the Minister incorporate the specific targets set out in the EU green deal, that is, a cut of at least a 40% in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU below 1990 levels by 2030, at least a 32% share for renewable energy and at least a 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency, in the climate Bill?

Those targets will probably not be ambitious enough. My sense from yesterday's European Council meeting is that there was a clear majority of Ministers representing a majority of states and population who were willing to look at a higher reduction target than 40% but a reduction of 50% to 55%. It has not been possible to get European Union agreement on it yet but I believe that it is close and must be achieved by the end of the year.

That will have knock-on consequences. To achieve the 32% target for renewables or the 32.5% efficiency target, it will not be sufficient to meet the higher target. It will require raising ambition across all sectors. Both the European climate Bill and our own legislation will focus on the net-zero target for 2050. It is then the job of the climate advisory committee to the Government and all bodies to set out the series of five-year trajectories that will allow us to meet that higher target.

Does the Minister believe that in the next step for greater ambition in the targets in the EU green deal, there is potential for Ireland to take a leadership role and go further in our own climate action Bill to address the need for greater ambition? Does the Minister have a date for when the Bill will come before the Houses?

I hope to have it in September or October, whenever the 100-day limit is. It must come within that sort of timeframe. The benefit of that timeframe is that it will be in tune with the timing of the European climate legislation.

It will also allow us to be in tune with the new national economic plan which has to incorporate the scale of change that brings. People have asked why the target is 7% per annum. The science demands it. It brings a scale of change without historic comparison in terms of the speed and change it will bring. This changes everything. The climate Bill is only the start. It is the enabling legislation to put in place one of the institutional structures that will help us to deliver it. Many other not only legislative measures but budgetary measures, economic plans and consultation will be required, consultation, as mentioned earlier, probably being the biggest, most important to ensure everyone is behind the scale of change we need.

National Broadband Plan

James O'Connor


22. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to upgrade the broadband infrastructure in eastern areas of County Cork which has poor connectivity that is hampering development within the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16054/20]

I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on his appointment at Cabinet and to a very exciting and important portfolio, particularly in a 21st century economy. I have an interest in the transport area, having done a great deal of work on it at a local authority level alongside many fine Green Party councillors in the constituency of Cork East.

Based on the Department's high-speed broadband map one can see that the Cork East area, which I represent, is in need of State intervention. In the national broadband plan, it is marked as an amber zone. Currently, Cork East is heavily dependent on commercial operators for broadband coverage. As we enter a new normal and with the increased number of people working remotely and reliant on commercial services, which are clearly inadequate, unsustainable and unacceptable, I ask the Minister to elaborate on the progress of the roll-out of the national broadband plan for Cork East.

I thank the Deputy for his kind words. I look forward to working with him, hopefully in closer quarters when we return to the Dáil Chamber.

The high-speed broadband map shows the areas in Cork East which will be included in the national broadband plan, as well as areas targeted by commercial operators. As I said earlier, the map is colour coded and searchable by address and Eircode. Premises in the amber area will be provided with high-speed broadband through the State-led intervention, the contract for which was signed in November last with National Broadband Ireland, NBI. There are 16,200 premises in Cork East falling into this category. The blue area represents those areas where commercial providers are either currently delivering or have plans to deliver high-speed broadband services and covers 25,087 premises in Cork East. The light blue area represents Eir's commercial rural deployment plans for high-speed rural broadband, including Cork East as part of a commitment agreement. Some 177 premises in Cork East fall into this category.

The NBP network will offer those premises a high-speed connection of 150 Mbps. All counties will see premises passed in the first two years and over 90% of premises will have access to high-speed broadband within the next four years. Design work is complete or ongoing in target townlands across 17 counties and progress is being made on the over 40,000 premises surveyed to date. Contractors have commenced surveying in surrounding areas of Midleton. Surveying in the Youghal and surrounding areas is due to commence early next year.

The Government is currently engaging with National Broadband Ireland to explore accelerating aspects of the plan and to bring forward premises which are currently scheduled in years six and seven to an earlier date. These discussions are ongoing and a preliminary position will be arrived at by the end of the summer.

I welcome the Minister's response. According to a report in 2019 by a major phone operator, the creation of regional digital hubs could generate in the region of €312 million for the regional economy and create over 8,400 new jobs across over 1,000 new businesses. I am sure that the Minister will agree that to ensure rural towns and villages, such as those in Cork East, do not disappear there will need to be balanced regional development in the programme for Government. Key broadband infrastructure is vital in this regard. Main streets, including in my own town in Youghal, could benefit from such initiatives.

I would like to give the Minister an indication of the shortfalls that exist. In some of the areas that I canvassed, including in Inch near my own home between Killeagh and Youghal, there are houses that in 2020 still do not have home phone connections, which is hard to believe. I am happy to work with the Minister to address the shortfalls that exist across many rural areas in the constituency.

I would be happy to do that. I agree with the Deputy's assessment that the establishment of digital hubs provides huge opportunities, particularly for Irish towns and villages, to restore commercial and retail life to the centre of our historic streets in our towns. In terms of an example, the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen has shown how we can progress. There are other examples. The commitment in the programme for Government to a towns first type policy, which is about restoring enterprise to the centre of our streets and communities, will be critical. It is in tune with what is happening in other countries and here in towns that are starting to succeed on the back of good planning. Broadband is a critical part of that planning. I am happy to work with the Deputy in trying to roll out broadband and the centres as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for answering my question. Traffic congestion is a huge issue in my constituency. I would like to see more people working from home. It is important the Government puts in place the infrastructure to make that a possibility. I again thank the Minister for his response and I look forward to working with him.

One of the areas on which we can work together is the identification of premises that might be appropriate. Local authorities and community enterprise have a critical role in identifying premises for the creation of such digital hubs. By definition being wireless they can be located anywhere. The purpose of the national broadband plan is to bring connectivity to the individual house. For retailers, publicans and other community facilities that have experienced difficulty in recent years digital hubs provide us with an opportunity to transition them into new community enterprise centres facilitated with high-speed connectivity. Councillors and colleagues in east Cork, west Cork and every county, in particular rural areas of the country, need to start identifying those types of premises, working with the local authorities to try to provide the connection but also the other facilities that would make them vibrant community enterprise centres.

Questions Nos. 23 and 24 replied to with Written Answers.

Wind Energy Generation

Darren O'Rourke


25. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on improving the level of community ownership of wind farms here; his further views on whether the State should intervene to help support local communities establishing and running their own wind farms which can power their own local energy needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16067/20]

This question relates to community forms of ownership and delivery of wind energy and what specific measures the Government proposes to advance this unique and significant opportunity in the time ahead.

It is vital that we ensure that community energy can play a role in reaching at least 70% renewable electricity, including a community benefit fund and a community category within the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, auction; and that we aim to continue to work with the EU to agree community participation as an integral part of installing new renewable energy and a route for community participation in the projects.

The renewable electricity support scheme, which will support the development of many dozens of renewable projects nationwide over the next decade, includes a separate community category in its first auction to be held later this month. The category is open only to projects that are at least 51% owned by the local community and we understand that some of the projects entering the category are 100% community-owned. The category has a capacity allocation of 30 GW hours, enough to support several projects, both solar and wind.

In future onshore RESS auctions we expect to see increasing numbers of community projects being supported. To ensure a pipeline of such projects we plan to establish an enabling framework of capacity-building supports that will include information dissemination, trusted intermediary and adviser services, feasibility grants, soft development loans and a simplified grid connection process. Together with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, my Department has already commenced planning the development of this enabling framework.

While nurturing a new community energy sector, the vast majority of projects successful in RESS will be larger developer-led projects.

Ensuring local communities benefit from these projects is also a key objective. To that end, all projects successful in RESS must establish a community benefit fund in the annual dispersal of which locals will have a substantive say. My officials are also exploring further community participation in renewable energy projects for future auctions under RESS.