Amendments Nos. 1 and 11 to 16, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. I call Deputy Naughten.
National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 6, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“ “air quality” means the reduction in air pollution as defined in the Air Pollution Act 1987;
“carbon sequestration” means a natural or artificial process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form;”.
I am speaking to amendments Nos. 1 and 11 to 16, inclusive. There are two issues regarding these amendments. First, I believe that air quality must be included as part of the remit of the climate action fund. Any of us who understand the issues of climate change will appreciate that air quality is the practical, here-and-now aspect of climate change. By improving air quality in the short term, we can have a long-term impact on overall emissions. There has been a narrative to try to disassociate those two objectives and to suggest that air quality and climate action are the opposite sides of the same coin. While there is much media attention and discussion online regarding climate change, there is very little concerning air pollution, because we do not actually see it.
The facts are that four people die every day in Ireland as a result of poor air quality and 122,000 bed nights every year are occupied by people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. In fact, one in 12 people in Ireland have COPD, one in five children in Ireland has asthma and Ireland has the fourth highest incidence of asthma globally. It is important, therefore, that this legislation clearly reflects the objective of improving air quality, which has a direct impact on our climate emissions. When the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is responding, he might outline when we will see the clean air strategy. As he will know from the files in his Department, the first draft of that strategy was being completed in September 2018 and yet, bizarrely, it seems to have gone down the priority list within the Department. The Minister might update us on that aspect.
In addition, when the Minister is updating me, he might let me know where the warmth and well-being research that was being conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is. It was due to provide the Department with a preliminary report in September 2018. I noticed from a recent parliamentary reply that the report is still ongoing, which seems bizarre to me. I do not believe that the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is that incompetent that two years later we still do not have the preliminary report. Having access to that information is significant for the decisions we are going to make as a country. Anecdotal information from the warmth and well-being pilot is showing that people are more comfortable in their own homes, are getting sick less often, are presenting to their GPs less often, are being prescribed antibiotics less frequently, are presenting to hospitals less often, are having shorter stays in hospital and are being discharged more frequently directly to their own homes rather than to step-down facilities. This research has huge potential regarding improving health outcomes in this country, but it seems to have evaporated.
The second element to my amendment concerns carbon sequestration, which, bizarrely, is not included in the legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, referred last night to the just transition, Bord na Móna workers, rehabilitating bogs and biodiversity. That is all carbon sequestration, yet it is not included in this legislation. I note that in last week's Irish Farmers' Journal there was a leak regarding the submission that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine made to the European Commission. The document refers to incentivising carbon sequestration measures and better management of our wetlands and peatlands and making that a key priority. One of the things the climate action fund could do is to spearhead research in this area to come up with some innovative solutions. To date, that has not been forthcoming from organisations such as Teagasc. The climate action fund could help to spearhead innovation in that area.
There is another aspect of sequestration that I believe the climate action fund also needs to spearhead.
Again, that is not happening from Teagasc. We all accept that Ireland has one of the best grass production systems in the world. We should be focused on the development of new grass-based solutions to meet our current and future food needs as well as our energy needs. To date the research community has been behind the curve in that regard.
In the 1970s some of my family worked in Gowla Farms outside Ballyforan in my constituency in County Galway. The farm was producing food for pigs and poultry from dried grass. Yet, that industry has now evaporated. There were financial reasons for that but surely it is not beyond our research community to come up with innovative products derived from grass.
While I am on the issue of grass-based systems I am keen to put on the record that disadvantaged land types in this country, especially in the west of Ireland, remove carbon from our atmosphere and convert it into human protein on land that is not suitable for tillage. The argument is being made that we need to move away from beef production and start growing crops. Yet, the reality is a farmer could not go 20 yards with a plough before it would be in ribbons because of the type of land we have. The Acting Chairman knows this well given the nature of many parts of her constituency. Beef production is a way of utilising the land, sequestering carbon and converting it into human protein. Let us look at new research in this area. The climate action fund could be the driver of that innovation.
The Minister to respond.
Does Deputy Whitmore not come in first? Do I respond now?
The Minister comes in first and then Deputy Whitmore, but we will let Deputy Whitmore in if she wants to come in at this point.
I think it might be appropriate and I can then answer both Deputies.
This is my first time doing this so I may need some guidance on the wording. Do I move the amendment now?
We are speaking to my amendment now.
Which amendment is being moved? At this point we are dealing with Deputy Naughten's amendment.
I have a series of amendments. The theme is essentially that we need to incorporate nature-based solutions into our climate change adaptation and mitigation policies. There has been a real gap to date and that gap is reflected in this Bill as well. It is a wasted opportunity because it fails to recognise the value of nature-based solutions and what they can add not only from a climate mitigation and adaptation perspective but also in the sense of the bang for our buck we get with it. Essentially, it will also provide major biodiversity services as well.
When we are taking about nature-based solutions we mean using kelp beds as a carbon storage facility. People are aware of the carbon storage potential of trees but they are not aware that sea grasses have major potential as well. We need to start protecting and enhancing these options to assist in climate action and from a biodiversity perspective.
Many things that happen as a result of climate change like flooding are the effects we will feel but they can be mitigated by using nature. Essentially, nature is the tool that I believe will give us most effect when it comes to this. Let us consider the case of flooding. Rather than the first port of call being to pick up a digger and cement and build a big sea wall, we should look upstream to see what works we can provide there. Can we plant in different ways? Can we provide flood plain areas and manage them? Our nature, rivers and seas are dynamic systems and we need to learn to work with them rather than against them. We will never win the fight if we work against them.
The Minister will see a theme throughout each of my amendments. We need to incorporate nature-based systems into how we deal with climate change. The Bill does not do that. I hope the Minister will take that on board and incorporate them somehow. If we do not specify or spell them out in the Bill, there is a risk that by precluding them it will seem they are not to be utilised at all. This is important when we look at our technological responses to climate change. Obviously they play a major part and will be important in how we address it. We also need to spell out the nature-based solutions that can help as well.
I am sorry if I was changing the order there in a sense. I apologise because I was unable to be in the Chamber for the Second Stage debate last night. It clashed with a Cabinet meeting that I had to attend. I was liaising with the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, and I gather it was a good debate. I hope we can continue that today.
There is a critical timeline with this debate. The sooner we pass the legislation, the sooner we will be able to draw down funding for some of the solutions that we are going to discuss. That is the critical reason we are pressing ahead. I cannot remember the exact amount but every additional month will provide €10 million that we can bring towards the solutions that we all agree are needed. That affects the timelines. I mention this because it also affects our ability to accept amendments. I will not be able to accept the amendments set out. However, I am hoping to discuss how we may be able to pick up some of the amendments in a climate Bill due later this Autumn. We are not ruling out the prospect of taking on board some of the ideas mentioned.
I will start by explaining why these amendments are not being accepted and why they have been grouped together. They are concerned with expanding the scope of the climate action fund, including providing for it to have the ability to support projects which improve air quality and biodiversity.
I thank Deputies Naughten and Whitmore for their positive amendments on these project types and for including carbon sequestration projects under the projects supported by the fund. I agree with them that measures in these areas are important. However, I am reluctant to expand further the range of project types that may be supported by what is already likely to be a heavily over-subscribed fund. To do so would risk diluting the fund's impact across a large range of sectors and areas, rather than the fund being targeted for maximum impact, primarily towards greenhouse gas reductions.
Recently, my Department held information briefings which were attended by a large number of groups and potential project promoters interested in applying to the fund for support. A subsequent expression of interest process indicated that the fund was likely to attract a large number of developed and worthwhile projects. For this reason I think it is wise not to amend the Bill to enable climate action fund support for measures to improve air quality and biodiversity, notwithstanding the fact that it is necessary to promote and support measures in these areas.
At the moment the Bill limits the projects that can be supported to those which will impact on the State's ability to meet its greenhouse gas emissions' targets and those that provide help to workers and regions that are impacted by the State's transition to a low carbon economy. The provisions for the fund included within the Bill are targeted at certain activities which can be directly linked to Government targets and obligations, such as national and international climate and energy targets as well as providing assistance to communities as they transition from a dependency on high carbon activities.
I am keen to refer in particular to amendment No. 11 from Deputy Naughten. While not accepting the amendment now, I thank the Deputy for what I believe is a positive and constructive amendment. Deputies will be aware that measures to promote carbon sequestration relating to how we conduct forestry and manage soils offer extraordinary potential to increase the natural storage of carbon.
A land use review will be undertaken in due course by Government. It will include forests, farmlands and peatlands to ensure that future decisions and policy formation are informed by consideration of how land may best be used. This will take into account carbon sequestration benefits as well as climate adaptation. There is scope to consider further if and how the climate fund can support sequestration projects, initiatives and research and I will examine this.
Deputies will be aware that as part of the programme for Government I will shortly be progressing the climate action Bill through the Oireachtas. I think there could be scope for this Bill, after a closer consideration of relevant issues, to provide for the climate action fund to support carbon sequestration projects in the State and also potentially for projects to improve climate resilience. I note that Deputy Whitmore has referred to the fund supporting community based transition solutions in amendment No. 16. Again, I will look at what can be done within the climate action Bill possibly to amend funding capabilities. I agree absolutely with Deputy Whitmore that addressing the climate crisis has to go hand in hand with addressing the biodiversity crisis.
The two go together. A lot of the solutions we will use to fight climate change will inherently provide benefits for biodiversity, depending on the type of forestry we do. If we go with close to nature continuous coverage forestry solutions, we will see significant improvements in biodiversity, as well as the delivery of high-quality timber, the creation of a significant number of jobs and the development of rural Ireland. I could go on. The land use plan is critical so that we address biodiversity and the climate crisis at the same time.
The former Minister, Deputy Naughten, has a deep knowledge of this area given his former role in the Department. I agree with him that the air quality issue is also connected. The two go together. As we move away from fossil fuel use, that will provide potential benefits in terms of addressing air quality. I am trying to remember my briefing notes on this area, but my understanding is that the air quality review is due to be published shortly or is close to being completed.
My knowledge of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine report is, I am afraid, much more scant. I will ask the Department to dig up that body of work. I thank the Deputy for reminding me of its existence. I will track it down and report back to him.
I wish to clarify something for Deputies Naughten and Whitmore and myself. We are discussing section 2 and are dealing with amendments Nos. 1 and 11 to 16, inclusive. This is the Deputies' chance to speak on amendment Nos. 1 and 11 to 16, inclusive.
I promise the Minister that I will continue to remind him about the report from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine because it is urgent that that evidence is published. It will dramatically change the focus of climate and energy investment in this country.
I wish to correct a couple of interpretations the Minister has tried to give that are inaccurate. This money is in a bank account. He tried to insinuate that if we do not introduce this legislation, the €10 million a month in the account might be lost. It will not be. It is being lodged in a bank account every single month. It is true that the quicker we can start spending that money the better, and this legislation will allow that to happen, but it is not the case that we will lose the revenue.
The fund is significantly oversubscribed, and that is the intention. It is a competitive fund. Not everyone will get something out of it. The idea is that the best proposals, that is, those that will have the greatest impact, will be funded. In rejecting the amendments I have put forward, the Minister is excluding valuable opportunities to improve air quality and health outcomes for people.
The historic approach we took on legislation in the House before Covid-19 has to change dramatically. A pandemic is spreading across the world which specifically targets vulnerable people with chronic pulmonary obstructive disease or asthma. The Bill provides us with an opportunity to hit two birds with one stone. We could improve air quality and reduce our overall emissions, as well as improving health outcomes and protecting our population against Covid-19. I cannot understand why the Minister is rejecting the air quality amendment I have put forward.
Another of my amendments deals with carbon sequestration. The growing of grass in this country provides significant opportunities that are far less controversial than planting regions of the west of Ireland with trees. Irish farmers are, thanks to our atmosphere, good at growing grass. Can we do some research into examining how we can utilise grass in this country to sequester carbon and create a sustainable income for some farmers? Surely that is something that would benefit our overall climate targets. This type of investment and research is not happening through traditional mechanisms. It will only happen if the climate action fund drives that forward. My amendment is required to make that happen.
Are we dealing with Deputy Naughten's amendments?
We are discussing amendment Nos. 1 and 11 to 16, inclusive. The Deputy can speak on any of those amendments.
I am quite disappointed that none of these amendments will be incorporated into the Bill. The Social Democrats said all along that we would be very constructive in opposition and that if there was an opportunity to work with the Government to get things done, we would be more than happy to do that. This is the first time I have put forward an amendment.
The amendments I am putting forward are simple ideas that are internationally recognised. As it would appear that the Minister also recognises the need for them, I am surprised that such simple concepts and amendments are not being incorporated into the Bill. I do not think that saying there is an issue because of time limitations is appropriate. This Bill will be in operation for quite some time and will direct and dictate where significant moneys will be targeted. At this stage, not to incorporate these very simple amendments is a real opportunity lost.
As Deputy Naughten said, we should not decide to fund, for example, a technological project without asking what the end result of it will be and its impact on climate emissions. We should be targeting those areas. The process should be competitive and we should expect the absolute best projects and results for our environment. The way the fund is currently structured means that will not happen.
To preclude any mention of biodiversity or nature in the Bill is symbolic and says we will continue with business as usual and silo those two issues. We will have electric vehicles and a technological response to climate change on the one hand, and on the other a biodiversity crisis to which we gave lip service last year because we declared a crisis that we are still not going to address. Very little funding is directed at addressing biodiversity, apart from very local projects.
Money is going towards pollinator plans, which are great but will not address the huge crisis facing this country, Europe and the planet. We have to put our money where our mouth and research is and where the science tells us it needs to go. That is not happening and, ultimately, the Bill will not achieve that unless we incorporate nature-based solutions.
I am delighted with the Minister's appointment. I wish him well in his portfolio and look forward to working with him. Tús maith leath na hoibre. He has rejected these amendments. Deputy Naughten's amendments are very wisely thought out. He understands this area because he was in the Minister's seat. I thank him for all of the engagement he had with us when he was in office. I hope all Ministers will engage with the different groupings and all Deputies in Dáil because we are elected to this House for a good reason, namely, to look after the public and all of the issues, including climate.
A lot of money has been collected in recent years from schemes, such as the €209 million collected from the public service obligation, PSO, levy. A lot of carbon tax has been collected. People have been taxed and taxed but have seen no tangible benefits. That is why I am worried that the Bill will mean more taxes being imposed on the same people, especially those in rural Ireland. Some of the major projects that have been earmarked are city based. I have nothing against cities, but if people are paying taxes we need to bring them with us. Ní neart go cur le chéile.
Daoine óga, young people, in particular, have shown they are interested, worried and concerned but the farming community cannot be scapegoated. Deputy Naughten is right about planting huge swathes of land because once the land, which could be good land, is planted - I have seen this happen close to where I live - it is very hard to return it to arable land even after harvesting 40 years later.
I heard an excellent programme, "CountryWide", on the radio on Saturday morning. Deputy Naughten might know the family who were on the programme because they were from Roscommon. They had a wonderful concept. They were doing an amount of work for biodiversity. It was a mixed enterprise or farm with some trees and briars, bushes, holly and ivy. The land naturally developed. They also had sheep which grazed on garlic and herbs and they said the butcher was always seeking their lambs. That is a way to ensure farm to fork and to ensure people want quality assured meat. People vote with their feet when they go to buy it. It was a wonderful enterprise.
I am disappointed that it is going this way, especially with a majority Government. We saw this at the Business Committee today and we see it at the Dáil reform committee. The Minister has to get support, involvement and acceptance for these green concepts. It has always been the Minister's thing, and fair dues to him, but he must bring people with him in respect of the Bill. He is not willing to accept amendments. He said the Bill is rushed but every piece of legislation we have done in this term has been rushed. Perhaps we should leave some of it until we come back after the recess in six weeks' time and get it right. At the Business Committee this morning, we gave permission to waive pre-legislative scrutiny on a number of Bills. No committees have been set up to discuss legislation. We saw that happen yesterday when I was in the Chair. It was difficult because we had not had the committee debate and we ran into huge problems. Legislation that is rushed is poor legislation. I appeal to the Minister to get down and dirty with the Deputies, accept some of the amendments and try to engage with Deputies. Promising that there will be another Bill in which he might involve them or on which he might engage with them is not the same thing. We must start as we mean to go on. The Minister must accept amendments. We are all trying to make it better for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I remind Deputies there are two more speakers and that after an hour and a half, the debate must conclude. I am trying to share the time because there are a number of amendments.
I want to speak on amendments Nos. 1 and 11 to 16, inclusive. I am disappointed also the Minister is not positively disposed to them. I support all the amendments, which strengthen the Bill and expand the scope and the opportunity the Bill presents. It is disappointing the Minister is not taking the amendments on board. I do not accept the strength of his argument against taking them on board. That in and of itself is disappointing. As others have said, there is an opportunity in this Bill to make a very significant impact and significant change. I agree we need to reframe our structures and need a paradigm shift in terms of how we engage with the issue of climate action. We need to bring people with us but we also need to reframe our structures and move away from the idea that it is about technological solutions and essentially generate a climate action industry.
The amendments proposed by Deputies Whitmore and Naughten aim to strengthen the Bill. It is fair to commend Deputy Naughten on his work on this initiative and on this legislation at an earlier stage.
I raised a number of issues on Second Stage as did the Acting Chairman. We did not have the opportunity to come back to them and I would like it if the Minister, when responding to these amendments, addressed some of them. An issue I did not raise last night but I would like to raise now is an amendment which will be tabled in the Seanad tomorrow and which I think has pretty significant implications. My colleague, Senator Lynn Boylan, will deal with it in the Seanad. Tabling an amendment in the Seanad rather than here is an indication that this Bill is being rushed to a degree. That is not a good way to legislate and more time should be given to consider it and to hear more from various stakeholders.
The Government will table that amendment in the Seanad. The rationale for the amendment-----
I am not sure what amendment the Deputy is referring to. We are discussing amendment No. 1 to section 2.
In terms of the amendments we are dealing with here, I am making a point on the scope of this Bill and the fund it will generate, the climate action fund. That fund should be spent in a fair and transparent way. Some of the amendments being tabled, although not in the Dáil unfortunately, call that into question. Will the Minister provide us with assurances because I need them now in terms of how we will engage with the Bill? Will he provide us with assurances that the funds that will be available from the fund will be properly governed, accounted for and spent in a clear and transparent way? We have heard this repeatedly that it will be competitive tender but the indication from the Seanad amendment is that it will not be. Who is to say that these will not be pet projects of this or any other Minister? That is something people watching want clear assurances on.
I wish the Minister the best of luck in his new portfolio and concur with the sentiments expressed earlier on land use and on the amendments. I refer to much of the land in the west, in particular. In my opinion the farmers are carbon neutral. They have cattle on two or three acres or a cow with two or three acres to herself for the simple reason that the quality of the land is not as good. Research needs to be done to make sure we know what we are talking about. I am worried about what the Minister spoke about in terms of land use. I would like him to elaborate further on that for the simple reason that there are private property rights in this country. There is a big worry that his party and the new Government have an agenda from Donegal to Clare to the River Shannon, and even to a few of the counties beyond. The Minister spoke about trees earlier. Under an environmental scheme, and I have talked about this, one could put 500 or 1,000 trees on half an acre but one cannot blacken areas. There are other ways in which carbon can be sequestered. Have we done research on grass? The answer is "No". Dr. Frank Mitloehner has done it in California and has shown they have sequestered more than what they put out.
We need to make sure a certain part of the country is not burdened with all this. I read an article yesterday in which the Minister said he wanted to go to a €100 carbon tax. The people who will be paying the carbon tax are those who are living in the areas that will be trying to sequester as much as possible for the benefit of the country.
That is what I worry about. I worry that the Minister will cripple the people who do not have public transport and who have the small farms in the rural areas with a massive €100 a tonne. Socially and economically, such people may not have the advantages because of unbalanced regional development and at the same time are expected to suck it up and be the sequesters for the rest of the country.
I worry about the term "land use". While Europe might have different property rights, Ireland has found out in the past few days, with its so-called strategic areas of conservation, SACs, that it is being brought to court because it had not actually made them into SACs. We have to protect the property rights of people as well. Let Europe have its own types of property rights. We have to respect, do the research and reward those farmers in those areas but at the same time not burden them with everything because they have to be able to work the land as well. There are many people talking about sequestering carbon and how we will do it. The managers of the land are the farmers throughout the country and one has to bring them on board and respect them because otherwise, one is not going anywhere.
First, I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on his new position. This is my first time speaking here before him. I wish him the very best.
I spoke here last night in detail about the amendment and the worries I have, coming from a rural constituency. It is my belief that it is tax. It is a climate action fund but my worry is it is a tax on the people of rural Ireland. I was not trying to be negative. I was trying to look at ways forward.
I have a different Minister before me today but, as I said, we have raised the critical issue of our natural gas. I spoke last night about the security of supply situation, which I consider to be dire. As the Minister wishes to increase energy efficiency under the proposed amendments for the climate action fund, I believe we need to get our house in order first.
While Ireland has an agency to safeguard a minimum level of oil reserves, it has become increasingly clear to me that Ireland is severely exposed. At present, there are security of supply issues in relation to our natural gas. As the Minister may have noted in the news recently, the Kinsale gas platform, one of our only indigenous sources of national gas supply, was recently turned off. This will result in a loss of local jobs in Cork. It also means that we are now in an extremely vulnerable position with regard to our national security of supply of gas.
Ireland currently produces more than 50% of its electricity from gas and we import gas via the interconnectors from the UK. We have no existing gas storage on the island of Ireland. The Corrib gas field will be gone within ten years and we are now fully reliant on the UK for gas imports. The UK is also reliant on gas imports and has experienced its own decline in gas production in the North Sea. The UK is also exiting the EU, meaning new risks to our economy. While the UK and Ireland are good friends, now the same cannot exactly be said of the EU and the UK, which are going through a messy divorce at present. If trade talks between the EU and the UK were to take a turn for the worse, there is not much preventing the British national grid operator from increasing tariffs on the interconnectors between the EU and the UK which would, in turn, directly hurt the Irish economy. I, therefore, strongly ask the Minister to improve our security of supply situation for natural gas. I propose that the Minister consider at the very minimum a floating liquefied natural gas, LNG, import terminal in Cork, which could guarantee our security of supply while developing offshore wind power and renewables. I am aware of a company here, which has a decent plan. I understand the Minister is dealing with many issues. Deputy Eamon Ryan is in a new Ministry. While the Minister has great capabilities, I respect the fact that there is a bit of pressure. There are other issues going on at present. However, I would like to sit down with the Minister and go through the potential of a floating LNG regasification terminal in Cork. Without me speaking for the next five or ten minutes, the Minister might give me some indication that he might be interested in listening to such a proposal.
I will address each question in turn. First, with regard to Deputy Naughten, there is money in a bank. That cannot be touched. Under the Bill, the existing revenues will be provided for the ongoing operation of the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, in subsequent years in its core business in terms of oil stocks and that cannot be touched. We only get money for climate action when this Bill is enacted. If we do not do this this week or next week, that will be €10 million less for climate action.
It is not. It means we cannot draw down the money for another month but next month, we can draw down the €10 million that has gone in this month. It is disingenuous to say that this money is being lost. The money is being delayed, but not lost.
The money is only available when the Bill is enacted and the sooner we enact the Bill, the sooner that money becomes available to us. It will not be drawn down for another year or six months - whatever time it takes us to draw the funds - but that money will not be there if we do not enact the Bill and we will lose that €10 million. If we do not enact it this week, we lose €10 million on climate action, which is why there is a time and pressure on it.
The Minister is misleading the House.
Let the Minister continue. I will let Deputy Naughten back in.
If I can finish the point, because I have five Deputies to answer-----
Let the Minister finish.
I am not misleading the House.
I have five Deputies answer. Maybe I was not clear to Deputies Whitmore and Naughten. I was not saying "No" to all the amendments, in the sense that specifically, there is sense behind amendment No. 11 and Deputy Whitmore's amendment No. 16. I see merit in what has been suggested there. What I intend to do is to come back in the drafting of the climate action Bill to see if we can incorporate it and amend, and that way we would still have access to that additional €10 million for climate action and could use it on some of the measures that the Deputies have suggested, which would be a real benefit, I hope, to what the Deputies are intending to do.
With regard to Deputy O'Rourke and the amendment in the Seanad, the Deputy is absolutely right that we must be careful here that this is not a political fund in the sense it has to go for climate action. A competitive tendering fund is the approach in order that people would bid in and across the different areas, so that there are various people who could apply for it. There is a particular category that we may wish to support, particularly supporting the action that Bord na Móna, for example, might take in terms of rehabilitation bogs and lands for which it has responsibility. In those cases, it would be less competitive, in the sense that Bord na Móna is the single entity with that responsibility.
The Attorney General recommended a slight variation - a technical amendment - which is what we are putting forward in the Seanad tomorrow to recognise that that is slightly different and to copper-fasten and absolutely nail down and protect it to make sure it is subject to no legal challenge. That slight variation, in terms of the funding to support Bord na Móna, would need a variation in the Bill. Under the rules for technical amendments one needs a certain period of time to be able to put it forward, and putting it forward in the Seanad enables us to do that. Then we will return to the Dáil and if the Dáil agrees it, the Bill is passed. I would say I have found in the experience of legislating that the Seanad has that critical role and allows us to have a second House in be able to amend in that way. That is why I am happy to do it. I hope Sinn Féin in the Seanad will be able to support it tomorrow. I look forward to discussing with Senator Boylan the reason for that. Hopefully, similarly, Deputies will support it when it comes back here.
With regard to Deputy Mattie McGrath, and, indeed, Deputy Fitzmaurice and others, and this relates to what Deputy Naughten is saying about grassland management if I could maybe come back to that, the Deputy is absolutely right that there is real potential for us in how we manage our grasslands to help tackle climate change. There are certain areas, uplands, let us say, peaty boglands, where grazing cattle and sheep provide climate benefits because in the absence of the cattle grazing, one would see natural birch vegetation coming back up which would drain the peaty soils which would release carbon. There is no one here wagging fingers or telling any farmer what he is doing is wrong and what another is doing is right.
Farmers, particularly those working more marginal lands in the north and west, are some of the best and most important people with regard to protecting and looking after nature. We need to stop shaming them as part of the climate story. That shaming is not coming from here. If it is, I hope Deputies will pull me up on it because it is not the true story.
Some Green Party members are involved.
They may well be but I will account for Green Party policy in this area. We absolutely have to work hand in hand with those farmers, who are important custodians of the land. We must also pay them properly. The land use plan will not involve going down to the level of individual farmers and telling them to do this, that or the other because, to be honest, they are best placed to know how to manage the land. They know the land and what happens on it better than anyone in an office in Brussels, Dublin or anywhere else possibly could. In those Dublin offices, however, we have the responsibility to shape the support mechanisms and income supports to ensure that tens of thousands of young farmers will continue the proud tradition of Irish family farms and of people managing and protecting the land. The expansion of the CAP fund is being discussed in the European Council as we speak this afternoon. Everyone at that level is saying that nature must be looked after in what we are doing because we have a biodiversity crisis and a climate crisis. This land use plan is absolutely in the interests of, and to the benefit of, family farms, particularly in the north, west and south west of the country. It will help to deliver the income that will give them a future and opportunity.
With regard to amendment No. 11, we should absolutely look at measures being developed with regard to carbon sequestration not only in the implementation of this fund, but in other ways as well. There is a stimulus package to be launched next week. I would love to see money in that to help Bord na Móna or others to manage our bogs. The rewetting of bogs under the land use plan is critical. That will allow us to store carbon and to prevent its future release through bog fires. It will also help to restore biodiversity. Deputy Whitmore is absolutely right when she says it is probably one of the best ways to improve water quality, restore biodiversity and tackle carbon emissions. We must fund that not only through this climate fund, but through other mechanisms as well because the scale of what we need to do is beyond compare.
With regard to accepting amendments, Deputy Whitmore's amendment No. 16 has real merit because this has to come from the bottom up. It has to be community-led. This is not about big business or big anything else. It has to be about local communities having a connection to and involvement in this. This is why I believe amendment No. 16 has particular merit and why I would love to include it in the climate Bill. That would give us an extra €10 million to put into such projects, which is why I propose doing it in that way.
Deputy Michael Collins referred to LNG. The €1.85 trillion investment plan at which Europe is looking rightly says that the fuel of the future will be green hydrogen. This is only starting and will take some time to evolve and develop but we have a huge competitive advantage comparatively because we are one of the windiest places in the world. This Government is going to aim for 70% of our electricity to be generated by renewables, where we have a real competitive advantage. This supports what the previous Government did and what was agreed by the Oireachtas joint committee and by all of us across the board. We will particularly focus on offshore generation. Floating offshore technology is coming down in price and our wind speeds are very high. The environment is tough but in Galway, Kerry, Cork, Donegal, Mayo and Clare we can turn to this resource to create wealth for our country.
If, in the ten years it will take us to start building this network capable of generating 30 GW from offshore wind, the price comes down as expected, and as it consistently has over the last 20 or 30 years as the technology has evolved, we can use that power to create green hydrogen through electrolysis. This would be stored in and shipped from locations like Cork Harbour or the Shannon Estuary, where there is deep water and a sheltered space close to the energy source, the offshore wind farms. This is a big investment - we are talking tens of billions - but it is absolutely in tune with what everyone is now saying. As I read it, international energy experts believe this is where investment and technology are going and this is what the momentum is towards. We happen to have a huge comparative competitive advantage because of our level of wind, our location and our safe harbours.
I will absolutely meet Deputy Michael Collins at Cork Harbour, but when I meet him there I will tell him we should be developing facilities for green hydrogen. Fossil fuels are of the past. We have to stop using them because our climate is threatened. Green hydrogen is the future. It will provide jobs and an energy supply that is competitive and clean and which will mean our children and their children will have a safe and secure economic future. That is what we need to do. This fund may help to start some of that. The €500 million to €700 million we raise over the next few years will not fund the whole thing. It is only the tip of the iceberg with regard to the investment we need to make. That investment needs to be made in the west, including the south west and north west, in particular because that is where the energy resource is.
The fact is farmers are paying carbon tax. They do not have an alternative to diesel for their tractors. We have an opportunity here to support innovation in the growing of grass and in carbon sequestration on farms. The Minister refuses to accept this amendment but I am pressing it.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, to delete lines 15 to 21 and substitute the following:
“(a) in subsection (1)—
(i) by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (a):
“(a) maintaining, in accordance with Part 4, oil stocks, including measures to reduce the demand for oil within the State,”
(ii) by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (c):
“(c) (i) collecting and recovering the levy, and
(ii) paying into the Climate Action Fund, out of the proceeds of the levy collected and recovered, such amount as is specified by the Minister pursuant to a direction (if any) given under section 37A,”,”.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related to amendment No. 4, which we will come to in a few minutes. They are pretty self-explanatory. I am looking for the role and function of NORA to be expanded not only to consider oil stocks and storage but also to come up with measures to reduce the demand for oil in the State. If we increase the use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency, it will have an impact on the amount of oil we need to store. This comes under the terms and conditions of NORA. I want to alter its purpose slightly to allow the purpose for which the levy is collected to change. We will come to that purpose under amendment No. 4. That is the purpose of these two amendments.
On a related point regarding the scope of the fund, a query came up repeatedly last night. Why is aviation fuel specifically excluded? Will the Minister clarify that point?
I might answer the last question first. That would require European agreement. Planes can move from any one jurisdiction to another. I support the inclusion of aviation fuel within the likes of the NORA levy.
I would go beyond that. I think the taxation of aviation fuel is a critical issue, which I believe will be addressed by the European Union. It would have been addressed but the Covid crisis has probably postponed that because with people not flying the demand has fallen right through the floor. I agree with the Deputy. That is a development that we would support and should see developed but it has to be at a European level. We have to get the agreement of Europe.
I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 2 and 3. In response to amendment No. 2, the primary purpose of the Bill is to establish the climate action fund on a statutory basis and provide for NORA levy funds to be paid by NORA to the climate action fund to support climate projects. While I thank the Deputy for recognising and including the imperative of reducing oil consumption in both his amendments, I do not believe his amendments are appropriate to the purposes of this Bill. The National Oil Reserves Agency was established to manage the State's strategic oil reserves, which the State is required to maintain under European legislation and International Energy Agency rules. It was established to perform this very particular function in 2010. It was also assigned the function of administering the biofuels obligation scheme, which it was ideally placed to do, as many of the oil companies which have an obligation to collect the NORA levy also have an obligation under the biofuels obligation scheme.
NORA is a small agency with very specific expertise in petroleum product storage and in the area of biofuels. The function of identifying measures to reduce oil demand in the State is one for my Department with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. While there is an urgent need to replace petroleum consumption with more sustainable alternatives, particularly in the transport sector and in the heat sector, it does not make sense to assign to the National Oil Reserves Agency a function in this area.
Specifically on amendment No. 3, for the reasons I have just explained, there is no requirement for a provision in the Bill to widen the definition of the operating costs and administrative expenses of the agency to include those promoting or developing measures to reduce oil consumption.
I am disappointed. We were told there was a very green hue to this new Government, and here we have an opportunity to look at a reduction in oil demand in the country and to use expertise that is available to us. This is related to amendment No. 4, which we will come to in a moment. I will press amendment No. 2.
Thank you very much, Acting Chairman, for giving me an opportunity to contribute. I will be very brief.
I am very disappointed, hurt and angry at what we are discussing here today. This Bill will put a levy and more charges on farmers and people in rural Ireland. Let us think of all the people who cannot open their doors and employ the people they were previously employing. We have no money for home help for people who are trying to stay living in their homes for as long as possible. People are dying with maggots in nursing homes and there is no investigation into what is going on. There is no talk at all about carers. They are left in the wilderness. They are caring for people in their homes who cannot go to their day care centres or anywhere else. Men and women in their 70s and 80s are trying to mind their children who have physical and mental disabilities 24-7 in their homes. At the same time, we are talking about increasing levies and putting more charges on the people of rural Ireland, after what was done to them last night and this morning, so that their doors are closed. This is absolutely shameful. This is intended to put more colourful buses in Dublin, where there is enough transport. As I stated, there is nobody on the buses, other than two or three passengers. We are being told in advertisements every night that we should not use public transport where it can be avoided. This is what is going on inside this House. This event centre is costing hundreds of thousands of euro and this is what we are talking about – increasing levies on farmers and working people that are out early in the morning with snots in their noses. This is what we are trying to do to them, drive them down through the ground. We are an absolute shame. If this is evidence of the involvement of the Green Party, and if this is the Government we are going to have to persevere with day after day it is a shame and an utter disgrace. Thank you, Acting Chairman, for allowing me to speak.
I fully agree with Deputy Naughten that energy efficiency has to come first. However, I must say this to him - he is aware of this - the expertise in that area does not reside within NORA, whose specific task under international law is in how one purchases and stores oil products. The agency does not have the expertise for energy efficiency. The expertise for that resides within the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and in my Department. I agree that issue needs additional funding but this Bill is not designed to do all that. This Bill is designed to take some of that revenue that is available and to deploy it in particular climate projects. I accept that the other work has to be done but to my mind it does not make sense to turn NORA from being the oil storage agency into the energy efficiency expert agency.
I say to Deputy Healy-Rae that there is no increase on any charge involved in this legislation.
It is giving the Government a free hand.
I reassure the Deputy that there is no additional levy. No additional burden is being put on anyone. What is involved is taking money that has already been collected, and will be collected, and redistributing it. The Deputy might ask where it is going. It is going to go to Kerry. It is going to go to Mayo. It is going to go to Donegal.
The Minister cannot con me. Nothing is going to Kerry.
Deputy Healy-Rae should please allow the Minister to respond.
In recent months I was at an event down in Kerry. There was a whole slew of new businesses coming forward which see investment opportunities in this area, in particular for counties such as Kerry. As I stated earlier, we will find energy solutions in areas where we have land, and it is also in areas close to the sea where we can tap into that energy. The wealth generated by the renewable energy sector will not sit in urban Ireland, it will be in rural Ireland. This Bill is taking money that has already been collected and redirecting it specifically into the energy sector, which would most benefit rural Ireland, where these new businesses will be located. That is an opportunity for Kerry, not a burden.
Where are the new planning guidelines?
The Deputy should not interrupt. The amendment is being pressed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:
“(d) by the insertion of the following new paragraph:
“(j) costs through the Climate Action Fund to support measures to reduce demand for and the consumption of oil within the State;”.”.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, lines 9 to 13, to delete all words from and including “month.”,” in line 9 down to and including line 13 and substitute the following:
For technical reasons, on the Opposition benches I cannot table an amendment that incurs a cost on the Exchequer, even though it would bring in additional income. What I am doing is deleting this particular subsection in the hope that the Minister will see the light and come back, following his discussion in Seanad Éireann tomorrow, with an amendment that can be discussed along with the other amendments here next week.
The NORA levy is a levy on the oil industry. It is paid to the distributors of fossil fuels in this country. What I want to see is that levy increased from 2 cent a litre to 3 cent a litre with a knock-on reduction in carbon tax.
From the consumer's point of view, no additional tax would be paid by the people using this fuel. However, there would be a 50% increase on the tax being paid by the oil industry, meaning that an additional €700 million over the next decade would be used to reduce demand for fossil fuels in this country.
I know the gurus in Merrion Street have nobbled away at this particular Bill. In its initial concept three years ago, it was to be a €1.2 billion fund and that was to be reflected in the calculation of carbon tax. The carbon tax has been increased but we are not doing anything with this levy. At a time when the Green Party is in government, it is bizarre that this legislation, which is probably the only Bill we will see that specifically taxes the fossil fuel industry in this country, is not actually going to increase the charge on that industry. I want to see the levy increased from 2 cent a litre to 3 cent a litre, in line with the original proposal I put to the officials. If the Minister goes through the file, he will see that. I want to see a consequential reduction in the carbon tax that reflects this change and ensures the fossil fuel industry in this country starts to foot the bill for bringing about the types of alternatives we are talking about. I am sure the Minister will respond with some reason that should not happen, but he is the very person who told me earlier that this fund is heavily oversubscribed. It is a €500 million fund but it can be a €1.2 billion fund. The Minister will say that is outside the scope of NORA, and indeed it is because he has already rejected amendments Nos. 2 and 3. He will have an opportunity in the Seanad to table his own amendments to reflect what I have already proposed in amendments Nos. 2 and 3 and to provide for an increase of 1 cent a litre on the fuel industry.
Let us increase the taxes on the industry by 50%. I do not see why they should be getting a free pass. We are asking the public to foot the bill for fossil fuels through carbon tax but we are letting industry away scot-free. Rural communities in particular are the ones paying the larger proportion of carbon tax per capita because sadly they are the ones who must travel long distances to work. The Minister has already excluded an opportunity for the farming community to leverage this particular fund through sequestration. The very least he can do is ensure that industry comes forward with practical and realistic alternatives that provide for a sustainable economy and sustainable solutions that suit an Irish situation. We tend to forget in the House that 37% of the Irish population live on 96% of the landmass. We are not like densely populated European countries where everyone lives in cities and large towns. We have dispersed rural communities. We need to come forward with innovative ideas that deal with the challenges in transport, heating and agriculture. I do not think a €500 million fund over ten years is sufficient to do that. It is not sufficient either for dealing with the challenges within Bord na Móna. There is merit in increasing the fund by putting the tax on the fuel industry, by putting our hand into their pockets and by getting them to fund the alternatives. I hope the Minister will consider my proposal.
As Deputy Naughten said, the fund of €500 million over ten years is wholly inadequate. I am involved in a Tidy Towns committee. Most of us are involved in committees like that which do wonderful work. Different schemes are advertised by the county councils about renewables, water pumps and using innovative ideas. In one case at the moment, we have a tunnel. We had it up well before the Minister made his speech about window boxes on south-facing windows. We have an irrigation application in for some grant aid but they are totally oversubscribed. The Minister is only thinking at a surface level. A lot of people have great ideas and are interested. Why has some of the €3 billion or €4 billion that has been collected in carbon tax from rural dwellers not been used? It is like saying: "live, horse, and you will get grass".
The Minister said to Deputy Naughten earlier that if we do not pass this Bill today in this House, and the same tomorrow in the Seanad, we will lose €10 million. However, billions are already being collected off the people, and from rural people especially. Rural people have to travel to work and have no BusConnects. My colleague from Limerick, Deputy O'Donoghue, brought up the green bus one day. He has to travel about 80 km when he travels to get that bus. That is useless and that is how it is for everybody from the country who wants to use public transport. It is not there. Many train services and so on have been slashed because of Covid. Will they ever return? There is no joined-up thinking.
This fund is wholly inadequate. I agree with Deputy Naughten that we must penalise the polluters who are in the heavy oil business and make them pay. They are powerful corporations. Why is it always falling on the ordinary person who is trying to heat the house or the small farmer who is putting diesel in the tractor? Deputy Naughten quoted the figures about where people live in Ireland. We may want to be like other places in Europe but unfortunately we cannot be. All of the planning guidelines and Ireland 2040 are trying to herd people into the cities and denude rural Ireland but that is not the type of country we are. People are being browbeaten, literally terrorised and taxed endlessly while seeing no tangible results from it. It is great to have the dream and the ideals.
I appeal to the Minister as Green Party leader to call off the dogs regarding the objectors to the felling licences. Ordinary people have planted trees. Contractors have invested huge money to harvest those trees now they are mature and there are 80 or 90 objections to the felling licences by one serial objector. That is a scandal. These people were good enough to plant their land, which I am not in favour of. They took the decision to buy into the scheme and invested hugely in it, and now when it is ready for harvest the companies and contractors, who are being penalised with this tax as well, want to get to work but cannot do so. They are all parked up. They will go out of business because they cannot pay their loans. All of this because of objections to felling licences. We cannot have it every way. Certainly we want trees but we want to allow those trees to be thinned when they need to be and above all we need them to be harvested when they need to be.
We have to look at this again. The Minister said in his last response that he wants to help and enable ordinary farmers but that is not the way they feel. They do not feel they are being enabled or helped. They feel that they have been trying for decades to make small changes. They are the custodians of the land and have, in the main, done a damn good job of it. It is scheme after scheme after scheme and land is being rendered useless. It cannot be touched because of hen harriers and God knows how many other issues that have been brought in through legislation without proper consultation or engagement with the farmers.
There is no proper consultation or engagement with the communities about this fund. The €500 million is to be divided up over ten years between the communities and the private companies that will go looking for it. The big companies will have the expertise and will be able to hire consultants unlike the small, local groups such as Tidy Towns, biodiversity groups and small schools. Every drop of rainwater in our schools should be harvested, but it is not. We are using treated water. If there were enough money in this fund, schools could adapt. It would be a wonderful concept to educate the children in the three-classroom, four-classroom and five-classroom national schools with 100 pupils that all the water they use, except what they drink, could be collected by harvesting rainwater. That has been talked about for decades but it has not happened. This fund simply is not big enough, accessible enough or all-embracing enough to allow people to draw it down.
The Minister is not taking any of the amendments so he is not listening. It is like using a sledgehammer to crack a chestnut. If the Minister were to bring the people with him they would support him but he keeps throwing diktats at them, having protests, threatening them, demonising farmers and rural people and penalising them with carbon levies.
They see nothing back. Where is the almost €4 billion that has been collected already plus the €209 million from the PSO levy that I mentioned already? Where has that money gone? It has gone into black holes such as the children's hospital and elsewhere and not on projects that should be done.
I will have to conclude this debate at approximately 3.20 p.m. Some Deputies went to the trouble of tabling amendments. While I cannot stop anyone speaking as there are no time limits, there is a time limit at the end and I ask that we be conscious of that. We are on amendment No. 4. Is it being withdrawn?
That is fine. A number of speakers are indicating and I ask them to be conscious of time. I cannot stop them but I ask them to co-operate.
I respect that but it is important to speak on the amendments and get the feeling. The new Minister needs to understand, and perhaps he does already, the feelings of the people of rural Ireland. It is fine to look at putting in place a carbon tax but it will affect nobody else but the people of rural Ireland in particular because we are totally dependent. I heard somebody say recently, when I raised a question on education, to let them use bikes. At the end of the day, I would love to see a lot of young people on bikes but we cannot have people cycling eight or ten miles in the morning on a bike in rural communities. The public transport is not there. The Minister knows that the bus leaves Goleen for Cork city at 7.50 a.m. and that is it.
We are looking at amendment No. 4.
I know that but these points are all alluding to it, with regard to heating and the lack of transport. We need extra investment in Local Link. Rural transport is very important, as is public transport. Look at the private sector, which is providing transport with no subsidies whatsoever. This needs to be looked at. There is also the heating of homes. One criticism I have of the previous Government in which the Green Party was a member was there was no concentration on the warmer homes scheme. There should have been strong concentration on the warmer homes scheme to have environmental protection for people's homes. That was a big issue. I have been quite critical of the organic farming sector. The criteria set have made it absolutely sure that most farmers cannot get into organic farming. I am an organic farmer but many people are excluded. I am also involved with an organisation that is taking the Department to court because people were fined for having gorse, the most beautiful nature, on their land. Two messages are coming through and this needs to be-----
I must really ask the Deputy to address the amendment.
I will indeed. I will leave it at that.
One thing the Minister needs to be mindful of when we speak about emissions and sequestration is that at present, as I told him during the talks on Government formation, we have a target in this country of 7,000 ha of forestry per year. I spoke to two sawmill owners yesterday. Next October, they will be out of timber. They are putting plans in place to bring timber in from Latvia. That is the reality when 1,500 cases are held up. We are talking about sowing a few trees here and there on farms. We need to get real and cop on to what is going on in this country because of objections to what has gone in. I tell the Minister, as a new Minister, this issue needs sorting straight away. We will not sow 2,000 ha. In October, most of the mills will be out of timber. They will not have it.
Deputy, please bear with me a second. There is very little time left in the debate-----
Yes, one other thing is all I have-----
Specific to the amendment please.
The last point is on the carbon tax for rural Ireland. It is indiscriminate. Bring it in on aeroplanes. People in rural Ireland can decide whether they go to Majorca or Kerry for holidays but they have no decision when they have to go 30, 40 or 50 miles from A to B to work. Let us not discriminate against one part of Ireland just because there are buses and transport in other places.
I thank the Deputy for his co-operation. It is now 3.15 p.m. and I must bring this to an end at 3.22 p.m. I am very conscious that Deputy Whitmore went to the trouble of tabling amendments and it looks like we will not reach them. I ask the Minister to be brief.
I have a long answer but I will be brief. Perhaps I will put it aside.
You can start.
I have one point to make to Deputy Naughten, if I can. This fund is not paid for by the oil companies. They collect it. It is paid for by the motorists. That is one thing to be absolutely clear, honest and accurate about. If I can refer it to Deputy Mattie McGrath, who asked me whether I was listening, the key question he asked was why could we not have used the money already raised. To answer Deputy Naughten's earlier concerns, in section 14, the proposed new section 37A(8)(b) states "Any moneys referred to in paragraph (a) which represent the proceeds of the levy collected and recovered before the commencement of the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Act 2020 shall not form part of any payment into the Climate Action Fund under this section." This is why we have the difficult timelines with this process, in fairness to Deputy Whitmore and others who have tabled amendments. This is the reason drafted within the Bill as to why we must make this change.
Deputy Michael Collins is absolutely right about the needs of the village of Goleen. If Goleen were in Switzerland, a village of that size of approximately 400 to 500 people would have the right to 12 bus services a day. The first stop would be Toormore and the second would be Lowertown before hitting Schull, Ballydehob, Skibbereen and all points in between there and Cork city. That is the type of significant change we can make for the better in this whole transition. Is it going to work? I commit as Minister with responsibility for transport as well as for energy to do whatever I can to match this type of service and to start thinking in this way to make it work, so that those young people do not have to cycle ten miles down the road and there are vibrant communities at all points in between. I commit to this.
To answer Deputy Fitzmaurice, he is absolutely right that forestry is in dire straits and my colleague, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, as a farmer herself has a good understanding of what is happening. More than anything else, as the Deputy has said, it is a planning problem and the biggest concern is a lack of public faith and confidence in what we are doing in development. This is why the fund is important. Central to this fund is helping small projects as well as large ones. It is about the small €5,000 community project. Deputy Mattie McGrath mentioned Tidy Towns and other competitions. This is not for Tidy Towns; it is for climate projects. If we can move Tidy Towns, however, to start thinking about how communities start being part of the climate solution-----
We have been doing that.
What this fund is designed to do as well as big projects, such as the Bord na Móna projects I mentioned earlier, is to help small communities be part of the process and the transformation. It will be a small help maybe in those cases but every bit helps in terms of everyone being part of it. If we do this, we can get to what Deputy Fitzmaurice said, which is public support for a range of developments we will have to make in new energy projects, new forestry and new farming mechanisms and practices. It is on this basis I am afraid the amendment cannot be accepted but I hope the Bill will be in a short time.
This is a levy on the fuel distributors and what the Minister is doing by rejecting my proposal is giving a free pass to the fossil fuel energy and I am disappointed that a Green Party Government would do this. I will press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 11, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
"(e) The Minister shall lay such directions or guidelines under this subsection before each House of the Oireachtas.".
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 11, to delete lines 38 and 39 and substitute the following:
"(4) The Climate Action Fund shall consist of the following accounts and any other accounts as the Minister may determine:
(a) just transition climate action account;
(b) biodiversity climate action account;
(c) circular economy climate action account;
(d) local authority climate action account;
(e) community energy action account; and
(f) primary and post-primary education climate action account.".
This comes back to the general theme that we cannot just limit this climate fund to the technological responses to climate change.
The Minister said that other issues such as nature-based solutions, just transition or the circular economy will be dealt with in the climate action Bill. However, as it stands, this Bill will limit them. It only refers to technological solutions and to emissions reductions and renewable energy. Essentially, that frames this document, the governance and how the fund will be allocated. There is a serious risk that they will be the only types of projects that will be covered.
The Minister agrees that nature-based solutions are an important component of this. He believes that it should be community-based, that this fund will cover projects within the community and that it should be a bottom-up fund. That will not happen unless it is specified in the Bill. While it is his intent that this will happen, that might not be the intent of the next Minister. We must strengthen this Bill and ensure we incorporate the full remit and scope. Climate is not just about renewable energy, and our climate response is not just about technological solutions. We must incorporate other solutions and nature must be a major component of that.
We are discussing the Bill but the Minister is saying there is no point because we cannot amend it, so I wonder why we are here today at all. No matter what we said and no matter how brilliant or important our amendments were, they were never going to be incorporated. What is the point of us coming here this afternoon, tabling the amendments and having this discussion if none of the amendments was ever going to be incorporated? It is a very sad sign that engagement with the other side of the House will not happen during this Government's term. This amendment outlines the different funds that should be specified in the Bill to ensure there is a possibility to ring-fence money for certain projects. I have proposed that just transition, biodiversity, circular economy, local authority, community energy action account and primary and post-primary schools be included, but not preclude any other.
I must stop the Deputy now. The Minister has a few seconds to respond.
This is only one piece in the jigsaw of changes we will have to make. We will have to ring-fence funds. We have to ring-fence the funds from carbon taxation for social welfare increases to protect people from fuel poverty, to improve people's homes and to establish new farming initiatives that support farmers. We will have to do a range of work on communications on how we get this as a bottom-up, community-led system. To answer the key question on this timeline, I return to the fact that this has been in gestation for three years, which is a long time. I do not believe it is disputed or that people disagree with the fundamental import and intention of this Bill. For those who agree that we are in a climate and biodiversity crisis, passing it quickly allows us to draw down the funds of €10 million immediately, which will allow us to start taking technological actions. The Deputy is correct that this is technology focused. It is very specific in looking for technology solutions from communities that will deliver nature benefits as well as climate benefits. That is the purpose of the Bill. There will be a raft of other measures on which I look forward to working with the Deputy to make the transition happen.
The time for the debate has concluded so I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil on 14 July last: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of the section is hereby agreed to in committee, that the Title is hereby agreed to, the Bill is accordingly reported to the House without amendment, the Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."