Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Electric Vehicles

Neale Richmond

Question:

65. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the status of the electric vehicle strategy, promised in the programme for Government, which will ensure that charging infrastructure stays ahead of demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24987/20]

The programme for Government contains a commitment to an electric vehicle strategy to ensure that infrastructure stays ahead of demand. This is badly needed to ensure that all of those who have the means to purchase an electric vehicle are not constrained by a lack of charging facilities. I ask the Minister for an update on the status of this strategy and what it will cover.

The programme for Government published in June this year commits to publishing an electric vehicles strategy which will ensure charging infrastructure stays ahead of demand. Preliminary work has already been undertaken to inform the electric vehicle, EV, charging infrastructure strategy with the completion, in June this year, of an updated needs analysis for fast chargers. This analysis had regard to the 2019 climate action plan projection of having 75,000 EVs on the road by 2022.

The needs analysis took into account a range of considerations including the importance of ensuring adequate charging infrastructure along the main commuting routes; the location of charging infrastructure in areas of high traffic volume along primary routes; the concentration of traffic in certain areas; and the importance of placing EV infrastructure across rural and urban areas.

The analysis estimated that there will be a sufficient number of fast chargers in place to meet the needs of 75,000 EVs by 2022. However, it is critical that we continue to monitor this capacity as the roll-out of charging infrastructure continues nationwide so as to ensure we stay ahead of demand.

My Department is also working closely with local government, including the Local Government Management Agency and the County and City Management Association, to ensure we can address the key issues that arise for transport and land use planning at both local and regional level.

Additional work on the strategy is currently being planned to address key strategic considerations, including regulatory and legislative requirements, the need for geospatial analyses, the financing of infrastructure and managing future electricity demand.

It is my intention to publish the strategy as early as possible in Quarter 1 2021.

Once completed, the strategy will provide a key framework for ensuring we continue to have sufficient infrastructure in place to keep ahead of demand, while also ensuring that appropriate planning and development guidelines are followed in providing the necessary capacity.

I welcome the Minister's comments. There is much that can be gleaned from them but there are a number of challenges that require urgent address. While EVs are becoming increasingly affordable, the geographic spread of the infrastructure needs to be addressed. Currently, there are 152 charging points in Dublin but only four in Leitrim and eight in Cavan. When we look at the speed the Minister mentioned, there are 742 charging points but only 80 of those are fast charging points.

One key aspect that is being raised frequently in my constituency is the installation of home chargers. The grants available from the SEAI, and much else, are welcome, but people who live in developments like my own, which are under the control of management companies and where one is going across a public road or public footpaths from the charging point to the vehicle, are facing many obstacles. When will they be able to put it chargers and make use of wanting to do what is best for the environment and modern transport?

The Deputy is absolutely right. The development of chargers right across the country is critical because even if a person living in south Dublin wants to go to Leitrim, he or she would want to make sure that he or she can get there and back and that there is infrastructure at every point along the way.

A scheme to support the installation of on-street charging points for EVs opened for applications from local authorities in September 2019. The funding supports the rolling out by local authorities of up to 1,000 on-street public charging points for EVs over the next five years, including up to 400 such points this year. The scheme is administered by the SEAI and caters mainly for electric vehicle owners who rely on on-street car parking as their primary means of parking near home. I am referring not only to the Deputy’s case; I refer also to where charging is not yet possible, such as along a row of terraced houses.

So far, I have been disappointed with the level of uptake by local authorities. I only discovered these figures yesterday in preparing to answer this question. All Deputies should be contacting their local authorities to ensure that they are aware of what they can do. The level of uptake by and the number of applications from local authorities to date have been very low. One way to see an improvement would be to get the local authorities to avail of the funding that exists but that is not being utilised.

I want to take the Minister up on the challenge of engaging with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. We rightly look to local authorities but we must also consider the community example. One of the great successes in recent years has involved communities. An example, which may seem trivial by comparison with some initiatives associated with the Department, concerns the way local communities have been able to come together to provide defibrillators across towns and villages, not just in rural areas. I refer, in particular, to my own area. A defibrillator was used to save a life not too long ago in Stepaside village, as the Minister may be aware. Is there a facility for communities to come together to consider electric charging points without necessarily relying on the local authority? It could involve business groups that share a car parking facility, for example. It is matter of making sure that as many charging points as possible are made available.

This refers to the earlier question on solar power. Under the SEAI sustainable communities programme, a range of communities around the country are considering innovative mechanisms to develop clean energy supplies. That would be a mechanism for the Deputy's community, or any other, in seeking to develop solutions.

EV sales to date have been relatively slow by comparison with what we expected but the period of slow uptake will come to an end. We are going to see all the car companies starting to deliver a variety of EV choices in the coming year. EVs are better cars and the costs of fuel and maintenance are a fraction of those associated with other cars. Electric cars are going to be the future of motoring. Local communities, particularly those that find it difficult to get charging infrastructure, which are very often in urban areas, will best tap into the system through the community responses. It is through the SEAI community schemes that we can best manage that.

Electric Vehicles

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

66. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks if he will report on the implementation of EV charging points nationwide since funding was announced in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25148/20]

In 2019, the then Minister with responsibility for communications announced expenditure of €20 million to upgrade EV charging points across the country and stated that this was to give confidence to people such that if they were to buy an EV, the relevant infrastructure would be available when needed. Will the current Minister provide an update on the implementation of the programme for upgrading EV charging points nationwide since the funding was announced, and could he make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for the question. She is correct that the Government is fully committed to supporting the significant expansion and modernisation of the EV charging network over the coming years as part of an overall suite of measures to deliver the programme for Government goal of significantly decarbonising our transport fleet.

We have committed €10 million from the climate action fund to promote the charging network, and this has leveraged a further €10 million investment from ESB to reach the €20 million fund the Deputy mentioned. This intervention will result in: 90 additional high-power 150 kW chargers, each capable of charging two vehicles; 52 additional fast chargers, which may replace existing 22 kW standard chargers; and 264 replacement standard chargers, powered to the level of 22 kW, with more modern technology and with each consisting of two charge points.

To date, 159 of the 22 kW chargers have been replaced, and the programme to upgrade 22 kW chargers to 50 kW chargers has commenced, with ten installations in place. In addition, the first three multi-charger sites have been delivered, one each in Galway, on the M6, Kildare, on the M9, and Laois, on the M7. A number of other multi-charger sites are at planning and design stage. Details of these network upgrades and an interactive map showing ESB charger locations can be found on the ESB website.

In addition to the ESB project, my Department provides support through the SEAI public charge point scheme. This scheme has been in place since September 2019 to provide funding to local authorities for the development of on-street chargers, as I stated in my response to the preceding question. The primary focus of this scheme is to provide support for the installation of infrastructure that will facilitate owners of EVs who do not have access to a private parking space, but who rely on parking on public streets, so they charge their EVs near their homes.

With regard to Wicklow Council, to date the response from local authorities has been very low. This is a well-supported and well-funded project and it is designed to make it easy for the councils to do the right thing. If the Deputy could encourage Wicklow County Council to take part, it would be a big help.

In the 18 months since the announcement of the EV upgrade proposal, out of the target 264 charging points that were to be upgraded to 22 kW, only 159 have been delivered. On the target of having 52 charging points upgraded to 50 kW points, only ten have been delivered. As far as I can see, none of the 90 high-power charging points has been delivered so far. That is in 18 months. Even given the delays that inevitably happened because of Covid, this demonstrates that the rolling out of the programme has been painfully slow and not adequate enough.

In countries where there is a high uptake of EVs, the infrastructure was in place before the cars. In Ireland, we are doing it the other way round. We expect people to buy cars without having the infrastructure in place for them. I ask that the Minister provide additional resources to ensure the speedy implementation of this programme. It is important that it be implemented.

I have full confidence in the ESB to deliver on its commitments in this regard. Ireland was actually one of the first countries in the world to get a national network. To go back ten or 12 years, the ESB was one of the first companies in this area with real expertise. Back in 2009, we signed an agreement with Renault-Nissan, I believe, and developed genuine expertise in the ESB in respect of charging networks and infrastructure, to the extent that when Transport for London sought a company to commission to roll out its network of fast chargers for the London electric taxi fleet, the ESB won the contract. As a result, I have every confidence in the ESB that it will be able to deliver on this and more. The restriction here will not concern funding; the restriction, as I stated, is more administrative in terms of getting planning permission and getting the local authorities and others involved. The ESB is well up for this and well able to do it. I believe it will deliver.

I am not sure what is causing it, but there is a delay in getting this rolled out. There is approximately the same number of charging points now as when the ESB first rolled out these points, yet there are many more cars on the road. Therefore, there is a problem. It would be worthwhile determining what the barriers are.

In the context of local authorities, I have spoken to Wicklow County Council about this matter. Only 75% of the cost of installing the charging points is met by the Government so the council has to find the remaining 25%. Councils are struggling because of Covid, the reduction in rates and the position regarding rent. They are experiencing major financial difficulties and I do not believe they will have the resources to do what is desired. We are not staying ahead of demand. There is no charging point in the whole Greystones district, which has 20,000 people, or in west Wicklow. This is an area that we should really focus on.

The Government has been supportive of local authorities through this most difficult time. Regarding the loss of commercial rates, the Government is guaranteeing to step in and offer support. The grant provided by the Government, of 75%, is significant in terms meeting the overall cost.

The benefits to local community in this regard will be significant. That is why I have drawn attention to the fact that local authorities would be representing their communities by availing of that 75% grant, and even to test in County Wicklow, as the Deputy said, and to start putting in the first of the local networks where they are not otherwise available. We will review it if no local authorities are willing to take up the 75% grant. If they do not put priority on the development of that type of infrastructure and avail of that benefit for their communities, then we will come back to it, and look at it. I believe, however, a 75% grant is appropriate and that is a political decision for each council. As I said, I would encourage councillors to perhaps consider this as a good investment for their communities.

National Broadband Plan

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

67. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the expected progress that will be made with the roll-out of the national broadband plan in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25015/20]

The Minister knows I am a great proponent of the levelling effect rural broadband will have. It is important to rural areas. What progress has been made about the roll-out of the national broadband plan in 2020? Is it really up and running? How many houses will be connected this year, how many will be surveyed, how many will be connected next year, and so forth?

The national broadband plan, NBP, State-led intervention will be delivered by National Broadband Ireland, NBI, under a contract signed last November. As I outlined in my reply to Deputy Murphy earlier, the national broadband plan network offers a high-speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 500 Mbps from the outset. This represents an increase from the 150 Mbps committed to under the contract. The deployment plan forecasts premises passed in all counties within the first two years and more than 90% of premises in the State having access to high-speed broadband within the next four years.

As of 15 September, design work is complete or ongoing in target townlands across 21 counties and steady progress is being made with more than 91,000 premises surveyed to date. This activity is increasing week on week and by year end, National Broadband Ireland expects to have completed some 120,000 surveys. This activity involves physically walking the routes and documenting the images, notes and measurements of the poles, cables and underground ducts in each area. This is informing design solutions for provision of the fibre network. This detailed design is then used to initiate the "make ready" project with Eir for the area, where Eir ensures any poles and ducts being reused are fit for purpose. It is also used to initiate works with the subcontractors deploying the actual fibre in the area. The laying of the fibre should commence shortly with the first fibre to the home connections expected around December this year.

The national broadband plan has delivered significant employment opportunities with National Broadband Ireland directly employing some 140 staff and more than 500 people are now working on the plan either directly or indirectly.

Broadband connection points, BCPs, are a key element of the national broadband plan providing high-speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll-out of the fibre to the home network. Some 144 BCP sites have been installed by National Broadband Ireland and the high-speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly available sites, such as those owned by the Department of Education and Skills for schools.

Am I correct in thinking that the way this is being rolled out by National Broadband Ireland is from the centre outwards? It is starting at the periphery of towns and cities and working outwards from the densely populated urban areas. Therefore, the least-populated areas will have to wait until the end. The Minister said that, so he might confirm it.

The Minister said that 10% will not be done within five years. I take it that 10% is in the mountains and hills or the kind of place I live in. Is there any way that could be expedited? Otherwise, we are always going to be the end of the line for everything. It is hugely beneficial to rural areas to have it. Are the islands off the coast of Ireland in the last 10% because we would like to ensure that when a person goes on his or her holidays that he or she will have good broadband?

My understanding is that there is not a decision to go from the centre out to the periphery. In fact, the whole nature of the broadband plan is that it will have to jump over most villages and towns where Eir, under its previous arrangement, agreed to provide high-speed broadband to that area. This whole project goes straight into the heartland of rural Ireland and there will not be any one county, or any one area in one county, that should be disadvantaged in that. I understand the first areas where it will be rolled out include areas in County Cavan and in rural Cork, or perhaps rural Carrigaline-----

Rural Carrigaline or rural Bushypark, perhaps.

The surveying work being done at the moment is to make sure we get the design right and that will determine the choice. It is not on the basis of which is closest to the centre or which is further out. It is designed to make it the easiest possible delivery. Included in that could be the use of ESB poles instead of Eir poles or looking at different options of delivery. This whole project, however, is designed to support rural Ireland. To my mind, the most rural areas have just as much priority as anywhere else.

To answer the Deputy's question, wherever that 10% may be, the whole purpose, as I said in response to an earlier question, is to try to accelerate the programme so they are delivered within five years and not thereafter.

Minister, my role is to accelerate the time, so we get as many questions as possible in. An Teachta Ó Cuív has one minute.

Is it possible for the Department, in consultation with National Broadband Ireland, which has got this fantastic State contract, to perhaps get an outline of how it plans on rolling out this particular project and how it intends carrying out the surveying? That will then answer the question as whether it is doing the easy pickings and the more densely populated areas first and that the people out on the hills and the mountains will be left until last. Is it possible for the Minister to get National Broadband Ireland to brief us on these since it is a totally funded scheme?

Has the Minister any information on the growth in connections of fibre to a house where it already passes the house under the Eir scheme. In recent times, has there been a significant pick-up per hundred houses passed of people actually taking fibre to the house?

One of the few positives, if there are any-----

I beg your pardon, Minister. Deputy Ó Murchú wishes to come in.

It is just a follow-up with regard to the plan. Obviously, I agree with what Deputy Ó Cuív said on about a statement on this roll-out, particularly from a point of view of what surveys need to be done and the timeline. I accept there is an issue in respect to the most difficult 10%. How much fluidity is there in the plan with regard to being able to piggyback on previous technology that has already been put in place and looking at new technological solutions that may arise during this period? We need, however, a straightforward scenario. We need to have a breakdown on the particular areas, the number of surveys and the plan in regard to the surveys and how we get from the surveys to actually delivering a service to people.

To answer those two questions first, there was a strategic decision in the application of fibre that the vast majority would be delivered in this manner. It is only the very last percentage most distant from an accessible pole where fixed wireless may be used. I believe that is the technology of the future and the technology we will need for the highest possible standards, so I do not see technological developments around that.

Unfortunately, the reason these areas are selected and are in the amber region is because there was not existing infrastructure other than the existence of telegraph poles, wooden poles, Eir poles and-or other ESB poles. It uses that existing infrastructure but does not avail of the other fixed wireless or other wireless technologies that may be in those areas. The strategic decision was made to use fibre.

To answer Deputy Ó Cuív's questions, it is my understanding that there has been an increase in the uptake of broadband in those areas which is being provided with the SIRO network, the Eir network or other suppliers. As a result of Covid-19, there has been an increase in the uptake and in the level of demand in terms of remote working and the level of application.

That will strengthen the case and accelerate the roll-out of the national broadband plan because the need for it is ever clearer by the day.

Questions Nos. 68 and 69 replied to with Written Answers.

Question No. 70 is in my name, but I will leave it until Deputy Durkan is in the Chair.

Question No. 71 replied to with Written Answers.

North-South Interconnector

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

72. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the recent representations he has received on the need to underground the North-South interconnector in view of the recent decision in Northern Ireland to grant planning permission for the North-South interconnector, including representations from elected representatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25172/20]

I will not repeat my concerns on this topic from earlier. Has the Minister met or will he meet representatives of North East Pylon Pressure and Monaghan Anti-Pylon who have been campaigning on this issue for years? Sinn Féin, North and South, has been very clear and upfront in our position on the North-South interconnector.

As I said earlier, the North-South interconnector is critical to improving the efficient operation of the single electricity market and increasing security of electricity supply across the island of Ireland. It will also help us to move towards 70% renewable electricity, and other commitments that I mentioned earlier and will not repeat.

The decision last week by the Minister for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland to grant full planning permission to the project means that the project is now fully consented North and South. Since my appointment as Minister I have received a small number of representations on the project.

I now expect EirGrid and ESB Networks to engage openly and extensively with those living closest to the route of the interconnector. In that regard I note that EirGrid has already set in place a variety of engagements locally, including the appointment of community liaison officers and a mobile information unit active in the area. I expect such engagements to intensify in the coming weeks and months, subject of course to national public health guidelines on Covid-19.

I believe that this important infrastructure will meet the objectives I mentioned earlier. While EirGrid and ESB Networks are engaging with the community, it would not be appropriate for me to be involved in that process.

The Minister mentioned EirGrid's engagement involving community liaison officers and a mobile information unit. I would like the Minister to meet people in the community to see what those words mean in those communities. The way EirGrid has handled this project and how it is perceived have the opposite effect to that presented by EirGrid. The same is said of the sponsorship of local groups, organisations and events. It is not well received in the community. There needs to be a third way to find a solution to this. I believe an accommodation can be reached but it will be through real engagement.

The Deputy is representing the concerns of his constituents here, as he is absolutely right to do. This has been a highly difficult process for everyone. As well as the planning process and the other reports I have mentioned, there have been cases brought to the High Court and the Supreme Court, which held a two-day hearing on October 2018. That has not been an easy process for those involved. Irrespective of the history, which goes back 17 years, I have confidence that EirGrid is absolutely committed to carrying out a community engagement with the best of intentions to the highest standard with proper respect for local landowners and others who may live close to the projected lines. Complicating that further when it is EirGrid's responsibility to manage that would not help or benefit anyone.

The Minister in the North - not the Executive in the North - granted planning permission for the project in the North. My colleagues have called for the Minister to come before the Assembly and explain that decision. In February 2017 the Dáil passed a Fianna Fáil motion calling for no further work to be done on the North-South interconnector until a fresh analysis and a full community consultation were completed. That never happened. Fianna Fáil is leading the Government at this time. Does the Minister have the support of Fianna Fáil on this project? Is there cross-Government support for the project or is the Minister standing on his own, as Minister?

Based on the Minister's utterances and his attitude on this issue, I can tell him that in ten years' time the North-South interconnector will not be built. Today I read transcripts from the previous time the Minister was in government when he then refused to listen to Deputies in this House, including Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and others, who pointed out to him that without the principle of public acceptance being considered at least by EirGrid, this matter would not progress. At that time it was felt that the delays would involve legal actions and the planning process, but crucially the delays would be starting in real terms in relation to the construction phase. Therefore, it will not happen.

Deputy O'Rourke rightly pointed out some of the deficiencies with the report the Minister mentioned earlier. It went so far as to describe undergrounding of the North-South interconnector as a credible option. The figures the Minister quoted are spurious because they relate to undergrounding along the exact same route as proposed for the overhead lines.

Thank you, Deputy.

That is not how undergrounding works.

Deputy, please-----

The local community has zero confidence in EirGrid.

The local community will not engage with it.

Deputy Carthy-----

The Minister has a responsibility to engage with the local communities because otherwise this project simply will not happen and it will be his fault.

It is difficult to let in an extra speaker if Deputy Carthy does not comply with the time requirements. I have discretion and have used that discretion to let him in. I ask him to please comply with the time. I have been very strict with the Minister. The Minister has one minute to reply.

I will answer Deputy O'Rourke's questions first. I stand here on behalf of the Irish Government in all its elements, just as the Minister, Ms Mallon, is representative of the Administration up North. I imagine she made her decision in consultation with her colleagues in the same way that I consult with my colleagues regularly-----

No, she did not.

Let the Minister reply.

-----on the basis that this is a critical project for maintaining an all-island approach to energy. If we break that and lose an all-island approach to energy, it will be very expensive for householders here. We earlier mentioned the high cost of electricity. Failing to maintain an all-island approach and failing to have a united approach to the matter would bring considerable expense to Irish householders. It will bring severe difficulties in the long run and jeopardise security, the creation of employment and developing our island on a united connected basis. I presume it was on that basis that she made the decision. That is the same basis on which I stand here to answer the questions as best I can.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Bernard Durkan

Question:

73. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the extent to which progress is being made towards the reduction of emissions in line with EU and international targets without negative impact on the agrifood sector; if it is possible at this stage to identify enhanced progress in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25026/20]

This question is self-explanatory. It seeks to identify the extent of the progress towards emission-reduction targets in line with EU and global targets without damaging the agrifood sector.

The next ten years will be critical if we are to address the climate and biodiversity crisis which threatens our safe future on this planet. The programme for Government commits to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, a 51% reduction over the decade, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. It also recognises the special economic and social role of agriculture and the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane, as described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in terms of plans and strategies to achieve these targets.

On Ireland's existing 2030 EU target to reduce greenhouse gases in the non-ETS sector by 30%, the climate action plan written by my predecessor sets out the policies and measures to achieve this, including setting an emissions reduction range for agriculture. This is underpinned by actions aimed at: reducing emissions on our farms by vigorously adopting the abatement opportunities identified by Teagasc; promoting diversification of land use as part of a gradual transition; harnessing opportunities in the bioeconomy; realising the potential of sustainable bioenergy supply opportunities; better management of our peatlands and soils; and developing clusters of exemplar practice.

The European Commission has just presented its plan to increase its ambition to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, from its existing target of 40% to at least 55% compared with 1990 levels. This level of ambition for the next decade will put the EU on a balanced pathway to reaching climate neutrality by 2050. It is intended that the 2030 target will be enshrined in EU climate law. The European Parliament and Council have been invited to confirm this 55% 2030 target as the EU's new nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement and to submit it to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, by the end of this year. Legislative proposals to implement the new EU 2030 target will be presented by June 2021, and additional effort will be asked of all member states, including Ireland, to meet that target.

These developments at EU level, along with the step change in climate ambition set out in the programme for Government, will need to be reflected appropriately in the next iteration of the climate action plan, which we hope to develop next year.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he indicate whether he intends to review progress towards these targets regularly? One of the mistakes we have often made in trying to meet targets has been the reluctance, inability or lack of opportunity to review progress regularly. That was often not done even on a biannual basis.

Absolutely. I hope we will shortly be able to consider such a review mechanism in the context of a new climate action Bill which will amend the 2015 Act. We hope to put in place a framework of three successive five-year budgets which will cover the coming years and further iterations of the climate action plan. These can be reviewed on a rolling basis, just as the Deputy suggests, with reporting mechanisms that allow us to look at how targets are being reached at a sectoral level. This iterative, long-term process, which sets out targets for the next five, ten and 15 years, is where we need to go. It is the framework within which the new economy is going to arise. As I said earlier, we have comparative competitive advantage in many areas. In the case of agriculture, in particular, we have the potential to develop a more environmentally friendly approach and to secure a premium for our agriculture produce which will allow us to pay our farmers better and to retain and restore the family farm.

We must remember that the Irish agrifood sector feeds almost 42 million people, something no other agrifood-producing country in the world is capable of doing in proportional terms. I ask that special attention be given to the amount of food produced by the agrifood sector in this country and the contribution it makes to feeding other nations as well as our own. That must be borne in mind with a view to ensuring the industry is not impeded while, at the same time, seeking to achieve our targets for emissions reductions. I believe both can be done.

A prosperous and secure future for Irish agriculture is best served under our new climate plan. Central to that plan will be a new land use plan which starts, first and foremost, with a vision for the future prosperity of rural Ireland and the family farm. That will be achieved at the same time as we store carbon in the land using some of the mechanisms Teagasc has suggested, as I outlined, and many more. It will also look at the restoration of biodiversity as central to the future role of farmers in helping to achieve key objectives such as the management of flood waters and improvements in water quality. The latter is probably one of the most serious environmental problems we have on this island. We need to see a reduction in ammonia, nitrogen and other pollutants. In doing that, we will reduce the costs to farmers, which will, in turn, help them to achieve the prosperous future to which the Deputy alluded. All of this must be done in an integrated way. It is not about telling farmers what to do or removing their business capability and instinct or their management skills in looking after the land. Farmers will be the front-line heroes in our climate response. I look forward to working with them on delivering a low-carbon, high-value future for farming.

Just Transition Commissioner

Barry Cowen

Question:

74. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the actions he has taken to date to implement the recommendations of the report by the just transition commissioner. [25132/20]

Will the Minister update us on the implementation of the recommendations of the report by the just transition commissioner?

The first progress report of the just transition commissioner, Mr. Kieran Mulvey, was published on 22 May. The report reflects a comprehensive engagement with relevant stakeholders in the midlands, setting out an analysis of the challenges facing the region, Bord na Móna workers, their families and communities arising from an accelerated exit from peat harvesting. The report contains important recommendations. The Government is already acting on a number of these and is committed to preparing an implementation plan to address the remainder, which I intend to publish in the coming weeks.

The recommendations and associated actions will support job creation efforts and create new opportunities for Bord na Móna workers in the midlands. A number of actions are under way that will support job creation. They include an allocation of €20 million for a new energy efficiency retrofitting scheme in the midlands and €5 million for peatland rehabilitation outside of the Bord na Móna estate. A dedicated just transition fund is making available up to €11 million in 2020 to fund innovative projects that contribute to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the wider midlands region and which have employment and enterprise potential. On foot of its recent call for proposals under this fund, my Department published an initial list of 16 successful projects on 9 September and additional projects will be approved in the next few weeks.

The Government has also committed €15 million, as part of the July stimulus plan, to commence a multi-year programme to rehabilitate 33,000 ha of Bord na Móna peatlands. This additional funding will support a just transition by maintaining jobs in the midlands and laying the foundation for more substantial and sustainable job creation into the future. The enhanced rehabilitation scheme will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by significantly increasing the area of wetland habitats in post-production peatlands. Further additional benefits include increasing biodiversity, improving water quality and supporting bog ecosystem services.

In addition, following on from the recommendation in the first report of the just transition commissioner and the commitment in the programme for Government, a feasibility study into the establishment of a green energy hub using the existing infrastructure at the west Offaly and Lough Ree power plants will commence shortly. A steering group is being established which will be chaired by the ESB and include representatives of my Department, Bord na Móna, relevant local authorities and other stakeholders. I expect the work of the group to be completed this year.

I thank the Minister for his response and acknowledge the progress that has been made to date on foot of the arrangements emanating from last year's budget. Other commitments contained in the programme for Government will build upon that progress. We look forward to seeing commitments in the forthcoming budget in addition to the funding that has been provided to date, as outlined by the Minister.

I want to focus specifically on the final part of the Minister's answer concerning the exploratory process for providing green energy hubs using the existing infrastructure of the power plants in Lough Ree and west Offaly, namely, Lanesborough and Shannonbridge. On 22 July, I raised with the Minister the prospect of the ESB seeking tenders for the demolition of those plants. Unfortunately, that prospect has now come to fruition, with the ESB publishing those tender documents last week. This flies in the face of the commitment we had understood was in place in respect of the plants. It jeopardises the potential for alternative industry, employment and prospects for the two locations and the wider region if the ESB is allowed to proceed with its plans.

Following on from the same plea I made in July, will the Minister indicate what prospect there is on the part of Government, insofar as it has dealings with the ESB, to ask the company to refrain from its present course of action, to allow a window of opportunity whereby a competition might be forthcoming from private or public sector interests and to ascertain what best use might evolve from such a process to ensure alternative job prospects and alternative prospects for the well-being of the communities involved?

Since the Deputy and I discussed this matter, I have had meetings with Mr. Mulvey, the ESB and the manager of Offaly County Council to discuss it. I am fully aware of the concerns in this matter, particularly in respect of the two plants to which the Deputy referred.

I am sure the Deputy is fully aware that the only reason tenders for removal of the existing plant had to be advertised was that it was a condition of the original planning permission. The European tendering process in that regard does not commit the ESB to any course of action regarding the future use of the site and does not prejudge the outcome of the feasibility study into the possible establishment of a green or renewable energy hub on either site. Given the grid connections that exist on site and the expertise that exists in Bórd na Mona and IN the region in logistics and energy management it is obviously preferable that alternative uses be found rather than simply decommissioning the sites. We should not prejudge what they may be or preclude things. I have heard a variety of different suggestions not just in energy but also in waste management and other areas. As such my instinct is that it is better for us to see what proposals arise out of that, to let the working group do its work and to not rule out any option. In our discussion on the climate fund, I believe I said that if there are good applications coming through, I am sure funding would arise to support them.

Obviously applications for such funding cannot be forthcoming because there is no potential for a legal interest in the applicant while the present situation continues. While I accept the bona fides of the Minister's response, I would have thought it would be impossible for the ESB to make an application for permission to retain the structures which would supersede the previous permission and the conditions associated with it. If I am to take it at face value, the Minister is telling me that despite the publication and the seeking of tenders for its demolition publicised last week, ESB may well not act upon any such submissions it might receive and it would be folly on the part of any commercial operation to seek to tender, in the knowledge that the Minister has today informed the House that the prospect of a green energy hub remains alive. This raises the prospect of a potential open competition from the wider public for the Minister or the ESB to ascertain the benefit to the community of offering alternatives that might well benefit the region. This would be preferable to a semi-State body demolishing something that cost many hundreds of millions of euro in the past ten to 20 years, but more to the point, demolishing prospective alternatives which might well yield a much better result.

The ESB was required to put that advert in as a condition of a planning permission and it has to operate within the law. Yes, we should be open to alternative uses. The reality with the plant itself is the question of what other applications or uses there are for a plant which was very specifically designed, built and has been operated for 18 years for one use. How that very specific infrastructure can be repurposed or reconditioned for another use is not something I have a clear example of elsewhere. However the sites have, as I said, other characteristics, including grid connection and if a use can be found, be it for the boiler or the other equipment on the site, which could be part of a new energy hub, then we should certainly look at that. We should not restrict the options though, because applications other than the reintroduction of the exact same power plants are far more likely. It will have to be something which provides a much more secure long-term future. Investing in something which is not going to be viable or does not make best use of the sites would not serve the local community.

We are way over time. Question No. 70 is in the name of Deputy Catherine Connolly.

Climate Action Plan

Catherine Connolly

Question:

70. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the engagement he has had to date with the North Atlantic Seaboard Climate Action Regional Office particularly in relation to climate adaptation at local level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25145/20]

What interaction have the Minister or his Department had with the Climate Action Regional Office, CARO, which deals with c##ounties Mayo, Galway and Donegal?

In January 2018, my Department entered into a five year financial commitment of €10 million to establish four Climate Action Regional Offices, CAROs. One of these CAROs covers the Atlantic seaboard north region, encompassing the local authorities of Galway city and counties Galway, Mayo, Sligo, and Donegal. Mayo County Council is the lead local authority for Atlantic Seaboard North CARO. While I have had no direct interaction to date with the North Atlantic Seaboard CARO, my Department engages with all four CAROs on a regular basis, in particular through participation in the National Local Authority Climate Action Steering Group, and the CARO Steering Group, at which all aspects of the CARO work programme are discussed. My Department approves the CARO work programmes and is in frequent contact with each CARO to monitor progress in delivery. Under the National Adaptation Framework each local authority developed an adaptation strategy. These strategies are now being implemented, and each CARO is working with the local authorities in its region to both facilitate and monitor implementation of the local climate adaptation actions within the strategies.

I left out County Sligo; there are four counties in the region. I have been looking at the local newspaper which has the headline: "Council coffers Covid collapse". There is no money in Galway city. That is one local authority and I am sure it is going to be repeated. A briefing document issued last Monday by Galway County Council set out its strategic projects. There was one little paragraph on climate change in the whole 20-page document. It referred to the regional office, but did so in the context of the need for dedicated staff on the ground and dedicated resources. It set it out absolutely clearly. I am fully on the Minister's side where the need for urgent steps on climate change is concerned - we have no choice about it. Using these words and giving me an answer like that without any recognition that on the ground there are no staff and no resources to implement any plan, not to mention the National Adaptation Framework to which he referred and which was passed by Galway County Council back in 2019, is disappointing.

It is my intention to try to provide the resources to ensure local authorities can serve their communities by preparing for the climate future that is ahead of us. The Bill I referred to earlier, which will amend the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, will include provisions about the role of local authorities and strengthening them in the delivery of new climate action plans. As I said, I have not yet had any direct dealings with the CARO representing the Atlantic seaboard north region. However I have had a series of meetings with Galway County Council, Galway Chamber, and environmental and community groups in Galway on a number of related issues. These were partly about the adaptation side but were focused in particular on transport issues in Galway. In those meetings I said we need to transform our vision for development for the region. To be honest, I was shocked when I saw the likes of the Connemara greenway, which was funded by €2 million several years ago and on which there has been no progression to date. Similarly, there was a decision to not progress with the greenway along the Salthill route. Those two routes could connect. Those are two examples of projects which are climate projects in a way, in the sense that they are mitigation projects but they also have potential for providing a really improved local environment, which is what we need to do with climate. As such I encouraged the city manager, the mayor, councillors, chamber of commerce and others to have Galway come forward with applications for projects which will help either with climate mitigation or adaptation. I do not believe lack of funding is the key constraint, but probably a lack of resources at the local level or some other reason local ambition has not yet been as significant as it should be.

I appreciate the Minister's goodwill, but the newspaper is telling us that Galway will not balance its budget next year. The report from Galway County Council is telling us it has the mitigation plan in place but it has no resources. I cannot help but think that this is a huge doubling-up of levels of bureaucracy now that we have regional offices as well. I gather they do good work in collecting data but one wonders why we needed that when we should have just resourced the local authority which is crying out for resources, because it has the plan and everything else.

On the amendment to the 2015 Act, perhaps the Minister will clarify what his response is to the quashing of the National Mitigation Plan by the Supreme Court. Will he be bringing forward another such plan as a matter of urgency?

It is not part of my question but now that the Minister has mentioned the amendment of the 2015 Act I will ask where is the mitigation plan that has been quashed. What assessment has been done of the resources needed on the ground to make climate action a reality?

I welcomed the Supreme Court judgment at the time and I still do. The amendments we will make to the Act will, I hope, reflect the judgment and set in place, as I said earlier, the graduated budgeting process that would allow us to deliver a step by step approach to meeting our climate targets.

Without being critical of any one council, I should reflect that in the series of meetings I had throughout the country, particularly on the July economic stimulus, I encouraged councils to make as many applications as they could to allow for investment in these climate projects and I said directly at the meetings, and it is on the record, that Galway did not have the most ambitious response. There was no shortage of funds available from central level but, unfortunately, other counties and cities throughout the country were far more ambitious in the applications for funding they made. I cited the example of the Connemara greenway where funding was provided but has not been spent. In many instances I do not believe it is just a lack of funding. There must be some other obstacles that are preventing the development of projects that would be of benefit to the local community and the climate. I raise this because I believe Galway needs to start investing significantly in this. It is not always a lack of central funds that is the obstacle or the problem.

Questions Nos. 75 to 77, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

As just a minute and a half remains, I will take a written reply to Question No. 78 and perhaps Deputy Ó Murchú might forego his introduction to Question No. 79.

Question No. 78 replied to with Written Answers.

National Broadband Plan

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

79. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communication Networks the number of premises surveyed to date within the amber area, by county, as part of the national fibre network roll-out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25161/20]

I apologise for renaming the national broadband plan in the question. I will forego an introduction if the Minister can go straight into a reply. I do not expect a county by county breakdown. If the Minister has information on County Louth I will be happy enough.

The Deputy does not expect a county by county breakdown but I will give the figure for County Louth of the number of houses surveyed so far. Based on the information available on 15 September, I can advise that the following is the number of premises per county that have been surveyed to date: the figure for County Galway is 6,809, for County Louth it is 5,825 and for County Kildare it is 2,818. I am afraid that County Meath is not on my list. I will have to check for Deputy O'Rourke as to the whereabouts of that figure.

How many are left to do?

The Deputy will get a very extensive written reply I have no doubt.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Dáil adjourned at 11.25 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 September 2020.