Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Will the Government consider taking from the shelf the proposal to build an outer ring road to the M50, which would prevent traffic congestion on the M50 and reduce NOx emissions? Dublin is the only major capital city in Europe that does not have an outer ring road. Instead, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, has decided to install speed cameras and fine people for getting it wrong and being confused about the speeds they should be doing on a motorway.

We are slowly making changes, albeit changes to our detriment. For example, we recently ceased the production of peat in Bord na Móna plants. Instead of producing our own peat, we are importing it, resulting in no overall impact on the environment, only money leaving the country and jobs being lost. When the transport emissions associated with importing peat are taken into account, our actions have probably increased global emissions. Along with the loss of sugar and flour production in Ireland, the saving of this to the environment probably equates to Germany producing ten fewer cars.

Regarding the carbon tax on fuel, let us consider the road haulage sector. The carbon tax makes it more expensive to transport goods, yet the same amount of fuel still has to be used. All that is achieved is an increase in tax revenue, with no real impact on the environment and no assistance to the sector. The Bill provides no information on what the sector will use as a fuel source. We should bear in mind that, if someone pays €150,000 for a truck today, it will still be in service in 2030 and it will be diesel.

The past behaviour of governments is a key indicator of the type of self-flagellation that is likely to continue in this regard. Farmers are likely to bear the brunt of the Bill if passed. It will be more expensive and less profitable to farm. Costs will rise and, therefore, prices will increase for the consumer. What account does the Bill take of the thousands of carbon-sequestering hedgerows that are found on farms across Ireland but not in other EU countries? According to Teagasc and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, 5% to 7% of Ireland's landmass is covered by hedgerows, equating to thousands of kilometres. These are extraordinary figures, but what carbon credits do our farmers get for them? More importantly, who gets them?

I agree with my colleague, Deputy Naughten, when he made the point that the poorest in society would be the hardest hit by the measures contained in the Bill. The poorest are least likely to be able to afford to retrofit their homes, install solar panels or buy new electric cars, and they spend a higher percentage of their incomes on food and fuel than others do. We will penalise everyone, but the poorest will feel it the most.

In global terms, we are a tiny player. We have abandoned the production of peat, turf and coal and continue to discourage tillage and dairy as if these farm practices were major problems rather than national assets while countries like China are ramping up their use of solid fuels on an industrial scale. In the past 30 years, China's coal consumption has quadrupled, yet we in Ireland somehow believe that closing a bog in Longford is the solution. I support sensible measures to encourage people to lead more environmentally friendly and healthy lives, but what we are doing and, more importantly, the way we are likely to go about it will have no measurable impact on climate change, so why burden current and future generations in using our greatest national asset, the land, with increased regulations, resulting in the destruction of businesses and livelihoods to meet unachievable targets, targets that were devised by large industrialised countries? Successive Irish governments should never have agreed targets that were overambitious and unachievable in that timescale.

Under the section on carbon budgets, the Bill allows for the wishes of the Dáil and the Seanad to be ignored by the Minister. This is concerning. The Bill states the Minister must present a copy of the carbon budget to both Houses and that, if the motion fails, the Minister can amend the budget, if appropriate. If the Government approves the carbon budget again, the Minister shall "cause a copy of the carbon budget to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and it shall have effect from the date on which it is laid before the Houses". This provision allows a carbon budget that has been rejected by the Dáil to be brought in through the back door without the Dáil ever having an opportunity to vote on it again. In other words, the Dáil cannot stop a carbon budget of which it disapproves being introduced. It can only delay such a budget. This is a scandalous abuse of the Parliament and an erosion of democracy.

Another worrying section of the Bill that needs to be highlighted is section 10, which outlines who should be on the advisory council. According to the Bill, we must:

...ensure that each member has knowledge of, or expertise in, at least one of the following areas:

(i) climate science;

(ii) adaptation policy;

(iii) transport policy;

(iv) energy policy;

(v) agricultural policy;

(vi) behavioural and communication science;

(vii) biodiversity and eco-system services;

(viii) economics;

(ix) finance;

(x) political sociology or ethics in relation to climate,

There is no mention of practical experience. This means it is not a requirement for any of the advisory council to have practical experience of working in any of these areas. How will farmers, fishermen or transport providers be represented? If the advisory council is truly to be effective, it should have people with extensive knowledge of practice as well as policy.

My main fear about the Bill is that it ties the hands of future generations and, as a result, we will spend much more time over the next 30 years cutting our nose off to spite our face without achieving what was envisaged while decimating what we had. We are using our best assets, not abusing them.

We have all been passed this Earth to live on and we have to pass it to the next generation. We have a moral responsibility to hand the planet on to the next generation in at least as good a shape as we received it. Despite all the talk, virtue signalling and greenwashing of the past 15 or 20 years, though, this generation is the most damaging the planet has ever seen. That is an incredible thing to say, but it is true. We are living at a time of species mass extinctions, man-made global warming and unprecedented levels of ocean pollution.

Aontú is an environmentalist party because doing nothing is a significant threat to our lives, incomes and futures and the world's habitats, on which we all depend. It is possible to decouple economic growth from the increase in global carbon emissions. This can be done in a number of ways. Ireland imports a significant amount of energy, most of it in the form of fossil fuel. That is incredible, given our country is ideally placed to create sustainable energy, thereby reducing imports, making money circulate in Ireland and adding to the positive sustainable development of our environment. The people who are probably most targeted by the Bill - farmers - are ideally placed to provide most of this energy. Energy should be seen as a crop and as a way of ensuring we can increase farmers' incomes by €5,000, €6,000 or €7,000 per year. If we developed our approach to climate policy in this manner, we would be able to bring people with us instead of creating widespread opposition to our efforts.

I have a problem with an incredible situation, that being there are no solar panels in the State connected to the grid. I welcome that the Green Party has been instrumental in creating an auction process that will soon remedy this situation. From March to September, Britain will create more energy from solar energy than it will from coal and nuclear at the same time. We do not have microgeneration of energy. Even with the Government's auction process, the idea of small-scale wind, solar and biodigestion that can be used by farmers is still out of the reach of most farmers who are in need of an income increase. It does not have to be this way. In the North of Ireland, the roof of one out of every three houses is festooned with photovoltaic panels, creating electricity for that home and earning its family an income. I find it difficult to believe we are not starting with the low-hanging fruit and positive opportunities that could and should be approached by the Government.

The energy efficiency of our buildings presents another incredible situation. Every year, governments fly flags about having done X amount of retrofitting of homes and public buildings with insulation.

All those projects are only scratching the surface. If we want to reduce energy consumption, the first thing we need to do is to stop wasting that energy. Stop wasting that energy means insulating and properly protecting buildings and homes. Doing that will save the money of the people living in those homes and make those homes more comfortable, warmer and healthier places for them to live. The same applies to public buildings. However, there has never been a real project trying to ensure that buildings are properly insulated and efficient. That needs to be done before we start to look at other sections of society.

One of the difficulties I have with this Bill and the Government's approach is that it is being built on the backs of the sectors of society that can least afford more pain at the moment. It is very seldom recognised in this Chamber that the farmers of this country are absolutely stuffed. There are about 130,000 farmers in the State and year after year farmers are selling up and getting out because their incomes are already a pittance.

For example, in beef sector, only for European intervention in the form of grants, after their full week's work, farmers would earn a minus figure. Imagine asking tens of thousands of workers and their families to engage in a sector that produces a minus figure at the end of the year. That is an incredible situation and it is wrong to treat any sector of society that way.

The beef sector is an enormously profitable sector in its own right. Hundreds of millions of euro in profits are made in the beef sector. There are three elements of the supply chain: the producers, the factories and the supermarkets. However, the profits reside with the factories and the supermarkets at enormous cost to the producers, the farmers. This is allowed to happen because it is a dysfunctional market. In economic terms, it is known as an oligopoly with enormous buyer power. The factories can dictate every element of farmers' engagement with them. The Government has stood idly by in every case.

In the last Dáil, I sat on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine where the Fine Gael Chair said it was unreasonable for farmers to expect a price for their beef above the cost of production. That was a startling and astonishing attitude by the Government. We have seen no change at all. We now hear that the Government is considering reducing the national herd. The Government cannot propose reducing the national herd without increasing the unit price of farmers' product so that it provides a living for them. Farmers will simply not buy any reduction in the national herd that does not include a fair income for a fair day's work for them. It is important for the Government to get real.

It also needs to get real in respect of the needs of rural areas, where the population is dwindling. The average age of people in Killarney is 40. The average age in Balbriggan is 30. A vicious circle is happening. When students leave college, the only place they can get graduate jobs is in or around Dublin. They cannot afford to live in Dublin and so live in the sprawling commuter belt, which, in itself, is a threat to the environmental health of the country. They move away from the communities they grew up in. This approach by the Government damages rural areas by not providing sustainable ways for people to live there, including sustainable transportation. This means the Government will not bring people from rural areas with it either.

I do not want to see this approach - an approach that is necessary for fixing the country's disastrous environmental record - built on the back of sectors of society already in severe trouble. I ask the Government to go back to the drawing board and come up with a solution that includes all of Ireland, and that has a future for farmers and those living in rural areas. It needs to turn the country, not into a sprawling commuter belt of Dublin, but into viable communities where people can work in remote working hubs and in their own homes.

Over the bank holiday weekend, I was out and about in my constituency, talking to families. It is an incredible situation. Based on the national broadband plan, people living two or three miles outside of Navan, Trim and other towns in my constituency have no chance of getting broadband for the next two or three years. I am reminded that Noel Dempsey promised them broadband in 2004 and a further two or three years is probably optimistic at the rate that this Government goes. The Government needs to ensure it brings all of Ireland with it. It should not build a process on the back of the misery of those in rural areas.

I wish to raise one other matter with the Minister of State, which is the issue of local citizens who have been campaigning against companies which are breaking the law on the environment regarding quarries. Companies are slapping legal cases against these individuals, tying them up in terms of money, energy and time. It has a chilling effect in respect of public participation in their own environments. Article 3.8 of the Aarhus Convention states that every citizen should be able to exercise their rights in conformity with the law without being penalised, persecuted or harassed in any way. Will the Minister of State meet people in my community to discuss this issue to ensure that Article 3.8 of the Aarhus Convention is brought into law?

I will start with a quote, with which I am sure that Ceann Comhairle is familiar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

Shakespeare put those words in the mouth of Brutus as he went to battle with Mark Antony, but it could well have been said of the debate about climate and our approach to the challenge of global warming that is having such an impact on communities. The stakes are truly enormous if we fail in this challenge. However, it cannot be said at the moment that we have been seizing that current; we have considerable ground to make up.

I take the opportunity to thank the officials in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, as it was when I was Minister there. We had responsibility for seeking to manage two of the most globally impactful forces hitting our world. One was digital transformation. I am very proud that we delivered the national broadband plan, and I am glad to see Deputies now calling for it to be delivered more quickly. Most of the time, I was faced with opposition to that. We also have in train the online safety Bill.

We put in place the first climate action plan that was compliant with the obligations to our European Union colleagues that we adopted. We put in place the first just transition commissioner to work with the profoundly impacted communities in the midlands and we laid the foundation of the climate Bill that we are debating today. I wish the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, well in the work he is taking on there, which is of enormous importance. Today is a milestone as we are carving a pathway to deliver the transition by 2050 so that we will have a climate-resilient, biodiversity-rich, environmentally sustainable and climate-neutral economy.

Enshrining these objectives in law is an important statement of intent by the Oireachtas. However, I am not one of those who seeks to find the tightest possible straitjacket and seeks to find hooks for litigation so that sectors can be whipped into line. That is not how we will deliver what we need. If we end up in the courts fighting about progress on climate, we, as politicians, will have failed. The challenge is not about defining and finding bulletproof legislation; it is about winning citizens and showing them that to cling to business as usual is to condemn their sector, their community or their children to a stunted future.

I was not among those who sought to enshrine the 51% goal of the programme for Government into law.

It is not that I do not believe in that ambition, but that I believe it is risky to seek to bind our citizens in a legal obligation without properly teasing out with them what it implies. We cannot do that without consultation and a clear roadmap. However, I accept the majority view was different in the committee and I will accept that here in the House, but there are no grounds for the suggestion in the letters to the three party leaders, which I have seen, that the programme for Government signed up to a cumulative 7% per annum reduction in carbon emissions. The Government signed up to our being at a level 51% lower by 2030. The programme for Government recognised that the path to that could not be 7% per annum but would have to take account of the slow impact of some policies and the need to build up over time.

I respect the science behind the 51% ambition. However, I believe it is the height of cynicism for some politicians to insist on the science in embedding high ambition and then to turn their faces resolutely against both the science and common sense when they tell us they will reject what is needed, such as a higher carbon price, such as quicker planning processes to allow infrastructure to be built, such as the pure illusion that only the enterprise sector need take up the slack in making the changes, or such as claiming that banning liquefied natural gas, LNG, will reduce our emissions. It will not reduce our emissions by a single gram.

Too many of the responses I have heard on this Bill from politicians embrace the principle of environmental sustainability but insist on hands off sacrifice in their backyard. They want to find solutions and impose obligations upon others. That is the height of cynicism. The sad truth, regardless of whether we like it, is that the take, make, use and dispose culture that has been a feature in the creation of environmental degradation is embedded in all of our lives, not in the lives of a small number. To reverse it, we will have to change the habits of a lifetime. We will have to accept infrastructures with which we are unfamiliar within our communities. For years, we have accepted having gallons of inflammable liquid buried below our towns and villages, but we baulk at the idea of renewable energy replacing those fossil fuels. We have to get our heads around that and we have to work with people to bring them with us.

We will also need to mobilise a lot of capital. This will not all be mobilised capital provided by Government. This is about changing the direction of travel of our communities, our sectors and our enterprises. Usually, disruptive change of this nature is brought about by a technological revolution that is sweeping all before it. What makes this different is that we, the politicians, have to find the momentum to make the changes that disrupt the traditional ways of doing things. I am up for the battle of delivering the 51%, but let us be honest with ourselves about how challenging that will be. The hard-won climate action plan which I put in place sought to stretch what was achievable. It set out that by 2030 we would have 12 GW extra of renewable energy - a quadrupling of what we now have, one million extra vehicles on the road, 500,000 homes insulated to a B2 rating, 600,000 homes with heat pumps, 19 farm measures, outlined by Teagasc, fully implemented on every farm in the country, a carbon tax of €80 to drive the change, the end of peat and coal and 8,000 ha of forestry planted each year. We are now signing up to increase those commitments by 75%. No Deputy I have heard contribute to this debate thus far has seriously addressed how that gap is to be filled. That is where our attention should be focused now.

As we seek to find the extra 13 million tonnes reduction annually, we will have to embrace more costly interventions than we have considered to date. The technologies that are coming will not provide us with solutions in the next ten years and so a new climate action plan will have to examine challenging changes, such as substantial increases in the carbon price, significant cuts in our herd - people do not want to talk about that - and higher retrofit targets. These are discussions we need to have and to face honestly. We need to engage with people on how those changes can be achieved and how they can still have a strong and prosperous future having made those changes. Unfortunately, the instinct of some politicians is to whip up fears around these changes instead of finding ways in which we can deliver them and give people a better livelihood.

The question needs to be looked at differently. If we do not start to make these changes now, we will be leaving a legacy to the next generation that, as I said previously, is stunted in every dimension. Our farms will not be able to support a decent family farm income if we do not start to make the changes. Our enterprises will not be able to compete in a carbon neutral Europe if we do not make the changes. The living patterns will condemn us to high costs and poor comfort if we do not make the changes. This is about a vision of a better Ireland, better for farmers, better for enterprise and better for communities. That is what we have to carve out and bring people with us on.

The challenge is to rethink the way in which we do a lot of things. That is difficult. Politicians on all sides need to face that challenge. Some 70% of us are living in homes that are far too big for our needs. Our fleet of 3 million vehicles are idle 95% of the time. Some 30% of our food is wasted, imposing a carbon footprint of 3 million tonnes lost. We can change our way of thinking in these areas. There are huge opportunities to do better, to give us a better standard of living, but with less impact on our environment. We need to find ways of doing that.

In the area of land use, some of the practices now in place are pushing farmers to the very limit of their effort yet yielding them virtually nothing from the marketplace in return. By changing the way we use our land, they can capitalise on a very substantial carbon dividend. In some cases, as much as €700 per ha could be gleaned by making a switch in the way farmers farm and manage their lands. Farmers often ask about where the dividend is for them. We have to find ways of producing that dividend for farming in sensible ways that build the type of vision we have set out for ourselves in 2050. I believe that is possible.

Members of this House have also opposed vehemently the idea of a carbon price. A carbon price is merely a way of saying that some of the practices that are generating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are imposing massive costs on the rest of the globe and on our communities. That is why we are talking about putting a price on carbon. The other side of that is that in putting a price on carbon, we will have revenue we will have to devote to cutting other taxes so that we can reduce the burden on work and provide support for changes in practices in our sectors and in our communities that will make life better for all. As a community, we need to get that into our heads. The reason there is a price on carbon that is rising year in and year out and will hit €100 per tonne by the end of the decade and, on a conservative estimate, €250 per tonne by 2050 is because it is doing such damage. The other side of that coin is the huge opportunities for people to earn from managing and farming carbon to deliver cheaper ways of reducing the impact of it on our environment than some of the many more costly items that would otherwise enter into the calculations.

Much of the more imaginative thinking we need is embraced by the concept of the circular economy and the strategy that could be created if we rethink the supply chains of all the activities that we undertake as a community.

I am pleased that the climate committee has accepted my request to act as a rapporteur on how thinking around a circular economy can help us to make that transition, particularly in sectors such as food, construction and retail where the impact is very high.

Agriculture has received more attention than it deserves in this debate. It is important to note that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, recognises that biogenic methane, that is, the methane that comes from livestock, can only be reduced between the ranges of 24% and 47% by 2050. We need to recognise that agriculture in this country is different and is not going to be treated the same as other sectors because of its important contribution to food supply and rural economies. However, it would be blind to pretend that farming cannot make significant changes that will make the journey to achieving our environmental targets much easier and can, in the process, prove rewarding for farmers. In the future, farmers will have smaller herds because they will earn a large part of their income from the way in which they manage carbon. That is a future people will embrace if we provide the institutional arrangements to deliver it.

Finally, we have a great deal of really important information from scientists, who have provided us with a vision of a burning globe. That creates the sense of urgency we need if we are to change. However, that change will not be achieved by pointing the finger at communities, sectors or enterprises. To make changes, we need to embrace what I call the three Ls, namely, legacy, legitimacy and leadership. We need a vision of a better future as a legacy we pass on to the next generation. That legacy will be better homes for our children to live in, better farms for them to manage and better enterprises in which they can find work. We also need to found authority to make changes on legitimacy. That is why the citizens' assembly was so important. It showed how dialogue, fairness and just transition are integral to this process. We need those elements to empower us to make the sometimes quite radical changes needed to cut through the barriers that otherwise will hold us back. Finally, we need to mobilise leadership in every section of our community, including sports, community, economic and financial organisations, to recognise that this is a change that requires a truly national effort and will deliver for us if we achieve it. If we miss this opportunity, we will spend our time, as Shakespeare said, "bound in shallows and in miseries", having failed to live up to the expectation that is set upon this generation.

I warmly commend the Minister on presenting the Bill to the House and look forward to the debate on it. Most of all, I look forward to the sorts of actions we can collectively take and that will bring our citizens with us on an exciting journey of change, at the end of which we will have a better country.

I am sharing time with Deputies Daly, Tully, Clarke and Mythen.

This amending Bill introduces targets into hazy and ambiguous legislation dating from 2015. It comes as no surprise that the coalition Cabinet at that time, led by Fine Gael, introduced a half-baked Bill to appease the growing ecological lobby. Under scrutiny, there were found to be major issues with that legislation, mainly the lack of any specific greenhouse gas emissions targets. Even though all the right jargon and buzzwords were present, the legislation lacked something vital, namely, accountability. Luckily, a number of grassroots and civic society groups in Ireland have been hard at work, relentlessly following up on the promises of Government and advocating that the State's commitments under international obligations and the European Convention on Human Rights be honoured.

As the imminence of ecological instability looms and the pattern of freak natural disasters becomes more associated with the effects of climate change, people are taking matters into their own hands. 2020 saw an increase in droughts, forest fires, floods and tropical storms across the globe. In this country, the forest fire in Killarney National Park ravaged much of the estate land and was a direct effect of the climate crisis. A increase in temperature leads to less precipitation, meaning fires can spread more easily. Everything is interconnected when it comes to the natural world. The environment is an area in which, internationally, there has been almost a consensus among states to introduce reactionary policies instead of paying heed to the growing body of evidence published by climate scientists and ecologists over the past 20 to 30 years. Here in Ireland, local and national groups such as Friends of the Earth, VOICE Ireland, Extinction Rebellion Ireland and, in my constituency, Futureproof Clare, have tirelessly resisted the decimation of our planet's biodiversity by corporations.

I refer to an issue of particular concern to my constituents, namely, the Shannon liquefied natural gas, LNG, project to develop a fracked gas import terminal on the Shannon Estuary. New Fortress Energy is seeking to construct this terminal and an equivalent facility in County Longford, despite the fact that fracked gas generates extremely damaging net carbon emissions. Sadly, although the issue of fracked gas was used as a talking point in the programme for Government, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is yet to produce a report, guideline or, at the very least, statement outlining his stance on fracked gas. I urge him to do so.

The main issue with the Shannon LNG project is that it features on the fourth European Projects of Common Interest, PCI, list, which means, in effect, that it can bypass standard planning requirements, namely, approval through An Bord Pleanála, and avoid any risk assessments that would impede its development. It is very concerning that there are 32 natural gas infrastructure projects listed on the PCI. This could lead to the wasting of €29 billion of European public funds, which amounts to an inordinate mismanagement of public expenditure. Proceeding with those projects seems highly illogical and myopic if we are truly intent, as an international community, on curbing our reliance on fossil fuels. The central loophole in this Bill is that the Government, as an agent or actor, is exempt from the list of relevant bodies that must adhere to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. This loophole has been exploited by the Cabinet in its pursual of keeping the Shannon LNG project on the PCI list against the recommendation of an Oireachtas committee, following its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, that a ban on the importation of fracked gas and the development of LNG terminals should be explicitly stipulated.

In summary, the aspects of the amending Bill that remain substandard are the omission of a blanket ban on fracked gas and the weak definition of just transition. Both are areas where I am convinced that ambiguity will lead to ineffective or redundant policy issues and conflicts in the future.

This is a very important Bill for our country. We have seen the result of climate change in every county and, globally, in the displacement of millions of people from the southern hemisphere. My county of Kerry has been affected by numerous weather events in recent years, including flooding. The Ring of Kerry has seen bad flooding on high mountain passes and White Strand beach in Cahersiveen was under water in February this year. Kenmare has had a number of very bad flooding incidents in the past number of years. In the north of the county, west of Tralee, Ballyroe, Barrow and Ardfert have been hit, along with Fossa, Faha and Caher. More and more extreme weather events will continue to affect the county, which could be said both to suffer and benefit from a high degree of peripherality and its proximity to the Atlantic and other waterways and lakes.

Reference was made in the House this week and last to the fire in Killarney National Park. An issue that has not been mentioned is the response rate. We need a committee in place that can respond as quickly as possible when there is a severe weather alert for anywhere in the country. The 48 hours or so it took to get a second helicopter down to Killarney was not acceptable. Another factor is that the rhododendron problem has not been dealt with for years. Now is the time to address that issue once and for all. A 15-year plan should be put in place to eliminate rhododendron from the national park and beyond, over the Caha Pass into County Cork. Unless we take action, ordinary communities are going to suffer. Everyone must play their part and be seen to do so.

This Bill does not rule out measures such as a carbon tax, which we oppose, and which does little to tackle the big polluters. Kerry is a coastal county so industries such as fishing and tourism will be displaced first, and individual and unequal measures will fuel scepticism and resistance around climate change. Fairness and social justice must be the priority and the most vulnerable must not bear the cost with additional charges on their solid fuel. Anyone who canvasses in poorer areas will see the reliance there and poorer people should not be punished more than anybody else or disproportionately. Clear targets must be put in place. The recent results-based environment-agri pilot project, REAP, for example, could be more ambitious and the farmers are willing to engage in schemes such as the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, but more engagement is necessary and unfortunately the scheme that is in place has been criticised by farmers' organisations. The Government must work with them. There needs to be more ambition in the Bill as aspirations without the backing to achieve them lead to unnecessary conflict.

As has been stated, the Shannon LNG terminal is not mentioned in the Bill but a political football has been building up around it.

We cannot ignore climate change’s impact on the environment and biodiversity more generally in County Kerry. I was a little confused to hear the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on national radio last week speaking about the planting of forestry along waterways and contributing to water quality. A wise man recently told me that there was a type of fish, the cabhlach dubh, the sea trout, which is white when it comes in from the sea but used to make its way as far as the parish of Brosna, which is nearly in County Limerick, and up at Carroll’s Cross. That has been decimated by over-forestation. There is a difference between a plantation and forestry. We must have more emphasis on forestry and not on plantations.

We also see the worldwide effect of climate change and there will continue to be mass movement of people as much of the world becomes uninhabitable. I look forward to the rest of the debate and hearing the contributions of the other speakers.

While Sinn Féin supports this Bill there are aspects of it I am concerned about. A just transition must occur if this is to work. I live in the heart of rural Ireland and am very concerned about the effects that initiatives under this Bill are going to have or indeed are having on people living in rural Ireland and on the farming community in particular. The vast majority of people generally agree we need to change the way we live to save the planet, we all know it is at crisis point and Ireland, as small as it is, must do its part.

However, carbon taxes on people in rural Ireland are totally unfair. The increase in the cost of petrol and diesel impacts on people in rural areas much more than people in urban areas because in rural areas people do not have alternative transport options. Farmers and contractors must use heavy machinery, which operates on diesel. They have no options. Farmers are already caring for the environment and are willing to find environmentally friendly ways of operating but ways must be found to work with farmers instead of penalising them by imposing taxes and tariffs.

I am also aware that turf and peat harvesting is being restricted on many bogs throughout the country. This has led to the importation of briquettes from other countries and the importation of peat for those who work in the horticulture sector. That sector has no option but to import peat to ensure business continuity and it cannot access peat here. The importation of products is not just bad for the economy; it is also bad for the environment. Fumes from transporting these products are causing significant damage. A proper plan must be put in place for the safe harvesting of peat products for the sectors that need them, rather than having to import them. Many rural families also depend on turf for heating their homes out of economic necessity and cannot afford to buy other types of fuel. Traders from the North are also selling coal and briquettes down South much more cheaply than traders here are, due to the fact that registered traders must pay carbon tax in the Twenty-Six Counties. Nobody is monitoring this activity. In County Cavan, fuel is being sold door-to-door out of vans and there needs to be an all-island approach to carbon taxes and indeed to how climate change is tackled. County Cavan and other Border counties are not the only areas affected by this illicit fuel trade and it represents a loss of revenue to the Government, non-adherence to smoky fuel bans and the real possibility of fuel merchants here having to close and therefore a loss in employment.

I am also still seeing widespread use of single-use plastic. This needs to be totally cut back and penalties imposed on companies that still insist on using single-use plastic in their packaging. Packaging should also be clearly marked as it is still quite confusing as far as what is recyclable and what is compatible is concerned. People will be swayed in what they buy if this is clearly marked and identified to them.

We are aware of the positive impact of sustainable forestry. It needs to be promoted and not forced on farmers as the planting of trees on land which is suitable for such purposes is so beneficial to the environment. However, I am told by some of the forestry companies that they are totally frustrated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s delays and bureaucracy. There are now delays in applications, they cannot get licences to fell trees and the sawmills are running out of logs. Is the solution to import logs too? That is not on.

Retrofitting houses is an important part of fighting climate change but even with grants, it is far too expensive for most people to afford. The waiting list for the home retrofitting schemes are also ridiculous. For example, the waiting list for the warmer homes scheme is now in excess of two years. Approximately 8,000 houses are waiting to be surveyed for the SEAI grant scheme and the number of local authority houses being funded for the retrofit is dismal - I think it is only 1,300 for the year. Thus a greater investment in this area is needed to do with the backlogs and to have more education, apprenticeships and business support in this area.

This Bill offers some tentative first steps in the right direction but it is not quite there yet. Engagement with all sectors from local government to each Department is something climate activists have been crying out for for years. Specific goals offer an attempt at long-term strategising but achievement on that must be sensible, consistent and within a framework that is unambiguous. The Bill falls short in a number of areas. The long-promised commitment to end the issuing of licences for offshore exploration and the extraction of gas and petroleum remains conspicuously absent. The Government has also committed to banning the importation of LNG and fracked gas and I urge the Government parties to support amendments and follow through on its promises.

The proposals give too much discretion to Ministers. If there is no discernible penalty for failing to meet a target, the majority will fail to meet it and when a Minister must balance political expediency with long-term planning, one does not have to guess too far which side a decision will be made on. The ability, however limited, to borrow carbon credits from future budgets allows for the opportunity to pass the buck to a future Minister. There must be some level of responsibility if this Bill is to be worth the paper it is written on. After all, we are elected to this House to write legislation, not fancy words or poetry.

Most crucially for my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, this Bill barely mentions, let alone defines, a just transition. The use of very weak language such as “best endeavour” and “as far as practicable” act as get-out clauses and make just transition measures almost meaningless. Let us compare that to the Scottish act, which definitively defines and lays down words that are not open to interpretation, including "environmentally and socially sustainable jobs to maintain social consensus through engagement with workers, trade unions and communities, the creation of decent, fair and high-value work". None of those words are present in our Bill and that is a missed opportunity. Climate action can improve people’s lives when it is done right but that means that there has to be trueness to just transition at the very heart of us because without that we will leave communities behind and we will lose buy-in from the rural communities most affected by this transition process. A detailed just transition policy could develop green energy with local community control and provide jobs and wealth for our declining communities in both rural and urban areas. It could allow for urban planning to revitalise and improve quality of life while meeting environmental goals. It could do many things but without concrete commitments it is doomed to fail. There was zero reference to just transition in the first draft of this Bill, which is very telling about the Government’s commitments to areas such as mine, which are most impacted by job losses. This is important for several reasons, namely, that climate change and inequality are inextricably joined at the hip.

It is a gross overaccumulation of wealth that has allowed corporate interests to concentrate resources and produce. Yet we see time and again those least able to afford it being burdened by consumption taxes and higher heating, electricity and transport costs. Ultimately, these are ineffective at achieving environmental goals. We have one opportunity to make a big difference for the future of climate change in this country but that needs to be binding and fair because we are here today not only for ourselves but for future generations.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill today. Climate action is about us all being good custodians and leaving the planet in a healthy condition for future generations. It is about respecting and protecting nature but above all it is about a just and fair transition. I recently met with a group of climate activists from my own County Wexford in a Zoom call and their focus and drive was very clear to see. I hope we will see the same determination from us all as we deal with the threat of global warming and climate change.

The core principle of any climate action must be a just transition, which is a weak link in this Bill. We are asking people to change the traditional way we live, but this must be done in a respectful, fair and equal manner. The just transition to carbon neutrality is one of the most challenging issues for rural farmers and coastal areas such as Wexford. With the development of offshore farms, the Government must include social contract clauses in any development of offshore wind or solar panel farms and a community wealth-building approach should be taken. Such an approach would mean wind farms would not only provide greener energy but would do so in a way that benefits the communities not in a piecemeal way but rather in a genuine social and monetary way through the supply of local materials and labour.

This Bill introduces a requirement for each local authority to prepare a climate action plan which will include mitigation and adaptation measures. Mitigation means how emissions will be reduced. Adaptation includes things like flood defences. This will no doubt strike a nerve with the people of Enniscorthy, my own town, who have endured extreme hardship through floods. Serious floods have occurred six times, including in 2000, 2015 and 2020. The flooding is a disincentive to the growth of the town, further crippling businesses, and homeowners are already under severe pressure from the prospect of another wet winter. It is time to deliver this flood defence scheme now.

People lose confidence when promises are not delivered on. This cannot happen to the climate action plans which will be developed following this Bill. Climate action means solid plans on rural transport, fuel poverty, farming and fishing, to name but a few. Scientists are saying we have less than the ten-year span to get things right. I trust and hope the Government will work with all Members of this House to treat our farming, fishing and rural communities with respect and develop fair policies that will have at their core a fair and just transition for all of our sakes.

I am sharing time with Deputy Richmond. I fully support this Bill. By any standards this is comprehensive legislation with far-reaching implications and involving many challenges. We have no choice but to enact it if we are to avoid a global catastrophe. The Covid-19 pandemic represented a major global threat to humanity. It has inflicted death and serious illness on thousands of people worldwide. It has given us an insight into just how fragile life is on this planet. I suggest that climate change represents a greater threat to life as we know it on this planet Earth in the medium to long term. It is the most serious existential challenge of our time.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for us all to do something about climate change. During the pandemic many of us became very aware of our fragile biodiversity, which is a related issue. We discovered and appreciated nature. Dr. Michael Ryan from the World Health Organization has suggested that pandemics are due to our failure to protect the natural world. Researchers are coming to the conclusion that the destruction of biodiversity is the cause of the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19. It is in all our interests to tackle climate change and to save our fragile biodiversity.

We live in an interdependent world: interdependent between continents and countries and between humans and nature. We must, therefore, tackle climate change at a global level first. Ireland has signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and to the Paris Agreement on climate. The EU has also made the tackling of climate change a central objective through the so-called European Green Deal. I also welcome the new emissions goal announced by the US Administration. It now aims to halve its carbon emissions by 2030. Other countries, including China, must now step up to the plate and follow suit. The recent virtual summit of global leaders gives us some grounds for hope and we await further developments arising from the UN General Assembly session this September and the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow.

I welcome the provision in the Bill requiring local authorities to prepare their own climate action plans every five years. Both Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council are making ongoing efforts to encourage people to walk and to cycle more and they have a number of walking and cycling projects at the design stage which need to be agreed with all of the relevant stakeholders. I single out the Baldoyle Racecourse and the Clontarf seafront cycle tracks that are now in place. They are fantastic facilities and I have used and enjoyed them.

We also need to complete the Sutton to Sandycove cycle route which has been on the table for many years in planning form and it is now time to complete it. I welcome plans by Iarnród Éireann outlined in the DART+ programme. DART+ coastal will see the extension of electrification of the line from Malahide to Drogheda and improvements along the existing DART line from Malahide and Howth to Greystones, which will increase passenger capacity along the eastern commuter corridor by almost 50%. That will certainly be welcomed by the commuters in my constituency.

Dublin City Council has also launched a school zone initiative to discourage parents from driving up to the school gate to leave their children as close as possible to the school. This initiative needs to be rolled out to all schools in the Dublin City Council area.

The National Transport Authority’s core bus corridor project will also be important in getting people out of their private cars and onto public transport, in this case buses. These plans are to be agreed with all relevant stakeholders.

I draw the House’s attention to a conference taking place on May 12 next week as part of the Climate, Heritage and Environments of Reefs, Islands, and Headlands, CHERISH, project. The conference will investigate the impact of climate change on the North Bull Island and on Ireland’s Eye. The Discovery Programme and Geological Survey Ireland are involved in the conference and I look forward to receiving the deliberations of the conference in due course.

Achieving the targets in this Bill will be difficult for everyone and every sector. We need a just transition. The corporate sector, obviously, has a major role to play in dealing with climate change but every sector and individual is going to be affected by this. Increased carbon taxes, higher electricity and heating bills and increased fuel costs are inevitable. The programme for Government commits to ensuring the increases in carbon tax are progressive by spending €3 billion on targeted social welfare and other initiatives to prevent fuel poverty and to ensure a just transition. The potential for fuel poverty is a very real one and is something on which I intend to be particularly vigilant in the run-up to the budget every year.

The tackling of climate change can be seen as a daunting challenge for individuals, individual householders and consumers as they go about their daily lives.

We need an information campaign by the authorities as to how individuals, households and consumers can play their part. It all seems very highfalutin in people's everyday lives, yet there is so much that we all, as individuals, could be doing. I would like to see it spelled out more clearly that ordinary individual consumers or householders can make small changes in their daily lives to play their part in bringing down greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture is the single largest contributor to overall emissions, at 35%. As such, it is obvious that changed ways and practices are required from farming communities. Farmers have a big role to play but it is not necessarily a doomsday scenario. New practices and procedures can bring about new markets and new ways of production such that, in the long term, we will all benefit, including the agricultural sector.

I welcome the commitment given by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to ensure less reliance on fossil fuels across every sector of society. He has committed to ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas, similar to the decision in 2019 to end oil exploration and extraction by not issuing new licences.

Ireland has a role to play in dealing with this global challenge. The Bill puts into law a commitment to arrive at a climate-neutral economy by 2050 or before. There is a commitment to decrease Ireland's total emissions by 51% by 2030, which is only a few years away. This will be done by agreeing five-year carbon budgets on a rolling 15-year basis. There will be a central role for the Climate Change Advisory Council and climate action plans and a national long-term climate action strategy will need to be prepared.

Ultimately, what is needed is buy-in and engagement from everyone in the country. We need to promote and explain what is in the Bill such that people are not surprised when new measures are announced. If we get that buy-in and everyone engages in this process, we will be successful in our endeavours.

It is a privilege to contribute briefly on this generation-defining legislation. I pay particular credit not just to the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, who is present, but also to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and his predecessor, the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, who spoke so eloquently in the Chamber in the past hour about the truly magnificent opportunities this legislation provides not just for the entire country, but for the world and Europe at large. The legislation makes clear that when dealing with the climate emergency, there is no single solution. It takes an all-encompassing approach that factors into every arm of government.

I wish to continue on the issue on which Deputy Haughey finished, that is, the importance of buy-in. We need to get buy-in to this legislation, and not just political buy-in. I welcome the fact that the majority of those who have contributed to this debate have been in favour generally of the Bill, although one or two Members would like it to go further, while certain others do not wish to even have a debate on it. We absolutely need to lead by example as public representatives to ensure that we get buy-in not just to the Bill, but to what it is trying to achieve. That means buy-in from industry, individuals, society at large, the agricultural sector and so much more.

Crucial to getting that buy-in is trying to achieve the rewards the legislation provides. This should not all be about the stick. There is plenty of carrot in the legislation for everyone in society who seeks to seize the opportunity. The altruistic reasons for backing the legislation are that is vitally important to the sustainability and future of the planet, but the selfish reasons for backing it are that there are many new opportunities and industries provided within the schemes it contains. Deputy Bruton referred to opportunities when it comes to carbon farming and so much else.

I refer to local opportunities in particular. When the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, looks southwards from his home, he looks up towards my constituency and sees the beautiful Dublin mountains. We should appreciate the foresight of Arthur Griffith, one of the founders of the State, in pursuing one of the first afforestation programmes in the State in the Dublin Mountains, at sites such as Ticknock, Tibradden and all the places I love to spend the weekends with my kids but which also, crucially, provide absolutely vital opportunities for the city. I remember attending the opening of a wooded walkway and trail, which now also includes a mountain biking trail, with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, when he was a member of a previous Government. He referred to the Dublin Mountains as being the lungs of the capital. Through a widespread, sensible and proper afforestation process we will ensure the lungs of the entire country are maintained and have the opportunity to play their part in this process.

An area to which reference has been made in so many speeches in this House not just in the context of the climate emergency but also when we are discussing housing, the economy or the impact Covid-19 is having on society is the opportunity offered by remote working. It provides the opportunity to ensure people can work close to where they are from, thus taking pressure off congested roads and urban areas and providing a much better balance of life for those who avail of it. It may involve working at home or in remote working hubs. A colleague recently told me that a remote hub with 20 desks is opening in a small rural town in his constituency. That is 40 or 50 jobs. If a company announced a 50-job development in that townland, it would be front-page news for the local paper. That is how we have to look at remote working. We should ensure we harness every aspect of government to play its part in tackling the climate emergency.

One thing that is critical is using the Bill as a marker to embrace an imaginative solution to public transport needs across the country, but particularly in the capital city. That is of particular importance for those of us who represent suburban constituencies that have a significant commuter base, with people travelling to the city centre for work. Significant work has been done by central government and local authorities in this regard - Deputy Haughey referred to it in terms of the provision of cycle lanes and greenways - but it is also necessary to examine the model for public transport and ensure we have clean public transport. I welcome the pilot scheme by Dublin Bus which involves electric buses but we have to be imaginative and look at the potential to also utilise hydrogen buses.

All Members acknowledge that the issue that frames the debate on this legislation will not be solved by one Bill, public representative, Government or country. The international dynamic of tackling the climate emergency should not be lost on any of us. We are a small country, an island in the Atlantic with a relatively small population and a relatively small industrial sector, but we can lead on this issue within the European Union and the global community. We have to take on the chin the criticisms of global agencies, NGOs and lobby groups that we have not done so previously. We must acknowledge that we have been laggards in this area. However, what has been done in the past couple of years and what is contained in the Bill show the potential that exists for Ireland to move from the back of the class right up to the front of the class. It will take sacrifice, commitment, imagination and ground-breaking legislation such as the Bill in order for us to achieve those goals and opportunities.

Deputy Haughey referred to the impact of the United States Government thankfully coming back into the Paris climate accord. That is so important. There is a need to ensure that, within the European Union, policies within the new green deal are reflected not just in our domestic legislation but in every conversation and every function of the Council of the European Union and elsewhere at EU level. It does not matter whether it is a council dealing with agriculture, fisheries, health, economy or justice; everything has to come back to the biggest challenge facing this generation, namely, tackling the climate emergency. The pandemic will come and go. It has had a lasting effect and been disastrous for many families, households and businesses across the world, and particularly in this country. However, the challenge of the climate emergency will not be resolved by a vaccination.

It has to be approached in a coherent manner. That is why it is important, when we consider our scope for partnerships and our energy security, that we ensure Brexit does not have a massive detrimental impact on our energy supply. We rely on the UK for many of our imports but we should look at embracing the Celtic interconnector that will result in energy from continental Europe, specifically France, landing into Cork. That shows the major potential for Ireland and France to work proactively and progressively together within the EU.

Ireland and France have a strong relationship when it comes to dealing with the Common Agricultural Policy and the future of our agrifood sector. We need to take that initiative and those decades of co-operation between the French and Irish Governments and throw that into energy supply and energy security to ensure, as we develop our domestic energy capacities through wind, wave, solar and everything else, that when we need to import, we import clean energy from continental, reliable sources. That provides a significant opportunity for international co-operation. It gets to the heart of this legislation and of why it is important for us, as a small, open liberal democracy in the EU to be shown to lead.

We have a proud history in this State of overseas development aid work, going back to the time of the missions. We know climate change impacts the poorest in the world more than anyone else. Anyone who has travelled around central Africa can see it in the desertification process and the droughts and we see it in the wildfires in other parts of the world. This is focused on those who are most exposed and that is why it falls on us, as a developed country and a country that has had many privileges laid upon us by geography, economy and so much else, to seize that responsibility and show leadership to the people in our own country and the wider world.

There are many aspects to this legislation on which I hope to contribute when we get to Committee and Report Stages. At this general stage, I wholeheartedly commend this legislation to the House. It was a privilege to spend a couple of hours subbing into the committee that did so much work in recent months to bring this to this Stage. I thank the Minister for his time and indulgence and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.

Anois, the Rural Independents Group. Deputies Nolan and Michael Collins are sharing.

Rural Ireland and the farmers of Ireland do not need any lectures from the multitude of environmental NGOs or Green Deputies and Senators about looking after the land or our rural heritage. This is what they have always done down through the years. Unfortunately, they do not get credit for the great work that is done. For example, there is sequestration of carbon taking place. That is happening but it is not given enough credit.

The Bill is ambitious but it is ambitious nonsense. Where are the costings? Where is the sense of proportion or even the most minimal understanding of the extraordinary damage this Bill will create for the model of farming that currently exists?

The Oireachtas Library and Research Service is clear in its comments on this legislation that certain sectors will be more affected in the short term, namely, agriculture, energy and transport. Many people, such as those working in fossil-fuel powered electricity generation, will lose their jobs. We have had enough of that already in the midlands. Our communities in Laois-Offaly and the wider midlands area are being left behind. Not one job has been created under the just transition process.

Last weekend, we were all shocked to see that a local man who built up a bicycle hire business at a scenic spot that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, namely, Lough Boora in County Offaly, cannot even hold onto his job. He has been passed over with a tendering process. It is totally unfair. Local people are not getting fair play. There is nothing fair about the transition taking place in the midlands. Jobs are being lost while none are being created. Local people are being excluded from the plans in terms of the policy and Bord na Móna's transition. Bord na Móna appears to have forgotten its loyal workforce and the local people who helped build up the company and build up a local attraction at Lough Boora into what it is today. I hope justice will be done in regard to that situation involving Pat Barrett and his family.

This Bill is essentially a just transition for the entire country. I urge colleagues, if they want to see what this looks like, to take a good hard look at the midland counties and to talk to peat contractors, Bord na Móna workers and many who have lost their jobs and still have mortgages and bills to pay. They are paying the price for idealism that borders on nonsense. That is what this is. Our experience of a just transition is one where entire communities have been left behind and where employment losses are masked by empty rhetoric of biodiversity strategies that care little for how ordinary people want to live their lives.

In terms of the costs, which do not figure prominently in this debate, an article on Bloomberg recently made it clear that making America carbon-neutral could cost $1 trillion a year. Relatively speaking, can we expect similarly unsustainable levels of costs here? Closer to home, it has been accepted in the UK that reaching carbon net zero will incur large costs. For example, in 2019, it was estimated that the total costs of getting to net zero would be £50 billion per year.

In this policy area, I highlight what is happening with the importing from Germany of lignite briquettes, which are not good for the environment. Lignite briquettes are being imported and the people of Laois-Offaly deserve answers. How is that reducing the carbon footprint? I strongly call on the Minister to answer that question and to be respectful to the people who have been punished. How will it reduce our carbon footprint, when we take into account all the transportation involved? What is happening is ludicrous. I cannot understand how logical and good people can honestly stand up and say this is a good thing when people are losing jobs and lignite briquettes and peat are being imported while 17,000 horticulture jobs are at risk of being lost here. It does not make sense and never will. The people imposing these policies on us need to stand up and explain themselves. At the very least, they should have the respect to do that. As a reasonable and logical Deputy, I am asking for answers. The people of the midlands, who are being severely punished under a just transition, need the answers to these questions. I urge the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to come in here and answer the questions that need to be answered.

In terms of forestry, it is a total joke. The programme for Government states the afforestation target is 8,000 ha. per year. The Government is missing that target by almost 80%. That was highlighted a few days ago in the Irish Farmers' Journal. How can the Government punish the people of rural Ireland while missing its own targets? Is that not double standards at work? It is crazy stuff. It needs to be questioned and I am strongly challenging it, along with my rural colleagues. It is not right what the Government is doing to people. It is totally unjust and I ask Government Members to come in and explain how it is working and why they think we should accept this and have such harsh measures foisted and imposed upon us. Has the Government seen the utter shambles the forestry sector is in and has been in for years? What is the solution? Is it to throw more farmers on the pile to clog up an already broken system while destroying their traditional way of life?

This Bill will ensure transport is directly hit with a sector emissions ceiling.

The implementation of various policy measures will have an impact on this too. That includes how quickly the level of electric vehicles increases. We know the Government set a target of having 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030 as part of the 2019 climate action plan. That is equivalent to one third of the vehicles currently on the road today, but only if the Government keeps its commitment to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2030, which is ludicrous. From the parliamentary questions I have submitted we know that not a single local authority has made a move to install electric vehicle charging points. Perhaps they see how ludicrous the whole situation is and the policies and decision-making here. Let us be clear, the Government's proposal to outlaw the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 is ludicrous and must be urgently re-examined. My sense is that the proposal to force everyone to buy electric vehicles is being greeted with disbelief and genuine anger in many parts of the country, but especially in rural Ireland. The Government does not seem to understand how rural Ireland operates. It is making decisions and imposing them on people in rural areas. That is why we have such division. That is why we are coming into the House very frustrated. We are trying to get the message across to the Government that we are hearing from our constituents, but the Government that is made up of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party is not listening to us. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seem to be very happy to let the Green Party run riot and to destroy rural Ireland.

As I outlined, there is no confidence in the Government's proposal to roll out a nationwide line of electric vehicle charging points, given the fiasco it has made of the national broadband plan for example. While there is obviously some merit in encouraging motorists to make the change to electric or hybrid cars voluntarily, the current proposal would actively discriminate against those who wish to continue to buy petrol or diesel vehicles and those who may not be able to afford the high prices demanded for electric cars. There seems to be no appreciation of the distances that some people have to travel in rural Ireland and the challenges that would result from an absence of charging points.

This Bill is a disaster. It is a dangerous piece of ideological lunacy that cannot and should not be supported by anyone with even the remotest concern for the future of rural Ireland.

I am here today to speak about the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill. I will be very clear with the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, that if the amendments we will table are not accepted - that would work in rural Ireland - I will not support the Bill as it currently stands. It is an attack on the people of rural Ireland and agriculture.

I am shocked by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies. I know they bought into power, but it should not come at a price to the people who put them there, who supported them to get a seat in Dáil Éireann and to stand up here. They will sell their soul for that seat. That is a sad reflection on politics and on this piece of work they have done.

The Government is in place for 12 months already. We will table amendments to the Bill. I see no difference in the situation whereby there is raw sewage in Castletownshend, in Goleen in west Cork, in Belgooly or not even an extension to the sewerage scheme in Ballinspittle. Nothing is happening. The parties are in government, shoving on taxes. We had a carbon tax over the weekend which was an absolute attack on rural Ireland. I put something up on social media about it and I was stunned at the reaction. People are furious. The cost of home heating oil has gone through the roof. The cost of living has gone up. People must drive cars to take their children to school, thanks to the Green Party, backed by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil who pat them on the back-----

And some Independents.

-----and a few nod-and-wink Independents. That is what they are. They will come in here and give out about it, but they will vote for it at the end of the day.

There is a need for emergency funding for toilet facilities on beaches in west Cork. Local authorities say they cannot afford to put bins on the side of the street. The country will be covered in litter. There is no money. Where is the money going to come from for that or for public transport? Does the Minister of State expect someone like me to support the Government's attack on rural Ireland and on motorists? Instead of a three-mile limit for people to be collected from school the Government will have to cut it down to 1 km to give parents an opportunity for their children to be collected from their homes and brought to school. That is how the Government will win over the people of rural Ireland, not by fining them in their pocket and swiping it out of their wallet. The Government's plan at the moment is to insulate Dublin by crucifying west Cork, and I will not stand for that for a moment in this Chamber or anywhere else either.

I was saddened to hear a Deputy from west Cork say that Deputies will be delighted when extra jobs come from this Bill. Of course we would be delighted if there were, but what he forgot to say is that in west Cork we lost five jobs under the warmer homes schemes three or four months ago, and there was not a whisper out of this Government. This scheme was supposed to provide insulation in homes. It is the biggest con job that was ever known to mankind. That Deputy is quite happy to say jobs will be created, but we have lost them already. Some people are waiting for two years to get their home insulated.

We will be tabling amendments to ensure this works out the way it should work out and not the way the Government has it. Has the Government decided what it is going to do about insulation? The VAT should be cut from 23% to zero if the Government really wants the scheme to work and to heat people's homes through insulation. Imagine people trying to buy insulation with 23% VAT when the Green Party is in government. There is nothing in the Bill to address that. All the Government wants is money from the pockets of the people in rural Ireland. We will watch this Bill and name it for what it is.

The tourism sector needs protection from increased costs in aviation. The Minister said he is going to shove up costs. The Government is saying the cost of flights into this country will not affect tourism. Of course it will affect tourism. Will Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies wake up and come out of the fog where they are at the moment? Are they so hoodwinked by power that they will sell anything to get this across the line?

The Minister says there will be no negative impact on road building. I sincerely hope that is the case. There has been no road building in Cork South-West for the past 20 years since the Skibbereen bypass was put in place. Nothing has been done with the Innishannon bypass or the Bandon bypass. The only thing we will get is a bit of money for pothole repair. My God, the parties in government should be proud of themselves. As for the new expert group, this is the new Dáil - shove it over to an expert group. Is it going to be made up of farm organisations, rural dwellers, rural communities and rural transport? No, it will be made up of collar and tie pencil pushers from the Green Party. That is what we are going to have in this country.

I would like to speak about REAP, the results-based environment-agri pilot project scheme. How could any of the Green Party's senior Ministers in Cabinet approve of a REAP scheme that is coming before the people of west Cork and the people of Ireland which disallows heather? In the name of God, what is wrong with the Green Party? The party will have rural Ireland on fire thanks to its carry-on. It is time to wake up and see what is going on. The Government has approved of a scheme whereby farmers will get less money, and if they have heather on their land, they are excluded. That is a scandal beyond belief. That is what is before the people.

The Government tells me that this is going to do some good for the people of rural Ireland. For the love of God, wake up. If the Government does not approve of our amendments, we will make sure it will be dragged through the country for what it will do with the Bill. When Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party, the usual gang – they are all the one – and probably Sinn Féin and a few nod-and-wink Independents knock on the doors at the next election, how will they answer the man and woman who tell them they cannot afford the home heating bill? They are supporting driving the price through the roof. What will they do when people tell them they cannot afford the fuel bill for the car, as the price of diesel and petrol has gone through the roof? What will they do when people tell them they cannot get a bale of Irish briquettes, but they can get a German one? What will they do when people tell them they cannot get a bag of Irish peat moss at the nurseries, but they can get a South African bag at an extra cost? What will they do when people tell them they cannot fell or grow forestry, but they can get timber in from Russia? How will the politicians look them in the eye and say they voted for the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, which will heavily penalise rural Ireland? It was they who supported the carbon tax Bill that penalised rural Ireland so we could insulate the high-class Dublin. If the politicians tell the truth at the doorstep or tell a lie, they should be prepared to run as the public are watching and seething that Deputies are coming in here and blindly supporting the Bill without serious amendments. They are simply with the birds and not with the people.

The Government is saying that this will not be an attack on agriculture. In a recent front-page article in the Irish Farmers' Journal the heading was "Climate Bill threatens national herd".

It is not Deputy Michael Collins that said this; it is the Irish Farmers' Journal.

It went on to state that up to 53% of the suckler herd, or 530,000 cattle, would have to be culled by 2030 to meet emissions targets. It continued to state that with a 51% target reduction by 2030, the livestock sector is facing significant challenges. It also stated that targets would be counted for the first five-year period from 2021 and that cutting the national cattle herd suggested a scenario where 536,000 suckler cows would be culled by 2030. Under the climate Bill targets published this week, a potential cull could be substantially bigger and affect dairy and suckler herds.

This is independent research; it is not from Deputy Michael Collins. Fianna Fáil has told us there will be no problem, and Find Gael has said this is all pie in the sky and there will be a great boost for agriculture. For God's sake, who do they think they are codding? The Bill would be highly destructive to every facet of the economy, including the agrifood sector which employs 164,400 people. The Bill aims to cut carbon emissions by 51% by 2030 and meet net zero emissions by 2030 but makes no exception for the agrifood sector. As a result, the national cattle herd faces a 51% cull by 2030.

According to independent research this will mean culling 3.4 million cattle. A farmer with 50 cattle today will only be allowed 24 in 2030. This crushing and counteractive move will destroy family farms. For example, the Mercosur trade deal will allow 99,000 tonnes of beef to come into the EU from countries like Brazil. Ireland should not worry because the Government will back that. New research from Oxford University highlights this would in fact be more environmentally destructive than home-grown beef, thus underlining the stupidity of the Government's approach. It is truly astonishing that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would agree to such drastic proposals which would see our meat coming from the opposite side of the world instead of from local farms.

A Fine Gael Deputy referred to Shakespeare during this debate, but I will keep it Irish. All Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party Deputies and the rest who will support the Bill should remember the words Eamon de Valera said about the great Michael Collins, "It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins and it will be recorded at my expense." Let me tell Deputies this. It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record that this Bill was the biggest attack on agriculture and rural Ireland and will be at the expense of every man, woman and child living in rural Ireland.

I would first like to note with appreciation the work of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and his Department in producing a comprehensive Bill for consideration before the House. As Members will know, the Joint Committee on Climate Action, of which I am a member, spent several months working on recommendations for implementation of and improvements to the draft Bill provided to us in late 2020. I am very proud of the work we achieved as a group and I am equally pleased to see so many recommendations we made being incorporated into the Bill.

I also acknowledge the work of the members, from all parties and none, of the previous climate action committee and the then Minister, Deputy Bruton. The recommendations from and work in prior years led to the 2019 Act, which we aspire to improve through this Bill.

The committee report was informed by relevant experts who gave of their time and for that I am very grateful. As have Members of both Houses, members of the committee received hundreds of emails making various recommendations. The majority of these are contained in the Bill, though there are some notable exceptions which will undoubtedly be dealt with by way of other legislation in the coming term.

The Minister, Deputy Ryan, and others have at this stage gone through the objectives of the Bill but it is important, as a member of the committee, to set out some of the points here today. The Bill places on a statutory basis the national climate objective, which commits to pursue and achieve no later than 2050 the transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich, environmentally sustainable and carbon neutral economy. It embeds the process of carbon budgeting into law, which will see the Government required to adopt a series of economy-wide five-year carbon budgets, including sectoral targets for each relevant sector, on a rolling 15-year basis, starting this year.

Actions for each sector will be detailed in the climate action plan and will be updated annually. A national long-term climate action strategy will be prepared every five years. Ministers will be responsible for achieving the legally binding targets for their own sectoral area, with each Minister accounting for his or her performance towards sectoral targets and actions before an Oireachtas committee each year. This of course gives all Members of the Houses an opportunity to scrutinise in detail their own sectoral interests.

The Bill strengthens the role of the Climate Change Advisory Council, tasking it with proposing carbon budgets to the Minister. It provides that the first two five-year carbon budgets proposed by the council should equate to a total reduction of 51% in emissions over the period to 2030, in line with the programme for Government commitments. Furthermore, we will see the expansion of the council from 11 to 14 members, and the Bill provides that future appointments to the council provide for a greater range of relevant expertise and gender balance.

The Bill introduces an opportunity for each local authority to prepare a climate action plan that will be updated every five years and which in itself is an extremely important public participation tool and will include mitigation and adaptation measures. Local authority development plans will have to conform with their climate action plans, which is an important step. Public bodies will be obliged to perform their functions in a manner consistent with climate plans and strategies and to further the achievement of the national climate objective.

Many have commented that Ireland is a small island off the coast of Europe, that what we do in the context of climate action and carbon emissions reductions simply does not matter, and that we are too small and insignificant to make any difference to global warming. I am not alone in believing Ireland has a duty to the world to use our unique global influence, within the EU and our broader reach across the globe, to lead by example. We are one of the richest nations on the planet. We are leaders in technology, education, longevity and wealth, to name but a few. Despite what my colleagues opposite believe, we are a wonderful country and have extraordinary potential to punch well above our weight, and in regard to climate action we should be no different.

By way of example, last month the OECD reported that Ireland had the second-highest rate of university graduates in the EU. Recently, it ranked Ireland in the top percentile, that is, 13th in the world, for safety and security and noted our life expectancy is higher than that of the European average. Indeed, at the end of 2020, the UN ranked Ireland second in the world for quality of life. We are far from flawless, but we are not just a small island off the coast of Europe; we are global influencers.

The Bill is a step in the right direction in recognising our responsibilities and putting in place legislation that will give us the tools to be ambitious with our targets. Bringing all communities with us in this goal will be fundamental to our success or failure in reaching our targets. Whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches are needed, linking public and private interest where necessary to achieve the kind of climate responsible Ireland we all want to see.

Many scientists and experts have highlighted the year 2100 as a year of unthinkable severity. Children born in 2018 in Ireland, in line with the average life expectancy of 82 years, will be alive in the year 2100. Without action, by this time our planet will be experiencing some of the most dramatic impacts of climate change. This, therefore, is not some abstract debate. The generations that will live with the consequences are already among us and we can already see it. The children of today will be the voters of tomorrow, and they will not easily forget who did and said what.

Improving our infrastructure and making it more climate resilient will play an increasingly important role in the coming decades. This is not just about sustainable public transport and a reduction in car dependency. It is about ensuring the energy used to power our transport network is low or no carbon emitting. Simply replacing our national fleet of combustion engine cars - I understand there are nearly 3 million cars - with electric ones is not really a solution. We must put in place the transport infrastructure that meets our needs, even if it does not turn a profit, because it is in our interest, no matter the cost.

We must ensure that worsening storms and other severe weather events do not impede our ability to deliver reliable services to the population. We must also be aware that transition fuels will have a role to play as we advance to our goal of becoming carbon neutral. This includes the realistic need to rely on gas in the short and medium term.

We must, as is our responsibility, provide energy security in Ireland. Simply turning off all fossil fuels is not possible at this very moment, despite how much we might wish it so. I suspect, for example, that deliberately blurring the lines between gas, liquified natural gas and fracked gas will not serve the best interests of our population as we move towards green energy sources.

Investing in wind and solar energy will be a positive move in the short to medium term and can create both direct and indirect jobs and provide a new sector in the economy. Policy and technical innovation in this area are welcome, particularly with regard to deeper waters off the west coast. This innovation that we are so good at, as can be seen in new national policy regarding apprentices, is something we can achieve but we must aim higher.

Environmentally sustainable technologies will continue to grow and play an ever larger role in the international economy. Ireland is well placed to take advantage of this emerging market. Our business environment, high third level attainment and young population lends itself to a competitive advantage over other nations. However, to capture these jobs and revenues, we must be proactive and progressive in our policy decision-making processes. We must also move faster.

Many changes will be necessary to achieve our goals, however, these do not need to be negative, many can have positive impacts improving our efficiency, cost of living and home expenses. Not all change is bad. By developing research and development funds and fostering a culture of innovation across our business and universities we can be at the forefront of cutting-edge technological developments, key to our global success in this endeavour. We have seen the introduction of funds that I hope will be developed over the years to come, namely, the green enterprise fund announced in the July stimulus in 2020 and the green innovation fund, within the EU. I firmly believe that if we can make the necessary steps in providing supports and funding, we will, in time, enjoy a return that far outweighs its costs today. As is the case with many aspects of climate change, we recognise that acting sooner could have limited the number of risks we now face. We must, therefore, not forget that lesson and instead look forward to the challenge ahead, ready to engage with all sectors and build an innovation coalition. If we are successful in this goal, we can lift our communities to new heights.

As with any major societal or industrial change throughout history, there are risks and occasionally certain communities have been marginalised. What sets this situation apart is that the Government has an opportunity to steer these changes, insofar as it can, towards climate justice, ensuring that no section of society is left behind without support. This can only be achieved through hard work, good faith and co-operation between business, communities and Government. Providing sector-specific supports will allow industries to make the necessary changes that will allow us to reach our goals, and for some sectors this will not only benefit the environment but also workers. For others it may be necessary for the Government to provide meaningful upskilling and retraining programmes or deliver economic opportunities. A shift in trajectory of the nature we are discussing, can only be sustained if it is done in a balanced and considered manner. I referred earlier to the apprenticeship programme recently announced by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris. It is a key innovator in carbon neutral elements to an emerging economy, particularly in areas such as retrofitting and maybe other innovations we have not yet embraced.

There is no corner of this land that will be insulated from the kind of changes we are discussing here today. This presents us with a burden of responsibility to ensure that Government policy in one sector is co-ordinated with the policies of other sectors and in conjunction with our overarching climate goals. Retrofitting will be a major undertaking and we must ensure that the resources and skills are there to allow an efficient roll-out of the scheme. Investing in apprenticeships will not only create jobs but allow us to hit our targets in the fastest time possible, particularly in the residential market. The targets are around 25,000 per annum. With 2 million properties in Ireland, we are proposing to do 400,000 by 2030. That leaves a lot left over which is why these reskilling programmes are imperative, not just in job creation but in giving students options other than third level and in terms of climate action. This is also true of other innovations such as heat-pumps and smart-metering which will play a significant role. These schemes will work for the economy, the consumer and the environment. Retrofitting, however, has an obvious deficiency. Our targets are extremely difficult to hit for a number of reasons. We lack the builders, the relevant expertise to transform the sector and, frankly, we do not have the national resources to fund everything that we should or want to achieve. This will be a major challenge in the near future and that is all without touching on commercial buildings.

Electrification of our national public transport network will be a major undertaking but one that will have to happen. Plans already under way must receive the support of the Government and this House. I am sure the Government recognises that we need to speed up this process. Many decry that metro, for example, has been planned since 2007 - in fact, it was 1974 when it was first proposed by Forfás, a lifetime ago. It is 40 years too long - we need to move faster.

Increasing transport links and service reliability will increase public confidence in these services, and work in favour of our goal of encouraging greater passenger numbers, who would otherwise have to use private vehicles. Increasing the safety and functionality of our cycle and walkways across towns, villages and cities will further provide the public with access to clean public transport. The Fingal Coastal Way is a prime example of community development that will benefit everyone and the environment. These routes, dotted around the country now, can also form part of our transit offering, and not just for recreation. Electric scooters and e-bikes can also play an enormous role in getting people out of their cars. Micro-mobility needs to be adopted for the last few kilometres of a journey, and providing legislation for these vehicles should be implemented without delay. There are two Bills before the House in this regard and a further undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. Like a Dublin Bus, one waits a long time for something to come along and three arrive at the same time. We must move faster.

All of these public transport plans should not and cannot be the preserve of urban Ireland. Rural Ireland must also benefit from measures which are sustainable and allow choice when it comes to transiting from work or education.

I touched on our global presence earlier. Ireland’s role on the UN Security Council puts us in a unique position at this time and affords us the opportunity to impress upon the nations of the world that climate change is a security and, indeed, an existential threat to all nations, big and small. We have, through our hard work, developed a strong voice in Europe and this has allowed us the opportunity to play a continuing role in the development of climate action policies which will change how many aspects of our society at home and abroad operate.

I admire the growing recognition that 51% by 2030 may not be fast enough. Ireland is committed to the Paris Agreement and should continue to ensure that the international community remains so. We must take a Paris-plus approach and continue to increase our ambitions and our actions when technology and innovation allow us to do so.

Many countries are already suffering and will continue to endure hardship in the years ahead as a direct result of climate change. This threatens to disrupt trade routes, the global economy, regional security and cause humanitarian disasters, the likes of which we have never seen. We must use our international position to prepare for and help those nations most exposed. We have it within our power to help those nations prepare for these issues, while also allowing them to develop their economies, if we act together on climate change. It highlights the importance of our overseas development programme. Citizens of Ireland are often noted as being the most generous individually for their contributions to charitable causes but, as a nation, we have a target that we have not yet met of 1% of GDP. We have to recognise that will form an integral part of dealing with climate change.

In November COP26 will be held in Glasgow and will be a moment on which future generations will look back and highlight as one where we, as an international community, finally acted with conviction or let the moment pass without consensus. The latter would have dire consequences for the world and all those who will follow us. The Dublin climate dialogues will take place shortly and provide an opportunity for us to lay the groundwork for COP26, another opportunity to press our vision of the future on our partners.

I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, will entertain improving amendments to the Bill at a later Stage.

I look forward to that process on Committee Stage. I am a member of the committee. There are great opportunities. Notwithstanding the remarks of the speaker I have followed, there is consensus in this House and the Seanad that it would be simply unacceptable to do nothing. We now have an opportunity, perhaps a little later than we should, to enshrine in legislation the targets we have set out in the programme for Government and other agreements to which we are signatories. It is important that we take our responsibility as Members of this House extremely seriously in this matter. I mentioned in my contribution how future generations will look back and say there was either success or failure. I would hate to believe political squabbling over ambitions and targets within this climate action Bill will somehow result in Members opposite voting against a Government proposal, particularly on fracked gas and such matters, which we know will be included in a later Bill. This has already been stated by the Government.

We are less than a year into the first of what will presumably be five years of government so it irks me somewhat when I get emails saying this or that process has been delayed. We are not even into year two. We have time but the climate does not, and that is why we have to act quickly on climate change and set about carbon budgeting as soon as we possibly can. We should bear in mind this will have implications for all sectors and Departments, and all of us, as Members of this House, have a responsibility to follow through on the commitments in the legislation. Whether Members vote with this Government or not, they have a responsibility to their constituents that is as valid as my commitment to those very same people. I very much look forward to the Bill progressing through the House.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhartha ar an ábhar fíorthábhachtach seo anocht sa Dáil agus ar an bpíosa reachtaíochta tábhachtach atá os ár gcomhair. Beidh tionchar mór aige ar obair an Rialtais agus ar an ngeilleagar fosta, ar chaighdeán saoil ár saoránach agus ar an todhchaí atá bunaithe ar charbón íseal. Ní cóir go mbeadh gníomhartha ar son na haeráide mar bhagairt d'aon duine. Is teachtaireacht iontach láidir a chaithfimid a phlé, go háirithe leo siúd nach gcreideann go bhfuil fadhb ann ó thaobh na haeráide. Is a mhalairt ba chóir a bheith i gceist. Ba chóir go mbeadh sé ina chosán i dtreo poist úra le pá maith in earnáil luachmhar na todhchaí. Ba chóir go ndéanfadh sé cinnte de nach bhfuil aon duine fágtha ar gcúl. Níl mórán sa reachtaíocht seo a bhaineann le haistriú atá ceart ná cothrom agus ar an drochuair cífimid fiú amháin an tseachtain seo go bhfuil daoine fágtha ar gcúl agus tá an Rialtas seo ag brú cánacha níos airde ar shaoránaigh na tíre seo ó thaobh carbóin de.

The record of the three parties in government during the financial crisis and its aftermath would do little to inspire confidence in their willingness to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable as we deal with this transition. This has already been evidenced in the attitude towards carbon tax. People right across the State have felt the burden of the policy introduced last year to increase carbon tax. The ESRI and Department itself said this policy was regressive and would affect rural dwellers and, worse, those on low incomes and households with single parents. All the increase in carbon tax will do, unfortunately, is make households poorer when heating their homes over the coming months because the alternatives do not exist. If they do, they are not readily available or affordable to the individuals concerned.

When we talk about just transition, there needs to be more than words; it has to mean something. With annual increases to 2030 now hardwired into tax legislation, the burden will increase continually. As I said when the carbon tax was introduced, it is striking that the Government did not match it with annual increases in welfare payments through the Social Welfare Consolidation Act to prevent vulnerable citizens from bearing the brunt of its regressive impacts, which are well known and documented.

The legislation demands change from the Government. Change is needed. Despite the high rhetoric of Fine Gael, its actions and policies have ensured that the State has missed its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions year after year. Its willingness to subsidise the activities of big industry undermines not only homeownership but also environmental protection. Fine Gael provided €2.4 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in 2019. This was higher than in the previous year. As always, actions speak louder than words or targets written in any legislation.

My principal concern regarding this legislation is whether its objectives can be achieved. The Bill will see the introduction of five-year carbon budgets, with Ministers and Departments responsible for achieving legally binding targets. There will be three carbon budgets, covering the periods 2021 to 2025, 2026 to 2030, and 2031 to 2035, with a 51% reduction in emissions to be reached by 2030. My concern relates to what will be achieved during the first carbon budget. Achieving these targets will require massive investment the likes of which we have never seen before. I do not believe that this Government is up for the type of investment required. While we are legislating for carbon targets here, there is no similar legislation for targets concerning the mental health or welfare of the population or, indeed, the provision of health services and housing. What we do not need to see as a result of the lack of investment by the Government is Departments being forced to make decisions that will put those aims on the back-burner.

The plan is for an annual increase in expenditure, as we see in the stability programme update, of 3.5% to 2025, reaching a broadly balanced budget. That is roughly what the Government published at the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic, programme for Government and this Bill. In the words of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, it really just allows us to stand still. It deals with inflation, wage increases and demographics but does not take into account any other commitments. Therefore, the contradictions between the position of the Department of Finance and this legislation will become clear in upcoming budgets. I advise the Green Party to measure the significance of this legislation against those contradictions. To achieve the targets in this legislation will require a new approach and significant investment. For that reason, without more transparency from the Department of Finance on the impacts of this legislation on budget expenditure, taxation and deficits, I believe we are blind in this debate. The Bill's objectives, though well intentioned, are in doubt.

My colleagues in Sinn Féin and I are committed to measures that benefit our environment and address the potential catastrophe of climate change. Nobody is immune to climate change. We see its consequences across the globe right now. Around the world, we see a migrant crisis that is due in part to climate change. We see water poverty, polluted seas and rivers and the desertification of land. Floods are affecting the lives of countless people each year.

At home, we have seen climate change affect people across the country, especially those living near waterways and coasts. The need for swift action has never been more pronounced. Our future generations depend on it. Any action that is taken for this purpose will require people to change their habits and embrace diversification. This is fundamental but it must be done carefully. While a framework like the one we are talking about is needed, we must be aware of and cater to the human aspect. We will benefit from our collective efforts only if the poorest are protected from bearing the brunt of the cost. This must be done very carefully. We cannot expect it to work without the buy-in of our workers, families, family farmers and society in general. This is important because it is primarily the poorest who suffer, whether it is through the direct impacts of climate change or the obligations imposed on them to address it. That is why we must examine the fine text of this document. If we do not do so, we might overlook the fact that the term "just transition" does not feature very much, meaning climate justice falls victim to applying only where its realisation is practicable. We can talk about a transition all we like but if we cannot guarantee it is just, we cannot guarantee it will work.

There has been much talk, debate and argument about how we should tackle pollution, climate change and emissions. There are varying views on how to do this but we must all agree that there should be buy-in from everybody.

Once that is the case, we will know we are on the right path. A just transition is identified by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, as "the policies and investments needed for a fast and fair transformation to a low carbon economy". It means charting a path that assists everyone in making the journey and making a concerted effort to reduce inequalities, but that is thrown out the window by the definition of climate justice in the Bill. It is defined as "the requirement that decisions and actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change shall, in so far as it is practicable to do so, safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable persons and endeavour to share the burdens and benefits arising from climate change". I think Deputies will agree the latter definition indicates that justice will not apply equally to those with less.

We have only to look back a few days to when the increase in carbon tax took effect. It penalises people who could not afford to carry out large-scale upgrading of their homes, that is, those who can least afford the tax. It leads to fuel poverty and is not very just. The range of grants available on both domestic and organisational bases are attractive only to those who can afford large-scale projects. Take, for example, community centres or community sports centres, which form the backbone of many communities. Many of them could do with money-saving measures that solar panels or rainwater-harvesting systems could provide them with. I have been approached about this in my county. When it comes to rainwater harvesting, no specific grant is available for these organisations. If a community facility wanted to install solar panels with a view to ploughing the money saved into further retrofitting in the years to come, it would once more be disappointed because stand-alone projects are not provided for through the communities energy grant scheme.

I appeal to the Government to consider those groups that want to play a part in energy saving and the benefits that go with it. I refer to the approach we must take to ensure that climate action measures are effective. It must bring all our citizens with it, including our agricultural sector. Family farmers are well positioned to contribute to Ireland's reductions and want to play their part, but it is far from certain that the principles of a just transition and climate justice extend to them. It must not be forgotten, amid all our ambitions, that farm families, rural communities, entire regions and a considerable proportion of our exports are dependent on the ability of our farmers to continue with their livelihoods while also effecting these changes. We cannot expect the agricultural sector to adapt to the changes needed without being facilitated in this process.

This is evident in the horticultural sector. Nurseries and mushroom factories in County Tipperary face additional costs to import horticultural peat because they are being prevented from obtaining Irish horticultural peat. A just approach does not extend to them and as a result they find themselves alone in meeting the additional costs of importing peat, along with the carbon footprint involved. This is an example of where joined-up lateral thinking is needed but this, like horticultural peat itself, is in short supply and our businesses are suffering through a lack of support.

Sinn Féin is of the firm belief that aligning labour with social and environmental priorities is a vital ingredient to dealing with climate change. In this regard, the Minister must define what he believes a just transition to be. We have pressed him on this since a draft of the Bill was published in October last. As a result, it is briefly mentioned in the Bill but, unfortunately, is given no prominence and little reference and lacks clarity. Sinn Féin will work to strengthen the Bill's provisions in regard to a just transition and climate justice. We will do this to protect workers and the industries and sectors that will be impacted throughout the island.

We are all aware that change needs to happen as regards climate action. To do nothing is not acceptable. Whether it is a heating system in someone's home or the mode of transport he or she uses, it is going to happen but it needs to be done over time and in an affordable manner. We need incentives for people to change, whether in regard to electric cars or speeding up the insulation and retrofitting of homes. I have previously raised the issue of the increasing cost of living through the prices of gas, coal, home heating oil, petrol and diesel affecting the people who can least afford it.

Emissions from transport are one of the biggest issues. The growing number of cars on the road has pushed up transport emissions, overtaking those of electricity generation and making it one of the highest polluting sectors. For example, no electric buses have been bought for any of Ireland's cities, with Ireland falling far behind eastern European states in this regard. Instead, we have focused on buses and trucks that run on gas, as a greener alternative to diesel. Many would suggest that the leakage of methane from such vehicles means their beneficial climate effects are minimal. They say electric is a much better option and action on electric buses for all our major cities is long overdue.

Electric cars have also failed to take off in a significant way in Ireland, with sales well below the EU average. The previous Minister with responsibility for transport announced that by 2030, all new cars and vans would produce zero emissions, with a target of 800,000 electric cars on the road by 2030. There were just 3,500 in 2017, and I can tell the Minister some of the reasons for this. Recently, a constituent spoke to me about how his family had switched to an electric car a few months previously. They have no driveway, so the only way in which they can charge their car is by running a cable from their sitting room through the window and across the footpath to the car as there is no charging point in their housing estate. This person was so conscious that this could cause an accident outside his home with someone tripping over the cable that he applied to Meath County Council to inquire whether he could install a charging point outside his home. This was refused and I am sure many others are in the same position.

My conversation with this gentleman made me wonder whether all new house builds from 2021 or 2022 should come with charging points in the driveway. Every household will have the use of an electric car between 2030 and 2050. Homes last a lifetime, as will charging points. Do we need to put in place this measure to ensure that families will have all the infrastructure in place when moving into their new homes? My constituency of Meath West has eight e-car charging points, two in Enfield, two in Trim and four in Navan. This leaves out a huge area, with places such as Oldcastle, Athboy, Delvin, Collinstown and Castlepollard without charging points. The ESB has no current plans to install them in these areas but has stated there is an e-car charging point near to the towns, in Kells. This is a 35-minute journey for someone driving from Oldcastle or Castlepollard. The charging points in some of the eight locations have continuous problems, as engineers have been trying to fix them remotely during the lockdowns. I have recently been in contact with ESB Ecars over a number of complaints from constituents.

Furthermore, electric cars are very expensive. Some families have told me they used to spend €50 a week on diesel but now their new electric car is costing them more than €80. Will the Government invest in the installation of charging points and speed up their roll-out, as families cannot be expected to drive for more than half an hour just to charge their cars? If we are serious about electric cars, there need to be charging points in every village and town in rural Ireland. This will alleviate the problem of people being stranded on roads because their car battery has gone flat.

We also need more bus and rail services to every part of the country, which will take thousands of vehicles off the road. The Navan rail line is the project in my county of Meath that would make the greatest and most positive difference to climate action. The consensus among most people is that doing nothing is not an option.

For the first time in history, we fully understand the damage that human beings are doing to our planet. Our planet is burning and this is probably the last opportunity we will have to put things right. It is heating up. Sea ice and glaciers are melting, animal habitats are disappearing and time is running out. Human beings are responsible for the greatest level of extinction since the most recent ice age. We need to act now because once we tip the balance, we will not get a second chance. It is already too late for vast areas of our planet, as rising seas engulf more land and fertile soil becomes sand, with vast dust plains replacing greenery.

In pursuing climate action targets, we cannot underestimate the need for buy-in and engagement from the public. Citizen engagement has to be key to any climate action plan. Without really explaining this man-made crisis to people, a great deal of the change needed will never be made. We can have all the high policy we like, but if we do not have a grassroots approach, our green spaces, waterways and ecosystems will continue to decline and die. In my local area, I help a group called the Litter Mugs, who clear streams, rivers and public parks. There is a great sense of satisfaction after a long day of clearing great stretches of ground of plastic bottles, coffee cups, beer cans and all the other rubbish a minority leave behind. Unfortunately, in many cases, a week later one will find that much of that work has been undone.

The river or park will be covered in plastic, including floating plastic, hundreds of broken bottles and every kind of rubbish known to man. Community outreach programmes rooted in community and voluntary organisations that encourage local communities to drive change at the local level should be a fundamental part of any climate action plan. Removing burnt-out cars and clearing pollution requires both time and money and uses up badly needed resources that could be invested in communities. I know of a GAA club in my own area, Croí Ró-Naofa. Members recently told me that 84 cars had been burnt out in the local park in which they play since 1 January 2018. More needs to be done to support clubs such as Croí Ró-Naofa.

Words on paper will not help to solve the deep crisis facing us with regard to climate change and the pollution that is contributing to extreme environmental damage. Any plans must be fully resourced and funded by Government. Councils should not have to choose between clearing polluted sites and improving other public spaces. Again, the financial burden cannot fall entirely on local authorities. There must be a whole-of-government effort to put climate action at the heart of our policies and policy agendas.

To paraphrase Bobby Sands, whose death occurred 40 years ago today, everyone has their part to play. We owe it to future generations to do things differently. That is what we are asking for. We all need to start doing things differently. We need to pull together to save our planet and to save those habitats and ecosystems. Most of all, we need to do things differently. There is a responsibility on us all to do so. Time is running out. We need to do more. That is the message we need to send out today. We need to do more and we need to do it ourselves.

I thank the Minister for introducing this long-awaited Bill. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962, inspired the modern environmental movement, which began in earnest a decade later. It is recognised as the environmental text that changes the world. The following quote, first published 59 years ago, still rings true today:

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road - the one less traveled by - offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

Some 19 years on from the publication of Rachel Carson's book, Christopher Fettes formed the Green Party in Ireland. That was 40 years ago. His vision was international, as a global movement began in earnest to protect the path to which Rachel Carson referred. For 40 years, the Green Party has campaigned for this legislation against climate deniers, naysayers, lobbyists, complacency, fear and, let us not forget, the populist politicians who stand on the sidelines, afraid to get on the pitch and make a decision. There is a global commitment to collective climate action, and a growing awareness of the need for it, irrespective of the party to which one is committed or where one stands on the political spectrum. This is very evident in the latest German poll, which shows the Greens leading on 28%. Climate change is the greatest threat we have ever faced. It is looming while Ireland stands on the sidelines and ranks among the worst EU countries with regard to climate action.

We are, however, making progress in recognising the gravity of the crisis we are in. Most parties and Members of our Parliament have adopted green politics in their manifestos and have joined the collaborative effort to transition Ireland to a greener, fairer and sustainable state. Owing to this collective effort, today I speak to this monumental Bill and tell the people of Ireland that we will no longer be climate laggards. This Bill will allow us to lead on tackling climate change, no matter what administration or party is in government. It is a response to scientific consensus on climate change and the threat of irreversible global damage to our environment and to our security. It is a response to the natural disasters we are seeing globally and the destruction of wildlife and biodiversity. Importantly, the Bill will protect those people who are most affected by climate change but least equipped to adapt to its effects.

I have heard the saying many times that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I have witnessed farmers declaring that they can earn more from organic produce with half the stock. Farmers and their families must be supported so they can earn appropriate incomes from their farms. Diversification of land-use practice will make this happen. Farmers should be afforded a fair share of the profits of industrial agriculture or at least be provided with fair access to the market. Evolving land-use models incorporating forestry are creating carbon-smart agriculture and empowering less intensive agriculture methodologies through which farmers gain and in which industrialisation is not the drumbeat of Irish farming.

Ireland has the fastest growing forestry sector in Europe, with forest currently covering 10% of our land after coming from a standing start of just 1% in 1923. Our maritime climate is unique in Europe. We can grow trees at twice the speed of our European partners. In recent years we established our own structural grade construction timber, C16. In the main, we export this relatively new sustainable construction material to the UK to build homes. Many farmers have already begun to diversify their land, which will see Ireland doubling its roundwood harvest over the next 20 years, increasing the existing rural workforce in this sector with sustainable employment and revenues of up to €6 billion.

In 2017, South Dublin County Council became the only local authority in Ireland to have a wood-first policy, promoting the use of our own sustainable construction material. This is one of the many steps Ireland is taking to use sustainable carbon neutral materials in construction procurement.

The construction sector is one of the main emitters of CO2, alongside transport, energy and agriculture. The embodied carbon of materials alone contributes 11% of global emissions. Europe is ahead of the game in setting targets for reducing the embodied carbon of our construction materials - as I noted, South Dublin County Council has a wood-first policy - but this is at the ha'penny place when it comes to real action. A new paradigm of construction methodology is evolving whereby building materials will be reused, locally sourced, maintained and measured to meet sustainable building practices to ensure we meet our climate targets. This Bill seeks to provide such targets.

A just transition is at the core of Green Party policy. Climate action cannot be achieved without climate justice. Retrofitting is a vital component of the programme for Government. It brings families out of fuel poverty and is a great example of how we can create sustainable employment by transitioning our energy sector. Previous Green Party policies, now enshrined in Part L of our building regulations, have taken more people out of fuel poverty than any other policy to date. It is projected that 25,000 people will be upskilled and employed in retrofitting, which will make homes warmer and energy bills cheaper and, importantly, bring families out of the fuel poverty trap.

I will conclude by thanking each and every one of those campaigners, both here in Ireland and globally, who have raised awareness of the rising challenge, who have called for more action, and who have held governments to account for the past six decades. While some have come to the climate change table very recently and may not see this Bill as perfect, they should realise it is the platform on which to build and create and it brings hope. I am sure those who condemn it will get on the pitch in the future to make it perfect.

I thank the Minister for his incredible work on this Bill, which will be his legacy. Eamon has devoted his career and personal life to this global movement to ensure that Ireland becomes a leader in tackling climate change.

Fáiltím roimh an deis cainte sa díospóireacht seo. Is é an Bille seo an Bille is tábhachtaí a chuirfimid tríd na Dála seo. Níl aon amhras orm faoi sin. Tá gá le leasuithe níos láidre chun a chinntiú go ndéanfaidh an Rialtas seo, agus cibé rialtais a bheidh againn sa todhchaí, beart de réir ár mbriathar. Níl fágtha againn ach fuinneog bheag.

Tá dualgas orainn bearta cuí a thógáil chun a chinntiú nach leanfaimid ar aghaidh ar an mbóthar ar a bhfuilimid. Níl an dara rogha againn. Tá moladh tuillte ag an gComhaontas Glas gan dabht ach ní mór dúinn an cheist a chur, cad atá déanta roimhe seo chun an pointe seo a shroicheadh? Ba mhaith liom dul siar air sin. Ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt don Rialtas seo, agus don Chomhaontas Glas ach go háirithe, ach tagairt a dhéanamh freisin do na feachtais a tháinig roimhe seo, don dochar atá déanta don aeráid agus don todhchaí atá ag teastáil go géar uainn.

I welcome this opportunity. Sometimes, I complain that I do not have enough time, but I will have plenty of time today, which is welcome. I welcome this legislation, which is undoubtedly one of the most important Bills that will pass through the Dáil. It needs strong amendments. I might return to this point, bearing in mind that the unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court on 31 July 2020 stated that the mitigation plan was vague, among other criticisms. That judgment is one of the reasons we are having this discussion.

I asked myself where we had come from and what the background was to the Bill. Deputy Duffy mentioned Silent Spring, which I have with me. I started with the Earth Summit in 1992 and went right up to the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency on 9 May 2019. That date is looming. I could go back to 1962 when Ms Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring. She was asked by the then President Kennedy to examine the issue of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, DDT, which is now banned. Her book ignited the environmental movement. I could pick anything. We did not arrive at this position because of the Green Party, Independents or the Government. We have been forced into it. I am glad that the Bill is before us, but it is important that we consider the damage we have done and the amount of effort required to get us to this point. The Kyoto Protocol was agreed in 1997, the year my second son was born. It only entered into force in 2005. We then had the Paris Agreement in 2015. Significantly, Ireland passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act that year. We have had reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including its recent summary for policy makers. There have been more reports since. On 24 September 2019, the Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate was published. While I hope I pronounced "Cryosphere" correctly, what is important is not the pronunciation, but that the report spells out the risks posed by melting snow and glaciers, rising sea levels, storms and so on. We have seen evidence of the consequences, with many countries burning, hurricanes and storms. I do not wish to be depressing because what we need is transformative action and a message of hope, but it is important to understand what has led us to this point.

Notwithstanding the legislation we have passed since 2015, we are described as laggards. I thank the Library and Research Service for the digest it has produced. I am indebted to it. According to the digest, Ireland remains a laggard in an international context as regards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as highlighted in the 2021 Climate Change Performance Index, which was published in December 2020 in the middle of Covid. That index has been published annually since 2005 and tells us that we are the worst. It notes that Ireland, which should be leading the way on reducing greenhouse gas emissions because we have all the natural advantages of a small island, Cyprus and Estonia distinguish themselves by being the worst performing EU countries. According to the digest, Ireland exceeded its annual binding limits in 2016, 2017 and 2018. There was a recent report on last year.

Where am I going with this? Every single step has been forced by such reports, people on the ground and the children of this country and the world who asked us to please take action for their sake and the sake of their children's children. To bring us up to date, the latest report from the International Energy Agency predicts that, as a consequence of repeated failures to meet targets on reducing our emissions, emissions will rise to 33 billion tonnes in 2021, the largest single increase in over a decade.

Our Joint Committee on Climate Action produced a report. There was then the Supreme Court judgment. We often give out in the Dáil about judges, so it is ironic that they have been the most vocal where our environment is concerned, culminating in the judgment on the last day of July last year. Mr. Justice Frank Clarke delivered that unanimous verdict on behalf of himself and the other six judges. Given that I have time, I will read out some of it for the benefit of people who are tuning in or might tune in later. It reads: "However, it is important to emphasise that these proceedings are concerned with whether the Government of Ireland ("the Government") has acted unlawfully and in breach of rights in the manner in which it has adopted a statutory plan for tackling climate change." The Supreme Court held that the Government had acted illegally. Mr. Justice Clarke pointed out: "First, the overriding requirement of a national mitigation plan is that it must, in accordance with s.4(2)(a), "specify the manner in which it is proposed to achieve the national transition objective" ... to a "low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy"." This is not coming from the Green Party or Independents. Rather, the Supreme Court is telling us that the overriding requirement of a compliant plan is that it must specify how the objective is to be achieved. Mr. Justice Clarke wrote: "The public are entitled to know how it is that the government of the day intends to meet the [national transition objective]." The key point is that, under the legislation, the public are entitled to know with some reasonable degree of specificity what the plan is. He continued: "For the reasons also set out in this judgment, I have concluded that the Plan falls well short of the level of specificity required to provide that transparency ... On that basis, I propose that the [national mitigation plan] be quashed." This is what the Supreme Court thought of our plan.

We are here today with the most important Bill, and I hope it will be even stronger when it becomes law. I mentioned the Supreme Court's judgment in detail because I will now turn to some of the good elements of the plan. However, there are also some very obvious gaps as well as sections that are open to interpretation. Níl aon chinnteacht. Tá doiléire i gceist. There is no certainty. If we have learned anything from the judgment, it is that we should let the committee examine this matter again. Let us take on board what Professor John Sweeney and other academics told the Government in the letter they wrote to it. They welcomed the 51% reduction target but pointed out that the year-on-year figure of 7%, which is not in the Bill, was ambiguous. They asked how it would be achieved and what its cumulative effect would be. I am no expert in this area, but I am well able to read a letter and see the concerns raised therein. These should be dealt with on Committee Stage.

I welcome that the Government is strengthening the Climate Change Advisory Council and extending its membership. However, that is being done in the context of a January report that, while paying tribute to the advisory council, stated that the council was more reactive than proactive, its communication of the message to the ordinary people of Ireland was poor and there was a focus on economics as opposed to transformation. I hasten to add that Professor John FitzGerald took this on the chin and did not disagree with it, which I welcome. The Government was asked to change the council's remit in January, but when I look at the Bill, I do not see a significant change in that regard.

I see additions, but the Minister will still hold the power as to who goes on that. The lack of gender balance was appalling. The proposal not to have anybody from the environment or from public health is simply unacceptable. If we have learned anything from the pandemic and Dr. Ryan, who is quoted regularly here, it is that public health is very important in fighting any pandemic and we need to be ready for it. He also said we are pushing nature to its absolute limits. I am making the connection on the record between this pandemic, what we have done to nature and the environment, and future pandemics.

The solution must be transformative. If the Minister is seriously saying this is transformative, he will have my full support. I have serious doubts about that when it comes to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. We need transformative action and cannot go back to the way we were. We need to find a different lifestyle. Again, to quote Dr. Ryan, we cannot have the pursuit of profit for profit's sake. That is what we have done. We have development for development's sake with none of it related to sustainability. That is the message we need to get from Covid-19 and from this Bill.

We have more choice. We have lived our lives. We have some time left in our lives, but we are talking about future generations who will be faced with climate chaos and, of course, the poorer will always suffer. Just transition is barely covered in the Bill. These are matters that need to go back to the committee if we are serious about having transformative change.

The message in part of the Bill is that it is business as usual. The Minister might say that that is a complete exaggeration, but one section provides that due regard must be had to employment and other matters, which means climate change is being put in a competitive role with employment and with future development. That is a false dichotomy. It is not acceptable to have that dichotomy or to have uncertainty in the Bill. This is our one chance to get it right and to learn. Within that, we need to look at housing and health. They are not just out there. Climate change has reached the tipping point, as the Minister knows and as we know. I have no trust that this Government, particularly the two major parties, realise the extent of the transformation needed.

I listened with great interest to the contributions by Deputy Michael Collins and his colleagues, and I have the greatest of respect for him. We need to tackle the issue of how climate change is perceived in rural areas. I have the privilege of representing a rural area as well as Galway city, which is one of the cities destined to grow. Last week, my colleague, Deputy Pringle, tabled a motion on Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reform and what will happen with small farmers. As I said that night, we are treating the farmers, especially small farmers, as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. We have absolutely neglected rural areas. Towns are going under while we are building cities out of all proportion. That needs to be dealt with in a transformative action.

I will talk about Galway city as an example. By no means do I intend to be parochial. I had hoped that under the climate action committee Galway, as one of again the fastest growing cities in Europe, would be taken as a green city pilot project, not just because it is my city but because it has all of the advantages to allow it to be a green city. Tá sé ar thairseach na Gaeltachta is mó sa tír. Tá éagsúlacht ag baint leis an gcathair agus leis an gcontae. Feileann sé do thogra píolótach, a green lean city. Instead of that we have developer-led development. While those are my words, on two occasions the Minister, Deputy Coveney, agreed that the development in Galway was developer led. We have Ceannt Station, the docks and the Dyke Road, but we have no master plan in Galway city that takes into account climate change and sustainable development. We have no policy on building heights and yet there is a planning application for a 22- or 23-storey development at Ceannt Station.

I am a very proud Galwegian. Rugadh agus tógadh mé i nGaillimh agus táim thar a bheith bródúil as sin. Ba mhaith liom forbairt a fheiceáil, ach forbairt atá inmharthana. We have a docks development that has been given the go-ahead by An Bord Pleanála inasmuch as it now rests with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I come from a tradition of gleoiteoga and sailing boats. I know the importance of the sea. However, subject to me seeing it again on Friday in a Zoom meeting, I worry intensely about the sustainability of that development for the docks, based primarily on cruise ships and the green energy, which I welcome. There is no mention of climate change in the An Bord Pleanála report that I read.

We are also awaiting a result from An Bord Pleanála about an outer bypass for Galway. I would hope at the very least that it will be climate proofed when the board gives its decision on an outer bypass. We have a perfect opportunity to look at light rail and I am glad the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is here. I do not want to get at him, but as he is in power now, all I can do is keep raising it. At the very least, feasibility studies should be carried out. At the very least he should demand a master plan for the common good in Galway that takes into account the docks. We have now theoretically taken it under the wing of Galway City Council while leaving it as a commercial development. I expect public land will be sold to pay for the development because it does not come under one of the recognised ports for Government assistance. We have neglected Ros an Mhíl, which is just out the road. It is already a deep-sea port and only gets a tiny amount of money.

We have a housing crisis that is simply out of control. We have a task force that has sat for two years without producing any final report on the nature of the problem or the nature of the solutions. Galway has the status of a bilingual city and the solution is also within the Irish language, which has always been very close to nature. This is the second time for me to mention a book which is bilingual in Irish and English with only approximately 70 pages in each, An Ghaeilge agus an Éiceolaíocht, which points out that the Irish language is part of the solution.

I wish I were a member of the relevant committee, but I have trust in the members who are there to bring in changes to make the Bill stronger. The Minister will have my full support. If he is talking about an overall plan, he should look at Galway city as an example of somewhere going ahead again with developer-led development without a master plan. He should look at the rural-city divide which is simply unacceptable because we cannot live without each other just as we are dependent on other countries. We need to have a sustainable plan. We are awaiting a policy for seaweed and a policy for the islands. These were all discussed in the previous Dáil. Various Deputies, including me, tabled motions and we are still awaiting those policies.

The last day, Deputy Pringle spoke about acting locally but thinking internationally and globally. He is right because we need to come back to the notion that small is beautiful. The solution lies within the communities. If we are to sell green energy, we need to sell it on the basis of the community owning the green energy and benefiting from the green energy, not with big infrastructure coming through Galway to benefit the big boys, na boic mhóra. That is the transformative action we need. That is what Dr. Michael Ryan from the World Health Organization has said and I could not put it any better. We quote him regarding vaccinations and public health, but we are not listening to his message on the damage to nature and the consequences of that, which are epidemics and pandemics.

Tá an-áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an ábhar fíorthábhachtach seo. Ar ndóigh, is fada atáimid ag caint air seo. Go minic, is mó caint a dhéanaimid agus is mó aer te a chuirimid ar fáil, seachas gníomh. Ní hionann dlíthe a achtú agus gníomh a dhéanamh. Mura ndéanaimid gníomh de réir ár mbriathar, beidh thiar orainn sa deireadh. Caithfimid a bheith cúramach faoin gcaoi ina ndéanaimid gníomh. Cé air a bheidh an t-ualach? Caithfimid a dhéanamh cinnte nach ar na daoine boichte a thitfidh an t-ualach, mar a thiteann go minic. Tiocfaidh mé ar ais chuige sin ar ball mar go minic bítear ag tromaíocht faoi rudaí an-bheag - daoine ag obair le sleánta ag baint ualaigh mhóna - nuair atá dreamanna eile ag déanamh fíorscriosta ollmhóra ar an aeráid. Aontaím go gcaithfimid a bheith neodrach ó thaobh carbóin de. Aontaím leis sin ar dhá chúis. Tá sé ag déanamh dochar don aeráid agus bheadh muid i bhfad níos saibhre dá n-úsáidfeadh muidne na hacmhainní aiceanta, atá amuigh sa bhfarraige go mórmhór, le fuinneamh a ghiniúint seachas a bheith ag iompórtáil ola, gás agus gual le dó. Mar sin, tá ciall ollmhór ó thaobh na haeráide ag baint leis seo ach tá ciall ollmhór ó thaobh na heacnamaíochta ag baint leis freisin.

As I said in Irish, it makes sense to tackle the climate action issue, but I am not as convinced as everyone else that endlessly passing legislation and drawing up plans is the same as delivery. In my view, the past ten years were wasted in that very little has happened. We have not looked at our economic model. We have generated more renewable energy but we are still only at the tip of the iceberg. There has been a lot of talk and hot air. This time, Government needs to act. I will return later to the role of Government in this area.

We cannot, and should not in this House, devolve decision-making to unelected people. To do that deprives the people of their democratic right. The Minister's target of a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is ambitious. It is a very laudable ambition and one that I support, but I would like to know the concrete measures by which he proposes to do that. By 2050, we want to be neutral in terms of carbon emissions. I agree that that is an international obligation.

I am somewhat intrigued by section 4, which provides for a limitation of liability. It appears to say that when the law is in place, there is no entitlement to financial compensation or remedy if there is a failure to comply or a breach of the Act. I would welcome clarification on what that means.

The thing about climate change is that it requires immediate action with a long-term plan. We need to decide now what we are going to do, but some of the things we decide to do will take time to do. We know how tortuous and slow our planning processes are. We know also how slow it is in the modern world, when all of the studies that have to be completed from an ecological point of view are done and so on, to get things up and running. If we want to see significant results by the end of the decade, we will need to have decided by the end of this year what we are going to do and to have a ten-year plan of where we are going.

I do not like the modern construction of putting in place of an advisory council which Government is afraid to change or question when things that are being proposed will put an unfair burden on the poorest and the most vulnerable in society. Ultimately, it is wise always to take advice from experts, but it is wiser still for politicians to look at the human consequences of the actions proposed by experts and then to make up their own minds as to how the objective can be achieved based on the expert advice, but also based on their own expert knowledge of what affects the most vulnerable in our society or, maybe, disproportionately affects some communities more than others. At the end of the day, Government only is accountable to the people and Government only can be sacked for non-performance or unfair burdens and inequities, not expert bodies who always conveniently disappear nuair a thagann an crú ar an tairne.

I note that every county is to have a plan, but many of the things we need to do are much bigger than counties. I will speak more about this later. It is fine that every county would have a climate action plan as part of its local plan, but here again ultimately plans are now dictated not by local elected politicians but by the regulator and what it believes the law says. We will discuss that again another day.

Whereas micro and individual action is important, this problem is much bigger than that. If we are really going to tackle it, we must have large-scale production of energy. One of the big challenges if we are going to have data centres in this country is that we will have to fuel them renewably. It would be a total contradiction in terms if it was not an absolute condition that all new data centres be 100% carbon neutral. There are many ways they could achieve that, including by investing in the renewable sector. We cannot on the one hand allow the consumption of large quantities of energy and on the other hand expect a micro action such as somebody putting a solar panel on an individual house to mitigate against that.

If we are to have a big economy, we will have to have big carbon neutral energy. We will have to decarbonise all of our transport fleet. I do not go along with the popular theory that we are not going to go anywhere and that the only places people will go will be places they can get to on public transport. I do not think that is realistic. I do not think it is necessary. I believe we should 100% decarbonise the fleet through the use of renewable electric. The use in the grid varies during the day. Most people do not do huge mileage in a day and, therefore, can recharge their vehicles at night when the demand is low and there is surplus energy available from renewable sources. By using hydrogen and other new technologies that are coming on stream, this is possible.

We all know what happened in the UK when oil was found off the coast of Scotland. We are sitting on something much better than oil, something that has endless energy within, namely, the wind, the wave and the tide.

That is our nuclear energy except that it is safe and does not pollute. We are probably one of the most advantaged countries in the world in terms of natural resources. We have a huge coastline and we will have to use it. Mar a dúirt mé ar ball, caithfimid déanamh cinnte de nach leagfar a t-ualach ar na daoine beaga. Ar an gcéad dul síos ní oibreoidh sé agus ar an dara dul síos tá sé mífhéaráilte.

I will give a few examples. We introduced lower taxation on cars with lower emissions. I was agreeable to that at the time and have no issue with it. The problem is that the people who are still driving the cars that predate the low tax are the poor people who cannot afford to buy newer cars and are, therefore, paying an unfair burden every year, even though many of them do not do much mileage. We are all the time saying we are going to use the carbon tax to insulate homes for poorer people. I have great doubts about its efficiency and effectiveness in this regard. For the poor people in my constituency, who live in the worst houses, it is not insulation they need but a total renovation of their home. When they apply for insulation, they are told the house is too bad to insulate. They cannot get the money from anywhere.

I was contacted by the people on the Aran Islands - the Minister will be interested in this - who said they were given a great scheme except it is not workable. They cannot access the scheme, get the money or get the builders. Many schemes that are meant to offer compensation do not work for the little people, but we still salve our conscience by telling ourselves we are looking after them. I am a great believer gur fearr daoine a mhealladh seachas iad a cháineadh agus pionós a ghearradh orthu. I believe that the proposition of encouraging and enticing people and making it economical for them to do the right thing is way more efficient than taxing and penalising them. However, I am not sure this is really what will happen. As I said, many of the schemes that came out in recent years are great in theory but when you start checking the number of successful applications and the bureaucracy involved, you find that very little has changed.

From talking recently to the people on the Aran Islands, I think there is potential for an all-island policy, involving Rathlin Island and all the islands off the coast, to make them carbon neutral. The islanders have been wanting to do that for years. The Minister might remember that a few trial electric vehicles were put on the islands some time back. After making inquiries, I learned that there is a significant number of such vehicles in use there but, in general, the cost of buying them to travel 5 or 6 miles of road on the largest island and 1 or 2 miles of road on the smaller islands is not economical. I should be talking in kilometres but I am sure the Minister will understand. It would be very easy to decarbonise the islands totally. I note there is no provision for small renewable energy projects in the Galway county plan, but still we lecture people. These are people who want to do it and have their own energy co-operative. They are co-operative but I am not so sure the State and its agents are.

It is very interesting how things work out. We banned peat briquettes and now we find turf coal briquettes in all the shops, some of which come from eastern Europe. They have to travel halfway across Europe before they can be used. I have to say that, in terms of burning, there is no comparison with our own brand. Surely fossil fuels are fossil fuels and we have not really done much to reduce the total footprint of carbon in the form of turf or turf coal briquettes.

I understand a maritime area Bill is to be introduced this year. That legislation is needed and it must provide for quick, fair and definitive decision-making in regard to maritime planning. We need to make sure the State gets a benefit from this but we also need to encourage development. My understanding - I am sure it is part of the Minister's plan - is that up to 6 GW of energy is in planning for the east coast. In fact, I understand planning has been given for 2 GW and the remainder is in a process. This would be a considerable contribution to the electricity needs of this city. I understand there is talk of putting 30 GW offshore in floating wind power, which has the attraction that it would be located reasonably well offshore and would not, therefore, be in anybody's face. In fact, the reality is, and I remember the Minister talking about this ten years ago, that if we had the proper interconnection between here and Britain and between here and continental Europe, we could become a major exporter of carbon-free energy. In other words, we could have negative net carbon as a result of providing carbonless fuel to both Britain and continental Europe. That is where we should be going, using our resources just as we used our resources quite well in previous generations.

I am a great believer in technology. If we want to make cars safer, all the driver training will not be half as effective as new technology that helps to avoid accidents. We know that very well from the past. When it comes to energy, technology is now in use that overcomes many problems, such as the challenges of dealing with the issue of surplus energy at one stage and a shortage of energy in another period because of the intermittent wind. We also know the better the grid we build, the more we can work on the basis that if it is not windy in one place, it inevitably will be windy somewhere else. There is an endless amount we can do, but talking about it, passing Bills and drawing up plans is not doing it. We need action.

There are communities in Ireland that are carbon positive but they are often the communities that are most blamed and penalised for any fossil fuels they use. I am talking about communities such as Connemara where, yes, we use motor cars - please God, in the future we will use electric vehicles - but if you add up the sums, that is offset to a much greater degree compared with our city neighbours anywhere in the country because we produce a huge amount of renewable energy within our community in the form of wind energy, way in excess of what we consume. We are net exporters of renewable energy versus the amount of fossil fuel we bring in, but we never get any credit for putting up with the windmills.

We need new regulations on windmills requiring that they be set back further from houses. We need to recognise they are getting taller and taller and are an unfair burden on the host communities. We need to make sure the gain is for that host community and not for some community far away. I understand that with the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, when you contact the Department, the officials are totally non-specific as to the neighbourhood in which the so-called secure community partner has to be located. It could be a community at the other end of a county like Galway that would get the benefit without having the pain.

We are not going to tolerate that and we should not have to do so. Ní chuirfimid suas leis agus ba chóir a bheith dearfa cinnte de sin. Caithfear déileáil leis na ceisteanna seo agus creidiúint a thabhairt do na pobail atá sásta leis na tuirbíní gaoithe, atá ag ligean do mhór-ghiniúint leictreachais tarlú ina bpobail féin agus ag an am céanna go bhfuil pionós á ghearradh orthu i ngeall ar chúpla beithíoch agus caoirigh a bheith acu, agus carr a bheith ag an teach acu. Ní ghlacfar leis sin níos mó.

I come from an agricultural background. Before I was elected to this House, I spent a long number of years representing farmers. We run a family farm in County Tipperary and I am delighted the next generation is taking on that mantle. I want to ensure he is economically sustainable on that farm and that he can make a living like I did before him, his grandfather did before me and the generations before us did.

I am proud to be one of the many thousands who make up the Irish agrifood industry. This is an industry that totalled €14.5 billion in exports in 2019, 9.5% of Irish merchandise exports. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine stated in September of last year that 164,000 people are employed in the agrifood sector, 7.1% of the total population of our country. Last week, a respected analyst and economist said we should renege on our responsibility to feed a large proportion of the world. I fundamentally disagree with that statement. We have the ability in this country to produce food sustainably. We are able to produce food for 60 million people and we do that more sustainably than virtually all other parts of the world. To say we would reduce our production to allow food to be produced elsewhere less sustainably is environmental madness as well as economic madness.

Agriculture is the backbone of rural Ireland. It is the backbone of the rural economy. When this country was pulled out of the last recession, it was the SMEs and our rural farmers who were looked to in order to boost the economy. Moreover, with over 160,000 people employed and exports with the value of €14.5 billion, it is impossible to deny the essential role farmers play in the Irish economy and Irish society. I will quote from the European Commission's website:

Rich, fertile soil, a mild climate and all that rain we love complaining about makes Ireland perfect for farming, and we’ve taken advantage of that fact for generations. Agriculture has provided us with food and income for thousands of years and it’s a vital part of who we are.

The Commission also highlighted that 71.6% of our country, almost 70,000 sq. km, is agricultural land. Another 11% is used for forestry. As a result of all this, we are one of the most sustainable producers of food on the planet. Our little island feeds a significant part of the world. Members will not hear me denying that climate change is a massive issue; I fully accept it is. I appreciate that change is necessary, that burying our heads in the sand or soil will fix absolutely nothing and that it will actually make things worse. I will never be one of the Members of this House who shouts and roars from the sidelines, ignoring the science and trying to rile up the masses. However, I will not sit back and allow a naive and at times ignorant view of Irish agriculture to decimate this essential industry and cut off our nose to spite our face. I fully recognise this country faces massive challenges in relation to climate change but any moves we make must be both economically and environmentally sustainable, and that is of paramount importance for rural Ireland.

The Glanbia cheese plant in Belview, County Kilkenny is a prime example of this. This is plant is environmentally and economically viable and sustainable. While objectors did their best to frustrate this plant, thankfully they were not successful. Thankfully that is now over and the development of this plant can continue at pace. This plant followed Government policy exactly, specifically on diversifying dairy production post Brexit, by building a plant that can produce 50,000 tonnes of Gouda cheese for the European market, thus reducing our dependence on the British market, which is absolutely essential in the post-Brexit era. This plant met the rigorous standards and expectations of An Bord Pleanála and the objections launched against it did nothing except defeat the purpose of everyone working together to meet environmental targets. When An Taisce uses weak environmental arguments in court to attempt to defeat a viable process of development, it does more harm than good to the green agenda. It polarises opinions and makes those who would rather bury their head in the sand than acknowledge the major issue of climate change appear legitimate. There must be a middle ground in this debate that recognises that change is necessary but it must be change that is sustainable and viable and supports the farmer and rural Ireland in moving towards more sustainable climate-friendly practice, which also protects the industry that is the backbone of rural Ireland. Farmers, who are the custodians of rural Ireland, will not forgive or forget this attempt to stop this vital infrastructure.

There are two camps who are already firmly entrenched in the climate change debate in this country. There are those who scream and shout about rural Ireland and the rural people and make a song and dance about being the saviours of the rural way of life. They would rather deny climate change exists than try to offer up viable solutions to the problem and tackle the issue in a way that will support and benefit rural Ireland. On the other side of the debate are those who vocalise short-term solutions to climate change; those who demand the cutting of the national herd. Their proposals are almost comical in their naivety and do absolutely nothing to support rural Ireland and nothing to ensure a just transition for farming communities. They do nothing more than appeal to their mostly urban bases. Unfortunately, both these sides are vocally and loudly represented in this House. I will not respond to either side's attempts to polarise the debate or force their own agenda through, as both sides will, in my view, do more harm than good. I will passionately hold a centre ground that is sustainable, logical and achievable. It is a reasonable approach that will tackle climate change and protect our environment but will also bring rural Ireland along with it in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

There are new technologies and new methods of farming which must be adopted to reduce emissions and guide farming towards a more sustainable future. By means of State investment in and support of some of the technologies and methods I will discuss shortly, we can turn the narrative away from rural Ireland being intimidated and a victim of environmental policies and climate change. Instead, rural Ireland and farming communities will have the potential to drive the agenda, benefit from it both environmentally and economically and not be driven by the polarised view some in this House would try to force on rural Ireland, on both sides of the argument. In other words, let us adopt a common-sense approach to this issue. I refer to anaerobic digestion, the installation of solar panels on the acres of roofing on the farm buildings we already have, wind turbines and solar farms. All of these have huge potential for the creation of renewable energy and to meeting our carbon reduction targets. All of these technologies can be rolled out in rural Ireland for the benefit of rural Ireland. Polices that promote and support the production of renewable energies on farms could also have additional positive impacts such as the reduction of electricity bills for farmers. The electricity is a considerable expense, especially on dairy farms, and any way to alleviate this while also benefiting the environment will always be welcomed. My reason for making this point is simple; introducing policies which promote renewable energy production on our farms such as solar, wind or biogas will benefit rural Ireland instead of rural Ireland being intimidated by climate-friendly policies.

I am Chairman of the Oireachtas agriculture committee. We recently invited Teagasc to appear before us. Teagasc is a body with a huge reservoir of research and knowledge in this area and it is being completely underutilised. The short-term utterances we hear from certain people on the cutting of the national herd are comical in their naivety and will do nothing to seriously tackle the long-term global issue that is climate change.

We are the most sustainable producer of dairy produce in the world and of beef in the EU. Management of climate change must be sustainable but we must also be able to feed the world. What is the point in cutting the national herd in Ireland and sending the world's population elsewhere to source its food from countries that are over twice as inefficient at producing food as we are? What is the point in tapping ourselves on the back, feeling superior as proud environmentalists, having slashed our national herd, decimated rural Ireland, and having lost billions of euro in export revenues just to drive even more demand to beef production in Brazil where the animals bear the impact, or to other countries where environmental protection or food quality could not be further down the list of priorities?

We must bring this debate on agriculture in rural Ireland back to a common-sense approach. I will not deny that changes must be made but let us look at long-term solutions. Research has been done into the feeding of animals and how this might reduce methane emissions from farm animals. This research should be supported, funded and rolled out as common practice when it is workable.

Low emission slurry spreading and protected urea are seeing huge advances in their respective areas. The fact that contractors cannot avail of grants for low emissions slurry spreading is nonsensical. The vast majority of farms are now using contractors to spread slurry and we want to advance this area. They need grants to improve the machinery and technologies they are using to reduce the environmental impact of this work. Protected urea is significantly dearer than other forms of nitrogen. Again, to encourage its use, it should be subsidised until farmers are in the practice of using it on an extensive basis. This is not a black and white debate and it cannot be us versus them. This cannot be about urban versus rural Ireland. We need a middle ground common-sense approach that supports our moves to a more sustainable future that protects both the environment and our food production.

There is growing evidence of the role that anaerobic digestion technology in producing biomethane and biofertilisers must play across rural Ireland alongside more established renewable energy sources in a transition to low carbon climate-resilient communities and sustainable food production within a high quality environment. Agri-based biomethane and biofertiliser production is uniquely placed as the one viable renewable energy option to decarbonise Ireland’s food production. The effectiveness and commercial viability of this technology has been proven through economic research and scientific advice. Biomethane production could also contribute significantly to decarbonising agriculture without competing or impacting on food production. By using anaerobic digestion technologies we can dramatically reduce our emissions while also continuing to reduce water pollution and considerably cutting the work involved in managing slurry on farms and in piggeries. This can lead to less slurry going out on the land, less time spent managing slurry, lower emissions, the creation of biogas for sale to the grid, and the production of organic fertilisers. The technology is one obvious and sensible way to considerably reduce our emissions, to protect our environment and benefit farmers all in the one go. This agri-based biomethane green energy model not only tackles climate change but also sustains farms, creates rural jobs, and benefits water and air quality, soil regeneration and biodiversity.

There is a serious logjam in the system which needs to be addressed in respect of selling electricity back to the grid, whether it is produced by wind, solar or biodigesters. This has to be removed and the selling of this locally produced energy to the grid must be incentivised and supported financially. Community involvement in these renewable projects is vital going forward. We need community buy-in.

I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, opened up certain sections of the power grid to community power sources last year and I spoke on this issue in the House at that particular time. That is what just transition must look like for rural Ireland. These are the conversations that we will voice and that this debate must have. We must develop policies that will make the most of modern technologies and that can assist in our battle against climate change without destroying the industry that is the backbone of rural Ireland.

The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, was formulated as the cornerstone of EU policy to ensure top quality food at lower prices and this has been achieved for the past 60 to 70 years. Now we are fundamentally changing CAP with the taking way of price supports and a significant amount instead being paid into greening measures. We see that the French Government is now calling out for an appraisal of the cost of production for primary producers. If CAP is going to be green-based going forward, this policy must work in tandem with the primary producer getting a fair return from the marketplace. This is a complete change of policy and when the Commission is doing this, it has to ensure that this happens. If this new policy direction happens with an EU-wide evaluation of the cost of primary production, what the French are doing at home must be done by all EU countries. If CAP is to be changed for good then we have to ensure that fair prices are protected for producers.

We find ourselves at the moment in a laughable situation on peat production where we are now importing peat from outside this country. Horticultural peat moss is being imported from the eastern side of the Continent and briquettes are coming in from Germany. By attempting to protect the Irish bogs by ceasing all production, we are doing even more harm to the environment. This is a nonsensical approach to take to climate change. Some 1.5% of our bogs is all that we need to produce the peat moss necessary for the horticultural industries here in Ireland. At the moment, what is more natural and sustainable than using this horticultural product to grow plants that rot back into the soil? We currently do not have a suitable substitute product for this available, so we must use what we have.

The idea of bringing this peat moss across the EU is laughable and does nothing more than give ammunition to those who refuse to acknowledge climate change and gives them a stick to beat the sensible approaches that are out there. The middle ground of common sense needs to be adopted. Common sense has to be part of all environmental decisions and it certainly is not when it comes to peat harvesting in this area. A blanket ban is not common sense. As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine, our committee held a briefing on this issue and we received an assurance from an official in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage that a licence would be granted to harvest this summer. We were told that this would happen in April. Unfortunately, it still has not come through. It is completely regrettable that we are allowing our horticultural and nursery industries to be treated in this way where their cost base has been destroyed by the extra costs that have been imposed on them. This is of no environmental or economic sense.

Forestry can play a very significant role in meeting the challenges that we have with climate change. Unfortunately, our forestry sector in this country is grinding to a halt. A timber contractor rang me last Friday and he was in both economic and emotional despair. This man had built up a business over a great number of years cutting trees either for thinning or clear-felling. He had 12 people employed and had invested in significant new machinery and had equally significant repayments to meet on that machinery. On Friday he made a decision that he had to let his men go and try to sell his machinery. This is all because we have a Department which is failing to get licences through the system. We introduced legislation last year to deal with the appeals mechanism that was delaying the process. Unfortunately, the Department is still not functioning in this regard. Our forestry sector is grinding to a halt because of the failure and bureaucracy of the Department in getting licences issued. Last week the Department issued 37 licences. That is to deal with afforestation, roads, thinning and clear-felling. We have 6,500 licences in the system. The public and the people involved in the forestry sector have completely lost confidence in the industry. In 30 years' time people will wonder why Ireland stopped meeting its afforestation targets. In this year of 2021 we will be lucky to hit 25% of the targets in the programme for Government. Last year, again, we only hit approximately 25% of our targets for afforestation. If we are serious about climate change and about tackling the issues around it, we have to have a viable forestry sector.

The blanket ban on planting forestry in designated areas is a significant barrier to having a viable and efficient forestry sector. There is serious evidence that different stages of afforestation growth in these designated areas benefits the creation of habitats for the various species we are trying to protect with these designations.

It has completely devalued the capital value of the land owned in those designated areas. In my time, I have never seen how a ruling can reduce the value of land by 80% without proper compensation for the landowners but that is what has happened in these designated areas. In my view, it was done without any useful environmental purpose behind it. This needs to be looked at. In my view, afforestation on a planned basis in designated areas can benefit everyone. I appeal to the Minister to speak to the Minister of State with responsibility for forestry and get the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to up its game immediately. Issuing 37 licences a week, and the average is only a little greater than that-----

I thank the Deputy. We are over time.

-----will result in the forestry sector being decimated and in financial ruin. It would be a pity for rural Ireland if the forestry sector is let down by the failure of the Department to issue licences.

Debate adjourned.