I am grateful to the Chairman and members of the committee for their invitation to address them today as they embark on very important work. I also thank the clerk of the committee, Mr. Ted McEnery, for his assistance in making the necessary preparations for today's meeting. I am joined by the now former deputy secretary of the assembly, Gráinne Hynes.
In July 2016, the Citizens' Assembly was established and received its mandate from a resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas and, as in the case of the topic of the eighth amendment, it is appropriate that I appear before the committee to discuss the assembly's deliberations on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. In these introductory remarks I aim to provide the members of the committee with a clear account of the processes underpinning the work of the assembly, how we approached this topic, structured our work programme and formulated the recommendations contained in the report submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas on 18 April 2018 and which the committee has been tasked with considering to decide how they might be progressed. In appearing before the committee today I am anxious to provide it with any assistance it needs as it commences its role.
I was appointed chair of the Citizens' Assembly on 29 July 2016 and work began on the set-up of the assembly in August 2016. We did not waste any time. Following public tendering processes, suppliers were selected to provide the necessary services required to carry out the logistical arrangements for an exercise such as the assembly. The Oireachtas resolution stipulated that the membership of the assembly would be made up of a chairperson appointment by the Government and 99 citizens entitled to vote at a referendum, randomly selected so as to be broadly representative of Irish society. The members were chosen at random to represent the views of the people of Ireland, and to be broadly representative of society as reflected in the census of 2011 and the quarterly national household survey population estimates. This is the standard methodology used for establishing a geographical spread in a national sample. This process yielded a varied cohort of citizens, young and old, who travelled from all corners of the country to attend each meeting. I am satisfied that the method used delivered a representative sample of modern Irish society, within the confines of what is possible with a sample size of 99 as stipulated by the Oireachtas resolution and that the members who participated in the deliberations on this topic were properly selected.
It was originally intended that climate change would be the final topic the Citizens' Assembly would consider, as it was listed last in the resolution approving the assembly's establishment. The members' interest in the topic was, however, clearly demonstrated when, during a private session at the January 2017 meeting, it was suggested and, in turn, agreed by a majority vote of the full membership, to bring forward its consideration and examine it as the assembly's third topic. We originally expected that consideration of this topic would be done over a single weekend. It quickly became apparent that this was not feasible if the members were to become sufficiently informed on the subject matter to make meaningful recommendations. Taking account of proposals from the members, the challenges faced in attempting to cover the topic adequately in one weekend and the advice of a newly appointed expert advisory group, it was agreed that two weekends would be required.
I suspect all committee members agree that it was implicit in the mandate the assembly received in the Oireachtas resolution that climate change is real, happening and must be tackled. The deliberations of the assembly, therefore, focused on how the State could best meet that challenge. In constructing the work programme on this topic over two weekends - the first in late September, early October 2017 and the second at the beginning of November 2017 - I regarded it as crucial that we consider how Ireland could be made a leader in this area and, as I said at that time, "put Ireland in the vanguard in relation to action on climate change". As with the other topics the assembly has already considered, this topic was incredibly broad, wide-ranging and affects us all in one way or another. It has previously been the subject of a number of Government policy documents, strategies and reviews.
Given the relatively recent establishment of the national dialogue on climate action by the Government and the publication of the national mitigation plan and then draft national adaptation framework by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, the timing of the Citizens' Assembly deliberations on this topic was particularly opportune. In fact, as an example of public service collaboration, it was possible for the assembly to dovetail with the work simultaneously being carried out by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the form of providing feedback on how the national dialogue on climate action can best engage with a wider reach of citizens on this very important topic.
During the final weekend on the previous topic - how best to respond to the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population - in July 2017, the members of the Citizens' Assembly were asked what they wanted to see included on the work programme for the assembly's discussions on climate change. As such, the views of the members were an important part of the work programme development. I was assisted in devising a comprehensive and coherent work programme by the secretariat and the expert advisory group which was established pursuant to the Oireachtas resolution, the membership of which is set out in paragraph 180 of the report, which I am sure members have. The expert advisory group had an integral role in advising me on the formation of a work programme and the selection of potential speakers and I am very grateful for the invaluable assistance I and the secretariat received from it.
A key part of our work also concerned submissions from the public and we received just over 1,200 such submissions on this topic, of which 1,185 were published. The agenda and work programme was, to a large extent, informed by the submissions received. The secretariat also produced a signpost document which identified, in order of frequency, the key issues, topics and themes presented in the submissions.
Taking account of the consultations with the members, the issues which arose through the submissions process and discussions and advice from the expert advisory group, it was agreed that the focus of the first weekend on this topic would be climate science, the impact of climate change and energy policy. On the second weekend it was agreed that the focus would be on the areas of transport and agriculture policy. These were the areas that came through most frequently in the submissions received.
On the first weekend, at the end of September, the assembly heard presentations on the science of climate change, current efforts being made nationally and internationally to tackle climate change, the impact of climate change and the status of climate change in Ireland. Members also heard about the national mitigation plan and the national dialogue on climate action. This was followed with an examination of the energy sector, specifically heat and power. Members heard what Ireland would look like as a leader in climate change in these areas and also listened to first-hand examples of leadership in communities and workplaces in Ireland.
On the second weekend, in November, the members focused their attention on the transport and agriculture sectors and examined climate change under current policy for each. This was followed in both cases by an examination of what policy might look like if Ireland was a leader in tackling climate change. The members also heard international perspectives on the issue, including on the Danish and Scottish experiences. On Saturday, 4 November, the members heard first-hand examples of leadership in agriculture, food and land use, which was then followed by a panel discussion and a questions and answers session. Particularly throughout this second weekend, guidance was given on how to surmount what is within our control on both a national and individual level and could make Ireland a global exemplar. This material really resonated with the members and focused their minds on feasible ways of addressing this issue that would be likely to have the support of the public and, in turn, would allow us to not only meet our existing international and European obligations but also make Ireland a leader for other nations in doing so.
As with previous topics, in considering the topic of climate change, the members of the assembly once again had the benefit of an array of expertise and perspectives. They heard from a total of 15 experts and six individuals who shared their personal experience and the assembly conducted 26 hours of listening, discussion and deliberation. All of the public proceedings were live-streamed and the recordings are available to view back on the assembly’s YouTube channel. Also, all of the papers and presentations made to members were uploaded on the website as they were delivered.
I take this opportunity to recognise the impact the speakers made on our consideration of the topic. The speakers were chosen because of their expertise in their respective fields. Many travelled to join us and I am most grateful to them for making the effort to be with us and assist with our deliberations. The quality and high standard of the material placed before the assembly are self-evident. All of that material is available in appendix F of the report, a fairly heavy document, and on the assembly website. Without the speakers imparting this scientific and often complicated information in a manner which was accessible and easily understood, the members would not have been in a position to make meaningful contributions to the ballot paper and, in turn, produce such insightful recommendations as they did.
I will give a broad outline of the ballot paper. The Citizens’ Assembly was an exercise in deliberative democracy whereby the reach of the members’ involvement encompassed not only the development of the work programme but also the construction of a ballot paper and the formulation of the recommendations. I was at all times very conscious of the members’ role and we took the necessary steps to ensure the ballot paper development and design were very much member-led. The manner in which recommendations should be made was provided in the resolution approving establishment of the assembly, which stated that all matters before the assembly would be determined by a majority of the members present and voting, other than the chairperson, who would have a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes. I was not called on to make such a casting vote, as is obvious from the appendix to this presentation. The activity on the Sunday of the second weekend, 5 November 2017, comprised the important steps that would eventually lead to the recommendations of the assembly. These were agreeing the issues to be included in a ballot; agreeing on the precise wording; and voting.
As the committee will have seen in the report, independent oversight of the voting process took place by the retired returning officer for County Dublin, Mr. John Fitzpatrick, and his team. At the end of the weekend of our first meeting on the topic, members were invited to make comments and suggestions on what they might like to see on a draft ballot paper. All this information was collated by the secretariat and preparation of a draft ballot paper was led by me, as chair, along with the secretariat and expert advisory group. The members took ownership of the ballot and the preliminary draft was first presented to the steering group on 19 October 2017. This led to a revision and a second preliminary ballot was presented to them on 26 October. It was then presented to the full membership of the assembly in advance of the November meeting and again feedback was obtained from members and at the round-table discussions at the November meeting. Following the assembly meeting on Saturday, 4 November, a revised ballot paper was prepared and there was further discussion and refinement of the ballot paper on Sunday, 5 November, before a final ballot paper was prepared and agreed. Much work went into the structure of the ballot paper and the precise terminology included in it.
I will deal in general with the voted recommendations. The final ballot paper had four sections. Section A concerned putting climate change consideration at the centre of policy-making, taking in questions Nos. 1 to 4. Section B concerned energy policy, taking in questions Nos. 5 to 7. Section C concerned transport policy, taking in questions Nos. 8 to 10. Section D concerned agriculture and land use policy, taking in questions Nos. 11 to 13. As the committee will see from the report, the assembly made 13 recommendations, all by majority vote. In particular, it is worth noting the level of support for each of the recommendations from the members, with the vast majority having unanimous or near-unanimous support.
In the interest of time and brevity, I do not propose to restate each of the 13 recommendations, as the committee has been tasked with dealing with the recommendations set out in the report. For the record of the committee and for the ease of the members of the committee and the media covering these proceedings, I have provided the list of recommendations to the end of my address.
Having spoken about voted recommendations, I will briefly mention ancillary recommendations made by members. It is worth drawing the attention of the committee to the ancillary recommendations of the assembly. As was the case with the eighth amendment, the members indicated that they wished to express other views and recommendations on the topic beyond what they were able to explicitly express on the ballot paper. These four ancillary recommendations, although not voted on, represent the greatest consensus after the members completed a written reflective exercise.
Again, I have set out these ancillary recommendations in appendix 1. In summary, they emphasise the following: providing a positive information campaign to the public on the benefits of acting on climate change, rather than the negatives of failing to act; taking steps to reduce the levels of packaging, particularly plastic packaging, including a deposit scheme on plastic bottles; acknowledgement that the agriculture sector will require ongoing support to transition to lower greenhouse gas emissions; and ensuring that all new buildings have a carbon footprint of zero or a low carbon footprint. I am very conscious of the importance of transparency in a system like the Citizens' Assembly. In appendix B we have provided the full verbatim text of these comments from the members. They are worth examining because they followed the reflective exercise.
The assembly’s recommendations on this and the other four topics it considered were built upon the robust process applied to consideration of the topic. As I stated, it was implicit in the mandate in the Oireachtas resolution that climate change was real, happening and must be tackled. As with other topics considered by the assembly, some of the recommendations and results on this topic caused surprise in some sections of society. All I can say on the matter is that each member of the assembly had engaged in a thorough and rational thought process before stepping up to the ballot box. In addition, the members were aware at all times that innovation and progress in one area can have consequences in other areas, such as competitiveness. In making their recommendations, the members were cognisant of the need for a balance to be struck between these competing interests.
The voted recommendations are underpinned by expert evidence, evidence of personal experiences and deliberations over more than 26 hours of active participation by the members, each of whom had also engaged in countless hours of preparatory work, reading papers and submissions, not to the mention the weeks of work preparing for the assembly deliberations. All of that contributed to the reason we are here today. It is important to note that point.
As I said in the report, I very much hope that the work done and recommendations made by the Citizens’ Assembly can continue to contribute to the wider public engagement and national discourse on the issue. Our citizen members have shown that they can produce clear recommendations when given the opportunity to reflect on and consider an issue that requires societal change. It is now a matter for the committee to consider the merits of each of the 17 recommendations, 13 voted and four ancillary, and how they can be implemented and form part of the policy response on climate action. I note that as part of the committee’s terms of reference, it will specifically consider how the assembly’s recommendations might inform further implementation of the national mitigation plan and the development of Ireland’s draft integrated national energy and climate plan. I have no doubt that in some ways the assembly’s role of formulating recommendations was less difficult than the one that awaits the committee, as the real challenge in respect of climate change has always been implementation - I stress that point - in the pursuit of achieving real and tangible results.
I encourage each member of the committee, the wider Oireachtas membership and members of the public with an interest in this topic to review the footage of the two weekends we spent on this topic, which is available on the assembly’s YouTube channel. This shows the diligence of our members, the engagement they had on this topic, the probing questions they asked of experts and the deliberative way they came to their conclusions. I take this opportunity to thank them for their work. The commitment they gave to this matter and the other topics considered by the assembly is not always understood or sufficiently acknowledged.
I wish the committee well with the work ahead. Insofar as is practical, given that the Citizens’ Assembly has now been wound down, both I and the former secretariat will endeavour to be of any assistance required as the committee continues its work. I will be pleased to engage with the committee on any questions members may have.