Third Report of the Citizens' Assembly: Discussion (Resumed)

I welcome members and viewers who may be watching proceedings on Oireachtas TV to the ninth public session of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that, for the duration of the meeting, their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to aeroplane, safe or flight mode depending on the device.

On behalf of the committee, I extend a warm welcome to the witnesses from the Department of Rural and Community Development, Mr. Kevin McCarthy, Secretary General; and the officials, Mr. David Dalton, Mr. J. P. Mulherin and Ms Eileen Davy.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. McCarthy to make his opening statement.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

I welcome the opportunity to address the committee on the Department of Rural and Community Development's role and, in particular, on the contribution it is making and can make to the overall national effort on climate action. The Department was established by Government in July 2017. Its stated mission is to promote rural and community development and to support vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland. Climate change is an issue that will impact on Ireland at national, regional and community level. Whether it is farming, forestry, fisheries, tourism or recreation, rural communities are affected by the quality of the environment and are impacted on by its degradation. We have all witnessed in recent times how adverse weather conditions have a profound effect on those whose livelihoods depend on the elements.

While the Department does not have a direct role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from energy, agriculture or transport, our core mission enables us to play an important role in supporting the transition to a low carbon future. Supporting the development of resilient and sustainable communities is at the heart of the Department’s mission. This is also at the heart of the challenge facing us in addressing climate change. Through a range of programmes, policies, supports and investments, the Department seeks to promote: balanced regional development and economic opportunity; the diversification of rural economies; the enhancement of towns and villages as attractive places to live; and the strengthening of communities, community life and opportunities for active local civic participation and decision making. We are providing direct support for volunteering, social enterprise and social innovation. We are investing directly in locally generated ideas and initiatives in the green economy and in facilitating community ownership of projects, both literally and in terms of input into development strategies at local level. We are helping people in accessing locally based job opportunities.

All of these supports are at the core of delivering on the Department’s mission to support vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities and all of these objectives are essential elements of a low-carbon future. I want to provide some specific examples of the relevant policies, programmes, projects and supports to which I am referring. Under the LEADER programme, almost €24 million will be invested in projects under the rural environment theme in the sub-theme areas of protection and sustainable use of water resources, protection and improvement of local biodiversity and development of renewable energy. Projects approved for funding include large-scale initiatives such as Glasha hydro project in Waterford and smaller projects such as renewable energy heating systems and a self-sustainable, solar powered eco-friendly lodge in County Clare. To date, more than €1.5 million has been approved to fund 58 projects under these sub-themes, and the Department looks forward to dispersing the full €24 million allocation in conjunction with local action groups.

The Department is also providing a number of climate relevant supports through the Dormant Accounts Fund, social enterprise and social innovation fund measures, the social inclusion and community activation programme and the community services programme. These include grants to applicants providing home insulation services, reducing our food waste, sustainable energy actions, beekeeping and training in thermal insulation installation. In addition, investments under the town and village renewal scheme support the diversification of the rural economy through funding for enterprise hubs, digital hubs and other projects that support localised employment opportunities. These impact positively on commuting requirements and carbon emissions. The Department is also making investments through the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme and the walks scheme that protect and sustain our natural heritage and identify ways to assist communities in maximising the value of these assets for the local area. Greenways, blueways and mountain trails are delivering economic, recreational, health and climate benefits, reducing car journeys and creating employment and tourism opportunities.

The Department’s role in the context of local community structures, such as local community development committees and public participation networks, affords it the opportunity to harness all the potential resources at the disposal of communities by bringing together people, groups, agencies and voluntary and statutory bodies to make a positive difference in the development of sustainable communities. Through encouraging citizen engagement we aim to increase awareness of climate issues and to foster community involvement in policy development and decision-making processes.

In addition to these initiatives and programmes, the Department has an important co-ordination role when it comes to policies affecting rural Ireland across Government. Realising our Rural Potential: The Action Plan for Rural Development, which was launched in 2017, contains over 270 specific actions to be taken across a variety of Departments. In addition to measures on enterprise, tourism, culture and connectivity, it is clear on the importance of our environment to ensuring sustainable rural development. It contains actions associated with climate mitigation, renewable energy and energy efficiency that are of relevance to rural Ireland. In general, these actions are to be delivered by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment or its agencies. The action plan is also clear on the importance of climate adaptation measures such as the flood relief programme to be delivered by the OPW. Reports on progress on all actions in the plan are published every six months and, to date, have shown that 93% of the actions across Government were either completed on schedule or substantially advanced.

It is important that we continue to look to further opportunities to support community-led initiatives in the green economy. The planned introduction by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment of a renewable electricity support scheme will open up opportunities for rural communities not only to invest in new renewable electricity projects, but also, potentially, to develop and operate their own projects. Involving communities in the development of new renewable energy projects will not only provide a long term, sustainable economic dividend but will also help to change the perception of renewable energy projects in rural Ireland. The Department has already provided funding supports to those who are exploring the potential of renewable energy and to local projects in that sector. For example, a €50,000 grant has been committed over the next two years to facilitate a community-based renewable energy project in the Iveragh Gaeltacht in Kerry. Across a range of activity, the Department is providing direct support to the required national climate action effort. The new rural regeneration and development fund, one of the four funds established under Project Ireland 2040, will provide further opportunity to build on this.

I have attempted to give a very short overview of current investments, programmes and partnership activities of the Department of Rural and Community Development that are assisting communities to identify and engage in climate-positive initiatives. We recognise that the scale of the challenge involved in meeting climate action targets requires effort and mobilisation across Government and at every level of society, with a particular challenge to engage citizens and communities. We look forward to continued opportunities to support progress in this objective.

I thank Mr. McCarthy. As members are aware, we have a strict speaking rota during the question-and-answer session. We have allocated approximately 60 minutes for this session because representatives from the OPW are coming in later. I ask members to limit themselves to asking questions rather than making statements. I call Deputy Bríd Smith.

I wish to ask Mr. McCarthy if his report and the consideration relating to it were framed prior to or after the publication of the report of the International Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. I imagine that both were framed prior to the emergence of the latter report. What thoughts does he have on the impact of that report on his Department's activities, plans and targets? It has shocked all the official bodies across the world that are trying to deal with climate change. I am sure the Secretary General will have given some thought to his own role in this.

I assume the Department's programme was produced prior to the IPCC report being published. I would also like to know whether the Department took into account a report produced by Met Éireann in 2016 that declared extreme weather events as the norm rather than being rare. Was that taken into account when the Department was looking at what it can do in dealing with rural Ireland and communities?

My first question is on the home insulation services. In the context of last year's extreme weather events, the Dáil was forced to put it to the Taoiseach to give an extra two weeks' fuel allowance to people suffering as a result of those extreme cold conditions that occurred as a consequence of climate change. Mr. McCarthy has talked about grants that are provided for home insulation services. Does Mr. McCarthy think that scheme sufficiently covers people whose socioeconomic profile means they rely on the grants entirely rather than on their own means to retrofit their homes and to be able to insulate and reduce their emissions?

I do not believe that is within the remit of this particular Department. Those grants are the responsibility of the SEAI. The Deputy should keep her questions directed at those areas that are the responsibility of this Department.

The opening statement refers to grants to applicants to provide home insulation services. I am only responding to the statement.

Mr. McCarthy says he can clarify that.

It is up to Mr. McCarthy to say it does or does not apply.

I am very conscious of the fact the Deputy has just ten minutes so I just want to make sure-----

I am conscious of that too so I hope this last few seconds will be taken into account.

I will make sure the Deputy gets her time.

I will also ask about the involvement of communities and the development of renewable energy. Does Mr. McCarthy have any thoughts on the idea of energy democracy, which is a widespread philosophy, as a way to engage local communities? Anybody who was looking at events surrounding the motion on plastics in the Dáil yesterday will realise that communities want to be fully engaged in climate mitigation.

The other question is on the Department's role in dealing with issues around rural maintenance and sustainability. Unfortunately, we recently passed a Heritage Act in the Dáil that allowed for more burning and slashing of the heritage and landscape around the country, which will have a further impact on climate change. Ditches and hedgerows are frequently cut back to the detriment of the sustainability of the environment and to the detriment of the sustainability of systems in the environment, for example that of bees. The Department gave a small grant to some beekeeping enterprises. These are obviously things on which we need to join the dots. If we are concerned about the sustainability of the environment, what role would the Department have in leaning on the parties or the Government to say the Heritage Act is not a good idea because it impacts on the role of the Department in maintaining sustainability in rural affairs?

My last question is on maintaining rural transport. Does Mr. McCarthy believe the winding down of public services such as rural transport and post offices has an impact on not helping to mitigate climate change because it forces people to travel further to reach a post office? It forces them to use private transport because public transport has been removed.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

To clarify the Deputy's first question about whether what I have set out predates the IPCC report, the answer is it does. What I have been describing is a programme of activity in which the Department is engaged across a range of programmes and funding schemes. Collectively, their purpose is to support rural development and to support the development of sustainable communities in terms of the broad description of what that involves. As I said in my opening statement, through those investments we have the opportunity, in working with and facilitating communities in coming forward with ideas, to support initiatives and projects that have a very direct climate action impact and a very direct positive climate effect. It is not necessarily the core purpose of those programmes, however. At a broader level, given our remit in promoting rural development and supporting balanced regional development, there is a strong consistency between the overall effort in which we are engaged and the climate action agenda. If one is supporting the development of strong, sustainable communities at a local, regionally dispersed level and if one is giving those communities the tools they need in terms of employment opportunity and quality environments in which to live, one is supporting a better balanced development overall. That is very consistent with the climate action agenda. We did not take the IPCC report into account in the design of these programmes. With regard to all of the programmes and funds in which we are involved, we keep watch on the overall policy landscape on all of its fronts to ensure what we are investing in and supporting is delivering on Government policy across the broad range of objectives the Government has for rural Ireland. Climate change is an important part of that, as I have described.

As the Acting Chairman has clarified with regard to the fuel allowance and the Deputy's question about home insulation services, while I have cited a couple of projects that have supported retrofitting of homes, we got involved in those projects because, as part of wider funding schemes, communities were coming forward with initiatives in that area which allowed us to support particular projects. We do not have overall responsibility for retrofitting homes which, as the Acting Chairman has pointed out, falls under the remit of the SEAI and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

On energy democracy and engaging communities, it is very much at the core of what we are trying to do generally in terms of community empowerment. I described briefly in the opening statement some of the structures and the framework we have in place to try to generate capacity at community level to allow communities to engage more effectively with decision-making processes both at local authority level and with central government. Our role is to try to generate that capacity and develop the structures locally that allow communities to engage with what central government is trying to do and to allow communities to input into decision-making at central government level and at local authority level. Energy communities are part of that. There are some initiatives where we are supporting particular energy communities. The SEAI, as the committee will have heard, has a very good scheme around energy communities and we are certainly looking to see what support we can give to it in terms of how our various programmes and investments can align better with what it is trying to do. We can support communities in generating the ideas that allow them to make a real contribution to what they see as their requirements at a local level.

On the question about protecting biodiversity, the Heritage Act and rural transport, the Deputy is asking me to comment on the policy responsibilities of other Departments. I want to make that point. Protection of biodiversity is first and foremost the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Clearly, what we are doing in the outdoor recreation scheme, for example, in investing in greenways, blueways, walks trails and so on, is really about helping communities to identify their own natural heritage locally as a real asset for the community. In general terms, that is what we are trying to do to support and empower rural communities. It is encouraging and supporting them to make the best use of their natural amenities. We clearly-----

I will rephrase the question. I probably did not make myself understood. Is there any possibility that the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht can talk to each other and join the dots and make sure that whatever happens is in the interest of rural affairs and heritage? It seems to me there is a salami-type approach to dealing with the environment and the impact on the environment, which will not do anyone any good when it comes to dealing with climate change.

The Department has a tiny budget to do a huge amount of work, which does not reflect the crisis we are facing.

I thank Mr. McCarthy for his presentation. I am going to focus on flooding, because it is an issue all have to deal with in our constituencies.

Is that in relation to the work this Department is doing?

I remind the Deputy that the Office of Public Works, OPW, will be coming before the committee in an hour.

Is there anybody from Fianna Fáil who might contribute? I know Senator Daly is down as-----

Senator Daly is in the Seanad at the moment. He sends his apologies.

Would Deputy Chambers like to speak?

Does Deputy Butler want to ask other questions?

No, Deputy Chambers should go ahead.

If I can, with the agreement of the other members. I thank Mr. McCarthy and his officials for coming before the committee.

Obviously a lot of what we are talking about in this committee confirms that our approach to climate action needs to be a whole-of-government approach across Departments. This Department has a very specific remit with regard to community development and assisting those great community groups. How much interaction is there between the Department of Rural and Community Development and the other Departments that provide other supports? Has the Department ensured there is no duplication and that any gaps have been filled?

I gathered from what Mr. McCarthy said in his presentation that there are areas where co-funding can be leveraged from two different Departments. In my local area in Kildare we have the Drehid grant for the Drehid landfill in the greater Carbury area. Sports clubs in those areas can apply for a community grant under that local scheme. They can co-fund their projects with the sports capital programme. In this way, two small grants can go together and get something very sizeable done. As more community energy groups are developed, could the Department of Rural and Community Development co-fund them with other Departments? Is Mr. McCarthy's mind open to that? Is there real awareness in the Department of the other supports in other Departments with crossover potential?

The local authorities have a key role to play here. They have a lot of knowledge about local groups. The town and village renewal scheme is a really positive scheme. Now that communities have become more aware of it I am seeing an even higher standard of applications. Community groups are now planning a year in advance, rather than trying to cobble an application together just before a deadline. They are giving applications more thought. As such, there are applications of much higher quality with stronger and more robust long-term plans and we get better bang for our buck when we spend taxpayers' money on supporting those groups.

As energy groups develop and Tidy Towns groups move into the sustainable energy field, there will be space for us to support those community groups and the Department of Rural and Community Development will be absolutely key to that. This is not just something for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. In Kilcullen, in south Kildare, a sustainable energy community has been established. It is a very progressive community-driven group. We are very lucky to have some experts with knowledge from their professions and jobs volunteering their time. Does the Department have a plan that could assist such existing community groups to look at energy-efficient measures? How can we help to support them? That question concerns groups with a fair bit of knowledge, such as the Newbridge Tidy Towns Association. Newbridge is obviously the biggest town in my constituency, with more than 20,000 people. The Liffey Linear Park has won the green flag award for a sustainability model for a second year. That group is not starting from scratch. Its members have a fair knowledge of this.

Is support available for groups who are not as advanced to get their heads around the types of project that are possible? What role does the Department play in opening the minds of people who are at the very early stages of this?

Does Mr. McCarthy find there is a geographical spread? Are there gaps in the country where less of this activity is happening? Once one energy community has developed within a county, others will pop up nearby because people see it is a good idea. Ultimately, funding will drive a great deal of this. If local active voluntary community groups can see that funding can be accessed through implementing certain measures it will encourage them into that area. Nowhere is that more obvious than where greenways and blueways are concerned. Those projects have a very positive spin-off in attracting tourism, economic activity and people. We have to link environmental sustainability and a positive environmental story into each of these measures.

When Mr. McCarthy came in here he probably thought that his Department was not the lead Department on this. However its role is absolutely key. Everything we have covered in the committee in recent weeks, or will cover in the coming weeks, concerns getting people throughout the country to buy into the idea that we need to do more. We have so many good active community groups that just need a bit of support. Some are at an advanced stage and just need grants and schemes to assist them in their ideas. Others need help in formulating those ideas. On those points, particularly in regard to the rural fund, how can we best harness that along with other Departments? I would be interested to hear Mr. McCarthy's views on that.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

There is quite a lot of ground to cover there. On the question of interaction with other Departments and the need to avoid duplication, identify gaps and so on, we do have a lot of interaction with other Departments. On the climate action front, we are represented on the relevant Cabinet committee and the senior officials group that feeds into it. More generally, our interface with other Departments is core to what we do. Our remit concerns supporting and promoting the development of rural communities and communities generally. We can only do that by interacting with Departments across a wide range of remits, including transport, tourism, heritage and so on. We have a lot of interaction with those Departments. We try to share as much information as we can and get the best possible understanding of other Departments' agendas and their various programmes, projects, initiatives, policies etc. We try to align with them and add value where we can.

I recognise this is an area in which we always can do better. We have to continue to seek to do better. On the climate front, I would not pretend that the things we are supporting do anything more than touch the margins in a lot of these areas. Someone referred to the fact that we have a small budget. In the scheme of things, we are a small player in terms of the scale of our investments and what they can achieve. However, we can have an influence through our interaction with other Departments, particularly by offering other Departments the capacity to engage with communities at a local level. Our role is in supporting community organisations and the structures that allow them to engage effectively with Government, and in helping them to build the capacity to do so. We see that as a really important part of our responsibility.

Deputy Heydon touched on an important point in his question about those areas where community and civic engagement are less well developed. That is a real challenge for us. The degree of social capital in a community is an element here. The better the community is able to access information on what is available, the better it is equipped to exploit the benefits of various Government investments. We have a duty to support the communities that are less well developed on that front. The structure of local community development committees and public participation networks is very much a developing structure. Supporting local authorities in building that structure is a part of our responsibility. We are putting resources into directly supporting them in doing that. I refer to the capacity-building issues around training, sharing best practice, networking and supporting networks of communities in order that they can learn from one another.

There are some specific things concerning the LEADER programme about which my colleague might wish to speak, such as sharing best practice between LEADER groups around the country so that people can see what other communities have done and see the potential. Community groups can talk to each other about how they have accomplished things and learn from that. We see our potential contribution as creating the facility for all of that to happen.

Deputy Heydon specifically mentioned the energy communities. The SEAI, is doing brilliant work to support the energy groups that are in place.

It has a really good programme of development with those communities. We are meeting the SEAI next week to talk about that programme and how we can weigh in behind it through our interaction with local authorities and local community organisations on various fronts.

Deputy Heydon's comments on the town and village programme are very welcome. That programme has had a huge impact. Since 2016 there has been very significant investment and 675 projects around the country have been supported. Through a sequence of calls we have an established lead-in for local authorities and communities to identify the potential of that programme. We are seeing an increasingly high quality of proposals coming through from communities, which are feeding into approvals under that scheme.

The rural regeneration and development fund involves investment of a significant scale. I spoke about our budget being minor in the overall scheme but the new fund created by Government under the national development plan amounts to €1 billion over the next ten years. That gives us the opportunity to have an impact on rural regeneration in all its forms and to help communities deliver on the various national strategic outcomes in the national planning framework including on the climate action front. One of the challenges is to ensure that fund does leverage the possibility to build on the investments and commitments of other Departments. We have a good mechanism for interacting with other Departments in their investment plans to ensure that fund is adding value and is helping communities make the best of the possibilities from Government.

As I understand it, the role of the Department of Rural and Community Development is not to actually do anything but to liaise between communities and the rest of Government, pointing out to communities where they can do stuff and tie the Government in with that. Would that be right?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

That is not entirely right. That is an important part of our role but we also have very significant programmes of investment in our own right, such as through the town and village scheme, the LEADER programme, all the various programmes and investments and the social inclusion and community activation plan, SICAP. We are investing directly in communities. A very important part of our role is to also provide a facility for communities to strengthen their capacity to engage with all the possibilities in respect of Government and local authority interaction.

When a community applies to and gets funding from LEADER, how does the Department roll that out around the rest of the country? Does it have any role in that?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

Does the Deputy mean in terms of replicating projects?

Yes, if a community does something that works how does that get out around the rest of the country through the Department?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

That is part of the challenge, to share best practice and to replicate it. We organise workshops for LEADER companies. My colleague who has responsibility for the LEADER programme might want to say a little bit more about that. Much of what we do is investing in ideas. Communities are encouraged to come forward with their own ideas, whether under LEADER, the town and village programme, or any of the other investment opportunities. A challenge for us is to better capture the impact of what is working and what is working well, and to share that more widely in order that other communities can learn from that experience, draw on it and see the possibilities themselves. There are some specific efforts at trying to facilitate that sharing of good practice and experience.

That is what I want to get at: if something works well in Waterford, how does that get through to Donegal?

Mr. J.P. Mulherin

A significant part of what the Department does is deal with the LEADER programme, which has an investment of €250 million over its duration. It is divided into three themes, one of them being rural environment which covers energy and water conservation. Our job is to support the groups delivering that programme. It is a bottom-up approach with community-led local development. The Deputy is right to say that as part of that work we need to identify the good projects and try to ensure that best practice is shared around the country. Part of our role is in hosting workshops where the different groups can come together and share their ideas. We had a workshop on the rural environment earlier this year where a range of different ideas was shared and different best practice examples were demonstrated. One example is a group in Wexford that has developed an advisory guide. It is a very handy easy-to-use guide for community groups and small businesses that are delivering investments under LEADER. It covers areas such as insulation, power generation and lighting in a very simple manner that others can use in designing applications and projects under LEADER. It ensures that the sort of investment happening under LEADER is proofed for climate change and environmental measures.

Beyond that there is a network that shares different best practice ideas. There is a very specific interactive map dealing with environmental projects on our website. It shows where case studies of good practice in climate change projects are delivering. That is a good avenue for the local action groups delivering the programme and for the community groups to see how projects can be delivered in other areas and how that might apply to their areas. There is quite a lot of work in trying to share all that knowledge and experience.

What role does the Department play in making that happen, apart from putting up that information and hoping that people will pick up on it?

Mr. J.P. Mulherin

Our role is to try to bring all these groups together to ensure that information does flow between them and to identify areas where funding should be best delivered. In designing the LEADER programme, significant effort was put into identifying the key areas where funding should be delivered. Workshops were hosted with all the groups to identify the types of area where they might want to concentrate their expenditure. As it is community-led local development, ultimately there has to be a bottom-up approach. We try to put the structures in place to ensure that the groups that are delivering programmes and the ones that are applying for projects under the programmes have access to the best information about what they can deliver under the programme.

What work is the Department doing to develop new sustainable business models for indigenous and new industries, for example, within towns and villages and so on? Is that done under LEADER?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

Does the Deputy mean business generally?

Yes, to make rural towns and villages sustainable and capable of growing.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

The purpose of the town and village renewal programme is very much to invest in the regeneration of towns and villages in order that they are more attractive places to live. That involves investing in micro-enterprise and enterprise opportunities. It might involve public realm developments and so on. There is a range of potential projects that can be supported under a programme like that, including investing in supports for business. When it comes to supports for business, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has the responsibility for supporting business and through the local enterprise offices, LEOs, Enterprise Ireland is providing direct support to enterprise and has a very strong regional development remit as part of that. That is an important objective from its point of view to ensure a rebalancing of job opportunities. We try to support that Department's investment in enterprise opportunity where we can.

If something works in north Donegal, how does the Department roll that out around the country? Does it just put it out there and hope that people will pick up on it?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

My colleague has described the particular initiatives under the LEADER programme to try to showcase best practice. In all the programmes we invest in, we are thinking very deliberatively about how we can better showcase the impact of what we are doing across all these investments. I mention showcasing from a case study point of view and the opportunity and potential there for others. It is an important objective of ours and it is something into which we have to put much more effort. Under the different programmes, LEADER, public participation networks or local community development committees, we are sharing best practice on developing local economic and community plans.

We support a number of networks that allow people to share best practice on what they are doing. We are trying to do more to support those and to showcase at a general level what is happening in rural Ireland so communities can see the potential and possibilities for themselves.

Is the onus always on the communities to see the potential, develop it and put it forward rather than on the Department stating that something works and the communities should go for that?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

We try to do both. We do not try to prescribe to communities what they should be doing but we certainly try to point them towards examples of what they could be doing. It is about trying to share information and make it available to the greatest extent possible so people have the opportunity to see and access ideas that may work for them.

I will open the discussion to the floor now.

Mr. McCarthy spoke earlier about the national planning framework and how important it is. Following on from Deputy Heydon's question, the rural regeneration and development fund of €1 billion is hugely important for all our towns and villages. Will climate action be a priority in the rolling out of that fund?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

The purpose of the rural regeneration and development fund is to allow towns and villages with populations of fewer than 10,000 to identify what they see as the investment opportunities that could allow them to progress and develop. It is to support regeneration in towns and villages of that scale. There are ten national strategic outcomes, as members will know, in the national planning framework. Those include transition to a low carbon economy. For proposals under that fund, the only requirement is that they deliver on the national strategic outcomes of the national planning framework. Project proposers need to be able to identify how what they are proposing is delivering on any of those national strategic outcomes.

I thank the Secretary General for his presentation. When we talk about community, we need to think rural and urban. Sometimes the Department of Rural and Community Development weighs heavily on the rural aspect but when it comes to climate change, it is going to involve everyone in every community in every area of the country. Mr. McCarthy said in his statement that "while the Department does not have a direct role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from energy, agriculture or transport, our key mission enables us to play an important role in supporting the transition to a low carbon future". It is good the Department has identified it has a key role in climate mitigation and adaptation. What are the three actions the Department is taking, given that is an important role and part of the core mission?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

On the rural-urban divide, the Department has responsibility for rural development and for community development. Community in that context is both rural and urban. I want to be clear on that. We support urban communities and structures we have in place regarding community empowerment, citizen engagement, etc., relate equally to rural and urban contexts.

Would that include communities in Dublin such as Tallaght, Skerries and Rush? Are they all communities within the framework?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

Yes. The framework in place for community development applies nationally in rural and urban settings. For example, under what was the RAPID scheme, we invested in urban areas and in urban communities with particular disadvantages, etc. We are investing in the north east inner city project in Dublin, for example. There tends to be a strong focus on the rural dimension, and that is an important part of our mission when it comes to community development, but it applies to both. I want to be very clear on that.

In respect of what we are doing, I have tried to describe the role of the Department in supporting balanced regional development. We see that as an important part of our remit. I refer to investing in communities, in the regeneration of communities and in opportunities for communities through the various schemes and programmes. It is about ensuring that people in rural Ireland, in particular, have the opportunity to live and work locally. Investment in enterprise hubs and digital hubs to support digital connectivity, for example, is part and parcel of our policies and programmes.

That is empowering communities and making them attractive places for people to live and work. Live and work is an important dimension because there is a carbon implication if people have to commute long distances for work opportunities. Supporting micro-enterprise or communities as attractive places to live and work is core in that context. I describe our mission to support the regeneration and development of rural communities as being very much front and centre of the climate action agenda.

I also point to the work we are doing in respect of community development, active citizenship and supporting active citizenship. The public participation networks are geared at trying to engage citizens with decision-making processes locally. I see that as a direct contribution to the climate action agenda. The Government, ultimately, needs to be able to engage directly with citizens and to involve them in local decision-making processes. We need local authorities to identify their own development needs, to come up with their own strategies to address those needs, to identify and involve all the actors at a local level, to engage directly with communities and with community organisations and feed into that. We are impacting directly on the climate action agenda by creating and sustaining the framework that allows that to happen.

That is great. Does the Department have a framework the committee can see? I am talking about a list of criteria specifically designed to corral all the community groups in Ireland and lead them towards climate mitigation and adaptation. Does the Department have something to lead communities? Without a lead in climate change and without leadership and direction, we are at nothing. I would love if the Department had criteria that could be given to us.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

If it is helpful, we can describe the framework structure I tried to describe regarding local community development committees and public participation networks. That might give some flavour of the activities engaged in at a local level for raising awareness. There is potential not yet fully realised in respect of the opportunities to work through these structures to engage on the climate action agenda. The public participation networks have been involved in consultations and leading consultation processes on behalf of the Climate Change Advisory Council, for example.

They stand ready to do more. There is a particular issue with the public participation networks because of the levels of representation from the environmental pillar. The structure of the public participation networks, as established, was that they were to be representative of social inclusion, community and voluntary and environmental pillars. The environmental representation is very low. We have tried to work with the environmental pillar to try to see how we can activate a greater involvement from environmental organisations on those public participation networks. It is important that we make progress on that front.

I will add that any mandate this committee could give to that structure to help deliver on the climate action agenda more generally would be helpful from our point of view. There is a willingness to engage and lead at a local level on this.

If Mr. McCarthy could send that directly to the clerk to the committee, we can circulate it to everybody.

I have one more question.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan may go ahead. The Senator's time is screeching to a halt.

When will the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, be rolled out? If communities avail of supports for solar or wind microgeneration, is there an opportunity for the Department of Rural and Community Development to be involved in the selling onwards of the supply to the grid?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

The RESS has been developed by our colleagues in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment but we have met and will remain in close contact with them on it. I cannot give the Senator a timeline on its development. I just do not know. We are keen to be involved in discussions on that as it develops because we see opportunities for communities in the development of that scheme and we can be helpful in assisting our colleague Department in interacting with communities, through the structures I describe.

Following up on what Senator Grace O'Sullivan said, are there any specific criteria? Mr. McCarthy mentioned some of the developments the Department is supporting that would have an impact on climate change. Is there anything in the application phase that would be climate-change specific? What Mr. McCarthy describes is a coincidental impact rather than a direct one. Is there anything with which the Department is planning to achieve a direct impact in a positive action rather than it being a coincidence of people, for example, not commuting or whatever?

Will Mr. McCarthy outline where the PPNs and the LCDCs fit in with the relationship with the Custom House? The Department of Rural and Community Development is a hybrid Department linked with other ones. On that, could the Department be given greater responsibilities? Instead of having to engage or interact at every level as a Department, would it be worthwhile if the Department was empowered in a great way to do as the departmental title suggests, namely, community development, and perhaps would not have to refer to other Departments in the future? Would that help the Department's remit in this and other areas?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

In response to the second question, when it comes to supporting and empowering community development we do not work through the Custom House. We have a direct relationship with the local authorities. That is our mandate.

Are the PPNs done directly?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

They are.

There is no link.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

There can be an assumption sometimes that every interaction with the local authorities is transacted through the Custom House. It is not.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

The local authorities would have a direct relationship with various Departments on different aspects of their function. In relation to this particular function, their direct relationship is with us. From that point of view, there is not an issue.

In terms of our mandate more generally and our mandate to work through Government, we have an important co-ordinating role in rural development. The nature of rural development is contingent on a lot of actors and interactions across business and enterprise, tourism and transport, heritage, Gaeltacht, etc. Our role is to bring a coherence to all that engagement and we do that as best we can. It necessarily involves interacting across all those and the mechanisms and structures are there for us to do that effectively.

In relation to the accidental impact, I would say it is not accidental. Through all of our programmes of investment, we seek to deliver on Government objectives across a range of fronts. Climate action is one of those. It is clearly a hugely important front. I referred earlier, in the question from Deputy Butler, to the objectives of the rural regeneration and development fund which is to deliver on the ten defined national strategic outcomes. In that sense there is a direct link in the criteria of that fund to the climate action agenda. Similarly, for example, in LEADER, we would require proposers in putting forward applications to identify any climate impact of what they are doing. We continuously keep the criteria and the eligibility requirements of all our schemes under review as we go from call to call and that is something on which we can keep a direct watch. There is more than an accidental outcome here.

Forgive me for being late. Wednesday is a day when one has to attend other committees as well. I welcome the submission, which I have read. I merely want to ask some key questions. On the theme of building capacity in relation to the LCDCs and the PPNs, communities are coming together and generating ideas about what they want to do and there is an articulation of those ideas or projects through the local authorities. I want to glean a better understanding from the Department of how it is facilitating or helping to build capacity so that we can see a greater throughput of these localised projects with a climate change theme. One specific project with which I am familiar is the IRD Duhallow project on warmer homes. I am not sure whether Mr. McCarthy is familiar with that project. It is an extremely good project whereby those who are dependent on the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payment can be facilitated with a grant and the project will come out and retrofit houses for attic insulation. That is one bespoke and valuable project for the community I represent. I wonder how the Department can translate that across a wider geographical spectrum and how one builds capacity on that kind of project and other types of projects. The LCDCs and the PPNs have considerable potential to build capacity and deliver projects for everybody, and have a real impact. I want to get an understanding from the Department of that dynamic. That is my first question.

Deputy Pringle asked that earlier. I might ask Mr. McCarthy to respond briefly. Deputy Sherlock may go ahead and ask a further question.

On the community-owned energy projects, I want to get an understanding of whether the Department has clear targets for community-owned energy projects and how it plans to facilitate more of those types of projects. Such projects have the potential to be real game-changers locally. If, arising from our deliberations here in committee we compile a report, it would be helpful if we could speak to that potential. That is the second question.

In regard to planning policy, to follow up on Senator Grace O'Sullivan's point, I want to get a understanding of whether there is a need to ensure that houses in rural areas are built near settlements so as to reduce the dependency on cars. Mr. McCarthy may say that is a Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government competence but I wish merely to have the Department of Rural and Community Development's perspective on that as well.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

I will take Deputy Sherlock's last question on the planning requirements first. The national planning framework sets out the collective Government objective in respect of that which will inform planning requirements, which, as the Deputy rightly points out, is a matter for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. In regard to the attractiveness of residential occupancy in towns and villages, it might be worth mentioning that the Minister for Rural and Community Development last week announced a pilot scheme for town and village residential occupancy in six pilot areas. The intention of that is to support those six communities in the first instance to try to identify solutions and actions that will make their town or village a more attractive place in which to live because we know what the patterns of settlement have been in rural areas.

Towns and villages are emptying out as people live in the wider hinterland. We want to find a way of turning the tide in respect of the attractiveness of living in those settlements. We hope the pilot in those six areas will identify a range of possible innovations or solutions that are locally generated in the first instance but that potentially require action at central level to support them. We are keen to see something emerge from that that can be useful in terms of our policy effort to support town and village residential occupancy.

Regarding the targets for community-owned energy projects, the SEAI has its Better Energy Communities scheme. Deputy Sherlock is probably familiar with it so forgive me if I am going over familiar ground. It is at over 200 and has a target to grow it to 500. We are looking to get into a discussion with it to see how we can support it in achieving that target because we can be helpful to it. Similarly, in respect of the renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, which provides the opportunity for community ownership of renewable projects, we are keen to engage with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment regarding its plans in order that we can support it in meeting realistic targets around that.

As for Deputy Pringle's question, which Deputy Sherlock has asked in a slightly different way, I will ask my colleague to respond because I attempted an answer earlier and he might give a better answer on the capacity building at community level. Under the LEADER programme, we have project officers in each county who do some of what was described in activating involvement in communities and talking to them about what they have seen work elsewhere. That is a good vehicle for sharing good practice and experience.

Mr. David Dalton

With particular reference to the local community development committees, LCDCs, and building their capacity, one of the biggest challenges for us is building their strategic capacity. They are still very much in the early stages of their evolution. They have only been in place since 2014 but they have developed quite strongly in the past few years, particularly in terms of their operational capacity, but strategic capacity is still a bit of a challenge. The Department is doing a number of things to support that capacity. We have a number of networks in place at a regional level that mirror the regional assembly districts. We support those networks and use them to share best practice. Deputy Pringle mentioned that earlier. That is another avenue by which we support the dissemination of good practice and good ideas both in general in terms of their operation at local level and in terms of specific programmes. We also are developing a capacity development programme for LCDCs in partnership with local authorities and we hope to roll that out in its full iteration from next year. The Department also supports a programme of specific supports around its programmes such as SICAP and LEADER. Mr. Mulherin might be able to speak to that one more specifically. We also provide guidance to LCDCs on their general activities and the local economic and community planning function they have, which is one of their primary functions if not the primary function. That is a mechanism through which they are charged with co-ordinating planning and bringing a more joined-up approach to local and community development and bringing communities on board to develop those co-ordinated and integrated actions at a local level.

Are climate action and mitigation mapped across that?

Mr. David Dalton

Not at present but we seek, in conjunction with local authorities, to rework their local economic and community plans with them. They are six-year plans. Most of them only have been in place from around 2015 and 2016 and so are not due to lapse until 2022 or 2023. For a number of reasons, we are working with local authorities to redo those plans based on the learning we have gleaned over the past few years, given they are nascent structures, and to take on board other priorities that include climate action and Brexit, an issue that was not on our radar at the time. We are working specifically with them. We are working with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment as well to help raise awareness and understanding at a local level. We will build that into our local economic and community planning guidance.

At a higher level, we have the framework policy for local and community development, which also includes actions to help build the capacity of communities to engage and participate in policy and decision-making processes and the structures at local level, be they community groups, LCDCs or local authorities, or even Departments in how they engage with all structures and the development of tool kits and best practice models for inclusion and guidelines.

If these questions have already been answered, I will just read the transcript. What is the Department's interaction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding carbon footprints in the future regarding 2020 out to 2030? I attended a Teagasc briefing this morning regarding nitrous oxides, particularly methane, and the different soil types. The carbon footprint can decrease in respect of wetter or drier soil types but there are no hard data around that. Has there been interaction between the Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on planning for that?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

I referred earlier to the arrangements across Government through the Cabinet committee ultimately in respect of the climate action agenda. As we are represented on the Cabinet committee and the senior officials group that feeds into that, that does provide for our interaction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the lead sectoral Departments in respect of the agenda.

But there is no specific-----

The Cabinet sub-committee on climate change-----

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

Not on that. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment has a lot of direct engagement with agriculture in respect of the national mitigation plan.

I thank Mr. McCarthy and his colleagues for their attendance today. Quite a number of the questions I wanted to ask have been answered so I will be brief. To me, this is about balanced regional development and our environment, which is why I welcome the interaction here today. Balanced regional development might not be about getting big factories into our areas. It might be about many of these smaller projects - green projects in which communities become involved.

Referring back to the questions asked by Deputies Pringle and Sherlock, there is a plethora of community groups with really good plans for walkways, be they through bogs or hilly grounds. Must all of those projects go through the local authority or can those community groups, which are public participation networks that are fully operational, come directly to the Department? Can they develop their projects through the Department or must it all go through the local authority system? Some groups might fall through the system and much good proposed work that is in the pipeline could be lost. I am talking specifically about my part of the country.

I am party spokesperson on the Office of Public Works and flood relief. I was not here for all of the opening statement. I notice that it stated the action plan is also clear about the importance of climate adaptation measures such as the flood relief programme to be delivered by the OPW. I will speak to the OPW in a few moments. Are the witnesses satisfied that this is moving quickly enough and in an adequate manner? As the witnesses rightly noted, it is a huge issue in many parts of the country. I have seen the devastation myself.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

In respect of the opportunities for community organisations to access funding outside the local authority structure, local action groups can engage with the LEADER company - generally the LCDC. It is slightly parallel to the local authority structure. There are opportunities. Much of the funding and many of the funding programmes we run will provide the opportunity for direct access for community organisations. The rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF, does not require local authority lead sponsorship but it does require the lead applicant to be a public body.

There are many governance and accountability reasons for that but there are opportunities for community organisations and local development companies to become involved.

On the flood relief programme, the reference in my opening statement is to actions set out in the Action Plan for Rural Development. We are satisfied that the OPW, is delivering on the specific actions set out in the Action Plan for Rural Development on that front. I am sure the Deputy will get the opportunity to test its representatives further on that this afternoon.

I apologise as I had to briefly leave the meeting to speak in the Dáil Chamber. I wish to made one broad reflection and to ask three questions.

I ask the Deputy to be brief as we have another session.

There is no time for reflections.

In other words, the Deputy should ask questions.

Okay. What is Mr. McCarthy's vision of the future of Irish forestry? Where and what type of forestry will it be?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

Just to be clear, forestry does not come within our Department's remit. I can offer the Deputy my vision of forestry-----

What is Mr. McCarthy's vision then?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

-----but the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has policy responsibility for forestry.

Surely the Department of Rural and Community Development has a vision for the future of forestry.

We need to be realistic about the responsibilities of each Department. We will have the appropriate Department in terms of forestry coming before the committee next week. There is no point in addressing questions that are not relevant.

The Deputy is asking for a personal view and I do not believe it is appropriate.

It is a sector of-----

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

I can either offer a personal view or suggest that we have a parallel policy but we do not have a parallel policy.

What is the vision for the future of Irish forestry for rural Ireland?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

The policy responsibility for that rests with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

I asked that question because the people of Leitrim rightly think they are being sacrificed in terms of rural communities and a forestry policy that has a disregard for rural community development. It is important the Department would have some view on that in order that we start getting it right and forestry is an important part of that. To not have a view on what is probably one of the biggest rural issues of the day is shocking.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

If I may offer a view on that, the Government decides on policy. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is responsible for bringing forward policy proposals to Government. We get the opportunity to input into the development of policies and to comment to Government on the development of policies across Departments that impact on rural Ireland but we do not offer or develop an alternative vision.

If Mr. McCarthy was commenting on forestry policy what would his comment be?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

I do not have a comment to make.

What we need to clarify is which Department has responsibility for planning. Is it Mr. McCarthy's Department?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

In respect of forestry?

Of any planning, as this is an issue around planning.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

Planning is a matter for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Therefore, it is not Mr. McCarthy's Department.

I have another direct question. What are the big greenway projects that are being built and what is Mr. McCarthy's plan on the development of greenways? What strategic vision has his Department in that regard?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

The Minister, Deputy Ross, brought a greenway strategy to Government recently. It is a published strategy and it is available to the committee. We fed into that.

Are there any big greenway projects for which Mr. McCarthy is rooting?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

We were involved in the development of the Waterford greenway and the greenway in Mayo, the name of which escapes me. There is a number of greenway developments. Our main role regarding greenways will be to exploit the potential of the main greenway developments being funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and to offer opportunities to communities to link into those greenways through essentially tributary or smaller greenway developments that support that. However, the main greenway developments, as set out in that strategy, are being led by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

When I read Mr. McCarthy's documents, all I see is the approach of there being one for everybody in the audience with there being hundreds of projects and grants here, there and everywhere but nothing strategic or substantial. An amount of €1.5 million has already been allocated under the rural environment theme and with 58 projects, there is an average of €25,000 each. It is all small scale and dotted all over the place with no strategic intent. An example of that would be town renewal, which is set out in the national planning framework as a key central objective. There are six towns where something is being done. Where is the scale and the strategic vision in that?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

To clarify on the town and village renewal programme, I was referring to a specific pilot which involves six towns. The town and village renewal programme has supported well over 600 towns since 2016.

In the new pilot scheme there are six towns.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy


What is happening in those towns?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

Those towns have been identified as ones with particular development requirements and we are going to work intensively with the local authority and those communities to support them in coming up with a feasibility plan, an action plan on what the requirements are for those towns to make them more attractive places in which to live.

What are those six towns and roughly, how much money does Mr. McCarthy envisage will go into each of them?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

I believe the initial funding is €100,000 to support the development of that action plan but, ultimately, what we would see emerging from this is a plan of action for those towns which will require much more significant investment in order to support them. At a strategic level, a €1 billion fund for rural regeneration is provided for under the national development plan and that gives us a real opportunity to make serious investments in towns such as those or elsewhere that come forward with strong plans for regeneration. That is where we would see some of those opportunities.

What are the six towns?

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

I will get those for the Deputy.

Can I clarify regarding the Citizens' Assembly in terms of climate action, to which recommendation is the Deputy referring?

The central part of our whole climate reaction is to bring life back to the core of our towns and thereby to stop the long-distance sprawl that has become a feature of our country. It is one of the most important. I would love to know what Mr. McCarthy is doing about this. I hear that funding of €100,000 is being provided which, to be honest, would not do what is required in a street, let alone a town in terms of any transition. There is no scale there and I would love to know which towns-----

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

There is serious scale in a €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund and that will provide us with serious opportunities. I have the names of the six town involved in the pilot. They are Boyle, County Roscommon; Callan, County Kilkenny; Ballinrobe, County Mayo; Banagher, County Offaly; Castleblayney, County Monaghan and Cappoquin, County Waterford. The €100,000 funding is to provide technical assistance to those towns to do survey works, to engage with the community, to develop plans and then to come back to us with seriously worked out plans on how we can transform the landscape in those towns to make them more attractive places for residential occupancy. It is a highly ambitious undertaking. We are undertaking that process in those six towns because we want to find new approaches. We do not want to do more of the same. That is where the opportunities lies in these towns. The €100,000 allocation is simply seed funding. There is the opportunity with a new rural regeneration and development fund to scale up on a serious level.

I know many of those towns. Boyle, Banagher, Callan and, indeed, all of them are beautiful towns. There are interesting projects happening in them. There is an interesting housing project taking place in Callan which would be superbly worth supporting. Mr. McCarthy's approach is right in that it is about engaging with the community and so on. It is stated in the national planning framework that this is our key objective, and it was right to bring life back to the core of particularly those 18th and 19th century market towns, but then we just dispersed money to everything. Mr. McCarthy said there is a €1 billion fund, which there is, but we should have focused it on building up those villages and towns as the centre of the revival of rural Ireland, but we did not. We dispersed the money in the end and when I read Mr. McCarthy's documents, I note little amounts of money are going everywhere. Rather than six towns, the Department should be undertaking this process in 60 or 600.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

The €1 billion fund has not been dispersed.

It has been promised everywhere.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy

It has not. There first call for proposals has gone out but not a cent of that €1 billion fund has been approved for allocation anywhere yet, so it is wrong to say it has been dispersed widely. We see that as providing the opportunity for strategic investment to deliver on the national strategic outcomes that are set out in the national planning framework. It is intended to support developments of scale. We are talking about proposals of €500,000 and above. That is the bar we are talking about. This is open to communities in towns and villages and their hinterlands with a population of fewer than 10,000 people, which is to align it with the alternative purpose of the urban fund, which also sits within that fund. The intent here is to support high-impact developments of scale that can have a real impact on the towns and villages to which the Deputy is referring. He is right to say that much of our investments so far are small scale. That is the nature of many of our programmes but they seek to get into the teeth of communities, as it were, to make things happen and they support small projects.

They might be small projects and it might be small money, but they and it are having an impact up and down the country in small communities in the opportunities provided under the various funding schemes.

I thank Mr. McCarthy and his officials for their attendance.

Sitting suspended at 3.30 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.

From the Office of Public Works I welcome Mr. Maurice Buckley, Chairman; Mr. John Sydenham, commissioner; Mr. Ciarán O'Connor, principal architect; Mr. Jim O'Sullivan, chief engineer; and Mr. Mark Adamson, assistant chief engineer.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Buckley to make his opening statement.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to attend to brief the joint committee on the activities of the OPW with respect to climate action. There are two areas of its work that are particularly relevant, namely, estate portfolio management in mitigating the effects of climate change by increasing the energy efficiency of the public building stock and our flood risk management function which involves adaptation measures undertaken as a result of climate change.

The projections indicate that climate change will have a considerable impact on flood risk in Ireland. A rise in mean sea levels, together with increased storm frequency, is being observed and the upward trend is projected to continue in the future, increasing the risk to coastal communities' infrastructure and assets. It is projected that the number of days per year with heavy rainfall will increase, with potentially wetter winters, which could lead to an increase in flooding from rivers and flash floods in urban areas when intense rainfall events overwhelm the storm water drainage networks. The projected wetter winters, particularly in the west, could give rise to increased groundwater flooding associated with turloughs. These potential impacts of climate change are likely to have serious consequences for Ireland where cities and most main towns are located, either on the coast or alongside rivers.

Within the remit of the 2012 national climate change adaptation framework the OPW prepared a flood risk management climate change sectoral adaptation plan in 2015. The plan summarised the relevant signs of climate change and the then state of knowledge of its impact on flooding and flood risk in Ireland and outlined flood risk management adaptation practice in Ireland at the time. In May this year the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and flood relief, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, launched the flood risk management plans. They are the final output from the national catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme. It was the largest study of flood risk ever undertaken by the State and assessed the risk in 300 communities that were home to approximately 3 million citizens or two thirds of the population and 80% of the properties potentially at risk from the primary sources of flooding, namely, rivers and the sea. While these 300 communities included all of the cities and almost all major towns, approximately half of the 300 areas studied were small, often rural communities with a population of less than 2,000 people.

Key findings of the CFRAM programme were that while some 34,500 properties within the 300 communities had been identified as being at risk from a significant flood event, there was an economic basis to invest in flood relief schemes to protect 95% of these properties to the 100-year standard for fluvial, or river, schemes and the 200-year standard for coastal schemes. To do this, we need to design and construct another 118 flood relief schemes, in addition to the 42 completed and the 33 under way. An investment of up to €1 billion is required to accomplish this and that funding has been committed by the Government under the national development plan to 2027. The OPW is doubling its annual investment in flood risk management to €100 million in 2021.

The CFRAM programme and the preparation of flood maps included the assessment of risk for two potential future scenarios taking into account the potential impacts of climate change. The future scenarios include a rise in mean sea levels of 0.5 m and 1 m and an increase in peak flood flows in rivers of 20% and 30% for the two scenarios, respectively. The flood maps for the 300 communities assessed under the CFRAM programme, including the future scenario flood maps, were published in May this year on our publicly accessible web portal,, and are being made available to the local authorities and other stakeholders to inform the preparation of their local and sectoral adaptation plans. They can also assist in future planning decisions and emergency response planning. The CFRAM maps compliment the strategic flood maps which cover the entire coastline of the country and which were prepared as part of the Irish coastal protection strategy study. The maps which also include maps for the two potential future scenarios are under review to take into account the most recent available observed data and also the coastal wave environment. Together with the local authorities, since May the OPW has been moving to the detailed development and implementation of the 118 measures. It includes further detailed assessment of adaptability to future climate change. Hence, each scheme will be subject to an assessment within its particular context and, as appropriate, provisions will be made in the design and construction of the schemes to cater for potential future changes. While substantial work has been done in assessing the potential impacts of climate change on flooding and flood risk, the OPW will continue to engage across sectors of government and with the climate science research community to help to inform and monitor the evolving state of knowledge of climate change.

I turn to estate portfolio management. The OPW's property role is largely focused on providing property solutions for central government Departments and other State organisations. In 2009, as part of the European Union's 2020 climate and energy objectives, Ireland set a national target of 20% for improvements in energy efficiency. While the overall national target was set at 20%, Ireland set a more ambitious target of 33% for improvements in energy efficiency within the public sector. The purpose in setting a more challenging public sector target was to demonstrate leadership on the issue of energy efficiency for the economy and society. The public sector energy efficiency strategy published by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in 2017 set out the very significant achievements of the public sector to date in improving its energy efficiency, with savings of 21% reported in 2016. However, the report also identified a need for step change in activity to reach the Government's target of 33% by 2020. The built environment contributes significantly to total energy use, at in the region of 40% of overall consumption. The savings reported for the public sector to date represent a considerable achievement. A significant proportion of the savings have been realised through behavioural change, the elimination of energy waste and low-cost capital projects. There is, however, a finite limit to how much can be achieved by these measures and once it is reached, capital investment will be necessary to make further savings, particularly in areas such as larger scale projects, including near-zero energy, new builds and the deep retrofit of existing buildings.

The OPW devised and implemented a staff energy awareness programme, "Optimising Power@Work" which is a play on the acronym "OPW", in our portfolio of buildings. The level of engagement by staff has been exceptional and considerable savings have resulted, with a relatively low level of investment. The majority of existing inherited buildings in the OPW's portfolio provide accommodation for the central government Departments, agencies and the Garda, but there are also specialist facilities such as data centres, laboratories and museums. A good indication of the overall energy efficiency of the existing buildings can be found in analysing their operational BERs and display energy certificates. The vast majority, or 79%, have a "C" or "D" rating, as members will see in the slides provided. At the upper end of the scale, only 10%, unfortunately, have a "B" rating or better, while at the lower end, 11% have an "E" rating or worse. The majority of the very poor performing buildings have exceptional electrical loads, for example, large data centres or historic properties.

The OPW has developed a three-step process to increase energy efficiency in our building portfolio. Step 1 involves behavioural change, the elimination of waste and the optimisation of existing controls. The OPW has achieved average energy savings of approximately 18% through the Optimising Power@Work scheme. Launched in 2008, the campaign operates in 280 large central government buildings, covering approximately 80% of energy usage across the entire OPW property portfolio. The main focus of the programme is on encouraging behavioural change among building occupants, optimising existing control systems and eliminating energy wastage. There are three fundamental elements of the campaign, the first of which is technology. One needs the availability of real-time energy reports from energy monitoring equipment installed in each participating building. The second element is specialist resources. This means having energy specialists working with energy teams in each building. The third and most important element is staff engagement. This means the active involvement of staff in the energy teams operating in each building. In 2014 the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment provided €9 million in funding to expand the programme into the wider public sector. While the OPW is leading the campaign, the service requirement is largely outsourced to specialist private sector companies. The public sector campaign is now operating in 16 large acute care hospitals, two universities, five institutes of technology, five local authorities, nine prisons, five specialist facilities and three HSE estates administration buildings.

The second step involves upgrading mechanical and electrical systems. There are significant energy savings to be achieved by upgrading existing mechanical and electrical systems, particularly in older buildings. Most buildings will benefit from upgrading existing lighting systems, boilers and controls and these interventions can be carried out with minimum disruption to the normal operations of the occupants. Typical savings of 8% to 10% can be expected, with payback periods of eight to 12 years. In 2017 the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment provided €3.5 million in funding for an energy efficiency retrofit pilot programme in central government buildings. The programme was a joint venture between the Department, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the OPW. Last year 11 large buildings were upgraded, mainly through lighting and control projects. Funding has been increased this year to €9.5 million. As a result, energy retrofit works are under way in 33 large buildings. This year's retrofit programme includes boiler, control system and some fabric upgrades which will lead to significant electrical and thermal fuel savings. The OPW will closely monitor the levels of savings achieved through the existing monitoring and reporting system.

In addition, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has provided €1 million in funding through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland for a pilot energy works programme in a selection of smaller buildings.

As part of this initiative, fabric, lighting and boiler upgrades are being carried out in 28 smaller central government buildings. Substantial energy savings are being achieved in the buildings that were retrofitted in 2017 where we have the data. Typically, electrical usage on lighting has been reduced by 60% to 70%, with overall electrical loads in those buildings reduced by 20% to 40%. In order to meet the Government's public sector energy targets, substantial investment to expand the energy retrofit programme into all large buildings within the OPW portfolio during 2019 and 2020 will be needed.

The third step is deep retrofit. Deep retrofit is a combination of major fabric upgrades and mechanical and electrical, M and E, systems upgrades. Such works yield very significant reductions in energy usage. In effect, deep retrofit involves stripping the building right back to its bare structure and installing very high-performing insulation and glazing systems, improving air tightness and installing high-efficiency mechanical and electrical systems. It is not practical to carry out these works while buildings are occupied. This type of intervention is only considered where it is opportune, that is, when the building is being vacated for some reason. The OPW has a number of buildings in the project pipeline that will be suitable for deep retrofit, such as Tom Johnson House, in Beggar's Bush, Ballsbridge, and 22 Clare Street, both office refurbishments that are planned.

A key part of the State's portfolio managed by the OPW relates to heritage sites, buildings, parks and gardens. The conservation and restoration works within these sites are undertaken with an emphasis both on conservation standards and energy conservation. The ability to upgrade the energy efficiency of a historic structure while maintaining the appropriate conservation standards can be seen in recently completed projects such as the refurbishment works to the south block of Government Buildings, Merrion Street.

The energy performance of buildings directive requires EU member states to ensure that after 31 December of this year, all new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities are nearly zero-energy buildings, NZEBs. The directive provides that the public sector must lead by example in this regard. Part L, concerning buildings other than dwellings, of the revised Irish building regulations was published in 2017. However, in order to satisfy the requirement after 31 December 2018 that all new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities be NZEBs, an interim public sector performance specification was published on 1 January 2017. This involved the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the OPW and the SEAI working together to formulate the specification. The OPW is currently designing all new buildings to NZEB standard. Our design teams are carrying out considerable work to ensure compliance with the new requirements, especially in respect of on-site renewable technologies such as photovoltaics, heat pumps, solar thermal etc. The OPW has maintained a long-standing tradition of building design based on sustainability and energy efficiency, from the publication of the Green Design: Sustainable Building for Ireland standard in 1996 to the recent completion of a number of building programmes. These programmes include seven courthouse projects across the country, three large-scale Garda divisional or regional headquarter buildings and the OPW schools programme, all of which achieved a BER rating of A3. Moving forward, under the National Development Plan 2018-2027, the OPW is charged with the delivery of a number of large-scale building projects, the design and construction of which will require compliance with the NZEB standard. In particular, the forensic science laboratories at the Backweston campus, County Kildare; the Garda security and crime operations centre on Military Road, Dublin 8; and the Leeson Lane office development will all be NZEBs.

In summary, the OPW has completed under the national CFRAM programme a detailed assessment of current and potential future flood risk. We are implementing a €1 billion programme of investment in flood risk schemes to protect people and property, taking into account the increases in flood risk that climate change can bring. The OPW is playing a leading role in Ireland's compliance with public sector targets by ensuring that buildings within the property portfolio managed by the OPW are designed to comply with energy efficiency standards. Substantial work has been done to date on energy efficiency in central government buildings, significant savings have been achieved and the OPW will continue to work with our clients to help them maximise their energy efficiency. To continue to make these improvements, a significant capital investment to retrofit the remainder of the OPW's building stock will be required over the coming years.

Go raibh maith agaibh. That was very interesting. The OPW is undertaking a serious piece of work. I would like to ask the witnesses add-on questions and to look a little into the study the OPW has done on CFRAM. The first question I will ask them is the same one I asked the representatives of the previous group before us, namely, the Department of Rural and Community Development. I assume all of this was designed, looked at, planned and worked out prior to the IPCC report on climate change.

Mr. Maurice Buckley


What impact do the witnesses think that report will have on this programme? Does it ratchet up the seriousness and urgency of the investment proposed and the development of what the OPW is trying to do here, which is really interesting and worthwhile? I imagine that the report rang alarm bells that the OPW needed more investment and needed to do more, and sooner. I would like the witnesses to talk about this point.

In line with that, Mr. Buckley talks about a €1 billion investment required to design and construct 118 flood relief schemes. Does he think this investment is nearly enough? Does he think, knowing what we know now, it may need to be ratcheted up? He gave us the scenario of a possible rise in sea levels of 50 cm to 1 m, resulting in peak flood flows in the rivers of 20% or 30%. On what is Mr. Buckley basing this? Where is the figure coming from? He did not just pluck it out of the sky. Again, in line with the climate change projections, could this be more serious and could it change? If so, would the OPW then need more investment in what it is trying to do with the flood measures etc.?

My last question is kind of in line with that. If we spend all this money - say, €1 billion, or perhaps €2 billion - can Mr. Buckley project from that what we might actually save, first from the destruction, the loss of both life and property, damage to animals and cities and towns and everything else that could happen and, second, in terms of the penalties and fines that could come hurtling down on top of us from Europe if we fail to reach the Paris targets? Is Mr. Buckley concerned that setting a target of a 33% improvement in energy efficiency in the public sector is not good enough, again in light of the IPCC report?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

I thank the Deputy for her questions. I will bring in my colleague in a moment on the recent IPCC report on climate change. The €1 billion investment is a good sum of money. Obviously, we would always welcome more but it does allow us to put in place a very wide-ranging programme covering a very large portion of the schemes that can be economically justified at this point in time. The climate change impact will arrive progressively over the coming years - no one can say how soon - and as that happens, new investment will undoubtedly be required to extend the existing schemes and put schemes in place where they are not currently required or economically justified. The two scenarios I spoke about - the 50 cm sea level rise with the 20% increase in river flow, and the 1 m sea level rise with the 30% increase in river flow - have been selected on the basis of the climate change science and the best analysis with the experts in Ireland and internationally on the best assumptions and scenarios to take in this context.

I might ask Mr. Mark Adamson to comment on how that has been impacted by last week's United Nations report.

Mr. Mark Adamson

We based the mid-range future scenarios, the high-end future scenarios and the allowances for changes in flows and sea level rise on the science available at the time. When the fourth assessment report came out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, in 2014, it supported the allowances we had made.

I refer to the recent report on global warming of 1.5o Celsius, which the Deputy mentioned. The mid-range future scenario falls in the middle of the range of sea level rise projected in that report, with the 1 m sea level rise actually being above the projected range with global warming of 1.5o Celsius and indeed global warming of a 2o Celsius global warming where there might be a rise of an additional 10 cm or 20 cm. I believe the scenarios we have used to assess our vulnerabilities and that we will use going forward to ensure we are designing our flood relief schemes to cater for potential changes in future decades are reasonably robust.

Does the Deputy have other questions?

I did ask the question so-----

Mr. Maurice Buckley

To pick up on some of the other points, in terms of the payback on the further investment of €1 billion, all the schemes I have spoken about - the 118 new schemes as well as the existing schemes - must go through a rigorous cost benefit assessment. Obviously, they have to cut the mustard in terms of protection of human life but also protection of property. The primary criterion is the residential property that can be protected by any of the schemes. There are then secondary benefits in terms of the quality of life in communities, agricultural benefits and so on. Each scheme must meet the strict criteria we put in place, in other words, there will be a payback in excess of the cost we are investing.

Can we measure that per scheme in overall or approximate terms? In other words, it would be a very good argument to make for increased investment if we can show that each investment saves us in the long run, both financially and otherwise.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

Yes. Does Mr. Adamson want to comment?

Mr. Mark Adamson

Each individual scheme is assessed in terms of its cost-benefit analysis. The benefit-cost ratio must be established and needs to be greater than one. The case is made that it is sensible spending of taxpayers' money in that we will get a greater benefit than the cost invested.

In terms of the 118 schemes, is that cost analysis in terms of savings written down somewhere?

Mr. Mark Adamson

We do have it. It is in the flood risk management plans, which are available on the website. It has the plans for each and every scheme.

I thank Mr. Adamson.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

Deputy Bríd Smith's last question was on the 33% target for the public sector. That is an ambitious target. It is very welcome that the public sector is leading the way and that we have a higher target for buildings than the 20% national target for buildings. In the short term, to reach that target by 2020 will be a huge challenge. Whether it can be extended is a question for Government in terms of the amount of money that can be made available and where that is prioritised. The public sector accommodation is a relatively small percentage of the overall energy use in the State. One has to prioritise where the investment is put but we would consider 33% to be a good if challenging target. We are working very hard to lead the way on that and I believe other public bodies are working towards that as well. However, we need to reach that target first before we extend it.

Go raibh maith agat.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation, which I found it very helpful. In summary, the OPW is the lead public body for flood risk management through the catchment and flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme. I found the OPW's community workshops and engagements when its representatives travelled the country about 18 months ago to be very useful. I am from the Suir river area and I am aware that many people found them very useful. I wanted to mention that at the outset.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

I thank the Deputy.

Looking back on recent years, it is fair to say that much of the policy, through no fault of anyone, was probably more reactive than proactive. When an area is devastated by flooding and there is major upset for residents and businesses in terms of insurance costs, the OPW has to act. With the findings from the new CFRAM programme, it will probably be much more proactive from now on to try to mitigate issues. I believe that is the purpose of it.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

Yes. That is a very good point. To date, most if not all of the schemes we have put in place have been triggered by serious flooding events in towns where a number of flooding events have occurred. It will be some time before we fully catch up in that regard but by the end of this programme, we will be anticipating the possibility of flood events in towns that, thankfully, have not had a history of bad flooding.

Of the 300 communities the OPW has identified as being at risk from a significant flood event, are any of those stand-alone, single dwellings? I dealt with an issue in the town in which I live and, thankfully, through the minor works scheme, that has been resolved, although one can never say that for definite. A small grant was secured and the works were done. I have found that when a single dwelling that is located at the mouth of a river or a river basin is affected, the residents involved did not have as much of a voice, especially if they were elderly, compared with an event where an entire village or town flooded. Does Mr. Buckley understand the point I am trying to make? It can be more difficult for such people to be heard. The minor works grant has been successful when employed but unless the people affected contact a politician, they find it difficult on occasion to get the information they need to access the grant through their local authority.

I refer to when flood defence schemes are put in place. For example, Mr. Buckley showed us the picture of Clonmel, where a very successful flood defence scheme has been put in place. However, if he were to speak to people in Carrick-on-Suir, which flooded a few years later, he would know there is a perception that when a problem is solved in one town it is pushed further down to another area. I am sure the witnesses have heard that. They might address that as well.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

I thank the Deputy. First, in terms of the single houses or smaller communities, I guess there is a kind of a hierarchy in terms of how the protection works. Obviously, we are prioritising the schemes that will bring the most benefit to the highest number of people and properties. Also, if a large investment is being put in the cost benefit is easier to achieve if 50 houses will be saved from flooding as a result. The high-level schemes we described in CFRAM are at that national level of major investment. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, the next level down is working with the local authorities on minor works. There is a large number of such schemes and they are more flexible and locally focused but they still have to meet the cost-benefit analysis requirements. I might ask Commissioner Sydenham to explain that. We then come down to the single houses or two or three houses that are built on a flood plain where it is not possible economically to justify large-scale work. We have one or two schemes that can be applied in that respect that Mr. Sydenham might explain.

Mr. John Sydenham

I think that captures it. The individual development will always be a problem. Given our demographics, we have a great deal of what we call ribbon development the length and breadth of the country. It is always a challenge to try to protect that. That said, it is equally as emotive for any individual impacted by flooding, whether they are part of a town or living in an isolated bungalow. The key argument is the economic argument. We cannot devote very scarce resources to do an elaborate scheme to protect houses. We have looked at instances where the cost of a remediation would be multiples of the value of the dwelling we are trying to protect. Even though it sounds very heartless, the economic realities come in.

We have looked at a number of measures that can assist individuals affected in such a way. We have individual property protection whereby, depending on the extent of the flood impacting on the dwelling, they can get devices that will protect them in terms of water ingress. Pumping is another measure that can be taken.

Beyond that we have looked at home relocation, which is an extreme option. There are instances where it is not economically viable, prudent or practical to do something with existing dwellings so Government has approved a scheme to facilitate somebody moving to a new location and constructing a new dwelling. That is extreme for somebody who has lived in the community for a protracted period. In other areas where there are small groupings of houses not warranting a full scheme, there are other schemes where we have developed localised individual property protection. A highly sophisticated warning system is needed to give us ample time to put the measures in place. We have piloted a number of schemes and we found that the cost of the warning system sometimes exceeded the cost of the remediation. Some of them can be extremely expensive. There is also the minor works scheme so there is a range of measures. Perhaps, as the Deputy said, our communication could improve so that people knew what was available to them.

The Deputy also asked about Carrick-on-Suir and said there was a perception that we fix the problem in one area only to push it into another downstream. The central aspect of the CFRAM programme is catchments and the interactions within them. It is important that an intervention in one area does not cause a problem elsewhere. People may think this happens but it does not and the schemes are designed specifically to ensure there is no knock-on impact.

There is a lot of detail in the presentation. CFRAM is designed to be future-proofed and we hoped the IPCC report would not completely throw it out. Are any extra measures required, arising from the IPCC report? What impact will it have? Will any of the existing flood relief schemes need to be augmented? Does the OPW need to review the plans? Might existing flood barriers have to be made higher because of the projections?

It was announced that 118 flood relief schemes have to be completed. What is the timeline for them? Is it ten years? Can the witnesses give us some specifics around their delivery? Have they been prioritised when more than one is being done at any one time? Which will be first and which will be last?

The presentation was very interesting but it was so in-depth that I feel I do not need to ask any questions about buildings. I drive past Kevin Street Garda station every day and it is very impressive. It is great to see the steps being taken on BERs in existing and new buildings.

The OPW must have a lot of car parking space and most of its buildings must have car parks. Public sector buildings will be required to develop electric vehicle, EV, charging infrastructure. How many OPW car parks have charge points? Are there plans to roll out more in 2019 and afterwards? Has the OPW ensured appropriate ducting is in place for the installation of EV charging points? Is it cognisant of the fact that we will have many more electric vehicles on the road in the future?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

On the impact of climate change, we are working with two scenarios, namely, a half-metre sea level rise and a one-metre rise. Each of the 118 schemes looks at what will have to change if and when these two things happen. It varies scheme by scheme. In one scheme it might be necessary to design a physical defence strong enough to withstand an increase of a few hundred millimetres in 50 or 100 years. In Clonakilty, a major scheme involves relief channels around the town, which are designed to cope with the middle scenario, if not the extreme scenario, without further intervention. In other cases we would need to start again and have new interventions if and when the extremes arise.

Nobody knows when something will happen but we talk of a timeline up to 2100, though it could be sooner or later. The programme is dictated by the capacity available in the market and by funding. They are reasonably well aligned and there is €1 billion over the ten years of the national development plan for this purpose. All the 118 schemes have been planned and they will, more or less, absorb all the appropriate civil engineering and design capacity the country has, which will lead to a capacity clinch because many of the same companies will be involved in building.

We project an increase in our annual spend from some €50 million per year to €100 million per year by 2021. We have prioritised the 118 schemes on the basis of the cost benefit to the houses which are protected. There are 50 high-priority schemes and the website will allow somebody to see, in detail, the plans for every county and region in Ireland.

A question was asked about electric vehicles.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

At the moment there are very few electric vehicle charging points in the car parks of public buildings. There is very low demand for them. We have been waiting for the standards for charging points to come into line. One and a half years ago, before I joined the OPW, I was head of the national standards body and I worked closely with European counterparts on standards for charging point connections and so on. All our new buildings will have electric vehicle charging points and our policy on existing buildings is that, where there is demand from the occupants of the buildings, we will facilitate that demand and put charging points in place. Demand is surprisingly low at the moment and one would have expected a higher level. The ducting, facilities and design are in place to make it relatively easy to install them as the need arises.

I accept that standards need to come in but when people see a charging point in their workplace they will begin to think about electric cars. To an extent, we need to lead the way in this area, though this is no criticism of the OPW. People say there is no point in buying an electric car at the moment because there is no place to charge it. One thing leads to another and I suggest the OPW include the infrastructure in future works and in the course of planning, so that the number of charging points can be expanded. I expect that growth will be fairly quick and we may otherwise be playing catch-up.

The new energy efficiency directive, which was signed off in July last year, sets a higher target for Europe of 32.5% by 2030. Does it not set specific requirements for public buildings so that they are more ambitious and get ahead of the game? It is disappointing that we are ten percentage points away from our own energy targets. Does the OPW have a target for 2030?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

We are focused on our near-term target of 33% for general buildings, which is ahead of the target to which the Deputy referred. We certainly want to reach the target for OPW-occupied buildings.

It will take a major effort and investment, which are not foreseen at the moment, to reach the 33% target for the whole OPW portfolio of Garda stations and office buildings. If we do not quite reach it in 2020, we will keep going and reach it in 2021 or 2022. Mr. O'Connor may wish to comment on targets beyond that timeline.

Mr. Ciarán O'Connor

All the newer buildings we are working on will reach that standard, as will the deep retrofit programme that we plan. The issue with the deep retrofit programme is the funding available to manage it.

The OPW does not yet have a target for 2030 but I presume it will have one. What budget within the national development plan envelope does the OPW have for deep retrofitting of public buildings?

Mr. Ciarán O'Connor

The Chairman has already mentioned a number of projects that we are working on, such as Tom Johnson House and on Clare Street. We are programming those as pilots and exemplars and we will then share information on how we achieve that with the rest of the public service and the private sector.

The OPW does not have a budget for deep retrofitting.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

We do not have a specific additional budget for deep retrofitting. Every new building will be a near zero energy building, NZEB and with every refurbishment or maintenance programme as a building comes to the end of its life or as we relocate groups of civil servants from one building to another, we will retrofit the building to NZEB or A2 standard if we can.

Deep retrofit is the direction in which we need to go. The OPW has done all the painful stuff but had not yet done any of the deep physical stuff. Given that we will move to zero emissions from energy use in everything in a decade or two, we must deep retrofit everything. Does the OPW expect its budget for deep retrofitting will come from the €3 billion provided for retrofitting in the national development plan?

Mr. Jim O'Sullivan

Discussions are taking place with the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Communications, Climate Action and Environment about a wider public sector programme. Significant moneys are being discussed as part of that. We are at a fairly early stage in trying to get a picture of what the entirety of the budget will be.

It would be good for the committee to be informed when the OPW has the full picture.

With regard to floods, our adviser from Maynooth made a very good point that when we are doing mitigation measures, we need to have adaptation in mind. To use that analysis in a different way, when we are doing flood protection measures, we should look at nature protection at the same time. There is widespread concern that the flood protection measures the OPW is engaged in are highly disruptive of natural systems. I could cite many examples. The current issue which may be drawing most attention is the Blackwater flood management near Bandon where, on a daily basis, we see trucks driving up and down rivers in the middle of the sensitive spawning season. The whole river has been destroyed. Why is the OPW doing flood management in a way that is destroying rivers? The Blackwater is not an unimportant river.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

All of the works can be invasive. Sometimes they have to be invasive because of the nature of the measures needed to afford protection. All of the works are done with as much environmental planning and sensitivity to environmental concerns as possible. We have worked closely with Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, and the fisheries to work around spawning seasons. We conduct environmental assessments and look after the ecology to the greatest possible extent. We also look at other measures to seek to solve the problem differently. There are schemes such as the Clonakilty scheme, which I mentioned already, where water will be stored in flood plains so that when there is a flooding event, instead of deepening channels and so on, water will be allowed to run into areas where it will not cause damage or impact the environment. It will then run off when that becomes possible. There are limits to how much can be achieved with these natural measures, including forestation and so forth. We look at them and they are part of long-term planning but experience nationally and internationally shows that there are limits and one cannot get away from the need to engage in fairly aggressive physical interventions sometimes. These are unfortunate and disruptive because they interfere with riverways and so on but they are done in as sensitive a way as possible and we manage environmental issues very carefully.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, reports on sea level rises are very conservative. Some serious senior scientific advisers are now saying that even the latest report may underestimate the potential risk of a much higher sea level rise. If they are accurate and one thinks of a longer-term trajectory, it will not stop at 2050 or 2100. What we have already put in the atmosphere almost guarantees a further sea level rise. Why is the OPW opposed to what seems to be a very sensible proposal for a tidal barrage in Cork to address the acute issue of flooding in Cork city centre, rather than destroying the character of Cork with its current plans for raising the city walls and destroying the central, most attractive part of the city centre? Why is the OPW objecting to the proposal and not thinking long-term by supporting calls for and investigating the benefits of a tidal barrage in Cork which would protect the city into the next century?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

We are not opposed to a tidal barrage in Cork in the long term, That will be part of the long-term protection needed in the event of a 0.5 m or 1 m rise in the sea level. At this point, the investment needed is not justified and the current flood risk in Cork is better protected by the package of measures planned, which will be needed in any event, in conjunction with a tidal barrage. We are dealing in Cork with the combination of fluvial and tidal risk, both of which go together. We anticipate that the current measures will give protection in Cork for a considerable period but it is recognised that at some point in the future, as Mr. Sydenham might address, we will reach a point where a tidal barrier or some form of sea protection will also be necessary.

The OPW's planning application in Cork had to be withdrawn because of a recent decision of the courts. Does this not provide an opportunity in the meantime to consider in detail whether it would be better to invest now for the long term in addressing the fluvial and tidal issues and providing a tidal barrage before we proceed with a plan which is highly contentious and will not even do the job? Water will still come up from the ground in Cork in some key sensitive areas.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

We are looking at those issues. Mr. Sydenham might be able to explain them in more detail.

Mr. John Sydenham

The OPW has never ruled out a tidal barrier. We will probably need a tidal barrier in the future but the building of infrastructure of that scale will not be needed for approximately 50 years or even longer. Nobody builds that scale of infrastructure today and waits 50 years before using it, because it is obsolete by the time one gets to use it. A key issue is that it only protects against half the problem. There is still the fluvial aspect, which will need defences within the city. I fully appreciate that people have differing views. We have looked at this and it has been handled sensitively. The interventions are modest. Much of the work to the quay walls is necessary regardless of what one's view is since many of them are crumbling. As the Deputy says, there have been issues with regard to the city council's Part 8 planning application, which it withdrew. It will go back into a Part 10 process which will go through the normal channels, including An Bord Pleanála. People will have another opportunity to voice their concerns.

I wish we had started thinking 50 years ahead and investing appropriately. It is not long-term to act now to prepare for what will happen in 50 years. I regret that the OPW does not think that way.

Mr. John Sydenham

We have looked at this in great detail with the best international employees and our estimate for the cost of a tidal barrier today is €1 billion. With respect, we would not be prepared with regard to cost-efficiency to invest that money in an asset which we would not need for 50 years.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

Deputy Ryan made a point about the impact on the environment and the River Blackwater. A tidal barrier is not without an impact. It has to have a flood area behind it and has a major ecological impact which has to be studied and taken into account.

These are very sensitive issues in Cork - I see Deputy Sherlock is smiling at me - and we are looking at these considerations. We are not ignoring them and we are not being stubborn on this. It is simply that when we look at the combination of the economic pros and cons together with the environmental impact the conclusion not just of the OPW but of national and international experts is the way we are progressing this is the correct one for the city.

Cork is worth it.

I love when the Dubs tell us what is worth it and what is not.

I am pure Cork, boy, pure Cork.

As somebody who engaged with the CFRAM programme through its various stages up to the point where we are now, I compliment the OPW and the consultants it has engaged. I was very impressed by the breadth of science and technology brought to bear and the plans produced. My home town of Ballina was flooded and homes were destroyed. I was very impressed by the programme's futuristic approach and its future proofing. None of us knows the future but certain parameters have been put forward, with planning for 20, 50 and 100 years. The best effort has been made to try to come up with plans that are reasonable and affordable.

In May, the Minister announced the at-risk areas where flood defences would proceed. There were 118 areas, of which 50 were prioritised. I would like to think at this stage that we could get a report on how they are progressing because with every winter a fear hangs over communities that have been devastated by flooding. This needs to be pushed on as quickly as possible with all the power and resources available to the OPW. It is an area that has been prioritised, with particular reference to November and December 2015, when there were considerable floods throughout the country. It affects not just Ballina, where I am from, but also Crossmolina, another town that was been absolutely devastated. A large amount of funding was provided for minor works schemes and pilot projects on flood defences and much has been done. Unfortunately, however, we are bearing witness to the terrible weather events that occur and their impact and ramifications. I would like to think the OPW is to the fore and that the issue now is to try to progress the schemes.

Ballina is one of the priority project schemes in CFRAM. What progress has been made now that we have identified the areas of priority?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

The Senator's point is taken. She mentioned Crossmolina-----

I know the town does not fall under CFRAM.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

There is a particularly innovative scheme planned for Crossmolina.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

It is in consultation at present and I hope it will bring relief.

Mr. Mark Adamson

We have attended meetings specifically to discuss the position in Ballina. Meetings have been held with the various local authorities in whose jurisdiction each of the medium and large prioritised schemes is located to consider setting up steering groups and progressing the schemes. We are progressing each of the large and medium schemes identified as being a priority. It takes time following the CFRAM to get all of this set up and the briefs written and sent out to consultation and tender but a meeting has been held to get the Ballina scheme going.

I would like to know the various stages involved. Does it require detailed design-----

Mr. Mark Adamson


-----and then a planning application?

Mr. Mark Adamson

Yes. The CFRAM programme was a strategic national programme. It undertook the assessment of the risk and an appraisal of the various options that might be available to address that risk but it did not go to the level of detailed design and planning. The stage we are at now is we have these measures and they have been prioritised. For each of them we need to go through a stage of detailed scheme development so we are ready to go through either Part 8 or Part 10 planning or through public exhibition, after which we will go to the detailed civil and structural design and then tendering for contractors for construction.

What is the timeline on this?

Mr. Mark Adamson

Unfortunately, it can take a while to implement these schemes, which tend to be in urban centres. They are fairly large and complex civil projects and it is very important that we get them right and do not try to rush through them.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

The best thing would be to come back to the Senator separately and specifically on Ballina as we do not have the information to hand.

That is fine. I would appreciate it if the witnesses would revert to me.

The Senator mentioned the stages reached in the various schemes. Perhaps the OPW could contact the clerk of the committee with that information and it can be circulated to everybody.

I beg the indulgence of the Acting Chairman. I must go to the Chamber for a Topical Issue. I understand I am to speak next. May I speak when I return?

Does the Senator want to make way for Deputy Sherlock?

No, that is not what I am asking. I am just anxious-----

I will not hold on for the Deputy to come back. If we are still here-----

I am just anxious that the committee would facilitate me when I come back.

I appreciate that. I am asking whether the meeting will still be in progress.

Senator Mulherin should take her time.

That is a matter for the Acting Chairman.

I want more information on the Crossmolina scheme and the flood defences planned for the town. I am very concerned about this. The need for a scheme in Crossmolina has been established for a number of years and consultations have been ongoing since 2013 or 2014. Statutory public consultation was undertaken during the summer and we were honoured with Mr. Buckley's presence and that of other officials from the OPW. My understanding is we will not see the various stages through which it must proceed completed until the fourth quarter of 2019. In all honesty, at this stage people in Crossmolina are pretty angry and frantic because there almost was a flooding event two weeks ago.

I acknowledged the minor works schemes put in place and the efforts of locals but some of the businesses that were destroyed in the town centre do not have flood insurance. They will be finished if they get flooded again. Mr. Buckley is speaking about two more winters before the work commences. If the project is approved by the fourth quarter of 2019, the works will be put back until spring at the earliest because the OPW will not start works in the middle of winter. We will have this threat hanging over people for two winters.

With regard to the planning process that is under way, when will the OPW submit a report to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to enable it to go through its part of the process? Has a screening of the project been done? What stage are we at on a strategic environmental assessment? So much work has been done and so much has been said about this project. The funding is also in place. It is of little solace to people to hear their project is on a list, has been prioritised and funding is available. They are none the better for wear with the way things are proceeding. By next summer, somebody must go in to do work to ensure people are not facing two winters without flood defences. They are facing this winter as it stands.

To what extent is the OPW engaging with the Department of Finance and the insurance companies on the fact that people are still having problems obtaining insurance because of a perceived flood threat, despite taxpayers' money having been spent putting in place flood defences, on which I commend the relevant authorities? What engagement has the OPW had with the insurance companies and how will this matter be resolved?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

The Senator has asked two very good questions and I appreciate the point that for all the investment planned and the programme in place, it is very difficult for communities who every winter face an extreme flood risk such as in Crossmolina.

Mr. John Sydenham

In Crossmolina, as the Senator mentioned, the environmental impact assessment report was completed in May.

The statutory public consultation process is being finalised as we speak, and we expect to present the outline scheme to the Minister before the end of this year. There is a statutory process that the Minister and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have to go through, but all things being equal we expect to proceed to construction in mid-2019. That is the ambition.

There is an expectation that it will proceed to construction. When will it be completed?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

It is a 1 km long channel, and we have to consider children's safety and fencing, for example, so-----

Mr. Ciarán O'Connor

There is quite a bit of work in it.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

-----there is quite a lot involved in it.

Mr. John Sydenham

It is essential that the scheme is confirmed. We will then move to procurement and proceed to construction. The estimated commencement date for construction is mid-2019.

Mr. John Sydenham

On the insurance question, the OPW has a memorandum of understanding with Insurance Ireland, the umbrella body for insurance companies in Ireland. While we do not have any direct responsibility in the area of insurance, we provide information to Insurance Ireland on schemes we have completed, showing the level of protection afforded to properties in those catchments, and on the basis of that information Insurance Ireland undertakes to provide insurance.

Deputy Eamon Ryan wondered if environmental issues were being handled as sensitively as possible. In Crossmolina there is a clear issue where properties were being flooded, but because of the presence of the freshwater pearl mussel the OPW would not dredge the area. People's homes, lives and businesses are being destroyed. I cannot relate to any of the experiences spoken about because we are constrained by designation all the time.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation. The near zero energy buildings, NZEBs, are very impressive. Is there an opportunity to micro-generate around those buildings? Are there any plans to use solar or other techniques to generate energy and feed it back into the system? That would show great leadership. The presentation was excellent and progressive in certain areas, but perhaps could be more progressive in other areas.

Mr. Ciarán O'Connor

We looked at all of those options. In Kevin Street there are photovoltaic cells on the roof that provide the water for showers and things like that. It depends on the building. If it is a 24-hour building where a good return can be made, we would look at it in a different way to a building that is used from 9 o'clock until 5 o'clock.

Could energy be fed back into the grid? Could we move in that direction?

Mr. Ciarán O'Connor

I believe so. Mr. O'Sullivan and I have been looking at those options.

Mr. Jim O'Sullivan

The NZEB requirements include a requirement for renewable energy in every building. We have to consider it on a cost optimal basis. To satisfy the requirements of NZEB, practically all new buildings will have some level of photovoltaic technology. In urban locations, particularly high-rise buildings, it is difficult to have a substantial amount of it because the space is not available. Given that normal roof space is limited, the amount of photovoltaic cells on an individual building will produce energy to be used within the building and, by and large, will not feed back into the grid. In other locations, different opportunities will present themselves. However, it is still the case that a modern building will require very substantial amounts of photovoltaic cells to generate surplus energy.

I am thinking about this in terms of Ireland taking a leadership role and the OPW taking a progressive approach.

Mr. Ciarán O'Connor

As Mr. O'Sullivan has mentioned, in a situation where the renewable element can only be developed in a restricted area, such as an inner city area, we improve the performance of the rest of the building, for instance, improving the glazing or the levels of insulation, to compensate for the inability to self-generate. We had that element brought into the regulation as part of the OPW input, along with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. That is a big plus, and we will see the benefit of it in the next five to ten years.

How many catchment management schemes is the OPW engaged in to reduce the speed of water run-off into the rivers, which causes flood risk? What budget is being allocated to this sort of catchment management in the national development plan? How many "room for the river" type schemes are being developed? This approach is best practice in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, which is a place I am very familiar with. What examination has the OPW made of the contribution of peat land drainage to flooding risks? What peat land re-wetting is included in the OPW's flood relief plans?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

The national development plan investment amounts to just under €1 billion. I believe the amount allocated to flood risk defences is €940 million over ten years. Mr. Adamson might comment on the technical questions, including the question about the speed of run-off flowing into rivers and the Nijmegen example.

I live in Tramore in County Waterford where, as a result of the topography, the water flows down into-----

Mr. Mark Adamson

We have been looking into this type of measure. There are pilot projects and research which demonstrate that, for small floods in catchments where pilots have been undertaken, this approach can be quite effective in reducing flood peaks. Unfortunately, equally there is research which indicates that the benefits of this type of measure for large events, such as the 100 year flood or the 1% annual exceedance probability flood, reduces because the catchment is saturated already. That lack of evidence at present is acknowledged in the EU policy document on natural water retention measures. We are considering co-funding a research project with the EPA in exactly this type of area. This involves trying to develop the evidence base to allow us to proceed with significant investments in these types of measures. We are pursuing this, but we have not implemented it at a micro-scale to date. As Mr. Buckley indicated previously, we have some schemes in hand which are looking at storing water rather than defending and conveying.

I am aware that in the Netherlands and other countries on continental Europe "room for the river" type schemes are a very popular approach involving the moving of dykes. The position in Ireland is that rivers already have room. We hear many complaints from farmers who want us to protect farmland. There are very short reaches of embanked river with flood protection defences, so it is not an approach we can apply because rivers already have the space to flood out, attenuate and store flood waters already.

I have in mind areas where there are embankments. In the example of Nijmegen, the environment and river system were integrated and many potential problems were offset. Is there an opportunity to consider such an approach here?

Mr. Mark Adamson

I fully recognise the point the Senator makes. When were are considering flood protection, we tend to keep the defences, be it a dyke, embankment or wall, as far back as possible from the river and as close to the assets, properties and people we are trying to protect. When we are developing the scheme we are already trying to optimise the amount of room left for the river, notwithstanding the defences that are in place. We are becoming increasingly conscious of the public realm aspect. If we are becoming involved with a significant infrastructural development scheme, we must also consider how else we can develop the public realm and if there are multiple benefits which can be generated through the implementation of those works.

I welcome Mr. Buckley, whom I have known well for years. He ran a very successful business in Roscommon and he still lives there, as do I. We are both so busy that we usually meet outside Roscommon.

Considering the weather experiences we have had over recent years, I must compliment the OPW on a lot of the work it has done. It is extraordinary that although a lot of flooding and damage was done, a couple of weeks ago I heard a warning on Shannonside, our local radio station, about the low water levels on the River Shannon, which is a complete change in a short space of time within a season. I must accept it is difficult for agencies to deal with situations like that and to take everything into consideration.

I have a number of questions. Is the aforementioned €1 billion ring-fenced for the ten-year period? It is a significant amount of money but is it totally ring-fenced and guaranteed? Is it there for dealing with what could be emergencies and other issues that may need to be dealt with? I understood that the Government put money into a relocation scheme. Is that correct? How many applications have been received and how many people have been relocated? If that information is not available today, can the information be furnished to me later ?

Furthermore, the study of turloughs is in progress and I understand it will take a number of years to carry out. I believe two such studies are under way in Roscommon. When is it envisaged that we will have a report on them?

Have we got a maintenance budget for the River Shannon? We have heard a lot of talk about pinch points and I am sure Mr. Buckley has travelled many times across the bridge in Lanesborough and has seen the abhorrent growth there, that was never there before. I fished as a young lad there and this is causing a lot of annoyance to fishermen. Is there a budget to remove that type of growth, as well as the amount of silt and peat that is in the River Shannon? Capacity has been badly affected over the years. Is there a budget to cover that?

As for flood defences, it appears to me that we are looking at masses of concrete as flood defences. We should be eco-friendly and environmentally friendly by following those parts of the world where they do not use these concrete defences, which will look appalling around towns like Roscommon or Carrick-on-Shannon. Is it the case that where we do put up such flood defences, it all is going to be mass concrete?

Mr. Buckley has spoken about the issue of insurance. Some great work has been carried out in Ballinasloe, County Galway but unfortunately, residents, businesses and families cannot get their property insured. I appreciate that it is not entirely the OPW's area but it is causing a lot of frustration and distress.

Is there a budget to deal with coastal erosion and damage? I am our party spokesperson on OPW and flood relief and I visited Inishowen after that horrendous storm and the damage I saw there was shocking. I know that moneys are being spent there to rectify a lot of the damage done. Is part of that budget there to deal with coastal damage and erosion?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

I thank the Deputy and will deal with some of these points myself and will then ask Mr. Sydenham to come in on the relocation scheme, the insurance question and the coastal budget. Mr. Adamson is our expert here and he might be able to comment on the turlough study and the concrete defences.

The €1 billion budget is ring-fenced within the OPW budget for flood relief works. Insofar as the Government is in a position to meet the capital programme - there could be a national crisis but hopefully not - that money is allocated to flood defences. The emergency response is primarily through local authorities. That money is for defence measures, not for emergency response to individual schemes, which is good news.

On the River Shannon, there is a Shannon group, where we are bringing together all the agencies with an interest or involvement in the River Shannon. A number of targeted measures are being undertaken at present to address specific points along the Shannon, quite a number of which are around Meelick, to improve the river flow and capacity, to remove trees and so on. There is no maintenance programme per se and to do so would involve an extensive change of legislation and environmental work.

What is happening is that two very important studies are being undertaken. One is on the callows region below Athlone that the Deputy himself knows well and is an environmental and economic assessment of the possible removal of a number of the pinch points there. It will examine whether that would make sense and be justified. A second study is being undertaken in the lower, old channel of the Shannon, parallel to Ardnacrusha to assess the hydromorphological - do not ask me to spell that word - impact over the 100 years or so since Ardnacrusha has been in place on the old channel. This will examine how it has changed, how will it change in the future and whether there are measures that could be initiated to help preserve the capacity of that channel. There is a lot being done there.

I will ask Mr. Sydenham to come in here on the relocation scheme, the statistics on that, as well as insurance and coastal issues.

Mr. John Sydenham

I will come back to the Deputy on the detailed statistics on the number of applicants we have processed and the numbers going through the system vis-à-vis the home relocation scheme.

If it can be sent to the clerk, it can then be circulated.

Has anybody been relocated, offhand?

Mr. John Sydenham

At the moment, nobody has been relocated. A number are going through the formal processes as prescribed by the system.

I spoke about insurance earlier and noted we have the memorandum of understanding with the insurance federation. We pass information on and based on what we provide the industry, it increases the insurance cover in the areas that we have protected. The more schemes that we deliver, the greater the level of insurance provided.

Coastal erosion is another issue raised by the Deputy. The OPW has, as part of CFRAM, identified 90 coastal communities that potentially will be impacted by coastal flooding. In all other respects, the respective local authorities have primary responsibility for dealing with issues of coastal erosion. The OPW, for its part, will assess applications for funding from respective local authorities if they identify a need and set out a proposed scheme. It comes to us, we assess it and we provide the funding to them. A good example of this is Portrane, which was impacted significantly by coastal erosion. The local authority, Fingal County Council, engaged consultants and in the first instance produced a scheme for interim protection to protect a number of houses at risk. That was submitted to us and we provided half a million euro in funding to Fingal County Council to start immediate work on the implementation of the local coastal defences.

Mr. Adamson will now speak on the other two issues, specifically, the turloughs and the nature of the flood defences.

Mr. Mark Adamson

The turloughs study is being undertaken by the Geological Survey of Ireland, GSI, with Trinity College Dublin, but in partnership with us. The study is progressing well. Models have been built for quite a large number of turloughs at this point. I do not have the exact number to hand but I believe it is 40. There is flood mapping associated with each of the turloughs due to be produced this year. I understand that the study will be completed next year.

As for the schemes and the use of mass concrete, while we are looking to protect communities, we would only be doing that in a way that is acceptable to the community. We undertake intensive consultation and a former member has referred to these as public consultation days. We seek to build the schemes into the existing urban environment. As I mentioned to Senator Grace O'Sullivan, we try to put a greater emphasis on public realm enhancements and multiple benefits that can be attached to significant investment like this.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

An example of this is in Crosssmolina which was mentioned earlier.

We are proposing to bypass 12 km of river, the River Deel I think, with a channel in order that when there is a flooding event rather than concrete walls, which would not work in that situation, there is a bypass.

We mentioned Clonakilty, which is an artificial flood area that relates to the Senator's question too. There is no doubt that because we are dealing with crisis situations, serious flood events, it is hard to avoid the necessity for concrete walls.

I compliment the OPW on the minor works scheme because it is doing a lot of work and preventing many places and homes being flooded. It is a very good scheme.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to interact with the commissioners in the OPW. In terms of management of the State property portfolio and the built environment the Citizens' Assembly report makes a specific recommendation, for which 100% of the members voted, that the State should take a leadership role in addressing climate change through mitigation measures including, for example, retrofitting public buildings. The witnesses would have read that before coming in here today. Why is it that, according to the OPW, 79% of buildings are rated either C or D, which comprise 42% and 37%, respectively? I appreciate the point that most poorly performing buildings have exceptional electric loads, data centres and so on but can we be more ambitious about that target? Is there language that can be used to say we are looking at the 12-year window and can the OPW become more radical in getting those C and D-rated buildings up to ratings of B and A?

According to the IPCC, report, the trajectory now is completely different and that must give rise to more radical policies by Government and, by extension, the Departments. I want to get a sense of urgency from the witnesses or a sense that these new limit warnings are scary. I would love for us to be able to write a report that says we are satisfied that the OPW, which manages the State property portfolio, is moving more radically towards BER ratings of A and B.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

We have fairly extreme measures in place for new buildings, the nearly zero energy building, NZEB, and deep retrofit. There are 60% to 70% savings when we can do that. It is very reassuring and means that the situation will get better not worse. The problem is we have in the region of 500 or 600 buildings being used as office space. To deep retrofit all of those would cost a phenomenal sum of money. The Government would have to decide whether to prioritise whatever investment is available for those buildings or to spend it in other areas, such as transport or agriculture where the impact on climate might be more effective. We will do our part for sure and we will progressively address the older buildings. The reason they are predominantly C and D rated is that many of the Government buildings were built at the foundation of the State, 100 years ago. They are historic buildings and were not built to a high energy retention standard and it is difficult to get in and do retrofit works. Mr. O'Connor and Mr. O'Sullivan can probably comment in more detail on that.

Mr. Ciarán O'Connor

On the heritage side, there are certain buildings we cannot change. Where that choice would come in, for instance, in a place like Castletown, we would also examine what other things we can improve, energy usage and the systems to control that, better environmental issues. On a project we have mentioned, the forensic science building, there are 25 air changes an hour in that building with huge air loss but we will regain most of that heat. As a subset of that when we were doing the foundation work for that building we were using it as part of the defence and security element to defend the building from intruders but it is part of the landscape. That has saved us bringing any soil offsite to put into landfill. We would take those wider issues on board as part of that broad spectrum of approach. We have a core and a comprehensive approach. The core is the minimal element, the lighting and energy, and the comprehensive would be the further, deep retrofit.

On CFRAM, I am from the great county of Cork. Deputy Eamon Ryan's people were baptised in the River Lee. I was baptised in the Blackwater, metaphorically speaking. We do speak about flood defences and there is very clear evidence of structural works on the Munster Blackwater at Fermoy and Mallow, which are phenomenally successful. For anybody who has any doubts about whether demountable walls work there is incontrovertible proof that they do. Notwithstanding that, the problem for migratory fish and so on, to which Deputy Eamon Ryan has referred, is a slightly different issue, not quite pertinent to this one because it relates to a fish pass in disrepair and is not necessarily in the witnesses' remit. It is important to put that on the record.

There are 118 flood relief schemes and flood relief programmes were always designed with the 100 year flood in mind. I was formerly a mayor of my town and when we went through the process we were told we were designing for the 100 year flood. I fail to understand Mr. Adamson's intervention on the planning, maybe I missed something in the dialogue. Have we now surpassed the 100 year flood mark or benchmark in planning for flooding events? Should we now be using agricultural land to slow down flooding and should we be paying farmers who are on flood plains some sort of compensation and telling them not to build on their land, not to plant or graze and allow for natural drainage schemes to take place? That would be a structural solution to flooding and a more natural solution that is not just engineering but another solution in terms of land use.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

Before I pass over to Mr. Adamson, fluvial or river flooding is targeted to the 100 year event, in other words a 1% probability of a flood. Coastal flooding is a 200 year event, 0.5% probability. I am sure Mr. Adamson will clarify how, as climate change happens, and the frequency of storm events increases, presumably what was one in 100 years five years ago might be one in 50 years in ten years’ time. Would he agree?

Mr. Mark Adamson

It will vary around the country The primary focus of CFRAM is to protect against existing risk. There is a significant existing risk. We have seen in recent events that many properties have flooded so the primary focus is to tackle that immediate problem. We are aware, however, that climate change can make flooding worse so we need to take that into account. How exactly that is done will vary on a scheme-by-scheme basis. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to climate change adaptability for flood relief schemes. It depends very much on the local context of each individual town.

If one takes Crossmolina as an example, there is a bridge in the town. If the river level rises too high, it becomes a buoyancy issue and the historic bridge could pop up. We have a diversion channel which takes the flood flows around Crossmolina. In adapting to potential future change, we cannot send greater flows through the town and build walls because we have a problem with the bridge. The solution for adaption in Crossmolina is to enhance the capacity of the diversion channel to take the mid-range future scenario flow.

In that instance we took what we call the assumptive approach. We assume a certain design allowance for climate change. In other areas we may take an adaptive approach, particularly in regard to flood defences. We might build the foundations of a flood defence wall to a certain size, ensuring that if necessary they can be increased in height in future. In other instances there may be alternative approaches, such as providing storage upstream at a future date. This could help reduce flood flows through the town. In other instances such as Cork there will be a mix of all three approaches. There are a range of ways to ensure that our schemes are adaptable to climate change. We have to look at each of them on a case-by-case basis.

Notwithstanding that, we are maintaining the 100 year standard protection for fluvial schemes in the current scenario. In doing that, however, we must be conscious that in some instances we will need to raise the standards to cater for a 100 year projection that might come to pass in 50 years.

On using flood plains for storage, I refer in the first instance to the previous response. There are very few embanked channels in Ireland, so effectively the rivers are already using the storage available to them. Having said that, there are certain areas where we can effectively enhance the use of that storage. For example, to deal with flood conditions, the scheme in Clonakilty is looking at increasing the depth of storage in the flood plains upstream of the town. In the lower Lee Cork city scheme we are looking at utilising the rural land between Cork city and the Gearagh as washland, thereby making use of that additional storage during flood events.

I have one last question. Did I hear the witness correctly when he said that the cost of a Thames-type barrier structure for Cork would be €1 billion? If that is the figure I heard, has the Office of Public Works, OPW, arrived at it by doing some scenario planning or engineering a solution? The witness did not pluck the figure of €1 billion out of the air. The OPW must have had some internal discussions on that. There is angst in Cork city, which I do not share at this juncture. I differ with my colleague, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on this one but I have an open mind. As I understand it, the OPW is moving towards a demountable solution. I would like some clarification on that point.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

We must take the total cost of the system into account where tidal barrage is concerned. There will be a physical cost for the barrier itself as well as embankments, design, flood plains and everything associated with it. I will ask Mr. Sydenham to comment on the budget for that. We carried out a study and we have a figure on that.

Where was the OPW going to put it? Would it be outside Spike Island or by Blackrock Castle?

-----the Deputy has gone into a local issue.

It has a major impact on the whole Lee valley and-----

I appreciate that, but we are sticking-----

It is quite pertinent to-----

Fine, but this is straying into all kinds of parochial matters.

Mr. Maurice Buckley

Three different solutions were looked at in three different locations, including a deep channel and a shallow channel at the mouth of Lough Mahon. I will come back to that or ask Mr. Sydenham to do so.

We know how sensitive the flood defences in Cork city are and we respect the several different sensitivities involved. It has gone through several rounds of public consultation, and we have tried to adapt the design each time we received feedback. One important point was that there were 50 m or 100 m sections of flood defence wall where the height would be very significant. Young children going by would not be able to see over the wall. We have redesigned that with demountable or transparent defences similar to what was done in Waterford city. A number of improvements have been made around Morrison's Island and other sections which will enhance the area very much for many different reasons. Would Mr. Sydenham like to comment on the tidal barrage itself?

Mr. John Sydenham

We have looked at this in very considerable detail on two separate occasions. We commissioned a far more detailed study the second time around. As alluded to by the Deputy, one of the significant issues was where defences would be located. Placing the defences where one of the local lobby groups suggested would run into very significant environmental issues. In building the defences there are environmental considerations and an obligation to the Port of Cork and its successful operations. We have always said that defences can be installed. When it is installed, the aforementioned issues will arise.

We did a very detailed analysis. Our estimate of the cost of putting the defence where we think it would need to go is in the region of €1 billion. We can make that study available to the committee. It is in the public domain.

Where exactly is the proposed location?

Mr. John Sydenham

The exact location is just above Monkstown. It is on that channel.

I will ask one last question if I can. I only thought of this afterwards but it is important. The State itself could not meet the target for energy efficiency. That is the easiest target to achieve in the sense that the required changes to building fabric are known very precisely. When did we realise that we were not going to meet the target? Why did we not adjust our investment or budget portfolio? The fact that the State itself failed to meet its own target in its own buildings is quite symbolic of the wider failure to meet targets across the State. When did we find out that we were not on track to meet our efficiency target?

Mr. Maurice Buckley

The Department's 2017 report was the strategy document where the assessment was made. Based on the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, finding of 21% in the public building space versus the target of 33%, the report provides details by group of buildings. It provides a traffic light code showing which areas of the public sector will meet the target. For example, we are very confident that the OPW buildings we occupy we will meet the target. The target will be met in large parts of the agencies and the accommodation we provide. In some areas however, including some local authority facilities and Garda stations which are small, old buildings designed around other priorities, it will not be possible to reach the 33% target by 2020. For example, the figure for Garda stations is above 20%. That is higher than the national target, but it would take a phenomenal investment to get there. That was identified in the report and I mentioned it in my opening statement. As we discussed a moment ago, for the Government it is a question of prioritising where the available funding is to be put. If funding can be supplied to retrofit public buildings on a large scale, we can organise that. The question that must be asked is whether that funding is best applied to buildings, transport, agriculture or the various areas where we have to get the maximum impact on climate change. I am sure this has been the work of this committee for the last several weeks.

I thank Mr. Buckley and his colleagues for their contributions. They were very helpful to us.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 7 November 2018.