The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, is very welcome. I call Senator Buttimer.
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, for attending. I am a former Chairman of the health committee, which engaged in pre-legislative scrutiny of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 which became the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. The Minister of State, who was a very valued member of the committee, is now Minister of State at the Department of Health. We have been waiting on the enactment of the minimum-pricing part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 since October 2018. If Members and people watching or listening to the proceedings today have observed the advertising of alcohol and alcohol being used as a loss leader by the retail sector over the last couple of months, they could only be but alarmed.
It is in the newspapers every day.
It is every day, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. If one compares prices over a ten-year period, a bottle of Jameson is €20 today, while it was €26.99 in 2009. A 700 ml bottle of Smirnoff was €30.99 in 2009, while it is €22.49 today. A bottle of Bailey's is €10 today, while it was €18.60 in 2009. A bottle of Hennessey is €25 today, while it was €30.99 in 2009. A bottle of Bacardi is €15 today, while it was €24.99 in 2009. Those are just examples. I could have picked beer.
I wish to add that I have seen ads for one of those brands with a 1 l bottle for €20.
Yes. Some shops are advertising that a person can buy two for €20 or €30. I am not complaining about the retailers, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, but we have a problem with below-cost selling. I want to ensure local businesses survive and jobs are created. However, we have not dealt with the misuse of alcohol. I refer to the importance of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. We had very stringent debates around particular sections of that Bill, now the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 in this House.
We must have a sensible approach to alcohol, to the selling of alcohol, in terms of its pricing, and to the way in which we sell and serve alcohol. We must also ensure that the retail sector is responsible, and by and large, it is responsible.
I refer to the price. VAT at 23% is included in the prices I mentioned. It demonstrates that VAT returns are being lost and what damage is being done. Young people now are buying alcohol more cheaply and more easily than a decade ago. The price of alcohol in our retail sector is very cheap.
The alcohol Act was a roadmap which we, as a State, signed up to. I know we were waiting on Scotland and on the EU ruling.
If one takes, for example, the loyalty card in Dunnes Stores, a person can get money back on a variety of goods, including alcohol. If a person spends €50, he or she may get €10 back. However, a person cannot use it on baby products. A mother or father buying nappies or baby products cannot use that.
The Senator is very attentive in his shopping, I must say.
I try to be. What I am saying is that alcohol is so cheap and the retail sector is using it in the way I have described. Why can Dunnes, for example, not say to the mum and dad, the single mother, the two dads or the two mums that they may use the loyalty card to buy nappies or other baby products for their kids rather than alcohol?
We need to see a change around the price of alcohol. Let us make the minimum-unit pricing Act we passed come into effect.
I will address some of the questions Senator Buttimer raised. I thank him for raising this matter.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act was enacted on 17 October 2018. On 1 November the Minister, Deputy Harris, commenced 23 of its 31 sections. Some of these sections have already become law. By restricting the advertising and promotion of alcohol, they are changing the environment in which our children will grow up.
Last November three of the advertising provisions of the Act came into force. One provided that alcohol advertising in or on public service vehicles and at public transport stops and stations was prohibited. Alcohol advertisements were also prohibited from within 200 m of a school, crèche or local authority playground. Alcohol advertising in cinemas was prohibited except in a licensed area and around films with an 18 certificate. Children's clothing that promotes alcohol was banned.
Next year, on 12 November, our supermarkets and other mixed retail outlets will look different as alcohol products and their advertising will be confined to either a single area of the shop which will be separated by a 1.2 m high barrier, or storage units in which alcohol products cannot be seen up to a height of 1.5 m, or a maximum of three standard storage units with no visibility restrictions. In addition to these areas of the shop, alcohol products will be allowed to be stored, but not be visible, in a unit behind the counter.
From 12 November 2021 there will be a prohibition on alcohol advertising in sports areas during sporting events, at events that are aimed at children or at events in which the majority of participants or competitors are children. Alcohol sponsorship of events which are aimed at children or events in which the majority of participants or competitors are children will also be prohibited. Finally, driving or racing events involving motor vehicles will no longer be allowed to be sponsored by alcohol companies from November 2021.
Eight sections of the Act have yet to be commenced. These include section 12, on the labelling of alcohol products, and section 13, on the content of advertisements for alcohol products. These two sections will not be commenced until the regulations which must be made under them have been finalised and submitted for assessment at EU level. Once those regulations have exited the EU process, the Minister, Deputy Harris, will commence the sections. Businesses will know well in advance exactly what their obligations will be in respect of the labelling and advertising of their products.
We are determined to implement minimum unit pricing as soon as possible. When the Government of the day approved the drafting of a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in 2013, it specified that implementation of minimum pricing should happen simultaneously both north and south of the Border in order to meet concerns about possible impacts on cross-Border trade. The suspended Administration in Northern Ireland has meant that our colleagues have not been able to progress their legislation. The coming weeks may see developments in this regard, but if the implementation of minimum unit pricing continues to be delayed, the Minister for Health intends to seek a revised Government decision to allow minimum pricing to be implemented here without the need for simultaneous implementation in Northern Ireland.
I met the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport at the British-Irish Council and we discussed minimum-unit pricing. One thing he said was that since Scotland had brought it in, it had resulted in a huge reduction in the amount of cheap alcohol sold, particularly to young and more vulnerable people. He also said there was no evidence of people crossing from Scotland into England to buy cheaper alcohol there.
The health and well-being of our young people is very important, and we all know the difficulties they face and the pressures on them. Today we see many young people drinking much earlier, even at the age of 11 or 12, so it is really important that when we take legislation such as this through the Seanad or the Dáil we act as quickly as we can. Unfortunately, what has happened in the North has delayed the implementation of minimum-unit pricing. I am assured by the Minister, Deputy Harris, however, that he will seek a Government decision to allow minimum-unit pricing to be implemented as soon as possible. This does not have to be in conjunction with Northern Ireland if the Northern Ireland Assembly is not back up and running by the time of implementation.
I will speak to some of the other points the Senator made in my supplementary response.
I thank the Minister of State for her response and her personal commitment. The main point is that retailers are using alcohol products, particularly those with high alcohol by volume, such as whiskey and vodka, to drive footfall and increase market share. As the Minister of State said, young people today are drinking at an earlier age and drinking a variety of alcohol products. Minimum unit pricing, judging from our work on the committee and debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas, is an important part of combating cheap alcohol products. The risk to public health from such products is too great. I accept that the Minister of State's commitment is unquestionable.
It is important we ask the retailers, such as Dunnes Stores with its VALUEclub, to give money back to parents for use on baby products, not just alcohol.
In September the Minister, Deputy Harris, submitted a draft regulation made under the Public Health (Alcohol) Act for assessment of compatibility with EU law and initial market principles. The purpose of the regulations is to restrict pricing promotions of alcohol products. Now that the EU assessment process is complete, it is the Minister's intention to make those regulations in the new year and prohibit the use of loyalty card points on alcohol products, the sale of alcohol products at a reduced price or free of charge on the purchase of another product or service, and short-term price promotions of alcohol products. There will be a one-year lead-in time for businesses and consumers to prepare for these changes.
These regulations and minimum-unit pricing are both designed to ensure that alcohol products can no longer be sold at a very low price. Together with these measures we will continue with our objective of delaying the initiation of alcohol use by young children and young people. We will also ensure that the price of alcohol reflects the serious nature of the harms caused when it is misused.
I thank Senator Buttimer for raising this matter. I look forward to continued support from this House on this very important process of reducing the level of drinking, particularly among young people and people who are very vulnerable. There is a mirror image in Scotland in that minimum-unit pricing has been introduced there and has reduced the amount of alcohol being drunk, particularly among vulnerable and young children. We will continue with that.
I agree with Senator Buttimer about loyalty cards. As someone who shops in Dunnes all the time, I am very conscious that I pick up nappies and baby food for the children we have at home and that the loyalty card does not give young parents the opportunity to avail of discounts on such products. However, it is for those who want to buy three or four bottles of spirits from the shop. I will raise the matter again with the Minister, Deputy Harris, during the day.
The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, is very welcome. He visits us almost daily now.
I hope it is not an indication of things to come.
I assure the Minister of State that it is not a sign of things to come. It is great to have him here again. It is the second time I have had the pleasure of seeing him perform in the Seanad. He was here last week, I think, and was very comprehensive in his response.
The Commencement matter I have tabled concerns the need for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to provide an update on the efficiencies of the farm safety schemes.
The Minister of State has been involved in this space for the past three and a half years. The number of unfortunate deaths is a blight on the agriculture industry, which has the highest percentage of loss of life of any industry. As a father, the frightening statistic that always gets to me is that 10% of those deaths are of children. It is a major issue that we need to start discussing. This House conducted a report into farm safety a few years ago. While that was welcome, we need to keep debating farm safety.
I will raise a few issues. This is about trying to ensure that we get appropriate coverage of the level of farm injuries and deaths. Farms have improved dramatically in this context in recent years, but the nature of farming, particularly under the new regime, sees someone out working by himself or herself. The demographics of the farming population are changing dramatically, with those involved being older. Older people's ability to get away from cattle, machinery and so on is an issue.
Something that always annoys me about the question of farm safety is that farmers have the ability to claim back VAT on everything bar farm safety equipment. If one changed a power take-off, PTO, shaft on a tractor, one could claim the VAT back. The tax code, though, does not allow for VAT to be claimed back on them on hard hats, visors or even farm safety signs. The Minister for Finance needs to examine this matter so that we have the ability to claim back VAT on those products. There are farmers whose finances are tight but who would love to do more, and giving them 23% VAT back would be a fifth or more off the original cost. We need to consider innovative approaches to encouraging farmers to do more around their farm yards.
Speaking as a farmer who works by himself when farming, the main issue is the use of a mobile phone. A farmer in a pressurised situation could ring for help. Three or four weeks ago in my parish, a farmer got into difficulty. His mobile phone saved his life. Promotions along those lines should be considered. The Minister of State has done much in this space. It is a sad statistic that so many young families are bereaved every year because of these issues. Like we all do, I look up farming websites. We read the tragic stories every two weeks. They would frighten someone as a farmer.
Today is about trying to raise awareness and get a handle on where we are with this year's figures. It is also about the possibility that we could do more in terms of promotion and awareness. We need to consider the VAT issue as well. A VAT exemption on farm safety equipment is something that the Minister for Finance should consider for next year's Finance Bill.
I would welcome the Minister of State's response to my points. I might then ask a supplementary question.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. As a farmer in Cork, he is conscious of the issue of farm safety and has spoken to me about it a number of times. I have also met him at a number of farm safety demonstrations. It is an issue that is close to the heart of most people. No matter where I go, everyone knows someone who has been killed as the result of a tragic accident. These are life-changing situations that affect many family farms. As the Minister of State with responsibility for the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, one of the events that I attend each year is a memorial at which we lay a wreath for all those who have lost their lives in accidents. It is one event that I can think of quickly each year, and I recall there those who have lost their lives in farm accidents.
I encourage Senators to continue raising the issue of farm safety. I have focused closely on it in recent years. I mean it passionately when I say that I remain deeply concerned at the high numbers of fatalities in the sector. The HSA has consistently prioritised the farming sector in its annual programme of work. In addition to targeted inspection campaigns, the authority has in recent years through high-profile information campaigns and collaborative efforts with stakeholders sought to embed a crucial mindset change in the farming community to embrace farm safety and, importantly, take ownership of this critical situation. A mindset change among farmers is needed. When they get up every morning, they should think about their own safety. They should think about their families and loved ones and about how something can change their lives forever in the blink of an eye.
The HSA has a significant presence at the main agricultural events, including the National Ploughing Championships and the Tullamore Show. Such events provide invaluable opportunities to interact directly with the farming community and provide information, advice and practical demonstrations of good farming practices while highlighting the devastation caused by bad farming practices. Someone attending the ploughing championships in recent times would have seen the line of clothes, Wellington boots and shoes that have been donated to the HSA's stand there to highlight those loved ones who are no longer in their homes. It is poignant to see at first hand the names of those to whom the Wellington boots or shoes belonged, be they children or whoever.
The HSA utilises the expertise of the farm safety partnership advisory committee. The committee is drawn from the heart of the farming community itself with representatives from the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, Macra na Feirme and other organisations such as Teagasc and the Farm Relief Services Network.
Arising out of the recent farm safety task force that I convened, work is being finalised on the proposed regulations to make the wearing of appropriate protective head gear mandatory when using all-terrain vehicles, ATVs, quad bikes and so on at work. This has the potential to contribute to improved behaviour, prevent life-changing injuries and save lives. Let us consider the statistics for those who have died in farm accidents. They involve older farmers who are probably not used to modern machinery on their farms, and children. People also die after falling from heights. They climb roof sheds and do not realise how dangerous that is. We have witnessed many such incidents in recent times. Senator Lombard might recall how members of the same family died in Northern Ireland a number of years ago from inhaling slurry tank gas. It devastated that family, but it created an awareness in farmers' mindset about the dangers of slurry spreading. We saw a reduction afterwards, but it took that terrible accident to get into their heads the dangers of inhaling this invisible gas.
As a good farmer, Senator Lombard will be well aware that farming is unique in several respects, not least because it predominately comprises self-employed and self-supervised people who often work alone. The farm is linked to the family home and family life and several generations can live and work on farms. That is a factor in the number of elderly farmers' deaths, with many old and young people exposed to workplace risks.
Notwithstanding all the challenges, I have noted the Senator's comments on VAT for our next meeting with the HSA on this subject. I am working closely with the farming organisations and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed. We need to drive the message about farm safety home and continue to work closely with the farming community to ensure that we can bring lasting change and improvement to the family farm.
Does Senator Lombard wish to ask a supplementary question?
No, but I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. It is important that we get the message out there that there is so much happening in this space. I saw the line of clothes at the National Ploughing Championships. It was a frightening demonstration of the loss of life happening on farms. That is the kind of promotion we need to see.
Farmers work on their own, so they need a little more help and reassurance to make sure that everything is okay.
We need to consider the VAT issue. It is quite unfortunate that the Government might claim 23% VAT on a product that could save a life.
At any time of the year farm accidents are devastating for the family involved, but particularly so at this time of the year as we approach Christmas. I appeal to all those who are watching this debate and the media to highlight this. The fact that the Senator has raised this matter demonstrates his awareness of this as a farmer. I appeal to farmers to ensure their own safety and the safety of others on the family farm to prevent more fatalities. Statistics can be an unsympathetic measure but, over the past ten years, more than 200 people have lost their lives while at work on farms. These deaths have an impact on families, friends and the community. Some people's lives are changed, they lose their sight or a limb. The family farm may have to be sold as a result of the farmer's death. We have to remind people of these things. An interesting statistic is that so far this year, 16 people have died on family farms.
The best way to reduce these figures is for farmers to look into better farm practices and have an acute awareness of what is happening around them, the high-risk nature of farming practices. Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations. That safety first message must be embedded for everybody on the farm. The HSA and I stand ready to continue to work closely with the farming community and to bring in some new initiatives in 2020 to ensure that we can make the farm a safe place of work. I sympathise with all those families who have lost loved ones over the past 12 months. It is devastating for them but as legislators we need to make sure to make the farm a safe place.
There are concerns about the lack of adequate regulation for road haulage in Ireland and I have raised the fact that road haulage gets a special tax relief with the Minister for Finance and others. This relief is on the purchase of diesel at a time a carbon tax is being brought in and many others are being asked to pay more for fuel. The relief has been increased in next year's budget. In early December, the road haulage sector invited a number of Fine Gael Members to a patrons' reception. It is an unusual and strange framing for this. The Government needs to consider a more robust and regulated relationship with the road haulage industry and particularly engage on the issue of heavy goods vehicles, HGVs.
HGVs comprise 3% of the European vehicle fleet and 7% of the driven kilometres across Europe but are involved in 18% of fatal accidents. Those are figures from 2008. According to more recent figures, more than 4,000 people have been killed in crashes with trucks and HGVs and of those fatalities in excess of 1,000 were vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. A friend of mine was killed by a HGV on the quays in Dublin a few years ago. The approach so far has seemed to be more roads. There are some European regulations and I am sure the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for Europe, will comment on the new regulations due to come into effect on 1 September 2020 for a new design of cab for HGVs. Will she press to ensure they are the only kind of vehicle we see on our streets and moving through the city? There has been a long push on the issue of blind spots. Many people will have seen the shocking video from the UK circulating this week about a blind spot in a truck where a car was not seen. I think it was on the A40. There is a concern that cars are obliged to have clear vision but HGVs are not. The lead-in on the EU regulation is up to 2028, which is an extraordinary and dangerously long period for action on this. The Minister of State will also be aware that all new vehicles should be required to have intelligent speed assistance technology because given the fact that the blind spots have been addressed too slowly, speed is one of the factors we can address and it is one of the issues that contributes to the large number of fatalities involving HGVs.
On the issue of toll roads and bypasses, there are safety concerns because people feel they cannot allow their children to cycle or they cannot walk safely because of the number of HGVs going through small towns. In many cases, the response is another bypass and another road, even in areas where there are already many roads. For example, there is discussion of a bypass of Slane yet the M1 is nearby. In many cases, drivers go through Slane because they are made responsible for paying the tolls by their employer. In the road haulage sector in which drivers are underpaid, and where terms and conditions are not as strong as they should be for them, all moneys matter. Drivers are avoiding the toll in Drogheda by taking a route off the M1 onto the N2 and going through Slane. Some people have talked about no tolls but that may not be an option. If there was an annual toll or fee attached to the HGV not payable by the driver, who may pass once or twice through this country and through other countries, instead of an instance-by-instance fee, there would no longer be an incentive for HGVs to avoid tolls and take narrower routes. Every day 2,000 HGVs pass through Slane. A large number of those HGVs do not need to pass through but do so to avoid tolls. I am looking for an overhaul of the toll system and a new approach. It is not always a question of new roads but of incentives for those on the roads and how we manage our toll system.
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who cannot be here this morning because he is attending a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. He sends his apologies. The Senator has raised a number of matters and I will try my best to answer them. Where she has any suggestions to highlight that are not in my response and that I cannot address, I will certainly convey them to the Minister.
I offer my condolences to the Senator on the loss of her friend and to anyone who has lost a loved one or relative in a road accident. Our entire objective throughout all of this and the changes we have made at European and local level is to try to bring down the number of road deaths. We have set ourselves an objective of reducing road fatalities to 120 annually by 2020. Unfortunately, last year, we lost 142 people on our roads. We need to address that slight increase. A huge volume of work has been done particularly in respect of HGVs. Much of this has been done at EU level and been implemented locally. Manufacturers of HGVs must comply with requirements for a range of compulsory safety features and this is part of the EU's type-approval regime. This regime sets the safety, environmental and technical standards for motor vehicles that must be adhered to in order for those vehicles to be placed on the market and registered in EU member states.
While some high-end vehicle types already have a variety of high-tech safety features as standard, it is important that such systems are progressively introduced into all vehicles across the board. In order to achieve this goal, a new European regulation, as the Senator has mentioned, replacing what is known as the "general safety regulation", is due to come into effect shortly that will introduce a new range of mandatory safety features, particularly for HGVs. These features will be gradually introduced over the next number of years, I suppose to allow those who need to upgrade or to install them within their vehicles to do so in a cost-effective manner. An example of the new safety systems includes pedestrian and cyclist collision warning, particularly for those in towns and cities. I note there has been a five-axle ban from Dublin City Council within the city since the opening of the port tunnel but, obviously, there are those who have a licence to come in. Given the amount of construction happening within the city centre, hopefully, this is something that will help to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Further examples of the new safety systems include: blind spot information, direct vision, tyre pressure monitoring, emergency stop signal, alcohol interlock installation, drowsiness and attention detection and event or accident data recorders.
These mandatory safety features will be gradually introduced into the type-approval regime on a phased basis over a period from 2022 to 2029. They are being heralded by the European Commission as having "the same kind of impact as when the safety belts were first introduced", and one will be aware that thousands of lives were then saved. The Commission expects the proposed measures will save 25,000 lives and avoid at least 140,000 serious injuries across all vehicle types by 2038. There is a considerable amount of work being done in that regard.
Briefly at the beginning, the Senator mentioned the climate agenda. In recent years, the diesel rebate scheme was introduced to support an industry given that Ireland is an island, we export 90% of what we produce and we need to make sure that it is feasible for our hauliers and for these companies to work and continue their job. At the same time, we are clear that the future fuelling of any freight operations over time needs to transition to cleaner greener fuels and that is something that has been included as part of the new cross-Government strategy to try to reach our 2030 emissions target but also, as we agreed at a European level this week, to ensure that we are climate neutral by 2050. That will certainly include this industry.
In relation to tolling, the Senator mentioned Slane. As a resident of Slane and somebody who has worked on this bypass before even being elected, I am aware that a considerable amount of work has been done on showing why toll bans, specifically, for the M1, do not work, and why all of these other measures in terms of banning HGVs have not worked. There has been at least two or three years' work done by the local authority to show why a bypass is necessary. I take the Senator's reasoning that not everywhere needs a bypass but the village of Slane has had countless needless deaths, not only along the bridge which, although not quite from the time of King James I, has been there so long it needs to be upgraded. A bypass is the only way that we can prevent the trucks from coming through because much of it is down to habit or knowing particular routes. This is why, particularly also given that the M1 is almost reaching capacity as well, we need to see an upgrade along that route.
In terms of the tolling, and this is a question that I have asked around, there is a difficulty for people paying tolls when there is the M3 in Meath as well. There are two tolls between Cavan and Dublin as well. Unfortunately, the Department I represent today, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, has responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme but individual national roads come under Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TIl, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Any issues the Senator has raised regarding this, including toll roads and the establishment of a system of tolls, are within the remit of TIl. Like the Senator, I think these issues will continue to be raised within the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I will come back to the Senator on any specific issues she has.
The issue of tolls, while affecting local authorities, requires a national strategy. An example of a bad hostage to fortune that was given, for example, is the idea that the State now compensates for whenever there are not vehicles on roads as well as when there are. There is a concern. It was an example of poor policy.
Similarly, in terms of poor policy, the idea of the diesel rebate scheme needs to be re-examined. It is extraordinary that we would not be just giving an exemption. Ideally, we should be pressing for fuel efficiency as part of these European directives. We should be asking for them to move forward. Clearly, the road haulage industry is an effective lobbyist but the fact is we cannot afford the lives lost to this industry by poor practice. We should be looking for more fuel efficiency in the vehicles but, nonetheless, to incentivise and refund the purchase of unclean fuels is an extraordinarily regressive step. That is one that we need to revise.
I accept we will be under pressure with Brexit. I do not believe that companies will stop delivering goods to Ireland if they have to pay the same price for diesel as anybody else. I think that they will continue in that regard.
I look forward to engaging with the Minister of State. I appreciate the Minister of State's engagement in relation to Slane. I understand the situation. I note that sometimes extra roads are added, as when an extra road was added through the centre of Kilkenny, and doing so does not reduce the vehicle traffic. In that case, what we saw was more vehicle traffic. We suddenly had two roads which had the same number of vehicles. There is a concern, not specifically in terms of Slane, that the research internationally has shown that providing more roads does not automatically reduce traffic. What it tends to do is incentivise and send the signal that roads are the main mechanisms. In fact, freight haulage, which is something which Ireland has neglected and which is another issue I raised in the past with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, is somewhere that we will need to look for long-term sustainability as we depend increasingly on the ports and on land travel and that connection between rail and port down the line.
I will highlight another few areas, particularly on overall emissions, to show that a considerable amount of work is being done.
The rebate was introduced at a time when the industry was under particular pressure. It was needed to try to ensure that individual businesses did not go under and that they were sustainable. It was acknowledged that they were still in significant difficulty.
On the range of new alternative fuel solutions, they are emerging across the HGV fleet spectrum. Electrification is slow but gas-fuelled trucks are available right now. We have a number of incentives in place to encourage gas use in freight. For example, we have a low excise rate for natural gas and for biogas. We have an accelerated capital allowance scheme for investment in trucks and refuelling infrastructure at the Department. They are also working on a grant scheme which will be introduced next year. Gas Networks Ireland is rolling out the refuelling infrastructure - the gas filling station - at Dublin Port. It is now open. The low-emissions vehicle task force recently finished its work on the potential role for alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas, as a pathway to biomethane, biofuels and hydrogen in the freight sector. All of this will take time.
Only last week, the new Commission President, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, published and launched the new green deal, which is intended to cross all spectrums and all industries, sectors and business, such as freight. The focus of the new green deal was not the loss of jobs. It was not to place a burden on people. It was to be innovative, to help produce jobs and to help sustain industries and sectors. The HGV sector will certainly be one benefiting from that.
Finally, on Slane, I would hope, particularly given that the route was announced this week, that the ban on HGVs, as well as the proposal of the bypass, will allow for the village - which has been destroyed with HGVs over recent years - to be able to flourish and grow given its considerable potential as such an historic and important village next to our oldest and most important structure of Newgrange.
I thank the Senator for her question. I certainly will relay the Senator's concerns to the Minister.