Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Health Services

I welcome to the House our colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, who is one of our former distinguished Members. I wish him well with his recovery.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for picking this very important topic. I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for being here and also wish him well. I commend his work on his brief so far. He has been very proactive and I commend him on the work he has done in terms of sexual health and sexual well-being. The sexual health strategy is so important.

Next Wednesday, 1 December, is World AIDS Day and a day of visibility. However, I am wearing the red ribbon here today as a reminder to all of us that it is not just one day. The issue of PrEP is one that has become a source of contention of Cork, and it should not be, because Cork is our second city. To be fair to the Minister of State and the Department of Health, the funding is available. PrEP has become a very important tool and asset in the fight against HIV in the world. I want to stress that the Cork Sexual Health Centre is doing Trojan work. The outreach, engagement, support and services are fantastic and are helping so many people.

A resolution is needed in Cork in the availability of PrEP. Funding is approved and has come from the Department and CHO 4, covering Cork and Kerry. The roadblock is that there has been no implementation of the funding. I appreciate that we have a pandemic and the resources and staff of the HSE are stretched. A standalone PrEP clinic is needed, however, in Cork, our second city. The positions that should be created must be advertised and filled.

A central part of the sexual health strategy is access to critical services and supports. I appeal that the new sexual health strategy will include deliverable measures to improve access to HIV and sexual health services, such as PrEP, in Cork city. There is a global commitment to meet the end of HIV by 2030. As part of that, the supports and services linked to PrEP are essential. Equally, I appeal that as the Minister of State meets with different organisations as part of the sexual health strategy, there would be engagement and inclusivity with all stakeholders, not just with people within the Department. The Minister of State has been very open and engaging with all of us who have met with him and the groups he has met around the country. I thank him for his work and I wish him well.

This is an important issue. It is not just about World AIDS Day. It is about the ongoing provision of services and supports in the fight against HIV.

If we cast our minds back to where we were in the 1980s and compare it with today, we will see that we are in a much better place now. We can be in an even better place with the supports and services available. I thank the Minister of State for being here. I really appreciate it and thank him for his work.

I thank Senator Buttimer for giving me an opportunity to update the House on this matter. Sexual health is a priority for the Department of Health. This was evidenced by the publication of the National Sexual Health Strategy 2015-2020, the first major strategy to tackle this vital area. Good progress has been made with the implementation of the strategy since 2015. The Department of Health, along with the HSE sexual health and crisis pregnancy programme, SHCPP, has worked hard to built important partnerships with a range of community and voluntary groups, all of which are working with us to implement a range of important sexual health initiatives. Work has now begun on a review and refresh of the strategy and this will continue in 2022. The treatment of HIV is a priority item within the strategy. As we approach World AIDS Day, we have a good opportunity to take stock of where we are in the fight against the virus.

In recent years we have seen the launch of two major initiatives to intensify our response to HIV in Ireland. The first of these saw Ireland joining the Fast-Track Cities global initiative, which aims to boost HIV prevention and treatment and to reduce stigma. The implementation of this initiative includes expanded community HIV testing and outreach in key urban areas and centres; targeted outreach to key at-risk groups; public campaigns on stigma reduction and promotion of the PrEP service; and the development of a co-ordination, monitoring and evaluation workstream. Steering groups, which include representation from the Department of Health and the SHCPP, have been established and are now in place. They are working to progress this initiative in the participating cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. The second initiative was the introduction of a national programme of HIV PrEP. Funding of €5.4 million was secured for PrEP in 2020, including an allocation for the recruitment of additional staff, as Senator Buttimer rightly said. The funding and roll-out of this programme has continued in 2021. While the PrEP service remains fully funded, implementation has been impacted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. All health services, including STI, HIV and PrEP services, are continuing to face constraints resulting from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. These constraints include attendance by appointment only or online as a result of the need to maintain social distancing, and the necessary redeployment of personnel to diverse Covid-19 related duties which include testing, contact tracing, vaccination and front-line patient care.

The Cork PrEP service commenced in South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital in April 2020. There are 294 PrEP service users registered with the PrEP clinic in the hospital. Existing PrEP users continue to be seen for PrEP review and monitoring as prescriptions are required. The recruitment of a PrEP clinical nurse manager for the service is a priority for the HSE and is actively being pursued. The service closed to new PrEP service users on Monday, 4 October 2021, and will remain closed to new users until the clinical nurse manager is in post.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The Fast-Track Cities initiative, which he mentioned, is an important part of what we are trying to achieve in our fight against HIV and AIDS. The interesting thing is that the funding has been approved, notwithstanding the remarks of the Minister of State. The key point I want to make is there is a need to have a resolution to the post being filled. As the Minister of State said, the service has been closed to new PrEP users since 4 October and will remain closed. I hope the Minister of State will impress upon the HSE the urgency and importance of this service and this facility. I hope this will be prioritised in real time, not in HSE time because that can go on forever, as we know. I do not mean to be rude or disparaging when I say that, but there is a need to progress the good work being done to ensure we meet our commitments in the sexual health strategy. Our second city is not open as a PrEP facility for men who require this service, and we cannot allow that to continue. I appeal to the Minister of State to use his powers to fast-track the recruitment of a new clinical nurse manager. As he knows, the HSE can take forever to fill a post. I hope it will not be that way in this case. I thank the Minister of State for his commitment and support and for being here this morning. I appreciate the work he is doing in the Department.

I thank Senator Buttimer for his significant contribution to the House on this important topic. I wish to conclude by providing some detail on another important sexual health initiative which is currently in progress. The Department of Health is happy to support the HSE's home STI testing pilot project in Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Cork and Kerry through the Sláintecare integration fund. My colleague the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, was pleased to be able to secure funding of €3.3 million in the recent budget for the continuation of online STI testing. Integrating online STI testing services with established public STI clinics is an effective and efficient way to increase access to and capacity for STI testing services. This allows people to use online platforms and tests for STIs in the comfort of their own homes.

Senator Buttimer said that this post needs to be filled as a matter of urgency. I will bring his concerns back to the HSE to try to get it filled as quickly as possible.

Cybersecurity Policy

Senator Malcolm Byrne wishes to raise the need for the Minister for Health to make a statement on the cyberattack on the health service in May 2021, including the estimated costs and the impact on hospital procedures.

I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter. He will be aware that in May of this year, we had a ransomware attack on our health services. It was the largest known attack on a health service anywhere in the world. For this to happen to any health service is frankly disgraceful, but it is particularly disgraceful as we battle a pandemic. Credit is due to the IT staff who tried as quickly as possible to restore the systems in place. There was undoubtedly a considerable cost. While it is easy to measure the direct IT cost, and I am interested in hearing those figures, there is a broader cost in terms of the impact that the cyberattack had on health procedures. At the time, approximately 7,000 patient appointments were delayed each day as a result of the attack. That has consequences for all of those individuals and their families. Quite frankly, it was a terrorist attack. It is something that unfortunately we are going to see much more of. It is where the new battleground is going to be. Sadly, we are going to see state actors engaged to a far greater extent behind some of these cyberattacks.

This week, Grant Thornton Ireland published a report which estimated that the economic cost of cybercrime in Ireland last year was approximately €9.6 billion. That has very serious consequences for the economy. Obviously, an attack on something like our health services has serious impacts on people's lives. This time it was the health service, but I am worried that next time it could be water services or local authorities. An attack on our infrastructure has very serious consequences. I hope the Government has a strategy in place to prevent this happening not just within the health service but across all areas of critical infrastructure and indeed infrastructure more widely.

It is time to look at the broader question of how we address cybercrime and cyberterrorism. It is essential that we co-operate with our EU partners and indeed as part of the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, because this is a matter of national security and defence.

This constitutes an attack on the State, and as a State we must respond. We are not capable of simply responding on our own. We must respond with fellow democracies to some of these attacks. I hope the Minister of State can respond to my queries about the infrastructure that needs to be put in place here at a domestic level, but given that this is a matter of national defence and security, I believe we should also be taking part in some of the PESCO groups that are designed to combat cybercrime and cyberterrorism. This is where the wars and battles of the future are going to be fought. Earlier this year, Ireland had a salutary lesson that our systems are not up to scratch. I hope that the Government has in place a system so that if we experience a similar attack, we can address it.

I thank Senator Byrne for raising this very important issue. Cyberthreats are a global issue and they are not limited to healthcare. Increasing attacks on critical infrastructure are triggering widespread disruption across the globe and causing significant disruption to companies and State agencies. They impact directly on citizens, as the Senator has rightly outlined.

The Conti ransomware attack on the HSE of 14 May 2021 resulted in an immediate loss of almost all ICT systems, applications and communications networks needed to support the delivery of health and social care services. The impact on patient services and patients was on a scale not seen before. As an immediate response, the HSE took all systems offline to reduce the risk of further contagion while the situation was assessed. All technical staff were diverted to respond to the crisis, supported by senior management from across the organisation. At present, almost all ICT systems have recovered to full functionality. However, some remedial work is required on a small number of older, legacy ICT systems and this work is actively being progressed by the HSE.

There are significant financial costs associated with repairing the damage caused to the HSE’s ICT systems. Funding provided this year addressed the immediate risks to the HSE, including the recovery of systems and data affected by the attack, the upgrade and replacement of legacy systems, and the establishment of a security operations centre for enhanced monitoring of threats. The HSE estimates that these measures cost €37.5 million in 2021 and do not include the wider costs associated with the disruption to health services and patient impact.

I believe there is a need for sustained investment in ICT in the health service in the coming years to protect the health system from the risk of future attacks. The 2022 budget includes funding for the HSE to enhance cyber-resilience. The cyberattack against the HSE’s ICT infrastructure has been unprecedented in severity and scale, and this investment will support the maintenance of a modern and secure ICT infrastructure to mitigate any future attacks.

Considerable work is also under way at Government level to protect against future attacks. The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer has enhanced the Internet connections connecting the Government to the rest of the world and put in place mitigation measures to deal with attacks should they arise, such as performing real-time checks on Internet traffic to block access to reported malicious destinations to mitigate phishing attacks.

Departments are also moving to the build-to-share Government infrastructure model which protects the working environment and monitors malicious activity more efficiently. Plans are also in place to establish the National Cyber Security Centre on a statutory footing and to increase staff numbers to support the critical work they do in protecting infrastructure from future cyberattacks.

I thank the Senator again for raising this issue which has caused huge critical infrastructure malfunctions. It caused significant disruption to companies and State agencies, and it impacted directly on citizens. I thank all of the stakeholders for all the work they have done since that attack. I hope that the funding in place will help us to be aware and to minimise the impact on patient services.

I thank the Minister of State. I appreciate that he is able to measure the direct cost in the figure of €37.5 million this year. We are six months on and, as the Minister of State has said, it still has not been fully resolved. The indirect costs are much more difficult to measure but I have no doubt that we are talking about tens of millions of euro with regard to the loss of productivity and the impact it has had. It has also had an impact on patients' lives. My concern on the broader issue around cybersecurity relates to whether, as a State, we are taking it sufficiently seriously. It requires a cross-government approach. On top of that, I again encourage us to look at partnering with the EU and other democracies through PESCO and other agencies. This is a matter of national defence and security. The Minister of State has said that this attack was unprecedented. He is correct, but I must say to the Minister of State that we are going to see a lot more of it. That is why we need to take it seriously.

I thank the Senator for his contribution to the House on this important topic. Cyberthreats remain a persistent concern across a number of sectors globally. The disruption they cause to services, particularly during a pandemic, is devastating. It is galling that cyberattacks prey on our public healthcare system and our patients, and on some of the most vulnerable people in the State. I assure the Senator that my Department, and the HSE as the key target of the cyberattack in May, are working closely with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer and the National Cyber Security Centre and its partners to strengthen ICT infrastructure and ensure that health services are resilient to future cyber-incidents.

As well as working with my colleagues in the Government to improve cyber-resilience at national level, my Department is also engaged at EU level to ensure robust cyber-resilience in all EU member states through the implementation of the national information security directive and the proposed critical entities resilience directive, which deal with the protection and resilience of critical entities such as health service providers.

In conclusion, I acknowledge the staff and colleagues in my Department, the HSE and other Departments and Government agencies who worked tirelessly during the ransomware attack to make sure that our health services were restored and, most importantly, that patients got the urgent care they needed.

Electric Vehicles

My constituency colleague, Senator Robbie Gallagher, wishes to raise the need for the Minister for Transport to make a statement on the availability of electric vehicle charging points, particularly in the counties of Monaghan, Cavan and Meath.

The Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, is very welcome to the House this morning and I thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to be here. This morning I want to raise the need for electric vehicle, EV, charging points throughout counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath. EcoXpress, which is the first all-electric courier company operating in the Republic of Ireland, is based in Monaghan. It has four electric vans servicing County Monaghan, three electric vans servicing County Cavan and five electric vans servicing counties Louth and Meath. As the company grows, it intends to increase the fleet of vehicles. The feedback from clients is very positive in that they are happy to see this reduction in CO2 emission levels. It goes without saying that the nature of the courier business demands speed and efficiency as top goals.

Unfortunately, I am saddened to say this morning that this company is experiencing great difficulty with the lack of fast-charging points for its vehicles. Monaghan town has only one fast-charging location and that can take approximately 40 minutes to charge a vehicle up to 80% of its charging capacity. Sometimes, when they arrive at a charging point, drivers discover that another vehicle is already there or perhaps there is even a queue of vehicles waiting for the charging point. It is worth noting that Monaghan would traditionally be seen as a halfway point for people from the north of the country, for example Donegal, Derry or north Tyrone, when they are travelling to Dublin. Monaghan will always be seen as a halfway point and perhaps this goes some way to highlighting the increased usage of those charging points in that particular area. Other towns such as Carrickmacross similarly have only one fast-charging location. Unfortunately, from time to time these charging points have broken down and have been broken down for a number of days, and apparently other parts of the country are also experiencing similar difficulties with fast-charging points.

Government policy on EVs is quite clear for those who can afford them. They are the way to go. Home charging is seen as the primary method of charging the majority of EVs in Ireland. It is convenient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. It is very cost-effective if the special low night-time rate can be availed of to charge a vehicle. That seems to be a sensible way for domestic users to charge their EVs because, typically, their journeys involve going from A to B and back to A again. However, drivers of commercial vehicles, particularly couriers, may have to make multiple journeys on any given day. Since they could be away from early morning and on the road all day, they totally depend on the fast-charging infrastructure, be it in counties Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, Meath or elsewhere.

The Government has identified the transition to EVs for those who can afford them as critical if we are to deliver on our climate change targets. Unfortunately, the scarcity of charging points does not encourage people to change over to EVs, particularly if they are in the commercial world and most particularly if they are in the courier business. This issue requires immediate attention. I hope the Minister of State will have good news not only for the company I mentioned but also for the many companies and individuals who are thinking of changing over to EVs.

For once, I will take some latitude in the Chair. I congratulate the Senator on raising this important local issue, which I, too, can relate to. I thank him for it.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The Government's policy on the increased usage of EVs is primarily driven by the climate action plan, which sets out a target of having 945,000 EVs on Irish roads by 2030. To support these EVs, Ireland has a comprehensive charging network available to EV owners to charge their vehicles. Several operators are providing charging points, with the majority being rolled out by EasyGo and the ESB through its ecars programme. Each provider has a map outlining the availability of charging points that is updated in real-time.

Charging-point operators in Ireland mainly provide charging points that are the standard 22 kW or the higher 50 kW or 150 kW. Standard charging points are located on streets and at strategic destinations, such as train stations, hotels and shopping centres. The fast and high-powered charging, HPC, points are mainly focused along the motorways.

In addition to the charging points on the main network, charging points are provided at locations such as places of employment and private car parks. Currently, there are approximately 2,000 charging points in Ireland, and this number is continuing to grow.

A sum of €10 million from the climate action fund was committed to support ESB investment in the charging network, and this has leveraged a further investment of €10 million, from the ESB. This intervention alone will result in 90 additional high-powered chargers, each capable of charging two vehicles; 52 additional fast chargers, which may replace existing standards chargers; and the replacement of 264 standards chargers with more modern technology and with each consisting of two charge points. The project is due to be completed in 2022.

With regard to the three Border counties the Senator has mentioned, the Department of Transport is informed by ESB ecars that its charging network currently includes the following: in County Meath, 24 standard charge points, six fast chargers and two HPC points; in County Louth, 24 standard charge points and four fast chargers; and in County Cavan, ten charge points and one fast charger. ESB ecars is to begin work next month to install a HPC hub in County Monaghan. Work to install HPC locations in Trim and Navan, County Meath, will be completed by mid-2022. ESB ecars is in negotiation with private landowners with regard to the provision of a new HPC hub in County Cavan.

The FASTER project is a joint initiative aimed at supporting the installation, by May 2023, of 73 rapid 50 kW-capacity EV charging stations across both jurisdictions within Ireland, as well as in Scotland, and it has been awarded €6.4 million from the EU INTERREG VA programme. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which administers the scheme, has informed the Department that, to date, three local authorities have submitted applications for funding, while a further 13 have requested application forms. Louth County Council is seeking funding for the installation of 20 points.

The Senator inquired about County Monaghan. I do not have any information in my reply, but the primary focus of the scheme is to support the installation of infrastructure that will facilitate owners of EVs who do not have access to private parking spaces but who rely on parking their vehicles in public places only.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. He stated there are plans to expand the rolling out of charging points in the region. That is very much welcome. I would be grateful if he could get me more detail specifically on the plans for County Monaghan. County Cavan will see an increase, as will counties Louth and Meath.

The Minister of State mentioned Monaghan in a certain context, but I am here to give voice to the courier company in question and many others who are calling for more charging points to be installed. If we are to encourage people who can afford to change to an EV to do so, it is vital that we put in place the infrastructure to support them. This is particularly the case for a courier company, whose business will be judged on – and grow based on – how successfully it does its business. If a company cannot charge its vehicles, it cannot deliver its goods. This would have an adverse effect on business. I would be grateful if the Minister of State could get me more specific details, particularly on County Monaghan.

I thank the Senator. We are all at one here. The Senator's lobbying for County Monaghan is very effective. I thank him. He has support from the Leas-Chathaoirleach. As the Senator will be aware, the Government is fully committed to supporting the significant expansion and modernisation of the EV charging network over the coming years. The Department of Transport is working closely with several key stakeholders, including those in local government, to ensure EV infrastructure will stay ahead of demand. The Senator is correct that we need to be ahead of the curve because EVs are the way forward.

The programme for Government commits to publishing an EV infrastructure strategy to facilitate the uptake of EVs. Once completed, it will provide a key framework for ensuring that we can continue to have sufficient infrastructure in place to keep ahead of demand. It is envisaged that the strategy will be published early next year. I will ask the Department to get the Senator information pertaining to County Monaghan.

Renewable Energy Generation

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Today I am particularly interested in hearing the Minister of State's response to the plans for the offshore community benefit fund. The terms and conditions for the first offshore renewable energy support scheme, RESS, are out for consultation, but I would like to tease out how the scheme will be administered. While the consultation is ongoing, the Government has made a couples of statements that indicate its preference, namely a nationally managed fund. That is very different from the community benefit funds in respect of the onshore RESS, whereby each project administers its own fund.

It is stated in the consultation documentation that one reason for this is that while a single, medium-sized, 500 MW offshore project could generate €4 million in community funding for a year, it would take 80,000 onshore projects to achieve the same level. According to the Government's document as well, when dealing with projects costing millions of euro, the cost of administering the funds could be reduced significantly by administering them centrally. We must be careful in this regard, however, because other factors beyond that of lowest cost are involved and should be considered when we are talking about community benefits. Communities' experience of how they have been treated onshore has not been a good one in this regard. They now have access to the community benefit fund, but the legacy of how they were treated by onshore wind projects remains.

Making the administration of funds national will mean that communities will miss out on developing skills and jobs in funds management, and this aspect should not be discounted by the Government. It is important that all community groups have access in this regard and that the administrative burden is not too high, but I urge caution regarding what will happen around the ownership of the scheme. I refer to there being a centralised, Dublin-based fund and, once again, applications being made to Dublin for these community benefits. It is essential, therefore, to get the model right, and I encourage the Government not to close the door on the opportunity of having these funds administered at the community level by individuals who live in the communities and know what will work for those communities. I say that because this is also part of what a just transition is; it concerns community ownership of the transition.

I would also like to hear about the plans regarding the climate-proofing of the community benefit fund. It must be ensured that it will be possible for the money used on projects not only to facilitate a just transition through microgeneration and similar endeavours, but also to have an ultimate outcome that will not result in making the climate crisis even worse. The projects the funding is intended for must be climate-proofed and must also create employment opportunities in the non-extractive sector.

I would also like to tease out some detail on the possibility of allocating a portion of the fund specifically to the small fishers who face unique challenges. They are going to be directly impacted by the development of offshore wind. These are communities that have been alienated for a long time by many Government bodies and by EU bureaucracy, and they should have a separate fund that they can access to enable them to be net beneficiaries of the development of offshore wind.

The community fund could also enable opportunities for marine research and allow us to learn more about the indicator species and the rich biodiversity we have in our marine area. Equally, we should not close the door on community ownership of offshore wind. While nobody is in a position now to do anything on that scale, we must explore co-operative models in this regard and definitely not close the door to communities if they want to become involved in creating their own offshore wind projects. This scheme should not just be about the microgeneration element.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. Ireland has one of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world with a sea area of 490,000 sq. km, which is approximately seven times the size of our landmass. Ireland’s location at the Atlantic edge of the EU means that we have more offshore energy potential than most countries in Europe. The Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021, which recently completed Committee Stage in the Dáil, will enable the realisation of our offshore renewable energy ambitions by establishing well-regulated developments, streamlined consent and comprehensive environmental assessment of proposals and consultative processes to better enable community investment and engagement.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is developing terms and conditions for the first offshore wind auction under the offshore renewable electricity support scheme, ORESS 1. It will support the first phase of offshore wind development in Ireland. All offshore wind energy development will be required to make community benefit fund contributions and, owing to the larger scale of offshore wind developments, these contributions are expected to be significantly larger than those from their onshore counterparts. Additionally, as a result of the longer construction period required by offshore wind projects, mechanisms for early community benefit are included in the draft ORESS 1 terms and conditions, which are now undergoing public consultation until December.

The Senator mentioned the national managed fund proposals. To better account for the increased governance requirements of offshore funds, the ambiguity of the offshore community and the increased State aid risk posed by benefits payable to certain marine community members, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is proposing that the offshore community benefit fund be managed at a national level. The main role of the national fund manager, as proposed, would be to support local decision-making by undertaking the administrative obligations and burdens of collecting and managing the funds on behalf of the local community. The local community would then be left free to concentrate on decision-making on funding applications and implementation. In no way is a nationally administered fund intended to weaken local community decision-making. The proposal is also expected to reduce administrative overheads and to realise a greater proportion of funds for expenditure in coastal and marine communities. The proposal for a national fund is also included in our ORESS 1 consultation and will be subject to the feedback received by that process. The Department has also highlighted that community benefit funds will be open to all communities, inclusively and equitably. In this regard, as part of the ORESS 1 consultation process, views are invited regarding how the fishing and seafood sectors can be inclusively engaged as a part of the wider community.

Significant investment in Ireland’s offshore renewable energy sector through ORESS will deliver considerable benefits to coastal communities more generally in respect of high-value jobs and indigenous supply chains. A cross-departmental offshore renewable energy team, chaired by officials from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, is being established to capture wider economic and business opportunities associated with the development of offshore renewables in Ireland. The significant role of regional ports in the development of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy sector and the need for investment in port infrastructure will also benefit local coastal communities through employment and commercial opportunities. A review of the national ports policy by the Department of Transport will consider the port infrastructure development required to facilitate Ireland’s future offshore renewable energy sector.

I welcome the Minister of State's provision of some clarity on these questions. I still encourage that the decision concerning a nationally administered fund be kept open. It is, once again, being said that the decision-making will come from the community, but the best model of community involvement is the one led by the community for the community. There is a job creation opportunity here for rural communities if we encourage people to learn skills in administration and funds management.

Turning to the State aid risk for the small inshore fishers, there are ways around that aspect. We must continue to examine that issue, and part of the solution involves port and harbour infrastructure. It also involves sustainable equipment and research into where the fish are and how to fish sustainably.

I did not get an answer regarding climate-proofing in respect of ensuring the community benefit fund will not be funding projects which will make the climate crisis worse. I ask the Minister of State to raise that issue with the Minister.

I will certainly raise climate-proofing with the Minister. The Senator will be aware that the Department recognises that increased participation by people in offshore renewable energy projects will bring about significant supports for climate action as people in turn become personally invested in their delivery. The Department continues to engage in the overall package of community participation and benefits in line with Ireland’s climate ambitions to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and to deliver on the European Green Deal.

The Senator is absolutely right that this is a huge opportunity for people and communities to be involved in major decision-making. Two lines of thought exist in this regard, namely, that decision-making will occur nationally or it will take place locally. Working together, however, we can get the best of both worlds. I take on board the views of the Senator, and also her request for more information about climate-proofing. I agree as well that the development of many skills and abilities can be explored in these communities.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. Even though he has had a long and intense session this morning, his voice is certainly in good fettle, which is good.

Sitting suspended at 11.20 a.m. and resumed at 11.34 a.m.