Local Authority Funding.

Questions (3, 4)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

3 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to instruct local authorities to initiate a review of development charges due to the inconsistency at which they are levied from county to county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9783/06]

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Oral answers (27 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Development contributions are levied as a condition of planning permission in accordance with development contribution schemes adopted by the elected members of planning authorities after a public consultation process. This approach was endorsed by the Oireachtas in the context of the Planning and Development Act 2000. It enables local authorities to estimate the cost of infrastructure and community facilities needed locally and to recoup some of that cost from developers.

Due to the fact that development contribution schemes address different local needs and circumstances, contributions associated with these schemes may vary between local authorities. However, a developer can establish in advance the contribution that is likely to be levied on a particular development.

Planning authorities have been advised by my Department that while developers should make an appropriate contribution towards the costs of public infrastructure and facilities, care should be taken to avoid development contributions that are excessively high. They were also advised to be mindful of the policies adopted by other authorities in their immediate area so as to avoid a major divergence in the level of contributions charged. It is manifestly in the interests of all local authorities to protect their local competitiveness.

My Department recently established an interdepartmental committee to look at issues raised by different interests in respect of development contributions. The committee is examining the existing guidance issued to planning authorities. I will consider the report of the committee in deciding whether additional guidance should be issued to planning authorities before they next review their schemes. I anticipate that the committee will report within the next two months.

I welcome the fact that an interdepartmental committee will be established to examine development levies. Up to €500 million was collected in development levies last year. Where is the transparency regarding how this money is spent? It is all very well for the Minister to say that elected members of local authorities have a say in this but the reality is that they have very little say in how development levies are spent. While development levies are collected in one area, they can be spent in another area.

Does the Minister accept that the introduction of development levies has added to the price of houses, particularly for first-time buyers? It has added greatly to the cost of houses for young people who find it very difficult to acquire houses today. Recent statistics show that the average price of a house for a first-time buyer is €250,000 but a person would not be able to get a house for that price in Dublin or Galway. Does the Minister accept that the imposition of development levies adds greatly to the cost of new houses, particularly for first-time buyers? We do not know where the money from development levies is spent and there is no transparency in the process.

I agree with Deputy McCormack that the process for dealing with development levies is not as transparent as it should be. Before the recent local authority estimates were produced, I wrote to all the county managers informing them than I expected them to be open and transparent as to the amount of money they were collecting in levies. It is a matter for local authorities and local councillors to demand a full account of where the levies are spent. Members of local authorities are elected to carry out this specific task.

However, I do not agree that the burden of all development should fall on the general taxpayer. We must remember that the levies are intended to recoup some of the costs of public funds and servicing land and to provide for future developments. Deputy McCormack was correct in stating that the amount of money collected in the form of development levies last year was approximately €500 million. It is very important that local authorities and their members demand that the figures are made available to them. By way of assisting in the local public debate on this matter, I have decided that in future I will publish on my Department's website a full report on all development levies throughout the country. I will do so because I believe that Members of this House, as well as members of local authorities, frequently do not know the level of levies contributed.

If we believe in local democracy, it is a matter for local councillors to take charge of this issue in their individual councils and require, by way of motion if necessary, that their managers are open and transparent about the way in which the levies are dealt with. Deputy McCormack is aware that the levies are supposed to be hypothecated and ring-fenced for specific purposes. It is very important that councillors ensure that this happens.

The levies are supposed to be ring-fenced but different levies are applied in different counties. The Minister's county of Wicklow had one of the highest levies in the country. Is it fair that I, who live in an estate house in Renmore, can receive services without paying any development levy while a first-time buyer is forced to pay it? First-time buyers are being penalised by the Minister's theory that services should not be free. There should be the same playing pitch for everyone. Everyone has paid for these services several times over due to the stealth taxes introduced by the Government. Does the Minister accept that the only people who are now being penalised in respect of services enjoyed by everyone are first-time buyers? These people must pay a development levy which has added greatly to house prices. The Minister has avoided acknowledging that the imposition of service charges and other measures such as the increase in VAT have added to the cost of buying a house for first-time buyers. How high are development levies in the Minister's county of Wicklow?

I am very pleased that Deputy McCormack raised the issue of contribution levies in County Wicklow because, as he is aware, his colleagues on the county council reduced the levies before the local elections and increased them after the elections. This was an extraordinary example of levying a stealth tax. It was extraordinary behaviour on the part of councillors, who made the decisions to both lower and raise the levies. If Deputy McCormack has problems with that, he might like to speak to the leader of the Fine Gael group in Wicklow County Council. I certainly disagreed with the approach that was adopted.

Development levies are not simply levied on individual households. Community facilities and some funding for necessary infrastructure are supposed to be covered by levies. I am not sure if Deputy McCormack is suggesting that he would completely abolish levies were he to enter Government. If so, he would pass the cost on to general taxpayers and be forced to tell them where it came from.

We can all play games with the issue of levies. The most important thing we can do in respect of levies is to ensure that they are transparent. I agree with the general thrust of Deputy McCormack's question, which is that levies should be transparent, that local authority members must have full information and that local communities must see where the money is spent. That is the only way for local councillors and communities to see whether they are getting value for money.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

4 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the conclusions of the Indecon report on the financing of local government that between €16 million and €2 billion per annum additional resources will be required by local authorities between now and 2010 to maintain the existing level of service; the way in which he proposes that such additional funding will be provided; the cost of producing and publishing the Indecon report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9610/06]

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The cost, including publication, of the recently published study in the financing of local government was €291,100. On the basis of different methods of projecting expenditure, the consultants identify that by 2010, local authority expenditure will increase by €1 billion to €2 billion in nominal terms over 2004 levels. Funding this expenditure will be met by a combination of the buoyancy in the existing funding system, some additional funding and the achievement of efficiencies over the period.

As regards the existing funding system, there is significant natural buoyancy in the current revenue sources of local authorities. For example, at local level, the valuation base has grown rapidly as a result of major commercial developments. This produces revenue which is paid directly to local authorities. In addition, revenue from motor taxation, which is paid directly into the local government fund, continues to increase without any increases in the rates of this taxation. In 2006, the fund will amount to some €1.4 billion. I was in a position to announce record levels of general purpose grants to local authorities from the fund amounting to €875 million for 2006. This was an increase of 8% on the 2005 allocation and 2.5 times more than the allocation in 1997.

To supplement the existing income sources, a number of initiatives will be pursued. I am considering ways of bringing issues such as planning fees, which are fixed by regulations, into line with the economic cost of dealing with planning applications. I will introduce legislation to make commercial properties liable for rates from the date of valuation as opposed to the beginning of the following year. This simple move will generate an additional €25 million in revenues for local authorities per annum.

To boost income to the local government fund, I am tackling tax evasion. A number of issues must be dealt with here. Additional revenues will be complemented by a range of efficiency initiatives. In partnership with local authorities, I propose to examine the scope for greater sharing of services between local authorities. I will develop a standard costing system for the sector to deliver enhanced management information, particularly on unit costs. I intend to develop proposals to enhance arrangements for local audit committees, which councillors will welcome. I will continue to ensure that the value for money unit in my Department undertakes in-depth analyses of local authority activities and identifies best practice.

The availability of good information is a key to good decision-making and I have started a process of publishing key financial data on my Department's website. I am gratified by the fact a number of people have welcomed this initiative.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

I have set aside €2 million this year for an innovation fund to identify ways of delivering further efficiencies and to disseminate best practice in this regard to all local authorities. I will be announcing details of this during the year.

I take it from the Minister's reply that he accepts the conclusion in the Indecon report that between €1 billion and €2 billion extra will be required by local authorities by 2010. I want to explore with him where the money will come from. By how much will Government grants to local authorities increase, or will any of the additional money come from the Government? I understand from his reply that he envisages a combination of increases in motor taxation, commercial rates and service charges which are made by local authorities, and perhaps new service charges by local authorities to bring in the bulk of the €1 billion to €2 billion extra which will be required by local authorities. What is the Minister's estimate of the amount by which grants to local authorities will have to increase to finance this extra expenditure?

As the Deputy will recognise, there is a significant variation in the calculations provided by Indecon. It is suggesting that if expenditure is kept to 3% of GNP, one will get the higher estimate of €5.8 billion by 2010. However, if one bases it on population trends, which is probably more realistic because it is what determines the costings of local authorities, the figure would be €3.8 billion.

With regard to the specifics on where the funding will come from, there has been a significant increase in the resources made available by the Government to local authorities. For example, in 2000——

I am talking about the future.

I am talking about continuing a very good trend which the Government has set.

I want the Minister to project, not reminisce.

In 1994, when the Deputy's party was in Government, it allocated €236 million. I acknowledge that this had increased significantly by 1997 to €339 million and it has increased even more significantly to €875 million in 2006. While one cannot project exactly what the figures will be, if the trend continues, significant amounts of money will be involved.

On a number of the specific issues, there has been significant buoyancy in local authority funding, particularly as a result of the increase in commercial rates to local authorities, even without increasing rates. This year, local authorities achieved wonderful things by coming in at approximately 4% — in fact, rates were cut in Limerick city. This efficiency can drive the agenda much more than has been the case in the past. We must squeeze more value for money out of the funding to local authorities. This year, local authorities will spend in the order of €9 billion. If we can get just 1% efficiency out of it, it will be the equivalent of another €90 million. If we can get 10%, it would meet that whole issue.

There are aspects of the report which I do not intend to pursue. I have been up-front about this because I do not believe one can fund local government by levying a penalty on people who have holiday homes in Galway, Wexford, Wicklow or wherever. I do not think that would be a logical decision, nor do I intend introducing new taxes such as rates or stamp duty. However, if there is more efficiency and if we see the kind of growth that we have had, we will meet the difference projected by Indecon.

The Minister did not answer my question, which in itself gives me an answer. There is an estimate in the report that up to €2 billion additional moneys will be required by 2010. What is the Minister's estimate of the amount of that €2 billion that will come from Government grants? As he has not answered the question, I will give him another opportunity to do so.

In his main reply, before he began to waffle in his reply to my supplementary question, he identified motor taxation, planning fees, commercial rates and local charges as the areas from which buoyancy will arise. I want to ask him on behalf of the motorist by how much does he estimate motor taxation will increase to meet the €2 billion? By how much will local charges increase? By how much will commercial rates increase, which will be of interest to the business community throughout the country? They will form their own conclusion when they hear the Minister's answer to the specific question on the estimate. Given that he has had the report since last October, I presume he has estimated the increases that will be necessary to meet the additional funding to local authorities.

I am pleased the Deputy has given me an opportunity to be more specific. In the area of motor tax, the Government has been able to grow the motor tax revenue into the fund for local authorities without changing the taxation base. This is also my intention for the foreseeable future.

Is the Minister saying there will be no increase in motor taxation between now and 2010?

I am saying there have been remarkable improvements in this area. I am saying something else in regard to motor tax, with which I am sure the Deputy will assist me, because I will come before the House at some stage to deal with the issue of dodging motor tax. Efficiencies in collecting motor tax——

The Minister should stick to the question. He is waffling.

The Deputy should allow me to answer the question. If we can deal with the issue of dodging motor tax, it will bring in an extra €40 million, which is a huge amount of money.

Is this in motor taxation?

I said what I said.

What was that?

I said that in 2005, for example, we were able to increase——

Will there be an increase in motor taxation between now and 2010?

I am saying that natural growth buoyancy, at which the Deputy sneered, has produced 7% more in 2005.

I did not sneer at it.

It produced 10% more this year and my projection is that it will continue to produce that level of growth. If we deal with the issue of dodging, we will be able to put another significant amount of money into the fund.

The only dodging is the Minister dodging the question.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Questions (5)

Paudge Connolly

Question:

5 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the Government’s policy in relation to experimentation in the growth of genetically modified or engineered crops, particularly in view of the five year trial cultivation of genetically modified potatoes in Summerhill, County Meath, commencing in March 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9609/06]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The conclusions of the interdepartmental group on modern biotechnology, which were endorsed by the Government, said we should acknowledge the potential benefits of genetic engineering while maintaining a fundamental commitment to safety and environmental sustainability, based on scientific risk assessment and management. The Government continues to apply this precautionary principle.

The Government's policy must also take account of the EU legislative framework in regard to genetically modified organisms, which is legally binding on all member states. This includes Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms, Regulation 1829/2003 on genetically modified food and feed, Regulation 1830/2003 on traceability and labelling of genetically modified products and Regulation 1946/2003 on transboundary movement.

The undertaking of field trials of genetically modified crops is subject to Part B of Directive 2001/18/EC which is transposed into Irish law by the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 2003. Adjudication of applications for field trials is a function assigned to the independent Environmental Protection Agency, as the Irish competent authority for the purposes of the directive. My Department and I are legally and specifically precluded from exercising any influence on this independent function.

Will the Minister agree that genetically modified crops is another way of tampering with nature? The argument which is advanced regularly is that it is about increasing our ability to grow food for the poor and about food production. That argument is advanced quite regularly but in Brazil, which is the world's fourth largest food supplier why do 46 million people go to bed hungry every night? The issue of genetic engineering of food has more to do with multinationals and the profits they might make. I doubt BASF is coming to County Meath because it has a social conscience.

Does the Minister agree genetic engineering of food and fibre products is dangerous and unpredictable for humans, animals and the environment and for future sustainable and organic agriculture? Is he concerned to learn that in 1989, a genetically modified brand, L-tryptophan, a dietary supplement, killed 37 Americans and permanently disabled 5,000 others before it was taken off the market? Is that something about which we should be concerned? Is the Minister also concerned to learn that in 1999 in Britain, GM potatoes were poisonous to mammals damaging the vital organs, stomach linings and immune systems of laboratory rats? Laboratory rats are regularly used to test the effects products will have on human beings.

Does the Minister agree the window of opportunity given to people to object to these trials in County Meath was brief and that at least 100 separate objections were made? Does he agree it is a matter of concern that 32,000 farmers nationally object to the growing of and experimentation with GM crops in County Meath?

Does the Minister agree there are other difficulties, such as cross-contamination of crops? Growing GM and non-GM crops side by side cannot happen because of cross pollenation caused by animals, birds and insects carrying seeds to other plants. Does he agree this is a serious issue, that we should call a halt and take on board the objections from these groups which are well-founded?

I might well agree with several of the statements the Deputy made but I will not be able to go through them all individually. The Deputy illustrated why it is necessary that a precautionary element is adopted. Our policy is that we must comprehend the need to ensure risks are avoided in areas such as field to field tests. That is informed policy.

There has been, and will continue to be, a controversy in this area. I disagree with the Deputy's suggestion about public information. Advertisement of this trial was placed on 26 January and we could differ as to whether that is a sufficient period of time. The trial has also been reported in a number of national newspapers, so there has been quite a degree of discussion. The Deputy asked if I would agree there is much controversy in this area. It would be strange to try to suggest there is not controversy in this area.

Under EU legislation, it is not possible for a member state to inhibit, restrict or impede the placing on the market of certain GMOs. However, the biggest issue here is one of public awareness. The public will make its own decision if it is kept aware.

It is not a matter for us to determine the type of food we grow. It is now a matter for the EU as to whether we grow GM crops. Are the objections of all these groups being taken on board? We talk of a precautionary element but what about nature? We cannot prevent birds transmitting seeds to native crops. The Minister did not respond to the question about the 37 deaths and the 5,000 injuries in the US?

I did not because it does not arise in this context.

We have closely followed the line a group, which studied the whole issue of modern bio-technology, proposed to Government. That would be the case of whoever stands on this side. I also made the reasoned point that any policy which any Government operates must be within the context of the EU legislative framework. It is not possible to kick over the traces on those, whatever our personal views in this area.

The precautionary principle is the best way forward in terms of public policy. There is also the other side of the debate, that is, the argument that there are certain advantages too. The most important thing we can do is have an informed debate on this issue so the public can make its own choices when it comes to foodstuffs about which the Deputy asked. It is important the public has pointers.

It is about multinationals and profit.

Departmental Guidelines.

Questions (6)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

6 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the measures which can be taken to improve the design and build of apartment blocks; his views on whether there is a need to make apartment living more attractive to families; if his Department will identify higher-density and high quality build as part of a strategy to prevent urban sprawl; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9784/06]

View answer

Oral answers (21 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

A wide range of policies and measures has been put in place to ensure that the unprecedented rate of housing development in Ireland is planned for in a manner that supports the creation of sustainable communities within a high quality environment.

Guidelines for planning authorities on residential density were published in 1999. These included a specific objective of reducing urban sprawl and promoting greater efficiency in the use of energy, transport and natural resources. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist in achieving high quality residential density of a suitable scale at appropriate locations, in conjunction with improved public transport systems.

My Department is reviewing the guidelines with a view to updating them later this year. The updating of the guidelines will focus on the quality of new developments. It will also take account of the extensive experience built up since the introduction of the guidelines in the design, assessment and development of higher density proposals.

A new Housing Policy Framework: Building Sustainable Communities was approved by the Government and published in December 2005. This sets out an agenda for an integrated package of housing policy initiatives. These include supporting higher densities and compact urban settlement through quality design in the creation of new homes, new urban spaces and new neighbourhoods. My Department has also commissioned a research study into apartment size and space standards to inform the revised planning guidelines on residential densities. These new guidelines will address the need to make apartment living more attractive for family living. They will also deal with the related issue of effectively linking residential development with the provision of social infrastructure, including playgrounds, amenities, schools, transport and leisure facilities.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and welcome the review of the guidelines. In Dublin city and along the east coast generally, Fine Gael has been inundated with complaints about the poor design and the poor quality of life many people living in apartment complexes experience. Noise insulation is a key issue with many people. Other issues include the fact community areas are badly kept and are of poor quality and the lack of available recreation and amenity areas. We will build more houses in smaller spaces and we will build up rather than out. That is modern life. In many cases, however, the quality of the buildings and the surrounding environment is poor. What will the Minister of State do about that? How will he regulate the management of these apartment complexes which is causing grief around this city? Fine Gael is inundated with complaints about this issue, particularly in Dublin city.

There are a number of different aspects. The guidelines and the size of spaces have changed over the years. When we started building apartments 15 or 20 years ago, we were probably glad to see some derelict sites being built on. However, the guideline figures and space requirements have changed and continue to change. There are the 1995 guidelines and 1999 social and affordable housing guidelines. In the Dublin area, we have the Dublin city development plan. Larger space requirements were introduced during those three phases. The Dublin city development plan provides not only for the size of apartments but there are rules that not more than 50% of units in a development can be one bedroom units. It is trying to encourage large family units, which are attractive to the family. Fundamentally, that is what we are trying to achieve.

I accept some of the points made. We all get complaints about noise. That comes down to the self-certification system. People who buy apartments should ensure architects have signed off on the requirements and the certificates.

The issue of management companies is different and was not part of the question as such. We are considering that issue, about which questions have been asked. We are waiting for the report from the Law Reform Commission to guide us on what legislative changes need to be made.

Many of these new apartment blocks will become the slums of the future because of the poor quality of design. Legislation is being introduced to retrospectively grant fire certificates to some apartment complexes. This is a most serious issue that is not being addressed by the Government in current legislation.

Many people living in apartment complexes feel they are being ripped off by management companies. Some people are living in buildings that are disintegrating around them. I accept it is not true in the majority of cases but it is happening in a significant number of cases. A fundamental change in Government policy is required to ensure an improvement in people's quality of life. I do not refer to green spaces alone; sports complexes, swimming pools, schools and other amenities are required for people living in new high quality, high density developments. The Minister is charged with changing this situation but he has not done so.

I note the Deputy's concerns. We are carrying out a study in advance of updating the guidelines which we expect to be completed reasonably soon. It will examine Irish and UK experience on space standards. Consultations will take place with the various stakeholders. Inspections of some recent projects will also take place. Recommendations will be produced for guidelines on one, two and three-bedroom units. It is also intended to invite submissions from relevant stakeholders, including the local authorities and the professional bodies — the IPI, the RTPI, and the RIAI — that deal with the development of the docklands, and the BRL in regard to Ballymun in regard to amending and progressing with the guidelines.

Management companies are a separate issue. We are aware that problems exist. Management companies, co-operatives or whatever one calls them are supposed to be run by——

They are called rip-offs.

——the owners. In some cases the owners have been a bit lax and have not taken control——

They are not run by owners.

In many cases it is the builder.

——and not been involved to the extent they should.

They are run by management companies.

They have huge control.

In other cases developers have——

The management companies are set up by the builders.

Yes, in some cases management companies have been set up by developers who have used different devices to deny proper control and management to the home owners.

It is extortion.

We are examining those cases. We await the Law Reform Commission report before progressing the issue further.

That report is overdue by at least six months.

We cannot speed up the Law Reform Commission.

Local authorities are putting it as part of the planning permission.

Sometimes it is necessary to wait and see what problems will emerge. We are now aware of them. Evidence is being documented and it appears that some changes will be necessary but we are waiting for the report before we publish them.

Environmental Policy.

Questions (7)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

7 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will report on the implementation of the national climate change strategy in view of the comments by the EU Environment Commissioner, Mr. Stavros Dimas, in Dublin on 2 March 2006 that climate change, not terrorism, is the biggest threat facing humanity. [9773/06]

View answer

Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I met with Commissioner Dimas last week. I agree that climate change is of major global concern but it is another issue as to whether I would characterise it as he did. In the course of my discussions with him last week, I assured him of Ireland's commitment to meeting its Kyoto Protocol target.

The national climate change strategy was designed to reduce domestic emissions of greenhouse gases in the most efficient and equitable manner. National greenhouse gas emissions have dropped significantly since 2001, notwithstanding the very slight year-on-year increase shown in the provisional outturn for 2004.

The strategy was adopted in 2000. The first progress report was published in 2002 and it is available in the Oireachtas Library. Since then, there have been a number of significant developments at EU and wider international level, notably the commencement of carbon emissions trading within the EU in January 2005 and the coming into effect of the Kyoto Protocol in February 2005. I expect to see the impact of emissions trading reflected in the outturn figures for 2005.

A variety of measures adopted by the Government on foot of the strategy are contributing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. These include higher standards of energy conservation provided for in the building regulations, cleaner electricity generation and increased penetration of renewable energy, improvements in public transport, tax incentives for more fuel-efficient cars, and a package of excise relief for biofuels worth €200 million over five years announced in last December's budget.

A review of the strategy has been carried out to provide an updated progress report on implementation and to identify possible additional measures. This review will be finalised in the light of the current consultancy study which updates the projections of emissions for the 2008-12 period, to provide the best possible information on where Ireland stands in regard to its Kyoto target. I intend to publish this review as a consultation document which will inform the preparation of a revised strategy.

Given the Minister's reply, which is more or less the same one we have had previously, can I take it the EU Environment Commissioner did not have any influence at all in pushing on the national climate change strategy? Does the Minister recall the recent climate change conference organised by the Green Party in the Mansion House? The belief among experts working in a number of different university faculties in Ireland and abroad is that the required cut in carbon dioxide emissions must be between 60% and 80% for there to be any chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Does the Minister recognise that the Kyoto Protocol is not even at the races in regard to the commitment required for compliance here and that climate change is not an equal opportunity disaster? Will the Minister take specific action in regard to other Departments, perhaps by way of emulating what is being done in Sweden, where a 15-year target has been set to become the world's first oil-free economy?

Is the Minister able in any way to rise to the challenge being presented by climate change? It is not sufficient to simply talk about Kyoto. Will the Minister even express an opinion on whether the environmental NGOs should be part of the partnership talks in which a ten-year agenda for this country is being drawn up? Does he take on board the arguments being made for a domestic carbon quota, which would at least ensure the equitable manner which he espouses in regard to the implementation of the required measures? Is a cost available for carbon trading? People would like to know if the Government policy which will cost us dearly will impinge on other areas of public spending.

I am sorry I missed the conference. I am sure it was most interesting. I would have attended it if it were possible.

If he likes I can give the Minister a DVD of it.

I thank the Deputy. I will watch it with great interest.

We can put the Minister's photo on it.

The whole idea of the Kyoto Protocol is to deal with a global problem on a global basis.

It is a start.

Yes, it is a start. The Deputy is quite right. It is very important that countries which care about the future get involved in the process. It is sad that not every country views the Kyoto Protocol with the same degree of urgency as is apparent in Europe.

I do not agree with the Deputy if it is the general tenor of his comments that there is a single silver bullet that will resolve this issue for any one country.

Certainly not.

I do not believe it would be logical or sensible to suggest Ireland should impose restraints greater than in any other country in Europe. The Deputy's general point about the period beyond 2008-12 is correct. The targets will have to be even more ambitious. That is why it is important we take a variety of approaches to the problem. I do not disagree with the Deputy on this point, nor do I disagree with his view on the necessity of inducements. We have introduced a trading sector to proceed with matters. When it realises it will have to meet targets, industry will be very quick to put in more fuel efficient systems. I think savings can be made.

The Deputy referred to the upward trend in 2004 which is disappointing but we must keep this in perspective. The figure in 2004 was 0.1% above what our emissions should have been. Those are provisional figures which will be subject to review and the tendency has been for the review to be downward. The consultants' report on emissions project carbon costs to run at €15 per tonne during the period 2008-15.

They will be much higher than that.

That point can be made, business to business trading costs will be higher than that but state to state trading figures are used in calculations. We have been clear on the methodology and the projected figures.

We must create a balance that allows us to achieve our targets in the most cost effective way, not just in the cheapest way in the short term but in the medium and long term. That is why we have targets and why we are encouraging larger energy users to be ambitious. If they are ambitious, not only will they save costs but there will be benefits in terms of credits that come their way. We must make decisions and they will be difficult, with sectors in the economy making a lot of noise in the next few weeks as we move forward.

We must do our bit, as must every other country, and I do not accept the general view that buying credits, one of the options available under Kyoto, is an inefficient way of dealing with the problem. It is a way to deal with the demands facing an economy growing at the rate ours is. In the long term we must adopt a position where a variety of individual approaches will resolve the issue, including energy efficiency in buildings and the introduction of new technology, including biofuels and alternatives. There is not just one single way to achieve this, it is a complex issue. I discussed this with Cabinet colleagues today and we are determined to meet the targets that have been set for us.

This is not about forcing people to make sacrifices, it is about taking advantage of an international opportunity. Sweden's Minister for Sustainable Development has declared that a Sweden free of fossil fuels will present enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices. The report of the Climate Group, Carbon Down, Profits Up, demonstrates that the corporate world is seizing on the invisible frontier of profitability which energy efficiency represents. Will the Minister put it to the Taoiseach and the Cabinet that if we can get the NGOs into the partnership process and put in place a formula that will allow us to take advantage of climate change, there will be business opportunities, not the opposite? Will the NGOs be included in partnership?

No one has a monopoly on wisdom in this area, we should avail of all opportunities.

I did not say we have a monopoly on wisdom.

I am not saying that, I am making an admission, not an accusation. I do not always disagree with the Deputy and I agree strongly that if business wakes up to the reality, it is a win-win situation. Europe will not be penalised by meeting its Kyoto targets, it will be at an advantage because if we are leaner and more energy efficient, we will benefit.