Question No. 51 answered after Question No. 55.

Questions Nos. 52 to 54, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

European Council Meetings

Questions (55)

Timmy Dooley


55. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position taken by Ireland at the recent EU Energy and Environment Councils on 4 and 5 March 2019 on the European Commission's proposal to increase ambition by 2020 in order to reach climate neutrality by mid-century; if an increase in the EU nationally determined contribution to at least 55% will be supported in view of the long-term strategy taken by the European Council at a meeting on 22 March 2019; and if not, the grounds for not supporting same. [14172/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Communications)

In 2018 the European Commission produced a long-term strategy which set out a pathway for the European Union to reach climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and to align its response with the Paris Agreement. It is now necessary for the European Union to increase its current pledge, principally its 2030 target, taking into account the Commission's strategy and the latest worrying projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC. Just last week we saw the terrible effects of the climate crisis in Mozambique. The Government should ensure Ireland's support for increasing the European Union's ambition. Will the Minister to provide an update on the State's position at the recent Environment Council, as well as at last week's European Council, at which this issue has been discussed in recent weeks?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Following a mandate provided by the European Council in March 2018, the European Commission published a communication, A Clean Planet for All, in November 2018, which will provide essential analytical underpinning for the preparation by the European Union of a long-term strategy for submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, by 2020. I welcomed the Commission's publication when it was presented to the Environment Council. It sets out a range of scenarios through which the European Union can lead the way to climate neutrality by investing in realistic technological solutions, developing the circular economy and promoting sustainable lifestyles. The Commission's communication has since been examined at expert level and in a number of Council formations, including the Environment and Energy Councils, at which I represent Ireland.

The communication presents a clear vision, supported by a detailed analysis, of how the European Union could work towards climate neutrality by mid-century in line with the Paris Agreement objectives, while at the same time contributing to positive economic transformation of the European economy. In the context of the Energy Council on 4 March, Ireland and a number of other member states have also invited the Commission to work towards developing a scenario of 100% renewable energy by 2050. At its meeting on 21 and 22 March 2019 the European Council requested the Council to continue its examination of the proposals ahead of further discussions later in the year.

Ireland fully supports the first commitment made by the European Union under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. With the ambitious 2030 targets agreed to at EU level recently for renewable energy and energy efficiency, coupled with a strong ambition in respect of emissions standards for both light and heavy duty vehicles, the European Union may exceed its agreed targets for 2030. There is currently no formal proposal from the European Commission for the European Union to increase its targets for this period.

In order to meet Ireland's target for 2030 that we reduce emissions in the non-emissions trading scheme, non-ETS, sector by 30% and building on the framework set out in the mitigation plan and the national development plan, I am developing an all-of-government climate plan which will set out the actions to achieve it.

I thank the Minister for his response, but it was recently reported that at the European Council meeting a group of progressive, mainly western, EU member states had backed the Eurpean Commission's strategy for climate neutrality by linking it specifically with the Paris Agreement objective of keeping the increase in global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, other member states refused to specifically link EU climate action with the 1.5 degrees Celsius objective and rejected a reference to 2050 in reaching the climate neutrality goal. Will the Minister confirm that Ireland supported the progressive member states in linking increased EU ambition to 2050 with the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degrees Celsius objective?

Yes, Ireland supports the ambition of the European Commission. At this point it is working on the various scenarios that could be set out to achieve it. As mentioned in the Deputy's question, there has been talk of a higher target for 2030, but no such proposal has been brought forward at this point. The proposals for the 2021-30 period were only agreed to comparatively recently and, from an Irish perspective, we have a lot of work to do to deliver them. There is no doubt that the longer term need is to aim for climate neutrality by 2050, but it will be on a whole-of-EU basis. We need to have an evaluation of the technologies and the roadmap that will bring us there. That is the work the Commission is undertaking.

I draw the Minister's attention to the European Parliament's position that in order to reach the European Commission's proposal of climate neutrality by 2050 in a cost-effective manner, the European Union will need to increase its 2030 climate target to at least 55% compared with 1990 levels. Whereas the European Parliament took this position, we learned just before the school strike on climate change last week that all Fine Gael MEPs had voted against the relevant wording.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government will end this contradictory and regressive approach to EU climate action and support the concept of greater EU ambition for 2030 at the June Council meeting?

I am not going to comment on any decision of Fine Gael Members or any other Members of the European Parliament but let it be said that no proposal has been put forward by the European Commission to change the relatively recently agreed target of 40%. From everyone's perspective, an increase in ambition of the level indicated would require quite significant changes to be made. What the European Commission is doing is exploring how we could achieve climate neutrality by 2050. It has not indicated that it intends to change the relatively recently agreed targets towards which national governments are working. Decisions on this will have to be taken when the roadmap is properly evaluated. As the Deputy will know, it took a number of years to negotiate the various member states' obligations within the previous roadmap in respect of the 40%. It is widely believed that Europe can build on its 2030 targets and still deliver a roadmap for climate neutrality by 2050.

With the House's permission, I propose to take Question No. 51, in the name of Deputy Pringle, who got delayed. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and thank the House for its indulgence. I apologise for my absence.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (51)

Thomas Pringle


51. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to revise the 2017 national mitigation plan under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 to take account of criticisms of the plan by the climate change advisory councils, environmental organisations and the European Commission in view of the fact that an all-of-government plan will not be on a statutory footing unless the national mitigation plan is formally updated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14203/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

This question relates to the national mitigation plan and the targets included therein. The Climate Change Advisory Council states they are totally deficient. What does the Government intend to do to ensure the targets will be met?

As I was indicating to Deputy Dooley, I am currently preparing an all-of-government climate plan that will set out the actions that must be taken to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change. I am working with colleagues across Government to develop new initiatives in electricity, transport, heat and agriculture, in addition to a range of other sectors. The new plan will have a strong focus on implementation, including actions with specific timelines and steps needed to achieve each action, assigning clear lines of responsibility. The plan will build on the policy framework, measures and actions set out in both the national mitigation plan and the national development plan.

Section 4 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 requires me to make a national mitigation plan and submit it to the Government for approval at least once every five years. Under section 3 of the Act, when considering approving a national mitigation plan, the Government must endeavour to achieve the 2050 national transition objective through the implementation of cost-effective measures that have regard to a range of factors, including Government policy on climate change. The national mitigation plan remains in place as a statutory plan required under the 2015 Act, and I propose to update this plan in due course in line with the schedule required by that Act. I also intend that the statutory requirements, in relation to reporting on the implementation of national climate policy to the Oireachtas through the annual transition statement, will include reporting on the implementation of the all-of-government climate plan.

Under European legislation, Ireland was obliged to submit a draft national energy and climate plan before the end of 2018 and a finalised one at the end of this year. The all-of-government plan will provide the basis for amending the draft plan to have a finalised one by the end of this year. There are two legal frameworks we have to work within.

We have a bit of a problem in that we can judge future performance only on the basis of what we have done in the past. What we have done in the past has really been non-existent. How can we be sure something will happen? The Secretary General of the United Nations recently said to governments that now is the time for climate action, not speeches. This is vital.

Our own body that measures our climate performance, the Environmental Protection Agency, shows we have been completely off course in meeting our targets for 2030. Therefore, how can we be sure the Government will be willing to meet future targets and that every Government will be willing to meet them, regardless of who is Minister? It is vital to ensure they are met.

The Deputy will know that, under the legal framework within which we operate, there are penalties for failing to achieve the targets. The penalties would be paid according to the carbon price of the day. Therefore, if we failed to deliver on the targets, we would be millions of tonnes off and the Exchequer would have to pay. That creates very significant pressure to change.

Significant change will be required. For example, we in the Oireachtas will have to agree a trajectory for carbon prices, which will be a significant element. We will have to agree to have more renewables on our grid, which will require significant investment in change. We will have to have a roadmap for rolling out electric vehicles, improving the fabric of our homes and improving the heating systems. The Government will be able to provide some support but it will require all citizens to become involved. This is not something that can be resolved from Adelaide Road; it will require action in every community in every country, adapting their lifestyles to the new climate obligations. The plan being produced will provide a framework but it will be a framework within which we work with the wider community.

It does require government. That is the key. The Government can lead by example. If it is committed to making these things happen, the citizens will follow suit. Unfortunately, what is happening in this country is that the citizens are expected to do everything on the basis that the Government will tag along afterwards. That is the problem. We have not met any of our targets because there has been no commitment at Government and national levels. That is where the Government will come in. It has to lead by example.

I take what the Minister is saying about carbon pricing and the potential fines but I wonder what decision will be made at political level on whether we can live with fines if we do not take action. Will this be a factor in the decision-making?

I absolutely agree that the Government needs to lead by example. We are going to do that. For example, we have already banned single-use plastics, we are requiring every public body to have a resource and waste plan in place, and we are requiring every public body to adopt green procurement. That will be a significant element in helping people. We also have grants. As the Deputy knows, there is a grant of 30% for improving the fabric of one's house or its heating system, €10,000 towards an electric vehicle, and 100% support for low-income families in moving towards more sustainable heating systems. There are 256 sustainable energy communities and they are getting very significant support to make sure they travel this journey. It will require communities working with the Government to achieve the objectives. It is really important that we recognise this is a national challenge that is not all about saying we should wait until the Government has done X or Y; this is something we need to act on now. We cannot say we will have nothing until there is public transport to some very high standard that is deemed necessary. We need to act now on all these fronts and act with the support of the wider community.

Cybersecurity Policy

Questions (56)

Thomas P. Broughan


56. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of his consultation on the draft guidelines for operators of essential services in the State; the changes that will have to be made to security and incident reporting under the new EU directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13998/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

We are used to traffic filtering on our websites, including the Oireachtas website, although I believe the latter was down this morning. Is it not the case that the Government has been very lethargic? It is now nearly three years since the EU network and information systems directive, No. 2016/1148, was introduced. The Government has been engaging in consultation only recently. I am not sure exactly what happened under the Minister's predecessor. Who has been designated operator of essential services? Exactly what changes to security and instant reporting will have to happen on foot of the directive if we are to have secure systems in essential services?

I reject the suggestion that the Government has been lethargic in this area. We have a national cybersecurity strategy in place and we are currently reviewing it. It is out for public consultation at present.

If the Deputy has particular proposals, there is an opportunity to improve our cybersecurity plan. The EU directive to which the Deputy refers was transposed into Irish law on 18 September 2018 by SI 360/2018. Under Regulations 17 and 18 of that statutory instrument, operators of essential services in key areas of critical national infrastructure in energy, transport, banking, financial market infrastructures, health, drinking water supply and distribution and digital infrastructure are required to meet specific security requirements and incident reporting requirements relating to their network and information systems. My Department has drawn up draft guidelines for operators of essential services that are designed to assist operators to meet these security and incident reporting requirements, manage the risks posed to the security of the network and information systems used in their operations and minimise the impact of incidents affecting those systems. As the operators of essential services for which my Department has responsibility are spread over five separate sectors, the changes that need to be made will be dependent on the existing level of preparedness of each individual operator. The proposed guidelines were published for public consultation on 11 January in accordance with Regulation 25.2 of that statutory instrument, which requires that persons be afforded an opportunity to submit written representations relating to the draft guidelines within 30 working days from publication. The deadline for submissions was 27 February. The representations that have been received as part of this process are under consideration. The changes to be made to the guidelines are minimal and relate primarily to some of the controls to be used and to indicative incident reporting levels. The final version of the guidelines will be published and will come into operation in the second quarter of this year.

I have the NIS compliance guidelines in front of me. What was the level of engagement? People are very sensitive regarding any major faults in the electricity sector, for example, the Boeing crashes and various other events that have happened such as what is happening with electricity supply in Venezuela and the powerful and central role IT systems play in the delivery of essential services, particularly health. Can the Minister tell me when he will designate operators of essential services? Who are they? Will there be different sectoral requirements in energy, health and finance compared to other areas? The computer security incident response team, CSIRT, is in the Minister's Department. Why has he designated his Department and himself as the regulators of this vast area that is so central to our lives? Is it intended to introduce legislation in the House so that we get an opportunity to discuss all aspects of cybersecurity and to decide whether or not we need a fully independent regulator? There are so many elements to this, for example, the Internet of things and block chain technology in finance. Many people are very interested in technology and wonder if we are being incredibly lethargic in this area.

The Deputy likes to dish out complaints but I am not so sure he is aware that a consultation is underway to which he could submit his view if he believes there should be an independent regulator and that it should not be done by having it within the Department, as it has been done in the past. He can submit that view. Clearly, this consultation is open to evaluating whether the structures in place are adequate. I agree with the Deputy that this is an area where there are growing threats. The measure about which we are talking today is not showing delay. We are designating all of the areas I pointed out such as transport, energy, banking, financial market infrastructures, health and drinking water. They will be required to identify means of protecting their infrastructures. That means they must look at human issues, access control policies, technological responses, electronic measures to protect their infrastructure, firewalls and encryption. All of those issues must be addressed. They must also have adequate measures to detect anomalies or events on a system, including how monitoring is to be conducted, the processes in place and whether they are fit for purpose. This is putting in place the protections we need in the banking system, the electricity system and so on. If the Deputy has ideas about the future direction of cybersecurity policy, now is the time to submit them.

In his original reply, the Minister said the changes that would be needed would be minimal. How does he know that? How does he know that we could not face a significant emergency in the delivery of electricity all across the economy? To some extent, he is prejudging it. He mentioned finance. I know the Department of Finance has produced a paper on block chain technology but what is the approach of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment as the Department responsible for cybersecurity? What kind of audits are our organisation and his Department looking at down through the years? Is he concerned about the behaviour of the huge digital companies, the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook and Instagram, given that there have been more and more complaints about the misuse of personal data? Does he have any views on whether or not Ireland should be more digitally independent? He may have heard me talk about that previously. It is an issue that has been raised by our constituents. We are independent but we are not remotely independent digitally. I notice that the cybersecurity centre is based in Cork Institute of Technology. Is that something the Minister wants to build upon?

The Deputy misquoted me. I spoke in respect of the statutory instrument following the consultation. The Dáil has passed a statutory instrument. Consultation is required within it. The feedback from those who will be regulated does not require substantial change in what is proposed. That is the only aspect where I said change would be minimal. In terms of the development of a broad-based cybersecurity policy, I recognise that this is a very fast-changing area and that is why consultation is underway to look at whether our structures and systems are adequate and to anticipate the sort of changes that will be needed. Significant progress has been made within my Department in setting up a system for identifying weaknesses, reporting incidences and strengthening cybersecurity that is very well-connected internationally and well-regarded. This is not an area where we can ever be complacent, as the Deputy noted. We spoke earlier about the need for an online safety commissioner, which I hope to legislate for before the end of this year.

Exploration Licences Applications

Questions (57)

Oral answers (18 contributions) (Question to Communications)

We will move on to Question No. 57 in the name of Deputy Bríd Smith. I understand the Minister of State is taking Questions Nos. 57 and 58 together.

Could I ask for an explanation as to why these questions are being taken together because they are quite separate? This is unusual. My questions have been taken with those from other Deputies previously.

The Deputy can take it up with the Minister of State.

Could the Minister of State give me an explanation?

Perhaps he can do so when he replies if the Deputy poses her first question, Question No. 57.

Could I get an explanation before I ask either question or both questions? Why are they being taken together?

We will allow the Deputy the extra time.

It is not about the time.

We will take Question No. 57.

Bríd Smith


57. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if plans by a company (details supplied) to commence exploratory drilling off the south coast in June 2019 for oil or gas will aid plans to make Ireland a world leader on climate change and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14168/19]

View answer

Could the Minister of State tell me whether plans for Exxon Mobil to commence exploration drilling for oil or gas off the south coast in June 2019 will add to plans that will make Ireland a world leader in climate change?

An application from CNOOC Petroleum Europe Limited, which was previously known as Nexen Petroleum UK Ltd., to drill in the Porcupine Basin was submitted on 14 November 2018. The application was posted on the Department's website for public consultation and no decision has been made. Exxon Mobil has a 50% non-operating interest in the licence. An application is considered against a range of technical, environmental and financial requirements. In addition, the operator must obtain a safety permit from the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and approval by the Irish Coast Guard for the company's oil spill contingency plan and the well emergency response plan.

On the question of whether this complies with our objective of becoming a world leader in getting rid of fossil fuels, I repeat what I said last night. The challenge here is how we transition from where we are now to being without fossil fuels. As the Deputy will know, we have depleting gas supplies from the Corrib and Kinsale fields. We have to make sure we have security of energy supplies in this country.

I am not sure whether the Minister of State is aware that ExxonMobil faces losing its lobbying privileges in the European Parliament because it failed to show up for a hearing into climate change denial. I think I mentioned this last night, although the Minister of State did not comment on it. ExxonMobil has snubbed the European Parliament as certain MEPs have been attempting to drive forward an understanding on climate change. This large oil giant supports carbon taxes, but at the same time it is renowned for its ability to engage in climate denial. It denies the science. Even though it knows the damage that exploration is causing, it has funded campaigns to block action on climate and is refusing to face up to its environmental crimes. I suggest that because ExxonMobil has a partnership or relationship with Providence Resources off the coast of County Kerry in the south west of this country, we have no chance of saying legitimately that as a Parliament, and indeed as a Government, we are taking seriously the question of action on climate change. I do not think the Government has defended that sufficiently.

The application has been made and is going through due process at the moment. I reiterate that if we are to transition to a low-carbon economy, it is expected that we will require significantly reduced fossil fuels for some time to come. Until we get there, we will still need to have fossil fuels for our families, farmers and businesses. We envisage that exploration will continue to have a role in the Irish offshore. Banning exploration would not reduce Ireland's emissions and would not help our 2030 emissions targets. It would make Ireland 100% dependent on importing gas and oil instead of using our own natural gas. We know that Ireland's indigenous production at the Corrib field is declining. The Kinsale field is approaching the end of its life. Furthermore, importing our energy over long distances from third countries could have the perverse effect of increasing emissions as energy is consumed in delivering this product to Ireland. We have to transition. In the meantime, we have to protect our energy supply and make sure we have enough energy here to keep our families, farms and businesses in existence.

The repetition of the words "families, farms and businesses" does not pull at my heartstrings. I doubt that it pulls at the heartstrings of millions of people who support the "keep it in the ground" campaign, particularly the kids who marched recently. It is absolute and utter nonsense to say this would not reduce our emissions. Of course it would reduce our emissions. What the Minister of State really wants to say is that he does not understand what is going on. He thinks our emissions stop dead at the borders around our seashores, but that is not the case. This is a global problem. The emissions that come from any fossil fuels which are extracted affect the entire planet. By allowing licences to take more fossil fuels out of the earth, we are adding to the planet's overall carbon emissions. The Corrib field has 15 years left. That will bring us close to 2035, by which time we should almost be totally dependent on renewables if we are to reach our targets. Given that the Government continually objects to reliance on Russia and other politically unstable areas, why is the Minister of State saying that when the Corrib field is depleted 15 years from now, we will need to rely on ExxonMobil and other related companies that work closely with Chinese and Russian oil companies? The future should be carbon free.

I agree that the future should be carbon free. The Citizens' Assembly did not recommend banning oil and gas exploration. There has been no change. The Joint Committee on Climate Action is considering the options for reducing emissions. I repeat that the Bill about which the Deputy has spoken would not reduce our emissions. Instead, it would make us more dependent on imported natural gas. The Deputy has mentioned that the Corrib field will deplete. It will not keep going at the same volume right up until 2030. It is reducing year by year. We have to understand that we are looking at the security of our energy. We are seeking to make sure we continue to do business as we transition from where we are now to a low-carbon economy.

I totally reject the question of security. I repeat what I have said to the Minister of State.

We are finished with Question No. 57. We are moving on to Question No. 58.

Okay. They were separated in the end. That is grand.

Exploration Licences Approvals

Questions (58)

Bríd Smith


58. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the issuing of further licences for exploration will be halted in view of the worsening climate crisis evidenced by the catastrophic monsoon in south-western Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14194/19]

View answer

Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I would like the Minister of State to make a statement on whether the issuing of further exploration licences will be halted in view of the worsening climate crisis, as evidenced by the recent catastrophic monsoon in south-west Africa.

Much of what I have to say in response to this question involves repeating what I said in response to Question No. 57. The challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is well understood by the Government. We are fully committed to moving away from the use of fossil fuels in electricity, heat and transport. We are making progress. In 2017, 30% of our electricity came from renewable sources. We are considering how to increase that to at least 55% by 2030. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is focusing on an all-of-Government climate action plan that will tackle Ireland’s emissions while ensuring Ireland has secure and affordable energy supplies. It is accepted that as part of the transition to a low-carbon economy, Ireland will continue to require some, but significantly reduced, fossil fuels to meet business needs. Banning exploration, as proposed in a Bill that is before the Oireachtas at present, would not reduce our emissions. I repeat that such a ban would make Ireland 100% dependent on importing gas and oil instead of using our own natural resources. I think that is important as well.

This question relates specifically to the impact of climate change and the refusal of this Government and other Governments to recognise that we have to leave over 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground. Those are the known ones, never mind going searching for unknown ones. The impact is horrendous. In response to the previous question, the Minister of State mentioned the Citizens' Assembly and the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I am a member of the committee, which will issue its report tomorrow. The committee has been advised by Professor Peter Thorne, who recently wrote about the cyclone in Africa. He said "we can be pretty confident that rainfall associated with such systems has become greater due to human-induced climate change". He pointed out that a warmer atmosphere can hold more water and that if the ocean surface is warmer, there is more moisture going up than coming down. On average, the citizens of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, who suffer from terrible extreme weather events, are responsible for a tiny fraction of emissions compared with their counterparts in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. I will ask the Minister of State a question. How do we take responsibility for what is happening in the developing world as a consequence of our actions in the developed world?

I remind the House of the actions the Government is taking in respect of climate change. It is important to say at the very start that I do not disagree with the Deputy's assertion that we need to change. It is a question of how we change and how we transition. That is the key to this issue. The Minister is working on the preparation of an all-of-Government climate action plan, which will make us a leader in responding. We are working with our colleagues across the Government to develop new initiatives in electricity, transport, heat, agriculture and a range of other sectors where we have to make changes. Some of the changes we have to make might not be palatable, but they will have to be made nonetheless. We have to make sure they are made in a way that supports businesses and farms. If we do not do that, I do not know what we are doing. The plan will have a strong focus on implementation, including actions with specific timelines and steps needed to achieve each action. Clear lines of responsibility will be assigned. The Government is preparing an action plan with action dates and timelines to be fulfilled. The plan will build on previous actions taken by the Government, including the national mitigation plan and the national development plan. It is the intention of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, that the new plan which is being drawn up will address any recommendations contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action.

It is remarkable to listen to the Minister speaking about farms, families and businesses as if somehow I do not give a damn about those things, or indeed as if the tens of thousands of children who left school and marched to demand that the Government keep fossil fuels in the ground do not give a damn about their families, their farms or the businesses that surround them.

They do, of course. Some of what is being done at the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which will report back tomorrow, is very good stuff but it is not nearly radical enough. When we read the stories of what happened in Mozambique and appreciate the suffering of half of the planet, we will realise that this report is not nearly radical enough. One radical measure concerns keeping fossil fuels in the ground. The committee refuses even to listen to another positive and radical measure regarding aiming towards delivering free public transport all around the country. It will not even listen to the suggestion. The committee also refuses to listen to how we might go about transitioning from the type of farming we are doing at the moment to a much more ecological and sustainable type of farming. Forestry has also not been examined. It is entirely insufficient so I ask the Minister of State not to pretend that stuff is being done for farms, families and businesses.

Deputy Bríd Smith has had a fair airing of this matter. I call the Minister of State for a final response.

First, the children who marched last week were marching in support of the recommendations and proposals of the Citizens' Assembly and not just in respect of the Bill to which Deputy Smith referred.

They did not shout, "We support the Citizens' Assembly recommendations."

I ask that the Minister of State be allowed to continue without interruption. Let us be somewhat orderly.

My last point is that meeting our goals will require a revolution in how we live and work. That is going to cost money. Deputy Smith should not pretend that there is a set of easy choices which the Government can adopt that will have no impact on how people live.

Tax ExxonMobil.

I ask Deputy Bríd Smith to allow the Minister of State to finish. We must be orderly.

If Deputies are serious about tackling climate disruption, then they should put forward suggestions that will actually have an impact and reduce emissions.

How does the Deputy propose to fund the decarbonisation of our energy system? Will she outline a plan to increase the use of renewals in heat? When she spoke of free public transport, how is that going to be funded?

I will produce a report tomorrow.

Waste Disposal

Questions Nos. 60 and 61 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (59)

Brian Stanley


59. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to consider introducing a mattress and armchair amnesty across the State as an anti-dumping initiative. [14004/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

My question is on the issue of mattresses, couches and armchairs being dumped. Last year, the then Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, introduced an amnesty. It was a great success, by all accounts. Will the Government consider rerunning that programme this year and broadening it out to include other bulky items?

I thank the Deputy for his question. Bulky household goods, such as mattresses, are a problematic waste stream for local authorities when they are illegally dumped in ditches and green areas. They are unsightly and their presence generally encourages further illegal dumping in an area. That is why my Department provided funding under the 2018 anti-dumping initiative to support a mattress amnesty campaign nationally. Under this initiative, approximately 11,000 mattresses were collected at 40 events throughout the country, with local authorities encouraged to direct these mattresses to the network of social economy enterprises for recycling. On foot of the impact of last year’s initiative, I am considering, as part of the 2019 anti-dumping initiative, to targeting the problem of illegal dumping in a holistic manner. That may also mean addressing bulky waste diversion.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I want to impress on him the importance of this matter. As he stated, this is a major problem for local authorities. These items are bulky and are not things that can be put into the bin. It not like garden waste that can be put into the green organic bin and moved on to be recycled that way. Last year was one of the worst years for fly tipping and illegal dumping on streets and in back alleys, ditches, bogs, forests etc. My understanding is that the cost of the scheme last year was relatively small. The Minister might tell me what that cost was. When the then Minister announced the scheme, I remember the figure was fairly modest. The scheme, however, was a huge success.

In County Laois, more than 800 mattresses were gathered up under this initiative. There is a high cost if these items are dumped in ditches or bogs. The local authority has to pull things like mattresses out of drains, ditches etc. Hiring contractors to deal with that situation costs the local authority greatly. The National Transport Authority spent €730,000 picking up litter along motorways. That is another example. We also need to look at side-by-side competition in the collection of waste in an estate. It is not feasible for many households to dispose of a couch, an armchair or a mattress. Will the Minister consider broadening the scheme this year to include such items?

I do not have the universal cost but I do have the figure for County Laois. It cost €20,000 to collect 822 mattresses last year. If we expand that figure, it probably cost about €300,000 to collect the 11,000 mattresses overall. These projects operate by way of call. It depends, therefore, on local authorities coming forward with credible proposals to deal with this issue. A range of measures can be supported where local authorities feel they can organise an effective programme. We are trying to ensure the money we assign is used most effectively. If good proposals come forward to recycle mattresses, as was successful last year, we will look at those. We will also look at other materials such as couches. We will support whatever the local authorities feel will give the best bang for the buck.

The Minister is giving some hope with that answer. I am glad to see he is open to considering other bulky items. Couches and armchairs present the same problem. It is not an easy fix, particularly in urban areas where people might not have their own car to dispose legally of couches and suites of furniture in a proper environmental manner. Measures were also put in place to ensure the scheme was not exploited by commercial operators. That was done very simply. The reports I have heard back from councils, in Laois and Offaly, state this initiative was a great success and we should do it again. From what the Minister said, I gather he is open to extending the scheme to couches and armchairs as well. Will he confirm that? We have a major problem with illegal dumping and we need stamp it out. There are many bogus waste collectors picking up these bulky items in the backs of vans. That is where much of the illegal dumping is coming from and we need an all-out effort to try to stamp it out.

I will fund initiatives again this year, but they will be based on the proposals that come from the local authorities. We will want to see a good proposal that would warrant support. Deputy Stanley is right that 11,000 mattresses were taken in last year. It is a project of real benefit, therefore, and the Department is disposed to doing more in that area. Let us wait, however, to see what proposals come forward when we issue the call.

Questions Nos. 60 and 61 replied to with Written Answers.

National Broadband Plan

Question No. 63 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (62)

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Deputy Timmy Dooley has been given permission to take Question No. 62 in the name of Deputy Ó Cuív.

Éamon Ó Cuív


62. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when the national broadband scheme was first announced; the progress made to date with same; the amount of funding expended on the scheme to date; the number of properties provided to date with high-speed broadband under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14145/19]

View answer

This question is relatively self-explanatory. Deputy Ó Cuív is seeking a response on when the national broadband, NBP, scheme was first announced, the progress made to date with same, the amount of funding expended on the scheme to date, the number of properties provided to date with high-speed broadband under the scheme, and if the Minister will make a statement on the matter.

The NBP aims to ensure high-speed broadband access to all premises in Ireland. This is being achieved through a combination of commercial investment and a State-led intervention. The NBP procurement process was launched in 2015, following a public consultation. The NBP has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. In 2012, fewer than 700,000, or 30% of Irish premises, had access to high-speed broadband. Today, more than 1.75 million premises, or 74% of premises can access high-speed broadband.

The procurement process to appoint a bidder for the State intervention network is now at the final stage, as we have discussed. As previously advised, the level of State subsidy for the NBP State intervention is to be determined through this procurement process, and it is my intention to bring a recommendation to Government relating to the NBP in the coming weeks. Expenditure relating to the NBP, including the procurement process and the cost of external advisers, from January 2013 to date is €25.4 million.

I thank the Minister. What Deputy Ó Cuív would like to be clear on is the timeframe for the announcement. I know we have addressed some of this in previous questions but it is imperative that we reach a decision without delay. Some premises have received broadband from private operators as a result of the initiation of the NBP. Notwithstanding that, there is still real concern in many parts of rural Ireland as a result of Eir rolling out a service to an additional 80,000 units and the proposals coming for fixed wireless from Imagine that gaps left in the middle will not covered in the longer term.

There is very considerable concern emerging because of an announcement yesterday that the regulator, with respect to the roll-out of 5G wireless technology, will not require coverage of the geographic land mass and there will be more of a concentration on population densities, as there has been in the past. A previous Minister indicated a willingness to look at the geographical basis rather than the basis of population density or dispersal.

As we have discussed, the decision on this is imminent. I intend to bring a recommendation to the Government before Easter, as has been indicated in the timeframe from the Taoiseach. I am working to that deadline. With respect to what is happening in the wider area, the Deputy will appreciate that the intervention area is what is left after commercial operators have "put up their hands" to deliver a universal service in certain areas. That is how Eir came to nominate the 300,000 premises. None of the recent announcements, such as that for Imagine, have put forward a proposal to carve out part of the intervention area on the basis that 100% cover would be provided within an area carved out to the minimum 30 Mbps requirement. These wireless technologies are not fibre to the home and as the Deputy knows all of those which submitted tenders under the original proposals indicated the most cost-effective way of delivering cover was fibre to the home.

Question No. 63 replied to with Written Answers.

Bioenergy Strategy Implementation

Questions (64)

Brian Stanley


64. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to consider introducing a support to develop biogas here as an indigenous source of renewable power. [14005/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Communications)

The question relates to biogas. The Climate Change Performance Index, CCPI, lists Ireland as one of the worst countries in the world in its attempts to address climate change. We know this and must accept it. We have a very valuable resource when compared to many other countries in Europe as there is potential for the use of biogas. What actions has the Government taken to utilise or stimulate that?

Biogas produced from anaerobic digestion has the potential to play an important role in Ireland's transition to a low-carbon future. In addition to helping decarbonise the energy sector by replacing fossil fuels, the production of biogas can also reduce emissions in the agriculture and waste sectors. The support scheme for renewable heat has been developed to support financially the adoption of renewable heating systems by non-domestic heat users not covered by the EU emissions trading system. The next phase of the scheme includes support for biogas heating systems. A formal state aid application to the European Commission was submitted last month.

In the electricity sector, the Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff, REFIT, 3 support scheme has supported the development of anaerobic digestion facilities via a high-efficiency combined heat and power tariff. This scheme is now closed for new applications. However, electricity output from anaerobic digesters will be eligible to compete for support under the forthcoming renewable electricity support scheme.

Biogas can also be purified into biomethane and then injected into the gas grid. The draft national energy and climate plan published last December includes the potential to support 1.6 million MW hours of biomethane grid injection by 2030. A key enabler for biomethane grid injection is the development of grid injection points. Gas Networks Ireland is currently developing Ireland's first injection point and the development of a second will be supported by the Climate Action Fund. The principal barrier to the development of biomethane grid injection is the significant cost differential between natural gas and biomethane. My Department continues to examine potential options to support biomethane grid injection, including how to fund this cost differential.

The first biomethane injection point is coming online, generating electricity and producing biomethane for the grid. It is operational near Athy. I went to look at a facility a couple of years ago that was very impressive. However, there are 8,000 of these in Germany and 600 in Britain, so we are only getting going at this. We need to complement intermittent sources of electricity. We know wind, wave and solar power is all part of the solution but on the coldest nights there is no sun and there may be no wind, so we need to bring in sources that can provide a base loading of power.

There is also the potential for a bio-fertiliser product from this. We had to go to the European Commission again this year seeking an extension of the derogation regarding the spreading of pig slurry. There is the potential to use this instead to make a bio-fertiliser that would be far more environmentally friendly. There is large-scale potential here. We in Sinn Féin have done much research into this and this has the potential to create up to 10% of our electricity supply. That is very realistic based on what is happening other countries. Will the Minister respond to that in particular?

There is no doubt there is a theoretical capacity here but as I pointed out in the reply, there is a very significant cost difference.

It is a practical capacity.

The difficulty is in selecting a roadmap to achieve decarbonisation over time, we must identify the route that would impose the least burden on people while creating the most opportunities. Work must be done to see whether various theoretical technologies can be converted to a reasonable cost-effective path. I absolutely agree there is potential in the area but the number of schemes under REFIT 3 was not very substantial. There is difficulty in bridging this cost gap but we are seeing new work emerge. In the Climate Action Fund I supported a particular scheme by Gas Networks Ireland that involved agricultural slurry specifically. This technology has great potential but we must ensure we adopt a roadmap where it can be cost-effective as well.

The Minister mentions cost but when we start anything new, there will be a cost differential and we recognise this comes from scale, expertise and everything else. This technology is already up and running in other European countries on a large scale. The lack of facilities for biogas in this State demonstrate a lack of effort to date to drive this on. The focus has been completely on onshore wind, which has limitations because it is an intermittent source of energy. We may also have reached our potential in that regard. We need to start displacing fossil fuels with energy that will be there all the time. Biogas must be part of that plan.

The Minister mentioned cost but the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland estimates there is potential to create up to 3,000 jobs over the coming decades with biogas. That is not just Sinn Féin's argument and it is an important figure to remember. There is also the matter of farm waste. If a group of farmers are to do this, they must include the likes of the fertiliser in the project. Bord na Móna is looking into it.

I can assure the Deputy there is no lack of vision in this area. We already have four schemes supporting this, including REFIT 3 and the new renewable heat scheme that will shortly have state aid. It relates to anaerobic digestion and it will go live as soon as we are in a position to make that happen. There is also the renewable electricity support scheme and the Gas Networks Ireland opportunities for biomethane in the Climate Action Fund. There is no lack of vision and there are avenues for this to be exploited. The scale will depend on cost competitiveness compared with other available options.

Waste Disposal

Questions (65)

Niamh Smyth


65. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to assist county councils deal with incidents of illegal dumping and fly tipping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14013/19]

View answer

Oral answers (2 contributions) (Question to Communications)

How does the Government intend to assist local authorities as the problem of illegal dumping and fly tipping is getting progressively worse? Our countryside is littered because of it. I have a number of offices across my constituency and it is one of the main complaints I hear. People are personally affronted because such an effort is made by our local schools and young people in the area but we still wake up on a morning after people have intentionally dumped bags of rubbish in a housing estate. This happened in Bailieborough recently.

They know the local authority has to address it but, unfortunately, the local authorities do not have the resources.

Illegal dumping is a matter of individual responsibility and compliance with the law. While enforcement action in this area is a matter for local authorities, my Department encourages a multifaceted approach to tackling the problem, incorporating enforcement, public awareness and education. As such, it provides funding to support the activities of the waste enforcement regional lead authorities of approximately €1 million per annum and of the network of local authority waste enforcement officers of approximately €7.4 million per annum.

In addition, my Department has developed the anti-dumping initiative to work in partnership with local authorities and community organisations in identifying high-risk or problem areas, developing appropriate enforcement responses, and carrying out clean-up operations. Since 2017, funding of €3.3 million has been made available from the environment fund in this regard, which has supported more than 400 projects in all 31 local authority areas, remediating blackspots, and equipping local authority enforcement officers with the latest technologies available to support enforcement of our waste laws.