National Broadband Plan Implementation

Questions (53)

Timmy Dooley


53. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when the contract for the national broadband plan will be signed. [21777/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

As the Minister knows, this is an issue of timing. As he is aware, the Oireachtas communications committee has started an investigation into the national broadband plan, as signalled previously. The past few weeks have seen a number of announcements that a cynic might say are timed to coincide with the elections on Friday. I refer to announcements on the NBP, sports capital grants and the transport plan from Cork. It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Government on the trail of announcements.

While a certain milestone was reached with the NBP, we have still been given no idea when a contract will be signed with the remaining bidder. Could the Minister enlighten us a little more on that process?

As I have outlined to the House, and to the Deputy at the joint Oireachtas committee meeting last week, following rigorous evaluation by my Department, I recently brought a recommendation to the Government to confer preferred bidder status on Granahan McCourt, the remaining bidder in the NBP procurement process, and the Government agreed to this at its meeting on 7 May. This is an important step towards achieving the overarching goal of the plan, which is to provide access to high-speed broadband to every home, farm, school and business in Ireland, no matter where they are located.

The Government decision means that it is intended to award the State intervention contract to National Broadband Ireland, subject to contract close, including the finalisation of financial and legal documents. A period of final due diligence on all elements of the contract is part of the normal conclusion of a procurement process.

National Broadband Ireland will be supported by a number of experienced subcontractors and is currently tasked with finalising negotiations on contracts with approximately 40 subcontractors to assist in the delivery of the NBP. It is anticipated that a subset of approximately 15 to 20 of these subcontracts will be required prior to contract close to support deployment. The state aid notification relating to the NBP will also be submitted to the European Commission.

It is anticipated these elements will require a number of months, with contract close expected later this year and deployment commencing shortly after that.

Is the Minister not in a position to give greater clarity, rather than stating the date will be later this year? As I stated previously, a number of issues remain to be addressed before the NBP can be delivered. The committee is carrying out an investigation that must be completed before a contract can be signed. That can happen.

In light of the continued drip of information on the remaining bidder, which has taken place over the past two weeks, it is not unreasonable to expect that further revelations may come to light. For example, it appears that Mr. Peter Smyth, when he carried out his review, did not seek to resolve the presence of Mr. Frank McCourt of McCourt Global LLC at the meeting in New York. Could the Minister outline the issues that must be resolved before any contract is signed? Could he confirm that the Government has, to date, not committed to signing the final contract?

The position is that the Government has appointed a preferred bidder. The preferred bidder has been successful in the tendering process but it is only on the satisfactory completion of the contract details that the Government will sign. We will have to be satisfied that all the financial agreements, guarantees and performance bonds are in place. We will have to be satisfied that there are credible subcontractors in place with contracts so we can proceed. There are a number of significantly important steps to protect the taxpayer, which will be finalised during the months I mentioned. They comprise a very important part of any contract. Neither the Deputy nor the House would thank me if I sought to foreshorten them to commence earlier.

It is very important that we nail down these protections for the protection of taxpayers and, indeed, the potential beneficiaries from the system. While I can understand the Deputy is impatient, I have to make sure this is done right.

My impatience was not with the Minister's appropriate due diligence in regard to the signing of the contract. It was the fact that he rushed to the pulpit at the first possible opportunity, right in the throes of an election, to announce that he had conferred preferred bidder status on the only bidder that has been in existence for 15 months and so it would not be lost on the general public and the people who are waiting for broadband that this is not at all a done deal and that he still has an awful lot of i's to dot and t's to cross along the way. It speaks to the way in which this Government attempts to spin information. While I am not suggesting the Minister does that, there is an effort to spin and to give the impression that all is well and good and that all is ready to happen. In truth, however, when we lift the bonnet, we realise there is a hell of a lot more detail required and a hell of a lot more work to be done. It would be appropriate that the Minister would at least accept that, which I think he has done in his previous contribution.

I am not going to comment on spin but let me be honest. Every week, I was coming into the House and Members of the Deputy's party, including himself, and Members of the other parties were asking what was the delay in bringing forward a decision on the preferred bidder. Now, it seems, the very same people who were clamouring for that decision to be brought forward are saying this was rushed. It was not rushed. This was done in a proper fashion. We did the work and all of the due diligence that was appropriate. This is a very important decision and I am glad it is getting the scrutiny it is getting. I am absolutely confident that it is robust and will stand up to every scrutiny. This is the cheapest and best way of delivering it, this is the best technology and it will transform rural Ireland. It is, of course, right the House scrutinises it but I believe this system is robust. I have taken a lot of time to satisfy myself and I hope I will also be able to satisfy my colleagues.

Online Safety

Question No. 55 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (54)

Tom Neville


54. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the implementation of the action plan for online safety; the progress made to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21484/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I wish to ask the Minister of State about the status of the implementation of the action plan for online safety; the progress made to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The action plan for online safety was published in July 2018 and was drawn up following engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, including online safety experts, Government agencies, NGOs, parents, young people and industry. The plan recognises the opportunities and benefits provided by the Internet but also the importance of co-ordinated action and wide engagement in dealing with online risks and harms. The plan contains 25 targeted actions which are assigned to six key Government Departments, including the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Implementation of the action plan is co-ordinated by a sponsor's group, chaired by the Department of Education and Skills. The first progress report on the implementation of the action plan was published on 5 February 2019 to coincide with Safer Internet day. That report outlines progress in the first six months of its implementation, from July to December 2018. During this period, 22 of the actions targeted for completion were achieved. A further progress report is being prepared by the Department of Education and Skills for the period January to June 2019. In terms of the Department, key actions assigned by the action plan are the establishment of the National Advisory Council for Online Safety, which I chair, and the regulation of harmful online content.

In early March, we announced that Government would address harmful content through the development of new legislation, an online safety and media regulation Bill, which will also transpose the revised audio visual media services directive. A public consultation on these proposals was concluded last month. This Bill will establish, for the first time, a clear expectation for online platforms to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their users, especially children, and provide for regulatory oversight by a robustly empowered online safety commissioner with significant enforcement powers. It shall also provide a mechanism on appeal to the only safety commissioner to require the take-down of harmful material.

We want to thank those who contributed to the consultation, including NGOs, industry players, experts and members of the public, and to note that these contributions will be published in the coming weeks. We are currently examining the issues raised and suggestions made to inform the development of this new legislation.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer, which I welcome. I look forward to seeing what updates there are in regard to the consultation and what has been put forward. I sit on the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs which, in examining these issues last year, spoke to various young people. What came across from that was the importance of education, which is something I myself champion. It is not only education in regard to the technologies, what they can provide and the content they can put out, it is also looking at the nuances of communication. By that, I mean online communication as opposed to visible, verbal communication in that something written online can be interpreted in a very different way when compared to the same thing being communicated face-to-face, given there is no body language, no tone of voice and so on, which means things can often be misinterpreted.

Second, when inappropriate behaviour happens online, in particular cyberbullying, which affects the mental health side, we have to educate people and give them the tools and equipment to be able to deal with that and to understand the nuances behind it. They need to understand that this is a snapshot in time and although the emotion has been put there, people and situations move on from that. Anxiety can often be driven by that and I believe we need to focus on the education side of communication as online matures.

I agree with the Deputy that education for young children and parents on how to deal with all of that is very important. As part of my role in chairing the national advisory council, we have brought in experts and stakeholders to explain what is going on at the moment. There is a rise in the incidence of people reporting to the different organisations and this is something we need to deal with as a matter of urgency. Education is certainly important but, as the Minister has said a number of times, self-regulation is finished with; it is out the door and we cannot have that anymore. We need proper regulation and proper control. It is something many people have to engage with, including the industry, and education plays a very important role in that.

I welcome the response from the Minister of State. As I said, education will give the tools. For example, the 300 hours we are providing in secondary schools give people the tools to be able to deal with and cope with the challenges that are being thrown at them and means they are able to manage their emotions around that. As I said, this is just a snapshot in time. We need also to look at why people carry out this behaviour online and what are the drivers of that. This online behaviour can often be misinterpreted but we have to get behind this, as a culture, and there has to be a culture shift. We are dealing with this because it is new. It is a maturing environment and we are trying to alter the culture for our young people as they grow up. In the same way people have to conduct themselves socially and act in a socially acceptable way when face-to-face or on the telephone, there must be a socially acceptable way of conducting oneself online. I believe that really needs to be pushed as well.

I agree with the Deputy. The other big problem with online safety is that this is not just confined to our country but applies right across the world, and it is a question of how we deal with the area of regulation internationally. I believe we need to start in our own country, have the regulation and have the online safety commissioner, so we show we are intent on protecting our young people who are most vulnerable.

In my role, I find everybody is engaging. We are starting a survey with children, parents and educators as to what is going on with the use of the Internet, how people deal with something which is not totally right and whether parents are aware of what is going on. All of this is to bring people more into focus with regard to what can be going on. Parents have a role to play as well as educators.

Question No. 55 replied to with Written Answers.

National Broadband Plan Administration

Questions (56)

Timmy Dooley


56. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the cost-benefit analyses conducted by his Department or on behalf of his Department with regard to each alternative option considered for the national broadband plan; the cost of each of the options considered; the state aid considerations and the meetings and-or communications with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on these options; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21776/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

The question concerns the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment's consideration of alternatives to the national broadband plan in 2018 and earlier this year. Costings were made but this information was not released. Will the Minister outline the indicative cost of each of the options considered by the Department?

The purpose of the national broadband plan is to ensure that more than 1.1 million of our citizens in rural Ireland have the same opportunity to participate in the digital society as citizens living in urban areas. The availability of ubiquitous high-speed broadband will bring significant benefits in areas such as e-health, e-education, smart farming, regional development and tourism.

As I outlined in my response to an earlier question from Deputy Stanley, my Department commissioned a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis on the national broadband plan, which is a mandatory requirement under the public spending code. In stress testing a number of alternative options, it is not expected for a full cost-benefit analysis of each to be carried out. Rather, the approach is to evaluate the salient changes that other options would bring and evaluate them in the context of the general framework of benefits and costs. Some options sought to reduce the area covered, to alter the technology, to delay the roll-out or to alter the model underpinning the tender. All of this involved an examination of costs, potential changes, state aid requirements etc.

In developing alternative options, my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform were in regular and ongoing engagement. Publication of the initial costings of the analysis of alternative interventions in advance of a revised strategy could impact on the State’s ability to get value for money in a procurement process, which is why these costings have not been made public.

I find that hard to understand. Earlier I heard the Taoiseach respond to a question about the ultimate value of the contract. There has been an effort by the Minister and the Taoiseach to suggest that after 25 years the only value that will accrue for this massive State investment will be the value of the fibre optic cable. That fails to recognise the tremendous amount of money that will be spent in marketing, connecting and building a customer base that is projected to comprise 400,000 customers after the 25-year period. The asset in question here is the value of that connection and monopoly access to that pool of customers and its revenue-generating capacity. As the Minister has indicated in this House, each of those customers will pay €30 per month. It does not take a mathematician to work out the value of that. I do not see any true recognition of what might be referred to as the soft asset, that is, the customer pool, in any of the communications of the Department, the Minister or the Taoiseach.

I can see the rationale for not publishing the costings and I hope the Deputy can understand it. The individual tenderer which has now been successful has to conclude deals with subcontractors. If we publish the tentative costings, it will undermine the ability of that tenderer to get value. Similarly, if we priced those alternatives and published those costings, we would undermine our ability to get value for money for the taxpayer if in the end it does not go ahead and we have to go back to the market. That is the reason for the redaction.

The development of the customer base is crucial to the success of this company. However, the company carries that risk entirely. One of the oft-cited critiques by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform concerned what will happen if this company does not get sufficient take-up. In that eventuality the company is at risk, not the State. That is included in the terms.

Regarding whether this is going to be a huge and lucrative company, I pointed out that this is an entirely regulated price. There is a fixed price which is currently set in the contract and in the future will be set by ComReg. It is comparable to the price in urban areas. There is not some super-price to be charged in rural areas. It is the same price. The projected turnover on the take-up the Deputy refers to is €150 million. Some €220 million of investment will be made in equity and working capital. That gives an idea of the scale of the company. It is very important that we develop the take-up and that is why we are doing it, to give those people a chance to access the network.

The Minister knows full well what will happen if the take-up does not meet this company's projections. The company will walk away. The Minister has already provided for that. He has indicated that the State will step in and take the stranded asset. It will then be left with the burden of completing it to protect the investment and the customers to whom the Government has already rolled out the service.

We must pick this deal apart bit by bit, look at all the risks and move way from the falsehood employed by the Taoiseach to the effect that the contractor will somehow be on the hook for €2.4 billion. It is clear that it will not be. If the company is not able to recover its capital investment, it will walk away. The Minister has already provided for that. The State will be left to pick up the tab. When one looks at it in the round, it is an exceptionally bad deal and there is potential for further delays. If at some inflection point the contractor walks away, it will take the Minister some time to pick up the pieces and start the roll-out again. None of this seems to have been factored in. This undertaking was entirely based on the belief that this was the only option. The Government has been taking that approach for four years. The fundamentals have changed on so many occasions and the Government has simply proceeded with the same approach, hoping for some other outcome. When one gets into the detail, it beggars belief. It is to be hoped we will able to do that at committee in the next few days and shine some more light on a project that is doomed to failure.

There has been much talk about the projected take-up. As the Deputy knows, it is projected that 80% of those passed will take up the service by the end of this project. Existing information says that where it is available on a fixed line, the take-up of high-speed broadband is already at 65%. We have no reason to believe that take-up in rural Ireland will be lower. Our cost-benefit analysis assumes that farmers would take it up at a rate of just 20%. That is quite unrealistic.

If it turns out to be less than projected, it will be solely the contractor's equity which is at risk. If those targets are exceeded, the State will recoup 60% of the extra profits. This model is designed to ensure that the State shares in the benefits and carries a capped risk. This approach has been worked out as the best way of protecting the State while creating an incentive for the operator to continue to invest, upgrade and future-proof the network. That evaluation was made at the very start of the project. The Deputy can see why that advice came to the Government. When he reads and scrutinises it in the committee, he will see that it is robust.

Post Office Network

Questions (57)

Brian Stanley


57. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views regarding the relocation of post offices from town centres to the outer fringes of towns and thereby accelerating the doughnut effect of towns. [21705/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

What is the Minister's view on the relocation of post offices from town centres to retail facilities on the outer fringes of towns? This is accelerating the so-called doughnut effect which the Government and local authorities are supposed to be counteracting in towns.

We discussed this earlier in the week. An Post has its own State board and its own prerogatives. We in the Oireachtas have designated this to be so. It is responsible for the day-to-day management of its affairs. My responsibility is to ensure that the company operates to the standards of governance set for it and that it is in a financially sound position. As the Deputy knows, the company was not in a financially sound position very recently and it is suffering a continuous decline in revenue from traditional postal services. An Post has had to be very innovative in developing new services. Its view is that it can deliver new services if it develops a modern post office network. One of its offices is in Deputy Stanley's constituency. He has mentioned another in discussions. An Post has made that decision to best serve the people of Laois and Tipperary, to ensure that they have access to a high quality modern postal service and at the same time to ensure that the company continues to be viable and has the customer base that will allow it to thrive in the future.

The company is undertaking and delivering major strategic reform and is improving its services. The proof of the pudding is in the growth in its parcel business and its movement into financial services. It is transforming its business and we must allow the company do what is best for its customer base and workers.

I am well aware of the situation An Post was in two or three years ago. Members from all across the Chamber supported a number of measures in this House to try and retrieve the situation. An Post got a financial injection from the Government to modernise. The protection of the post office network is within the terms of the partnership Government. That is fine but what is happening here flies in the face of that. The Government has said that it wants to protect small and medium-sized rural towns and yet, in action, the Government is doing the very opposite and tearing the heart out of them.

The Department of Rural and Community Development and other Departments are engaged in town and village renewable schemes in the centres of towns, putting down nice paving and all of that, while at the same time vital parts of the cluster of businesses needed to retain and maintain a town centre are being pulled out. The Minister should know that the post office network is a vital component of the cluster of businesses in rural towns and villages. Pulling out the post office would have the same effect as pulling out one leg from underneath a stool. The stool will keel over. That is likely to happen to our towns and villages. This will have a detrimental effect on the hearts of towns such as Mountmellick and Thurles.

The mandate of An Post must be to develop services for its customer base. It has been very successful in developing the parcel network. It is dealing with big companies like Amazon and other online players. It has successfully developed its own parcel business. It is developing into the financial services sector. We must rely on its capacity to build its customer base and ensure it delivers a high quality, future-proofed service to the people of Laois.

The Deputy wants me to issue a ministerial direction against the views of the board which is responsible for delivering that quality service. If that direction was unsuccessful, the Deputy would rightly ask why the Minister intervened in the work of An Post, resulting in its successful strategy for the future development being undermined. The Deputy would rightly come in here and say that.

The board, the chief executive and the staff have a responsibility and they are taking it seriously. They are restructuring the company, developing modern, future-proofed services for communities in Laois and every other county and are doing so effectively. We must allow them to do the work for which they are responsible.

All of those services will have to fit into the new An Post premises in Connolly Street in Mountmellick. Sinn Féin supports the modernisation of the network and the provision of additional services through the post office network. Sinn Féin has put forward various proposals for that over the past ten or 15 years and supported the general thrust of that notion. There is no argument there. However, the modernisation that must happen in the building in Connolly Street is similar to that which would have been required in An Post's former premises in the town square. The Minister mentioned the parcel service which is growing at the same time as the mail business is decreasing. I recognise that as a commercial reality but there was sufficient space in the building in the town square to do that. That building remains available and there is another one in the town square that is also available.

Sinn Féin also supported co-location of post offices in smaller towns and villages to ensure they were viable and retained in the commercial hearts of villages and towns. There is no argument other than that new services should be available and Sinn Féin supports that fully.

The Minister is saying he cannot issue a policy directive but this is a policy issue. I ask the Minister at least to discuss it with the chief executive officer of An Post, Mr. David McRedmond. This is a policy issue which is impacting negatively on Government policy, spatial strategies and the policies of local government. It is also impacting the local town development plan and the county development plan in County Laois.

The Oireachtas has given the company and its local service providers the responsibility to work with its local customer base to develop those services and deliver them in the most appropriate way. It would be totally incorrect of me to try and intervene in that process. An Post has a responsibility to its customers and it is convinced that it will deliver a better service to the people of Mountmellick and Laois by making the changes it is making. It believes that its move is in the best interests of developing and future proofing those services. I cannot impose myself and try to alter An Post's evaluation. It is dealing with its customer base locally and must make those decisions. That is the responsibility of the An Post board. Of course I urge An Post to talk to local stakeholders and customers to ensure it is making the right decision but I will not put myself in the position of intervening because the board rightly has the responsibility for taking those decisions.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (58)

Thomas P. Broughan


58. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he will take to implement the decision of Dáil Éireann to declare a climate emergency following the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21343/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

Our colleagues moved the motion to declare a climate emergency a couple of weeks ago based on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action which, the Minister will agree, was a fine effort and one of the achievements of this 32nd Dáil. The question now is what the Government is going to do to implement it. Fine Gael has had eight years of budgets, following five or six years of budgets from Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, and absolutely nothing was done. How is the Government going to decarbonise transport, agriculture, energy and housing? What steps will the Government take to implement the 42 priority recommendations? For example, will the Minister be proposing legislation to the House to take any emergency measures?

I was pleased both to open and close the debate to which the Deputy refers and I was here for the entirety of it. It was a worthwhile debate and I think everyone in this House recognises that the climate emergency is the greatest threat that faces humanity. We also realise it involves not only changes for Government but also for every home, worker, enterprise and farm. We need to change how we travel. All of these systems must change dramatically. It is welcome that there was unanimous Oireachtas support for the all-party report and the declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency. That builds on the work of the Citizens' Assembly and provides a strong platform for an effective implementation plan. That is exactly what I am undertaking. Each Government Department has been asked to examine the referred recommendations that are relevant to it and to come back to me. I hope to integrate proposals from the Oireachtas into the plan we ultimately publish.

One can already see the direction of travel. I have committed that we will raise the proportion of renewables in our electricity system from 55% to 70% by 2030, a significant increase. I aim to roll out the infrastructure so that no non-zero emission cars can be purchased from 2030 onwards. We have ambition but we need to implement a wide-ranging plan and I will be working to implement as much as possible of what has been set out by the committee. I will be bringing legislation before the House to underpin the Oireachtas view.

The concern among constituents is that the most vulnerable households are affected. The report notes from its own research that 28% of households suffer energy poverty. How can we decarbonise energy if it is to be left to ordinary individuals? The Taoiseach has been flinging around figures such as €50 billion for what the decarbonisation effort will cost. Nobody seems to know.

Does the national energy and climate plan have to be agreed with the European Commission? Does that have to happen this year?

Has any work been done on the five-year carbon budget or the establishment of a carbon action council? The key figure which is cited each night in the debates for the European Parliament election is the proposed increase in the price of carbon from €20 per tonne to €80 per tonne. For example, what should the Committee on Budgetary Oversight and all other sectoral committees be doing now to get ready? Will the Minister bring forward proposals on carbon and the key areas of the economy we need to address like agriculture and transport?

I will not try and tell Oireachtas committees what they should be doing. I will be bringing forward an all-of-Government plan to look at agriculture, transport, the built environment, electricity and waste and it will have a strategy for each of those. We will seek to be ambitious. We will have sectoral targets based on what we believe can be achieved over a five-year plan to 2025 and 2030.

I recognise what is being sought by the Oireachtas by way of legislation. Of course, we will have to move to drafting when the Government adopts a plan. I recognise what is being spelled out there.

On the national energy and climate plan, we had to provide a draft at the end of last year and that was submitted. I do not believe it is ambitious enough. Our plan will factor into a finalisation of a proposed five-year plan at the end of this year. We are working to that deadline.

On legislation, will it be similar to the Brexit legislation in terms of the provisions for the various sectors in the case of a bad Brexit? The report refers to a review to be carried out this year on the area of fuel poverty and the potential impacts of an increase in carbon tax. Will that happen? The Department of Finance was asked to look at the possible impact of a carbon tax on the profits of fossil fuel corporations and businesses operating directly in the area of fossil fuels. Will that be addressed? I previously asked the Minister about the measures to be taken in areas such as agriculture and he could not give me a definitive answer. For example, the role played by hedgerows across our beautiful country does not seem to enter into the equation in terms of the exact levels of carbon in our economy. Is something being done regarding mitigation measures? I asked a colleague of the Minister about lower speed limits and the benefits that could accrue from them in terms of carbon mitigation. Will those kinds of areas be addressed?

On carbon tax, does the Minister envisage that any tax increase will be hypothecated, that is, referred back to constituents or organisations or treated as a full dividend? Will it be targeted?

It will be a matter for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to bring forward proposals on carbon pricing. The Oireachtas has clearly signalled that the money should not be used for revenue raising but rather as a dividend or to shoehorn additional work to decarbonise the economy. The Taoiseach has put on the record his support for that approach. On agriculture, the committee on climate action set out the need to adopt the Teagasc measures identified which would help to decarbonise agriculture. There is an agenda in that regard.

On legislation, the committee did not envisage separate sectoral legislation but rather legislation that would create a set of targets, namely, five-year budgets, as referred to by the Deputy, with the responsible Ministers to report back within those targets to the Oireachtas. A set of legislative measures in each sector is not envisaged; it is more about creating a framework and seeking that the players within those sectors act creatively to deliver on the targets. It will not all be regulation. I recognise that in certain areas we will need to look at regulations by way of statutory instrument or fresh legislation.

Climate Change Adaptation Plans

Questions (59)

Peter Burke


59. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he is taking to ensure that a just transition is a key element of the forthcoming all-of-government plan on climate disruption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21476/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to take this question on behalf of Deputy Burke. What steps are being taken by the Minister to ensure that a just transition will be a key element of the all-of-Government plan that is being put together? When will the plan be produced?

The concept of just transition will form a key pillar of the climate action plan. It recognises that while every home, workplace and community will have to make far-reaching changes in our lifestyles to achieve climate resilience and protect our environment for future generations, the level of adjustment and options for adaptation risks imposing particular hardship for some. In that light, we need to ensure that policy is in place to support transition for those worst affected.

A range of measures will be considered in this context, including helping enterprises and workers in sectors particularly affected to adapt; ensuring that revenues from carbon prices are transferred back to help households cope and adapt; developing the economic opportunities that will come with the scaling up of renewables, retrofitting, managing resources in a sustainable way and smarter working and living; and, in particular, that regions particularly affected benefit from these economic opportunities. It will also involve building climate resilience into the framework for key funds for climate action, rural and urban regeneration and disruptive technologies in order that early movement can protect our communities.

The work we are undertaking in the midlands embracing a whole-of-Government approach and along with Bord na Móna, enterprise agencies, education institutions, social protection agencies and local stakeholders to commence planning and development of policy is providing a working model which can be developed.

As the Minister indicated, some sectors will be affected more than others. For example, figures for the cost involved of retrofitting of homes have recently been quoted in the media. This week, it was reported that it will cost €50 billion for every house in the country to be retrofitted to the required standard. To ensure no particular hardship is levied on those more directly affected, will a plan, possibly involving financial assistance and above what may be returned to them in carbon tax, be put in place to help those people directly? Will there be extra assistance for sectors that may be more directly affected, such as the agriculture sector? The Minister referred to the midlands, which will be particularly affected. What else can be done to ensure that they will not be left isolated by what may be coming down the line?

I agree with the points made by the Deputy. Last Friday, I attended a very useful session in Mount Lucas which brought together many companies operating in the new decarbonisation world and which offer many employment opportunities. Representatives of educational institutions were also in attendance to identify how the midlands could be a centre for developing some of the new retrofitting opportunities. Very practical examples were offered. Bord na Móna is leading the charge in moving from brown to green, as it describes it. It is looking at new ways in which it can develop as a renewables provider, become involved in resource recovery and look at new forms of delivery using its existing assets.

The Deputy is correct that some sectors and people will come under pressure. It is important to state that there is a positive payback from retrofitting and many other changes that must be made. The economy will benefit from the changes, although there may be an upfront cost. As part of the plan, we will examine the existing grant levels from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and determine whether there are other approaches that could improve the capacity of people to avail of its supports. We will have to look at smart finance and the scale of our undertakings. We will be looking at how to help people to make the transition. Interestingly, 256 sustainable energy communities are already lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps with State support.

Education is key as we move forward. Communicating exactly what is happening and what will happen is essential. We need to be able to bring people with us along the road. It may be a difficult road and there may be obstacles along the way, but educating people and communicating the message will be a key element of bringing people with us.

The Minister referred to smart finance. I may have seen reference recently to low-cost loans. Have such loans been considered as a way of helping to make the adjustment in areas such as retrofitting? There is no doubt that there will not be enough finance available within the country to make the transition from where we are to where we need to go. What other finance options may be available?

These are the things that are or will be in development. The plan which we will publish will only be the start of the roll-out. Smart finance will be a key part of it. Institutions such as the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, which is looking seriously at this sector, have a significant role to play.

I agree with the Deputy on the role of education. It is not by accident that it is young people who are leading the charge on this issue and telling our generation that we have failed to live up to our responsibilities. It is their world and future prospects for which we are responsible. The younger generation demanding action will be among the most powerful advocates in building momentum.

Much of the constitutional change we have experienced in this country came from younger people influencing older people to recognise that changes were required, and that will be true in this area as well.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

Question No. 61 replied to with Written Answers.

Questions (60)

Peter Burke


60. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the number of homes in County Westmeath that will benefit from the national broadband plan; the investment in the county over the duration of the plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21477/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

I again thank Deputy Burke for letting me substitute for him today. I presume the Minister of State will have substituted my county in the reply. I welcome the recent announcement regarding the national broadband plan. Like many rural Deputies, I have been inundated over recent years by people asking questions about when they will get broadband, saying they cannot access this and that, so it is well overdue. With regard to County Carlow, how many homes will benefit from this and what cost will be involved? Are the figures available for the number of homes, farms and businesses?

The status of broadband in Carlow is that today 65% of premises have access to high-speed broadband, compared with 61% in 2015. Some 18,052 or 28% of Carlow premises will receive high-speed broadband under the State intervention. Since April 2017, Eir has provided high-speed broadband to 1,980 premises in Carlow. When Eir's deployment is complete, the company will have provided high-speed broadband to 3,942 premises in Carlow. The national broadband plan investment in providing high-speed broadband in Carlow over the duration of the plan will be approximately €29 million.

The maps use the latest version of GeoDirectory and are revised every three months. They show the number of premises in all the areas of the map, including the light blue areas, and may change from version to version. The information shows that improvements are happening. On commercial activity in Carlow, SIRO is active in Carlow town with a 1 Gb connection to the Carlow gigabit hub and more than €7 million is being invested by Open Eir in upgrading the broadband network in the county. The mobile telephone and broadband task force for those premises awaiting access to high-speed broadband will continue to progress practical initiatives through the task force to address obstacles and improve connectivity in respect of existing and future mobile broadband services.

Engagement between the telecommunications operators and the local authorities' broadband officers continues to strengthen. These broadband officers act as a single point of contact in the local authorities for communities. The appointment of these officers is already reaping rewards in terms of ensuring a much greater degree of consistency in engagements.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply and I welcome the fact that €29 million will be invested in County Carlow. That is very good news and a welcome investment, although it is long overdue. Will the Minister of State indicate when the first of this money will spent? It was indicated a few weeks ago that it would be spent over a seven-year period. Is there a breakdown of the number of homes that will be done in year one, year two, year three and so forth? Is there a specific target of the money to be spent in a particular year or is it just an overall cost?

The €29 million is the overall cost for the roll-out of broadband for Carlow. Following the rigorous evaluation by the Department, a recommendation was brought to the Government, which was accepted, to confer preferred bidder status on Granahan McCourt, the remaining bidder in the national broadband plan procurement process. The Government has agreed to proceed with the preferred bidder. The Government decision means it is intended to award the State intervention contract to National Broadband Ireland subject to the contract close, including the finalisation of financial and legal documents. Deployment of the national broadband plan State intervention network will commence shortly after that. The roll-out will take seven years from the beginning of deployment until the last house is connected. Local authority broadband officers will act as a single point of contact between the local authorities and the bidder's deployment teams, allowing greater engagement between those parties on matters such as planning permission and road opening licences.

The other important issue is the broadband connection points, of which there will be 300 in the country. It is anticipated that these will be connected first and the broadband officers have identified almost 300 connection points. These broadband connection points will be deployed and connected in places such as community centres, GAA clubs, schools and public buildings chosen by the broadband officers where connectivity is particularly poor. There are seven in County Carlow.

Where are the seven? Have the seven areas been indicated? The Minister of State said the broadband officer would nominate those venues. Will they be first before the work on the overall roll-out of the scheme to houses and businesses? Have the hubs or connection areas the Minister of State mentioned been identified yet?

My understanding is that the broadband officer, in conjunction with the local authority, has identified areas where these broadband connection points would be of most benefit. The broadband officer is engaging further with the owners, community centres or community groups to tie down the premises. The other part is that a body of work must be done, and it is ongoing this week and next week, on how the local authorities can put a service level agreement in place to allow these centres to become part of the national broadband plan.

On the question of where the seven centres are, I cannot identify them but the local broadband officer can give the Deputy a good indication.

Question No. 61 replied to with Written Answers.

Illegal Dumping

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website

Questions (62)

Thomas P. Broughan


62. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he is taking to address the issue of illegal household dumping and of alleged highly organised illegal dumping of industrial and soil waste in areas of north County Dublin and Fingal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15749/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Communications)

This question was submitted some time ago. It is about the serious problem of littering in our constituency of Dublin Bay North and the general problem of illegal dumping across north Dublin, especially in an area I indicated to the Minister. He has provided additional funding of €3 million for the 2019 anti-dumping initiative but constituents are still very anxious that the problem is resolved. There should be a strong lead from the Department on the issue of dumping, littering and criminal behaviour.

The Deputy raised this matter previously and I am aware of his concern. Each local authority, including Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council, is responsible for the supervision and the enforcement of the relevant provisions of the Waste Management Act within its functional area. Local authorities have specific powers under the Act to require measures to be taken or to take measures directly to prevent or limit environmental pollution caused or likely to be caused by the holding, recovery or disposal of waste and to mitigate or remedy the effects on the environment of such activity.

The eastern and midlands waste enforcement regional lead authority has co-ordinated a number of multi-agency operations close to this site. This has resulted in the impounding of vehicles used for alleged unauthorised waste activities and the initiation of prosecutions. Officials from my Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, have met Dublin City Council on site to assess the situation, their responses to date and to examine what measures of support can be provided to Dublin City Council under the 2019 anti-dumping initiative and the sites of concern programme. I recently announced funding of €3 million for the 2019 anti-dumping initiative, an increase of 50% on last year's funding.

The key concern was the emergence of a huge, illegal dump beside residents' homes. It was illegal under the 1996 Act and regulations. As I said previously, a mountain of rubbish has begun to move across an amenity open space towards dozens of houses. People are very distressed by this. It has been a problem across the north fringe of Dublin city and the south fringe of Fingal, which the Minister and I are delighted to represent, and it must be addressed severely.

It is being taken very seriously.

The national waste enforcement steering committee will discuss this particular site at its next meeting in June. An effort is being made to get co-ordination among the various agencies that can play a part in order to get resolution. As I have said, the Environmental Protection Agency met city councillors as recently as last week to try to make progress in this area. As the Deputy is aware, it has proved a challenging site. I assure him that-----

Does the Minister expect any prosecutions?

There have already been prosecutions, as I outlined in my reply. Vehicles have been impounded and prosecutions initiated.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.