Thursday, 11 July 2019

Questions (4)

Willie Penrose


4. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he has been briefed on the recommendations within the cross-party report on climate change specifically relating to a just transition and the need for local economic diversification plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30433/19]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Rural)

The Minister is aware of the recommendations of the excellent cross-party report on climate change and the significant recommendations arising therefrom, including the necessity and urgency of reducing the carbon footprint of many industries located in rural Ireland. We know the consequences of this transition will affect rural Ireland. We are long past the point of questioning the need to change in response to climate change. The question is how to achieve that change as quickly, as efficiently and as fairly as possible. Has the Minister had discussions on a cross-party basis to ensure this can take place?

I will take this question on behalf of the Minister.

The cross-party report on climate was published by the Joint Committee on Climate Action in March 2019. Our Department actively engaged with the work of the committee and also in the preparation of the all-of-Government action plan published recently by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

The Minister, Deputy Ring, and I have been briefed on a number of occasions on the recommendations. We are particularly concerned with ensuring that transition to a low-carbon future is done in a just and fair manner, recognising the potential for measures to be felt differently in various parts of the country. The Government has consistently stressed the importance of ensuring a people-centred transition that recognises vulnerability within certain communities and takes action accordingly. Our Department is providing supports to assist communities and those in rural Ireland with climate change initiatives to enhance their resilience, and will continue to do so.

In developing the next phase of rural development policy, climate adaptation, sustainability and resilience are likely to be guiding features. In respect of recommendations on the need for local economic diversification plans, consideration of any measures that would allow local communities be included in the formulation of climate actions that directly affect them is to be welcomed. Engagement with communities will be key to delivery of climate change targets and our Department will be happy to play a role in making this happen within the scope of agreed Government policy on climate action.

The Minister of State is aware that communities in rural Ireland will undoubtedly be affected most by changes in agriculture, the increasing carbon taxation and the closure of peat bogs, particularly in the midlands. There are many such bogs in Derrygreenagh, Boora, Derrahaun, Cullenagh and across the midlands. The recent announcement on the Moneypoint plant in west Clare was instructive about how electricity generation would be handled. For some, the changes will dramatically alter the way in which they live, affecting farming and the types of employment that will be available in the future. There could also be many opportunities for rural communities in the production of green methane gas, microgeneration and mixed agriforestry, but if we are to capitalise on them, we will need strong local economic diversification plans to smooth the transition. Rural communities, particularly farmers and farm labourers, will need to be adequately incentivised and rewarded. That is why the Labour Party continually called for a diversification fund at the all-party Joint Committee on Climate Action, but I have heard nothing about it yet. I hope it is a measure the Ministers and the Department will support. Otherwise, the report will be a waste of time. Local diversification plans will undoubtedly cut across a number of Departments from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Employment Affairs and Social Protection, but they must be consistent, coherent and always have the concerns of rural communities at their core. The climate action delivery board cited in the climate action plan is one possible mechanism for achieving a just transition in Ireland. Is it being given consideration? There is no use in us waking up after the fact. We must act now.

I agree with the Deputy that ensuring we respect and deal with local communities is important. The Department works to ensure the impact of climate policies on rural areas and communities is given appropriate consideration. It is engaging with communities throughout the countries on these matters. The needs of rural areas are important in the light of the contribution their communities can make to climate mitigation and ensuring our climate action policies will not impact on them disproportionately.

The Deputy mentioned microgeneration and the fact that farming had to change. All of these issues are covered within the climate action plan. Consider also the house retrofit programme and the fuel poverty scheme, under which we are providing 100% grants for households. The effects are threefold. First, they help people to live in their homes more comfortably. Second, they help to save on energy bills. Third, they create employment in SMEs across the country, with many subcontractors and contractors due to be employed in the next few years in undertaking the required retrofits. It is important that the threefold effect be understood. Of course, it will cost money. People's ways of living and doing business will also have to change.

The similar Climate Change Delivery Board, CCDB, was established in Scotland in 2012 after cross-party consensus was reached on climate action. Scotland's rural ministry has played a central role on the board in achieving a buy-in from rural communities. We must have local buy-in, including in the case of the Moneypoint plant. For every direct job that is lost there, 1.5 indirect jobs in, for example, services will be lost in the community. We must support a just transition. We could as a consequence surpass our environmental targets, as happened in Scotland. We should learn its lesson and take the same approach, as we cannot afford for rural communities to be left as the hind tit taking crumbs from the rich man's table. Will the Minister of State confirm whether he has been briefed on the recommendations made in the joint committee's report, specifically those relating to a just transition and the need for local economic diversification plans? Will his Department play a significant role on the proposed climate change delivery board outlined in the Government's climate action plan?

Take Bord na Móna as the prime example. It is close to the Deputy's neck of the woods.

Like everyone, I view Bord na Móna as a model for every other organisation in transitioning in a fair way. It is embedded in the communities where it has worked since its inception. It is undertaking a large number of pilot schemes to examine ways of diversifying its business model and changing what it is doing from brown to green. That model will stand the test of time and show how any country or company can transition in a way that will retain jobs in communities. Granted, they might be different, but I am fully confident that Bord na Móna's potential will be delivered on in time, although there are issues. It will be laying off people in certain places because it is getting out of certain types of business. However, it is regenerating other businesses and creating new, more sustainable jobs. That is what it is all about.

The Deputy referred to rural Ireland being left with just the crumbs from the table. If we put the national broadband plan in place and give everyone in rural Ireland a chance, we will leave no one behind. I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy in that regard.

I thank the Minister of State.