Public Sector Pensions

Questions (46)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

46. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the reason for the disparity in pension increases and general increases in pay of retired established civil servants who served in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs up to 1 January 1984 (details supplied); his views on whether this is inequitable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2610/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The legislation underpinning the superannuation scheme referred to requires that any increases in pensions are authorised by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

However, the issue raised is a matter of pensions policy, which is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Warmer Homes Scheme

Questions (47)

Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

47. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if the tender process will be re-examined for the warmer homes scheme with the aim of bolstering experienced local social enterprise (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2651/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme is funded by my Department and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty. To date over 142,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme, leaving the occupants better able to afford to heat their homes to an adequate level.

The scheme has evolved significantly since it was first established in 2000. The scheme was initially based on community referrals and provided simple energy improvements such as lagging jackets and draught proofing. The scheme now provides significant and complex whole home upgrades including external wall insulation and has a current work programme of over 7,000 homes.

€109 million in capital funding has been provided this year through my Department's Vote to support lower income households to retrofit their homes. €100 million of this funding is allocated to the Warmer Homes Scheme. This represents a €47 million increase on the 2020 allocation and is the highest ever budget for this scheme.

The Scheme is delivered through a panel of suitably trained contractors, appointed following a competitive tendering process. The most recent tender process was held last year. The tender process was designed to reflect the need to deliver greater numbers of deeper upgrades to households in energy poverty, in line with Government policy. The new contract requires all contractors to be able to deliver all measures, deep and shallow. The process also included a new social considerations criterion. This criterion provided tenderers with the opportunity to demonstrate any relevant social considerations that they employ or use in the delivery of the services they provide. This could include employment and training opportunities for disadvantaged groups, disability access and promoting social inclusion.

The process resulted in a new, broader contractor panel with increased capacity to deliver more activity under the Scheme. A total of five social enterprises/community based organisations were successfully appointed to the panel. There are no plans to re-open the tender process at this time.

Just Transition Fund

Questions (48)

Barry Cowen

Question:

48. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if his Department will assist in the provision of compensation to the peat harvesting contractors; and if he will meet the industry, including the Just Transition Commissioner, to allow it make recommendations for a fair and equitable just transition that adequately compensates and offers financial incentives to provide alternatives for this industry. [2683/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

As Bord na Móna is a commercial State company, operating under the Turf Development Acts, I, as Minister, do not have a statutory function in relation to its commercial or operational matters.

Mr Kieran Mulvey was appointed as the Just Transition Commissioner on a non-statutory basis to facilitate discussions and work with stakeholders to develop, mobilise, and deliver opportunities for the Midlands for both those directly affected by the move away from peat harvesting and the wider community. As part of his role, the Commissioner has been asked to meet with those affected and to make recommendations on actions or measures that he believes could assist in the just transition.

Grant Payments

Questions (49)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

49. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will review correspondence regarding a grant for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2711/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

On 6 January 2021, the Government updated Level 5 COVID-19 restrictions. In line with the increased restrictions, construction closed from 6pm on Friday 8 January, with certain limited exceptions. SEAI supported retrofitting does not fall into one of the identified exceptions. On 8 January, SEAI updated its guidance to contractors to bring the new restrictions to their attention.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage have confirmed that works are also not proceeding in local authority homes that are tenanted.

While it is appreciated that this disruption is unwelcome for many, the central consideration must be the minimisation of risk for homeowners and property occupants, contractors, their employees as well as the wider community. SEAI will further update contractors on any relevant changes to the public health guidance and relevant restrictions.

Although works cannot currently proceed, SEAI grant schemes remain open for new applications in order to ensure a speedy resumption of activity, once possible. All grant payment claims are continuing to be processed in accordance with normal service levels.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (50)

Matt Carthy

Question:

50. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when a property (details supplied) will be connected to fibre broadband in view of the fact that other houses in the area are connected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2753/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Question refers to a premises which is located in the AMBER area on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website, www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led intervention.

I appreciate people's frustration when they are living so close to a fibre network but cannot get a connection to that network, particularly given the heightened importance of connectivity during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NBP will ensure that in all such cases a future proofed high speed broadband network will be built to serve these premises and work to deliver on this is underway.

I am advised by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) that, as of 8 January 2021, over 158,000 premises across all counties have been surveyed which is ahead of the schedule projected by the company. Surveys have been completed in Monaghan in the areas of Cornacassa, Cortolvin, Ballybay, and Stranooden. Further details are available on specific areas within County Monaghan through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises as works commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I am advised that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans. NBI also has a dedicated email address, reps@nbi.ie, which can be used by Oireachtas members for specific queries.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 10 January, 243 publicly accessible BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. BCP’s installed in Monaghan are Latton Resource Centre, Corduff Community Centre, Tannagh Outdoor Education Centre, Corcaghan Community Centre, Carn Resource Centre, Saint Alphonsus Community Hall, Ballybay Wetlands, Mullyash Community Centre and Monaghan GAA Centre of Excellence Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.

Annalitten National School, Drumgossatt National School and Saint Brigid's National School are connected by NBI for educational access as part of this initiative. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband, within the intervention area, for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of this aspect of the National Broadband Plan was announced in December which will see some 679 primary schools connected to high speed broadband by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026. Further details are available on the NBI website at https://nbi.ie/primary-schools-list/.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (51)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

51. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when broadband will be available at a property (details supplied); the steps that person can take to accelerate the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2759/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Question refers to a premises which is located in the AMBER area on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led intervention.

I am advised by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) that, as of 8 January 2021, over 158,000 premises across all counties have been surveyed which is ahead of schedule. In County Donegal, surveys have been completed in Milford, Letterkenny, Ramelton, Termon, Ballymacool, Kilmacrennan, Mullaghfin and Tommyscroft. Further details are available on specific areas within County Donegal through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises as works commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I am advised that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans. NBI also has a dedicated email address, reps@nbi.ie, which can be used by Oireachtas members for specific queries.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 10 January, 244 publicly accessible BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. BCP’s connected in Donegal are Ray Community Centre, Leghowney Community Centre, Dunree Military Museum, Cranford Coole Community Centre, the Gweedore Theatre and Meenreagh Hostel. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.

School BCPs will be provided with high speed broadband for educational use and more than 70 schools will have been connected by the end of January through ‘service provider' contracts managed by the Department of Education. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband, within the intervention area for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of the schools aspect of the project was announced late last year and will see some 679 primary schools connected to high speed broadband by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026. Some 42 schools in County Donegal are to be connected by the end of 2022. Further details are available on the NBI website at https://nbi.ie/primary-schools-list/.

The Programme for Government has committed to seek to accelerate the roll out of the National Broadband Plan. In this regard, my Department continues to engage with NBI to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of this rollout to establish the possibility of bringing forward premises which are currently scheduled in years 6 and 7 of the current plan to an earlier date. NBI has established a dedicated team to investigate acceleration of the rollout from its current contracted schedule of seven years. All possible alternative network providers are being considered and substantial work has been completed by this team to date with further actions scheduled over the coming months. This includes an assessment of the potential to utilise the ESB Network for certain areas and this work is on-going. The technical feasibility of whether the ESB network is compatible with the NBI solution has been the primary focus and NBI have undertaken site surveys and developed a detailed design for a pilot area using the ESB network, with the aim of establishing from this pilot exercise, the feasibility of using the ESB infrastructure on a broader basis.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (52)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

52. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the extent to which broadband service is available to an area (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2827/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Question refers to a premises located in the AMBER area on the National Broadband Plan (NBP) High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led intervention.

I appreciate people's frustration when they are living so close to a fibre network but cannot get a connection to that network, particularly given the heightened importance of connectivity during the Covid-19 pandemic. The NBP will ensure that in all such cases a future proofed high speed broadband network will be built to serve these premises and work to deliver on this is underway.

I am advised by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) that, as of 8 January 2021, over 158,000 premises across all counties have been surveyed which is ahead schedule. Surveys have been completed in Kildare in the areas of Killashee, Oughterard, Naas Rural, Rathmore, Kill, Kilteel, Carnalway, Gilltown, Ballymore Eustace, Bodenstown, Naas Urban, Newtown and Donaghcumper. Further details are available on specific areas within County Kildare through the NBI website which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises as works commence. I am aware that concerns have been raised regarding the level of information available on the deployment of the NBI network and I understand that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans. NBI also has a dedicated email address, reps@nbi.ie, which can be used by Oireachtas members for specific queries.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 10 January, 243 publicly accessible BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on in these locations through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development. BCP’s are installed in County Kildare at Lullymore Heritage Park and Bigstone Community Hall. Further details can be found at https://nbi.ie/bcp-locations/.

Rathmore National School is installed by NBI for educational access as part of this initiative. My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband, within the intervention area for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of this aspect of the National Broadband Plan was announced in December which will see almost 700 primary schools connected to high speed broadband by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026. Further details are available on the NBI website at https://nbi.ie/primary-schools-list/.

Recycling Policy

Questions (53, 56)

Denis Naughten

Question:

53. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the potential impact that the deposit and return scheme will have on the cost of collecting domestic recycling bins; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2871/21]

View answer

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

56. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when it is planned to introduce a deposit and return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2902/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 56 together.

Under the Single Use Plastics Directive, Ireland must achieve a collection target of 90% recycling for plastic bottles by 2029 with an interim target of 77% by 2025. A report prepared by Eunomia for my Department concluded that the introduction of a deposit and return scheme (DRS) is essential if we are to reach these targets.

The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, launched last September, sets out a clear roadmap for the introduction of a Deposit and Return Scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles and aluminium cans in the third quarter of 2022. This process began with the launch of a public consultation on the design of a DRS for Ireland in October last. My officials are currently engaged in bi-lateral discussions with a range of stakeholders to progress the design of the system, including waste collectors, drinks producers and retailers and environmental NGOs. While the external report estimated that the introduction of a DRS might result in a small increase in the costs of collecting domestic waste this issue will be considered in detail during these discussions and in the detailed design of the scheme itself.

National Monuments

Questions (54)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

54. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications further to the decision of An Post as the holder of the title to the General Post Office, Dublin 1, to move its corporate headquarters to another location later in 2021, when the planned refurbishment of the building will commence; and if efforts will be made to locate the missing flagstones on which Pearse stood accompanied by Clarke and Connolly to read the Proclamation. [2883/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The GPO is vested in the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. Under a Licence Agreement, An Post occupies the GPO Building under a 50-year licence, which is due to expire on 1st January 2034.

The timing of An Post’s move from the office space in the GPO is a matter for the company. I am informed that the GPO public post office and GPO Witness History Museum will continue in their current location.

As the management of State properties is ultimately a matter for the Office of Public Works (OPW), the nature and scope of any refurbishment or associated works will be a matter for discussion with OPW in due course.

Climate Action Plan

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 53.

Questions (55)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

55. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications when the next round of climate fund funding will be announced; if nature-based solution, NBS, projects will be considered under this round; the amount of funding that will be provided in this round; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2898/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Climate Action Fund was established on a statutory basis with effect from 1 August 2020. A key objective of the Fund is to provide support for projects and initiatives that contribute to the achievement of Ireland’s climate and energy targets, and for projects and initiatives in regions of the State, and within sectors of the economy, impacted by the transition to a low carbon economy.

The Climate Action Fund is resourced from proceeds from the levy paid to the National Oil Reserves Agency (NORA) in respect of relevant disposals of petroleum products, after the funding requirements of NORA have been met. In the region of €500 million is expected to accrue to the Climate Action Fund to 2027. This will ensure that substantial funding is available to progress a series of funding calls.

My Department is currently finalising proposals to provide a second round of support from the Climate Action Fund which will be launched shortly. Further information, including details on the type of projects that may be supported, who may apply for this support, and the application process, will be published on my Department’s website when this call is launched.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 53.

Exploration Licences

Questions (57)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

57. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to legislate for a ban on oil and gas exploration licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2915/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

On taking office as Minister, I made the Programme for Government commitment to end the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas on the same basis as the decision taken in 2019 by the previous Government in relation to oil exploration and extraction, effective immediately.

My Department is no longer accepting new applications for exploration licences for natural gas or oil, nor will there be any future licensing rounds in Closed areas. While there is no requirement for legislative underpinning for this commitment, I have asked my officials to consider how best to give it statutory effect and whether a suitable legislative vehicle is available in the short term.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (58)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

58. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the establishment of a national retrofitting delivery body to be set up by end of 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2916/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Programme for Government and the Climate Action Plan set ambitious targets to retrofit 500,000 homes to a Building Energy Rating of B2/cost optimal and to install 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings over the next 10 years. In order to assist with the achievement of these targets, €221.5 million in capital funding has been provided this year through my Department’s Vote to the SEAI for residential and community retrofit schemes. This represents an 82% increase on the 2020 allocation and is the largest amount ever for the schemes. This allocation will kick-start the first phase of our national retrofit plan.

It is essential that appropriate structures and governance arrangements are put in place to help us meet our retrofit targets. For that reason, a further key aspect of phase one of the retrofit plan was the designation, in quarter 4 last year, of the SEAI as the National Retrofit Delivery Office. Significant additional resources were provided as part of Budget 2021 to increase the capacity of the organisation to drive delivery of our retrofit targets. The process of restructuring the organisation and recruiting the necessary expertise is underway.

Climate Action Plan

Questions (59)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

59. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the status of the National Energy and Climate Plan 2021 to 2030; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2918/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Governance of the Energy Union and Climate Action Regulation 2018 sets out the process for the preparation and submission of the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). The NECP was approved by Government in July 2020 and formally submitted to the European Commission on 4 August 2020.

The NECP incorporates the goals and additional policies identified by the last Government as part of the Climate Action Plan and does not reflect our increased ambition under the Programme for Government.

The Programme for Government commits to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This represents a cumulative 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the decade compared to the 30% baseline under the NECP and is consistent with the approach set out at EU level which also aims to be climate neutral by 2050. The European Council has agreed, at its meeting in December 2020, to increase the EU's 2030 target to reduce emissions by at least 55% relative to 1990 levels. Legislative proposals to implement the new EU 2030 target will be presented by June 2021, and additional effort will be asked of all Member States, including Ireland. Ireland fully supports the enhanced ambition at EU level to increase the EU 2030 target to at least 55% emissions.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (60)

Cormac Devlin

Question:

60. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will consult with his ministerial colleagues, given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and consider the introduction of legislation to amend electricity standing charges to support businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector that are currently closed or operating at a very low level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2949/21]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The electricity and gas retail markets in Ireland operate within a European Union regulatory regime wherein electricity and gas markets are commercial, liberalised, and competitive. Operating within this overall EU framework, responsibility for the regulation of the electricity and gas markets, including the matters raised by the Deputy, is solely a matter for the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), which was assigned responsibility for the regulation of the Irish electricity and gas markets following the enactment of the Electricity Regulation Act (ERA), 1999.

The CRU is an independent statutory regulator and is accountable for the performance of its functions to the Oireachtas, and not to me as Minister.

Given the CRU’s responsibilities and specific statutory consumer protection functions, it has taken various measures to protect consumers, including specific Covid-19 pandemic-related measures relating to the matters raised by the Deputy details of which are available at https://www.cru.ie/document_group/covid-19-technical-questions-and-answers-for-the-energy-markets/.

The most recent update from CRU relates to the reintroduction of a moratorium on domestic gas and electricity disconnections for the duration of the current level 5 restrictions, details of which are available at the website reference above.The Deputy may wish to note that CRU provides a dedicated email address for Oireachtas members, which enables them raise questions on energy regulatory matters to CRU at oireachtas@cru.ie for timely direct reply.