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Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 181-194

Flexible Work Practices

Questions (181)

Dara Calleary

Question:

181. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the supports available for private companies that wish to develop remote working spaces in regional towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53739/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

My Department has invested in the development of enterprise/co-working hubs in every region through the Regional Enterprise Development Fund, Border Enterprise Development Fund and Regional Enterprise Transition Scheme. These Schemes were open to not-for-profit DACs and CLGs, while the BEDF was also open to public bodies, and did not fund private sector hubs.

Last November, the Tánaiste announced €8.24m in grants for 95 for-profit and not-for-profit Enterprise Centres under Enterprise Ireland’s Enterprise Centres Fund. Such centres provide space and training for entrepreneurs, allowing them to work remotely, access training and network with other business leaders. Some private sector centres were supported under this Scheme which was a Covid Response. At that stage 12 private sector centres were funded to assist with Covid 19 related measures necessary to adapt their premises. Enterprise Ireland also funded over 80 not-for-profit centres under this Scheme.

To build on the capacity of these centres to offer remote working facilities, a central objective of Enterprise Ireland’s ‘Powering the Regions’ is the Worksmart Challenge, which aims to support 10,000 co-working and incubation spaces. I have been advised that Enterprise Ireland has appointed a full time resource to maximise the opportunity for remote working in the network of over 200 EI supported hubs developed since 1998.

I can also advise the Deputy that the Department of Rural and Community Development in line with Our Rural Future, Ireland’s Rural Development Policy 2021-2025, operates a number of funding schemes that focus on projects supporting remote working through the development of hubs, including the development of Broadband Connection Points as long-term, digitally-enabled community assets.

DRCD’s Rural Regeneration and Development Fund supports the establishment of new digital/co-working hubs. The lead partner of projects must be a State funded body, but collaboration with the private sector is encouraged. To date, RRDF funding of €67 million has been approved for 44 projects that will develop or deliver Hubs that will provide remote working facilities in rural towns and villages and their outlying areas.

Support for new remote working hubs is also one of the areas being prioritised under the Town and Village Renewal Scheme focusing on establishing new remote working facilities where properties are currently vacant or where existing community/ publicly owned buildings can be repurposed. This latest call closed to applications in July 2021 and the assessment process is currently underway, with successful projects set to be announced by the end of the year.

Last May, DRCD launched the National Connected Hubs network together with the connectedhubs.ie platform. This platform will offer a suite of booking, hub management and e-commerce applications to members of the Network. Earlier this year, through the Connected Hubs funding stream, €9 million in funding was awarded to 118 successful applicants. This funding will allow for the expansion of existing public/private hub facilities and remote working infrastructure throughout the country.

My Department’s ‘National Remote Work Strategy’ is our plan to ensure that remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social, and environmental benefits. My Department is currently focused on the implementation of this Strategy.

Official Engagements

Questions (182)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

182. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will publish his quarterly Ministerial diaries for 2020 and to date in 2021 on his Department’s website. [53742/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

My quarterly Ministerial Diaries for 2020 and 2021 are available on my Department's website.

EU Agreements

Question No. 184 answered with Question No. 183.

Question No. 185 answered with Question No. 183.

Questions (183, 184, 185)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

183. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when Ireland will ratify the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court, 2013/C 175/01. [53766/21]

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Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

184. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason a referendum is required to ratify the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court given this agreement purports to establish a court of limited jurisdiction as permitted by Article 34.3.4 of the Constitution. [53767/21]

View answer

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

185. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps that have been taken by Ireland to host the central division of the Unified Patent Court which has become available as a result of the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. [53768/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 to 185, inclusive, together.

The international Agreement on the Unified Patent Court, signed in February 2013, entails the establishment of an international court that will, when operational, have exclusive competence for actions for infringement and validity in respect of European patents.

To enter into force, the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPCA) must be ratified by 13 Member States including the three largest contracting states (by number of European patents). Originally, these were France, Germany, and the UK. The UK announced in February 2020 that following Brexit, it would not be participating in the UPCA. With the UK having withdrawn, those three countries are now France, Germany, and Italy. To date, 16 Member States have ratified the Agreement including France and Italy.

Several constitutional challenges had significantly delayed the German ratification, but they have now been resolved, and Germany has now passed the legislation enabling it to ratify the UPCA. Germany has also ratified the Protocol on Provisional Application (PPA). One further participating Member State is required to ratify the Protocol, so that it may enter into force and mark the start of the provisional application period (PAP). This will enable various final preparations to be undertaken so that the UPC can become fully operational.

As the Court will hold full competence in patent matters, it will take away from the full and original jurisdiction of the Irish Courts on the matter. Therefore, for Ireland to ratify the UPCA, a successful Constitutional referendum will be required to allow for the transfer of jurisdictional powers from our Courts to the new international Court.

A decision on the holding of a referendum on this issue will be kept under review in the context of the timing of the coming into force of the UPC. The timing of a referendum will be a matter for Government to decide. Consideration of issues in relation to the potential location of local and central divisions of the UPC in Ireland would have to await the outcome of any referendum.

Question No. 184 answered with Question No. 183.
Question No. 185 answered with Question No. 183.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Question No. 187 answered with Question No. 186.

Questions (186, 187)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

186. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of the cross-Border Project Ireland 2040 infrastructure projects and the funding allocated for 2021, 2022 and 2023, in tabular form. [53842/21]

View answer

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

187. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of his Department’s current cross-Border initiatives, goods and or services committed to and the funding allocated to each for 2021, 2022 and 2023, in tabular form. [53860/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 186 and 187 together.

The joint impacts of both Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have brought about an unprecedented period of challenge and uncertainty for people both North and South on this island. The scale of these interlinked challenges on this island is such that we can deal with them far more effectively by pursuing all of the opportunities we have to work together, North and South. Cross-border cooperation is vital to help businesses grow, develop and thrive on our island, particularly in the context of our new trading environment.

My Department supports cross-border trade initiatives principally through the funding of InterTradeIreland. ITI works to promote trade and business on an all-island and cross-border basis and to help businesses in dealing with the joint impacts of Brexit and the pandemic. Its work is helping to build and strengthen the business and commerce between North and South.

Through its range of programmes, the Body continues to assist and develop cross-border trade and businesses as they face the challenges that have emerged in recent years. Their Brexit Advisory Service provides a focal point for small and medium enterprises working to navigate the changes in cross-border trading relationships brought about by Brexit. The Acumen trade programme is designed to support businesses by funding a part-time or full-time sales salary support to develop cross-border trade.

My Department has been steadily increasing its contribution to ITI in recent years to ensure the body has the resources it needs to support SMEs. In 2022 ITI will receive a total of €11.586 to continue its existing programmes and expand its services. This will help them to develop a cross-border Trade Information Service, which will assist businesses seeking to engage in the new trading environment, as well as a Supply Chain Programme, which will help firms to improve their understanding of and management practices in relation to their supply chains and to identify new suppliers.

Another important cross-border initiative that my Department contributes to is INTERREG VA, an EU funded programme designed to support cross-border collaboration between Ireland, Northern Ireland and western Scotland. My Department has responsibility for funding projects under the Research and Innovation strand of the current INTERREG VA programme, together with our counterparts in Northern Ireland, the Department for the Economy. We have committed a total of €21 million over the course of the seven-year programme, that will conclude in 2022.

PEACE PLUS is a new, €1 billion EU cross-border programme that will build on the success of INTERREG. My Department and the Department for the Economy will be responsible for funding SME development and transition and the Innovation Challenge Fund under this programme. Our budgetary commitment will be €23 million over the seven-year period that the programme will run for. The outline for PEACE PLUS has recently been approved by the North-South Ministerial Council and the programme is currently being finalised.

The cross-border work of both ITI and the INTERREG programme is particularly important in the context of the Government’s Shared Island Initiative. Under the National Development Plan, we have doubled the Shared Island Fund to €1 billion out to 2030. With this fund, the Government will work to develop and deliver joint and coordinated investments to build a more connected, sustainable all-island economy. These investments will help to grow business and employment opportunities both North and South.

As set out in the National Development Plan, Project Ireland 2040 will fund key cross-border infrastructure projects, including the A5 transport Corridor to the North West, the Ulster Canal renovation, the upgrading of the Dublin-Belfast rail connection and all-island research centres. While the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will play a key role in the delivery of Project Ireland 2040, responsibility for the work around infrastructure falls under the remit of other Government Departments.

The below table sets out the funding for ITI and INTERREG on behalf of my Department for the years 2021 and 2022. While funding for 2023 has not yet been confirmed, we will ensure that both ITI and INTERREG have the resources they require to continue to carry out their important work.

InterTradeIreland (€,000)

INTERREG (€,000

2021

10,361

5,800

2022

11,586

4,500

Question No. 187 answered with Question No. 186.

Renewable Energy Generation

Questions (188, 190, 210)

Richard Bruton

Question:

188. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he is satisfied that the challenges to rolling out Ireland’s renewable power capacity are being resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53624/21]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

190. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if he will ensure the maximisation of efforts to facilitate the elimination of fossil fuels from the generation of electricity thereby ensuring that no part of the economy such as the transport sector is damaged while en route to decarbonisation of the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52881/21]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

210. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the extent to which his Department continues to explore electricity generation from non-fossil fuels by way of wind, wave or solar; the full extent of the investment to date in each element of the sector; the degree to which he expects such investment to materialise on an annual basis over the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53900/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 188, 190 and 210 together.

An upcoming Clean Export Guarantee (CEG) tariff will represent the first phase of a comprehensive enabling framework for micro-and small-scale generators in Ireland, allowing them to receive remuneration from their electricity supplier for all excess renewable electricity exported to the grid, reflective of the market value of that electricity. The Clean Export Guarantee will be available to all renewables self-consumers later this year, subject to regulatory arrangements and the transposition of Articles 21 and 22 of the recast Renewable Energy Directive. My Department is engaging with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on transposing these Articles into Irish law, and it is expected that this will be completed before year end.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities published a consultation on a draft enabling framework on 1 October which outlined the details for the introduction of the Clean Export Guarantee payment, along with eligibility criteria and timescales for introduction. The consultation is now closed and I understand a decision is expected to be published this month and a compensation regime expected to follow shortly afterwards.  

Further to a public consultation held earlier this year on a Micro-generation Support Scheme, my Department is also developing a final Micro-generation Support Scheme scheme design that incorporates the feedback from the consultation and subsequent additional analysis. It is expected that a proposal on the supports to be offered for new installations under the Micro-generation Support Scheme, which may include grants or premium tariff payments, will be submitted to Government later this year.

Broadband Infrastructure

Question No. 190 answered with Question No. 188.

Questions (189)

Denis Naughten

Question:

189. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the current status of plans to fast-track the National Broadband Plan; the impact this will have on Ireland's carbon emissions profile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53974/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, National Broadband Ireland has made steady progress on delivery of the new high speed fibre broadband network under the National Broadband Plan with over 272,000 premises surveyed across 26 counties and retail service providers actively selling on the NBI network with over 30,000 premises available to order and pre-order in Counties Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Limerick, Monaghan, Roscommon, Tipperary and Wicklow as of 30 October.

My Department continues to engage with NBI to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of the NBP 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. However, the primary focus must be on addressing the delays which have arisen and ensuring that the National Broadband Ireland build programme gets back on track and is building momentum month on month.

The National Broadband Plan has been designed to ensure that as much as possible of the network infrastructure will comprise the re-use of existing poles and ducts which NBI will lease from existing infrastructure owners. Infrastructure re-use in this manner ensures the State complies with State Aid Guidelines and environmental sustainability best practice.

Deployment of the NBP has the potential to deliver a range of environmental benefits linked to Government policy and cloud services as well as reduced emissions from homeworking and business travel. The Cost Benefit Analysis behind the business case for the Government decision to proceed with the NBP highlighted environmental benefits among a variety of other economic and social benefits. It did not, however, set out to specifically forecast the impact of the NBP on emissions. My Department will be looking at this in more detail when we start to assess the benefits that are being delivered on foot of delivery of the NBP.

Question No. 190 answered with Question No. 188.

Fuel Poverty

Questions (191)

Denis Naughten

Question:

191. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the steps he is taking to address fuel poverty in homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47516/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Energy poverty or fuel poverty is influenced by a person’s income, the energy efficiency of their home and the cost of the energy they use in their home and is defined as an inability to heat or power a home to an adequate degree. Analysis carried out in 2016 for the Strategy to Combat Energy Poverty found that 28% of households in Ireland could be in energy poverty i.e. would need to spend more than 10% of their income on their energy needs. Good progress has been made since the launch of the Strategy. The ESRI carried out an analysis of the number of households at risk of experiencing energy poverty in 2019 and again in 2020. This showed that the share of households needing to spend more than 10% of their income on their energy needs was 17.5% in 2020. The Survey on Income and Living Conditions supports this, indicating that the proportion of people who report that they are unable to afford to keep the home adequately warm, has fallen from 9% in 2015 to 4.9% in 2019.

Government policy to alleviate energy poverty for a number of years has focused on supplementing lower income households through the Fuel Allowance and other payments, as well as providing free energy efficiency upgrades through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland schemes and the Social Housing retrofitting programme.

Budget 2022 has allocated €202 million for residential and community retrofit next year. Over half of this (€109 million) will be used to provide free energy efficiency upgrades to households that are in, or at risk of, energy poverty. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will invest a further €85 million as part of the Social Housing Retrofit Programme in 2022. Overall, this represents an allocation of €194 million to retrofitting homes of those most at risk of energy poverty next year - an increase of €20 million on this year’s allocation. Budget 2022 also provided for a €5 increase to the Fuel Allowance to €33 per week, or €924 per year, as well as an extension of the eligibility criteria for the payment, by the Minister for Social Protection.

Protections are also in place for customers falling into arrears on their energy bills. Under the supplier led voluntary Energy Engage Code, suppliers will not disconnect a customer who is engaging with them. Suppliers must also provide every opportunity to customers to avoid disconnection and must identify customers at risk of disconnection and encourage them to talk to them as early as possible

A review of the implementation of the Strategy to Combat Energy Poverty will be completed early next year and will inform next steps in relation to the development of a new strategy. Measures to support those least able to afford to retrofit their homes will also be included in the new National Retrofit Plan which will be published shortly.

Renewable Energy Generation

Question No. 193 answered with Question No. 46.

Questions (192)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

192. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the efforts he is making to position Ireland as a world leader in renewable energy research and development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49081/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I have secured increased funding for the National Energy Research, Development and Demonstration (RDD) programme under the National Development Programme. This will see funding for the 2021 call for project proposals increase to €19.8 million over the period 2021 to 2025.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) administer the RDD programme on behalf of my department.

The overarching objectives of this programme are to:

- Accelerate the development and deployment in the Irish marketplace of competitive energy-related products, processes and systems,

- Support solutions that enable technical and other barriers to market uptake to be overcome,

- Grow Ireland's national capacity to access, develop and apply international class RD&D,

- Provide guidance and support to policy makers and public bodies through results, outcomes and learning from supported energy projects.

The RDD programme seeks to support research into a wide range of energy related topics, as evidenced by the 25 different themes set out in the call documents, which are published on the SEAI website.

The RDD programme continues to attract growing interest from the energy research sector, with a 45% increase in the number of applicants for this year’s call-in comparison to the 2019 call. The applicants are drawn from the academic and industrial sectors, demonstrating the wide appeal of this programme.

My department, in conjunction with SEAI, leads and coordinates national engagement with the development of the Clean Energy Transition Partnership (CETP) Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) and supports the participation of Irish researchers in this initiative.

Question No. 193 answered with Question No. 46.

North-South Interconnector

Questions (194)

Matt Carthy

Question:

194. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the cost of the review into the north-south interconnector; the details of same; the details of the selection process for appointing the authors; the expectant timeframe for completion of the review; and if the authors will meet with representatives of local communities affected by the current proposals for the interconnector. [52450/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The North-South Interconnector is critical to improving the efficient operation of the all-island Integrated Single Electricity Market and increasing security of electricity supply in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It will also facilitate the achievement of the strategic objective, set out in the National Development Plan, 2021 - 2030, to generate up to 80% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030. A resilient and well-connected energy infrastructure is vital for Ireland's economic well-being and the ability to respond to the future needs of energy consumers. Earlier this year I decided to commission a further short review to assess if the overall finding from the 2018 report remains valid. The terms of reference for this study which set out the scope of the review were published on my Department's website on 21 April. On 7 May, my Department initiated a procurement process to appoint independent experts to undertake the review. The initial vehicle was through an Office of Government Procurement framework procurement. This procurement received no bids. A second process was successful in securing the services of two leading Italian consultants in transmission grid infrastructure; this process involved the identification of potentially suitable candidates following engagements with agencies such as the European Commission and the International Energy Agency.

The consultants are now engaged on the review and their work is well advanced at this stage. The estimated cost of the review is just over €23,000. I expect the review will be completed later this year. Completion of the work in accordance with the terms of reference requires an expert review of the overall finding of the 2018 report rather than further engagement with any interested parties.

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