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Climate Change Negotiations

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Questions (30)

Denis Naughten


30. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the detail of the discussions he has had with the just transition commissioner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61989/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Environment)

The just transition commissioner was appointed by the Government to facilitate dialogue and bring forward concerns from affected communities, residents, workers and businesses from right across the midlands. I am deeply disappointed that the Government does not support the continuation of the commissioner's advocacy role. Kieran Mulvey very honestly exposed the duplicity of some of the so-called support measures, ensuring that midlands families were the primary focus of all supports.

The Government is committed to a just transition in the midlands region and has dedicated significant funding to supporting workers, companies and communities affected by the closure of the peat-fired power stations and the end of peat harvesting by Bord na Móna.

As part of this commitment, the just transition commissioner was appointed in November 2019 with the mandate to engage with those affected by the accelerated exit from peat for electricity generation and to recommend to the Government the essential elements of a just transition for those workers and communities. The commissioner has made an important contribution to the Government's overall just transition response in the region, helping to facilitate dialogue and bringing forward concerns from affected communities, residents, workers and businesses.

The Government has responded to the commissioner's recommendations by publishing an implementation plan for the midlands region as part of the 2021 climate action plan. The key responsibilities, steps and timelines to deliver the actions under this implementation plan will shortly be published as part of the annexe of actions to the climate action plan.

I have had various engagements with the commissioner during 2021, most recently in July, in a meeting with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. We have discussed a range of matters, including the Department's proposed response to the commissioner's recommendations in his progress reports, progress on the delivery of funding into the region, and the commissioner's work for the remainder of 2021. The commissioner's work continues to be supported by my Department on an ongoing basis.

As I have noted previously, and given the significant progress that has already been achieved, the Government does not propose to continue the commissioner's term beyond the end of his current mandate, which concludes at the end of this year. I look forward to receiving the commissioner's final report and recommendations and being further briefed by him at that stage.

The midlands regional transition team, which is convened by the midlands local authorities, continues to provide an important forum for local authorities, State agencies and others to co-ordinate their ongoing work and to engage with the Government on a just transition in the region. My Department will continue to engage with and support the work of this group into the future as the midlands implementation plan is delivered.

It is deeply disappointing that Kieran Mulvey or his replacement will not be appointed from the beginning of next year, particularly when the EU just transition fund will not be in place until later in the year. Kieran Mulvey has exposed weaknesses in the existing just transition fund, pointing out that communities such as Ballyforan, County Roscommon, where €1 million in investment was secured through the just transition fund, should not be overburdened in providing co-financing. We are effectively asking communities that are being decimated through a loss of jobs to fundraise for replacement jobs. That is fundamentally wrong. Kieran Mulvey has highlighted this on numerous occasions to the Department. What is the Department doing about the issue of co-financing?

Although the term of the commissioner, Kieran Mulvey, is not continuing, a just transition is being set up under legislation for next year. Kieran Mulvey is universally respected and his area of expertise is industrial relations. As the just transition continues, there will be a change of focus as to what is required to be the expertise or the focus of the commission. It was absolutely right that it was industrial relations to begin with. We intend to progress and develop proposals on the mandate on the statutory just transition commission in 2022, in advance of drafting the legislation. A just transition working group will be established in 2022 alongside the just transition commission to co-ordinate the provision of strategic advice and research to the proposed just transition commission.

Kieran Mulvey, in his engagement with the ESB, pursued the company on the release of the Dalton building in Shannonbridge and the tomato shed in Lanesborough for community use. As the Minister of State will be aware, the commissioner has highlighted the fact that the tomato shed will not be released to the local community for now. The ESB is making its release dependent on it being taken off the EPA licence, and the ESB is not prepared to seek an alteration of the licence to support the community and instead is determined to submit the licence for the full site before it will expedite that. The ESB has committed €500,000 to the local community in Lanesborough, which is now being informed that the money is dependent on the ESB having the licence lifted from the EPA and being granted planning permission for new energy services on the site. The latter is completely contrary to the original intention.

I note the Deputy's comments and his passion. I commit that I will take his comments to the Minister and that he may contact my office or the Minister's office and I will reply.

The ESB provided a €5 million contribution to the just transition fund in 2020 to support a just transition in the midlands. I understand that the ESB continues to explore the development of infrastructure in the midlands for use by local community groups. The just transition commissioner facilitated ongoing discussion with the ESB and key stakeholders such as the midlands regional transition team to develop, mobilise and deliver opportunities for the midlands for workers directly affected and the wider community. The ESB is currently developing planning applications for both station sites as renewable energy centres to facilitate growth in the green technology sector. This is in anticipation of future competitive tenders to be held by Eirgrid and the CRU. The proposed technology includes synchronous condensers and energy storage capabilities at both locations. I also understand that the ESB provided an update on its plans for both sites to the most recent meeting of the midlands regional transition team on 1 December. The ESB remains committed to the midlands through the development of these projects, its €5 million contribution to the just transition fund and its network operations, which employ more than 400 highly skilled engineers, technicians and office workers in the region.