Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Vol. 1007 No. 5

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Renewable Energy Generation

I cannot see the Minister of State but I know he is there. I will start by mentioning a development that occurred this evening. I am pleased to report that Fingal County Council, my local authority, voted for 1,200 houses in Donabate. Rather shockingly, although unsurprisingly, Sinn Féin opposed it. The development will provide for more than 500 social and affordable homes and 700 private homes. They will be available soon at a price of €270,000, far under the cap that will be placed on it by the Government.

I raise the important issue of the quicker than expected growth in renewable energy across Europe. Information released recently by the International Energy Agency, IEA, has shown a significant uptake in renewable energy production. This includes, of course, solar, wind and other renewables, which are growing at the fastest rate in more than 20 years. Much of that change is being driven in Europe and the US. However, China, while being a strong performer in this field several years ago, is beginning to drop off. That is slightly worrying. It underscores the importance of creating balanced progress across the globe and not just in industrialised and wealthy nations such as our own.

Renewable energy grew by 45% in 2020, reaching 280 GW, which I understand is in excess of half of our national requirement in any given year. It is the largest yearly increase since before the turn of the millennium. The IEA earlier forecast the number to be approximately 200 GW. It is anticipated that 270 GW will be added in 2021 and 280 GW will be added in 2022. This marks the emergence of an important trend in sustained growth. The anticipated results for 2021 and 2022 represent a 25% increase on the forecast made last November by the agency.

This afternoon at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, we heard from the Electricity Association of Ireland. Part of our ongoing discussion was about energy security and the need for us to move away from fossil fuels, including the closure of Moneypoint power station in 2025, and the need for us to ensure we have the capacity in this State to deliver not only wind and solar energy, but also to deliver through interconnectors, which form a crucial part of that security of electricity supply. That applies to the North-South and east-west interconnectors, and the Celtic interconnector to France, which is slated for delivery in seven years.

These developments are a cause for optimism in our fight against climate change. Renewable electricity is a key component in helping us to hit our climate targets for 2030 and 2050. The Minister of State will welcome the announcement by the IEA in recent weeks. We have a number of targets to try to reach in the coming years in terms of policy development, incentivising the various sectors that are going to generate clean, zero emissions energy sources in the coming years to ensure that we have the necessary power. Our population is ever increasing, as is our energy demand. Our carbon footprint as a result of our energy generation must drop dramatically, as I know the Minister of State will agree. I thank him for taking this Topical Issue matter. I appreciate the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was on his feet in the Dáil all day, so I understand his not being available. We have a huge target ahead of us. That target will only be reached if we can match it with the ambition that we, as a House, set forward. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's remarks.

I welcome this matter and thank the Deputy for making such a valuable contribution it. It is important that we continue to debate this issue.

The programme for Government made recommendations for how the deployment of renewable electricity can be speeded up, for example by provision and permissioning of grid connections, such as completing the Celtic interconnector to connect Ireland's electricity grid to France. The Department's publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill marked a milestone in Ireland's efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change. The Bill has given effect to the programme for Government commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. When enacted, the Bill will ensure a robust governance mechanism through the proposal of five-yearly economy carbon budgets by the climate change advisory committee and approval of the carbon budgets by Government. The first two carbon budgets will incorporate our programme for Government ambition by budgeting for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 51% over the period 2018 to 2030.

The Bill aligns with our collective ambitions as Europeans outlined in the European Green New Deal. In 2020, the Heads of Government of all member states agreed to increase the EU-wide commitment to greenhouse gas emissions from 40% by 2030 to 55% by 2030 and to set a target of net zero by 2050.

In addition to significant onshore renewable energy development, meeting the goal of 70% renewable electricity by 2030 will require development of significant offshore renewable energy generation capacity and associated grid infrastructure over the coming decade. The programme for Government commits to the achievement of 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030 and a potential of 30 GW of floating wind thereafter. Ireland has the resource potential to become a major contributor to a pan-European renewable energy generation and transmission system.

Together with the forthcoming maritime area planning Bill, the national marine planning framework will be a key enabler to achieve Ireland's climate goals and deliver a reliable supply of safe, secure and clean energy and phase out fossil fuels. Enactment of the marine planning framework Bill, led by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, will provide the legislative underpinning and flexibility to allow Ireland to move towards a more centralised, plan-led regime. It will establish a new agency to regulate development in the maritime area. Work on the development and future operation of a new consenting regime for offshore renewable energy is under way within the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

When the framework is in place, the Department will launch the first offshore renewable energy support scheme, RESS, auction, known as ORESS-1. This will be the first in a series of dedicated offshore auctions designed to achieve Ireland's 2030 targets and beyond. Work is also under way within the Department to develop a new offshore renewable energy development plan.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. There was a lot of information in his reply for me to consider as a member of the climate committee in the coming months.

One of the issues mentioned by the Minister of State was grid improvements, and the necessity for us to invest a significant sum in upgrading our grid infrastructure to cater for demand but also for home and-or commercial generation, that is, into power stations. This is something that we encourage, of course. I know the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is working on a policy position in order that we can work on how people can not only support their local communities in terms of home energy generation but also benefit from it financially.

The Minister of State mentioned the wind energy development plan, which I am really pleased to see in the works at the moment. We have a real opportunity in Ireland, however, in terms of our offshore wind energy potential off the west coast. Deep sea turbine technology is not necessarily where it needs to be but there is an opportunity for us to develop that technology in conjunction with not only our educational institutions but also with large companies. I know, for instance, that some European companies are very interested in looking at it. There are opportunities for port developments and such, where local communities can benefit from what is a very high-skilled and no doubt very high-revenue industry, which I believe will create a significant jobs presence.

We have an opportunity. Indeed, the Dublin Climate Dialogues conference last week highlighted the importance of turning net zero commitments into viable energy policies, which, of course, will have to involve the financial sector. I am glad the Minister of State mentioned the auction.

In November of this year in Glasgow, we also have the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, which I believe will also be working on this. I am pleased with the Minister of State's response and thank him for coming before the House this evening.

Again, I thank Deputy Farrell. The net zero by 2050 roadmap produced by the IEA envisions that by 2050, global energy demand will be 8% smaller than it is today but will service an economy twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people, and that almost 90% of electricity generation will come from renewable sources.

Energy security will evolve on the path to net zero. Electricity system flexibility, cybersecurity and reliable supplies of critical minerals will all become more important. Most of the world's reductions in CO2 emissions between now and 2030 in our net zero pathway come from technologies already on the market today. In 2050, however, almost of half the reductions will come from technologies that are currently only at demonstration or prototype phase, which I believe was referenced by Deputy Farrell.

This calls for major innovation progress in this decade. Total annual energy investment is expected to surge to $5 trillion by 2030 in an EIA pathway, creating millions of clean energy jobs and putting global GDP 4% higher in 2030 than it would reach based on current trends.

I thank the Minister of State. Members can read the rest of the reply. We will move on to the next Topical Issue matter.

National Broadband Plan

I must say, I am glad to see the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, taking this Topical Issue matter. It falls into his constituency as well so it is actually quite good. I am sure he will be aware of the situation.

In counties Carlow and Kilkenny, several businesses are having significant issues in operating online. I want to specifically discuss one business called Sunshine Juice in Tinryland in rural Carlow, which employs 50 people and has had huge issues with trying to run the business. After experiencing difficulties with Vodafone and Eir over recent years, the company was hopeful that the roll-out of high-speed broadband by NBI in the area would offer a solution. It is listed on the NBI map as being outside the intervention area as a provider, however. Vodafone has recorded it as receiving speeds of 30 Mbps.

They owners are in a situation where cables are going to be literally running past the front gate of the premises connecting homes and businesses around every side of their premises yet, unfortunately, they remain unserviced. A very practical example from this company, which I believe brings this issue home, is that the owners, who are in the business of juicing, had to send an email to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine about releasing oranges from Dublin Port. The email did not send because of the poor broadband. As a result, an employee had to drive from Carlow to Dublin. They can see that their competitors are obviously having much more success in terms of online services. It is, therefore, vital for that area.

I will take the opportunity to highlight an issue that was originally raised with me at a meeting with County Carlow Chamber of Commerce. It has also come up a lot in Kilkenny, particularly in the last number of months with many more people working from home and trying to do homeschooling.

The Minister of State may be aware of the Kilkenny LEADER Partnership proposal to allow the village of Piltown in Kilkenny to access broadband and run the service itself, which the village would finance in conjunction with grants. The village would not only have access to the appropriate broadband but would have the benefits of running that service, almost like the old system of a co-operative. When I heard this after the Carlow Chamber meeting, I thought it was an excellent idea and not just for Carlow and Kilkenny. I am sure loads of towns and villages throughout the country would benefit from something like this. It is a really excellent idea. I hope the Minister of State will meet with the stakeholders if he is not aware of this. It could be a solution for many places.

I thank Deputy Funchion for this question. The national broadband plan contract was signed with National Broadband Ireland in November 2019 to roll out a high-speed and future-proofed broadband network within the intervention area, which covers 1.1 million people living and working in more than 544,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms along with 695 schools.

The high-speed broadband map, which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie, shows the areas that will be included in the national broadband plan State-led intervention, as well as areas targeted by commercial operators. The map is colour-coded and searchable by address and Eircode postcode.

The amber areas on the high-speed broadband map will be served by the new high-speed network being delivered by NBI. To comply with the state aid decision that enabled the contract to be awarded, NBI can only serve those premises which have been identified as amber on the high-speed broadband map.

Commercial areas defined in blue on the NBP high-speed broadband map are not included in the State-led intervention area covered by the NBP as commercial operators are already providing high-speed broadband or have indicated future plans to do so.

In line with state aid guidelines, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications defines high-speed broadband as connection with minimum speeds of 30 Mbps download and 6 Mbps upload. The activities of commercial operators delivering high-speed broadband within blue areas are not planned or funded by the State. The Department has no statutory authority to intervene in that regard as they operate in a fully liberalised market regulated by ComReg as an independent regulator. I am taking on board the points made by Deputy Funchion, however.

Complaints about the service provision are a matter between the consumer and the service provider, in the first instance. If this avenue has been exhausted without a satisfactory resolution, the Commission for Communications Regulation may be able to assist further. ComReg is the independent body that issues licences to broadband service providers and investigates complaints to make sure that companies are delivering services in line with licence obligations.

The Department is aware of a number of blue premises that are having difficulty connecting to commercial high-speed networks and may continue to do so in the future. Officials in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications are currently examining these premises and will ensure that access to high-speed broadband is made available either through commercial means or through the national broadband plan intervention.

Where appropriate, and if compliant with state aid rules, premises may be reclassified as amber on the high-speed map. Before reclassification of a premises can be confirmed, it must go through a formal review process. This is to ensure that the State is compliant with state aid rules and state aid approval, which enabled the contract to be awarded under the national broadband plan. As part of this process, when specific concerns are raised, the Department, in conjunction with the relevant network operators in the blue area, reviews the locations and ascertains definitively whether these premises will receive high-speed broadband through commercial means. If it is confirmed that a premises has no prospect of being served from a commercial operator this then enables a change to the contract with NBI to add additional premises into the intervention area.

The EU guidelines on the application of state aid rules with regard to the rapid deployment of broadband networks seek to ensure that by 2020, all Europeans have access to above 30 Mbps, in line with the digital agenda for Europe initiative. I understand the European Commission is currently reviewing the cut-off speed as part of its review of the state aid guidelines for broadband.

I thank the Minister of State. In Topical Issue debates, as with parliamentary questions for written answer, there is often a standard type of answer given. Regarding the review to which the Minister of State referred, is that a genuine process? Have there been successful outcomes to it or is it a case of saying there is a review happening in the hope it will kick the whole issue down the road? I mentioned the initiative by Kilkenny LEADER Partnership because it offers a possible solution not just in that particular situation but in many locations. We need to look at real solutions like this that can work for rural towns and villages.

The situation with the lack of broadband provision is only going to get worse because there are more people working from home. That is welcome because it can be helpful for many workers, but it is not an option for a huge number of people because they do not have proper broadband. The company I referred to, Sunshine Juice, was advised in one instance to purchase a dongle, which would not even do for standard home use. It is not an adequate solution for Vodafone, Eir or any other provider to be offering a company, particularly when we are trying to keep people and jobs in rural communities. This particular company has had to put the possibility of expansion on hold until it sees what is going to happen with broadband provision.

I would like more information from the Minister of State, not necessarily today but perhaps in writing, regarding the review process, how it is being done and whether there have been successful outcomes from it. A percentage breakdown would be useful, showing, say, that people have a 50% success rate and how the process is run. I will send the Minister of State the information, which he may already have, on the initiative by Kilkenny LEADER Partnership. That model could provide a good solution for the Department.

I am familiar with the Blue Towns community-led initiative to which the Deputy referred. I was a director of Kilkenny LEADER Partnership at the time it was being developed. It is a very viable prospect. I will have to double-check the programme for Government to see whether we secured inclusion of an objective of developing a similar initiative for areas not covered by the national broadband plan, NBP. There is real potential in that. I understand Kilkenny LEADER Partnership had piloted, or was intending to pilot, a scheme in Piltown. That would cover some of the areas not already covered either by commercial operators or under the NBP. It has a huge benefit because it is community-owned, community-led and follows a co-operative type of approach. It is something to which we should give serious consideration and I am happy to take it back to the Department.

Like Deputy Funchion, I have met with County Carlow Chamber to discuss broadband provision. There is undoubtedly a significant impact on small businesses if they are being bypassed either by commercial providers or the NBP. That is a significant challenge to the operation of a business. As we have seen, businesses are moving everything online and many retailers need to have both an online and on-street presence. It is hugely important that we try to resolve this issue. I will take the Deputy's question on the review process to the Department. I reiterate that there is an opportunity around the Blue Towns initiative and that community-owned broadband initiatives should be given real consideration.

Fishing Industry

With no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, I regret that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is not here this evening to take this debate. He is very much aware of the difficulty facing our seafood producers and processors at this time. The programme for Government, on page 69, refers to "a greater focus on... stakeholder engagement... centrally co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach". On page 70, there is an undertaking to implement the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, capability review, which was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers and includes 46 recommendations, with a view to "enhancing governance" and considering "any other measures that may be necessary". There is also a specific undertaking to "work to retain factory weighing of... fish".

Why would the Government not seek to retain factory weighing of fish given that 16,500 people are employed in the sector? It is not an issue that arises only in Killybegs, Castletownbere, Kilmore Quay and Rossaveal. There are 30 processors in the east, in the Minister of State's region. There are more than 50 processors across counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Galway and Clare, 32 in the south east and up to 160 nationally. There are approximately 5,000 people working in those plants. In Gurteen, in my constituency, Green Isle Foods, also known as Donegal Catch, employs 108 people. However, the industry has had to deal with utter stupidity and ineptitude, as underlined by PricewaterhouseCoopers in its report on the SFPA. The report states: "The overall conclusion of this review is that the SFPA is not working effectively and requires urgent attention." Yet, because of its interventions, on 13 April last, the European Commission informed the State of the decision to revoke Ireland's control plan.

The impact of this is that the SFPA is now insisting that all catch is weighed on the pier before it goes to the factories. As somebody who managed a beef export plant and processed 35,000 cattle a year - not seafood, but the principle is the same - it seems to me that nobody in the SFPA must have a clue about hazard analysis and critical control procedures in terms of food safety. They must not have a clue about what is involved in maintaining the quality of pelagic fish when it is brought ashore. Over-handling reduces the grading and makes it less exportable and less likely to achieve decent market prices. This, in turn, impacts on the 16,000 employees of the sector, whether they be producers, the trawlermen out at sea, people involved in logistics backup or the processors in the factories.

It seems the Minister has said, although not directly to me, that he cannot intervene in this matter. He must intervene. From 1 June, all 160 processors, instead of being able to weigh the fish, whether it be shellfish, crab or lobster - all catches are impacted, pelagic and demersal - will have to get it weighed on the pier. This plan is ridiculous in the extreme. It demands that either the Minister of State, the Minister or the Taoiseach go to Brussels and intervene with the Commission immediately to save the industry. We must secure transitional arrangements to protect the 16,000 jobs that are located in every part of the country. I gave the example of Gurteen, an inland village in Sligo. There are 32-odd processors in the Minister of State's region. I hope he will be open to the direct intervention that is required and demanded by the many people involved in this industry.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue, which we in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine take with the utmost seriousness. I extend the apologies of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, who is in Brussels this evening and very much regrets that he is not able to take this debate. We recognise that this issue is giving rise to serious practical problems for our fishing vessels in making landings. The recent revocation by the European Commission of Ireland's sea-fisheries control plan removed a derogation that permitted all fish, including whitefish, shellfish and pelagic fish such as mackerel, to be weighed in factories. This has the result that all fish will be required to be weighed on the quayside on landing.

At the outset, I must set out the strict legal position in this regard. Under the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, all fisheries control operational issues of this nature are matters exclusively for the SFPA and the Naval Service. The Minister is expressly precluded in the Act from getting involved in any fisheries control operational matters. Regarding the revocation of Ireland's control plan, the position is that responsibility rests solely with the SFPA and the Minister has no role in seeking any transitional arrangements. Following a European Commission audit in 2018 relating to land-based fisheries controls in the State, Ireland received a formal decision of the Commission's intention to conduct an administrative inquiry under Article 102(2) of the 2009 EU fisheries control regulation to evaluate Ireland's capacity to apply the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. The findings of the inquiry, which were communicated to Ireland in December 2020, deemed the Irish control and sanctioning systems to be unsatisfactory. The Commission has put forward a specific package of measures to address the issues raised.

Many of the issues arising in the administrative inquiry are operational matters for the SFPA and, as I said, the Minister is precluded under statute from getting involved in these matters. The Department has commenced a process of engagement with the EU Commission in association with the SFPA, which is responsible for operational matters. In the context of this engagement, the Deputy will appreciate that the Minister is not in a position to comment on the Commission's findings and the package of measures the Commissioner has set out. To do so at this juncture would risk prejudice to Ireland's position.

In the context of the administrative inquiry, Ireland was notified last month of a Commission implementing decision revoking the approval of the Irish control plan submitted for the weighing of fishery products. The European Commission has deemed that Ireland's obligations arising from the 2009 EU fisheries control regulation were not being met by the Irish control plan as the risk of non-compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy could not be minimised. The Commission implementing decision in relation to the revocation of the control plan states that:

...operators did not have in place a “weighing system fit for purpose”, as provided for under ... the control plan and the audit identified manipulation of weighing systems. Moreover, although aware of those shortcomings, Ireland did not take appropriate measures to address such noncompliance, in particular by withdrawing the permission to weigh after transport as foreseen in ... the control plan. Consequently, the control plan does not minimise the risk of systematic manipulation of weighing pelagic catches in Ireland and the under-declaration of catches by operators.

In terms of next steps, the Minister has been advised that the SFPA has engaged directly with industry to ensure fishers and processors - those very important jobs the Deputy has highlighted - are familiar with the changes required to comply with EU weighing requirements, and we will continue to engage with the industry on this matter.

There has been not one report on this area, not two, but three. They were respectively the Wolfe report, the Moran report, and the third was by the great company that is next door to us, namely, PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC. I am sure it was at great expense. There were 46 recommendations. It said the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority was not fit for purpose. Our programme for Government commits to changing and reforming it. The SFPA has unilaterally stuffed the whole industry in the hedge and 16,000 jobs are at risk as a result. Therefore I do not care what legislation is in place since 2005.

I will give the Minister of State an example of what could have been done, what must be done now, and indeed what was done in 2004 and 2005. At that time, we had a proper Minister with responsibility for the marine, with delegated authority, former Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher. He went to Brussels and met the Commissioner in charge of fisheries, Joe Borg. He made the case that we could not have pierside weighing because, unlike in some other countries, our plants are away from the harbours. Then Commissioner Borg listened and understood. He came all the way to Ireland and visited Killybegs Seafoods. He saw it all in action and put a system in place. The Minister of State should not listen to me but to PwC next door. The SFPA is not fit for purpose, such that our programme for Government says we must deal with it, it has unilaterally stuffed us and all the jobs in the fishing and related industries, and we are saying we do not want to know about that.

While the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is in Brussels, the Minister of State should give him a ring after this and ask him to go to Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who is responsible for fisheries, and get a transitional arrangement for our seafood processors and producers.

To answer the Deputy's question about why the Minister is in Brussels this evening, he is out there fighting for Irish farmers and Irish agriculture in probably the most important aspect of the CAP trilogues, the super trilogues, that are happening over the next couple of days. Farmers in Deputy MacSharry's constituency and mine take a great interest in what he is doing there.

There is an element of shooting the messenger in some of the Deputy's commentary. I bring him back to the point that the decisions being made here relate to EU audits and decisions. The Minister has been advised the SFPA intends to draft a new control plan with delay for consideration by the European Commission. It advised that potentially this draft plan would be applicable to landings of most species, with the specific exception of landings of bulk-stored pelagic species. The Minister understands, and I wish to reassure the House, that the SFPA will be consulting industry during this process. It is important to be aware that a new draft plan must be accepted by the Commission and formally adopted by it under legislation.

I reassure the Deputy and the House that the Minister and the Government take very seriously the Commission's findings relating to fisheries control failures, which are at the heart of this issue, including in relation to the revocation of Ireland's control plan. The Minister and the Government are fully committed to having an effective, dissuasive and proportionate system of fisheries control in place. That is really critical. Our reputation for having good controls in place is crucial as well to those 16,000 jobs the Deputy has referenced and which are so important. I thank the Deputy again for raising this important issue and allowing me to put those remarks on the record.

Pyrite Incidence

There are five Deputies to speak on this Topical Issue debate. I am going to start with the names as they appear here. Deputy Calleary has one minute.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this very important issue. The defective concrete blocks scheme is a scheme to remedy the blocks used to build homes in counties Donegal and Mayo. The scheme as outlined is not working and is actually adding to the immense stress people are already under as a consequence of having pyrite, in the case of the County Mayo houses, in their blocks. They are not at fault; the residents did not put the pyrite in. It was in the blocks when they came from the quarry.

In the short time available I will outline the difficulties of the scheme. First, the cost of testing for pyrite is prohibitive. That is how a person enters the scheme and many will not be able to do that. Second, many costs are excluded so the scheme which the Minister of State will say covers 90% of costs covers nowhere near that amount. The limits on each of the options are nowhere near the current cost of building, and many homeowners will not be able to reinstate their home. The key word here is "home". I cannot begin to describe the stress homeowners are under as a consequence of pyrite and of the scheme and through no fault of their own.

I am allowing leeway and have increased the time to a minute because there are so many Deputies speaking.

At the weekend thousands of angry people marched in counties Donegal and Mayo to demand justice over the use of mica and pyrite in the construction of their homes. Their demands are most reasonable and must be met. They are victims of light-touch self-regulation without oversight, recourse or penalties during the building regime which dominated this country during the Celtic tiger boom. Ironically, the brick supplier in the case of the mica-contaminated bricks in County Donegal, Cassidy Brothers, still supplies Donegal County Council and has contracts with it. These people, therefore, deserve 100% redress. They deserve all their costs for relocation and assessment to be paid fully and they deserve a public inquiry. They are not alone. There are 5,000 mica homes in the north west. There are 2,000 pyrite homes in County Dublin and another 100,000 apartments that are detective as a result of the Celtic tiger light-touch regulation. All these people deserve justice.

I thank the Minister of State for taking this Topical Issue matter. Thousands of people lined the streets in counties Mayo and Donegal last weekend because of the sense of unfairness and unjust treatment they have been getting from this scheme. All they want is equity and fairness. They want equity, in that 90% is not sufficient to cover the costs. The big problem is the people who can least afford it are locked out of this scheme as it stands. Also, no provision has been made for families who must move out, which is most of them, to have their rent paid while they are moved out. As it is at the moment, funding has not been allowed for the energy savings. That can be fixed and must be looked at. The windows and doors need to be included. To add insult to injury, all these families are forced to pay property tax. The Minister of State must review this scheme.

Thousands of families in Dublin and north Leinster were devastated by pyrite in their homes. The Government put in place a scheme for those that was 100% funded. A scheme was introduced a year ago for the thousands of affected homeowners in Donegal and Mayo, with the Government asking that it would be 90% funded, with the banks playing a role. The banks are nowhere to be seen and people are paying a hell of a lot more than 10% of the cost. How can it be that only families in Donegal and Mayo are asked to pay sums of more than €100,000 to make their homes safe? They had no responsibility in this and it was Celtic tiger cowboys at their worst who did. There must be a fully funded scheme and equality for the people of Donegal and Mayo with the people of Dublin and north Leinster.

In my 20 years in politics, I have never come across a matter that has caused so much stress, anxiety and fear. Campaigners such as Ms Ann Owens and Ms Eileen Doherty worked on a scheme that we wanted 100% covered. We were presented with a 70:30 scheme and we worked really hard to get the scheme covered completely. We got as far as a 90:10 split, which we accepted at the time on the basis that it might have worked. The scheme is not working, it will not work and it cannot work. It is not working for so many people and people cannot get access to the scheme. The price of timber has increased by 40% and steel has increased by 35%.

The goalposts have completely shifted from this time last year, when we were presented with the scheme. It must be reviewed immediately and examined on the basis of accessibility, which is not there now. That is a massive concern. I have spoken to the Minister of State's colleagues, the Ministers, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin, as well as my party colleagues. This matter must be sorted quickly around the Cabinet table. Otherwise we will be faced with houses falling down, leading to a conversation of a different kind here.

I appreciate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle giving discretion to the Deputies to make their contributions, given that five Deputies brought it forward. It is very important and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is committed to meeting residents in Mayo and has met families in Donegal as well.

The report concludes the disintegration of concrete blocks used in the construction of the affected dwellings in Donegal and Mayo was primarily due to excessive amounts of deleterious materials in the aggregate used to manufacture the concrete blocks. The deleterious material in Donegal was primarily muscovite mica and in Mayo it was primarily reactive pyrite.

The National Standards Authority of Ireland published a standardised protocol in November 2018, IS 465:2018, for the assessment, testing and categorisation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain deleterious materials. Rigorous analysis, therefore, has been carried out on the circumstances that led to the defective concrete block issue and the existing scheme was informed by the work of the expert panel and finalised in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The process also took account of the comprehensive engagement that took place between my Department and both Donegal and Mayo county councils, which operate and administer the scheme.

The grant limits agreed on foot of this engagement ensure the scheme can be budgeted for with the potential financial liability known at all times and also to ensure that the available budget can benefit the majority of properties and the maximum number of people. Mindful that the scheme is being funded from the Exchequer, the scope cannot be open-ended. Funding of €20 million has been provided to administer the scheme in 2021 and the scheme will be demand-led, meaning the level of funding may vary between the two local authorities.

The grant scheme targets a restricted group of homeowners who have no other practicable options to access redress and it is not a compensation scheme. It is provided in order to remediate the matter of the defective blocks or return the building to a condition it would have been in if it had not been affected by the use of deleterious materials in the blockwork, namely, mica or pyrite.

The level of funding available is subject to the maximum limits, depending on the remedial option recommended in the engineering report, or 90% of the eligible costs, whichever is the lesser. The maximum grants payable range from €247,500 for option 1 to €49,500 for option 5. I take on board the points raised about additional costs to homeowners.

The decision to go with a grant scheme as opposed to the type of scheme provided by the pyrite remediation board was intended to give homeowners the flexibility to manage their own projects and allow them to deal directly with their appointed contractor. Initially, the grant was proposed at 80:20 but following further consideration and political representations, it was changed to a 90:10 split. The Department, in formulating the scheme, concluded that a contribution of 10% from affected homeowners was appropriate to control costs, incentivise the use of appropriate remediation options and promote the reuse of materials where this is feasible.

This is also in line with how similar Government grant schemes operate or have operated in the past. The applicant contributing to the costs is a key requirement. The programme for Government sets out a number of commitments in respect of the important policy area of building defects and provides for an examination of defects in housing, having regard to the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government report, Safe as Houses.

In this regard, my Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has been actively engaging with key stakeholders, and the Minister has had several meetings with stakeholder representative groups on this matter. The Minister appointed Mr. Seamus Neely, former chief executive of Donegal County Council, to the position of chair to the independent working group and he will oversee the effective implementation of the group's terms of reference.

The Minister of State has said the grant scheme targets a restricted group of homeowners who have no other practical options to access redress but this is not a practical option for many families. This will not return a building to the condition it would otherwise have been in, which is another aim of the scheme.

Tonight there are families who will leave their bedrooms to sleep in living rooms because wind is going through the house because of the effects of pyrite. That is if those people are sleeping at all because of the stress they are under. We heard today from the Irish Home Builders Association that building costs for an average semi-detached house could rise by €15,000 by the end of the year. As Deputy McHugh has said, this scheme was well-intentioned and many people fought very hard to get it working. Many people are physically and mentally exhausted by the work they have put in over a number of years. This scheme must be reviewed urgently in light of the information provided.

As I have allowed Deputy Calleary one minute, I will allow each of the other Deputies a minute as well.

It is kind of hard to believe, in hearing the Minister of State's response, that the Government is not being shamed into admitting that these families - all 5,000 that are affected - deserve 100% coverage and redress for what has happened to them. They could not be compensated enough.

An Oireachtas committee report has been mentioned and in 2017 that committee, in its mission statement, indicated that ordinary owners who purchased in good faith should not be liable for costs of remediation caused by incompetence, negligence or deliberate non-compliance. I would add greed to this, as it is the kind of ethos that dominated the building regimes in the Celtic tiger. The Governments of the time allowed a lack of oversight, redress or penalties. The State owes these families more than what it is willing to give. If the State does not give this funding, these people will be out marching again and again. We will all be beside them. This is not a Dublin versus Donegal matter. It is a human rights matter for all these homeowners suffering from these defects.

It is clear from listening to the contributions across parties that this scheme is not fit for purpose. Mayo and Donegal will not stand for being treated differently from people in another part of the country. We need an immediate review. I have seen how people have got sick and been brought to their knees because of what has happened to their houses through no fault of their own. They have been left hung out to dry. I plead with the Minister of State to do something about this. The scheme must be reviewed. It can be corrected and this must happen sooner rather than later so people and families can get on with their lives. I thank the Minister of State.

There were 2,000 families in Dublin and north Leinster supported through the pyrite remediation scheme. It was 100% funded and that was correct. This is very simple. There are thousands of families in Donegal and Mayo being asked to pay a second mortgage to fix their homes. Older people will just see their homes fall apart. It is the current state of play.

Any suggestion that this should be kicked to some kind of independent group to do more consultation is utterly unacceptable. We are seeking equality between the families affected in Donegal and Mayo and those that had problems in Dublin and north Leinster.

It is as simple as that. It is a simple principle. We do not leave families behind or abandon them through no fault of their own. I will say again that these homeowners are left with this situation due to Celtic tiger cowboys. Those people must be helped on an equal basis to those in Dublin and north Leinster.

I take it the Minister of State is getting the message here this evening. I will just say a couple of things. I ask the Minister of State to picture this: I spoke to a woman today who lives on her own and her mother lives in the house next door. Both houses have to be demolished. They live beside each other and the daughter is the carer of the mother. They had to scrape together €12,500 as money up front for engineers' fees. This is the reality of a scheme that is not working, and which should be scrapped immediately. People should not have to be put in a position of coming up with €5,000 or €6,000 for engineers' fees straight away.

The Part 8 planning process, which councils introduced for their own planning applications, should be revisited again now the issue is to the fore. Can the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, fund and help these homeowners in the context of windows and doors? The woman I spoke with today told me that her mother's back door cannot open and her windows are warped. She has been told she can use the kitchen in the other house but it is damp and both houses are leaking. These people are living the ultimate nightmare and have been for years. We need to deal with this as speedily as possible. I thank the Minister of State for coming in.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving the Deputies the opportunity to have their say on this. It is across the parties and is coming across loud and clear. On the comparisons in relation to intervention and pyrite scheme costs, this scheme would be double that of the average pyrite scheme. The aim of the scheme is to help, insofar as is possible, to reinstate the average-sized dwelling to the condition it would have been in the original blockwork, had it not been affected by pyrite and mica. Mindful that the scheme is being funded from the Exchequer, the scope cannot be open-ended. The funding that is available must be used prudently to achieve the most efficient and cost-effective outcomes.

On those initial engineering costs, it may be possible for applicants and an appointed engineer to come to an arrangement whereby an engineer is willing to wait for the local authority to pay out the grant funding in respect of the work. That is just one option.

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and our Department officials are working closely. I spoke with Deputy Calleary earlier this evening about the issues in Mayo and I believe the Minister has committed to go there to meet people. He has also met with residents in Donegal.

I emphasise that the Department is engaging with the SEAI to explore synergies between existing grant schemes and the defective concrete block scheme. It is our aim to ensure that eligible applicants can access these grants while remediation works are under way.

I believe that the scheme is fair and equitable, and that it will work for the vast majority of affected homeowners with the five remediation options available. It must be acknowledged that the scheme is available to those with no other practical means to return the dwelling to a condition it would have been in had it not been affected by the blockwork conditions, namely mica pyrite.

I am taking on board and will take back the concerns raised by the Deputies, and I acknowledge the suffering and hurt it is causing to so many people in Mayo and Donegal.

I thank the Minister of State for his co-operation.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.13 p.m. until 9.12 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 May 2021.