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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 19 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 4

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Employment Rights

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

1. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to an organisation’s research study (details supplied), which found that one third of hybrid workers struggle to disconnect. [25327/22]

Hybrid and remote working have been discussed at the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Remote and hybrid working have become the new normal for employers and employees. In that context, the recent report makes for important reading. One concerning aspect it notes is that one third of hybrid workers struggle to disconnect. That is the core of the question.

I am aware of the study and have asked officials to consider the findings in the context of the national remote work strategy. The study was conducted earlier this year by a multinational company. It included more than 600 workers based in Ireland as part of a wider survey that encompassed the views of 31,000 technology and healthcare workers in 31 countries. Although the study indicated that half of those surveyed placed a high value on flexible work practices, its findings also suggested that approximately one third of the hybrid workers who responded had experienced challenges disconnecting from work. It is important to state that in an Irish context, this survey relates only to a relatively small cohort of workers within specific sectors and cannot be taken as indicative of all those who have hybrid work arrangements.

Nonetheless, an always-on culture can present challenges in workplaces even when hybrid or remote working is not a factor. For that reason, in November 2020, I requested that the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, prepare a draft code of practice on the right to disconnect, in accordance with section 20(2) of the Workplace Relations Act 2015. The code is a best-practice guide covering statutory obligations around record-keeping, maximum average weekly working hours permitted for employees and rest period entitlements. It is also aimed at ensuring that employees are aware of their legal entitlements and how to raise concerns over non-compliance.

The European Parliament has also proposed a directive on an EU-wide right to disconnect. My officials are following these developments closely and although it may be some time before we see progress at a European level, Ireland is ahead with our code of practice is already in place. Flexible work practices should aid work-life balance generally. That is why I have prioritised the right to request remote work legislation, which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny.

Microsoft Ireland's work trend index provided many nuggets of information on both the positive and negative aspects of the world of work. One part of the research which jumped out at us was that one third of hybrid workers, 31%, struggle to disconnect. Naturally, this is problematic for workers because it can lead to burnout, stress and health problems. Indeed, a study from the WHO found that 745,000 people died in 2016 as a result of stroke and heart disease due to long working hours. The research from the WHO found that long working hours were estimated to be responsible for approximately one third of all work-related diseases, making them the single largest occupational disease and burden. This is why we were concerned when we saw the data from Microsoft Ireland. I know the Tánaiste is not oblivious to this issue. As he has just said, he brought forward a code of practice on the right to disconnect but it is not a right unless it is legally enshrined. Sinn Féin has brought forward a Bill to deliver a legal right to disconnect in order that these workers can be protected. These are workers who are experiencing excessive out-of-hours contact on a daily basis. This is causing untold damage to them, their friends and their families.

The issue with regard to being always on or finding it difficult to disconnect is not just a matter for remote and hybrid workers. It can be a matter for anybody whose work is not of a physical nature. If one does work that is largely of a physical nature, such as in construction or hospitality, when one goes home, one goes home. Anyone who has an office-based job, however, now goes home and has devices on which he or she still gets emails, texts and messages pretty much 24-7. Given our particular line of work, we can understand that very well. The main protection in that regard is the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997, which states that employees cannot work more than 48 hours per week on average over a reference period of four months and that they must be provided with at least 11 consecutive hours of daily rest and at least 24 hours of uninterrupted weekly rest every seven days over a reference period of two weeks. These are statutory standards enshrined in law, but it may be that a particular contract of employment provides for a shorter working week and longer rest periods. Apart from a few limited exceptions, the Act applies to all employees, regardless of whether they are based in an office or working remotely.

The failure to enshrine a right to disconnect in law is incredibly frustrating and disappointing for workers who are suffering excessive out-of-hours contact. The establishment of a code of practice is a welcome first step, but if an employer ignores or breaches it, that is not an offence. As a result, there is no compellability factor. For some time now, excessive out-of-hours contact has been an issue for workers. The pandemic made this worse. The line between work time and personal time, as the Tánaiste said, has been totally eroded by technological developments that have led to an always-on culture. Workers are contactable and readily available to receive work emails, calls, text and WhatsApp messages and push notifications at every hour of the day, every day of the week. Throughout the pandemic, countless workers have related how they are totally drained and stressed due to employers contacting them late at night or at the weekend to request that tasks be completed immediately. Such situations have had a devastating impact on workers' physical and mental health. The current situation whereby workers are excessively contacted is unfair and unhealthy. This hurts productivity because a worker who is burned out cannot perform to the best of his or her ability. Workers not only deserve a legal right to disconnect, which is protected in law, they absolutely need it.

I certainly do not rule out the possibility of placing the code of practice on a statutory footing in the future. I have written to the WRC to ask it for its view on how the code has been working. It has been in place for more than a year. I have written to the WRC to ask for views and opinions as to whether it is working, to what extent it has been effective and how we could improve things. I emphasise that the protection that exists in law is the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. If somebody is at home after a long day's work and then spends an hour replying to work emails, that is work. We probably would benefit from a few more test cases or a few more people coming forward to say that their rights under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 have been breached. In reality, that does not happen, because people are very dedicated to the work that they do, want to get it done and are willing to put in extra hours, even beyond the 48-hour limit. However, it would be helpful to see a few more cases of people coming forward and testing the existing law that we have.

Middle East

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

2. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will reconsider IDA Ireland's expansion of its activities in Israel in view of the finding by Amnesty International that Israel is an apartheid state, the recent murder of a journalist by Israeli forces and subsequent police attack on their funeral; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25669/22]

In January, IDA Ireland appointed a business development consultant in Israel to deepen links with the state that even Amnesty has now describe as an apartheid state. Given last week's horrific war crimes by Israel with the targeting and assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, including an illegal invasion of Palestinian territory and the horrific attack on her funeral, will the Government now reconsider this investment?

The Government strongly condemns the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin on 11 May 2022. Media freedom and the safety of journalists must be protected and I echo calls for an immediate, impartial and effective investigation. Accountability must be ensured and those responsible brought to justice. I also condemn the excessive use of force by some police at her funeral. Ireland's opposition to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank informs IDA Ireland's engagement with the state of Israel on a range of bilateral issues, including trade, and will continue to do so.

IDA Ireland issued a request for tender for a part-time, Israel-based business development consultant in April 2021. The process was concluded in January 2022 when the business development consultant was appointed. This person will represent IDA Ireland to support its efforts to win new investment. The pathfinder consultant model is regularly used by IDA Ireland in many countries. The newly appointed business development consultant is expected to identify Israeli-headquartered target companies with potential for investing in Ireland, engage with senior decision makers in these companies and present Ireland's value proposition as an investment location.

IDA Ireland and individuals working on its behalf always respect it obligations under Irish and international law, including under the codes of practice to which Ireland is committed. As a statutory agency under the relevant Acts of the Oireachtas, IDA Ireland always acts in line with Government policy. It is guided by the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs relating to Israeli investment and adheres to the Department's guidance for business enterprises in targeting potential foreign direct investment to Ireland.

IDA Ireland operates an evaluation and due diligence process across all regions and considers a variety of factors that could be associated with investment activities prior to accepting a client into the portfolio. I am advised that IDA Ireland will not target any Israeli companies included on the database of enterprises involved in certain activities relating to settlements in the West Bank as published by the United Nations in February 2020.

The Tánaiste and the Government have condemned the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, but listen to the spokesperson for the Israeli military, Ran Kochav. He said she was filming and working for a media outlet amid armed Palestinians and stated, "They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so". They see journalists as being armed with cameras because the truth of the apartheid state and the oppression of Palestinians being beamed to the world is a weapon against the establishment in Israel.

It is better to have words of condemnation than not, but is the Government going to do anything? The simplest action it could take is to say that, on the basis of the fact that this is an apartheid state and in view of its horrendous assault, using batons and stun grenades, on a funeral, IDA Ireland is going to remove its business development office. Surely there have to be consequences for these actions by Israel?

I am glad that journalists are armed with cameras, as, increasingly, are citizens by means of their smartphones. We would not know as much about what is happening in Ukraine, Israel, Palestine, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, were it not for the fact that we have journalists and cameras. They are not weapons in any military sense, but the fact that journalists are armed with cameras is positive. That is how we know what is happening. The truth is that we have economic relations with many countries. I would love to live in a world where every country was a democracy upholding human rights at all times. Israel is a democracy but it does not uphold human rights at all times. That is particularly the case when it comes to its treatment of Palestinians. We have economic relations with the Gulf states and China, which are not even democracies at all, whereas Israel is. We have decided not to engage in boycotts of many countries around the world, but we have strict rules about Israel, which restrict engagement with Israeli companies that are active in settlement areas.

In March, the Minister said his Department was studying the Amnesty International report. Has he studied it yet? What conclusions has he drawn from it? Amnesty International indicted Israel for operating a racist and cruel system of apartheid against the Palestinian people, which is a crime against humanity. It stated that Israel deliberately denies Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms and that its blockade on Gaza leaves the area in a state of "perpetual humanitarian crisis", which amounts to a collective punishment of Gaza's civilian population. It states there is chronic, discriminatory underinvestment in Palestinian communities in Israel, denial of the right to return for millions of Palestinian refugees, the forcible transfer and expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories, the widespread and systematic use of administrative detention to imprison thousands, and decades of torture of Palestinian detainees, including children. I could go on. The Minister says there will be no consequences. He will say a few words of condemnation, as will the Minister for Foreign Affairs next week, then he will proceed to pursue investment from Israel through the establishment of an IDA Ireland office. That is utterly shameful.

There is no IDA Ireland office in Israel. A part-time business consultant represents IDA Ireland in Israel, which is quite different. There are no plans to have an IDA Ireland office or permanent staff member in Israel. We have part-time consultants in many countries in order that we have some representation on the ground. The settlement policy in Israel is wrong and we condemn it. We will not have any dealings, through this consultant, with any Israeli companies that are active in the settlement areas. Israel's treatment of Palestinians is wrong. There is no equivocation from the Government on that part. We need a bit of balance. It is a democracy. When it comes to the rights of women and LGBT people, it is first and best in the region, compared with all of its neighbours, which needs to be acknowledged. Israeli Arabs and Palestinians can vote in elections. They are present in the parliament, they can serve as ministers, they can serve in the army, they can head up universities, and they can even captain the football team. That would not have been the case for black people in South Africa.

Industrial Relations

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

3. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the intervention he can make in the case in which recommendations by the third-party industrial relations machinery of the State are being ignored by State-funded, contracted organisations. [25328/22]

I raise the issue of an employee of a State-funded, contracted organisation who may have taken and won a case at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, but who has not received an award due to the inability of the State-funded, contracted organisation to pay the award. The award is not being paid by the organisation. There is no budget or funding for this. Can a solution be found?

It is important to emphasise that Ireland's system of industrial relations is essentially voluntary in nature and that responsibility for the resolution of industrial disputes between employers and workers rests in the first instance with the employer, the workers and their representatives. The State provides the industrial relations dispute settlement mechanisms to support parties in their efforts to resolve their differences.

The WRC and the Labour Court are independent offices of our Department. Recommendations arising from the WRC and the Labour Court are not legally binding. Therefore, the State cannot compel a party to comply with a recommendation. While I would strongly encourage parties to comply with recommendations, the ultimate responsibility for the resolution of industrial disputes between employers and workers rests with the employer, the workers and their representatives. I hope it clarifies the position for the Deputy. I am sorry that I did not hear all of what he said. There was an issue with the sound.

I was saying that it is a State-funded, contracted organisation. A case was taken against it at the WRC. The person won the case. The organisation did not have the money to pay, because it was not in its budget. That was the basis of the question. It is a simple workers' rights matter. It is probably not on the radar of the Minister of State or Minister, so we wanted to raise it. The overall objective of the WRC is to deliver a world class workplace relations service and employment rights framework for employees and employers.

Situations have arisen where the WRC has been totally disrespected. This has happened where workers have taken a case against an employer that is wholly funded by the State and the situation unfolds is that the workers involved take a case to the WRC, win it and receive an award of monetary compensation. They then seek that compensation from the State-funded employer. However, the company does not have the money to pay it because of how it is funded. As I said, there is a failure here to respect the work and remit of the WRC. It is unfair and disrespectful to the worker who was wronged and won the case. In most cases, the employer wants to pay the compensation but simply cannot afford to do so. In other cases, employers never learn because they do not feel the financial implications of their wrongdoing.

I thank the Deputy. I am sorry I could not hear at the start. There was an issue with the sound. I know the Deputy has not named the case. I am not familiar with it because the details relating to it were not provided with the question.

It is not a specific case; it is a number of cases. It is an anomaly.

It is a number of cases. The system is not legally binding. We urge all parties to these cases to honour the recommendations if they can and to follow the advice. That is how it works best. The arrangement has served us well over the last years. In these disputes, the recommendation comes from the WRC and Labour Court and should be followed as well as possible in most cases. We would always encourage that. The funding of any State-funded organisation is a matter for the Minister with responsibility for the area in question. I am not familiar with the case to which the Deputy referred, but Ireland's system of industrial relations is essentially voluntary in nature. Responsibility for the resolution of industrial disputes between employers and workers rests with the employer, in the first instance, and with the workers and their representatives. If it is an issue of funding, it should be discussed with the relevant Department and line Minister.

The Deputy inquired about the recourse available to an employee if an employer fails to act on a decision from the WRC or the Labour Court. The Workplace Relations Act 2015 provides that if an employer in proceedings relating to a complaint or dispute referred to an adjudication officer under employment rights legislation fails to meet the terms of the decision within 56 days, there is recourse to the District Court.

It is important to emphasise that I am not raising just one case.

Several people have taken unfair dismissal cases to the WRC, have won that case and then the organisation, which is a fully-funded State organisation, did not have the resources to pay out. In view of these situations, what does the Minister advise the WRC to do in instances where it is making awards that are not being respected? Will he meet with the WRC and trade unions on this matter so a solution can be found? It is not a huge issue but it is affecting a number of people. The Minister of State is probably not aware of it himself. I do not mean that in a disrespectful way. I wanted to flag it here as it has happened in a number of organisations that are totally State funded.

We have been very clear here. We should respect the advice and guidance of the WRC. We encourage that. Naturally we ask all parties to do that and we do that on a regular basis be it public or private organisations. I am not familiar with the situations the Deputy is raising. If it is a funding issue it has to be directly raised with the Minister or Department with responsibility for the agency or organisation. I am happy to work with the Deputy on that. I do not have the details and am not going to try to comment on something I am not aware of because there is always more to the story. Naturally we ask that everyone would respect the WRC. It has served the country well. Our industrial relations operations are very well respected in general, have served us really well and do provide solutions in many cases. I ask that all play their part. If there is a particular case the Deputy wants to raise with me I am happy to speak to him.

It is really important to emphasise that it is not a specific case. We have a number of cases.

The Deputy keeps saying that but he keeps referring to a situation I do not know about.

I can come back to the Minister of State with a specific case but there are a number of them.

Work Permits

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

4. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the current processing time for work permit applications; his plans to reform the current scheme due to labour shortages within sectors of the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25657/22]

Eight out of ten businesses are now struggling to fill vacancies and we need a suite of novel solutions to address this, including making work pay for those in low-paid employment, addressing youth unemployment, making our regions more attractive for employers and employees and reviewing the operation of our work permit system.

I thank Deputy Naughten for raising the question in respect of work permits. I agree with him on the issue of access to skills. Every company we talk to across the country raises the issue with us. The regional enterprise plans will be of major assistance in helping us focus our minds on this. I also refer to the regional skills fora and various national skills strategies working across the Department of Education as well. The solutions to this and the skills shortage are right across the system in developing skills, apprenticeships, further education and training and a blend of higher education across nine Departments, including Social Protection; Enterprise, Trade and Employment; and the Department of Education. All have a role in this, in conjunction with employers and agencies locally as well.

The Deputy referred to the permits as a part of a temporary solution. They should never be seen as a long-term solution. I am happy to focus on that because it is what the question is about. Our Department has experienced a significant increase in applications for employment permits in the past year, impacting on processing times. From the start of January to the end of December 2021, 27,666 applications were received, representing a 70% increase, showing there is a significant demand for permits as a solution to a labour shortage. From the point of view of my Department, it should not always be seen as a solution. It can be of temporary assistance in an area of shortage of critical skills and that is fair enough but it should not be a long-term solution.

The legislation we are bringing forward this year will bring changes to the permit system to make it more flexible and reflect the nature of employment at any given time and will also introduce the option of a seasonal permit which will be of assistance in certain sectors. On the overall terms and conditions of the permits system, during the review that happens twice a year we work with all the parent Departments and various sectors in respect of the terms and conditions. We would generally agree that there is an opportunity, because of the high employment rate at the moment, to work on those terms and conditions and improve them. There is a mechanism whereby we set them in conjunction with the various Departments.

On the specific matter the Deputy raised, I am happy to tease it through with him.

The Minister of State is correct that the permit system is a short-term solution but we do need that sticking plaster at the moment. A constituent was on to me this morning whose holidays have been cancelled because the hotel in question has closed. We are encouraging people to holiday at home but they are getting their deposits back for holidays. At the moment the effective waiting time for processing a work permit is seven months. That is completely unacceptable when there is such a crisis in staffing. The Minister of State needs to look again at the definition of the critical skills and ineligible occupations to deal with a short-term issue that is causing a crisis right across our economy.

I do not think any of us would stand over the processing time for permits over the last year. However, we have to recognise that the number of applications went up by 70% and those numbers are continuing to increase this year. It looks like there will be over 35,000 permits applied for this year. We have put an action plan together since last November under the guidance of the Tánaiste. We have trebled the number of staff working in this sector and more than trebled the number of permits being issued per week. This time last year an average of about 250 or 300 permits were processed per week. Last week, for example, over 1,200 permits were processed and issued. In the majority of cases they are successfully processed. There has been a major improvement. There was a backlog coming into this year of about 11,000 permits. That is now down to under 6,000 and we are processing the general permits much more quickly than that.

The Deputy mentioned seven months. That is not the case any more, thankfully. The critical permits are down to about six weeks processing time, which I think is acceptable. Naturally when we bring the general permits down to that level we will be able to go further with the six weeks. The general employment permit was around 23 or 24 weeks and is back down to 16 weeks with trusted partners and about 21 weeks-----

Yesterday it was 22 weeks.

For non-trusted partners it is about 21 weeks. With the team of people involved now, we are quite happy that we will make great inroads into that time over the next couple of weeks. The 3,000 permits that were applied for since October in the horticulture and meat industry sectors are nearly all processed now which is a big bang. That will help us focus on bringing the timeline well down from 21 weeks.

Another short-term solution we could take is actually to make work pay, particularly within our tax and welfare codes. It should always be financially better for people to return to work. We still have 4.8% unemployment and 5.6% youth unemployment. We have a substantial number of people who are only willing to work three days a week because the system prohibits them from taking on overtime or working the full five days. We have cliff-edge barriers like the PRSI barrier and the bizarre situation that social housing income thresholds have not increased for the last decade while the cost of housing has more than doubled. When are we going to address those real barriers?

A couple of issues there are not under our Department. I understand the report on social housing limits is with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, at the moment and he hopes to bring forward those changes very soon. He took questions on the matter here last week. That would be a positive step. We all recognise that they have not changed since 2011. The social housing barrier and the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, were changed a number of years ago to make it easier for people to return to work. The previous system under the rent allowance, as the Deputy will know, would have penalised people going back to work. That does not happen now with the HAP. People do not lose their payment as they would have done under the old ways.

I agree with the Deputy on the social welfare code and the matter of days versus hours. Some people could possibly take up work for a number of hours per day over five days as opposed to three days. The old system, the Xs and Os as we called it, did not allow for that. A number of reports have been laid before the Houses over the years and we should try to get change on that. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is willing to look at the matter and has been working with her Department to see if we can change it.

On trying to fill the skills gap, there is a shortage of people in many sectors, not all of them in critical skills. We have to look at every mechanism. That involves working with the sector. We engage with the hospitality sector and will prioritise it in respect of chefs and so on. These next couple of months are key for them. We also have to work with sectors such as retail, hospitality and agriculture around solutions and training. I highlight the Pathways to Work programme. There is a lot of assistance there for employers and helping people get off the live register. Schemes like the job placement scheme are very effective but are not being fully utilised. Everybody has to play their part if we are to solve the labour shortage issue.

Climate Action Plan

Richard O'Donoghue

Ceist:

5. Deputy Richard O'Donoghue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the role of his Department in incentivising a technology-neutral approach to climate action until an alternative can be reached; if his attention has been drawn to the carbon emissions reductions that can be achieved by the use of biofuels as a solution to both transport and home-heating; whether his Department has considered initiatives to incentivise further research and development in biofuels or other supports to the biofuels industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25420/22]

Is the Minister going to incentivise the technology-neutral approach to climate action until an alternative can be reached? Is he aware of the carbon emissions reductions that can be achieved by the use of biofuels as a solution for 10% of transport and 50% of home heating? Has the Department considered initiatives to incentivise further research and development in biofuels or other supports to the biofuels industry?

My Department and I are aware of the need to decarbonise our economy and society. It is my view that we will need to exploit all opportunities and means of carbon abatement available to us as we seek to achieve very ambitious decarbonisation before 2030 and transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

Officials in my Department have met representatives of Liquid Gas Ireland, a representative association for the leading suppliers of BioLPG to rural homes and businesses, and have been made aware of the abatement potential achievable from the use of biofuels. While home heating, transport fuels and their decarbonisation do not fall not within the policy remit of my Department, it is clear that a range of interventions will be necessary to achieve the level of abatement required. Government policy will need to support households and businesses to make cost-efficient choices to meet that ambition. We must, of course, do this in a way that meets the highest standards of sustainability. The EU renewable energy directive provides detailed rules for the application and administration of sustainability and criteria for greenhouse gas emissions saving to biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels.

Since 2010, increasing volumes of biofuels have been introduced to the Irish conventional fuel mix through a biofuel blending obligation on fuel suppliers. I am aware that the use of biofuels is already one of the main aspects of land transport decarbonisation and that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, published a policy statement on renewable fuels for transport in November 2021. The statement sets out a roadmap for the supply and use of renewable energy in transport to meet Ireland's national commitments in Climate Action Plan 2021 and European obligations under the renewable energy directive.

My Department is working closely with stakeholders to equip businesses to take climate action, preparing themselves for our transition to a low-carbon economy and therefore making our enterprise and employment base more resilient. My Department received €55 million in EU funding under Ireland's national recovery and resilience plan to help manufacturing companies to reduce their emissions. To incentivise the early adoption and research of technologies to deliver on carbon dioxide abatement from manufacturing combustion emissions, funding under these programmes will focus on businesses using fossil fuels that can install new technologies leading to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Biofuels comprise just one of the many ways in which we can combat climate change and offer a genuine option while still allowing so many people in Ireland to earn a living. While there are many other options to combat climate change, using biodigesters to capture gas and sell it to the grid can help reduce our emissions. Some farmers are asking to be energy farmers by growing grasses that can be used in biodigesters along with manure, food waste and timber residue. The land would be put aside for biofuel production, minimising the requirement for nitrogen that comes from Russia. Buying oil from America does not contribute to anything in our circular economy. In his role as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Tánaiste needs to get buy-in and not leave it to the Departments responsible for agriculture, climate and the environment. He should spearhead what I propose for enterprise in this country.

I thank the Deputy. Biofuels definitely have a role to play. My Department very much acknowledges that. That we have biofuel obligations for petrol and diesel is evidence of that. However, it is important to state all fuels are not equally green. Wind energy and solar energy are 100% green. If green hydrogen can be produced, it would be 100% green too. Biofuels are often made from animal omissions, which means animals are needed. With more animals, one has to account for the impact. The use of agricultural land that could be used for food production for fuel production has an impact on the amount of food produced and, potentially, the cost of food. These approaches need to be considered in the round but I definitely agree biofuels are part of the solution. My Department has engaged with Liquid Gas Ireland on this. As we develop schemes and programmes to assist businesses to decarbonise, I believe that biofuels will be part of the mix.

I thank the Tánaiste. Does he know that the climate action committee, chaired by Deputy Leddin, who is from Limerick, has refused in writing to meet industries such as biofuel industries that want to use our natural products in this country? Is he aware that the excess biofuel produced in this country is exported? Biofuels can reduce our emissions from home heating if we mix them with home heating oil in the order of 50%. This would help where people have no alternatives, and they would still be doing their bit to reduce emissions. Can the Tánaiste put a structure in place with Gas Networks Ireland, the ESB and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland? In this way, so many could sell to the grid while playing their part in combating climate change.

The Tánaiste must support industry in a meaningful way with business support schemes and by building enterprise around the structures. What I propose is for people who have no alternatives. We are talking about a just transition, and this means bringing people with us. By using biofuels, we can reduce emissions using farmland when there are no alternatives. At present, there are none.

I was not aware that the committee did not agree to the meeting. I do not know the details behind it, so I would prefer not to comment on it. However, my Department officials have met representatives of Liquid Gas Ireland and are certainly willing to hear what they have to say. Pretty much everyone in Ireland has electricity. The best alternative is electricity. Electricity produced from wind and solar is the best option, but there is space for other options. For heating, electricity might not always be practical, so there is space for other solutions too.

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