I find it shocking that the Minister of State is raising these concerns at this late stage. We have had three opportunities to have lengthy debates on this Bill. I find it insulting, as well as shocking, that he is raising these concerns now. I do not take it personally. It is insulting, however, to the thousands of children who went on strike and the movement that organises and mobilises daily to try to get this Government to do something meaningful to deal with the global corporations that inflict the greatest damage on the planet. That is why we want to see fossil fuels left in the ground. I reiterate that the science is settled on the fact that 80% of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground.
What does the Minister of State think that other countries should do with their reserves of fossil fuels? If we are not going to import fossil fuels from those countries, and they are also going to transition towards using renewable energy, does the Minister of State then believe those countries should leave their fossil fuels in the ground but we should not? Will he explain why he thinks that this is an Irish rather than a global issue?
Regarding the seven applications for licences that are on hand, when were those made? If any decisions have been made on those applications by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, when did that happen? I want to tease out how and why the fees these companies paid have to be returned and how that constitutes an appropriation of public money. My view is that those applicants paid fees and now we have to give them back. That is not an appropriation of public moneys. We are returning fees that were already given to the State. It would have a net zero impact on the public purse.
Moving to the repayment of the acreage rental fees, does that figure apply to all existing licences? Does it include the three licences that cover the existing four operating sites? Why does the Department think that it must return these fees? This Bill does not stop the holders of existing licences from continuing to explore. It simply stops the issue of any further licences once carbon in the atmosphere is above 350 parts per million. What, if anything, does a climate emergency mean if it is not that we have to take cognisance of the level of CO2 in the atmosphere? Does that not constitute the basis of an emergency? We have just declared such an emergency in Dáil Éireann. I remind the Minister of State of that fact.
One of the reasons we called this the Petroleum and Other Minerals (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 was not because we had the foresight to know that the Dáil would declare a climate emergency some 18 months after the Bill was introduced. We included "(Climate Emergency Measures)" in the title because we were aware of what happened when the financial crash occurred. Overnight, the Government was on that occasion able to construct financial emergency measures and take pay and pensions, and all sorts of other conditions, away from workers in the public sector.
Many of those punitive measures still exist. We do not seem able to take measures in a climate emergency to deal with fossil fuel corporations, for example, companies like Exxon or the Chinese state corporation, which was actually given a licence by the Minister of State a couple of days after the climate emergency was declared to explore for gas and oil off the Kerry coast. The Minister of State has to explain that contradiction, namely, why the Government can deal with one emergency in one way and another emergency in another. If the Government declared a climate emergency, does that not give it a right to be able to deal with the licences that exist?
The Minister of State talked about an automatic right of progression between licences. We have to challenge that. In the 2007 terms, the criteria for an authorisation are as follows:
[H]aving regard to the authorisation applied for:
(a) the work programme proposed by the applicant;
(b) the technical competence and offshore experience of the applicant;
(c) the financial resources available to the applicant;
(d) the applicant’s policy to health, safety and the environment...
Part (d) is the important one, given it concerns the policy of the fossil fuel industry towards health and safety and the environment we live in. If burning fossil fuels is not already proven to be very damaging to the environment and to the health and safety of everybody on the planet, why would the Minister of State believe he had to give a continuing licence and to move on to the next step? Is that not enough for him to be able to say he is sorry but the company is not entitled to the next step because its policy in regard to the health and safety of the planet is not good enough?
I am sorry for taking so much time. I will finish shortly. In regard to the lease undertakings, the 2007 terms state: "In the event that the licensee is unable to subsequently confirm as commercial the discovery so notified but is of the opinion that it may become commercial and the Minister concurs..." If we are told by the IPCC and by the scientists that, within the next 11 or 12 years, we have to seriously start dealing with the level of fossil fuels we are burning, and if a company says to the Minister of State today that it wants to go out and explore for gas or oil which it can prove to him will be commercially viable, what is commercially viable about a product we have been told we have to stop burning? When it is ready to be burned in 20 years, because it takes that period of time, if we even find it, to extract it, manufacture it and then burn it, is the Minister of State suggesting it will be okay to burn billions of tonnes worth of carbon that have been extracted from the seas off Ireland, and that that will be commercially viable? If we are moving to renewables and to a situation where fossil fuels become a thing of the past, where is the commercial viability in that?
On the petroleum lease, the terms clearly state: "When a Petroleum Lease is applied for under paragraph (1) and the Minister is satisfied by reference to the likely production profile and the applicant's outline development, financial and marketing plans that a commercial discovery has been made, it shall be the duty of the Minister to grant that application." I put the question of commercial viability to the Minister of State again. What is commercially viable about a discovery which in 20 to 25 years time has no place on this planet, given we should not be burning it and should not be using it?
We are in a climate emergency yet all of these applicants want to increase the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by extracting more fossil fuels, whether gas or oil, and we know they are frantically engaged in trying to derail this Bill. We can see from the lobbying register that they are lobbying Senators and Deputies very hard to try to stop this Bill going forward. They continue to want to search our waters for more sources of carbon that they can burn. If this is an emergency, would the Minister of State not agree that we have to move from fossil fuels in the next 11 years? How can this be deemed commercial after a decade or more or, equally, how can it be deemed in the interests of the public or of the environment? The Minister of State has many ways in which he is able to say the applicants do not have to progress to the next stage because that is what the legislation currently states. He just chooses to ignore it.
These companies have no claim on public money for compensation. They have no claim on money even to have the fees returned to them because it is explicit in the terms and conditions that Exxon, Providence or any of the companies that apply to the Minister of State have no claim to the future of our schoolchildren or the future of this planet. They have no right to the global commons in order to pursue their own profits.
I wonder whether the Minister of State will be honest with me and come back on these questions in an honest way, instead of trying to use procedural trickery. The game is up for these companies. It may not be up in Ireland yet but it will be up eventually. The Minister of State needs to go back to the drawing board and think very carefully about what he is asking today in terms of arguing for a money message for this Bill. I would argue, as I said in the Dáil, that given a money message at this level, very little public money would be due to be paid out to these companies. By comparison to the sort of waste this Government and others engage in, it would be doing not just the people of this country a favour but also a huge favour for the planet and the fight for climate action. Based on these figures, I find it unbelievable that the Minister of State thinks this Bill should have a money message. It is unbelievable that it should have it and unacceptable that the Minister of State is bringing it forward at this point in time, when we should be sitting here, discussing how we amend this Bill, how we make it better, who wants to put in what and having a real debate about things like energy security and the future for renewables in this country, instead of this pretend debate, where trickery comes before the genuine concerns of Senators and Deputies about climate action.