National Broadband Plan Implementation

Ceisteanna (239)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

239. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps he plans to take to expedite the provision of broadband in all areas throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7807/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The Government's National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to ensure high speed broadband access (minimum 30 megabits per second) to all premises in Ireland, regardless of location.  The NBP has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. Today 7 out of 10 of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland have access to high speed broadband.  By the end of this year that number will rise to nearly 8 out of 10 premises and by 2020, 9 out of 10 premises or 90% of premises will have access to a high speed broadband connection.

In April 2017, I signed a Commitment Agreement with eir in relation to its plans to provide High speed broadband to 300,000 premises in rural areas on a commercial basis. eir has committed to completing the rollout by the end of this year.  Information on eir's planned rural deployment is available at http://fibrerollout.ie/eircode-lookup/.  A copy of the Commitment Agreement is available on my Department’s website www.dccae.gov.ie.

My Department is in a formal procurement process to select a company who will roll-out a new high speed broadband network in the State intervention area. The specialist NBP procurement team will continue to engage intensively with all relevant stakeholders, including the sse/enet consortium, to ensure the earliest possible achievement of the Government’s objective of providing reliable high quality, high speed broadband to all premises in Ireland. When the procurement process reaches a satisfactory conclusion for Government, a contract will be awarded and the network rollout will commence.

In the interim, practical initiatives will continue to be addressed through the work of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce to address obstacles and improve connectivity in respect of existing and future mobile phone and broadband services.

Under this Taskforce, engagement between telecommunications operators and local authorities through the Broadband Officers is continuing to strengthen.  These Broadband Officers are acting as single points of contact in local authorities for their communities.  The appointment of these officers is already reaping rewards in terms of ensuring a much greater degree of consistency in engagements with operators and clearing obstacles to developing infrastructure.  There is a link to a list of these local Broadband Officers on my Department's website.

Broadband Service Provision

Ceisteanna (240)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

240. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when attempts were made by way of investment in the telecommunications sector to provide modern high speed broadband throughout the country; the locations in which specific investment took place; if same is concluded or still pending; the way in which the advance of broadband here compares with other jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7808/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

Previous governmental initiatives to deliver or improve broadband service in the State include the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS), the Galway-Mayo Telecoms Duct, the Metropolitan Area Networks and the Schools 100Mbps Project.

The National and Rural Broadband Schemes were designed to deliver basic, affordable broadband to target areas across the country where premises were unable to obtain a service from a commercial operator. Both initiatives have concluded, in 2014 and 2011 respectively.

During the planning of the Galway-Mayo Gas pipeline by Bord Gais Eireann (BGÉ) in 2005 the then Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources funded the installation of a telecommunications duct alongside the new gas pipeline. This duct delivers limited dark fibre services to customers on completed sections of the fibre between Coolturk (Co. Mayo) and Ballymoneen (Co. Galway). Construction took place between 2006 and 2008.

The Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) are telecoms ducting and fibre optic networks laid in metropolitan areas around Ireland. The MANs are independently managed, maintained and operated for the State by a Management Services Entity (MSE) and are used to provide a variety of services.

A decision to deliver a 100Mbps broadband service to all secondary level schools was announced by Government in February of 2012. All 780+ post primary schools in Ireland now have access to 100Mbps high speed broadband.

The Government's current broadband initiative, the National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to ensure high speed broadband access (minimum 30 megabits per second) to all premises in Ireland, regardless of location.  The NBP has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. Today 7 out of 10 of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland have access to high speed broadband.  By the end of this year that number will rise to nearly 8 out of 10 premises and by 2020, 9 out of 10 premises or 90% of premises will have access to a high speed broadband connection.

According to a recent Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) report, which ranks EU member states according to a variety of digital markers, Ireland is in the high performing cluster of EU countries, ranking 8th place overall out of 28.

Telecommunications Infrastructure

Ceisteanna (241, 242)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

241. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the degree to which comparisons have been made between the quality of mobile telephony here and that available in other EU countries in view of the fact it appears that reliable satisfactory service exists in other jurisdictions but not here; if the attention of stakeholders and the regulator have been drawn to the poor quality of such services in many areas throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7809/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

242. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to hold a major communications conference involving all the stakeholders whereby some degree of unanimity might be arrived at and agreement reached on the necessary upgrading of large segments of the mobile telephone service network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7810/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 241 and 242 together.

Providing telecommunications services, including mobile phone services, is a matter for the relevant service providers operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as independent Regulator. I do not have statutory authority to require commercial companies to rollout services and make specific investments in particular locations. The ComReg consumer helpline is accessible at consumerline@comreg.ie and I would urge consumers who feel they have not received an appropriate response from service providers to make contact with the Regulator.

With respect to the quality of mobile telephony service in other countries, comparisons between Member States and within regions, can be problematic for many reasons, including the fact that the technical characteristics of mobile phone networks that determine coverage and capacity will vary between operators and locations. Other factors would include the characteristics of individual markets, including topography, population density, frequencies used etc.

Various initiatives are underway to improve the quality and coverage of mobile services and broadband throughout Ireland. Notwithstanding ComReg’s independence, I recognise the frustration felt by Irish consumers where telecommunications networks are not always delivering the services people expect. Accordingly, I specifically included in the Programme for Government a commitment to a Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. The Taskforce worked with key stakeholders to produce a report in December 2016, available on my Department’s website, which contains 40 actions to alleviate some of the deficits. The Implementation Group I co-chair with Minister Kyne is overseeing implementation of the actions and comprises all key stakeholders responsible for delivery. This includes ComReg, who attend as both an action owner, and in an observer capacity in their role as the independent Regulator.

In October 2017, together with Minister Kyne, I hosted the first National Stakeholder Forum in Athlone.  It arose from the Taskforce’s recognition that, given the rapid technological change and the emergence of new equipment and solutions to deliver telecommunications services, stakeholders needed an opportunity to raise concerns on impediments to the rollout of services. Representatives from the telecoms industry, Government Departments and consumer groups attended the event. Issues impacting on rollout of mobile networks were discussed at the Forum, and there were also some new recommended actions for the Taskforce to help improve services to consumers and in preparing for roll-out of the National Broadband Plan network, once contracts are in place. Following the success of the 2017 event, I plan to hold a similar forum later this year.

I published the third Taskforce Quarterly Progress Report in November 2017, which demonstrates that good progress has been made in delivering the actions. I plan to publish an Annual Report shortly. This Report will give an update on progress made on each of the 40 actions and will evidence the continuing progress, together with the sustained level of engagement between action owners and industry.  The Annual Report will also contain a work programme for 2018, with new actions identified that will lead to improvements for consumers across Ireland.

The Taskforce’s achievements to date include:

- Revisions to Exempted Development Regulations to facilitate prompt roll-out of telecommunications infrastructure and to prepare Ireland for the roll-out of 5G mobile technology;

- Funding of all local authorities to assign a Broadband Officer;

- Close cooperation with local authorities to develop local digital strategies and to identify approximately 320 high speed Strategic Community Access Hubs to be connected at an early juncture after award of the NBP contract;

- ComReg’s development of a testing regime to check mobile handset performance which will inform consumers in choosing products and network services. ComReg will also develop a new network coverage map.

- Most local authorities applying waivers in respect of development contributions for telecoms development.

- Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) has constructed 80km of ducting on the M7/M8 corridor and 14km on the N25 in Cork, with more following in the coming months to help expedite infrastructure roll-out. TII is also reviewing the cost of duct access for telecoms.

All of these initiatives should assist in enhancing the quality of telecommunications services, particularly in rural areas.

Waste Management

Ceisteanna (243)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

243. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extent to which waste reduction and management can be improved to make a more serious contribution to preventing threats to the environment with particular reference to the need to reduce the use of landfills and the utilisation of the most modern methods of waste management in order to protect the environment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7811/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

European, national and regional waste policy are all predicated on the management of waste in line with the waste hierarchy, whereby the prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling and other recovery of waste are preferred (in that order) to the disposal of waste. For instance, collectors of waste must conduct their activities in accordance with the relevant legislation and the conditions of their waste collection permits which, inter alia, require that waste is managed in line with the waste hierarchy.

The Government's policy of increasing the landfill levy to its current level of €75 per tonne has provided a real financial incentive for waste operators to divert as much material as possible from being disposed of at landfill.  The success of the above and many other policy and legislative measures, including the National Waste Prevention Programme and the phasing-out of flat rate fees for household waste collection, which encourage waste prevention, preparation for re-use, recycling and other recovery, has meant that more waste can be put to environmentally sustainable and productive use as opposed to being buried in the ground.

Up until November 2017, different household waste collectors accepted different items for recycling, which lead to some confusion on which items go in which bin. Now, however, following co-operation between my Department, the regulatory authorities, the waste industry, Repak and environmental NGOs, we have a single, standard national list of items and materials that can be placed in the recycling bin.  Removing confusion will play an important role in improving the quality of the waste presented for recycling. This will help to ensure that these items are actually recycled, as opposed to being contaminated accidentally by householders and sent to landfill.  Supporting householders to 'do the right thing' in terms of recycling is important. Householders are also being supported through a number of awareness and education initiatives such as the Recycling Ambassadors Programme and recyclinglistireland.ie.

Statistics compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency show that we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time in terms of improving our recycling and recovery rates and reducing our reliance on landfill. In this regard, National Waste Statistics are available to download at https://www.epa.ie/nationalwastestatistics/ including the State's progress in meeting targets under EU waste legislation including the Waste Framework Directive; the Landfill Directive; and the Producer Responsibility Directives (Packaging, End-of-Life Vehicles, Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, Batteries and Accumulators).

Of particular note is the reduction in the disposal  (landfill) rate of managed Municipal Solid Waste, which fell from 41% in 2012 to 21% in 2014.

Environmental Policy

Ceisteanna (244)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

244. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extent to which efforts continue to be made to reduce the use of plastic with particular reference to banning certain products and activities to protect the seas and marine life; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7812/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

Our use of plastic has increased exponentially in recent decades. Plastics feature across a wide range of applications and products, such as packaging, construction, electrics and electronics, agriculture, medical and health.

  The effects of plastic pollution, in particular, on the marine environment has been well publicised. My colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is responsible for marine environmental policy, including marine litter policy in the first instance.  Both he and I recognise that the waste that is created on land and certain plastic waste items in particular, can represent significant marine litter problems. Accordingly, we are working together to identify measures to address this with our European partners.

On 16 January 2018, the Commission published its European Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy.  The strategy focuses on plastics production and use and sets a goal of ensuring all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.  The strategy is built around 4 key actions:

- Improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling;

- Curbing plastic waste and littering;

- Driving innovation and investment towards circular solutions; and

- Harnessing Global Action.

The strategy lists future EU measures and recommends measures to national authorities and industry for the attainment of its goals.

Coupled with this, the Commission is pushing for higher mandatory recycling targets for plastics.  Under the current Packaging Directive Member States are required to recycle 22.5% by weight of all plastic packaging.  Under a new Circular Economy legislative package to be finalised this year the Commission is increasing this target to 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030.

In terms of plastic packaging at a national level, Repak, the producer responsibility scheme tasked with managing packaging in Ireland, has been working with its members (including all the major retailers)  to identify ways to reduce or optimise packaging.  Under the EU Packaging Directive, Member States cannot impede the placing on the market of packaging which is fit for purpose. Notwithstanding this, I am working with the Local Authorities to roll out an education programme on the recycling of all waste, including plastics.

Air Quality

Questions Nos. 246 and 247 answered with Question No. 236.

Ceisteanna (245)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

245. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the degree to which a deterioration in air quality has been detected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7813/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

Ambient air quality monitoring in Ireland is carried out in accordance with the requirements of the 2008 Clean Air for Europe (CAFE) Directive (Directive 2008/50/EC) and the Fourth Daughter Directive (Directive 2004/107/EC of 15 December 2004). These Directives also include rules on how Member States should monitor, assess and manage ambient air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with co-ordinating and managing the monitoring programme.

Under the Directives, EU Member States must designate "zones" for the purpose of managing air quality.  For Ireland, four zones were defined in the Air Quality Standards Regulations, 2011. The zones in place in Ireland in 2017 are Zone A: the Dublin conurbation, Zone B: the Cork conurbation, Zone C: comprising 23 large towns in Ireland with a population of more than 15,000, and Zone D: the remaining area of Ireland.

Ireland currently has a nationwide network of 31 monitoring stations which measure levels of air pollutants in the four zones. This information is delivered to the public in near real-time at www.airquality.epa.ie. The numbers and locations of the monitoring equipment for each pollutant are determined by the requirements of the Directives for ambient air monitoring in each zone.

The Agency's most recent annual Air Quality Report was published in November 2017 and provides an assessment of air quality in Ireland for 2016.  Values for all network sites were below the EU annual limit value, but exceeded the stricter World Health Organisation guideline values for a number of pollutants at individual sites.  The report indicates that most pollutant concentrations are low, with no discernible trend or slight downward trends.  It cautions, however, that NO2 concentrations in urban areas are close to the EU annual limit value, and increases in traffic numbers or certain weather conditions may lead to exceedances. The report can be found at the following link: http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/air/quality/epaairqualityreport2016.html

Notwithstanding the favourable comparison with EU annual limit values, the report notes that maintaining our standard of air quality is a growing challenge.  With this in mind, I am committed to bringing forward Ireland's first ever National Clean Air Strategy.  The Strategy, which I intend to publish in the coming months, will provide the policy framework necessary to identify and promote integrated measures across Government that are required to reduce air pollution and promote cleaner air, while delivering on wider national objectives.

A key part of the Strategy will be the expansion of our monitoring and data gathering capacity, to better inform policy choices. Following a review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of air quality monitoring and information provision in Ireland, a decision was taken to develop a new Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP) which aims to enhance and build on current arrangements.  The new national Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme is being developed under Section 65 of the EPA Act, 1992 as amended. One of the key objectives of the programme is to enhance the provision of real time air quality data to the public.  The statutory basis for the programme underlines the importance placed on air quality monitoring in Ireland.  The AAMP will double the number of ambient air quality monitoring stations in Ireland by 2022, and enhance the provision of real time air quality data to the public. Further details on the timeframes for the expansion of the network will be released as they become available. I fully support this important initiative, and have committed funding of some €5 million over the lifetime of the programme.

Questions Nos. 246 and 247 answered with Question No. 236.