Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Ceisteanna (36)

Willie Penrose


36. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development the role of his Department in tackling climate change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22798/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Rural)

Obviously, I anticipated the results of the recent election when I tabled this question last week to ask the Minister of State to outline the role of the Department in tackling climate change. We saw the green wave in the local elections, which was partly due to the Government's failure to address the issue of climate change, an extremely important matter on which there must be a renewed focus and a proper strategy to implement. What role does the Department have or is envisaged for it to ensure the targets outlined in the cross-party recommendations of the recent report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action are implemented?

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, is responsible for the overall Government plan for climate change action.  All Departments will have a role to play in supporting the plan, initiatives and targets set out by the Minister in this regard. Acting on climate change now is a Government priority and important for the future of all our communities. My Department is actively participating in relevant cross-Government discussions and plans and will contribute to the overall national effort on climate action through its work with communities, including communities in rural Ireland. Supporting the development of resilient and sustainable communities is at the heart of my Department's mission. I will work with colleagues across Government to deliver a fair transition to a low carbon economy. To ensure buy-in to the changes in behaviour required, it will be important to support communities, particularly those in rural areas, during the transition.  Engagement with communities will be key to the delivery of climate change targets and my Department will work to make this happen within existing community structures such as local community development committees, or LCDCs.

The Department will continue to support and fund community initiatives to help Ireland's transition to a low carbon society through the wide range of programmes we deliver. These include the LEADER programme's rural environment theme, which will see almost €24 million invested in projects up to 2020, funding from the rural fund, the social inclusion and community activation programme, and the town and village renewal scheme. Climate change can present opportunities for rural communities. As such, I have also allocated LEADER funding to those exploring the potential of renewable energy locally. Social enterprises can also make an important contribution to Ireland's social and economic progress, including the delivery of environmental and climate action related services. A draft national social enterprise policy published in April for public consultation closed on 14 May 2019. The views expressed during the consultation will now be considered by our line Minister, Deputy Michael Ring, in advance of finalising the policy. Our Department will continue to keep under review its policies as they apply to communities and rural Ireland and each of the funding schemes and programmes to ensure they complement the overall Government objectives of climate change mitigation.

The climate change performance index, or CCPI, for 2019 ranked Ireland as the worst performing member state of the EU and among the worst performing countries in the world in tackling climate change. We have received a warning and we must now get off our behinds. That we need to change is well known across all sectors and communities, both rural and urban. In rural areas, the big question is how to protect farmers and workers during this change. In other words, managed change is required. Bord na Móna has been a very important strategic employer across the midlands for 60 years or more. Various communities and families grew up in and around Bord na Móna's plants and operations, including at Derrygreenagh and Rochfortbridge in County Westmeath, Derryadd and Lanesborough in County Longford and Boora in County Offaly. Great families were sustained by the work of Bord na Móna which will now be lost. The company is to close 17 of its 62 active bogs immediately and is due to end peat harvesting in 45 more within seven years. Up to 500 jobs will no longer be available. What plans does the Department have for peat workers, people working in peat factories, harvesters and those in the surrounding communities? Alternatives must be put in place to secure the future of these families and the workers in those plants.

The all-of-Government action plan on climate change will be published in the very short term. The Deputy referred to the transition for farmers, which is very important. I am sure he will agree that it is also important to state that farming rates at a high level in our carbon emissions only because we are not a very industrialised nation.

Farming rises in the pecking order as a result. The Deputy is correct that we must provide supports to ensure that the changes we have to make to farming are transitional.

With regard to Bord na Móna, I am working closely with it in my capacity as Minister of State in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I understand what the Deputy said, but Bord na Móna can be the model by which all companies in this country go from brown to green. There are many exciting projects and opportunities in Bord na Móna. I visited its site at Mount Lucas and have had a number of meetings with the company about projects that are in development stage, such as fish farming and wind farming. It has 80,000 ha of land so there is real potential for development and creating jobs in the communities the Deputy mentioned. I am confident that with Bord na Móna we will show how to model a brown company to a green company and create additional jobs.

A just transition policy will have to be implemented over a period for these sectors to achieve the decarbonisation, reduction in fossil fuels and so forth that the climate change objectives require. One of the recommendations in the recent report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, which I strongly support, called for "Developing local economic diversification plans that support decent work and provide community stability in the transition." If there is a fall off a cliff, it will be a disaster for many areas. It is important that the Minister of State has development plans and perhaps he is in a position to outline them. I urge the Department to start those development plans because the Department of Rural and Community Development will be important in responding to that specific recommendation. That is critical. We all have a role to play. Some changes that are perceived as unpalatable will be required, but they are for the betterment of the long-term future of the country. We have to tackle it but it must be in a planned and phased way with proper transition periods and set objectives which will ensure that people can still earn a living in their rural communities.

I agree with the committee's findings. It is important to speak about the just transition. People are beating a drum for making changes quickly now, but that will be more harmful to our country and people, especially to rural Ireland. We must plan for the future and ensure that we bring everybody along with us. There is a great responsibility on all of us. It starts with the Government and the action plan. With regard to rural areas, we cannot simply use a big mallet to crack a nut, destroy much of rural Ireland and create something we would not like. We must create the sustainable jobs, provide rural transport and public transport and ensure that when people are told that fossil fuels must no longer be used there are alternatives in place for them.