Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, answered orally.

National Broadband Plan Expenditure

Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (8)

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

8. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the amount spent to date on the national broadband plan; and the cost of external consultants, legal advice, services and internal departmental staff costs. [46267/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The contract that I signed with National Broadband Ireland on 19 November is the Government’s plan to rollout high speed broadband to the 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises including almost 100,000 businesses and farms, along with 695 schools, where commercial operators will not commit to deliver the service.

It will ensure that one quarter of the country mostly living in rural Ireland are not left behind. Without high speed broadband it will be much more difficult to sustain existing jobs or create new ones. It will make it possible for rural Ireland to take advantage of the opportunities created by the digital economy, from health care to farming from education to agricultural development to tourism

Officials working in the NBP Division of my Department, supported by a team of external expert advisers, have been working on this initiative since 2013. The total amount spent to date on the National Broadband Plan is €28.833 million. This amount is largely comprised of the cost of these external advisers, as well as other costs associated with the procurement process. These external advisers have provided advice across many areas of expertise including, technical advice, financial and procurement advice, legal advice, economic and strategic advice, environmental advice and insurance and tax advice. The cost of external advisers to date is €28.16 million.

My Department's NBP team has also been supported by other officers across the Department. While the Department does not operate on a basis of allocating costs for each staff member across its range of functions, salary and other administration related costs for the Department are published in the annual Estimates and in the Appropriation Account.

Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, answered orally.

Air Quality

Question No. 13 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (12)

James Browne

Ceist:

12. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position regarding the implementation of the smoky fuel ban here particularly in County Wexford; when he plans to implement a nationwide ban; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49052/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

Transitioning away from fossil fuels to more renewable, sustainable energy sources is at the heart of the Climate Action Plan.

Currently 40% of our homes use coal and peat for heating, many in combination with other fossil fuel heating systems. By 2030, we will upgrade a third of all homes to at least a B2 energy standard, installing approximately 400,000 heat pumps. Currently over 99% of our vehicle fleet is powered by fossil fuels. By 2030, nearly a million electric vehicles will be on our roads. These measures will significantly improve air quality by reducing emissions of harmful pollutants.

Extending the ban on the use of smoky coal would also have a positive impact on air quality, particularly in built up areas.

The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal, or ‘the smoky coal ban’ as it is commonly known, was first introduced in Dublin in 1990, and subsequently extended to 26 major urban areas.

My two predecessors proposed national extension of the smoky coal ban, but a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the proposal of two former Ministers to extend the smoky coal ban.

This is very disappointing.

The basis of their challenge is that a nationwide smoky coal ban cannot be introduced without a nationwide ban on the burning of peat, turf and wet wood because these products produce similar levels of pollution. The legal threat is not only to take down any new nationwide ban, but to remove the existing ban which is currently in place in cities and many towns around the country.

In that context, it is particularly important to ensure that the measures put forward are not vulnerable to legal challenge, and I am continuing to work to finalise a legally robust way forward which will improve air quality by reducing air pollution, without jeopardising the existing ban.

I also intend to publish a Clean Air Strategy, which will set out a number of policies to improve air quality nationwide, in the coming months.

My Department is also funding the Environmental Protection Agency’s roll-out of the Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP), which will greatly improve the data available on air pollution in Ireland, facilitating the design and targeting of appropriate policy measures to tackle it.

Question No. 13 answered orally.

Bord na Móna

Question No. 15 answered orally.

Ceisteanna (14)

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

14. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he has been briefed on the recommendations in the cross-party report on climate change specifically relating to the future of Bord na Móna; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43657/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

I welcome the focus given by the Joint Committee on Climate Action in its report to the future of Bord na Mona and the Midlands region.

The Committee correctly identified that, while all sectors face challenges transitioning to a low carbon economy, immediate interventions must be put in place in those locations and for those sectors imminently under threat, such as those whose livelihoods are dependent on Bord na Móna peat extraction activities. The Committee also highlighted the importance of exploring opportunities to green existing jobs, and create new jobs in areas such as energy retrofitting for buildings, sustainable forestry and peatland restoration.

The Government has responded to this challenge in its Climate Action Plan, and subsequently with funding allocated through Budget 2020 and the appointment of Just Transition Commissioner for the Midlands.

The Climate Action Plan identifies the need to plan appropriately to ensure that those most affected by our transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient society are supported and equipped to contribute to this transition.

The Plan sets out a number of actions to support this objective, including:

- a programme of analysis to assess the economic and employment implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy

- the establishment of a Just Transition Review Group under NESC working group structures to advise the Climate Action Delivery Board

- supporting the work of the Midlands Regional Transition Team, the Midlands Regional Enterprise Strategy and the Midlands Regional Skills Forum

- identifying sources of funding that could be used to support the transition to a low-carbon economy and society, including inclusion of peat in the EU Coal Platform on transition.

Building on the actions in the Climate Action Plan, Budget 2020 allocated funding to support a Just Transition in the Midlands region, comprising:

- €20 million for a new energy efficiency retrofitting scheme with the social housing stock in the region at its core, but enabling private homeowners to opt-in

- €5 million for peatland rehabilitation

- €6 million for a dedicated new Just Transition Fund, with ESB agreeing to contribute an additional €5 million to this fund bringing its total value to €11m.

My Department is in discussions with the European Commission with a view to making a state aid application for PSO support for an enhanced peat land restoration and rehabilitation scheme in the midlands. This is currently being processed through the State Aid pre-notification procedure.

The Government has appointed Mr Kieran Mulvey as the Just Transition Commissioner to facilitate discussions and work with stakeholders to develop, mobilise, and deliver opportunities for the Midlands. The Commissioner will collaborate with, and build on the work undertaken by, the existing local taskforces to ensure that locally generated ideas and projects are brought forward for consideration for funding from the Just Transition Fund. I published the terms of reference for the work of the Just Transition Commissioner on 19 November 2019.

Question No. 15 answered orally.

Bord na Móna

Ceisteanna (16)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

16. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the actions he is taking to secure employment for Bord na Móna employees who are the first staff to lose their jobs as a result of the decision by the ESB to cease the operation of west Offaly and Lough Ree power plants. [49068/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The managed transition out of peat envisaged by Bord na Móna has been significantly impacted by the An Bord Pleanála decision to refuse planning permission for ESB's West Offaly Power station beyond the end of 2020 and the subsequent ESB decision to withdraw a planning permission application for the Lough Ree Power station.

Government has already taken significant steps to ensure that a just transition for the Midlands is adequately supported. This includes:

- €6 million for a Just Transition Fund, targeted at the Midlands, to support the retraining and reskilling of workers and to assist local communities and businesses in the Region to adjust to the low carbon transition.

- Following the announcement that ESB intends to cease operations at the two plants at the end of 2020, ESB has committed to contributing an additional €5 million to the just transition fund, bring the fund to €11m.

- €5 million for a National Parks and Wildlife Service bog restoration and rehabilitation programme to restore 1,800 hectares of bog to their natural habitat, ensuring the return of these bogs to carbons sinks once again and creating 70 to 100 jobs; and

- €20 million targeted at the Midlands, to deliver a new model to group housing upgrades, as set out in the Climate Action Plan, which will support an estimated 400 direct and indirect jobs, as well as significantly upgrading the social housing stock in the region.

Mr Kieran Mulvey has been appointed as the Just Transition Commissioner to co-ordinate Government’s response to an accelerated exit from peat for electricity generation.

Following proactive engagement by my Department and Bord na Móna, including a request from myself to Commissioner Cañete earlier this year, the Midlands Region was accepted into the Coal Regions in Transition Platform in July. Membership enables the Midlands Region to avail of the support of a dedicated Country Team to assist with the development of strategies and projects for the region, focusing in particular on the employment challenges faced by workers.

My Department is also in discussions with the European Commission with regards to the use of a Public Service Obligation to fund an extensive bog rehabilitation programme. This would provide Bord na Móna with the funds necessary to rehabilitate their industrial bogs above and beyond the legal requirements under their EPA licences.

An interdepartmental group led by Department of An Taoiseach has been established to develop a just transition plan for the Midlands. Clearly this work cuts across a number of Government Departments, including my own Department, Public Expenditure and Reform, Business, Employment and Innovation, Rural and Community Development, and Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Broadband Service Provision

Ceisteanna (17)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

17. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when the 300 broadband connection points are expected to be live; the way in which the points were chosen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49413/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The Government recognises the need to roll out high speed broadband as quickly as possible and is conscious that the full rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) State intervention area will take a number of years.

Broadband Connection Points are key NBP locations in communities across Ireland. Broadband Connection Points are locations of community importance such as community centres, parish halls and schools.

Approximately 300 Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) will receive an early connection in the roll out of the NBP.

The BCPs have been specifically selected by the local authorities so that they can provide public Wi-Fi and other facilities to support mini digital/enterprise hubs to the local community in advance of the main NBP deployment.

Broadband Officers in each Local Authority were tasked with consulting with local communities and business to find the appropriate mix of locations to reap the maximum benefits.

All BCPs will have a free public Wi-Fi connection, others will have hot-desks, and some will be digital hub business centres where digital training, business information events, and other SME supports are organised.

It is anticipated that there will be between 7 and 23 BCP locations identified in each county and they will include 138 community centres, 14 tourism locations, 51 schools and three business parks.

Work will commence on the deployment of the Broadband Connection Points immediately. It is expected that 298 Broadband Connection Points will be established and providing a high speed broadband service by the end of 2020.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

Ceisteanna (18)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

18. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the areas which will be targeted first under the national broadband plan; when County Kildare can expect to see premises passed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49412/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The National Broadband Plan is the Government’s plan to rollout high speed broadband to the 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises including almost 100,000 businesses and farms, along with 695 schools, where commercial operators will not commit to deliver the service.

Following the contract signing on 19 November, work has already begun and a deployment plan will be made available by NBI shortly. All counties will see premises passed in the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State will have access to high speed broadband within the next four years.

Approximately 300 Broadband Connections Points (BCPs), including schools, library hubs and local sports halls in every county in Ireland, will be connected to high speed broadband during 2020, to enable communities to quickly get free public access to high speed broadband. Nine BCPs are planned for deployment in County Kildare. The BCP locations are available to view on the High Speed Broadband Map on the Department’s website www.dccae.gov.ie.

By the end of 2021, NBI plans to pass approximately 115,000 premises, with 70,000 - 100,000 passed each year thereafter until rollout is completed. NBI has indicated that the network rollout will take an estimated 7 years from the beginning of deployment.

The planned rollout will provide access to high speed broadband to 13,329 premises located in the Intervention Area in County Kildare through the investment of approximately €53m over 25 years.

Broadband Service Provision

Ceisteanna (19)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

19. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the type of services that will be available at broadband connection points; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49343/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The Government recognises the need to roll out high speed broadband as quickly as possible and is conscious that the full rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) State intervention area will take a number of years.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are locations of community importance across Ireland such as community centres, parish halls and schools. The BCPs have been specifically selected by the local authorities so that they can provide public Wi-Fi and other facilities to support mini digital/enterprise hubs to the local community in advance of the main NBP deployment. Approximately 300 Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) will receive an early connection in the roll out of the NBP.

Broadband Officers in each Local Authority were tasked with consulting with local communities and business to find the appropriate mix of locations to reap the maximum benefits.

All BCPs will have a free public Wi-Fi connection, others will have hot-desks, and some will be digital hub business centres where digital training, business information events, and other SME supports are organised.

It is anticipated that there will be between 7 and 23 BCP locations identified in each county and they will include 138 community centres, 14 tourism locations, 51 schools and three business parks.

Work will commence on the deployment of the Broadband Connection Points immediately. It is expected that 298 Broadband Connection Points will be established and providing a high speed broadband service by the end of 2020.

Climate Action Plan

Ceisteanna (20)

David Cullinane

Ceist:

20. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the breakdown of the estimated €50 billion cost of retrofitting all homes as announced by An Taoiseach on 21 November 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49221/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The Government’s Climate Action Plan commits to upgrading 500,000 homes to B2 or cost optimal energy efficiency standard by 2030.

To deliver this target, a new retrofitting delivery model is being developed. Learning from experience both in Ireland as well as other jurisdictions, it will:

- Group homes in the same area together to drive down cost;

- Start with social homes owned by the local authorities, but will include privately owned homes in the wider community;

- Introduce easy pay back models; and

- Develop smart finance.

The cost of bringing a home to a B2 or cost optimal standard is determined by a number of factors including the size and type of home as well as the starting condition of the home. A cost-optimal analysis commissioned by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government estimated the cost to achieve a B2 rating from a starting point of a D or E rating to be in the range of €21,000-€39,000. 90% of our dwellings are estimated to have Building Energy Ratings below a B2. Through the development of a new retrofitting model, we want to bring this cost down.

There are approximately 1.7 million occupied houses and apartments in the country. €50 billion is based on a high level estimate of the cost of bringing those premises up to a B2 standard. A key task of the recently established Retrofit Taskforce will be to develop the new model and determine the overall cost associated with the retrofit programme to 203 and the most cost effective ways of achieving the level of retrofit upgrades required.

Better Energy Homes Scheme

Ceisteanna (21)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

21. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the review into the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland better energy warmer homes scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49440/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme is funded by my Department and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty.

The 2019 budget allocation for the Warmer Homes Scheme is €39.8 million. The budget for 2020 will be €52.8 million - a record level of funding for the scheme. €13 million of this funding will come from the increase in the carbon price.

In 2018, the measures available under the scheme were expanded. Previously, those homes which were not suitable for cavity wall insulation could not get their walls insulated under the scheme. Since the expansion of measures, the scheme can now, in certain circumstances, provide internal or external wall insulation. This is permitting the upgrade of a wider range of property types, such as homes with solid walls, and also increases the energy savings and emissions reductions that the scheme can achieve. In addition, it will enable future fuel switching.

Demand for the scheme is extremely high, reflecting the shift to deeper measures, and is impacted by longer delivery times associated with these types of works and the available budget.

Action 173 of the Climate Action Plan commits to reviewing ways to improve how current energy poverty schemes target those most in need. This review is underway and is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

National Broadband Plan Implementation

Ceisteanna (22, 27)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

22. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the commitment to provide high speed broadband to every house and business in County Donegal; the timeline for when the roll-out will commence in the county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49346/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

27. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the national broadband plan; when all homes and businesses in County Donegal will have access to high speed broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49345/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 27 together.

The National Broadband Plan is the Government’s plan to rollout high speed broadband to the 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises including almost 100,000 businesses and farms, along with 695 schools, where commercial operators will not commit to deliver the service.

Following the contract signing on 19 November, work has already begun and a deployment plan will be made available by NBI shortly. All counties will see premises passed in the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State will have access to high speed broadband within the next four years.

Approximately 300 Broadband Connections Points (BCPs), including schools, library hubs and local sports halls in every county in Ireland, including Co. Donegal, will be connected to high speed broadband during 2020, to enable communities to quickly get free public access to high speed broadband. 12 BCPs are planned for deployment in Donegal. The BCP locations are available to view on the High Speed Broadband Map on the Department’s website www.dccae.gov.ie.

By the end of 2021, NBI plans to pass approximately 115,000 premises, with 70,000 - 100,000 passed each year thereafter until rollout is completed. NBI has indicated that the network rollout will take an estimated 7 years from the beginning of deployment.

The planned rollout will provide access to high speed broadband to 32,130 premises located in the Intervention Area in Donegal through investment of approximately €128m over 25 years.

Broadband Service Provision

Ceisteanna (23, 31, 33)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

23. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the impact the roll-out of high speed broadband will have with respect to smart farming methods. [49338/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

31. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the potential benefits of high speed broadband with respect to healthcare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49344/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Deering

Ceist:

33. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the anticipated expansion of the digital economy; the role broadband will play in allowing Ireland, particularly in rural areas, to take full advantage of the opportunities of the digital economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49342/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 23, 31 and 33 together.

The availability of high speed broadband services in rural communities will have a transformative effect on these parts of the country. High speed broadband will allow citizens and businesses in rural communities to enjoy broadband speeds comparable to and in many cases better than speeds available to those living in towns and cities. This will enable rural communities to avail of the opportunities presented by the digital economy including healthcare, education, farming, rural development and tourism.

High speed broadband services will allow farmers and farming communities to avail of new and emerging technologies that rely on a fast and reliable broadband service. Farmers can benefit through smart farming which allows increased production quality, remote monitoring of livestock, lower operational costs, reduced impact on the environment, better security technology and easier interaction with State bodies online.

The benefits of high speed broadband to people’s healthcare include enabling remote monitoring of older and vulnerable people in their homes, improving home-based care as an alternative to hospitalisation and the increased use of video medical appointments.

In addition, the provision of high speed broadband in rural Ireland is of critical importance in areas such as flexible and remote working. Remote or home-working is becoming an increasingly prevalent employment model, including amongst overseas firms that continue to invest in Ireland. This area of the economy is projected to double over the next 5 years. It will also afford national and international employers better access to a wider catchment of skilled workers, even where offices and businesses are located within more rural areas.

An initial enabler to rural communities will be the early roll out of community based Broadband Connection Points. It is expected that 298 Broadband Connection Points will be established and providing a high speed broadband service by the end of 2020.

Electricity Grid

Ceisteanna (24)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

24. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if the proposal to change the electricity market rules in order to enable micro-generated electricity to be sold to the grid will proceed in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49439/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

Action 30 of the Climate Action Plan commits to the delivery of a framework for micro-generation with a view to commencement of an enduring support scheme by 2021, at the latest, to ensure that people can sell excess electricity they produce back to the grid. There are ten sub-actions listed under this heading for delivery, mainly by the Department and the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), in order to ensure that a policy and support scheme is in place.

A micro-generation working group, chaired by my Department has been established and is progressing the key steps to deliver this action. This process involves a review of requirements for resolving market settlement issues for renewable self-consumers exporting to the grid which commenced in Q3 2019.

An assessment of the possible support mechanisms for micro-generation/renewable self-consumption is scheduled for Q1 2020, with an associated public consultation in Q3 2020 and the launch of a finalised policy and pricing support regime for micro-generation due in Q2 2021.

Broadcasting Sector

Ceisteanna (25)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

25. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on whether potential cost savings at RTÉ will have a negative effect on independent screen producers here in view of the fact that spending by the national broadcaster on independent productions has fallen dramatically; and the way in which he can address same in the context of changes to the television licence system to ensure the viability of independent screen production and jobs in that sector. [49175/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

In recent years, the broadcasting sector has faced severe financial, market and structural challenges, including the impact on advertising revenue arising from Brexit and the migration of advertising to online services. This has impacted on the capacity of all broadcasters, including RTE, to produce high quality Irish content and to commission such content from independent producers.

In July 2019, the Government accepted the recommendations of the Working Group on the Future Funding of Public Service Broadcasting that TV Licence Collection should be put out to public tender for a five year period to reduce the evasion rate. This process will be initiated as soon as the enabling legislation, the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill, which passed Second Stage in October 2019, has been enacted. At the end of the contract period, the licence fee will be replaced by a device independent broadcasting charge to take account of changes in how Irish people consume content. These reforms will generate additional funding for public service broadcasting.

In addition to the reform of the public funding model, and in line with the commitment in my Department's Statement of Strategy, there will also be a review of two provisions of the Broadcasting Act, 2009.

First, there will be a review of the proportion of TV licence funding allocated to the Sound and Vision Scheme under the Broadcasting Fund with a view to assessing whether it should be increased. At present, the Broadcasting Fund amounts to 7% of net TV licence receipts, currently €14.5 million. This scheme, which is administered by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, supports the production of high quality TV and radio programmes on Irish culture, heritage and experience and is accessible by independent producers and commercial broadcasters.

There will also be a review of the minimum amount of funding that RTE is obliged to make available under Section 116 of the Act, for external commissioning of radio and television programming. Notwithstanding its financial difficulties, RTE continues to meet the statutory minimum amount of such funding which in 2018 amounted to €39.7m. The review will examine if this statutory minimum level can be further increased which would provide an important additional stimulus for the independent sector.

International Summits

Question No. 27 answered with Question No. 22.

Ceisteanna (26)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

26. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his priorities for the upcoming COP25 discussions in Madrid. [49414/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will hold its 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid, Spain, from 2 to 13 December 2019. Ireland engages in negotiations under this Convention through its membership of the European Union (EU).

At COP 24 in Katowice, Poland, the main elements of the Paris Agreement rulebook were achieved. A key priority and remaining open aspect of the rulebook to be finalised at COP25 in order to operationalise the Paris Agreement is the Markets Chapter (Article 6). Ireland and its EU partners look forward to positive engagement by all Parties to the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC to ensure a successful conclusion to these negotiations at COP25.

Ireland, together with its EU partners, will also be emphasising the importance of working to enhance global climate ambition in response the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and the outcomes of the UN Climate Action Summit, including on the updating of Nationally Determined Contributions and the submission of Parties’ long-term greenhouse gas emissions strategies by 2020.

Ireland also looks forward to promoting continuous engagement by non-state actors in delivering the Paris Agreement objectives, with a particular focus on youth engagement.

Question No. 27 answered with Question No. 22.

Waste Management

Ceisteanna (28)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

28. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to increase awareness of recycling, general waste and compost for home owners disposing of their waste; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49326/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

Increasing public awareness to improve recyclate and organic waste quality through better recycling practices and reduced contamination of waste continues to be a priority for my Department. In this regard my Department is committed to the continued promotion of www.mywaste.ie. This web portal which was launched in November 2018 has been developed by the Regional Waste Management Offices with support from the Department, to provide consumers with a single information resource on all aspects of domestic waste management in Ireland and in particular it focuses on the provision of advice on managing waste more responsibly and efficiently. The website contains an interactive map showing details of waste facilities across the country, such as civic amenity sites and bring banks.

The Regional Waste Management Offices, in conjunction with the National Waste Collection Permit Office, are launching Phase 3 of the My Waste platform today. Phase 3 adds 'the who' to the website, adding a search function so that citizens can get information about who collects waste in their area and contact details for each of the collectors.

To ensure a consistent national message on improving waste management, the Department established a Waste Communications Strategy Group in 2018 consisting of the Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, Repak, the Price Monitoring Group on Household Waste Collection and the Regional Waste Management Planning Offices. This Group continues to meet to help ensure the various bodies involved in waste awareness campaigns co-ordinate to the fullest extent possible.

A full public consultation on the development of Ireland's Waste Action Plan will be launched before the end of this year which will seek views on all matters waste related, including seeking views on the need for and delivery of future awareness and education campaigns.

Consultancy Contracts Expenditure

Ceisteanna (29)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

29. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the estimated costs of the external consultant reviews of major infrastructural projects such as the national broadband plan in 2019 and 2020. [45801/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

I understand that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is developing proposals to provide for the independent review of large public capital infrastructure projects before they proceed to tender, as part of the proposed updating of the Public Spending Code.

The contract for the National Broadband Plan which was signed on Ireland on 19th November is the Government’s plan to rollout high speed broadband to the 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises including almost 100,000 businesses and farms, along with 695 schools, where commercial operators will not commit to deliver this service. The focus is now on delivery and ensuring strong and effective governance of the contract.

Cybersecurity Protocols

Question No. 31 answered with Question No. 23.

Ceisteanna (30)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

30. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on whether telecommunications infrastructure here has adequate protections in place to limit the damage of cyber attacks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49384/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The security of the Irish State and its citizens is a matter of the highest priority for the Government. Telecommunications security is an increasingly critical component of national security, and there are a range of measures already in place around the resilience of services, and responding to incidents.

All telecommunications operators already have statutory obligations to take measures to manage risks to the security of their networks and services. ComReg, the Commission for Communications Regulation, which is statutorily independent in the exercise of its functions, is responsible for ensuring compliance with the provisions of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Framework) Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 333 of 2011), and in particular Regulations 23 and 24 relating respectively to Security and Integrity. Moreover, the integrity and security of the telecommunications sector is under on-going review by the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment as a matter of policy.

More specifically, developments relating to concerns regarding the technology used in 5G networks are being monitored on an on-going basis. The focus of the State is on the security of telecommunications infrastructure, and a series of measures will be brought forward in the coming months to develop a flexible and robust system to ensure the security of telecommunications infrastructure into the future.

Question No. 31 answered with Question No. 23.

National Broadband Plan

Question No. 33 answered with Question No. 23.

Ceisteanna (32)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

32. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the extent to which the national broadband plan addresses the requirements nationwide; the extent to which other options have been examined; the main benefits of the plan now in process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49408/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The National Broadband Plan will bridge the digital divide that is emerging between urban and rural areas. High speed connectivity has multiple potential positive impacts on the lives and livelihoods of citizens throughout the country. The National Broadband Plan will ensure that those benefits can be enjoyed by the 1.1 million people living and working in the Intervention Area, in nearly 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms and 695 schools where commercial operators will not commit to deliver this service.

It will encourage and facilitate new models of service in Health, Education and in Enterprise and help communities to benefit from new economic activities. More people will be able to work remotely, receive services in their own homes, and have access to technologies that will make for smarter living, learning, farming and business.

The Government decision to appoint NBI as preferred bidder in May of this year was informed by detailed analysis of alternative options to deliver the NBP. That analysis, which was published on my Department’s website in May, considered additional short term and longer term options, for example, the establishment of a State Agency for broadband delivery, designation of a new mandate to an existing State body such as the ESB, or the use of 4G and 5G technologies.

The analysis shows that all of the alternative options identified would take longer to reach 100% of the Intervention Area premises compared to the current plan, may be more costly, in most cases would require a consultation on a new strategy as well as a new procurement process and State Aid application, and may not provide the level of future proofing required under the Commission’s strategy, “Connectivity for a European Gigabit Society”.

The deployment of the network will quickly bring tangible benefits to those living in rural areas. Next year communities will be able to avail of high speed broadband services at approximately 300 Broadband Connection Points in rural locations around the country.

The Bidder is aiming to pass 115,000 premises by the end of 2021, with 70-100,000 passed each year thereafter until roll out is completed.

No matter where a person lives in Ireland, the National Broadband Plan will ensure equality of opportunity to fully participate in the digital society.

Question No. 33 answered with Question No. 23.

Air Quality

Ceisteanna (34)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

34. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the steps being taken to ensure safe air quality levels and to introduce a nationwide ban on smoky coal in response to stated legal advice from the Attorney General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49381/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

Transitioning away from fossil fuels to more renewable, sustainable energy sources is at the heart of the Climate Action Plan.

Currently 40% of homes use coal and peat for heating (many in combination with other fossil fuel heating systems). By 2030, we will upgrade a third of all homes to at least a B2 energy standard, installing approximately 400,000 heat pumps. Currently over 99% of our vehicle fleet is powered by fossil fuels. By 2030, nearly a million electric vehicles (35%-40%) will be on our roads. These measures will significantly improve air quality by reducing emissions of harmful pollutants.

Extending the ban on the use of smoky coal would also have a positive impact on air quality, particularly in built up areas.

The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal, or ‘the smoky coal ban’ as it is commonly known, was first introduced in Dublin in 1990, and subsequently extended to our major cities.

Following a public consultation process, it was further extended in 2012, and now applies in 26 urban areas nationwide. The ban has proved very effective in reducing particulate matter and sulphur dioxide levels in the air and has had the effect of significantly improving public health. Research indicates, for example, that the ban has resulted in over 350 fewer annual deaths in Dublin alone.

Regarding the proposed national extension of the smoky coal ban, a number of coal firms have indicated that they would challenge the proposal of two former Ministers to expand the smoky coal ban.

This is particularly disappointing, given the impact poor air quality can have on human health and the environment and the emphasis the Government is putting on transitioning to a low carbon society.

The basis of their challenge is that a nationwide smoky coal ban cannot be introduced without a nationwide ban on the burning of peat, turf and wet wood because these products produce similar levels of pollution. The legal threat is not only to take down any new nationwide ban, but to remove the existing ban which is currently in place in cities and many towns around the country.

In that context, it is particularly important to ensure that the measures put forward are not vulnerable to legal challenge, and I am continuing to work to finalise a legally robust way forward which will improve air quality by reducing air pollution, without jeopardising the existing ban.

I also intend to publish a Clean Air Strategy, which will set out a number of policies to improve air quality nationwide in the coming months.

My Department is also funding the Environmental Protection Agency’s roll-out of the Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Programme (AAMP), which will greatly improve the data available on air pollution in Ireland, facilitating the design and targeting of appropriate policy measures to tackle it.

North-South Interconnector

Ceisteanna (35)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

35. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the position regarding the North-South interconnector project. [49417/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Communications)

The North South Interconnector has been designated a Project of Common Interest (PCI). PCIs are cross border energy projects deemed by the European Commission to be of the highest priority within the EU. The fourth PCI list was published in October 2019 pending ratification in early 2020.

The North South Interconnector is critical to improving the efficient operation of the Single Electricity Market and increasing security of electricity supply across the island of Ireland. A resilient and well connected energy infrastructure is vital for Ireland’s economic wellbeing and the ability to respond to the future needs of energy consumers.

In December 2016, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the project in Ireland, while in January 2018 full planning permission was granted for the section of the line that lies in Northern Ireland. Both of the planning decisions have been subject to legal proceedings in each jurisdiction. In Ireland, a Supreme Court appeal of the planning permission was dismissed on 19 February 2019.

In Northern Ireland, on 8 February 2019, the Department for Infrastructure asked the High Court to quash the planning permission given so the planning application can be re-determined under new legislation introduced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in November 2018. On 24 July, SONI/EirGrid submitted an addendum to the Environmental Statement to the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. That Department subsequently carried out a consultation process in Northern Ireland to provide members of the public with the opportunity to review and comment on the addendum and is now reviewing the submissions received. The Department for Infrastructure will determine in the coming months as to whether there is a need to re-open the public inquiry or if a final planning decision can be taken by the Permanent Secretary under the NI Planning and Functions Exercise Act.

In June 2019, ESB Networks awarded a framework contract for the design, test and supply of steelwork in relation to the project. I am advised that the detailed design is currently in progress. However under the framework there will be no supply of materials until the planning process in Northern Ireland is complete. The earliest possible date for construction to commence is 2020.