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Tuesday, 1 Jun 2021

Written Answers Nos. 118-131

Question No. 118 answered with Question No. 106.

Departmental Data

Ceisteanna (119)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

119. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the extent to which his Department continues to meet targets in respect of the environment, climate and communications with particular reference to the ongoing progress in each sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29383/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

My Department published its Statement of Strategy this year which sets out our five strategic goals in line with the Programme for Government and our long-term vision of a climate neutral, sustainable and digitally connected Ireland. The five strategic goals are complemented by a broader list of deliverables for the Department to achieve in 2021. All of the deliverables identified for the first half of the year are being progressed. However, COVID-19 has had and will continue to have an impact on delivery in 2021 and engagement is ongoing across the Department and with our strategic partners to recover and to accelerate activity where possible.

The publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 underpins our goal to be a leader in climate action. Its enactment will set Ireland on the pathway to a net-zero emissions future no later than 2050, and to a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030.

We continue to make progress to meet the Government’s commitment to deliver 70% of Ireland’s electricity by 2030 from renewable sources – public consultations on programmes such as the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme, the Microgeneration Support Scheme and the Energy Efficiency Obligation Scheme have recently closed and the responses are now being analysed.

The protection and restoration of our environment through sustainable resource use is delivered through policy initiatives such as the draft National Strategy for Ireland to transition to a Circular Economy which was published in April and the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy published last year.

My Department is delivering world-class connectivity and communications through the National Broadband Plan – design work is complete or ongoing in target townlands across every county with 220,000 premises surveyed and 317 Broadband Connection Point installed as of 27 May.

Cybersecurity Policy

Ceisteanna (120)

Paul McAuliffe

Ceist:

120. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to improve cyber security in Departments given the recent cyber-attack; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29459/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The National Cyber Security Centre has a broad remit in relation to the cyber security of Government ICT and critical national infrastructure. It acts as a central contact point in the event of a government or nation-wide cyber security incident affecting the State. The NCSC also coordinates and supports the response to significant incidents, with the lead role being taken by the entity affected by the incident. The NCSC team is made up of highly skilled, specialist technical civilian staff, with skillsets in areas such as computer science, software engineering, malware analysis, information technology forensics, cryptography, software development, and cyber security compliance, as well as general cyber security skills. The Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) is the team within the NCSC that leads in responding to cyber security incidents. The CSIRT has achieved international accreditation. It is this team that engages with the affected body to support it in addressing a threat.

Information sharing is a key component of the work of the NCSC whereby it acts a source of expert advice and guidance, but also as a ‘clearing house’ for information. That is to say it takes in threat intelligence data, trends and risks data, from national, global and local sources, analyses them, and makes sure that those people who need that data get it, either to protect their own systems, or to assist them in carrying out their statutory roles. The NCSC is in regular and frequent communication with international counterparts and the exchange of information is a two-way street.

The NCSC also supports public bodies, operators of essential services and digital service providers to improve their cyber security posture and fulfil their obligations under the European Network and Information Security Directive. The NCSC takes a very proactive role to supporting these important bodies in continually building their cyber security resilience through a range of initiatives, including by hosting seminars and workshops. In the days following the ransomware attack on the HSE, the NCSC has been providing specific guidance to its constituents, including Government Departments and agencies, together with operators of essential services, on appropriate measures they can take to reduce the risk of further ransomware incidents on their networks. This important element of the work of the NCSC which will continue into the future, will help inform the measures taken by individual organisations, including Government Departments, in securing their network and information systems.

Recognising that the environment in which the NCSC operates is extremely dynamic, a detailed capacity review of the NCSC is being undertaken to inform Government as to how the NCSC needs to evolve going forward. This capacity review is being carried out by an expert international consultancy and is due to report in the coming weeks in line with the timeline for completion of this work of Q2 2021 set out in the 2019 National Cyber Security Strategy.

Departmental Schemes

Ceisteanna (121)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

121. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the number of homes that have undergone a deep retrofit in each of the past five years and to date in 2021; and if a target has been set on the number of homes to undergo a deep retrofit before the end of 2021 and over the course of the next three years. [29378/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Programme for Government and the Climate Action Plan set ambitious targets to retrofit 500,000 homes to a Building Energy Rating of B2/cost optimal and to install 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings over the next 10 years.  Some €221.5 million in capital funding has been provided this year for SEAI residential and community retrofit programmes. This represents an 82% increase on the 2020 allocation and is the largest amount ever for the schemes. This allocation has facilitated the expansion and improvement of existing SEAI grant schemes and the introduction of new initiatives. A further €65 million has been allocated to retrofit social housing administered by the Department of Housing.

Prior to the introduction of enhanced COVID restrictions in January 2021, it was estimated that, in total, SEAI residential and community schemes would deliver over 29,000 retrofits including approximately 8,000 to a B2 level. Every effort will be made to maximise activity now that construction activity in the residential sector has recommenced. 

The table below shows the number of SEAI supported retrofits to a BER of B2 or better between 2017 and 2020.

 

2017**

2018**

2019

2020

SEAI supported retrofits to BER B2 or better*

3

214

2,189

3,210

*    It is important to note that local authority retrofits are in addition to these.

**   Figures for 2017 and 2018 relate only to the Deep Retrofit Programme. Data in relation to B2 retrofits under other schemes for those years is not available.

National Broadband Plan

Ceisteanna (122)

Darren O'Rourke

Ceist:

122. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if his attention has been drawn to the fact that businesses in rural Ireland that have access to slow basic broadband services are not being included in the National Broadband Plan despite their need for access to high speed broadband; the way he plans to address the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29407/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The National Broadband Plan will ensure that businesses and individual citizens throughout the entire country will have access to high speed broadband services through a combination of commercial investment and the State led intervention under the NBP. The High Speed Broadband Map, which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie, shows the areas which will be included in the National Broadband Plan State led intervention as well as areas targeted by commercial operators. The map is colour coded and searchable by address and Eircode. The AMBER areas on the High Speed Broadband Map will be served by the new high speed network being delivered by NBI. In order to comply with the State Aid decision which enabled the contract to be awarded, NBI can only serve those premises which have been identified as AMBER on the High Speed Broadband Map, as no commercial operator has demonstrated that they will provide a high speed broadband service to these premises. My Department defines high speed broadband as a connection with minimum speeds of 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload.

The activities of commercial operators delivering high speed broadband within BLUE areas are not planned or funded by the State and my Department has no statutory authority to intervene in that regard as they operate in a fully liberalised market regulated by ComReg as independent regulator.

Complaints about service provision are a matter between the consumer and the service provider in the first instance. If this avenue has been exhausted without a satisfactory resolution, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) may be able to assist further. ComReg is the independent body that issues licences to broadband service providers and investigates complaints to make sure that companies are delivering services in line with their licence obligations.

In the event that, having exhausted the above options, a premises located in the BLUE area still cannot get high speed broadband from service providers in the area, they should contact my Department at broadband@decc.gov.ie with full details and the matter will be investigated by my officials.

Departmental Schemes

Ceisteanna (123)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

123. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the actions he will take to accelerate the SEAI better energy warmer homes scheme to ensure delivery of improvements to households in receipt of fuel allowance and to reduce the current waiting time of two years for inspections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29208/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes Scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures free of charge to low income households vulnerable to energy poverty. To date, over 142,000 homes have received free upgrades under the scheme and in 2020 the average value of the energy efficiency measures provided per household was over €14,800. I have secured additional resources this year to expand the capacity of the SEAI to deliver the scheme. Funding for the energy poverty retrofit schemes has also increased to over €109 million in 2021. This is an increase of €47 million on the 2020 allocation. In addition, delivery capacity has increased due to a new, broader contractor panel that commenced at the end of 2020.

There are currently over 7,800 homes on the scheme work programme. This includes homes that: are currently undergoing works; have been allocated to contractors for works; completed an initial home survey and are awaiting allocation to a contractor or are awaiting initial survey. The scheme operates nationally on a first come first served basis. SEAI data indicates that for homes completed in 2020, the average time from application to completion was approximately 18 months. The average wait times are expected to increase significantly in 2021 due to the extensive COVID-19 related restrictions on construction activity between March and June of last year as well as between January and 12 April of this year when the scheme was fully paused in line with Government guidelines.  Works under the scheme have now recommenced in line with activity in the residential construction sector.

The SEAI has advised me that the average wait times should only ever be used as a general guide and that wait times vary, based on the demand for the scheme at the time of application as well as other factors including the scale of works to be completed, access to the property, availability of materials and the weather.

A further €112.5 million will be spent on expanding other existing SEAI residential and community grant schemes and introducing new initiatives. This will support an increased level of retrofit activity in 2021. 

National Broadband Plan

Ceisteanna (124)

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

124. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if the National Broadband Plan has missed any of the deadlines set out in the contract agreed with National Broadband Ireland. [29372/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

Despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, National Broadband Ireland (NBI) has made steady progress on delivery of the new high speed fibre broadband network under the National Broadband Plan. I am advised by NBI that, as of 27 May 2021, over 220,000 premises across 26 counties have been surveyed. The first fibre to the home connections are successfully connected in Carrigaline, Co Cork and Cavan with almost 4,000 premises passed and available for connection. Build works are continuing across the country in 12 Deployment Areas covering townlands in Carrigaline, Ballinasloe, Cavan, Clare, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick Monaghan, Roscommon, Tipperary, Tralee, Wexford and Carlow and "make ready" work is underway in a further 15 Deployment Areas.   While substantial progress has been made to date, the Covid 19 pandemic has had an impact on the delivery of the fibre network resulting in delays on delivery of aspects of the programme. Impacts include challenges with mobilisation of key contractors with restrictions on operations, supply chain and logistic delays (both nationally and internationally), as well as the recruitment of key personnel as NBI and its contractors scale, up including challenges associated with on-boarding and training people. Inevitably, like many other organisations, NBI and contractor staff are at risk of contracting Covid 19 or may have to restrict their movements as a result of being a close contact posing further challenges. My Department has worked closely with NBI to put in place a remedial plan under the Contract which re-baselines milestone for 2021 to address delays experienced by the NBP rollout, primarily arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Department is working closely with NBI to oversee the implementation of the remedial plan and work is continuing to re-baseline the remaining milestones for the remainder of the programme. In parallel, considerations are ongoing in relation to the potential for acceleration of the rollout.

Environmental Policy

Ceisteanna (125)

Steven Matthews

Ceist:

125. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the efforts he plans to make to promote the international phasing out of fracked gas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29432/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Programme for Government set out that the Government does not support the importation of fracked gas and committed to developing a policy statement to establish that approach. On 18 May 2021, the Government approved Policy Statement on the Importation of Fracked Gas was published. The policy statement provides that: - pending the outcome of a review of the security of energy supply of Ireland’s electricity and natural gas systems being carried out by my Department, it would not be appropriate for the development of any LNG terminals in Ireland to be permitted or proceeded with;

- the Government will work with like-minded European States to promote and support changes to European energy laws – in particular the upcoming revision of the European Union’s Gas Directive and Gas Regulation – in order to allow the importation of fracked gas to be restricted; and

- the Government will work with international partners to promote the phasing out of fracking at an international level within the wider context of the phasing out of fossil fuel extraction.

My Department will work with relevant Departments to implement this policy.

National Broadband Plan

Ceisteanna (126, 128, 187, 199)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

126. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications his plans to accelerate the broadband roll-out as committed to in the Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29381/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Carey

Ceist:

128. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the sections and sectors of the National Broadband Plan roll-out that have been and will be accelerated under the review undertaken earlier in 2021 due to the greater demand in response to the changes in work patterns over the past year; the details of the effects of this acceleration in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29376/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

187. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the extent to which the broadband roll-out throughout the country has been expedited with a view to ensure the availability of sufficient connectivity to enable the maximum number of citizens to work from home or from hubs where available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29807/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

199. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the efforts that have been undertaken by his Department to accelerate the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan; if he will outline the engagement that has taken place with National Broadband Ireland on accelerating the roll-out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29858/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 126, 128, 187 and 199 together.

The National Broadband Plan (NBP) State led Intervention will be delivered by National Broadband Ireland (NBI) under a contract to roll out a high speed and future proofed broadband network within the Intervention Area which covers 1.1 million people living and working in the over 544,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms along with 695 schools. In line with the NBP Contract, the deployment plan is a 7 year build programme which is due to be completed by the end of 2026.

The Programme for Government commits to seek to accelerate the roll out of the National Broadband Plan. My Department is currently engaging with NBI to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of the NBP rollout with the aim of bringing forward premises which are currently scheduled in years 6 and 7 of the network build plan. Minister Ryan has recently written to National Broadband Ireland seeking to put the acceleration of the programme on a contractual footing. Any change to the contract will require detailed technical, commercial and financial analysis by both parties.

NBI has established a dedicated team to investigate the potential for acceleration of the fibre network rollout from its current contracted schedule of seven years. Substantial work has been completed by this team to date including productive engagement with current build partners. It is premature at this point to speculate as to how many premises may benefit from this potential change, but I can say that it will be those premises currently scheduled for the latter end of the rollout that are the focus of the analysis.

While significant progress has been made by NBI over the last year, in challenging circumstances, the pandemic has caused delays to elements of the programme. A remedial plan to mitigate these delays has been agreed and it is in this context that the potential to accelerate the network rollout is being explored. I expect to receive a detailed assessment from my officials by the Autumn and will then bring an update to Government on this matter.

Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) are a key element of the NBP providing high speed broadband in every county in advance of the roll out of the fibre to the home network. As of 6 May, 310 BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high speed broadband service will be switched on through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly accessible locations and the Department of Education for schools.

My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high speed broadband, within the Intervention Area, for connection over the term of the NBP. In this regard, an acceleration of this aspect of the National Broadband Plan will see some 679 primary schools connected to high speed broadband by 2022, well ahead of the original target delivery timeframe of 2026. Further details are available on the NBI website at https://nbi.ie/primary-schools-list/

Broadcasting Sector

Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 126.

Ceisteanna (127)

Chris Andrews

Ceist:

127. Deputy Chris Andrews asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if Broadcasting Authority of Ireland funding was accessed for the production of a programme (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29218/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

Responsibility for media matters, funding included, lies with my colleague the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media. The matter raised by the Deputy is therefore not within my remit as Minister.

Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 126.

Renewable Energy Generation

Ceisteanna (129)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

129. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the expected increase in renewable energy generation in 2021; the expected increase between now and 2030; the actions being taken to achieve this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29204/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) recently published the Provisional Energy Balance for 2020 which estimates a normalised share of renewable electricity in 2020 of 38.9% of electricity demand. The most recent SEAI data shows that between 12.5% and 13.2% of Ireland’s overall energy requirements in 2020 are expected to have been met from renewable sources. It is expected that 2021 data will be published in 2022. The 2019 Climate Action Plan sets out a range of policies and measures designed so Ireland can meets it existing 2030 EU emissions reduction climate target. The 2019 Climate Action Plan included commitments for 3.5 GW of offshore wind , up to 8.2 GW of onshore wind and up to 1.5 GW of solar energy by 2030. The Programme for Government commits to a further increase in offshore wind development to 5 GW by 2030.

The higher level of ambition set in the Climate Action Bill will be reflected through a new set of policies and measures in the 2021 Climate Action Plan.  This will contribute to meeting the Programme for Government target of reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030, meeting the long-term target of climate neutrality by 2050, and to meeting the EU-wide binding target, under the recast Renewable Energy Directive (EU) 2018/2001, of 32% of the overall share of energy to come from renewable sources by 2030.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (130)

Peter Fitzpatrick

Ceist:

130. Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the cost to date of all Covid-19-related payments in his Department to individuals and corporate entities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15409/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The information which the Deputy requested in relation to my Department is outlined in the table below.   

Contractor/Recipient

Cost (March 2020 – May 2021)

Additional Details (purpose of contract)

Bid & Tender Management Services

€850

Procurement Training - training course delivered under existing contract in May 2020 on Managing Contracts during Covid

Quadro Consulting

€5,596

Health & Safety, specifically revised field procedures for COVID19 compliant operations.

Datapac

€33,504

HP Probook Laptops

Datapac

€2,007

Microsoft Lifecam and Headset

Integrity 360

€47,242

RSA Licences

Integrity 360

€27,607

Citrix Licences

BECHTLE DIRECT LTD

€4,130

Cisco Webex

MJ Flood

€24,600

HP Elitebook

PFH

€34,315

Citrix Gateway Licenses and Citrix Licences

Zoom

€12,332

Zoom Licenses, Zoom Room License and Zoom Sip Connector for Cisco

Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA)

€400,000

Additional funding to assist DHDA to meet a shortfall in commercial income resulting from the impact of COVID-19

 

Trading Online Voucher Scheme (Policy)

€18,460,000

Trading Online Voucher Scheme*

  * With the advent of COVID-19 many small and micro-businesses found themselves with the challenge of having to shut their physical presence and adapt their business model, with many trading online for the first time. As part of the Government’s COVID-19 Business Supports Package for small businesses, the terms of the Trading Online Voucher Scheme were amended and the budget significantly increased. In 2020, €20.7m was spent by the Department on the Scheme, of which €18.46m can be attributed as Covid-19 related spend. Approximately 13,000 businesses were supported by the Scheme in 2020.

Environmental Policy

Ceisteanna (131)

Mark Ward

Ceist:

131. Deputy Mark Ward asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the reason he has not proceeded with a ban on the importation of fracked gas and has instead issued a policy statement citing the fact that the advice of the Attorney General is that a ban would be against EU law (details supplied). [29385/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Environment)

The Programme for Government set out that the Government does not support the importation of fracked gas and committed to developing a policy statement to establish that approach. On 18 May, the Government approved Policy Statement on the Importation of Fracked Gas was published.  

There was a thorough and comprehensive consideration by my Department of all aspects of regulation and legislation permissible under Irish and EU law in considering the approach taken, in addition to consultation with the Office of the Attorney General. In the context of European Union Treaties and the laws governing the internal energy market, it is considered that a legal ban on the importation of fracked gas could not be put in place at this time.  

The policy statement commits the Government to work with like-minded European States to promote and support changes to European energy laws in order to allow the importation of fracked gas to be restricted. It also sets out that the Government will work with international partners to promote the phasing out of fracking at an international level within the wider context of the phasing out of fossil fuel extraction.

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