Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Third Report of the Citizens' Assembly: Engagement with Ms Marie Donnelly

2:00 pm

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I thank Ms Donnelly. I am a bit gobsmacked at it all. It is fascinating and complicated at the same time. I hope the guy in the German utility was fired for making such a dreadful error. I am very aware sometimes of a rural-urban divide and I am the first Dubliner to speak today. Ms Donnelly said that 20% of dwellings in the city have an A-B energy rating, whereas only 10% of houses in rural areas have it. Is that because of affluence or awareness? Is retrofitting chic and trendy because it allows people in Dublin 4 to speak to their neighbours about it? Are citizens aware and concerned about climate change or have they given up or taken a defensive attitude - I am putting this politely - similar to that of Donald Trump, in other words, that climate change is nothing to do with them and it is all hocus-pocus?

Ms Donnelly also mentioned onshore wind and the need for guidelines. My colleague, Deputy Brian Stanley, put forward a Bill on this topic last year. The issue with onshore wind is that we have not taken communities on board. That is not just an issue with climate action and energy efficiency. In most spheres of life communities need to have ownership, including when a builder comes into an area and says he or she plans to do this, that or the other. The community should be involved from the beginning. It gets people's backs up when something is seen as being imposed on them, as opposed to being an effort to uplift everybody. It is a case of who owns the country. Communities should be involved from the beginning and given ownership in order that they have an idea of the direction they want to go. This is a no-brainer, yet for whatever reason the powers that be take a paternalistic attitude that they know best and they will tell people what to do. There can be objections but they will not really be listened to. I agree with Ms Donnelly's view on that.

I am new to the issue of the potential for offshore wind. I thought we had only one offshore bank off the coast of Arklow but Ms Donnelly mentioned several others. There has been a decrease in the cost of constructing offshore wind turbines. Ms Donnelly referred to shipping, infrastructure and other technical requirements. Given the decline in the cost of offshore wind development, how can we progress more offshore wind farms? I am not sure what term is used.

On the use of solar photovoltaic or PV cells on windows, the scheme announced in July seems be helpful and needs to be expanded. The majority of the population will never think about this option. Perhaps those who are retrofitting or perhaps building a home from scratch would consider it. The technology is available and seems to be easy enough to use.

The feed-in tariff seems to be a waste of an opportunity. When we go home we only start using what is being produced at that time. We are putting nothing in the bank, whatever bank that may be, whether it is the national grid or our own bank. We have no incentive to do this. Surely it would be easy enough to implement this, as is done in other countries. Why is Ireland lagging behind in this area?

This is a new committee. I have not been involved in climate change before and I am still learning. I use the green bin and do what I can but there is obviously much more involved. It is about informing the public with words that do not confuse. While I vaguely know what microgeneration means, I would have to break down the word in my head. Most people who read it would give up and through it in the bin - hopefully the green one. This committee and those who appear before it need to use crystal clear English that is as accessible as possible. I will not use the term "dummy's guide", but we should not bore and overwhelm people. We may not be able to explain everything but we can explain the basics in understandable and accessible language. The acronyms turn most people off.

In respect of EUROSTAT and having expenditure off the books, as it were, the local authorities have expanded their warmth and well-being scheme for the insulation of homes, both social and private. Strict criteria apply to the scheme. Is there scope to expand it significantly and rapidly? Do we not have sufficient expertise in companies in this country to deal with this issue? We need to invest in this area, and if it can be done off balance sheet, we should go for it because the costs will repaid in the long term. Two years ago, the residents of St. Teresa's Gardens in Dublin took a landmark case to the Council of Europe involving poor housing, damp and mould and their implications for health. We also need to understand the implications for public health of poor energy. I thank Ms Donnelly very much for bringing me on an adventure that I needed to go on. However, we need to bring our citizens with us.


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