Tuesday, 3 July 2018
Establishment of Special Joint Committee on Climate Action: Motion
I very much welcome the establishment of this committee and what I hope will be the approval of this motion. I have listened to Ministers one after the other who seem to be itching for an election. They are doing everything they can to prod for an election. I have little or no faith in Fine Gael and its Independent Ministers. They have one of the worst environmental records I have ever seen in politics and are shaming our country but I have faith in this Dáil and want to see it last one more year to bring in Deputy Pringle's legislation, legislation to stop oil and gas exploration and the waste reduction Bill, and to allow this climate committee to do its work because it is critical work. It is some of the most important work we need to do.
We need a new national climate and energy plan by the end of this year. The current one is not fit for purpose. Every single expert I met at the national economic dialogue recognised that last week. If they did not say it to the Minister, they said that Project Ireland 2040 will not deliver on climate. We are going to miss by a country mile. It has to change. The job of this committee is to help Government and the public service work out how we do it. It will be bloody difficult. The scale of the challenge is immense. If we were serious, we would start today by putting 20% of our transport budget into making our roads safe so our kids can cycle to school rather than the current reality where more schoolchildren drive themselves to school than cycle. If we were serious, we would stop peat production today because we know on foot of the meeting the Minister had last week that our biggest problem in the midlands is the shortage of workers to undertake the climate work that needs to be done. Could we not take those Bord na Móna workers, retrain them very quickly and pay them really well for the very skilled job of making our homes fit for purpose? That could and should be done today.
This committee is vital because it can help and open the books on the new climate and energy plan which we must do under European legislation. We have no choice in this matter and we must have a first draft by the end of the year. The timeline of this committee is set on that basis. We need to meet next week as a committee. I look forward to taking part in it. We need to work collectively. The first thing we need to agree is the research back up we will have. We need to pull in Irish universities and the expertise they have. It should be remembered that we only have months, not years, to do this so we must be quick.
Deputy Dooley made a valid point. We should get research capability from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission because this is difficult and technical work, so in the short time we have to do the proper analysis, we should get this help. We should set up our research teams in September and start our first meetings in October. We should bring in the seven key Secretaries General, call them to account regarding what their Departments are going to do and show them - they know this already - that the mathematics of the existing national development plan simply do not work. It is millions of miles away from where we need to go so the simple question involves what we are going to do. What will we change, because change we must? The centre of it is finance in terms of where the budget goes.
We will not complete the work until the end of November so the interim budget will need to be done but we should have a key role in the development of this new national climate and energy plan, which must be done by the end of the year with the final agreement being agreed with Europe next year. It is for that reason that I say that this Dáil should stay together for another year. Let us have the local and European elections and then have a general election. I cannot imagine it going any further. I cannot imagine that Fianna Fáil would agree another budget but it can agree this year's budget. We have vital work to do in climate as much as in anything else.
The attractive thing about it is that it provides a vision for this country for the future, one that is positive and that is not just spin. It is a real vision that brings about social change. I hear none of that in the Government. All I hear is it playing political games for its own advantage rather than thinking of the national interest. If it was thinking of the national interest, it would stay the course for another year, we would do the work we must do and the Dáil would pass Deputy Pringle's Bill, which I look forward to passing next week. It will be the first step in restoring our international reputation, which is in the dog house. I am sorry for insulting dogs. We are in the dog house in terms of how we are seen with regard to climate. That is not fair to the people.
We are not bad at dealing with climate. We are itching to be good at this. The thing that is holding us back is the lack of political will, and the evidence is in the committee I have just come from where I have heard civil servants say yet again that gas is good and we should be looking for more of our own oil. That day is over. There is an open opportunity for us to be brilliant at developing renewables and efficiency and at managing water, really smart farming and really new transport systems. The current transport system does not work. The Government can add 63 motorways in its new national development plan but they will not solve the gridlock that is coming. The only thing that will solve it is the low-carbon alternative which is open to us and which this committee can help out.