Tuesday, 11 June 2019
National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and thank the Social Democrats for introducing this sensible motion. I cannot imagine why the Government would amend the motion and it is welcome that Fianna Fáil will support it. We are simply asking that the projects to be delayed are identified, which is the least the people of Ireland deserve. The motion asks for recognition that a climate emergency has been declared and seeks an urgent revision of the national development plan, NDP, and national planning framework, NPF, to properly reflect current spending levels. In addition, the Green Party is asking for a climate impact assessment of Project Ireland 2040.
When the Minister is finished talking, perhaps he will note that this is a serious matter and that the Deputies speaking at this time of the night are doing our best not to be negative and to come up with solutions. I realise there are many things a Minister must do but, as has been said, the NDP and the NPF began in spin, continue in spin and bear no relationship to the reality of a declared climate emergency.
The Taoiseach, in response to a question from me following the declaration of a climate emergency, said in this House that the declaration was simply symbolic. While he tried to clarify that statement afterwards, the declaration is anything but symbolic. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, addressing the Dáil on 29 May, pointed out that we are losing biodiversity around the globe at a rate unprecedented in human history. Report after report from the United Nations and organisations in Ireland have stated we must face the climate emergency and do something about it. It would be sensible to say at this point that we need to review the NDP and the NPF for that reason. Some of the language used in the plans is good and I liked the repeated references in them to sustainability. I thought these were not bad plans when I read them first but, when I looked in more detail, I realised there is complete policy incoherence in both plans. I do not know how many sides of its mouth the Government can talk from but these incoherent policies suggest it is certainly more than two. We talk about sustainability and regional development while, at the same, promoting the unsustainable development of our cities without public transport, continuing with the type of development that is leading to more climate change and talking about investment in more fossil fuels. There is total policy incoherence in both plans.
It is time to take our leadership from the children of the country and across the world who have asked that damage to the climate is not done in their name. This is a sensible and rational motion that is asking us to stop and reflect. Let us look at where we are, given the climate change emergency and the overspend on two projects. Like my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, I sit on the Committee of Public Accounts and, to my horror, the business case for the national children's hospital by a private company - we await information on the cost of that and who carried it out - was deemed by another private company not to be credible. This was after the event. I will be careful because I may have the language wrong but the words used to describe that business plan were along the lines of "not credible" or "faulty". Deputy Murphy might be able to help me with the words used.
The Minister stated nobody in this Dáil had ever asked him to reduce spending. That is true, but we have all asked him to spend more efficiently, more effectively and in a different way and to spend public money on public buildings, infrastructure and transport. We have asked the Government not to waste money on projects such as the national children's hospital by using the distancing mechanism of setting up a board comprised ostensibly of private people with expertise. We have been left with a cost of almost €2 billion for a children's hospital that will not have any accommodation for families and will not deal with research. We are dependent on charity and philanthropists to fund those two areas.
Something is seriously amiss with the Government's view of the economy given the rate of child poverty in the country and the housing crisis. I was at the launch of a Simon Community campaign marking 40 years in Galway. The figures show that in the past four years average rents in Galway city and county have increased by 42% and 49%, respectively. This is in a city where rent caps are in place.