Dáil debates

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Development of a Liquefied Natural Gas Facility in Ireland: Statements


1:20 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Fianna Fáil very much welcomes the debate this afternoon on LNG development in Ireland. It is only right that this House has the opportunity to address all aspects of this approach to gas supply and also take into account the State's climate and energy responsibilities. In the few weeks since the new parliamentary session began, we have had many debates on climate change and climate action. That is only right because climate change is the defining global challenge of our time. We on this side of the House very much recognise that and we are committed to ensuring that Ireland does its collective fair share and meets legally binding commitments at EU and UN level. I hope the Government will adopt this mindset also. I am reminded of the Taoiseach's comments a year ago when I asked about the State making provision for budgetary fines that would accrue if we did not change course. His rather glib response was that the Government would consider the matter in 2019 and that it was not a budgetary worry for the last year. I hope he has matured and made progress in the context of his attitude.

The current rate of fossil fuel use is unsustainable and must be reduced in the coming years in order for Ireland to meet its climate change commitments. Despite the Fine Gael Government's pledge to decarbonise the economy by 2050, Ireland is completely off track. Fossil fuels account for over 90% of all energy used in this country. As an Irish parliamentarian, I was embarrassed when, at a conference on energy in Copenhagen two years ago, I saw that Ireland was listed pretty much at the bottom of the league table of EU member states in terms of its reliance on fossil fuels and its failure to get sufficiently on board with switching to renewables.

With climate breakdown in full view, we have not only to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we must also look beyond the next ten years when the risk of stranded fossil fuel assets as a result of misguided investments will become very real. Responsible government does not merely involve making announcements and setting targets as this Administration has done, it also involves ensuring a just transition away from fossil fuels and taking firm action. It is in this context that all aspects of LNG development should be fully considered and examined before a brick is laid.

By far the best way to improve Ireland's energy security is to follow the Danish path of energy efficiency and renewables. This includes community gain and ownership and a shared resource in the renewable sector. Fianna Fáil believes that the focus must be on developing Ireland's indigenous renewable energy, particularly from offshore wind and local community energy. There is a huge technology dividend to be gained from a new green economy. We must also be mindful that energy security is not the same as gas security. It is a more complex web which must encompass renewable sources of energy, storage solutions, interconnectors and much more. However, the people expect the Government to be clear in the context of outlining any risk to energy security. We must be mindful that gas supply, particularly from our fully twinned subsea interconnectors to Scotland, is key for electricity generation. Those interconnectors were put in place on foot of significant State investment. Ireland has a 70% target for electricity from renewables by 2030 and fossil gas will play an important role in supporting this development. Further electricity interconnection will also support security of energy supply. We also very much welcome the announcement yesterday that a significant EU grant has been secured for the Celtic electricity interconnector to France. The Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment has considered that project in some detail. We are very pleased to see it progress. It makes perfect sense in a continental energy market that wind energy will be harnessed on the west coast of Ireland while solar energy will be connected to the grid on the southern shores of Portugal and Spain. When the sun shines in one place and the wind blows in the other, we can share and trade accordingly. This is a very positive step and it is also an important Brexit mitigation measure.

Taking into account Ireland's climate obligations, it is important that we have an independent analysis of our energy security. This should be facilitated by the Department and the energy regulator, with input from relevant State agencies. All policy in this area must, as in all others, be evidence-based. A full, objective, evidence-based analysis of our energy security risks and requirements must be conducted.

It is also important that our approach will not be focused on or limited to dogmatic decrees. This Parliament needs to include citizens, industry and communities on this journey towards decarbonisation. It must also encourage and pressurise the Government into leading the way. We need an inclusive approach, and issues, such as the one before us today, need to be fully debated. Every party has a right to bring proposals, motions and statements issue to the floor of this House and have them analysed, scrutinised and discussed here. It is appropriate that this House has the opportunity to address the matter in light of the decision on EU projects of common interest, which I understand will be forthcoming tomorrow.

Regarding the need for an inclusive approach, it is extremely disappointing that the Fine Gael Government has so far not progressed with an examination of LNG through the national dialogue on climate action, despite including this as a commitment in the programme for Government. I am also conscious that responsible government in this area is not limited to future projects. It also taking real measures now to influence behaviours and help citizens. There are many steps that can be taken to incentivise, reward and demonstrate to our citizens how we can do this in small and large ways, from rooftop solar on farm or community buildings, microgeneration, grants and incentives for retrofits. There are a myriad initiatives which should and could be achieved and rolled out but the Government has been too slow to do so.

Fianna Fáil has been clear in its opposition to hydraulic fracturing in Ireland since as far back as 2015.

We strongly supported the 2017 legislation to introduce a national ban of onshore fracking in recognition of the health and employment impacts of exporting shale gas reserves. That legislation also has implications for the taking and storage of fracked gas, which is a further issue the Government must closely consider in the context of LNG.

As part of its recent advice to the Taoiseach on the subject of possible exploration, the Climate Change Advisory Council indicated there are proposals to develop significant energy storage capacity in Ireland, which would address some energy security concerns about the current reliance on a limited supply chain. Nevertheless, issues with the embedded greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, compression, distribution and storage of natural gas sourced from a more diverse range of regions and production techniques would need to be addressed. On the basis of the advice, the Government should undertake a strategic environmental assessment and emissions analysis of the possible importation of fracked gas.

As my party and I have stated many times in the House, the need and mandate for greater climate action is clearer and stronger than ever. Climate impacts are a major security concern. Any doubters should look out the window in approximately two hours when Storm Lorenzo hits. It will be hot on the heels of Storms Emma and Ophelia and every other freak weather episode we have witnessed in recent years. The Government should progress with the designation of EU projects of common interest only when a proper assessment of all projects has been carried out. It is also suggested the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action must examine the risks further.


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