Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Environmental Policy: Motion [Private Members]


6:35 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I am sharing time with Deputy Howlin.

As we come to the end of Dáil business for 2019, it is right that the threat to our environment and to our planet's future is the focus of our attention. We are reaching a critical point of no return for our climate, our health and our children. This time in history is critical in the context of reaching the targets set for us on climate change and taking the necessary steps to keep the air we breathe and the water that sustains us and other life clean.

The Labour Party motion has received widespread support in the House, but what we want is action. The refusal of the Government to ban smoky coal nationwide makes no sense and the argument that it would risk a legal challenge is spurious. Why would there be a challenge to spreading the ban to the rest of the country when such a challenge has never been advanced since the first ban in cities was introduced in the 1990s or when other areas were added to the list of places where the ban applies? The suggestion that turf, timber and other products would have to be banned as well in order to avoid prosecution is nonsense and designed to win some kudos in rural constituencies.

There has been a significant deterioration in air quality across our country in recent years. My city of Limerick has seen measurements hitting or going beyond the EPA-permitted levels. The same is the case for Dublin and other densely populated areas. We need a national clean air strategy and in cities like Dublin, Cork and Limerick we need an action plan to reduce the levels of nitrogen dioxide as they are beginning to breach EU safety standards. The burning of fossil fuels and traffic congestion are the main causes of these dangerous levels.

A plan of action is no good if there is not reliable and consistent monitoring to go with it. I agree with the Deputies who stated that there are not nearly enough monitoring stations. The issue of monitoring air quality, with full public transparency on its frequency and results, has been highlighted in Limerick in the context of the proposal by Irish Cement to burn waste products in its kiln in Mungret in the city suburbs. This matter is currently with the EPA for decision. There is a lack of public trust that there would be adequate monitoring and such trust is absolutely crucial. Furthermore, early warning monitoring is a necessary safeguard where public health is at risk. Asthma and other pulmonary diseases are increasing and the EPA estimates that approximately 1,000 premature deaths each year are due to poor air quality.

The other point we make strongly in our motion relates to the need for large polluting industries and companies to pay their fair share. That is why we are calling for legislation to require greenhouse gas emissions to be included as a core component of company accounts in enterprises with 50 or more employees, and those of all enterprises in highly-polluting industries.

As operations like the ESB station in Moneypoint and others in the midlands are wound down, there must be a just transition for workers and opportunities for alternative employment in the area. I have also repeatedly called for the Government to immediately address the danger of fuel poverty for people who live in homes that are not energy efficient. On Question Time last week, I again raised the need for a major ramping up of the retrofitting programme for local authority homes. The response in this regard is far too slow.

People in council homes are, by definition, on low incomes. The Labour Party committed to investing €100 million to upgrade such homes in its alternative budget earlier this year. The Government's allocation falls far short of this. It is essential that this is implemented, that Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grants are made available to poorer people who own their own homes and that a minimum BER standard for privately-rented homes be required. If these actions are not taken, vulnerable people, including the elderly and young families, will suffer fuel poverty and-or cold damp conditions.

The quality of our water is in an equally perilous state. That is why we call as well for a national clean water strategy.

People care about these issues. Young people are taking pioneering roles in highlighting climate change. They are proud of their country but fearful for their future and want the necessary action to be taken. We need to show the leadership required to reach our greenhouse gas emission targets of 33 million tonnes by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.


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