Wednesday, 18 December 2019
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements
I thank Deputy Sherlock for sharing time.
Many of us were in attendance to hear Kieran Mulvey address the committee earlier. He is a straight talker and I have great respect for him. He said today that he got a phone call the day before the announcement was made. While there is an office in Offaly, it is like the captain of a team going out onto the pitch on his own; the rest of the team does not seem to be there behind the man at the moment. Anybody taking on this project needs a significant team behind him. He needs the resources and the funding. The Government needs to ensure that whatever resources required are given to that man.
We need to consider ideas in the way Seán Lemass did years ago with the tax incentive area around Shannon Airport. Eight counties, including Galway and Roscommon, are involved in what I call the midlands. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Eugene Murphy, is from the same area that I come from. The people in the counties in question also supply peat and they cannot become the forgotten people. The fund is approximately €1.2 million to cover everything, including the wages of the team being put together. An area involved in a town and village renewal project would nearly get that amount. We need to make an honest effort. In the region of 400 Bord na Móna employees have lost their jobs and there are also temporary workers. The only solution so far is just redundancy, there is no strategic plan.
We have talked about Ireland West Airport Knock. The area surrounding that airport needs investment. IDA Ireland should allocate somebody to that midlands transition area as well as to the airport. Mr. Mulvey made it very clear today that Dublin is getting overcrowded. We need to get these businesses into these areas, but we need to put the money into doing so.
Some 6% of hedgerows throughout the country have not been included in our mitigation plan. That is phenomenal when one considers that Coillte owns approximately 7% of the landmass. All farms have some trees growing on them but not one is included as a mitigation measure.
On a few occasions, I have proposed the creation of little shelter belts of half an acre for holdings of up to 50 acres, three quarters of an acre for holdings up to 100 acres and 1.5 or 2 acres for holdings up to 200 acres. Over one year, we could give farmers an incentive in this regard without stopping them farming. We could probably put in 130,000 acres of trees. They could put in whatever trees they want. If they want to plant broadleaf trees, that would be fine. Some time ago, there were shelter belts and the EU paid farmers to get bulldozers and clear them out along with ditches. Now we are looking to get them back again because that makes economic sense. It would be possible to get 55,000 ha to 60,000 ha in one year if we had the money for it. I do not know whether we have the money; that could be the stumbling block. We need to ensure that no one is looking at a satellite image and telling a farmer that because a branch of a tree is sticking out, the basic payment or payment for area of natural constraint will be blocked. It requires some thinking. It could be a phenomenal success overnight without impeding the farmers in agriculture.
The carbon tax is a problem in rural areas because they do not have rail or bus public transport. They will be disproportionately affected. We should be looking at anaerobic digestion and solar power. People have no problem looking at different options, but it needs a kick-start. This week, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine announced that we will remain on the same old track with the single farm payment and that we are not looking at the new system of convergence in order to ensure that farmers with smaller holdings might come up a bit and have their operations made more viable. We cannot keep not looking at these things.
Even though the farmers in this country get kicked day-in and day-out by media and everyone, they will be the saviours of the people in the cities, which is not recognised. It is about time that they started to be shown a bit of respect.