Thursday, 1 April 2021
Project Ireland 2040: Motion [Private Members]
Jennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion. As we discuss Project Ireland 2040, it is important that we have a clear vision of what Ireland will look like in 20 years time. As we are all aware, the time goes quickly and we will get there a lot quicker than we think. Come 2040, we will only have ten years left to transition to a net zero-carbon economy. There are still a huge number of changes to make in terms of how we manage Irish society to meet that target. It was only with the publication of the new climate action Bill last week that it became apparent that how we manage to meet the deadlines in respect of the various targets will be placed on a statutory footing. We can see that time is not on our side. In that context, Project Ireland 2040 must not be discussed in a business as usual manner. The impact of climate change means that we need to change tack completely and more quickly. Our approach will have to be unusual in that sense because in 20 years time, Ireland will have to look different to how it does now and incorporate transformative approaches to our infrastructure and our economic development. We will even have to change our lifestyles and move away from those we currently enjoy. All of this will have to happen if we want to reach the crucial target of 2050.
What will this transformative approach look like for Project Ireland 2040? For starters, it will require green-proofing development in line with the targets set out in the climate action Bill. It will require a just transition model that is incorporated into the implementation process relating to Project Ireland 2040 and funding will be required to match our climate action ambitions. It is important that the following is considered. Instead of large-scale carbon-producing infrastructure, the focus should be on green infrastructure, such as the electrification of public transport and renewable energy infrastructure. Instead of focusing on the traditional forms of travel and on an ever-expanding road network, there needs to be a pivotal move towards green travel. We must expand our public transport system, including local links and alternative active modes of travel that will have to be central to Project Ireland 2040. Our towns and villages will need to be able to support the creation of green jobs by generating more local sustainable employment closer to where people live in order to reduce commuting times, road congestion and to develop jobs in green industries such as the offshore wind industry. Developing working hubs with access to quality broadband will be crucial to successfully generating more green jobs in areas such as renewable energies and in making our rural communities more sustainable.
We will need to match Project Ireland 2040 with spatial planning strategies which point to a broader move away from urban sprawl. We will need to climate-proof and equality-proof Project Ireland 2040 to ensure a just transition model is implemented in conjunction with this development. This will be a challenge, but we need to implement the measures now to ensure that when we get to 2040, we will be able to look at an Ireland that meets the needs of our rural and urban communities.
I am here today not only as my party's climate spokesperson but also as a Deputy representing Wicklow. County Wicklow has many towns and villages, each with a different look and different feel. They have different strengths and different challenges. One of the main challenges for Wicklow is that it is located so close to Dublin. There has been incredible development in the county that has not been matched with investment in the public infrastructure required to make the communities in Wicklow sustainable. There has been considerable housing development in north Wicklow, but the bus services and schools infrastructure have not matched that development. There are significant difficulties for places like Greystones, Delgany, Kilcoole and Bray which do not have the facilities required for sustainable living. We have many other towns and villages in County Wicklow, and I will point to a few of them.
Arklow is beautiful but many people feel it is a town that Government has forgotten over the years. Major infrastructure projects need to be put in place such as the wastewater treatment plant, the flood-relief scheme and the Avoca Mines remediation project. The development and potential of Arklow hinge on those projects being invested in and moved on quickly. The wastewater treatment plant is awaiting ministerial consent. When it gets approved and that investment is made, we need to see it happen quickly so that Arklow can fulfil its potential.
Wicklow town could be a beautiful vibrant shopping town, but it needs investment, which has not happened to date. It has lovely independent shops which need Government support. They will need it more than ever as we come out of the Covid pandemic. I have spoken to business owners in recent weeks. Small businesses in particular are struggling. What kind of Ireland do we want to have when we come out of the pandemic? I do not think we want towns and villages with the major big players. We want our small family-run local enterprises to be strong and sustainable. Government needs to support those. Following all the discussions we have had in the past week about restrictions, there needs to be much more support for those small businesses.
In the west of the county, Baltinglass and Blessington have enormous cultural potential. We need to ensure that we protect those places so that the developments going in do not impede their cultural and tourism potential. Project Ireland 2040 is not just about economic development, it is also about recreational facilities and well-being. We need to ensure that our towns and villages have the recreational and social infrastructure they require. That has not proved to be the case in west Wicklow. People in Blessington have told me that they had nowhere to walk during the pandemic because there are no footpaths and very little outdoor space for them to use. The community is coming together very strongly to petition for a swimming pool. I would like to see the Government support that kind of infrastructure, which is needed for community sustainability and development. I hope there will be investment in that for places like Blessington and Baltinglass.
When we are investing in these areas it is important not to have different elements of government working against each other. Everyone needs to be on the same page, taking a green sustainable focus and making our small towns and villages really resilient so that if there are future economic shocks, such as something like Covid or what is coming down the road with climate change, our villages and towns are as strong as possible and will have an opportunity to survive and meet the challenges that are put to them.