Thursday, 4 October 2018
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
2. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress made in implementing the national plan on business and human rights (details supplied); and his views on the fact that almost one year on from the launch no steps have been taken to date to encourage and support awareness of effective human rights due diligence by State-owned or controlled companies, a key priority and promise of the plan. [40422/18]
I have tabled this question because I am deeply concerned that the Government is dragging its feet on the national plan on business and human rights, key elements of which remain unimplemented. Deadlines have already been missed.
The national plan on business and human rights which was launched by me last November sets out a number of key commitments to ensure policy coherence across government. The first is to commission a study to conduct a comprehensive baseline assessment of the legislative and regulatory framework pertaining to business and human rights as it currently applies in Ireland. Work on the study is under way and expected to be completed by the end of October. We have also been pressing ahead with plans to establish a business and human rights implementation group which will oversee delivery of the plan. I suspect the frustration of the Deputy centres on the group not yet being up and running, a frustration, to be honest, I share. I had a chairperson in mind for the particular job who I believed would be really good, but for a series of reasons, that person cannot now do it. We have had to look elsewhere for the appropriate team of people to be able to do this work properly and give the leadership needed to the implementation group. We are now making progress in that regard. Given its pivotal role, it is critical that the composition of the group have the appropriate mix of experience. Some unavoidable delays have been experienced in securing the availability of suitably qualified persons to serve on it. Nevertheless, I expect to be in a position to make an announcement in the near future.
It is intended that the completed baseline study will guide the work of the implementation group in delivering on the plan’s other key commitments which range across the three pillars of the UN guiding principles: the State's duty to protect human rights; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and access to a remedy. The actions to be undertaken include building awareness among State-owned and other companies and NGOs of the need to exercise effective due diligence on human rights issues, particularly where there is a risk of adverse human rights impacts. Particular attention has been given to ensuring coherence with the second national plan on corporate social responsibility which is overseen by my colleague the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys. State-owned and controlled companies were included in the public consultation process leading up to the national plan which encouraged awareness of effective human rights due diligence.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Awareness and support are also encouraged through updates to the interdepartmental committee on human rights which is chaired by my colleague the Minster of State with responsibility for the diaspora and international development, Deputy Ciarán Cannon. All Departments with responsibility for State bodies are represented on the committee, the next meeting of which will take place later this month.
I understand the group was to be established in February and that then there was a delay. The Minister is now saying it will be established by the end of October now, which is not acceptable. I does not reflect well on the Government's commitment to its own national plan. It was rightly criticised for delays in creating the plan. There is serious concern about the lack of human rights due diligence by State-owned or controlled companies. I presume that is the reason for establishment of the group. Is the Minister aware that the ESB is importing millions of tonnes of coal from Colombia, specifically from the infamous Cerrejón mine? Has he been made aware that the coal is coming from mines which are notorious for destroying the environment, displacing communities and attacking local community activists? The Government is the main shareholder in the ESB. Has the Minister's Department had discussions with the ESB on the human rights due diligence that should follow, detailing the notorious abuses in the Colombian mines from where it sources coal? That is just one example. I tried to table a Topical Issue on the matter, but the Minister was not available to discuss it. It is one of the issues that highlights the need for the implementation committee.
At the end of my initial answer I made the point that awareness and support were also encouraged through updates to the interdepartmental committee on human rights, which is chaired by my colleague the Minster of State with responsibility for the diaspora and international development, Deputy Ciarán Cannon. All Departments with responsibility for State bodies are represented on the committee, the next meeting of which will take place later this month.
In relation to the ESB, I was not aware of what the Deputy referred to. I have been to the Moneypoint power plant a number of times. Clearly, a lot of coal is imported. However, the Government has committed to ending the use of coal as a source of power generation by the mid-2020s. I am happy to say we will see a move away from a reliance on imported coal. However, it cannot happen overnight without a significant disruption to power supplies. It needs to be planned for and phased in over time. I am not familiar with the sourcing contracts and with whom they are with, as that is a matter for ESB senior management. I can, however, certainly raise the question.
The Minister could take a look at the mine on Google to get a sense of it. It is like something one would see on the moon. There are also the additional matters to be considered. They involve the indigenous people and how they have been forced off the land and the water sources that have been destroyed. It is a case of where we are saying one thing and not carrying it out. If the committee was established, it would inform the ESB's decisions. I am disappointed that the Minister is not aware of what I raised. I am still awaiting a response from the ESB on its awareness of it, as well as from the Department of the Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Clearly, Ireland is part of the problem through its importation of coal from the mine. It is not someone else's problem but ours. Will the Minister commit to raising the issue with the ESB?
I am very slow to cast aspersions on the ESB without having the full facts. I will not make a judgment based on looking up something on Google. The purpose in having an implementation group is to try to set guidelines and ensure they will be implemented and followed in order that companies, whether they are State or private, in their sourcing policies will be conscious of some of their broader corporate responsibilities in the sourcing lines they support. The Government is interested in moving away from a coal-based power generation system at Moneypoint. That is a strategic policy decision it has made, but its management and implementation are complicated. However, the ESB has the obligation to follow through on it.
Regarding the detail of the issue raised by the Deputy, if he has written to the ESB about it, I expect that it will provide him with a detailed answer.