Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Much additional information has emerged since the refusal last week of the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to divulge crucial information regarding the amount of money being put up front for the national broadband plan by Granahan McCourt against the taxpayers' contribution of €3 billion. An article by Justine McCarthy in The Sunday Times at the weekend was particularly revealing in respect of many of these matters. Speaking on Clare FM at the weekend, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, was unaware of any of the constraints that beset the other Ministers. He stated Granahan McCourt was "putting in, I think, in the region of something shy of €200 million". There is still a lot of breadth there. The Minister was speaking the day after the Cabinet had decided to award preferred bidder status so he did not pluck that figure from the air. He obviously knew what he was talking about. We have now learned that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, will today tell the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment that the figure is €220 million, between equity and working capital. Will the Taoiseach break down that figure for us today as between equity and working capital?
The context of this is very clear. Why were we looking for the figure and why was the Government refusing to give it? It is because the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform stated there were "unprecedented risks" to the Exchequer posed by this particular project. He referenced in a memo to the Government that the private sector was only risking so much - the figure was redacted at the time - of its own funds. The general public and taxpayers are entitled to know that figure given the unprecedented risk to them in respect of everything to do with this project.
The Sunday Timesarticle revealed another important matter. It stated that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment had confirmed that Granahan McCourt relied on the financial performance of a US company owned by Frank McCourt, a brother of David McCourt, to meet the qualifying criteria of the procurement process. In other words, Granahan McCourt did not have enough resources itself and relied entirely on a separate entity to underpin its financial security. Was the Taoiseach aware of that? Was the Government aware of it? This is significant in the context of the meeting in July last year between the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, and David McCourt. Frank McCourt was also at that meeting at which four items were discussed in relation to this project.
I always felt those meetings were wrong and inappropriate in the middle of a tendering process. They cast a stain over the entire process.
I do not know whether Peter Smyth interviewed Frank McCourt in the context of his review, but we need clarification in that regard. At issue also is the role of KPMG, which advised the Department on the gap-funding contract. KPMG advised the Department that Granahan McCourt had the capacity to undertake the project but we have also learned that the Department has paid KPMG €11.6 million for its advisory services since 2015. Is it appropriate that KPMG would be the auditor for Granahan McCourt while acting for the Department to reassure it on that company's financial capability? Will the Taoiseach break down the €220 million figure? Does he agree with the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that this is an unprecedented risk to the taxpayer and that the value-for-money analysis is not credible? Can the Taoiseach explain the role of Frank McCourt and the global company underpinning the entire project?
I thank the Deputy. While I am happy to answer his questions, we should not lose sight of the objective here. The national broadband plan is the largest ever investment in rural Ireland and probably the most significant investment to take place since rural electrification. It is about connecting 1.1 million people, 450,000 homes, 50,000 farms and 50,000 businesses to high-speed broadband. The project is ambitious. Ireland will be one of the first - if not the first - countries in the world to do this. We have chosen fibre as the technology because nothing is faster than the speed of light and nothing ever will be. It is good for the economy through the encouragement of home working and for the environment through the reduction of commuting and emissions. It will help us to enable modern educational techniques and pursue ehealth in particular.
The contract has not yet been signed. It will be September or October before we are in a position to sign it. There will be hearings. The Minister is attending one today at the joint committee. There will be debates in the House. I ask the following sincerely not only of the main Opposition party but of others too. I appeal to them not to rule out supporting the national broadband plan just yet. I ask them to spend some time listening to the arguments and considering the plan because if we fail to sign this contract in a few months’ time, we will be back to square one. The digital divide between urban and rural Ireland will remain and deepen and it will take many years before we can put together another plan. I appeal to Members not to rule out supporting the plan until they have had a chance to consider all the facts and scrutinise the alternatives. I came to support this decision in October after Deputy Naughten resigned as Minister and I asked Deputy Bruton to take on this job. I asked him to look at the whole matter afresh, see if it was the right thing to do, consider the alternatives and see if there was an easier, cheaper, better or quicker way to do this. He considered all of the options and came to the same conclusion the Government reached last week, namely, that there is no better option. Any alternative will involve delays, will be slower, will cost as much if not more and might not even meet the objective of connecting all homes, farms and businesses.
As to the financial model, this is a €5 billion project and it is important to bear that in mind. It is €6 billion if one includes VAT and contingencies over 25 years. Of that €5 billion, the company must come up with €2.4 billion in equity, working capital, borrowings and user charges. The State will only pay the subsidy after the work is done. The company must roll out the fibre and only after it has passed the home, farm and business threshold will it be paid. It will be paid more when those premises are connected. The company must come up with the full €2.4 billion. What Deputy Micheál Martin has zeroed in on is one aspect of the funding, namely, the initial equity and working capital totalling €220 million. This is made up of €175 million in equity and €45 million in working capital. That is only the initial, upfront investment by the company. The total amount it has to find is €2.4 billion for what is a €5 billion project. If the project is successful, the company will get its equity back and a return on that. However, if roll-out is delayed, as some predict, and if take-up is not as fast as we project, the company will have to put in more equity. That is the crux of the matter. National Broadband Ireland, a private company, is taking the risk here. Its risk is not capped, whereas the risk to the State is capped.
I asked the Taoiseach four questions. I have no intention of going into electioneering because everybody is committed to the delivery of broadband. I asked the Taoiseach to give the breakdown he provided at the end of this contribution, but I asked him also whether he agreed with the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that this is an unprecedented risk to the taxpayer and that the value-for-money assessment is simply not credible.
I asked the Taoiseach a simple, straight question on whether he agrees with the entirety of what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has put on the record in relation to this matter. It made very clear that the risk to the State is far greater than the risk to the private sector. It makes the point: "I believe that there are unprecedented risks to the Exchequer posed by this proposed project." Those are not my words but the words of the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
I asked the Taoiseach to explain the role of Frank McCourt and the company that is underpinning the entire bid and for some reason, he chose to ignore that question in its entirety. I ask the Taoiseach again if he was aware that it was another company that was underpinning the financial criteria governing Granahan McCourt and not Granahan McCourt itself.
I also asked the Taoiseach about KPMG, the auditors to Granahan McCourt, whether it is appropriate that it should also be the advisers to the Department. The Department asked Granahan McCourt's auditors. What else will KPMG tell the Department about the capacity of Granahan McCourt to proceed? Can the Taoiseach confirm that Peter Smyth spoke to Frank McCourt in relation to the meeting in July at which the financial aspects of this project were discussed in New York in the presence of the former Minister, Deputy Naughten?
I do not know the answer to the Deputy's question about Peter Smyth but I will inquire and let him know as soon as I can find out. That was an independent process audit as the Deputy knows so I did not have any involvement in it.
I do not agree that this is unprecedented. For example, I consider the fact that the State found €8 billion over ten or 20 years to connect our cities by motorway.
We connected Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Galway by motorway and spent €8 billion doing so. This project involves €3 billion to connect 1.1 million homes across the country, in all 26 counties, so I do not agree that it is an unprecedented investment, nor do I think it is an unprecedented risk
It shows that the benefits outweigh the costs in the optimistic scenario, the pessimistic scenario and the central case scenario. The cost-benefit analysis is conservative because it does not take into account the wider societal benefits-----
-----of connecting 1.1 million people across rural Ireland to high-speed broadband. What are those wider societal benefits? They are, for example, access to ehealth and education online, which is now becoming an increasingly important aspect of education, with kids being able to download from Google and access apps online. It does not take into account the climate action benefits that arise from this. More people will be able to work from home and fewer people will be commuting. It does not take into account the positive impact that it could have on matters such as rural isolation. I think the cost-benefit analysis is actually conservative in that regard.
On the financial and other capacities of the bidder, I am aware that the bidder passed all of the tests for capacity and was assessed in terms of its capacity and capability before it pre-qualified for this.
KPMG is a respected company, accounting house and auditor and it would be wrong to cast aspersions on the company in this House and somehow suggest that it is conflicted. That is unfair.
Tá ceist agam faoi broadband arís. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil sé dochreidte go bhfuil Granahan McCourt ag íoc €220 milliún agus an cáiníocóir ag íoc €3 billiún. It is crucial that we deliver high-speed broadband to rural Ireland because people want, need and deserve it. That means actual delivery, not delivering an announcement or a pipe dream. There are very serious concerns surrounding the national broadband plan as currently constituted. This very costly plan could still leave homes, farms and businesses across rural Ireland without access.
If we think back, this whole process began in 2012, seven years ago, with a commitment that high-speed broadband would be delivered to every home and business in the State by 2020. That promise has been broken spectacularly. Seven years later, not a yard of cabling has been laid or a single pole erected.
Under the new plan, homes, farms and businesses in rural Ireland are being asked to wait again. That is not good enough. The Taoiseach has described the plan as a personal crusade, but there are significant flaws that no one in the Government, including the Taoiseach, has yet addressed. In the documents published last week, the capacity of the bidder to deliver the project was cast in serious doubt, while the capacity of the Department to oversee it has been similarly questioned. Why have those issues not been addressed? The bidding process utterly failed to deliver a competitive tender. In addition, it has been highlighted that the bidder does not have adequate skin in the game and could walk away from the project after it has recouped its investment. What does the Taoiseach say to that? The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has confirmed that the firm in question will invest €220 million, yet the State will invest €3 billion in initial capital. The Taoiseach has stated that this is the largest ever State investment in rural Ireland. In reality, it represents a massive State subsidy to a private firm in respect of infrastructure the State will not own. That is unbelievable.
We all agree rural Ireland needs high-speed broadband but the unfortunate reality is that more than 500,000 homes and businesses are still without it and will be for years to come. Will the Taoiseach express absolute confidence in the deal? Is he prepared to stand over it and guarantee delivery of rural broadband? Will he publish the full details of the contract between the State and Granahan McCourt?
I am confident that National Broadband Ireland has the capacity to deliver. If it does not, there are protections in the contract. If the company does not deliver, if it seeks an increased subsidy or if it fails to meet certain milestones, the State can terminate the contract and take over the network. I am confident, therefore, that it has the capacity to deliver but I also understand that if it does not, the contract will protect the State in that regard.
The Deputy's assertion that the State is investing €3 billion upfront as capital is not correct. The State is investing nothing upfront and will make its contribution only after the work has been done. The company must raise the money, lay the fibre and then pass and connect the homes. It will be paid for the work that is done as homes are passed and connected, which is why the way the Deputy has presented the matter does not tell the full story. The project is worth between €5 billion and €6 billion, with approximately half being invested in the form of a State subsidy and the remainder being delivered and provided by the company. It must carry out the work before it is paid and collect the user charges from Sky, Vodafone and all the other operators that will sell on services to the public. The Deputy has zeroed in on the initial investment, that is, the equity or working capital investment of €220 million. If the company does not deliver, it will have to invest more equity. If it does deliver, it will get its investment back and also a return on that investment. The risk to the State is capped; the risk to the company is not. It is important to understand that. We need to bear in mind that only one bidder remained at the end of the process.
There is risk attached. In this system and approach, the State is not taking on all the risk. A private sector operator is bringing to the table money and expertise and sharing the risk. There is a risk, with no guarantee of commercial return. It is important to understand that is how the project has been established. As a Government, we have a simple choice about whether we sign the contract or go back to the drawing board. If we sign it, the process can be completed by the autumn. Within one year, 10,000 homes throughout rural Ireland and 300 hot stops, community centres, schools, etc., can be connected to high-speed broadband. The following year, another 100,000 to 150,000 homes, farms and businesses will be connected-----
-----in every county. All 26 counties will see connections in the second year. A company is willing to do it, we have the money available and we know we can achieve 100% coverage.
If we go back to square one we will not know any of this. We will be saying to rural Ireland that it has waited too long and we will make it wait longer. That would be wrong. Later in the debate I will be happy to discuss some of the alternatives and why they are not viable-----
I thank the Taoiseach for that. The best way to proceed is for the contract to be made public. If I am correct, I understand the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has undertaken to make that request of Granahan McCourt. This is the best way to go forward. I do not accept the Taoiseach's analysis that risk is being equally shared. Perhaps, more importantly, that is not the conclusion arrived at by the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. By his estimation, the deal is front-loaded by the taxpayer. While acknowledging there are break points at year four and year six for a State review, he points out that at that those stages the State will have invested €1.19 billion and €1.95 billion, respectively. He also sets out that by 2026 the taxpayer will have committed €2.2 billion while the private company will have its money back by 2028. That does not sound like a good deal for the taxpayer. The seeds of this mess reside in the tendering process itself which, from the very beginning, did not afford any real competitive tension or edge and here we are.
I ask the Taoiseach for reassurance on the issue of delivery because not alone is this plan very expensive but the really alarming caution presented to us in the documents last week is the question mark over capacity to deliver. I want the Taoiseach to be very explicit on this issue. Is he absolutely sure that rural broadband can be delivered?
I have already answered the question on capacity. In some ways, something the former Minister, Deputy Naughten, said last week summed it up for me. He said that if we sign this contract in the next few months rural broadband will be delivered and we will connect 1.1 million homes, farms and businesses throughout the country but if we do not sign the contract it may never happen. He is right in this assessment.
In terms of publishing the contract, I am not sure whether it is possible. It has not been agreed, finalised or signed yet. If it is, I will have no personal difficulty with it but because it is a commercial contract perhaps it is not possible.
The Deputy is right to say it is expensive. Of course it is expensive because it is so ambitious. We want to become one of the first countries, if not the first country in the world, to connect every home, farm and business to high-speed broadband and say to people throughout rural Ireland that they will have the same speeds as those of us who live in the cities of Dublin and Cork and at the same price. This is enormously ambitious. This is why it is expensive.
One thing the Deputy said about the risk is not the case. The risk to the taxpayer is capped. The risk to the investor is not. If this works out well, if it is rolled out quickly and if there is a lot of take up, the investor will get its money back plus a return.
If it does not happen this way, if the roll-out is delayed or the take-up is slower than projections it is the investor that will have to put in the extra equity and money and not the State. Our risk is capped and that of the investor is not.
After the withering criticism of the Government's broadband plan, Ministers, including the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, have called on other parties to explain their proposals for rural broadband. The Labour Party is fully committed to a comprehensive delivery of broadband to every home and business in the country as, I believe, is every other party. That goes without needing to be said. I assure the Taoiseach that our plans would deliver much better value to the taxpayers of this country.
The Government proposes to give €3 billion of public money to a private monopoly without securing ownership of the network. In almost all public private partnerships, and I was directly involved in many, the State owns the asset at the end of the contract.
It would be simply unthinkable for the public to pay €1.7 billion for the national children's hospital and not own it at the end. It would be bizarre for the Government to give ownership of the new hospital to a for-profit venture capitalist. Why does the Government believe that it is any less unthinkable to give away the national broadband network? The venture capital firm will, we are now told, provide €220 million in actual cash and rely on operating revenue to make up the rest of the cost of delivering the network. A State-owned national broadband company could just as easily generate the same operating revenue but it would pay a dividend to the people and, ultimately, reduce the net cost to the taxpayer of providing the network and it would have the income in perpetuity. Granahan McCourt intends to borrow against future income but to put up little of its own money in cash investment. In maintaining ownership of the broadband network, the State would be better placed to guarantee the affordability of rural broadband into the future.
Regardless of whether Internet access is necessary now, it will be absolutely essential in 25 years' time. However, there is no guarantee that the Government will be able to control the prices charged by the private monopoly in 25 years' time. We do not even know who will own the network at that stage because the Government's proposals, which we read last week, would allow the shares of the company to be sold again after only nine years. Vulture funds would buy the network, just like they bought Eircom, and milk it for its assets and cash again and again. The Labour Party solution is for a State-owned company to own the broadband network. It would provide access to the network on a wholesale basis, thereby creating a market for a multiple of retailers to sell Internet access to whomever they want and allowing other services to access the network to provide services directly to homes and businesses. This company would be profitable and it should repay some of the costs of providing the network in the first instance. A State-led approach is clearly objectively better. What is the justification for or the logic of the Taoiseach's argument for a private monopoly to own the rural broadband network in perpetuity?
ComReg is the price regulator for telecoms in the State and has a role in capping prices. The Deputy may not agree but I see this as a Labour Party project, as well as a project of this Government. The Deputy's party and its Ministers were at the centre of making the project a reality, with a decision in 2012 to go to tender and to ask public and private companies on the open market to bid. The Minister at the time was Pat Rabbitte. From an article in The Sunday Business Postlast weekend, I note that he supports the Government decision to go ahead with this. He was right when he made that decision, because one cannot just hand a massive subsidy to any company, public or private, without a process, without procurement, without a tender and without state aid clearance.
Subsequently, in December 2015, his successor in the Department, Alex White, also of the Labour Party, examined five different options of ownership and decided to narrow them down to just two. One was the concession model, the other the gap-funded model. The decision to go for the gap-funded model was made by this Government but the decision to narrow down the options to just two was made by the former Labour Party Minister and Deputy, Alex White. This is a project of which Labour should be proud and I hope that those in the party have not ruled out the possibility of supporting it once they have had a chance to consider all the issues and see whether the alternatives that are being proposed really stack up or would be quicker or cheaper. I do not believe they would be.
As for the ownership issue, the core infrastructure in all of this is the poles and ducts.
If we were to replicate that, a State company would have to put up all its own poles and all its own ducts. The cost doing that would be phenomenal. Even if we did go down the State company model, it would still be relying on privately owned poles and privately owned ducts that they would have to rent from Eircom.
The only physical asset that MBI will own is the fibre and fibre has to be renewed after 20 or 30 years. The advantage of the gap funding model is such that because MBI owns the fibre it is much more likely it will continue to invest in it and renew it. That is one of the reasons the gap funding model was chosen over the State ownership model.
In our deliberations over the past few months, following the appointment of Deputy Bruton, as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, one of the things we gave consideration to was exactly what Deputy Boyd Barrett proposed, which is the renationalisation of Eircom so that we could get our hands on the real infrastructure, which is the poles and the ducts. Two thirds of that company sold for €3.5 billion not too long ago. To renationalise it, which would take quite some time and, possibly, a legal battle, we would have to compensate the shareholders, probably to the tune of €5 billion or €6 billion. That would be the outlay before we provided any money at all to connect any home in rural Ireland, which would amount to a cost of €8 billion or €9 billion.
That is the alternative. It is not a good one. We thought about it. We thought about all of the alternatives for months and months. This is the best option on the table. This is right for Ireland and right for rural Ireland.
The Taoiseach makes a compelling case against the folly of the privatisation of Telecom Éireann all those years ago. It was a disaster. The point I am making is that instead of learning from that disaster the Government proposes to do the same thing in that it proposes to privatise the next generation of telecommunications. The Taoiseach is right that we had to test the market in the way that we agreed in government because that was what the EU required us to do but now we have proven market failure. From my reading of Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union there is no impediment for a public company in this area. In terms of the model, I invite the Taoiseach to read the judgment in the Croatia case in regard to its provision of broadband, which is analogous to what we are doing here. The European Commission found that Croatia's next generation network broadband plan is in line with state aid rules. We can create a State monopoly where the market has failed. The management of that scheme is attributed to a public undertaking offering long-term leasing agreements on the infrastructure to all interested parties. No operator has shown any interest in commercially doing it. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate - this was endorsed by Commissioner Vestager in 2017 - for the State to set up its own company to do that. This is the way to go, and what I am asking the Taoiseach to do.
-----which is now the preferred bidder. ESB, working with Vodafone, made a bid but pulled out. They said they could not make a business case for it. This cannot be done without a massive subsidy. It is not realistic now-----
We have the Attorney General's advice on this and there were consultations with the European Commission on this. It is not a position that we can hand to an undertaking, even a State-owned enterprise like ESB, a massive subsidy without a process and without a tender operation.
The difficulties with that are the difficulties that arose when did that in the past with Irish Water. Enormous costs and difficulties and delays arise in the establishment of a new State company. We would be doing Irish Water all over again. There would be further delays. There would still have to be a procurement process in terms of getting access to Eir's infrastructure and in terms of getting the fibre laid.
Tá an cheist atá agam inniu ag díriú isteach ar athrú aeráide, go háirithe na bearta práinneacha atá ag teastáil ó d'fhógair an Dáil seo éigeandáil an Déardaoin seo caite. Tá mo cheist ag díriú isteach ar na bearta práinneacha atá ag teastáil go háirithe ó thaobh cathair na Gaillimhe de. Ireland became only the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency last Thursday. That declaration was made on foot of amendments tabled by all Opposition parties in the Dáil further to the publication of the report from the Joint Committee on Climate Action. That committee was set up on foot of a recommendation contained in the Citizens' Assembly report which outlined other urgent recommendations on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change. It has taken the visual imagery, however, of children protesting on our streets and streets throughout the world to force the Dáil to take action, along with the numerous reports, both national and international, from UN bodies, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Climate Advisory Council. These all clearly show that our trajectory of development is not just unsustainable, but catastrophic.
Last week the UN-commissioned report was published, and it highlighted in the most acute way the gravity of the biodiversity crisis. A few months before that we had the intergovernmental climate report, which cautioned that we had a window of 12 years in which to take action, without which there will be drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. We are talking about the most innocent people, who made very little contribution to climate change. While we have taken the first step, which is to be welcomed, it has to have meaning. I have some difficulty with the cognitive dissonance - the Taoiseach is familiar with the concept - that the Government displays. On the very day we declared an emergency, that morning Ireland was conspicuously absent from a list of EU states demanding that 25% of the budget be set aside for climate change. It was conspicuously absent from the list of countries demanding more action on climate change. Indeed, our advisory council has told us that we will miss our targets in 2020 and 2030.
In that context, following on from a specific recommendation on page 97 of the report published last week, I am asking the Government to choose Galway and its regional hinterlands as a blueprint for other cities in relation to the roll-out of climate mitigation measures. As the Taoiseach knows, is cathair álainn dhátheangach ar thairseach na Gaeltachta is mó sa tír í an Ghaillimh. It is a city that is destined for 50% growth. It has been picked out in the national planning framework as one of the five cities. However, in contrast to the other four cities, it has a major traffic problem and a housing crisis. The traffic crisis is actually strangling development in the city. I have asked, and am asking again, that a city be picked. The report asks for the same. I ask the Taoiseach to please pick Galway. It has 80,000 people, and is destined to grow by another 50%. Let us roll out a masterplan that is sustainable and allows for the development within the footprint of the city. In particular, we should carry out a feasibility study for light rail.
I welcome the fact Dáíl Éireann last week declared a climate action and biodiversity emergency in Ireland. I am also conscious of the fact that declaring an emergency for any other reason than a security reason does not give us any additional powers, tools or resources with which to deal with this problem. It is largely symbolic. It is a gesture, but symbols and gestures matter. We have to take it in that way and follow up on that declaration-----
-----through action, which is what is most important in this regard. We are taking measures in the areas of energy, transport, agriculture and heating. Taking energy as an example, we want to increase the amount of renewable energy we produce in Ireland from 30% to 70%. According to the European Commission our CO2levels went down by almost 7% last year; we were in the top three countries in terms of CO2 emissions falling.
That was almost entirely down to the fact that Moneypoint was offline for a period. It shows what can be done. We can get coal out of the system and expand renewables. That is what we need to do with energy.
On transport in particular, we need to expand our electric vehicle network and move more delivery vans and delivery vehicles to the electric system. We are asking the ESB and its balance sheet to do an awful lot. We are asking this State company to deliver much of what we need to do with renewables and almost all of what we need to do with electrical vehicle charging points. Asking one company with a limited balance sheet to do another large project must be borne in mind if people really want to pursue that alternative.
In agriculture, we want to focus on a new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, which encourages diversification and rewards farmers for engaging in sustainable and green food production. This will be a significant change but one which is necessary if we are going to do what we want to do concerning climate action in the period ahead.
I have not seen any detailed proposal on a special designation around Galway. I would welcome one from the Deputy because I have not had a chance to consider it. It is perhaps something we can work into the all-of-Government climate action plan which the Minister, Deputy Bruton, is finalising.
If we are to do what I believe is necessary to meet our obligations on climate change, as well as to engage in climate action to the extent that is necessary, it will not be about designating any one city or county. It will have to be done in every town, village, rural area and parish. Most importantly, it will be about changing the way every home and individual lives their lives.
The report has singled out that one city should be picked. It was in that context that I raised Galway.
On security, in February, the then Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Philip Lane, warned that if the pace of transition to a low-carbon economy was too slow, a sharper adjustment would ultimately be required, posing macroeconomic and financial stability risks. We have any number of warnings.
I do not think the Taoiseach meant it but if he is telling us that the declaration of emergency last week was symbolic, then we are in serious trouble. I will go back again to the concept of cognitive dissonance. There is something seriously amiss if this is what the Taoiseach thinks this is about. A declaration of an emergency was forced upon us by any number of reports and the actions of our children whose futures we are compromising.
I specifically asked in Irish for an action plan, following on from that emergency declaration, to be brought before us as a matter of urgency. It has national implications. Within that, I asked that Galway city be picked as the project which will show the way forward, given that it has all the ingredients, as it is destined to record 50% growth within the footprint of the city which will feed public transport. My preference for Galway is light rail. At the very least, the Government should carry out a feasibility study if a climate change declaration of emergency is to mean anything.
I respect the Deputy a lot and I am sure she would not wish to misrepresent me in any way. However, I will say again what I said but this time in a way that is clearer. I welcome last week’s declaration of a climate emergency by the Dáil. It is symbolic in the sense that it does not in itself do anything to reduce emissions and does not give us any tools, powers or resources to achieve what needs to be done when it comes to climate action. However, symbols are important. It is important we follow up on those symbols with real action. That is what we will see in the Minister’s all-of-Government climate action plan when it is published.
Up to €200 million has been set aside for BusConnects for Galway city which will significantly improve bus services there, as well as cycling facilities. Several greenways are being developed such as those in Moycullen and Oranmore.
The case for light rail is stronger in Cork than it is in Galway but I certainly would not rule it out. We know one needs a certain population density for light rail to be viable. It may be worthy of consideration in the future, however.