Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages
I understand that it was agreed on the Order of Business yesterday that this is the business with which we are to deal now. Amendment No. 1 has been tabled by three Deputies and I am obliged to take their contributions first and then anybody else who puts his or her hand up can contribute.
On a point of order and in support of Deputy Mattie McGrath, I believe that what is happening here is fundamentally wrong because there is not enough time being allowed to discuss all the amendments that are before us.
I am reluctant to interrupt the Deputy but that is not a point of order. The point has been made by Deputy Mattie McGrath and it is not in keeping with what was agreed on the Order of Business. I am obliged to follow the Order of Business. I am going to take amendment No. 1. Members can make contributions on it after it has been moved.
Amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 19 to 23, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together. Amendments Nos. 20 to 23, inclusive, are physical alternatives to No. 19.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 8, to delete “the transition” and substitute “a just transition”.
I am disappointed to see reflected in the Bill that the Government has taken nothing on board from the 12 hours of Committee Stage scrutiny we had on this Bill last week. Some 231 amendments from Opposition politicians were put forward and not only did the Minister refuse to accept any of them, he also failed to bring forward any of his own based on what was said at the lengthy Committee Stage hearings. We highlighted a plethora of areas that need to be addressed in this Bill and Sinn Féin brought forward amendments in a number of these areas, including on: the definition of a just transition and climate justice; the process of appointments to the Climate Change Advisory Council; the investor-state dispute mechanisms and their potential impact on climate action, such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, for example; addressing the anomaly of the Government not being considered a relevant body; fracking; the need for impact assessments for specific areas; and democratic oversight of climate action plans.
Some of those amendments were ruled out of order and none of them was accepted. That is a very disappointing approach that undermines the cross-party approach that should have been taken to such major legislation, which will set out a framework for the next 30 years. We have resubmitted a number of amendments on Report Stage and I urge the Minister to improve the aspects of the Bill that we have identified.
One major area of concern is around the just transition aspect of the Bill, or the lack thereof, and that concern is reflected in amendment No. 1. We absolutely recognise the urgent need to combat climate change but we also want to ensure that decisions taken now and into the future do not disproportionately affect those who can least afford it. Although this Bill will not detail the policy decisions to be taken, it will outline the considerations that must be taken into account when proposing specific actions. We want to make sure the decisions taken to meet the ambitious targets contained in this Bill are progressive and fair, and have local communities at their core. Our amendments, specifically those dealing with just transition and climate justice, seek to achieve that. It is vital that this principle is enshrined in the legislation. This is where successive Governments have failed time and again. They have left people behind. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have opted all too comfortably for punitive measures which hurt the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, for the vast majority of ordinary families, climate action is associated with cost. The climate Bill must not be blind to the concerns of local communities. If we are to successfully move away from our reliance on fossil fuels, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a carbon neutral economy, we need a plan that brings communities with us, not one that penalises them or forgets about them altogether.
Sinn Féin’s amendments Nos. 1, 22 and 23 all refer to the need for the inclusion of a definition of a just transition and just transition principles. Amendment No. 1 is self-explanatory and would include just transition in the Title of the Bill. Its inclusion would highlight the need, from the outset, for decisions stemming from this Bill to be grounded in the principle of fairness.
Amendment No. 22 seeks to insert a definition of just transition into the Bill. Despite its huge importance, the term "just transition" is referenced just once in this Bill but has no definition, which undermines that single reference. Fairness and mitigating the impact climate action decisions could have on vulnerable groups and sectors should be a central pillar of this Bill but instead it appears as a token gesture. This amendment seeks to define "just transition" as "the bringing together of workers, communities, employers and government in social dialogue to drive the concrete plans,policies and investments needed for a fast and fair transformation to a low carbon economy and to ensure that employment and jobs in the new economy are as decent and as well-paid as those left behind". As I told the Minister on Committee Stage, he will be familiar with this particular definition of just transition because it is taken from his own Just Transition (Worker and Community Environmental Rights) Bill 2018, so I hope he will not vote against something in which he clearly believes.
Amendment No. 23 again refers to the just transition aspect of this Bill. As mentioned, we are concerned that the just transition aspect of this Bill is far too weak and poorly defined, so we want to see this area strengthened. This amendment would see the inclusion of a definition of just transition principles, taken from the Scottish Act, and these principles are referenced in two of our other amendments, which seek to ensure these principles are taken into account in the preparation of the climate action plan and the long-term climate action strategy. This amendment states:
'just transition principles’ means the importance of taking action to reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases in a way which—
(a)supports environmentally and socially sustainable jobs,
(b)supports low-carbon investment and infrastructure,
(c)develops and maintains social consensus through engagement with workers, trade unions, communities, non-governmental organisations, representatives of the interests of business and industry and such other persons as the Ministers consider appropriate,
(d)creates decent, fair, and high-value work in a way which does not negatively affect the current workforce and overall economy,
(e)contributes to resource efficient and sustainable economic approaches which help to address inequality and poverty.
Our later amendmentsNos. 52 and 57are related and again seek to strengthen the definition of just transition in this Bill. There is opportunity in this and, as I said at the time, there was a clear theme to the amendments that came forward on Committee Stage. That theme has now continued on Report Stage. The Minister hears loud and clear what Opposition voices are saying in this regard. My party is committed to recognising the reality of climate change and the urgency to act on it. However, the path we choose to take to get there is equally important. I urge the Minister to listen to the clear soundings from the Opposition and communities.
I am proud of the input Sinn Féin had in tabling amendments to this Bill. The essence of our amendments are about what "just transition" should mean. I am bitterly disappointed with the just transition aspect of the Bill and I assured my constituents in north Kildare that we would do everything we could to define it. This Bill is the easy part. I have no doubt that it will pass but it is important that we get the just transition and climate justice parts of it right. The Irish people are sensible about this. Everybody knows we are in the middle of climate change and I believe if there is fairness in this Bill, people will be prepared to put their shoulders to the wheel and make sure we do what we can to save our climate.
Many experts have appeared before the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action. Scotland has got it right. It had a whole section on the principles of just transition. A Government could stand over those principles and be held accountable for achieving them. What we need here is not just tinkering around the edges. We need a complete transformation of how we think and act in this country. We need the support of the people and without justice at the centre of this Bill, we will not get that support. Whatever roaring and shouting will go on here tonight will be nothing like the roaring and shouting that will go on over the next few years. We cannot have that. The Minister should accept the Sinn Féin amendments and ensure that a fair and just transition and climate justice are parts of this Bill. Those elements should be put front and centre, as my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, has said. By accepting amendment No. 1, people would know exactly what the intent of this Bill is.
No previous generation has faced what we are facing. Our 21st century society must be one in which communities have a say. They should see themselves as a part of the solution and as a part of nature, not separate from it. Just transition is not only about energy and carbon budgets, it is equally about ethics. I hope the Minister will accept some of the amendments. This was the reason the Green Party went into government. It is a considerable improvement on the Bill that the climate committee received just before Christmas. Plenty of experts came before the committee and told us it was for the regulation zone. I hope the Minister is not going to take the attitude he took on Committee Stage by saying he will not accept any amendments. I hope he will accept some of our amendments. Climate change is going to transform our lives. Covid-19 was merely a dress rehearsal for what is ahead of us. I urge the Minister to accept these amendments.
This legislation is a litmus test for the Government, particularly for the Green Party in government. I often wonder if the Minister accepts at all the critiques that are made of his approach to climate. Representatives of all parties, across all political parties, have reiterated that point.
Many people see climate action as meaning very little other than additional charges on them and their families, forcing people to pay for things for which there is no alternative. The Minister's utterances in the past have simply added to the sense, which I believe he recognises, that the Green Party in particular is out of touch. He made references to vegetable or salad boxes on windows in the midst of a global pandemic or having two cars running in a village and all those types of utterances in the past.
This was the Minister's opportunity. Tonight's debate is his opportunity to show that he has been listening, and for Government to show it understands that the overwhelming view of the Irish people, in my opinion, is that this country absolutely needs to and can play a positive, constructive role with regard to climate action. There is also an obligation on all of us to ensure that those who pay for that climate action are the people who caused the climate crisis in the first place. The irony of all the moves we are making in terms of transition and providing alternatives is that the very people who became billionaires in creating a climate crisis are the ones who are best placed to actually capitalise on the measures we are talking about. That is unless governments put in place the types of protections that will be underlined to support those families, workers, communities and farmers who are at the coalface of the deliverance of what is it in place.
This amendment sets out broadly Sinn Féin's prioritisation of ensuring that climate justice involves a human-centred approach to climate action which safeguards the rights of the most vulnerable and shares the burdens and benefits of climate action across anybody. The amendment defines just transition as meaning the bringing together of workers, communities, employers and governments in social dialogue to drive the plans, policies and investments that are needed for a fast and fair transformation to a low-carbon economy. It sets out, in clear terms, that we are not going to be hypocrites and say, on one hand, that we will put in place all these measures with regard to Irish emissions while, on the other hand, supporting trade deals at a European and global level, such as the Mercosur trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, and all the trade deals which are coming down the line and which do the exact opposite of all that.
Crucially, the Minister will know that we put forward a number of amendments which set out clearly that this House understand the concerns of our farming communities. We asked for and put forward amendments that were unfortunately ruled out of order. We put it to the Minister that he should insert those amendments because doing so would ensure that any action carried taken by the Government would lead to assessment of the social, economic, financial and rural impact of any decisions that are made in order that we can ensure that carbon budgets are set on the basis of fairness. We asked the Minister to ensure that the reviews of carbon budgets to be carried out will include such assessments. We also asked that if negative impacts were identified, the Minister and the Climate Change Advisory Council would be responsible for outlining how the Government would mitigate against them.
Very importantly, we brought forward amendments that would address carbon leakage by ensuring that we would not ban practices in Ireland that would lead to increases in imports from the other side of the world. In other words, we are not going to reduce the level of beef production in Ireland if the net result would be the importation, at the expense of the rainforests, of a far inferior product from a country on the other side of the world.
We brought forward a proposal which would ensure that any decisions in respect of livestock would be based on sustainability and that if we are ever to get to the point where we must reduce livestock numbers, we will start with the feedlots rather than the suckler farmers who have been targeted and time again. By means of our amendments, we put forward proposals which would ensure that the work farmers do through carbon sequestration is recognised in a clear and transparent manner.
Up until now, the Minister has refused to accept any of our amendments or bring forward any of his own in order to address those very real concerns. I must ask why that is the case. The very fact that he has refused to do it has increased the suspicion, particularly in our rural and farming communities, that he is not actually serious about a just transition at all. He is actually just serious about getting the sound bites and the eventual big banner headline to the effect that he has pushed this Bill through the Dáil when, in reality, it means nothing. Its worthless because he has not outlined the framework of how we can do it in a fair and sustainable way.
I will ask the Minister again. More importantly, I will ask his colleagues in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Will they stand up for fairness, as they have been uttering in corridors and whispering in communities all across this State? Will they stand up for workers and rural communities by accepting the amendments that have been put before the House today? It is a big question because we know it is very difficult for a Minister to get up and say that he or she did not deal with an issue adequately on Committee Stage. I am, however, asking the Minister to do that so we can ensure that we have the greatest possible buy-in for climate action across this country. Everybody wants to play their part but not everybody should be expected to pay what could be a very heavy price. It is up to the Minister. It is time to articulate very clearly whether he is on the side of just transition or on the side of plain rhetoric.
As the Minister knows, I have worked in the environmental sector for 20 years. Some 15 years ago, I worked in New South Wales in the Greenhouse Office and had these sorts of discussions. To be honest, in my first year as a Teachta Dála in Ireland, when I realised that dealing with, debating and trying to make the climate Bill stronger would be one of my first actions, I was relieved. This is a discussion we should have had many years ago in Ireland and we need to take these actions urgently. We need to ensure that we pass on to future generations a much stronger Ireland than we are now. I was, therefore, really looking forward to standing here today and saying "Well done" for the work the Minister has put in, and that this Bill is as strong, ambitious and future-proofed as we need it to be. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to do that at this point. That is hugely disappointing.
As recently as earlier today, the Minister spoke about how this is a collaborative Bill. I acknowledge that in some regards the Minister has taken advice on board, particularly with regard to the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, amendments. For the most part, however, this has not been a collaborative Bill. There has been a major rush to get it through the Dáil. There was a rush on the committee to not engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The committee pushed back at that. We had pre-legislative scrutiny and it gave rise to a very worthwhile discussion.
We put forward a huge number of amendments, which the Government claimed it took on board. A review of those amendments shows that it did take them on board. In some respects, it may have taken them on board in part and taken a very veneered and light-touch approach to the suggestions and recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Then we had the Committee Stage debate last week. A total of 231 amendments were put forward by the Opposition. Unfortunately, pretty much at the start of that debate, the Minister indicated that he would not be taking any of them on board.
This needs to be a flagship Bill for the country and not just for the Green Party. The Green Party and the Government need to listen to other people's voices in the context of this Bill because they do not have all the answers when it comes to the environment. They need to listen to others. I really wish that the Minister had listened to the recommendations that were put to him by means of those Committee Stage amendments.
As a previous speaker indicated, there is a theme running through this. I never thought we would see the Opposition trying to encourage and support the Green Party and the Government to make an environmental Bill stronger and they are turning down that encouragement and support. I did not think we would see that.
One of the key gaps in this Bill relates to just transition. All the Opposition Deputies raised this as an issue. It is really disappointing that the Minister has not grasped the opportunity and made the Bill stronger when it comes to how we will meet our targets. We all agree that those targets must be met. We need to do so. What we need in that Bill, however, is some direction as to how we will meet them and who we will prioritise, support and look after.
My fear at this stage is that, as per what is normal and has traditionally happened in this country, the Government will support the corporations and big players, and individuals will be left carrying the can. However, individuals cannot do that in this instance. They cannot make up for all the emissions produced by the big players. One of the issues I raised on Committee Stage last week was that we are debating how we can set the structure in place to meet emissions targets while, at the same time, data centres are getting approvals for emissions of the same volume as those produced by County Kilkenny. How is that possible and how is it allowed to go on unhindered, with no policy direction or discussion?
There is a free-for-all happening while we are talking about how different communities are going to have to roll back on their emissions. We cannot allow this type of unfairness in the system. That is why the just transition aspect, including a definition and principles, is incredibly important to include in the Bill. The Minister said last week it is too difficult to include such provisions in legislation and it is not possible or feasible to do so. In fact, it has been done in Scotland and New Zealand and I do not see why we cannot do the same. We must not have a Bill that leaves generations, communities or workers behind. We need a very broad approach and there are huge opportunities in this country if we do it right. We must make sure we put our communities at the forefront of how we achieve our emissions targets.
When I spoke on this issue last week, the Minister said it would require separate and specific legislation to include the provisions I was proposing. When will that happen? It could take years for something like that to get through. In the meantime, the climate actions are being rolled out. A just transition must not be a reactive transition. It has to be planned and we must take a very deliberate look at the needs of each of our communities, regions and industries. We must identify what the barriers and risks are and then identify the policy drivers we can use to support communities and sectors. That is absolutely possible and feasible to do. I guarantee that if we do this properly, we will leave Ireland a much stronger country, with much stronger communities that are environmentally sound.
If the Minister does not take that approach, he risks dividing the country and setting people against each other, including farmers, people who drive cars or use other forms of transport and people in the energy sector. The provisions in this Bill must not leave us with a divided country as a result. I ask that the Minister look at the just transition principles and consider what kind of legacy he wants from this legislation. I acknowledge that he has put huge effort into it and his entire career has been working towards this point in time. I am asking that he make the provisions as strong as they possibly can be. We will work with him to do that.
I want to speak to amendment No. 19, which my colleagues and I in People Before Profit proposed. The first question to consider is what we are seeking to amend. The answer is that we want to amend the Government's failure to provide a definition of just transition. There is only one mention of it in the entire Bill, even though it is one of the fundamental issues that needs to be dealt with in these provisions. That reference is in section 4(8) of the 2015 Act, as inserted by section 6 of the Bill, as follows:
(k) the requirement for a just transition to a climate neutral economy which endeavours, in so far as is practicable, to- (i) maximise employment opportunities, and
(ii) support persons and communities that may be negatively affected by the transition;
There is nothing in the Bill to force a just transition legally or make this Bill something to celebrate this evening. I am sure the Minister and his party will celebrate because they see it as a world-historic provision.
In reality, it is a missed opportunity. If the Minister were to talk to Bord na Móna workers or the aviation workers who have been laid off or will be laid off in future as we try to curtail our aviation activity, he would not find them jumping with joy and glee over this Bill. For them, just transition does not mean a move to equitable, fair and good employment and no impact on their livelihoods and way of living as a consequence of climate emergency measures. In fact, the Bord na Móna workers I met, when they were being laid off a year or two years ago, were very disillusioned with the whole idea of climate emergency measures, as represented by what was being done to them. That is understandable because many of them, having been told there would be alternative jobs, are ending up in low-paid, minimum wage employment, with no pensions or trade union representation and no real security or decent future.
The just transition that is needed will involve making stark choices about the type of society in which we live. Naomi Klein puts this very well in her writings on what is required for a green new deal, as she calls it. She argues that we need a society and an economy that are caring and sharing, not a society that favours big business, industry and the drive for future expansion. That drive is represented best in this country by the astonishing expansion of data centres, the number of which increased by 25% in the past year. The energy regulator has warned about the huge amount of energy they use. We have had three near misses with the grid in recent times. By 2029, data centres will be absorbing 70% of all renewable energy and 30% of the entire energy on the gird. How can there be a just transition when that is happening and, at the same time, we are telling farmers they must cut back their herds and telling ordinary people their carbon taxes will increase year on year? There are many people who cannot afford to retrofit their homes.
If we continue on this path, we will create more climate sceptics. The weaknesses in this Bill will definitely feed into climate scepticism. We are seeking to amend it not because we are opposed to the need for climate emergency measures but in order to strengthen them. I know, however, that the Minister will reject our amendments. We have been offered weak provisions for just transition for communities, workers and individuals. We need to change entirely how our economy works and stop facilitating the expansion of large industries at the expense of ordinary people, small family farms and workers in this country. That is what climate justice and just transition are about. We have tried to define just transition in this amendment and that definition is worth considering. As I said, the Minister's failure to include just transition as central to the Bill will lead in the long run to a huge increase in the number of climate sceptics in this country. People will hurt as a result of these provisions. Instead of having a countryside littered with data centres and windmills to power them, we need a countryside that is ecologically safe and friendly and has more schools, properly planned towns and decent farms that can facilitate alternative types of food production. We need to ensure everybody is included and nobody is left behind.
Other speakers have noted that the recommendations from the Oireachtas committee, whose members worked very hard to change the Bill, have not been taken on board. The Minister will probably remark that he has taken on board many of our recommendations from the time he issued the first draft of the Bill. In fact, the first proposals he brought forward were so appallingly weak, it would have been impossible not to agree to change them. We want just transition to encompass a host of measures that will support and encourage communities, individuals, workers and society to move on to embracing proper climate change measures. Unfortunately, the Government has a flippant and dismissive attitude on this matter. Before coming to the House for this debate, I participated in a "Drivetime" discussion on data centres with the chairman of the climate committee, Deputy Leddin. The interviewer remarked that Deputy Leddin did not sound like a Green Party Deputy but, rather, like a member of one of the conservative parties because he favoured the immeasurable expansion of data centres over the need to focus what renewable energy we produce on powering hospitals, schools, industry and transport.
Renewable energy, whether offshore or onshore, is very important but it needs to be used in ways that benefit our society. It should contribute to a caring and sharing society that looks to develop work and how people live in a fair way that does not diminish their way of life but, in fact, enhances and improves it. That is how we will improve the environment and the world in which we live. It is how we will get buy-in to climate action rather than an increasing number of climate sceptics. I am afraid the Minister's Bill fails on this most central issue of just transition.
All other things pale into insignificance beside it. This debate will trundle on and on but there is nothing here for workers, nothing here for communities. The Bill's weakness is not defining what a just transition is and it leaves a lot to be desired.
I am also speaking to amendment No. 19. If we do not have a just transition, it is very possible there will not be any transition that is effective in dealing with climate change. This is something I do not think the Government, or the Green Party, which should know this, fully comprehends. If we alienate ordinary working people from the climate change agenda which is so urgent, if we turn them against it because we do it unfairly then it will not happen, or there is a serious danger it will not happen.
When one looks at the alarming growth of the far right, which has many elements to its sick and rather twisted ideology, be it racism, anti vaccination or conspiracy theories of one sort or another, one very serious component of the far right's rise is climate scepticism. While many of the ideologues of the far right are just dangerous nutjobs, it gains traction with ordinary people if they feel the measures being taken in the name of climate action are ones coming at their expense. It is hardly surprising that would be the case. To date, this Government, or the last one, or the Green Party based on its historical experience in Government, have not seemed to grasp that. It is simply not climate justice, or a just transition, to increase the cost of heating houses for working people who have no choice whatsoever over whether their houses are properly insulated or what type of heating system is in their houses. That is one example, and it applies to tens of thousands of renters in the private and public sector. They have absolutely no choice about the heating systems in their houses. They have no choice about whether their houses will be retrofitted. Yet year after year, they are going to be hit with an increased cost just to keep their houses warm. On the current trajectory the inequality will grow because not only will the poor be hit hardest by climate measures, but the rich will benefit. This is because if a person is cash-rich, he or she can retrofit he is or her house tomorrow. That will drive down the energy bill and the person will pay less carbon tax. Thus the rich will benefit and working people will suffer. What is that going to do for popular enthusiasm for climate change? Not a lot.
The taxi industry is on its knees at the moment, as I have pointed out to the Minister repeatedly. We get vague promises about a package of support which is frankly paltry and almost insulting, in that it is not real support. All the taxi drivers believe the Minister's failure to support them is driven by a Green dislike of the taxi industry, a determination to destroy the taxi industry and the fact that insofar as he is interested in electrifying what might be left of the taxi fleet, it will be only for the big companies which can afford the cost of electric vehicles. This is because the grant of €20,000 the Minister is offering is simply not enough for the majority of taxi drivers, who are sole traders. Maybe the big companies can do it but the individual taxi driver cannot make up the €30,000 gap. Thus, if the Minister puts them in a position where they must replace their cars, which they will have to do now at the end of this year, it will be a major investment. How are those drivers going to make up the €30,000 gap when they have already lost two years of income? It would be a huge gap in any event, even if they had not lost income due to the pandemic. That is fuelling scepticism against the environmental agenda and against the Minister specifically. Whether it is justified or not, that is the feeling out there. It is alienating people from the climate agenda and the Minister needs to address it as a matter of urgency.
It is a similar situation with public transport. If the Government wants to address the climate crisis it must improve the public transport that is available for people. The change in the use of public transport in my area because of the investment put into the DART was transformative. Previously we had a bockety old diesel suburban railway train which frankly, was unpleasant for people to get on. Consequently, many people did not use it and got in their cars. Then there was investment in the DART and it really changed things. One could say the same about people on the Luas. However, what if someone is not lucky enough to live beside the DART or beside the Luas? What of the people living in a rural area where investment in public transport is being cut back? What if, due to the privatisation agenda the Government is facilitating inside Dublin Bus, many of the public service routes that are off the central routes but which serve the older population trying to get to the hospital or whatever are lost? What will the people affected think then of the climate agenda? They will see it as something that is adversely affecting them. I could go on through the examples but I have not got time. There are also the fishermen in Dublin Bay affected by the determination to put offshore wind on the sensitive fishing areas. The turbines are to go on the banks rather than further out, as is common practice in most of the European Union, because it is too expensive for the corporations which want to make money but it would be the right thing to do for the local communities, fisherman and ultimately for biodiversity and the environment.
The Minister must hardwire the just transition into the brains of the Government and into this legislation. He has not done that. We are trying to do that with this amendment and the Minister should accept it for that reason.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I did not think she would get around to me so quickly. I am very happy to be named on the amendment. I have two points to make. The first is that it is scandalous that the Government is putting a guillotine on this, the most important - or what should be the most important - piece of legislation we will pass in this Dáil. We are not getting sufficient time to debate the issues because the Government, and the Green Party in particular, do not want to deal with the inadequacies of the Climate Action Bill. I was listening to the debate earlier and another Member made the point that we all want to see the targets and so on but the very fundamental point is that the Government's own targets, set out in the Bill, do not match with the science. They are less than even the EU targets, which also do not match the science. As such, we are not doing what the science demands here and we are going to be in a worse position as a consequence of it.
The main point I want to make is about the just transition, which is obviously effectively missing from the Bill, in that there is an absence of a decent definition and so on. There is a very good parallel between the treatment of workers in the airline industry due to Covid measures and the needs with respect to a just transition and moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy. It is remarkable that any time there is criticism about the way airline workers are being treated, the Government turns around to the Opposition and says we are responsible. It says the people in Opposition who were the ones calling for mandatory hotel quarantine, that we are the ones who have shuttered the airline industry and that of course we are responsible. There does not seem to be any kind of acceptance, or even logical acknowledgement, that one can be both for necessary public health measures, including mandatory hotel quarantine to deal with Covid, and simultaneously say that workers should not pay the price for that. We say workers should not pay the price for doing what we need to do in terms of Covid, public health, etc.
Those two positions are absolutely compatible but then there is a question of who should pay for that. We are clear that the big polluting companies should pay.
The Government's response to the airline crisis gives us real cause for concern with regard to what approach it will take with climate matters. In a similar way, certain industries will disappear completely and others will be wound down. To be blunt, in a future zero-carbon society in Ireland, we will have extremely few or no internal flights. We should instead invest in a proper high-speed rail network so people can get around the country.
That is not a call for any airline workers to lose their jobs, wages, pension benefits or working conditions. That is the point of a just transition. A just transition means that those workers whose jobs become less or whose jobs will no longer exist as a result of a zero-carbon economy that we absolutely need - there are no jobs on a dead planet - should not pay the price. That can be done completely. We are talking about the creation of hundreds of thousands of green jobs that must happen in our economy. We can have retraining for people and an absolute guarantee for people that no jobs or income would be lost.
The manner in which the Government approached the question of aviation and the impact of Covid-19 gives every indication that it will not follow this path. Instead, with Bord na Móna or other groups of workers affected by doing what is necessary with climate change, the Government will turn to the Opposition and say we are calling for climate action and, unfortunately, that is why people are losing jobs. We do not accept that and such behaviour is just giving a gift to the reactionaries in this Dáil and around the country, some of whom deny climate change and will attempt to argue that climate action will destroy people's lives and therefore people should oppose that climate action.
The exact opposite approach is needed, encapsulated in the notion of an eco-socialist green new deal that would transform people's lives for the better at the same time as rapidly moving to a zero-carbon economy. It is not just that this can be done; if we are to successfully and rapidly move at the scale and speed with which we need to move, this must be done. Without mobilising people behind the demand to build zero-carbon housing on a massive scale, providing free and quality public transport for all, a four-day week without loss of pay, sustainable agriculture and demands that will transform their lives for the better, we will not be able to overcome the opposition. That opposition comprises very substantial and vested interests in fossil fuel companies, car companies and all the rest, including the aviation industry and big agricultural companies. All of these will simply refuse to do what is necessary.
This is not some highfalutin debate about how to define a just transition. It is about getting to the centre of whether we will be able to do what the science demands, which requires the kind of programme that transforms people's lives for the better.
I really do not know where to start on this, although I will speak to the amendment. I was glad to have given something like seven hours last Wednesday to Committee Stage of this Bill, when we went through each of these amendments one by one. I was truly shocked and terribly disappointed by the Minister's statement that he does not care what amendments are brought forward, by whom or from what party or non-party, as it makes no real difference.
The Minister is saying to the Irish people tonight that it is the green way or no way. It is Eamon Ryan's way or nobody's way. The Minister wants this to be more like a dictatorship than anything else and that is wrong. He should act as a democrat and parliamentarian who takes on board other people's points of view and respects them. I, for one, have listened continuously to what the Minister and the Green Party want. I have seen how the Minister used his party's political muscle over Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, ensuring that because of the way seats fell in the last election it sees its opportunity. It is like a wasp, which does not care if it dies once it gets a final sting. The Minister does not care what happens in future to the Green Party; all he wants is to be able to say the party put in place a system that cannot be changed by future Governments or Ministers for Finance.
It is the same as the way he did away with Bord na Móna. The Minister left Dublin one day and went to the midlands so proud of himself for shutting down Bord na Móna. Bord na Móna was a great organisation and it built houses for its workers over the years. Families were reared on the backs of that great Bord na Móna organisation. The Minister was so ecstatic with himself when he announced the shutting down of Bord na Móna on one of the few occasions he has left Dublin in recent months.
I do not know how he could have that on his political CV. I do not know how he can be proud of the fact that today moss peat is coming into the North of Ireland for distribution around the country because we have stopped harvesting our own peat. How can he be proud of the fact we are no longer producing bales of briquettes here? Do not tell me we can still buy them.
Yes. I am talking about just transition. I ask the Minister, very clearly, where is the justness and fairness in this process. I have heard him say we will create green jobs instead of brown jobs but that is probably the biggest load of balderdash and nonsense. How can the Minister seriously sit there and think the Irish people will take this on board and let it wash? It is wrong.
The Minister speaks about rewetting the great bogs of Allen, where people worked or slaved, staying in tents in encampments, working day and night to drain them. With one swoop of the Green Party biro, the Minister has consigned them to being rewetted. That act is a sin. I have heard the Minister talking about holding carbon in the ground but how can he ask us to take that suggestion seriously when we are still importing these goods from overseas for sale here without a problem? At the same time, the Minister wants to gently get to the stage where he will stop farmers and other individuals from having the right to cut turf.
The Minister is not yet strong enough to do it. He has Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael where he wants them because he can keep them in power so long as he stays in his position. He will be able to railroad his way through the Irish people. The Green Party has a minute mandate, although I respect it very much. It is a very small mandate when compared with the enormity of the Minister's actions. The number of people who gave the Minister and his Green Party colleagues a number one vote is small, although I respect everybody who voted for the party. It is democracy at work. We can consider the influence of the Minister in the Government. How can he stand over his actions and sleep at night? I do not know.
The Minister is being very cocky in not accepting any of the amendments. He would not even listen to the debate on them. These amendments will be gone through one by one. We will go through the Bill line by line. I am very proud of my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group under Deputy Mattie McGrath who have worked diligently on this like everybody else who tabled amendments. I am only speaking about our group and what we are trying to do.
We are standing up for farmers, fishermen and people in the rural countryside. The Minister spoke about timelines and I asked a question about it.
I am very conscious that I am speaking to the amendment because it is about transition and how we go from here to there. It is about the fairness of it. I cannot understand how the Minister can stand over some of the measures being proposed, even in the period to 2030, including the suggestion that slurry spreading and such farming practices be carried out by 100% renewable resources, in other words, an electric tractor. I have information for the Minister. We do not yet have such a thing in Ireland and we do not yet have a battery operated tractor in Europe that would be powerful enough to pull 2,000 or 3,000 gallons of slurry out of a yard and spread it outside in a field. I must inform the Minister that there is no such thing.
Where is the fairness or the just transition in this? Does the Minister realise that in the last months Ireland has come dangerously close to-----
I will make one final point. Ireland nearly ran out of electricity. Does the Minister know that? Where is the common sense in telling everybody we must use more and more electricity when we are already at the stage of nearly running out of it?
A just transition is vital to climate action. Without an assurance of social justice, workers' rights and commitments to address poverty, any environmental measures run the risk of furthering social and economic inequalities. The amendments in Deputy Whitmore’s name, and similar amendments that include a stronger and more nuanced definition of just transition, should be enthusiastically supported by the Government. I cannot think of any reason someone would oppose a clearer definition of a fair transition in the legislation, not to mind a Bill being championed by the Green Party.
Social and environmental justice must go hand in hand. There must be substantial societal and economic transformation if we are to have any chance of playing our part in addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis. These transformations present considerable challenges and opportunities. It is essential that the State commit to shielding and supporting communities from the potential upheaval caused during the transition.
Sectors and communities that depend on fossil fuels will need support to move to more sustainable sources in their homes, farms, businesses and transport. People want to be more sustainable but they need help in making those necessary changes. We need progressive measures to support low-income households and rural areas. A carbon tax is a necessary tool to reduce emissions but it will only work if there are alternatives in place.
Poor and non-existent public transport in rural areas and a lack of active travel infrastructure mean that people have no choice but to use cars. It does not matter how expensive petrol or diesel is, people will still need cars. Without alternatives, carbon taxes are merely punitive and help to build up resentment and anti-climate science rhetoric.
We need schemes that support workers in moving to new types of employment centred on low carbon. We need carbon taxes to proactively fund the retrofitting of homes, not just reimburse those who can afford it. We must pay upfront for retrofitting, whether people own their homes or are in social housing. We need to reinstate funding for the development of recycling centres and expand their number so that there is at least one civic amenity centre close to the population it is meant to serve. These centres should be free for recyclable materials.
In agriculture, we need far more ambitious schemes that foster sustainable practices. We need to move away from an intensive farming model that demands farmers produce more and more for less and less, all the time eroding the quality of the land. Farms need support in doing this. Policies pursued by many Governments for years have pushed for a more intensive model, and farmers are still losing out. We need to flip that around. Farmers need to be incentivised to protect the landscape upon which the future of the industry depends. These incentives could range from the carbon sequestration capacity of so-called marginal land to rewarding forestry planting and biodiversity enhancement.
Earlier today, I highlighted the limits placed on the results-based environment agri pilot programme, REAP, scheme. It excluded more farmers than it supported and did not recognise the value of gorse and heather areas. We need these schemes to be ambitious and innovative.
There is a constant and false narrative around farming and climate change. A lot of that comes from this House. Politicians vigorously defending farmers insinuate that they have personally done something wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not know any farmer who actually goes about his or her everyday business in an attempt to release as many emissions as possible or to destroy as much biodiversity as possible. Government policy directly incentivised how we farm. For example, a Department official comes out to my farm every year and docks us money from the area aid payment wherever we do not have livestock on the land. The perception that farmers desperately want to stock more and more livestock units to the hectare is frankly ridiculous. I have never met anybody who goes about their day-to-day business trying to stock more and more cattle per hectare and import more and more feed from the other side of the world.
Government politicians making statements that climate action will decimate Irish farms blatantly pits farmers against science and environmentalists. A very sad result of this narrative is that the communities that would be most affected by climate change are the ones that are most scared of climate action.
We welcome climate action legislation but it is disappointing that such a ridiculously short period of time was left for Deputies to submit amendments. It is more disappointing that an even more ridiculous and shorter period of time was provided for debating those amendments. Clearly, we will not get to most of them. The near absence of a fair transition in the legislation is beyond disappointing. I implore the Government to reconsider and ensure a clear definition of a just and fair transition is added to the Bill.
I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on this Bill and rebut some of the things that have been said by Deputy Cairns. It was very unfair of her to say she did not know any farmer who was doing his best not to do harm to the land he was working. That is totally and absolutely untrue.
I will take your word for it, not Deputy Sherlock's. He attacked me when I was not inside here. He should do something about the road from Ballyhoura Cross into Kildorrery where lorries cannot park or turn right without driving up on the ditches.
The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, does not have a monopoly on the environment. Farmers have adapted a lot of new and valuable methods, be it for spreading slurry, storing slurry, spreading under the nitrates directive or spreading less fertiliser. They have been doing their best at a great cost. They were told to increase their herds by the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, seven or eight years ago. Now they are being told they must reduce their herd by 51%. That is not fair or right.
It must be remembered that climate change can occur for many reasons. One reason is that the sun comes closer to the earth at different times when they rotate.
This has happened several times and it creates an increase in climate change. We are now told data centres will use 30% of our electricity by 2027 or 2028. There was no just transition when Bord na Móna was closed down. I cannot see how anyone could be proud of this. It was supported by the other Government parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. To think they allowed Bord na Móna to be closed down. At the present time, in case the Minister does not know, timber is being drawn from south Kerry to Roscommon to keep some power plant there going because it cannot get turf. If we did not keep that power plant going, some parts of the country or many parts of it would be without electricity.
I support alternative energy and many people do. However, the wind is not reliable and we cannot ensure continuity of power from the wind when it does not blow, nor can we store the wind when we have too much of it. We have to be fair and the Bill is not fair. Farmers are being given no chance to measure the carbon they are sequestering. It is said it will take seven years but, at the same time, the Minister is putting this pressure on them and it is very unfair.
Rural Ireland is doing all the harm and there is no word about urban Dublin. The Minister was proud that he was getting a carbon tax to put new buses on the road. Where are they? They are in Dublin. If we look out the gate of the Dáil any day, and I was there for a few minutes the other day, several big double-deck buses pass with one or two people in them. They are passing each other up and they are passing each other down. There are three or four of them behind each other. Why does the Minister not suggest pedestrianising Dublin to take some of the pressure out of the city? If we are speaking about carbon, this is where the carbon is. It is not on the top of Moll's Gap. It is not in Ballinskelligs or in The Pocket in Glenmore or below in the Black Valley. I can tell the Minister there are no fumes there.
Dublin has public transport and we do not have it. People cannot move around without cars or vehicles. We need lorries to bring produce into our county from places such as Dublin. We need transport but the Minister will charge us carbon tax. At the same time, most of the carbon is being created in Dublin. The Minister does not mind this because it is his constituency and he does not give one damn about rural Ireland, rural Kerry or anywhere else. People come from all over the world to see the greenery in Kerry. We have more greenery in Kerry than any part of Dublin city. People come to see it but we are not getting credit for it.
People also come to west Cork to see the beautiful greenery, as the Minister does, but he has forgotten this when it comes to the Bill. The Bill is a complete attack on rural Ireland. I want to speak on the amendments. To think that 239 amendments were tabled, 75 of which were tabled by the Rural Independent Group, and the Minister is going to reject every one of them. Does he think we do not care? Does he think we did not meet climate action groups in west Cork who advised me on the right way to roll out a good climate action Bill? I have brought it forward to the Dáil and the Minister has rejected every one of our amendments.
I cannot speak on behalf of Sinn Féin and other groups and they will speak on their own amendments. Perhaps the Minister will change his mind because he still has a chance to do so. Perhaps he will decide not to railroad through the Bill and will sit down with the groups and parties and disagree with some but agree with more. They come from the heart of our constituencies and communities. This is what we represent. It is a scandalous shame today. Deputies who tabled amendments to the Bill and vote for it this evening should go back to their constituencies and speak to the people who elected them. They will never be forgotten or forgiven for what they have done. There is no point in us representing our constituents and the people who come from our areas. Decent hard-working people brought forward amendments to us to make sure we made the Bill even better but the Minister idly sits here and says "No" to every one of them.
Every one of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers, whether a Deputy or Senator, is patting the Minister on the back. What kind of a deal did they do a year ago to get the Green Party across the line? The Bill is an appalling attack on rural Ireland and I advise everyone who tabled an amendment to vote against it this evening and let the blame be with the backbenchers for what they have done. We will hold them to account on every one of these amendments in the years to come. I assure the Minister I certainly will do so.
I want to speak about the amendments on just transition. The Bill is being railroaded. We are paying a high price for having the Green Party in government. The Minister has a dream that there should be two cars in every village. I live every day in rural Ireland. I know this cannot work and will never work. It is a dream the Minister wants to achieve and he does not care how it is done. He will look for support for a carbon tax and he will hit the ordinary mother and father going to work every morning and young people trying to take their children to school. The Minister will hit them in the pocket and keep hitting them in rural Ireland so we can insulate Dublin. We can look after the Minister's constituents. It is a rich idea and great idea for the Minister.
Imagine the people looking to warm their homes in a warmer home scheme for two years. We have tabled an amendment to break this down to at least two months but the Minister refused to accept it. Imagine a situation where people are paying 23% VAT on insulation for warmer home products. We want it reduced to 0%. Why did the Minister not bring forward a proposal to reduce it to 5% or 6%? Some people could afford to buy insulation products to insulate their homes and try to meet the targets the Minister is telling us we must meet but that amendment is of no use because it would help the ordinary people of rural Ireland to meet the terms.
I do not have much speaking time but I want to talk about agriculture. I have heard Deputies from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil saying it has nothing at all to do with agriculture, not to worry and move on and say nothing. The former chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, Professor John FitzGerald, has warned that the only way agriculture will meet these targets is through a dramatic reduction in livestock numbers. This is in black and white and not from me or the other members of the Rural Independent Group. The Minister would love to think this is what we would be saying but it is not. It is the former chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council.
The Climate Change Advisory Council previously called for the culling of 3.4 million cattle by 2030. Today, a Deputy said farm groups had their eyes off the ball and now they are running around dramatically but they had their eyes off the ball on this one. We must remember the farm organisations in New Zealand had their eyes off the ball when the Green Party there pulled a fast one and now it is calling for a 15% cull of cattle in New Zealand. The truth is being found out as this goes on. We will be here to follow through on how the Minister is treating people in this.
The Climate Change Advisory Council will be the new Dáil. Move the blame game away. It was the same with the Taoiseach earlier when I mentioned the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, and foreign vessels that are able to come into Ireland and do what they like. He told me he had no control over the SFPA. Of course he has no control because that is the game the Government is playing. The Minister will have no control over the Climate Change Advisory Council unless he has a few buddies on it. Why will there not be an independent climate scientist on it? Is there a public policy expert on it? Is there a rural transport public policy expert on it? Will there be representatives from farm organisations?
Will there be an agricultural policy expert? Will there be a climate change economist and climate change financial analyst, and a representative to represent the interests of social justice? Will there be representatives from rural communities? The answer is "No", because the Minister has his mind made up. It will lead to the destruction of rural Ireland. I certainly will not support any part of this.
As I said when I met the climate action people in west Cork - fine decent people with whom I had many good meetings - I would support this if support for our amendments was forthcoming. I do not even know whether the Minister had read them properly. To be quite honest, it is scandalous that good parties and groups in here put forward 239 amendments and the Minister finds it in his way, and gets support from two political parties that are supporting people of rural Ireland, to refuse each one of those amendments.
We have had three or four amber alerts this year. I have a funny feeling behind the scenes the Minister is quite happy. The Minister is trying to send a message and his message is clear. It is clear that the people of rural Ireland will suffer and the Minister will be held to account for every detail of this if he has a political future in here.
I wish to speak to amendment No. 19 on the just transition.
I come from a county that is bearing the brunt of a just transition. The Minister felt the need to only mention "transition" once in a 7,000-word document. As that is a huge insult to the people of the midlands, I suggest the Minister go back and revise this.
It is shameful that the Minister has rejected amendments from all the Opposition, which put forward constructive amendments, reached out and tried to be collaborative. It is appalling. It reeks of elitism, the fact that the Minister does not care and the real arrogance of the Government. Let me remind people that the Green Party would not be doing what it is doing without the full support of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It is shameful.
I was in this Chamber with my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group last year and we pleaded with the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, to accept amendments to the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020. She refused to accept those amendments. As a result, we have chaos continuing in the forestry sector. Does the Minister think that is fair to counties such as Laois and Offaly, where we depend on employment in forestry and in Bord na Móna?
The former leader, the great Taoiseach Seán Lemass, must be turning in his grave to witness what is going on here tonight and the way the Government is selling out the country, selling out the people and walking on the ordinary rural people of this country. Let me tell the Minister this will not be forgotten and that will be for the wrong reasons. It will not be for a good reason. This will never be forgotten.
I urge the Minister to try to be constructive because it is shameful. I have dealt with hundreds of workers. I have dealt with horticultural workers, peat-harvesting workers and workers in Bord na Móna and what the Minister is doing is disgraceful. These are workers with bills and mortgages and the fact that the Minister cannot even provide alternatives is disgraceful.
The Minister should be standing up and explaining to the people of the midlands how importing briquettes and peat makes sense. When one looks at the carbon footprint created by the transportation of German briquettes or peat into this country, is the Minister for real? What planet is he on? The Minister is not on planet Earth; that is for sure. We can see that. Any practical reasonable person with an ounce of common sense would see that the Minister is not in the real world, and more shame that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could allow this to happen to the people of rural Ireland.
The Minister is destroying the midlands. Not a single job has been created. The Minister had no alternatives. The Minister would not even define what a "transition" meant and it is only mentioned once in a 7,000-word document. What does that say to the people of the midlands?
What does the fact that we have the so-called just transition commissioner being moved to another, second role to sort out pay disputes on a Government expert group? What does that say to the people of the midlands? It is truly an insult.
This will go down in history for the wrong reasons. I urge Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Deputies to cop on to themselves and serve the people who elected them, namely, the people from rural Ireland, such as the people from my constituency of Laois-Offaly, who put their faith in them and went to the polling booth to vote them in. I ask them to stand up for those people, because this is serious.
It is serious also that the Minister is happy to have a dictatorship called the climate advisory committee put in place. He is willing to legislate away the ability of Dáil Éireann to have any say in what happens in the future. It is disgraceful. The Minister is imposing this on the people. He is not bringing people with him. He is leaving communities behind.
I remind the Minister that no jobs have been created in the midlands. Offaly will bear 53% of the brunt of the job losses and the Minister thinks that is fair. Seriously, I do not know what planet the Minister is on but it certainly, as I said, is not planet Earth. The Minister needs to get real here. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael need to call a halt to this because it is ruining communities and good counties, such as Laois and Offaly, where people have worked hard in traditional employment and where people have made sure that there was work, there were jobs and they supported the local economy. What the Minister is trying to do is cripple the local economy and that is coming across clearly. We get that message clearly where the Bill states, in the proposed new section 6A(9), that "The Advisory Council shall— ... in so far as practicable, ... maximise employment". Is this for real? I thought it was a joke, when I read it, that the Minister is not prepared to prioritise employment and that Fianna Fáil is prepared to let him away with putting something like that into a Bill. I mentioned Seán Lemass, a great man who got semi-State companies up and running. There is no way this should be happening in the absence of alternatives. The Minister will plunge lower-income families into poverty. There will be fuel poverty. There are no alternatives. We are seeing German briquettes in our shops in Offaly. What the Minister has done really makes no sense.
In fact, the Minister has put off many people who were climate activists and who were active on the environment. They have gone the other way, in disgust and in disillusionment. I know that for a fact because I am in contact with many young people who were active and enthusiastic about the climate change agenda. This makes no sense, as anyone with an ounce of cop-on would see. It is doomed to failure. It will go down in history for the wrong reasons, as will this sham of a Government propped up by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies who come from rural Ireland. They should be ashamed of themselves.
I again remind Deputies we are speaking to the group of amendments beginning with amendment No. 1. While I realise that passions are high, if we could refrain from personal comments and stick to the issues, they are really important.
The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is a decent man. Tháinig a sheanathair ó Tiobraid Árann - The Caravansary used to be a pub. The Minister has great roots in the country. Anything I say to him is nothing personal. It is merely fundamentally opposed to what is happening in this Bill.
This rushed legislation had very little pre-legislative scrutiny and a kind of a mad feverish element. One day last year in the Dáil, I think, a Thursday evening, many of us had gone home when the Dáil decided that we should have this climate Bill and all parties and none signed up to it. They were trying to beat one another as to who would be the strongest and who would be in the clique. This is the social media. This is media-driven as well and nobody is standing back to question it.
I thank the hardworking staff in my office, Mairéad McGrath and, indeed, Brian Ó Domhnaill, for doing such huge work on the amendments. It is very disappointing when Deputies Nolan, Michael Collins and Michael Healy-Rae attended the committee. Last week, we were berated for not attending but I will also say - I do not want to blame the secretariat - we were not even notified of the committee. We had a call from a journalist - Brian Ó Domhnaill did - to know why we were not there. We were not even notified of it. There is some clandestine kind of a secret incremental issue going on here - shut those lads up, get it off, get it passed, do not accept any of their amendments, leave it off, we have to do this and to hell with the consequences.
I am speaking to amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, and amendment No. 1 on specifying "a just transition", because it is not a just transition. It is a most unjust imposition. That is what it is. The con of those words is really stretching the credibility of the Bill and the people who came up with these words, names and acronyms. It is not fair. It is not right. It is unfair to the English language. Today, we are celebrating one of our famous poets and authors here in Dublin. It is an unjust transition. It is an unjust imposition. Tell that to the people who Deputy Nolan represents on the bogs of Offaly.
EirGrid, the operator of the transmission system, announced amber alerts about the supply of electricity on the national grid on 11 September 2020, 6 January 2021 and 27 May 2021. We trust it with managing power. When I was on the communications committee back in 2007, 2008 or 2009 and the Minister was the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, we went out to EirGrid and we saw a fascinating project. I was amazed by the sheer scale of it. The amber alerts should be a wake-up call for the Minister, who is trying to stop the power plants. Those were only three alerts. There was a brown alert in November. We have also had power cuts. I have received approximately ten phone calls in recent weeks. There was one last Sunday week about a power outage in the town of Cahir. There was no explanation or anything about it on the website. Highly expensive catering equipment was damaged because of the outage, which happened without warning. That can happen. For example, there can be accidents and swans often hit the lines and so on, as happened in my village, but this was more serious. When will we take the wool from our eyes, open them up and see?
I have a message for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's backbenchers and the Independent Deputies who back the Government. If they vote this Bill through and then try to tell the people of Tipperary and everywhere else in the country that they did not realise what it was and they had to do it because it was in the programme for Government, it will not wash when people are in the dark and going around with candles and flashlights like the Peep o' Day Boys to find something in their kitchens or elsewhere in their houses. We cannot get generators. Timber cannot be sold for houses. There is the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. We had a Tipperary energy agency, something I was proud of, but it has been subsumed into a large conglomerate and taken away from local control. People must wait two or two and a half years when applying for a grant for insulation. One of our amendments would reduce the VAT rate on insulation. All of the policies that the Minister has passed, including the carbon tax, have driven the price of insulation upwards because it is oil based. They have driven the price of timber up by 100% and steel up by 60%, meaning that the cost of housing people has gone through the roof.
The issue of farmers has been mentioned. Farmers and farming organisations are being blamed and demonised. I like Deputy Cairns. I heard what she said and was pleased with it. No farmer gets up to do any damage to the environment. Farmers are the custodians of the environment. They have eked a living out of it. My ancestors did so, as did the Minister's on that humble farm at The Caravansary in Tipperary. If he looks at his shoes closely enough, he will see that they still have clay on them. He is a bit removed from Tipperary but I ask him to please feel the clay and the passion of the earth. Remember the Famine. We are going to create another famine because of food shortages and no light. We will be back living prehistoric lives if this nonsense happens.
Renewable heat fuels obligation, RHO, schemes allow industry to advance competitive decarbonisation solutions for heat sectors, supporting indigenous sources without burdening Exchequer funding. The Minister never considered these. In France, biomethane will be the most competitive solution, allowing manufacturing and export industries to address their main issues while providing new income for farmers, turning perceived emission and waste issues into an opportunity. Why do we not do this? Why is there a rush and indecent haste? Any legislation that is rushed will have flaws, and this legislation is deeply flawed.
Why does the Government not discuss the Bill with farming organisations? Many organisations have come to me and my group, the Rural Independent Group. Some did so very late in the day. The IFA came here today. It was probably a year late. I do not know whether it has bought into this, but it will have a realisation when there is no power for its farmers' milking machines. How will they have tractors and everything else? The IFA actually criticised us for scaremongering about the national herd but that came from Professor John FitzGerald and many other independent people who said that we could not achieve what we wanted to by 2030 without culling the herd. We saw the two lovely animals with the IFA today. Let the farmers live.
I appeal to the Minister to remove the guillotine from this Bill and give us time to debate it. Engage with people. He is driving the people who are interested in climate change and a just transition away from him. A spoon of honey is better than a bucket of vinegar. Will the Minister please get out the honey and try to bring people with him instead of forcing them? I am surprised. We have had a tyrannical 15 months with Covid and this is a further tyranny. The climate change Bill is the new red. Green is the new red. It is a form of communism. It wants people to be cold in their homes and workplaces. It is making people little and back into what they were in prehistoric times. It is shameful, it is downright stupid and it is not necessary.
There is no getting around it - this is landmark legislation. Temperatures are high and we are on Report Stage on the back of a Committee Stage that took place last week. We in opposition are disappointed with how the latter element went. In advance of Committee Stage and this debate, I looked back over my Second Stage speech. Knowing what was coming and that no further changes would be made, we could just have gone through Second and Committee Stages in late April and been two months closer to the carbon budgets and climate action plan, which are the real meat that we hope will help us reach our targets. This is framework legislation.
Last week's Committee Stage and the amendments now under discussion on a just transition have left a sour taste at the end of a process that started well. As I stated on Committee Stage, the Bill's pre-legislative scrutiny stage was a wonderful example of how our Parliament could work well and constructively. The Minister played a leading role in that and the Opposition in both Houses played a good role. It was very good work. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same of the past two weeks.
The real work that will have to be done is not included in the Bill. It will follow afterwards. The Bill is the framework, though, and it was an opportunity to include what we needed to in terms of the just transition so that the most vulnerable, those on the fringes, those experiencing poverty and those communities that are most at risk from the dramatic changes that we will have to make across all sectors of society are not left behind.
So far, some of the debate has pitted one sector or community against another, but our greenhouse gas emissions are spread across a number of sectors. It is not exactly an even spread, but it is even enough to show that we will all have to make significant changes. The Minister understands this. Agriculture is a large emitter of greenhouse gases. Transport is also a large emitter of greenhouse gases. I live in Dublin, one of the most congested cities in the world. Sometimes it is as high as third place on that list and has regularly been in the top 25 in recent years. I am ashamed of that. The congestion is not down to buses, but to cars. We need to make significant changes in Dublin, our major cities and our large towns to reduce emissions. That will require considerable lifestyle changes that may be uncomfortable for people. Energy consumption, including home energy consumption, is another large greenhouse gas emitter. This cuts across all communities, urban and rural.
We need supports to be in place if the transition is to be just. If the language in the Bill was stronger and had the amendments that were presented by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Community Law & Mediation and the Jesuits been included, we would have much more comfort about what was to come after the Bill and would be much more confident that people and communities, be they surrounded by buildings or fields, would be covered when measures were introduced through carbon budgets and climate action plans.
We are going into this feeling a bit uncomfortable and shaky because it is obvious to anyone in the House that, if 80 Green Party Deputies made up the Government side, the Bill would look different. We know that the Green Party's Government partners drew a guillotine down on the Bill after its pre-legislative scrutiny stage and said that they would go no further on the just transition or climate justice because doing so would not have suited them or their interests. As exhibited during the recent level 5 restrictions, they want to continue building data centres. I mentioned this on Second Stage and it was referenced today by Deputy Bríd Smith. Ireland is on track to have more than 100 data centres in four or five years' time. The energy consumption of such centres is off the charts. Nothing is comparable. We will scramble to produce renewable energy just to power these behemoths of energy consumption on the fringes of our cities and towns. They do not create many good jobs, unionised jobs or just jobs. They have a voracious appetite for water and this country has significant water security issues coming down the road.
Everything falls under the umbrella of a just transition when we go into the detail of these issues. We will be back debating the nuts and bolts of this but we feel an opportunity has been lost to take a global lead, with countries like Scotland and New Zealand, in how we define a just transition and climate justice, and how we make them central to our policy and decision-making. Unfortunately, this has not been done. There is one reference to a just transition and it is far too weak. That is where we are coming from and that is why there is a sour taste in many of our mouths for the final Stages of this Bill.
There is more to come. We may need amending legislation following this. We hope that the Minister will engage constructively on that. He has not spoken yet, but I assume his stance is as it was at Committee Stage, in that no amendment will be taken. There could have been a 20-minute, a 20-hour or a two-week debate on this stage. The fact of the matter is that nothing will change based on what was presented after Second Stage and we are where we are. The fight and the battle will move to the next part which is the climate action plan. It is a shame that we are where we are on those elements, notwithstanding that there will be a significant shift after this Bill is passed, which cannot be lost in the heat of discussing the amendments that are not accepted.
This Bill sets the stage for the future. The future is all those people who were out on the streets, the students in 2019, and all the NGOs that have been campaigning for a robust climate action Bill over recent years. We had hoped to get it from the Green Party but I am afraid that tonight, we did not get it in this Bill. The initial Bill was very weak. The committee did great work on the pre-legislative scrutiny, from which we have two pieces of wording. On climate justice, it is stated:
‘climate justice’ means the requirement that decisions and actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change shall, in so far as it is practicable to do so, safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable persons and endeavour to share the burdens and benefits arising from climate change
The wording on "just transition" states:
the requirement for a just transition to a climate neutral economy which endeavours, in so far as is practicable, to—
(i) maximise employment opportunities, and
(ii) support persons and communities that may be negatively affected by the transition.
It is not good enough. The Minister mentioned that he could not put a stronger just transition definition into the Bill. However, we know that has been done in other jurisdictions in relation to a defined and clear just transition definition. That is what is required in this Bill. I appeal to the Minister, at this late stage, to do that, to sit down with other parties and to work out that just transition wording.
The justification for the Green Party entering the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Government was to ensure it got a robust climate action Bill, but I am afraid this Bill falls far short of what is required. Put simply, climate justice means that those individuals, corporations and states that contribute most to climate change must contribute most to its solution. Some of the world's poorest people, who are affected by drought, flooding and the loss of land to desert, not at some time in the future but today, have contributed hardly anything to climate change. We have seen advertisements on TV about deserts and societies that had previously been able to sow seeds and cultivate their land. The land is desert now. This is happening now.
In 2015, Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty calculated that the top 10% of emitters worldwide contributed approximately 45% of global emissions annually, while the bottom 50% contributed approximately 13%. Accordingly, the first principle of climate justice is that the richest individuals and societies, those that contribute most to global warming, must pay to protect poorer individuals and societies from its negative effects and must also play the biggest part in halting and reversing those effects.
There have been points made about carbon taxes. Climate justice must also apply to carbon taxes. Carbon tax is one of the most commonly proposed means of lowering emissions but it is controversial because it is regressive, meaning that those with less wealth and income end up paying a greater proportion of their income and wealth than those with more. This is the situation with Ireland's current carbon tax regime, which involves a simple tax on fuel, oil, natural gas, kerosene, marked gas oil, liquid petroleum gas and solid fuels. The Bill should include progressivity in carbon taxes as a guiding principle of climate action. There is a need for all carbon taxes to be progressive, that is, for the proportion of an individual's income or wealth paid in tax to increase with increasing income and wealth and for the revenue from such taxes to be solely spent on measures to further climate justice, including a just transition.
The question of a just transition for those who could lose their jobs, such as those in Bord na Móna and the ESB, is a major weakness in the Bill. There must be strong income supports and retraining, alongside investment in sustainable green industry in the areas most affected. A just transition is best achieved through the solidarity economy, meaning through initiatives controlled and owned by local communities. For example, a body of research shows that a community is much more supportive of renewable energy production if it has a stake in it. The Western Development Commission has shown that community-owned energy initiatives have greater economic multiplier effects than externally-owned projects.
One of the final points I will make is that climate justice demands that the Bill sets much more ambitious goals. The global target for net greenhouse gas emissions is that they reach net zero by 2050. However, the living standards of the poorest people, who are least responsible for climate change, need to rise to acceptable levels. That means the poorest countries should be allowed to increase their emissions for some time after the richest nations. They should not be expected to reach net zero emissions until after 2050. To achieve the global goal, countries such as Ireland need to reach net zero emissions long before 2050.
I have been involved in #FixTheBill, which is an umbrella movement for a large group of NGOs and environmentalists that have sent an email to all Deputies on climate justice, a just transition, relevant bodies, accountability, and overall ambition. This group is not happy with this Bill and it wants to see a just transition and climate change strengthen to the point where they will have an impact on all communities, on agriculture, in rural and urban areas and in factories and workplaces all over the country. Unless we have a strong just transition definition in this Bill, the Minister will not bring those communities with him. This is a warning to him. He will not bring them with him. There is a need to involve the trade unions in this as well because they have called for a strong just transition based on the model in Scotland.
I commend a number of the amendments that have been put forward by my colleagues, Deputies O’Rourke, Cronin and Carthy. I will speak in favour of amendment No. 1 and beyond, that is, to those amendments that relate specifically to the just transition. I echo many of the calls in this House. We accept there must be moves made in the direction of dealing with the climate problem. Even as a small State, we are part of a wider European Union, a wider globe and we need to deliver on that. There is an obvious necessity for accountability measures and to ensure we follow through on targets. It has been said by many, that there is a feeling out there when people hear about climate change and action being taken from a governmental point of view that it is about costs. They associate it with costs; costs for those who can least afford it, including those on the peripheral of society, those in rural Ireland and the farming community, in particular, who do not necessarily have many alternatives.
Until we have alternatives in respect of fuel and so on, it will be very difficult for people not to see the likes of the carbon tax as an imposition and something that makes them poorer. Deputy O'Rourke and others spoke about their disappointment that we have not included just transition in this Bill. We are talking about a just transition that delivers for all those groups, including workers and their families. We must engage with all the necessary stakeholders, that is, the employers and the workers, and such a transition must also deal with farmers. I have said this previously and I will repeat myself: there is an onus on the Government, the Minister and others who want to deliver this change, to engage with these stakeholders, particularly with those in the farming community. Many of them are incredibly apprehensive about this and the Government must show them a roadmap and a shared journey. That is something that could be done at Government level and it has to be done.
I also echo the huge disappointment about missing a trick as regards dealing with protections within this Bill. Doing so would mean we would be protected if the State were foolish enough to follow through on CETA and particularly the investor court system. I hope we do not go down that road and that we do not leave ourselves open to being taken to the cleaners by big business. We will have missed a trick by not dealing with that within this Bill.
To deal specifically with farming, we spoke about the CAP question earlier and every speaker referred to the necessity of not only delivering a steady supply of safe food but also of having sustainable family farms. I have already stated that many people in rural Ireland, and many farmers, are apprehensive about this and there is a need to deal with all those stakeholders. It is absolutely necessary and will also make the Government's actions on climate change easier to deliver.
Deputy Carthy and I recently attended a meeting with the local IFA in Monasterboice, at which it specifically dealt with the changing nature of dealing with climate change. People spoke about renewables, difficulties they had with microgeneration schemes and a number of things that must be dealt with. There were a huge number of people there who saw the necessity for change. What they need is interaction from the Government and a deliverable roadmap. I accept that we are going to have to do this in every sector but we need to ensure that we bring as many people along the road as possible.
I ask the Minister to look at a number of Sinn Féin's amendments, particularly those that relate to certain protections and lay out the detail on the just transition. We need to make sure there is a level of accountability from this House as regards any changes or plans that are put in place but, beyond that, that we must also ensure the necessary interaction with all those stakeholders takes place. We all have a stake in this. This is about delivering our future and that of our children and grandchildren. We all have a part to play but there is a missing link at this point in time. This has to be about a just transition. It has to be about delivering what is possible and what will deliver for our people, not only environmentally but in a viable, sustainable and economic way that does not hurt those who are already being hurt. We need to put protections in place and I ask the Minister to look at the Sinn Féin amendments in that regard.
I rise to support amendment No. 20, which I understand is in this grouping. The reason we are so exercised about the just transition is that we all, from our various perspectives, feel strongly that, for workers in the sectors where there is a transition to be made, that transition must be a just and fair one. The State should recognise that by ensuring a funding line into it and supporting it using all the mechanisms of the State that can be employed to ensure the transition takes place in a fair manner. I refer to agriculture in particular because if we are moving towards this transition, there must be some recognition that farmers may have to change. If funding lines such as schemes and supports through CAP or the European Union are changing, that transition must be made as just and fair as possible. People involved in agriculture must be part of that process. They need to feel they have ownership of that process and that it is not foisted upon them.
The reason I am so exercised about the de facto deletion of any reference to just transition in the Bill - save for one, which is not substantial - is that I was on the Joint Committee on Climate Action with the current Minister before he became a Minister. Deputy Eamon Ryan, as he was at the time, played a massive part on that committee and people like me supported the ask that just transition be reflected in the report arising from the Citizens' Assembly deliberations. That is why it is very hard to understand why now, in framework legislation, there is no reference to the just transition or any substantial definition of it. Even if one were to take the Minister at face value about the legislation he is promulgating and accept that there will be sectoral plans dealing with agriculture, transport and all the other areas affected by climate action, there should still be some guiding definition of the just transition. Then, in agriculture, for instance, when devising sectoral action plans for afforestation, the principles of the just transition would have to be applied to make it as fair as possible for people who operate in that sector. That is the logic of the amendments on the just transition and that is where we are coming from. I cannot understand why the Minister has taken such a stern line on this issue. It is something the Green Party put forward in its own just transition Bill when in opposition. I do not understand why it is demurring or withdrawing from it now. We have not heard from the Minister what his plan is regarding this issue.
We put down amendments on afforestation targets because year after year, we are missing targets on afforestation. We have heard about this chapter and verse. Deputy Fitzmaurice is one of the strongest voices on forestry licences in this Dáil and we have always supported him when it comes to the plight of people in the forestry sector. I am dealing with cases relating to that issue in my own constituency.
My point is that if we had a proper target for afforestation and a proper, fit-for-purpose forestry service to enable forestry licences for felling and growing to be procured in a timely fashion, that would feed into this climate agenda. It is not being considered in this legislation, because I am being told the idea of having a sectoral target for afforestation is a charge on the Exchequer. This is the new tool now being used for legislative purposes to block amendments. I understand the ruling of the Chair of the committee and I always abide by those rulings, as I do by those rulings made by the Ceann Comhairle, because I respect parliamentary tradition and the rules laid down by this House. However, there comes a time when it is necessary to push back against what I call a tool being used to block what we consider very effective and genuine amendments to encourage the planting of more trees and feed into this agenda more effectively. When seeking to amend the legislation to that effect, though, we are told that there will be a charge on the Revenue to have a sectoral plan. That defies logic in my book.
I think today is Bloomsday. I am not a Joycean scholar by any manner or means, but I think we would all have admired Nora Barnacle for the way in which she was able to marshal Mr. Joyce. One day, she asked him why he would not write books that people can read. I think that sentiment would appeal to some of us here. We might not be Joycean scholars, but we can certainly appreciate the global impact James Joyce had in respect of Irish literature. It is not, however, to everybody's taste. In the same vein, I ask the Minister to write legislation that everybody can read, write in the just transition element as an abiding principle and then work through all the sectoral plans.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on these amendments on the subject of a just transition. The Minister referred to retrofitting a great many houses in the midlands when he spoke about the just transition and that being a part of such a just transition. Funnily enough, Roscommon County Council is sending out letters to people, and elderly people first of all, who might be putting in windows, doing up a roof or fitting insulation. Letters are being sent out, one after another, to tell those people that the council's budget is gone. It is not the fault of the council and I am not blaming it. However, let us not be talking out of the two sides of our mouths by saying we are going to retrofit a certain number of houses, while we are still going to leave these people, and especially our elderly people, vulnerable in counties all over the country.
When we talk about a just transition, therefore, let us not put the cart before the horse. Let us ensure that we have the funds in place. Retrofitting a house, including a deep or medium retrofit, costs money. In addition, we must remember all the new regulations and the increase in the price of building materials in the context of this climate agenda. I was talking to a builder yesterday and it is now being reckoned that an extra €90,000 has been added to build what was a €300,000 house. There has been an increase of more than 35% on everything. It is now a bargaining tool in respect of getting materials, which is a really problematic situation.
I am not going to dwell on this point for too long, but I cannot see how this Bill will be of any use for rural Ireland. The Minister spoke about the just transition. In the last few hours, the courts have overturned planning permission for the construction of a wind farm in the midlands, with wind turbines that are similar to those being erected all over the country. They do not create jobs. For the life of me, I cannot understand why seven lorryloads of diesel or heating oil are going into data centres in this city, when we are here talking about climate change, because the ESB will not guarantee the power supply. There is something illogical about what we are doing in this country when we talk about a just transition. Workers in the midlands are not allowed to mill peat, but we can bring it into the docks on a boat. Peat briquettes are also coming in from Germany, Estonia, Latvia and other countries, while Bord na Móna must get out of producing them in four years' time.
Turning to the forestry sector, while we have one, a Minister of State is responsible for it. We have had mention of this great figure since 2016 of 8,000 ha each year. There is not a farmer that has a bit of confidence in that now. It is a Department in chaos, with a Minister of State that will not take it by the scruff of the neck. It will not change because when courage is lost in an industry, it is gone. This is an industry which is under ferocious pressure to get enough timber for the mills, while there is talk then about 8,000 ha a year. It is pure BS that we are talking. We are writing down stuff here about achieving X, Y and Z, with this offsetting that. It is not going to happen unless civil servants within Departments change their attitudes and unless there are also changes in certain Departments. That is the bottom line, and that will not happen in this country for the simple reason that there is no one to crack the whip now.
Regarding the farming community and rural areas, the Minister referred to bringing a Luas, tramlines or something to Cork, but there does not seem to be anything at all for Galway city. Nothing must be wanted there. It must be fairly handy that the cars can shoot around there, even though there is chaos. We need the outer bypass done in Galway. Moving on to rural transport, I got phone calls yesterday from people who want such transport, but they cannot get it because of Covid-19. When I was going to school, it was like "The Late Late Show", there was a bus for everyone in the audience to go to national school. Hardly a youngster now, however, is able to get a bus and we are talking about the climate. We are basically talking out of the two sides of our mouths at the same time.
Looking at agriculture, I refer to people who will vote for the Mercosur deal, CETA or any of these deals. I read an article two days ago about the rainforest being hammered down, and yet the EU, the unelected bureaucrats, will still do deals with all the countries involved to bring beef across. We have become nothing but salespeople and all we want to do is to tick a box. I predicted before, and I repeat it here on the record of the Dáil as this Bill is going through Report Stage, that we are going to run out of power by 2026. I say that because RTÉ had a big report - I would call it propaganda - about the coal-burning power station below in Moneypoint changing over to a new hydrogen system. It was reported as if it were around the corner and it would nearly be happening the next day, but it is ten years away. I have also spoken to people involved with wind energy projects out in the sea and they say such projects will require ten to 14 years to reach fruition. However, we are now stopping the clock on places like Shannonbridge and Lanesborough power stations. We are basically leaving people without jobs.
We talk about all these jobs that will be created, but it is all cuckoo stuff that we are talking about. Those jobs do not exist now and people have not got them. We should ensure we have balanced regional development. A person on the advisory council said that the only approach was to cull the national herd. We cannot have people making decisions out in public. Half the people on that council should be from rural Ireland, and not a team of people from universities or from the different places in cities who do not understand the rural way of life.
I want to make one point very clearly, because I know that the Minister is not going to accept amendments and he is going to ram this Bill through as best he can using the guillotine. I cannot for the life of me understand how Fine Gael and Fianna Fail Deputies from rural areas will stand up tonight and press a button to agree with the Minister's Bill. The Minister will come and go, but one thing I guarantee is that rural Irish people will stick their ground. If the Minister starts tampering with them or hammering them, they will stand up. The Covid-19 crisis will go and people will be able to go out and protest. I guarantee that will happen within the next six months if the Minister tramples on people's feet.
It is very important to state what this Bill is about. It is about creating a framework through which this country can confront a climate crisis that is threatening livelihoods not only in Ireland but right across the globe. This legislation is, for the first time, providing for a clear, transparent, accountable method through which we can identify what needs to be done and make Ministers and sectors accountable for progressing that. It is not going to be easy. Many people were critical of the climate action plan that I introduced, which envisaged 1 million electric cars on the road by 2030, 500,000 homes retrofitted and so on. It contained many ambitious targets, including the generation of 12 GW of renewable energy, but the reality is that we need to do more and this Bill enshrines doing more.
Most Members support the targets that are being set. Indeed, most of the Opposition is looking for even higher targets than those set in the Bill. That is the background. It is disheartening to listen to this debate because so far, no Member has addressed how we are going to achieve the targets that we all know need to be reached. It is interesting to note that people outside of this House, whether they represent the agricultural sector or any other sector, recognise that this change needs to be made. When one comes in here, one would think one was listening in a different world from that inhabited by everyone outside in the community. The wider community is being poorly represented by those who say "not an inch" and that they will attack this in every way. They assert that they will see the back of every Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, or Green Party Deputy who backs this Bill but they are sticking their heads in the sand. They are ensuring the future for their communities will be worse because we are not starting to address these challenges. That is what they are doing but they are doing it by way of veiled threats against others, claiming that there will be a day of reckoning.
I fully support the idea of a just transition but when one reads the amendments, one sees that there are 11 different versions of what Opposition Members want in this regard. When one reads into the detail of what is being sought, one can see how difficult it would be for the Minister to accept them. They want to maintain social consensus throughout this process but that is going to be very difficult. These are difficult changes that will be challenging but at some point we have to act. We cannot just wait for another discussion and another round of hoping to find social consensus. They want those who are affected to maintain their current income in all circumstances but the reality is that we have been using our planet profligately and we cannot compensate everyone. The taxpayer's pocket is not deep enough to ensure that everyone is left no worse off than before. This is a transition to a new life and a challenging change that we need to make as a community, together. The importance of this Bill is its creation of a framework for doing that together.
The definitions of justice offered by the Opposition include a requirement to be morally fair, reduce inequalities and protect people against financial hardship but a climate Bill cannot do all of those things. They are the task of Government and this Oireachtas, seeking to manage the many challenges we face, including economic, social and climate challenges. These are not provisions that can be written into a Bill, with a Minister made accountable for them. Members opposite cannot say that they will not move an inch until all of these requirements are met. That is simply not realistic politics and many of those articulating this know that it is not realistic politics but they want to create a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation with the people who are trying, in an honest way, to confront the global challenge. It reminds me of the late Brian Lenihan who, when asked about fair tax, said that the only fair tax is the tax that I do not pay. If that is our definition of fairness, we will never have fairness or a just transition.
At the heart of this Bill is a just transition and that is what I find so disappointing about this debate. Deputies are not talking about the substance of what we need to do. In the opening lines of the Bill's citation is a reference to approving a plan that will promote climate justice. It goes on to define what climate justice is about and refers to the most vulnerable persons who must be protected. It then goes on to say how the Minister must handle this. The Minister is required to ensure that a just transition to a climate neutral economy maximises employment and supports those who are most vulnerable in the community and those communities that are negatively affected. That is what is at the heart of this Bill but Opposition spokespeople are trying to pretend that is not the case. Not only is it at the heart of this Bill, the Government has shown its good faith and commitment in this regard. We already have a just transition commissioner and have invested substantially in just transition measures. The warmer homes scheme, for example, is going to be doubled, if not trebled, in the years ahead.
Work is going on in many areas but of course, we have to do more. One of the sectors in which we have to do most is agriculture. In the future, farmers will make money partly from producing food but also from farming carbon. Those on the benches opposite should be coming up with policy tools that will help us to reward farmers so that in ten years, they can have a healthy family farm income. It is doing farmers no service to just say we will not have this, that or the other. We have to come up with policy tools together that will address this problem. That is why the tone of this debate is disheartening. Deputies are claiming that this is an attack on rural Ireland.
People talk about this Bill being rushed but this legislation was produced in its original form in 2019. We had 50 hours in pre-legislative scrutiny when any Deputy could have come in and contributed. We had 14 hours of Committee Stage debate and none of the issues that are now on the agenda were raised and none of the Deputies who are protesting now contributed to that debate.
On a point of order, he needs to take that back. I certainly spent hours discussing this and our amendments. Every one of our amendments was refused and Deputy Bruton had better wake up and smell the grass growing. He and his party have been representing the rich farmers for all of his life-----
As leader of the group, I ask Deputy Bruton to withdraw his allegation. In actual fact, as I said earlier, we were not even notified of the committee meeting even though we had tabled 90 amendments. A journalist rang us but we were not notified.
I am quite happy to acknowledge that Deputy Naughten stayed throughout the debate. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae was also there throughout the debate but none of the other Deputies who are here now, protesting loudly, turned up-----
Three of our Deputies attended when we found out through a journalist that the meeting was taking place. We were not even told it was on. I know where the blame lies there. The clerk to the committee was very nice to us about it but it happened. I am asking Deputy Bruton to please correct the record in what he is saying. Three of our Deputies attended and dealt with all of our amendments.
We all know that the committee's schedule is available for all Members, whether they sit on a committee or not. It is available to every single Member so I do not accept that as a point of order. We are going to move on with our speaking schedule. I call Deputy Tóibín.
The point of order is that I attended one of the days of the meetings. Deputy Bruton says we never attended, only Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. I attended on the Thursday, as did Deputy Nolan. Deputy Bruton needs to correct the record of the Dáil. He may not have been in attendance. I do not know but I will not speak on his behalf. I will speak on my own behalf. How shameful he is.
That is the reality. When we could have gone through the amendments line by line and discussed them in a calm environment, which the committee provided for, the Deputies were not moved to discuss them in that way and so we were not able to tease out the arguments that lay behind them.
I want to correct one matter. If a meeting is held in private and you are not a committee member, you cannot attend it. Most of the committee meetings were held in private. Go back on the records because that is the truth of what happened. I had a fierce interest in this but I was not a member of the committee. Most of the meetings were held in private and, as such, I could not attend. I want that to be understood.
I do not want to contradict the Deputy but that is not true because last week I attended a private session of a committee that I am not on and it is a regular and common practice. I am ruling that out. We are proceeding with Deputy Tóibín and I would ask everyone for forbearance. A huge amount of work has to be done tonight. Deputy Tóibín has been standing for about six minutes waiting to contribute. I ask that he proceed uninterrupted.
Climate change is a real issue and climate change undoubtedly has to be dealt with. However, it has to be dealt with fairly and justly. The term "just transition" is in the Bill but the truth of the matter is that the people who are affected do not trust the Government on what it says about a just transition. I will tell the Minister why they do not trust the Government.
The fact of the matter is rural Ireland has suffered radically in recent decades in this country. We have a city state developing in this country. The size of Dublin is way out of kilter with the rest of the country. Even in Britain, London is considered too big for the rest of the country but London does not make up half the proportion that Dublin makes up of this country. Some 48% of the investments that happen in this country happen in the greater Dublin area.
The only reason we have seen any population growth happen outside of that in counties such as Monaghan, Cavan, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Laois and other counties is because they have become a commuter belt. We have tens of thousands of people leaving counties such as Meath every day and going into Dublin to work. They are living in a commuter hell. All the governments of the past 20 years have said to those people in those counties that if they want to live there, they had better commute two to three hours every day. We can see it in the population because if you are a young person or part of a young couple and you want to get a university-type job, you cannot get it in regional or rural Ireland. You must move to Dublin to get the job but you cannot live in Dublin so you have to live in the commuter belt.
You can see that in the age profile that is prevailing in this country. The average age of people living in Killarney is ten years older than of people living in Balbriggan. There is a massive and unending migration of people towards the greater Dublin area. The reason for that is the infrastructure has been going into that area in recent decades. The reason the infrastructure has been going in there is the political establishment is more and more Dublin-based. I listened to the former Minister, Deputy Bruton. His party, Fine Gael, is becoming a city party. Its centre of gravity is south Dublin. There are constituencies throughout this country that will never again vote for a Fine Gael Deputy because of what it has done to their constituencies.
If you look at the farming community, the average wage of a farmer is at least €10,000 less than the average industrial wage, but if you are a beef farmer, the average wage is about €10,000 and most of that consists of subsidies. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in government have allowed a situation to happen in the beef sector whereby the producers are selling a product at below the cost of production to factories and supermarkets that are making supernormal profits out of that. Those three parties have allowed that dysfunction to happen. According to Teagasc, only 37% of farmers in this State can make a living off the farm alone. Another 33% of farmers can only make a living off that farm because they are working off the farm. About 30% of farmers are being driven into poverty and debt. Every year there are fewer farmers in this State.
When the people of the midlands and much of rural Ireland hear the Government talk about just transition, they simply do not believe it. Why would they? Actions speak louder than words and the actions of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party when they have been in government in recent years have let down rural Ireland and farmers radically. You need only look at the services that are being pulled out of rural Ireland. Post offices and banks are being closed and pubs and schools are closing. There are parts of this country where the schools are being closed and they are building new schools in Dublin. What economic sense says that a school should be closed in a rural area and a brand new school built in Dublin? None at all. Dublin is overheating as a result of this in terms of accommodation, transport and access to schools etc. There is a radical imbalance in the development of this country and it is being driven by 20 or 30 years of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party governments.
How in the name of God, therefore, would anybody trust the Government when it says it will deliver on this and on just transition? Farmers look at what is happening and they see Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil signing deals such as Mercosur, which brings beef from countries that are felling the Amazon thousands of miles to this country at lower prices than beef is created here. At the same time the Government tells farmers we are all in this together in reducing the level of greenhouse gases that are being produced. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael also call for CETA to be passed so that Irish farmers have to go into competition with Canadian farmers in these products.
The evidence is clear and the only way the Government could convince rural Ireland and farmers it means business with regard to just transition would be to grab the beef sector by the scruff of the neck and force the factories and the supermarkets to operate in a fair supply chain, where the profit is fairly delivered over the three components of that supply chain. It should also start focusing on infrastructural development. One of the biggest infrastructural developments that will happen in the Limerick and mid-west will be bringing water to Dublin. What about bringing people or jobs to the mid-west?
I have no trust in this Government when it comes to just transition and I have no doubt most of the farmers and people living in rural Ireland do not trust the Government either. This Bill and much of Government policy is being built on the backs of the people who can least afford it, the people who have been stuffed for generations by this Government.
That is one of the reasons I voted against this Bill on Second Stage and will be forced to vote against it again. I support measures that will fight against climate change but they must be fair and just.
I call Deputy Naughten. I remind speakers that there is a mechanism for them to come in again for another two-minute contribution. If people have things to get off their chests, they will shortly be able to make their points.
I had hoped to be able to speak directly to my amendments but I do not think I am going to have the opportunity. I want to speak on Report Stage of this Bill. As I said in my contribution on Second Stage, we must bring in new legislation to deal with the challenges we have here. I did not have the type of legislation the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is bringing in available to me when I was Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. In fact, the initial work on this legislation commenced when I was Minister. We commenced that work because it was important that we took action quickly. If we delay action, it will mean that we will face even more drastic cuts down the road.
I represent a constituency that faces a greater impact in terms of climate than most other constituencies across the country. There is a focus on the peat-fired power stations in the midlands, particularly those in Lanesborough and Shannonbridge, and the impact their closure will have from an employment perspective. The vast majority of the 169 families who looked for voluntary home relocation are either in my constituency or adjoining it. Many of the people concerned have lived for generations in those particular homesteads and are now being forced out because of the changing climatic conditions in this country. The same applies to farmyard relocations.
In my contribution on Second Stage, I gave an example of how slowly policy is being implemented. The decision was taken in January 2018 to stop putting any further fossil fuel buses on our roads as part of our public transport service. However, the very first double-decker electric bus will not be on the streets of this city until January 2023, five years after it was first proposed. Many of the speakers here this evening have spoken about the issue of data centres. Three and a half years ago, the matter was debated at Cabinet and a policy decision was taken to restrict the number of data centres that were being developed in this country. Three and a half years later, the regulator is only now saying that we must begin to put the brakes on. I understand the frustrations that are there. Minister after Minister and Government after Government have wanted to make a real difference but the levers to make it are not there. We need this legislation so that we have a long-term sustainable planet.
I attended all seven sessions on Committee Stage and debated each of the amendments I put forward. The Minister will agree that none of my amendments would water down the impact of this legislation. I have concerns, one of which is that the legislation should reflect, as has been recommended by the climate change advisory council, the setting of separate targets for agricultural and biogenic methane. I believe it is a weakness of this legislation that the clear recommendation of the climate change advisory council is not reflected in it.
The other issue I wish to raise is that the sectoral targets should be debated and approved by Dáil Éireann. It is wrong that is not happening because unless we have a full, open and responsible public debate in this Chamber, we will not get buy-in from the public. If we do not get that buy-in, we will not be able to achieve the targets or implement the measures that need implementation as soon as possible.
I am not going to oppose the passage of this legislation. However, I ask the Minister, as I did on Committee Stage, to carefully consider the two sets of amendments I have put forward. Those amendments would strengthen the implementation of this legislation and the ability to deliver it, while providing a just and fair transition to every community around the country. Let those communities be a part of that transition and work with Departments and agencies to deliver it. I fear, given the way this legislation is drafted, that it will come back to bite the Minister. If he does not accept my amendments tonight, I will give the Minister the opportunity to consider them again in the autumn, at which time I will bring forward amending legislation that will reflect those amendments. If the Minister does not accept my amendments tonight or in the Seanad next week, I hope he will accept them when we come back in the autumn. They are submitted in the interests of the proper and fair delivery of what must be a just transition that brings our citizens and people with us on the journey and avoids the type of adversarial debate we have heard here tonight.
I wish to speak in support of the amendments Deputy Naughten has put forward on behalf of the Regional Group. I have a particular concern around the agricultural sector. There has been discussion in the media in recent months that has tacitly steered towards the identification of the agricultural sector as a big problem in terms of climate. I do not think that is entirely justified. We have previously spoken about the issue of biogenic methane. New Zealand has come up with a construct that separates biogenic methane from the overall calculation of greenhouse gases. That should have been done with this legislation but the Minister has chosen not to. We need to recognise that farmers are the custodians of the general environment and countryside. They will be the custodians of the future agrifood sector. It does not make sense to me at all that we could, in the future, be looking for reductions in the national herd and in beef production while we watch the EU taking beef from South America under the Mercosur deal. The rainforest is being cut down in order to supply that product to the EU. That makes no sense and will do absolutely nothing to mitigate climate change. It will, in fact, contribute to it.
We have a dysfunctional forestry sector at the moment. We have one of the lowest proportions of forestry of any European country. We are trying to be self-sufficient and have made very poor attempts in the past 12 months to provide some functionality to the sector. If our actions on forestry are an indicator of what we are going to do on climate change, we certainly will not be successful and yet the agricultural sector will be picked on as an easy outlier.
Some years ago, I was involved in a business that sold energy saving equipment into the public sector. I gave it up after 18 months because it was nearly impossible to bring about change. I have a feeling that we will be in the same place again.
What is happening to the grants for solar arrays and connections that were promised to farmers in recent years? We could be doing much more to develop renewable energy but that has not been happening. This Bill refers to renewable energy at a time when, as has been alluded to already, it appears we have entered into more than 20 contracts with international data centres. There is much that is not right with this climate Bill. At the same time, I, like everybody else, recognise that we must start doing something for the environment. Along with Deputy Naughten, I will support legislation which we, in the Regional Group, hope to introduce after the recess and which we hope the Minister will consider. I ask him to think long and carefully about the farm and agrifood sector. It is a prince among the economic components of this country and is totally ingrained in the Irish culture.
The damage that we can do will last a very long time and will do very little, I suspect, to mitigate climate change.
This is an extremely important piece of legislation. As we are discussing this tonight, 160 million people in the world are starving in famine conditions. As we speak, 2 billion people in the world tonight do not have an adequate diet. While we have to, therefore, recognise that as a country we must face up to climate change and reduce our emissions, we also must accept that we have a responsibility to produce food in this country.
We are the most sustainable producers of dairy in the world and the fifth most sustainable producers of beef. There is, therefore, a huge responsibility on us to produce food for the world population. And yet, some commentators say we do not have a moral responsibility. The response is yes; we have. We must do it in a sustainable way, however.
I hope we will start to embrace the available technology. Much new technology is available to reduce emissions. Those commentators come out with the easy, lazy line that we have to cut the national herd. That option has to be completely off the table. It makes absolutely no sense from a world population point of view. Economically, for Ireland as a country, it is a route we just cannot go down. I say yes; produce food sustainably and adopt modern technologies. The modern technologies are there but the issue is in dealing with slurry, the use of renewable energy, advancement in fertiliser use, protected ureas, etc. We are significantly behind the rest of Europe and the rest of the world in embracing many of these new technologies which can help us reduce our emissions.
I am a member of the Government but there are some parts of this Bill to which I will refer. Last year, the Climate Change Advisory Council recommended that a separate budget for biogenic methane should be incorporated into this Bill. I regret that is not there. I accept that there is recognition of the different components of biogenic methane and the fact it is a short-lived gas. I accept that recognition will be taken of the importance of the agrifood industry to the country and the importance of our national herd. I would like if that had been written into the Bill. As has been stated already, New Zealand has adopted that practice; a country with a very much similar profile to us. The Bill recognises biogenic methane as a separate gas. The Minister will have a responsibility to ensure there is a separate budget when this comes to his door. As I said, we have a huge responsibility in this country. We have the ability to produce food in a very sustainable manner.
I also mention the ability of our agrisector to sequester carbon. Again, I would like more recognition in this Bill of the change in practice that will be adopted going forward, and the extra carbon that will be sequestered by farmers. There needs to be a plus column for that and a recognition of the ownership of that sequestration of carbon. Again, that is something I would like the Minister to take on board and accept. Farmers are fully conscious of their role as custodians of the environment. It is in their interest, more than anyone else, to preserve our green image we so vehemently protect. Biogenic methane and our ability to sequester carbon must be recognised.
I mention our forestry sector and our failure over the last number of years to meet targets as regards afforestation. Over the last five years, we are 15,000 ha short of the target set by various Governments. Taking into account felling and replanting, the ability to have that 15,000 ha in their lifetime would sequester 75 million tonnes of carbon. There is, therefore, a huge responsibility on this Government to get our forestry sector into gear. We have had numerous discussions in this House and at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, of which I am Chairman, about the ineptitude of the Department at the moment in issuing licences, and the way it has paralysed our forestry sector. While that is bad enough economically and doing huge damage to the forestry sector, whether it is the farmers, millers or timber contractors - the list goes on - the imbalance that is doing for our sequestration of carbon is also a huge factor.
I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to push the issue at the Cabinet table that our Department must start issuing licences. The Department told us that it will issue 4,500 licences per year. During the month of May, it was at 40 or 45 licences per week, which means it will find it hard to hit 2,000 licences in this calendar year. I also spoke to a nursery owner today who told me that we will be lucky to hit 25% of the target for afforestation, which is set at 8,000 ha for this year. We can, therefore, do a lot to increase our carbon sequestration in this country. I accept that there is provision in the Bill for biogenic methane. I would prefer if a separate budget was set in the Bill for it. Hopefully, the Minister will take that on board.
There must also be a recognition of the ability of the agrisector in terms of carbon sequestration. And yes; farmers are nervous of this Bill. Farmers also recognise that they have to adapt. While we are virtually the most sustainable producers of food in the world, we must recognise that climate change is a fact of life and our practice has to change. However, that cannot affect the economic sustainability of food production in this country.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. As a rural Deputy, I have no problem with climate action. I believe it is important that we bring about an all-inclusive climate action plan. There are certain aspects to the Bill, however, including the amendment the Regional Group has put down with regard to biogenic methane. It has not been helped by the fact that the amendments are not being taken on board.
I have spoken to many people including farmers and farmers' organisations. Many people are of the view that while we have said, in all we have done, that climate action is for everybody, and everybody should be on one road with this, we have no other choice. The concerns are that some of the things that are being done are not fair on certain sectors of society.
To address climate change, it is important that the Bill accurately reflects the different global warming impacts associated with biogenic methane and provides farmers with fair and reasonable means to manage emissions and reduce the impact on the environment. The carbon budget must take into account all removals as well as emissions, and this should be explicitly stated in the Bill.
To best represent the temperature impacts and the distinctive characteristics of biogenic methane as a short-lived climate populant, it is proposed that a separate target for biogenic methane should be set. That is our amendment. However, this has not been taken into account and it should be taken into account tonight. I implore the Minister and the Government to look at this in a reasonable way. It is not something that goes against what we want to do but it makes it fairer.
The other concern farmers have is the fact that their herds may have to be cut to meet targets. When we do that, we are reducing the ability of farmers to produce food.
The question then arises as to where the food will come from in that case. If the beef is coming from Brazil or other countries, the production may be far less carbon-efficient than is the case with the meat produced in this country. Is the issue of carbon leakage being taken into account in this regard?
There are provisions in the Bill that are unacceptable and frightening for the farming population. That is clear to any Deputy from a rural constituency where there is a large number of family farms. Farmers are frightened by some of the provisions and there is no relief for them in the Bill. Ireland is rated number one for milk production in Europe and number five for beef production in a carbon-efficient way. That is not being taken into account and there is no recognition of what farmers are doing in that regard. I agree, as I said before, that action is needed, but the action needs to take account of the family farm and the crucial role it plays in food production. Climate action also requires recognition of farmers' ongoing implementation of realistic climate measures and the potential for farming to sequester carbon.
In case there is any doubt about it, let me be clear that farmers are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel and face up to the challenge of climate. However, the Bill, as structured, has the capability to drive farmers away from farming and leave rural areas devoid of economic activity. If we look at the population that is farming across Europe and Ireland, we see that very few young people are taking it up as a way of life. We are gradually progressing to the stage where we will have only big farmers and no small farms. There will be mass production of food and a serious impact on the quality and uniqueness of the food we produce in this country unless we nurture our family farms and ensure they can continue to operate in a viable way, while also addressing the climate issues that have to be addressed.
I am very disappointed that no account is being taken of any of the amendments that were brought forward. The Minister is rejecting all of them. This Bill should not be divisive, pitting one person or part of society against another. It should be a project we all do together as legislators. It is very disappointing that no heed is being taken of reasoned amendments from across the floor of the Chamber. Even rural Deputies from the parties in government are expressing concerns because of this lack of recognition for what we are trying to do together, rather than having something that is done by the Government. I appeal to the Minister again, at this late stage, to consider the amendments that have been brought forward by the Regional Group. They are reasonable and have been proposed for a very specific reason, which is to strengthen the Bill. We can always criticise any part of any Bill. We do not want to criticise this Bill but we must do so because it is flawed in how it has been dealt with in terms of the treatment of amendments from Deputies.
It is appropriate that Deputy Canney was the last speaker because I want to say to him that I absolutely respect every Deputy in this House, their integrity in putting forward amendments and their representative role in trying to strengthen the Bill. However, I will not be accepting this group of amendments because I believe the Bill has real strength and these proposals would not strengthen it further. That is not to disrespect any Deputy and what he or she seeks to do or achieve.
These amendments revolve around the issue of just transition and the role it has in climate action. I agree it is critical and central. In considering this issue, I called to mind the change in the political climate since 2015, when the original legislation was introduced. In raising this, I mean no reflection on Deputy Naughten, who was involved in bringing forward that legislation, but, rather, that the 2015 Act reflected the political climate that existed at the time. Several of the amendments relate to the Long Title of the Bill. The Long Title of the 2015 Act, which is the precursor to this Bill, is quite succinct and includes the words "for the purpose of pursuing the transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy". The Long Title of this Bill is a refection of a change that has occurred since 2015. It is similar to the 2015 text but there are important differences. It refers to "the transition to a climate resilient, biodiversity rich and climate neutral economy by no later than the end of the year 2050" - the inclusion of a target date is critical - and also includes the words "and to thereby promote climate justice". At the centre of the Long Title, and right through the Bill, is the understanding that climate justice must involve a social as well as an ecological transition. That is to say it must be a just transition. The respect I have for the Oireachtas and its processes is reflected in the fact that the amendment to include the reference to just transition, as well as the climate justice provisions, came from the Oireachtas committee. It was not drafted by our public servants, as good a job as they have done, but, rather, it came out of the pre-legislative scrutiny process, which was, in effect, almost a Committee Stage process in that it went through the text line by line and word by word.
The reason I mention 2015 specifically is that there is a particular profound change that has happened since then, namely, that we now have the Paris Agreement. This Bill is very strong legislation, which is why it is difficult to accept amendments. Every single line and word in it has been teased out and thought about at real length over the past year. A key wording in the Bill and one of its strengths, which we discussed during the Committee Stage debate, is the requirement that what we do be consistent with the Paris Agreement. That is where the legal structure exists. The requirement for climate justice relates not just to international justice, although that is central, specifically the recognition that those who have done most to cause the problem have the greatest responsibility to solve it. In addition, there is our own definition of climate justice, as referred to by Deputy Michael Collins, which requires that there be a sharing of the burden in this country and protection for our most vulnerable persons. In our definition and in our attention to the requirement of just transition, it is those communities that are most potentially affected that will have to be cared for the most. That is centre stage right throughout the Bill.
We can all get heated and partial in this debate. I see Deputy Michael Collins has come back into the Chamber. He may have missed what I said at the start of my contribution. I absolutely respect his engagement with people in west Cork communities, on whose behalf he is seeking to amend the Bill. I differ in my view as to whether particular amendments would strengthen the Bill but I respect his intention in bringing them forward. We will not make this transition if there is not a sense that it is for everyone. It is for every single person and community, no one will be talked down to and nobody can, would or will be ignored.
I am particularly attentive to the needs of the farming community. I assure Deputy Canney that I have been talking to farmers as well and am aware that they are concerned. I am particularly aware that the existing system we have to transition out of is not a just system for farming. We do not have young people going into the sector and we are losing farmers. We need to change that. The farming community was particularly concerned in recent meetings I had with its representatives about the wording in the Bill around sinks. The question is whether there will be payment for sinks, not just sources. I looked at this in detail and talked to my officials at length about it. I looked at it right the way through and it seems, in fact, that we do have to account for sinks. We must follow the original UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in terms of its accounting mechanism. That is important for farming because, in my view, it gives us the potential to develop a new income source for Irish agriculture.
This is going to be good for Irish farming or else it will not work. This will bring in a new generation of young people, otherwise we will not achieve the protection of nature and the storing of carbon that we need.
This will not be easy. It will take time. One of the reasons there is pressure to get this Bill through is that we want to include this year and do not want to wait another. We are on a tight timetable. We must get this through before the summer recess so we do not have to wait another year. In the remainder of this year and into next year, it will change and it will keep going. As Deputy Bruton said, we will need to sit down and work out in real detail how we actually create the mechanisms to get that income for Irish farming. Moreover, this is not just about farming but it is about the trade unions, workers and communities as well.
I heard some people say Government cannot be trusted. This Bill will apply even if there is a change in Government. A future Parliament could always change it but I do not think it will because the whole world is going to be going in this direction and we will not want to shy away from the opportunities that will arise. The trust in this is in the detail. We cannot legislate here. This is setting out the structure and putting climate justice at the centre of everything we do. This is about how a target is actually set and then Government starts considering how we do it, and it is for Government. Central Government is needed, working with the Oireachtas. I am absolutely convinced we can and will be good at this. It will only work when we respect every section of our community in every part of our country, if we ask for help rather than telling people what to do and if we admit uncertainty. We will do this well, we will be good at it and it will be good for all our people. It will be a just transition.
We have had 24 contributors to the debate so far. Others wishing to contribute at this stage, or others wishing to come back in, have just two minutes. I am not going to be able to pick out every hand so Deputies should give me time. Deputy Mattie McGrath was first.
I am sorry, but we have had a three-hour debate on this group of amendments. The first amendment is in the names of a group of Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála. I would like to push that to a vote at this stage. I think Standing Order 78 provides for that.
The Standing Order provides for that in circumstances where a debate is being frustrated and it is the opinion of the Ceann Chomhairle that that is what is happening. My interpretation of what is going on here is that Members are making very genuine contributions. Whether we agree with them or not is a matter of opinion but they are quite entitled to make them and I am not going to close down this debate to have a vote for anyone until the time comes.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I appreciate his judgment and I value it. The Minister sounded very conciliatory. I said at the very start that I did not want anything to be personal, but he seems to be missing the point we are trying to represent that there are so many people he is not bringing with him. Ní neart go cur le chéile. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. We want the young people to be involved and to help and, indeed, we admire them. However, there is so much confusion and so much fear. Why the rush, why the indecent haste, why the guillotine and why reject all amendments? The Minister had a conciliatory tone, I appreciated it and it sounded great but why the rush then? Why not give enough time to debate it? I am not suggesting we delay it for two years. I am suggesting we delay it for a month or whatever and have proper debate and look at amendments.
The Minister should, as I said, talk to the farming organisations about what is being done in France with the methane gas. The Minister should prove us wrong about our worries. We did not dream them up. EirGrid is telling us things and the people are living through these issues. I, therefore, appeal again to the Minister - and our amendments obviously are not going to be reached - to reflect on this, in the conciliatory tone he has had in the last several minutes. He must understand our frustration and that of the people we represent. That is our job as Teachtaí Dála, messengers of the people. We represent the people here. In Deputy Nolan's constituency we have seen the damage of the so-called just transition which is an unjust imposition. Listen to the farmers, listen to the people who are out there. Listen to the people who are trying to get the warmer homes grant. Listen to the people trying to buy insulation. Listen to the people trying to build houses now when the prices have gone up 40%, mainly due to the carbon tax. Listen to the people who are buying briquettes imported from Germany and elsewhere because we cannot buy them at home. It is nonsense. In the same conciliatory tone, I appeal to the Minister, I beg of him to give us the latitude for a proper reasonable debate and time. Nothing more, nothing less.
Having listened to the Minister's response, and indeed to the debate, one of the most honest contributions came from Deputy Bruton. It was honest because he let the cat out of the bag as far as the Government is concerned when he said there is no way we can look after everybody, there is no way we can guarantee people's incomes will remain the same and there is no way everybody will be bailed out. That is the meaning of just transition for him. However, interestingly enough, the reality for him and for the Minister is that we will guarantee and continue to guarantee that we will maintain the same inequalities across society, if not deepen them. That is because what this Bill does is look after the richest, the 1% on this planet who benefit most from the destruction of this planet. For example, the giant corporations, the likes of Amazon, Google and Ebay, will continue with unlimited expansion through the mushrooming of data centres throughout this country, consuming, as the Minister knows, the bulk of our renewable electricity and millions upon millions of gallons of water. We have just heard the imposition of water charges on the population being mentioned again.
The Minister said that just transition runs throughout the whole Bill. I am sorry but it does not. The Minister should read his own Bill again. Just transition is mentioned once, and mentioned with a get-out clause in the form of the following wording, "... in so far as is practicable ... [we will] support persons and communities that may be negatively affected ...". If is not practicable, as Deputy Bruton said it was not, according to the continued injustice we have and the inequality across society, then we will maintain that and continue that and deepen it. That is not just transition. That is why we have endeavoured to define and spell out what just transition means. The Minister has even refused amendments that would delete the words "in so far as is practicable". In so far as is practicable, the Minister is protecting the status quo and at the same trying to do the impossible. He must make stark choices and the choice he has made here is to throw ordinary people under the bus to allow corporations to flourish.
The Minister has been speaking in a sort of conciliatory tone but the bottom line is that he is saying ask for help and we will all work together. That is basically what he is saying. However, he is not working with us. He has his mind made up. As I said to him, I met with the climate action groups in west County Cork on numerous occasions. This is a huge insult to them, forget about me as an elected representative. The Minister has decided that the decent amendments put forward by elected representatives were not fit to be read or accepted in any way, no matter what. These people put forward ideas to me and I worked with them. I put forward some of those ideas as amendments, and others from other organisations, such as farming organisations, but the Minister has rejected the whole lot of them. That is an insult to those climate action people in west County Cork. I will go back and apologise. I do not know who I will be apologising for. I cannot apologise on my own behalf because I have done exactly what they asked me to do.
Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister to listen to the people and I am asking him to do the very same thing. He should listen to the people who have no public transport, the people who have no or poor school transport, the people who have poor rural transport. He should listen to young people who cannot get planning permission in their own farms at home. He should listen to the people who are subject to carbon tax and who are hit most by it; they are mostly from rural Ireland. He should listen to the farmers who are hurt the most. The Minister has schemes. We were talking about schemes here. I am worn out with eco schemes and dream schemes. We also have an organic scheme. The Minister has been in government twice and that organic scheme is an absolute disaster. To think the Government is looking at another dream scheme when it already has an existing good environmental scheme and it cannot further it beyond what it is. I am asking the Minister to look at this.
We need to be looking at towns and villages and plenty of places in west County Cork, including Castletownshend and Goleen, where raw sewage is going into the tide. This climate action Bill is not going act as a deterrent here. The Minister is being asked to accept our amendments and we have been very genuine in putting them forward. I ask him to reconsider that. He should not insult the people, who are basically from his own party, and from his own support group in west County Cork and throughout the country, by rejecting every one of these amendments.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for not shutting down this debate and instead using his experience and expertise to know that what is being said here tonight probably amounts to some of the most genuine contributions on one of the most important subjects that will affect the Irish people for many years. Shutting it down would indeed be totally wrong so I thank the Ceann Comhairle.
I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said not just tonight but on every other day or night on this. I really cannot understand why he cannot see other people's perspectives or have respect or understanding for people who are concerned about this. I cannot understand why the Minister cannot see that the amendments have been proposed with nothing but good faith. They were proposed at the behest of the people we represent.
Does the Minister realise there are people in the countryside worried by the implications of what he and his party have proposed? It is not my job to speak about other parties but I must be a political realist. A number of years ago Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would have been outraged at even the suggestion of what the Minister is pushing through tonight. As a result of the political reality that is the make-up of the current Government, those parties are now quite willing to bow to this and agree to dance to the green tune, no matter the decibel level to which the music is raised. They are quite willing to row in very obediently behind the Minister and support him, no matter how hurtful some of what he proposes will be to the Irish people and future generations.
Please do not ever try to paint us as people who are not concerned about the countryside. It is the exact opposite. We want to be custodians of the countryside and the environment in the same way as everybody else and perhaps much more.
I come back to the just transition, which we have spoken about extensively tonight. Speaking about it is not enough and we need the Minister to seriously take on board what we have said. We represent tens of thousands of constituents in rural Ireland. We represent the real workers facing the brunt of this. Has the Minister met the peat contractors or Bord na Móna workers at any stage? He claims to have the genuine interest of people at heart but, to be honest, he does not. This Bill, as I have said, will do irreparable damage. If the Minister really felt there was a need for transition that was just, particularly in the midlands, why is there only one reference to it in a document with 7,000 words? Is that how little he thinks of the midlands?
The Minister must take on board what is being said. He is demonstrating tunnel vision. From what I can see, the Green Party is being highly hypocritical. A Minister of State, Senator Pippa Hackett, came in here pledging to sort out the forestry crisis. She did not accept one amendment from us either and again demonstrated tunnel vision.
There are targets in the programme for Government that the Minister helped to devise with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The parties did a deal that will harm rural Ireland. There is a commitment to ensure 8,000 ha of forestry are planted annually. The Minister is not even reaching his own climate change targets, yet he is ready to punish people, including ordinary workers and families. Would it not serve him better to focus on the forestry and get more people involved in that sector? The Government should devise a proper policy and ensure licences can be released as soon as possible. Would that not serve him better? The Government might then be able to reach its climate action target of planting 8,000 ha of forestry annually.
It is totally hypocritical of the Minister to stand up in this Chamber and dictate to us with an advisory council on climate. We will not accept it now or ever.
This Bill is totally undemocratic in that it gives the Minister the right to push through a carbon budget without a vote in Dáil Éireann. This Bill will hurt the people who get up early in the morning who must go to work. It will hurt hardest the people who create jobs and employ people. It will hurt farmers and there is no recognition of what farmers can do with carbon sequestration. In France, farmers are allowed to sell gas that is created from animals, which provides income for the farmers. The Government does not want to mention that.
The Government seems to want to ensure older people will perish with the cold if they are not allowed to cut turf and must get briquettes from Germany. Many of these people do not have the wherewithal to insulate their homes or install underfloor heating. They do not have the funding for it.
The Minister does not want us to build roads and prefers public transport. All the public transport is in Dublin, with buses running around empty or with one or two people inside. At the same time we cannot get any public transport down the country. The Minister has said we can get along with one or two cars for each village. Perhaps we could park it in the churchyard or somewhere. That is totally unrealistic.
The Minister is condescending and looking down on the rural people. He has suggested that reintroducing wolves would be good for us. Cop on, man. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste should cop on, along with the rest of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties. They are supporting this man in driving rural people into the ground. It is what he is trying to do.
I thank the Minister for his comments on farmers. I do not for one minute doubt his total commitment to getting things right but, at the same time, he said this Bill is so well crafted, it cannot be changed, and that is a flaw. Deputy Richard Bruton stated earlier that people will be left behind, I suppose, and that is a fact.
People in Gort lost a bus service a couple of weeks ago. That was public transport and the only answer to such a problem now seems to be the private buses. We should think about people who cannot afford to put in the air-to-water heat pumps, a current technology for heating, as opposed to oil heating. They might have to spend up to €25,000 to have that installed in a standard house. There are grants for this but not enough. What do I say to the people in fuel poverty who are waiting up to two years for a retrofit inspection to be done on a house? What do I say to people who might want to buy an electric car but are afraid to do so because there are not enough electric chargers?
Many things need to be done. Sometimes we might rush ahead to become best in class, which is fine, but we are forgetting about the detail. The carbon budget will be set by the Minister outside the House but it is important to remember that with everything we discuss and change - we might have electric trains and buses with this, that and the other, with public transport for everybody - where will the money come to pay for it?
I have no interest in stymieing debate at all but I am very conscious we have spent the past three hours and 20 minutes speaking to three groups of amendments out of more than 160 amendments. We are discussing amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 19 to 23, inclusive. Many Members who went to the bother of tabling amendments have not yet had the opportunity to speak to them, although they are speaking to other amendments on other important matters. I thought if we could move from this group of amendments, we could move to amendment No. 2 and some Deputies could speak to their own amendments rather than those of other people.
It is really important we have an opportunity to vote on the question of a just transition. It should be at the very heart of this Bill.
The Greens have always worn the clothes of a parliamentary party that is democratic and wants to work with everybody to achieve objectives.
That pretence has been shed significantly today in what has happened.We have a situation where every single Opposition amendment has been refused. A good Dáil will work when legislation is rigorously tested and when the wisdom, knowledge, experience or influence of half the representatives of the people of Ireland are at least listened to, or they have some input. The Green Party has opted to refuse all of that today and this is a significant change to the way the Green Party has done business. It will also significantly change how people feel the Green Party has worked.
I listened to the response and I go back to the issue of trust. We have heard Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party talk about what they will do for farmers. As I understand it today, there is not one, single, microgeneration project that is actually feeding into the national grid at the moment. After all the talk, all the debate and all the issues we discussed ad nauseamin this House, not one piece of electricity is coming from microgeneration from a farmer or from a person locally. Anaerobic digestion, small-scale wind or small-scale solar projects that could put money back in the pockets of farmers are still not there at all.
Consider a country such as Denmark. When it wanted to rebalance the lopsided development that was happening there, they went ahead and built a new city called Aarhus. They put significant infrastructure and significant investment into an area outside Copenhagen to rebalance that country. This is what is needed here. An ambition like that would build trust back up with the people of Ireland.
I will raise one specific issue of the just transition, which is the 280 seasonal workers in Bord na Móna. The Minister will be aware that we had many discussions here in the House about putting in place a programme of bog rehabilitation. Significant funding has now been put in place from climate taxation directly to Bord na Móna, and through the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Bord na Móna has the bulk of those contracts also. The seasonal staff in Bord na Móna have received commitments from the company, and the arrangement with the group of unions is that they will secure work on an annual basis of equivalent financial value to what they would have earned in their seasonal work on the bogs. Many of these 280 employees of Bord na Móna have not been provided with any indication of where or when they will actually commence work. There is huge anxiety among this particular cohort of workers across the State and especially in the midlands. I urge the Minister to consider that talking of just transition is one thing, and implementing it is something very different. It is important that there is a clear and definitive statement provided to each and every one of those 280 workers as to when they will actually start work and for how long.
I do not doubt the Minister's bona fides in his desire to bring in this legislation and to see just transition in the process. I put it to the Minister, however, that I am not sure he is listening, and especially to the agrisector. I am close to the agrisector and I have heard a lot of the concerns. I can tell the Minister there are a lot of farmers who feel that while something must absolutely be done in terms of climate, it must be fair. A cheese factory expansion in Belview in Waterford has been held up by An Taisce, largely on a philosophical debate around the intensification of farming. The milk yields down there are already being trucked 90 to 100 miles away to be processed. This is the future livelihood of farm expansion. People are, therefore, seeing this as a negative agenda for farming.
The other issue in just transition is carbon sequestering. I have asked a question and I have not received an answer about the carbon sequestering component that is given for hedgerows. In my county of Waterford there is a significant amount of woodland and hedgerow. I understand there is no component in just transition given to the agricultural sector for this.
These are some of the issues the farming sector and people generally in rural Ireland are concerned about. It behoves the Minister to engage with all of the Deputies in the House and I regret he is not taking amendments this evening. I ask him to please give access to rural Deputies and take on their concerns. They are Teachtaí Dála and messengers of the people. They are carrying very valid messages and concerns to the Minister and it behoves him to listen. If the Minister does so he will find greater support and, as he has described, maybe we can arrive at a just transition outcome together.
God Almighty. Two minutes. I absolutely accept the conviction of Deputy Smith. The corporations will have to play their part too and no one gets out of this. We also need the corporations: we will need the income, the jobs and the tax revenue to pay for our social services. We will go to those corporations and say that if we are going to run data centres they will have to be zero carbon too just like farming. No one gets out of it. No one gets by it. I am sure those corporations will want this. They will want to be part of a country that will set that high bar because that is where the future is. That is where security lies. That is where any modern new economy is going to go.
To respond to Deputy Nolan, I was proud to engage with Bord na Móna for more than 30 years. We set aside some €150 million all told to try to fund the immediate just transition in the midlands, in retrofitting houses and in getting jobs back in Bord na Móna such as rewetting the bogs and a range of community projects. It is frustrating that it takes time. We must obey European Union laws and rules and we must make sure that we do not get caught up here by having money spent in any way where i's were not dotted or t's not crossed. All the time I try to say to "Come on, let us get it out and run with this as quickly as we can", similar to Deputy Naughten. There is no shortage of funding for it because we believe in Bord na Móna. I absolutely believe that the company has a proud record and will have a proud future in going green.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae referred to anaerobic digestion. It is part of the way we can get farmers more income and we need to sit down and work out the mechanism of doing it. It has to be part of a land-use plan that puts rural community and development first. It must be microgeneration also. How long it takes is frustrating. We had it the last time we were in government.
There is no shortage of listening here. We have had 80 hours. We introduced the Bill in October and since then there have been 80 hours of committee hearings, parliamentary hearings and Second Stage debate, but it is time for us to turn and listen as we go. We have to listen now as we look at the solutions. It is time for the Bill to be put in place so we can actually set that high bar that delivers us all of these opportunities.
Mick Barry, John Brady, Martin Browne, Pat Buckley, Seán Canney, Matt Carthy, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, David Cullinane, Pearse Doherty, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Brendan Howlin, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Michael McNamara, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.
Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, John Paul Phelan, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, Leo Varadkar.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 10, after "promote" to insert "social, economic and".
I want to say how disappointed we are, as I said earlier, that we did not get proper time to debate this Bill fully, or any of our amendments or others. We have more than 90 amendments and there are more than 220 altogether. Is mór an trua é sin.
As I say, we want to bring the people with us. The Minister is conciliatory in his tone tonight but, in reality, he is not doing that. The Minister is not making any effort to placate the people who are concerned, the people who are worried and the people who are fearful. They need to get some modicum of reassurance that we want to bring those people with us. We want to care for them.
In his reply to the Members, the Minister wanted more time than the two minutes and the Ceann Comhairle gave him a bit of latitude. The Minister referred to some of our points certainly, but I honestly believe he does not understand the concerns. The Minister is very passionate about the green agenda, and that is not a bad thing.
Could we please have order in the House and a bit of respect for the Member in possession? Can Members leave quietly?
It would be good, too, if Deputy McGrath would speak to the substance of the amendment. We do not need to talk about the Minister. We need to talk about the substance of the amendment.
I am not going to speak because many Members want to speak and we are running out of time for all the amendments that are there. I have moved the amendment and I am merely saying it is disappointing that the Minister is steadfast. The Minister remains resolute that he will not accept any amendment - no matter what it is - except ones he himself brought forward to committee. That is a pity.
As I said, we feel passionately. Of course, we have a duty to care for the environment in the first instance. We expect everyone to do that but we also have put forward amendments to try to make this Bill in some way palatable and acceptable to the people of rural Ireland.
Obviously, we are pushing forward with our amendments. They are of huge importance to the people we represent. I have spoken at length already on our amendments and other amendments, in fairness, that we would give serious consideration to.
I am disappointed that 238 amendments have been rejected, including our 75. Our amendments are very fair. I would not mind if the Minister rejected some of them. That is understandable.
However, one of the amendments called for a 0% VAT rate on insulation products. That is what the Minister should be trying to achieve - encouraging people to insulate their homes and make them warmer so that not as much fuel is used, be it home heating oil, coal or briquettes. People cannot get briquettes from Ireland anyway and would have to bring them in from Germany to get any, but that is another legacy of the Green Party.
The Minister had an opportunity to consider the Rural Independent Group's amendments and must surely have looked at them. How can he then turn around and say he will not support any of them? If he did not support a 0% rate, it would have been fair for him to say he would cut it from 23% to 5%, 6% or 7%, but there was not a budge. In his head, our amendments were not to be supported no matter what we put before the House.
The two-year wait for the warmer homes scheme must be addressed. We felt that this Bill should have done so. People across my constituency are upset that they do not qualify because the criteria are set so high. Even if they can qualify, no one will come to insulate their homes before two years have passed.
Unfortunately, we will not get a chance to discuss other amendments relating to the agricultural sector. Experts have stated that we will face a 50% cull of the national herd. The former chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, Professor John FitzGerald, stated that a dramatic reduction in livestock numbers was the only way to meet the targets the Government had set. The council proposed a figure of 3.4 million cattle by 2030. New Zealand is considering a 15% cull. That would be a disaster for the people of New Zealand, but we can only look after the people of Ireland.
We talk about creating new schemes. Even though it is a pilot, the new rural environment protection scheme, REPS, disqualifies people who have shrubs on their land. People believed that the Green Party being in government would protect them in this regard, but it has not. From listening to Deputies in the Chamber, I can tell that many of them are not from an agricultural background when they go on about new environmental schemes. There is also the organic scheme, but the Minister has failed to do anything with it.
Speaking to the amendment, people are finding it difficult to pay bills and put food on their tables. More and more people are coming to my clinics at the weekend, and I meet others or talk to them on the phone. They are struggling for their very survival. They do not see a way out. I see no way out in this Bill. I only see more difficulties for the people of rural Ireland because of it.
Our amendments also addressed the tourism sector. We are concerned because, if there is any increase in the cost of aviation fuel, it will damage the sector in west Cork. We have seen many difficulties due to Covid, so we cannot accept such damage. I want to protect beautiful areas like Clonakilty, Mizen Head, Castletownbere, Kinsale, Skibbereen, Bantry and Kilcrohane for people to visit. We need to encourage tourism, not discourage it. We wanted to move a serious amendment in that regard.
We had good amendments on public transport. If I wanted to attend a meeting in Dublin at 11 a.m. or 12 noon, I would be lucky to make it if I left that day. I would have to leave the day before. We do not have public transport in place in rural Ireland, and I do not see where in the Bill that will change. If it does not change, it will be catastrophic because the Minister is, with the support of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, supporting fuel price increases through the carbon tax. The carbon tax hit the pockets of only one group of people, namely, the people of rural Ireland. No solution has been provided, so there is no gain. Greenway funding has been sprinkled around the country, although every brown cent of it avoided coming to west Cork.
If the Minister wants to raise the price of fuels through carbon tax and hit the consumer in the pocket, he has to deliver something for them. He has to give people public transport. All of these matters are covered by our amendments. We were fair in our amendments, for example, setting a 1 km limit for children whereby anyone living 1 km or more away from school would get free transport. We need proper public transport. With his West Cork Connect business, Mr. Damien Long is trying to provide a service in the early morning from west Cork to Cork city so that people might link up with trains and so on. We need proper services that are funded properly. We have tabled amendments to ensure that happens on the ground, but the Minister is refusing to accept them. We will continue to fight for the ordinary people who are suffering so much.
I do not want to interrupt Deputies or to tell them that they are out of order, but I will remind them that, on Report Stage, we are dealing with the minutiae of the Bill and the specific proposals. In this instance, the proposal is around the promotion of social and economy activity. It is a specific amendment and we need to speak to it, not to whatever you are having yourself. We cannot have Second Stage debates.
My first point will be on economics. I honestly believe that if the Bill is implemented in full, it will break the country. The Government's suggestion is that everything will have to run on electricity, but it has closed down power stations. We have had three or four close calls since Christmas, including as recently as a couple of weeks ago. We do not have the facilities or ability to generate enough electricity. Take the data centres as an example. We have been told that they are using 8% of all electricity and that in seven years' time, they will be using more than 30%. The cost of electricity will increase and people will not be able to afford it. It has already increased, yet there has been little mention of it. The cost of everything has increased. The cost of electricity will certainly increase because it will cost more to generate and transmit it. The Government will have to consider using gas. It has ruled out the Shannon liquefied natural gas, LNG, project, but we need gas in the interim because the wind does not blow all the time and energy derived from wind turbines cannot be stored. No less than anyone else, I appreciate alternative energy. We should be pursuing it, but we are not and there is no mention of doing so in terms of solar farms or energy derived from our rivers. We cannot even smell near a river. We cannot clean out a river to help to prevent people from being flooded. Doing so would be a crime.
The trouble is that there is no proper recognition of the detrimental effect that the Bill will have on the economy. There must be room for gas to keep the lights lit.
Methane gas from cows can be used to our benefit by providing gas which can be added to the grid.
The Minister will have to surrender his ideals that everything must be electric. Let us talk about electric cars. We do not have enough points to charge cars. In time, when things improve, electric cars may be fine, but at present they are not. It is not a sustainable idea for people to buy an electric car if they drive to Dublin or drive long journeys to work. If they have the windscreen wipers and lights turned on - people driving to work must have their lights on while driving in the morning and the evening - that brings more pressure. Electric cars are not an option at present. That is the honest humble truth and the Minister will have to wake up to that. People are being told to get rid of petrol and diesel cars. People do not know what to do at present, so they are not buying any car. Those in the motor industry will tell the Government that. People are getting one story from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that they should be using electric cars, but at the same time they know they are not reliable enough, until they are.
It is like the cutting of the turf. The Minister and the Government, it seems to me, are hell-bent on stopping rural people from cutting turf, like they did with Bord na Móna. That will happen in time when the present generation is no longer able to cut it and the younger generation may not be interested in doing so. That will happen in time, but the Government, in this Bill, is putting deadlines on the people, which I believe is wrong. The Government signed up to the Paris Agreement. I believe I was the only Deputy who, in late 2016 or 2017, voted against the deadline because it will be very unfair and unviable. It is going to hurt the working man, the farmer and rural Ireland more so than the urban population. I appeal to the backbenchers in the Government parties to consider that what is happening here is too quick and will affect ordinary working people, the working class, like nothing else has before. I am so concerned about it.
There were many people up in Dublin today - farmers from Kerry, poor people - and they said to me it is hard enough to carry on without having to come up to Dublin to drive home their point to the Government. The Government must realise that those people have many other things they should have been working on today, because fine days are scarce in Kerry. You talk about the climate, but it is a different climate, a different world, once you pass Macroom or Mallow. It is a different world altogether. You would know about the climate if you were trying to survive where we are from. We can only get a couple of days.
I wish to speak in favour of this amendment. It is important we insert “social, economic and” into this Bill for the simple reason that when legislation is challenged in the courts on the distribution of State funds or what social end or economic principles are prioritised, the courts always take the view they will not hear this because these matters are determined here in this House. This is not a particularly detailed amendment. There are many other amendments I would like to support but I will not be able to because this Bill is being guillotined. My question is, in a democracy - I hope the Minister regards himself as a democrat – why can we not have a full debate? Why must it be guillotined? Why does this happen with every Bill of consequence? We spend hours ráiméising on statements on this and questions and answers on that. There are many questions, a few statements and never any answers. What is so frightening about debate? If the Government is confident in its position, stand over it. Do not send in the Chief Whip to guillotine a debate, as has been done tonight.
If this is, indeed, the Bill of a generation that is going to tackle climate change, I do not understand why the Minister will not debate it. I appreciate he believes he has the answers, but I hope he does think we are all living in the midst of a Messiah. I am not sure whether the Minister is a Stone Roses fan or not, but the approach he has taken of “I am the resurrection and I am the life”, and that he is not going to listen to any other amendments from other Deputies, is perverse. It is anti-democratic, and the Minister is a democrat. At the very least, I know he is a democrat and he is a decent man.
What is it about being in government? Why is it that once he got inside Government Buildings, he now thinks he has all the answers, that nobody else has any, that he thinks he has a monopoly on truth and there be badness on the other side, and that he cannot even debate the Bill or even debate the economic principles? There are economic principles that I want to talk about. I agree that climate change is what this Dáil will be remembered for and how it treats it, more than how we disastrously deal with Covid in this State.
As a farmer and someone who grew up on a farm, I am willing to accept that perhaps we need a more plant-based diet. Perhaps we need fewer animal products. However, if we in the western world, in Europe, are to consume animal-based products, let us at least consume animal-based products that are produced in a place that is least damaging to the environment, that produces the least amount of carbon emissions. The Government’s Bill penalises that. It may be counter-intuitive to suggest that intensive farming is beneficial, but we know grassland that is grazed quite a bit sequesters more carbon. We know that. Milk in Ireland, unlike in other European countries, is produced off grass. There is a significant amount of carbon sequestration going on through the production of that milk. If we were to produce all of the milk for Europe, that would be a good thing and not a bad thing. We can produce milk in Ireland with the least amount of carbon emissions per litre of milk, the lowest number of kilos of carbon. I think it is slightly over 1 kg, if I am not mistaken, and there is a drive to get it under 1 kg. We can do that, so that is a good thing.
On whether we are going to eat beef, I have a vested interest as I am a beef producer, but I like to think that I cherish the environment and that I want to pass it on to the next generation, but I get screwed every year by producers. If the Government wants to address the issue, let us produce beef in a way that is least damaging in Europe, because it is not going to stop the consumption of beef in Europe overnight. Let it at least be produced off a grass-based system where there is carbon sequestration rather than in intensive feedlots, which are growing in popularity in Ireland and are the dominant way of producing beef in other European states. The Bill does nothing to address that.
I appreciate that may not be the Minister’s area of expertise and may not be the background from whence he came. It may not be representative of those who he represents in this House. That is why I come back to the messianic approach, that he has all the answers and none of us have any answers, because that is not what deliberative democracy is about. That is not what we were elected to do. I often wonder about the idea of a citizens’ assembly and that we need one to solve this, that and the other problem. We have a citizens’ assembly. There are 160 ordinary people in this House. If anybody in Clare does not like me representing them, he or she can run for election. Any such person will have the same chance and prospects as I had, particularly as an independent. Regardless of that, you can join a party if that is what rows your boat and submit to a three-line whip so that you will have to vote for a Minister’s messianic approach to something.
I do not mean to sound negative because I applaud what the Minister is about. We need to challenge the climate crisis and the amount of plastics used. How many hundreds of millions of euro of junk plastic did we import from China, along with a virus?
Of course, you could not say that six months ago because it was censored by the media in Ireland but now that Joe Biden has said it is okay to suspect it, we can all talk about it. What is it about this single approach? Everybody thinks his or her approach is the correct one and that nobody else's is worth listening to, debating or even acknowledging. The Government would not even think about saying we could sit a week longer. It is not like any of us were leaving the country on holidays last week; heaven forbid. We have plenty of time. We are sitting here in this empty assembly, wasting taxpayers' money because we are not debating key issues. Bills are being rammed through. That is not democracy or debate. If those Bills are challenged in the courts there will be a presumption that they were debated in this House when, in fact, they were not. It is disappointing. I reflected from the ashes of defeat in an election and one of the things I learned was that I had much fewer answers than I thought I had. I do not mean to personalise this but I just do not understand why this legislation is being rammed through, why last week's Bill was rammed through or why we have so much time to debate nonsense. Covid is an unexpected but key issue this Dáil faces yet we could not debate it. This is the issue of our generation and the Government will not allow a debate on it.
Speaking to this amendment, there has not been a proper impact analysis of what this Bill is actually going to mean for the Irish people, be they involved in farming, tourism, or any other sector of society. We are an island. Take our tourism industry, for instance. I come from the tourism capital of Ireland and, indeed of Europe, and I am proud and glad of the tourism product that has been built up by hoteliers, publicans, restaurateurs and businesspeople in our county who have strived to become masters of their craft. However, the plans contained in this Bill would make us a high-cost destination by increasing on a continuous basis the taxes and charges on aviation fuel. Over many decades there has, thankfully, been a reduction in the cost of flying into this country. I remember only too well how hard it was for people working in England when it came to August, Christmas or St. Patrick's Day weekend because if they wanted to fly to Ireland it cost between £300 and £600 to do so. Under this Bill is we could potentially finish up being a high-cost destination again. We are an island nation. When people come here on holidays they cannot row here in a boat or come on a steamboat. They are going to want to fly into the country and if we make it too expensive for them, they simply will not come to us.
Practical common sense is lacking from this Bill and the Minister is failing to see that. Tonight, he has shown total disdain for each and every one of us who has worked diligently and tirelessly on our amendments. I again thank Deputy Mattie McGrath, the staff who worked with us and the Members of our Rural Independent Group who did their best on behalf of the people. I am referring to people like Mr. Kenny Jones, the chairman of Kerry IFA. He is a Kielduff dairy farmer and he came up here today with people like Mary Fleming and others from the leadership of Kerry IFA. They came here to shout loud and hard on behalf of Kerry IFA and its membership, be they dairy farmers, suckler farmers, sheep farmers or any of the other types of people involved in trying to make a part-time or full-time living from farming. They understand the implications of this Bill and realise that farm incomes are going to be hurt and affected by it, whether that is through the CAP renegotiations or otherwise.
There are so many things wrong with this situation. It is like winning the lotto, where one second this way or that way would have made all the difference. It was just the way the seats fell after the election that meant that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was not just in the driving seat but had full control of the motor car, that motor car being the make-up of this Government. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were so weak and desperate to be in power that it was a case of whatever the Minister wanted, he was going to get it. Indeed, what actually happened with this Bill - speaking again to the amendment - was that what the Minister looked for in the first instance was given back to him and he was allowed to take more out of it. He heard enough people say that it was not going far enough and he knew he had an easy pushover in the Government parties, that they would not rock the boat because they did not want him to shake the foundations of the wall holding up the Government. It was Eamon's way or no one's way. He is running the country at present because the other parties are terrified of him. They are afraid to say anything that would upset him or put him out of kilter because they so desperately need him. Whether he, no more than any of the rest of us, will be there in the future will be for the people to decide but, my God, he will have left a legacy behind him.
I know people who have been pursuing the green agenda for years and it is important to acknowledge that. I am talking about deeply committed and sincere people who were doing this 30 or 35 years ago in places such as Kenmare and Kilgarvan. They are people from whom I learned an awful lot. They were talking about hemp and putting up wind turbines and they could see the problems we were going to have in the future. Those people are still there and I am proud to call many of them my friends. They are genuinely real people who were interested in looking at alternatives. They too could see the need to not impact in an adverse way on farming practices and so on. They would not want a big cull of the national herd, which is what the Minister wants. There are many things the Minister desperately wants but he is very craftily coming around and steering away from them. He knows as well as I do that if we are to achieve what he is looking for with regard to our emissions, a cull of the national herd by this Government is on the cards. It is on the cards in this Bill.
One of the most hurtful things of all is to think that, no matter what happens with future governments or Ministers, at the end of the day we will have this new team of people. I call them the new wise people because they are like the wise men and the wise women. They will be the new NPHET and Ministers such as Deputy Ryan will say that this is what they are being told to do by the Climate Change Advisory Council. It is the same as when other Ministers set up groups such as HIQA or when the HSE was established in its present form. These things were done in order that politicians could shift the blame away from themselves and say it was not really them but these other people advising them and telling them what to do. That is wrong.
My job as a messenger of the people of County Kerry, who were good enough to send me up here, is to speak on their behalf. They are starting to realise what this Bill will mean to them and they realise we are speaking about future generations. Of course we have to protect-----
The time permitted for the debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 15 June: "That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."
Mick Barry, Cathal Berry, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Martin Browne, Richard Bruton, Pat Buckley, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Matt Carthy, Jack Chambers, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Niall Collins, Catherine Connolly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Patrick Costello, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Réada Cronin, Cathal Crowe, David Cullinane, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Paul Donnelly, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Dessie Ellis, Damien English, Alan Farrell, Mairead Farrell, Frank Feighan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Kathleen Funchion, Gary Gannon, Thomas Gould, Noel Grealish, Brendan Griffin, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Brendan Howlin, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, Alan Kelly, Gino Kenny, Claire Kerrane, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Marc MacSharry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Steven Matthews, Paul McAuliffe, Charlie McConalogue, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Denise Mitchell, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Cian O'Callaghan, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Eoin Ó Broin, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, John Paul Phelan, Thomas Pringle, Maurice Quinlivan, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Brendan Smith, Bríd Smith, Duncan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, Brian Stanley, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.