Thursday, 16 December 2021
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
9. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the proposals that his Department is working on to assist the Irish haulage industry to reduce its carbon footprint; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [62237/21]
My question is on the all-important haulage sector in Ireland. What supports are under consideration by the Department? What work is it doing to help the sector to transition to a more carbon-friendly model? This is a huge issue that we must deal with and on which we must work directly with the sector.
We can all acknowledge that transitioning the haulage sector to low or zero carbon will be more challenging than other road transport sectors given the size and weight of trucks and the distances they travel. Ireland’s HGV fleet is particularly reliant on fossil fuels, specifically diesel. Biofuels will help with the transition. The renewable fuels for transport policy statement which was published last month sets out a future trajectory of increase in biofuels use in land transport in line with climate action plan targets to 2030, as well as a range of measures and incentives for future supply of renewable fuels such as biomethane and green hydrogen.
As the initial investment in alternative fuel technology for HGVs is expensive at the moment, the Government is providing incentives to the sector to make the transition. The alternatively fuelled heavy-duty vehicle purchase grant scheme, which is administered by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, is intended to help to bridge some of the difference in purchase price between conventional heavy-duty vehicles and those powered by alternatively fuelled power-trains. Some €2 million was allocated to this scheme in 2021. Given the excellent response to the initiative, the Department allocated an additional €1 million in funds this year to assist the heavy-duty vehicle sector in its transition to zero-mobility. Funds for 2021 have now been fully allocated, but the scheme will continue in 2022 with further funding available.
The Department has also commissioned a number of studies to identify actions that haulage operators and companies can take to reduce carbon and other emissions. These include a road freight decarbonisation study co-funded with TII and three research projects with Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork. Collectively, these projects will form a substantial evidence base on which a longer-term decarbonisation strategy can be developed. We are also developing our ten-year haulage strategy, which will be focused on improving efficiencies and standards, and on helping the haulage sector to move to a low-carbon future.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. It is interesting to hear the initiatives that the Department is bringing forward. There will be many challenges before the haulage sector. Internationally there has been much difficulty in logistics, which is the Minister of State's area of responsibility. We have to be conscious that there is another key demand on the whole industry where it is expected to try to reduce its carbon footprint. If the Government is going to insist on that, and if that will be insisted on at European level, it is important that we introduce a suite of measures and supports to help the sector. It is interesting to hear from the Department that efforts are being made. There is also the issue of autonomous vehicles. Ireland could be an international test bed in that area. It would potentially reduce a lot of stress on haulage workers in the very near future as technology advances. That could be one area that might help to reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions from the sector, which would be important for the Department to consider.
The ten-year haulage strategy is focusing on a number of issues. Reducing emissions in the sector is one issue. The other issues include how we are dealing with the driver shortage and how to make the profession more attractive. There has been the first phase of a public consultation, with further consultation on the draft strategy next year. Between Covid, Brexit and other challenges facing the industry, this is a really good time to get the feedback from the industry on how we can support the sector and the supply chain. We have seen how reliant and flexible it was through the Brexit transition. Our supply chain was robust. They were flexible, as they told us they would be. We were all fearful about the transition on 1 January but the sector has really done us proud. We need to ensure we support it in every way possible. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and I met representatives of the Irish Road Haulage Association, IRHA, last week to discuss many of these issues.
I want to add my words on the very hard work that has been done throughout the pandemic. That is important to acknowledge. It has been one of the areas that we relied on. New additional pressures have been put on.
On emissions, the Minister of State has said that the Department will do more public consultation, which I welcome. It is important that there be a grassroots level engagement also. As we have seen recently, there has been a great degree of friction between the Government and hauliers in Ireland. That must be worked on and improved. Fuel prices must also be acknowledged as the elephant in the room. They are a concern for many families but especially those who are on the road daily, keeping our shops supplied and businesses going, and working to get our exports out of the country.
As this will be my last contribution before the holidays, I wish the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the staff of the House a happy Christmas.
At our meeting with the IRHA last week, we discussed issues around fuel prices, the decarbonisation of the HGV sector and the HGV driver shortage. The Minister and I agreed at the meeting to consider a proposal from the IRHA to expand the relief available to hauliers under the diesel rebate scheme, but with a link to the phase-out of older, more polluting vehicles and an overall reduction in emissions from the sector. Details of the proposal are to be submitted to the Department for further consideration and we will meet the IRHA again in the new year.
It is a sector that is very challenged and needs to be supported. One way is through the alternatively fuelled heavy-duty vehicles scheme, which is a medium- to long-term solution for the sector as new technologies come on board. In the meantime, the sector does need our support. I have engaged with it a great deal over the last 12 months since I came into this role and that is something I will continue to do along with the Minister.