Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Energy Security: Motion [Private Members]


10:02 am

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I ask the House to note that the amendments to the motion regarding energy security are displaying incorrectly on the Dáil website. The Regional Group's amendment to the Government amendment is displaying in two places as an amendment to the Government amendment and also as amendment No. 2 to the motion. It should be only displaying as an amendment to the Government amendment. The People Before Profit-Solidarity amendment, which should be displaying as amendment No. 2 to the motion, is displaying as amendment No. 3.

With that in mind, I call Deputy Michael Collins, who will be followed by Deputies Danny Healy-Rae and Nolan.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann: notes that:
- the current geopolitical situation emphasises the imperative need to establish robust policies to develop our own energy supplies, including renewable energy sources;

- Ireland, like all other member states, is bound by European Union (EU) directives on energy regulation, meaning an obligation exists to plan and develop self-sufficiency options;

- currently Ireland is in an extremely vulnerable and utterly unsustainable position in terms of security of energy supply (dependent on the United Kingdom (UK)), with Brexit adding a further layer of uncertainty and risk, as the UK is no longer legally bound by any measure, including the solidarity principle in the 2020 agreement regulation, to provide us with supplies, thus significantly increasing Ireland's gas supply vulnerabilities;

- the Economic and Social Research Institute recently ranked Ireland as the fourth most energy insecure country in Europe;

- although we are at a critical juncture in planning for Ireland's energy future, the energy security review, promised in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future in June 2020, has yet to even be published;

- Ireland has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, however, the reality of the situation is that trains, tractors, trucks, trawlers, planes and the bulk of the existing car and van fleet run on oil;

- Ireland simply cannot become a green economy overnight, when 87 per cent of our energy supply still comes from fossil fuels;

- Ireland currently imports 100 per cent of our oil needs and over 70 per cent of our gas needs (interconnectors from Scotland to Ireland), with gas imports rising steadily in line with production declines at the Corrib gas field;

- dependence on gas imports has risen sharply from 33 per cent in 2017 to 72 per cent in 2021;

- currently 30 per cent of Ireland's gas needs come from the Corrib gas field, our only indigenous source, which will reach depletion by the decade's end;

- oil and gas will be required for decades to come and the Barryroe oil and gas field (in the Celtic Sea and discovered by Providence Resources) is Ireland's only indigenous oil discovery, which has the potential to be developed in the short-term;

- the large-scale offshore wind generation projects offer Ireland real potential but require proper planning and will take of euro and a medium- to long-term timeframe to develop, to ensure any actual or meaningful impact on decarbonisation;

- Ireland has the potential and options available to become almost entirely energy self-sufficient, which in the short-term means opening up the Barryroe supply and simultaneously getting serious about developing alternative renewable sources such as offshore wind;

- against this backdrop, and in light of the Government's failure, Ireland is facing an existential threat to the cost of food and energy, together with a complete lack of any energy security;

- all Irish consumers will face much higher fossil fuel prices following the EU leaders' agreement to ban most Russian oil imports;

- the Government has failed to address these seismic issues in any meaningful way that simultaneously reduces the cost burden and ensures a sustainable supply channel for both affordable food and energy into the future;

- this unprecedented energy crisis is compounded by the Government's policy position on energy, which is imprisoned by the single lane and oftentimes narrow ideological position of the Green Party;

- the Government's narrow ideological energy policy means closing down our own national resource supply of oil and gas, meaning we must import from anywhere that will supply us, at whatever price is dictated by exporters;

- in theory this policy approach may sound good or go down well at Green Party meetings, but it will send this country and our people down a dangerous energy eddy;

- the current Government policy ignores the fact that we will continue to need natural gas to anchor our entire electricity system for a long time to come;

- importing the necessary oil and gas will not only create a much larger carbon footprint, but it will also be costlier and leave us extremely vulnerable to supply and price shocks, while the monetary cost of importing oil represents a net loss to the Irish economy and the Exchequer; and

- the Government can no longer use this issue to virtue signal or purport their empty green credentials, as the consequences of doing so impacts the entire economy and especially every household, small business, farmer, and transport operator in a deeply negative and costly way;
further notes that:
- there is no justifiable case for not developing our own available oil and gas resources, and there is certainly no justifiable reason for this Government to stand over a current policy that adds to our carbon footprint, by importing gas from places like Qatar, which creates fourteen times the carbon footprint of using and developing the Corrib and Barryroe oil and gas resources;

- the hypocrisy-laden Government's energy policy, which turns a blind eye to importing from dictators on the one hand and aims to criminalise an Irish person who gives a bag of turf to a neighbour on the other, is affecting the nation's energy security and leaving Irish consumers to pay more than anyone else;

- today, despite the rhetoric, all of Ireland's oil and the vast majority of our gas is imported, and Ireland will continue to depend on oil products for the foreseeable future, or until the Government acts rather than speaks of increasing renewable supplies;

- the purely politically induced ban on Irish oil and gas represents a false narrative, as it generates a greater carbon footprint and ensures all Irish people pay more for electricity, gas, home-heating oil, petrol, and diesel and is seriously adding to our cost of living burden, while being devoid of any scientific or economic rationale;

- moving away from Russian supplies for both oil and gas at the EU level will have a detrimental impact, whether directly or indirectly, on supply to Ireland;

- the only practical solution is to reopen access to new supplies off our coast;-— the Government's decisions to close our turf-burning energy stations, further intending to close coal-burning stations too, will compound matters and result in a sole reliance on imports; and

- this current policy being pursued by this Government is leaving Ireland open to any and all international events of the future, which are well outside of our control and exposes not only households but our entire economy to price hikes that are completely outside of this country's control;
- that energy imports have a higher carbon footprint than local production;

- that Providence Resources unreservedly supports Government and EU policies aimed at tackling climate change;

- that the Barryroe production is not incompatible with Ireland's transition to a carbon neutral economy by 2050;

- that Providence Resources is confident that there is an attractive economic and technical case for first appraising and then developing the Barryroe oil and gas field;

- that an updated Competent Person's Report (CPR), delivered by RPS Energy Consultants (RPS), was completed at the beginning of February 2022, which confirms 81.2 MMstb of Gross 2C oil resources can be accessed through an initial two-phase development project, addressing one reservoir in the central segments of the field only, those closest to the 2012 oil discovery well;

- that a 2019 Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) report (when oil was $64 a barrel, it is $122 this week) estimated that one oil find off our coast would involve total expenditure of €16.25 billion, provide up to 1,200 jobs and €8.5 billion in production and corporation taxes;

- that the same PwC report estimated that over the project lifecycle of one gas field the expenditure would reach about €2.3 billion, provide 380 jobs and €2.42 billion in production and corporation taxes per annum;

- the enormous potential of Ireland becoming energy self-sufficient with the full optimisation of Barryroe, the largest undeveloped hydrocarbon field in Europe;

- that successful exploitation of the Barryroe oil and gas field would provide significant strategic and fiscal value to the Irish economy, at no cost to the Irish taxpayer;

- that indigenous energy sources create less environmental impact, compared to imports;

- that, all in all, developing our own energy resources is not only responsible but is also critical, bringing a raft of environmental, economic and security of supply benefits, while not doing so means we are in breach of EU energy directives and the prospect of exposure to heavy fines;

- that, following Brexit, Ireland is no longer compliant with the EU's requirements for energy security, according to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, as our gas import infrastructure currently runs through a "third country", and there is no legal obligation on the UK to consider Ireland's energy needs in the event of significant disruption; and

- that the current policies being adopted by this Government are taking the country and citizens down a dark tunnel, endangering our energy security; and
calls on the Government to:
- recognise that an urgent change in the trajectory of its energy policy is now desperately needed, as emissions associated with indigenous production can be up to 30 per cent lower than sources from outside Europe due to enhanced production technologies and shorter transport distances;

- explain the effect of current Irish Government policy which purports to protect the environment, when in fact it only increases our emissions by forcing Ireland to rely on the importation of all our gas and oil needs, at a time when EU gas and oil production is rapidly declining;

- ensure that Ireland is equipped with the policy options of developing, as transition energy supplies, its own oil and gas sources in the Celtic Sea at the Barryroe oil and gas field, where the accepted industry reserve projections indicate 365 million barrels of equivalent oil and gas resources;

- fully acknowledge that the Lease Undertaking is urgently required to allow Providence Resources to move forward with plans to drill an appraisal well at the Barryroe oil and gas field;

- sanction the natural follow-on from the Barryroe SEL 1/11 exploration licence, by providing Ministerial consent for the Lease Undertaking, since the Barryroe technical strategy is ready to be implemented within a short timeframe;

- ensure that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, who has twice refused to engage with either Providence Resources or the Irish Offshore Operators Association, holds an urgent meeting with both organisations;

- explain why it has, to date, failed to provide the necessary Lease Undertaking to Providence Resources, which is required to realise the Barryroe oil and gas field's potential and the energy resource opportunity for Ireland, which will be lost if the Government continues on the current path;

- be honest and accept that continuing on the current energy path means the cost of living crisis in Ireland will only worsen, and when energy supplies are low admit that we are at the end of the pipeline and will likely be reduced to a trickle; and

- fully accept that the only logical route available is to detangle the current Government's mistaken energy policies and ensure the development of the Barryroe oil and gas, which after all is environmentally superior to what is being imported today and would harness the required energy security while reducing the costs for all Irish consumers.

On 21 March 2022, when on board the RV Mallet, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, gave an interview during which he made an extraordinary arrogant statement. This statement highlighted just how out of touch he and the party are with reality. He said that politicians demanding a renewed focus on fossil fuels as a solution to the energy crisis "need a lesson in energy economics". It is the Green Party and its coalition partners, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, that need more than one lesson in energy economics.

Last week, on an EU-wide comparable basis, Ireland's inflation rate was 8.2%, which is a 38-year high. Half the rate of inflation is due to energy alone. This is what people who get up early in the morning have to deal with as a result of the policies of this Government. In a recent submission to the Department of Finance, the Freight Transport Association of Ireland said fuel price increases of 50% are having a crippling effect on the freight industry. The same can be said for farmers, fishermen and all food producers. This all feeds in directly to massive price increases in everyday food items.

This is what economists call hyperinflation. Each year, we purchase approximately €8 billion of fossil fuels from other countries. This is the single largest transfer of national wealth out of our economy. It is a situation those of us in the real world know will continue for decades to come unless we develop our own fossil fuel resources. This is what economists call a balance of payments deficit.

The Minister of State has no difficulty with the fact that we import fossil fuels from other countries but he and his Green Party colleagues have an idiotic ideology that this is okay as long as we do not produce them ourselves. This is despite the fact that transporting these fossil fuel imports creates 14 times the carbon footprint of developing and consuming our own oil and gas resources. This is what economists refer to as greenwashing, and the outsourcing of some of our emissions is green hypocrisy. The Minister of State does not need a shorter shower. What he definitely needs, though, is a long cold shower to wake him up to the realities of the national energy crisis.

Each year, the Department of the Taoiseach prepares a national risk assessment. I would appreciate if the Minister of State would take interest in what we are saying. I know the Green Party has no interest in what is going on in the real world but I would appreciate if he would give me the courtesy in the nine minutes I have. Each year, the Department of the Taoiseach prepares a national risk assessment. In the 2021 assessment, which was signed off by the Taoiseach, energy security was one of the key risks identified. It highlighted the potential disruption to a secure and sustainable energy supply. It emphasised that it is vital that Ireland ensures affordable, sustainable and diverse energy supplies.

What the Minister of State, supported by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, is doing is the polar opposite. His and the Minister's Department is responsible for preparing a national energy security review. This should have been published by his Department three years ago. It was a cornerstone of the programme for Government, which all three Government parties signed up to two years ago. As of today, it still has not been published. Yet, on 6 June 2022, it was reported in a national newspaper that on 26 May 2022, the Department convened a meeting at the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre to discuss the oil emergency crisis. It was reported that among the matters discussed was a limit to be placed on all essential car travel and a strict limit on the volume of fuel a motorist could buy at any one time. Failure to have our national energy security review published is a dereliction of the Minister of State's duties and those of Deputy Ryan in his responsibilities as a Minister.

We import 70% of our natural gas requirements. While some of this is used to generate electricity, gas accounts for 21% of all primary energy consumed in Ireland. If anything were to happen to this supply of gas, not only would the lights go out, our economy would also be shut down overnight.

Natural gas is transmitted to Ireland through two pipelines, both of which originate from the same physical point of Moffat in Scotland. If there was an accident or explosion at the Moffat site, both pipelines would be out of commission and our economy would be brought to its knees. This is what the European Commission refers to as the N-1 formula.

The ESRI recently ranked Ireland as the fourth most energy insecure country in Europe. Our gas supplies come through Britain and while Britain was a member of the EU, it had an international legal obligation to ensure that we would have adequate gas supplies. This legal obligation no longer applies. In recent weeks, the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs have repeatedly accused Britain of bad faith attacks on the Northern Ireland protocol. They have also accused Britain of making no effort to resolve the protocol row and said the British Government is not listening to anyone and is on the brink of breaking international law. During the Brexit negotiations, the current British Home Secretary, Ms Priti Patel, made an appalling comment about using food shortages to pressure Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. These are the very people in whose hands we have placed our national energy security.

The Minister of State, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have been asleep at the helm as this energy hurricane is rapidly approaching. The Minister of State should wake up. Ireland is one of the few countries where the word "energy" does not appear in the name of any Department. This is itself demonstrates the lack of priority this Government places on a fundamental area of national security and prosperity. We are not climate deniers here. We are realists, not idealists. In an interview with Newstalk on 29 September 2021, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, said that Ireland will need fossil fuels going forward.

In The Irish Timesof 18 May 2022, Muireann Lynch, a senior research officer at the ESRI, wrote a long and authoritative article entitled, "No point pretending we don’t need new sources of fossil fuels". The Minister must wake up and take time to read that article. In recent months, countries such as Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States have woken up to this fact and have started to explore their own fossil fuel resources. The Green Party is the only party that appears to think that we can migrate to a miracle renewable world overnight. The CSO has recently published an official statistic that fossil fuels provide 87% of all primary energy consumed in Ireland, yet the Minister and his convert, the Taoiseach, are placing all of their energy chips on the wind roulette. The Minister must wake up.

Week after week, leading people in the renewable industry come out and highlight the reality. Last week, the head of power generation at Bord na Móna said the Government was deluded if it believes 80% of the State’s power would come from renewables by 2030. In recent days, the managing director of Statkraft Ireland said Ireland is firefighting an energy crisis and was highly critical of an inadequate electricity infrastructure. The Minister must wake up.

The licence for the Barryroe field predates the prohibition of a new exploration licence. This is written in law and is an accepted principle in the programme for Government. Last year, the Minister granted Providence Resources, the owners of the Barryroe field, permission to undertake a site survey, which they completed. Since then, Providence Resources has written to the Minister on two occasions seeking a licence undertaking and has provided the Department with all the information requested. The Minister has not replied to either of those letters. One could assume from the approach that he is stonewalling the company to progress the Green Party agenda. If that is the case, it is in direct contravention of the code of conduct for office holders in which the Standards in Public Office Commission states that the public interest should always take precedence over the interests of a political party. If the Minister's strategy is to stonewall and frustrate the company, he is also exposing the State to a potential massive legal claim for interfering with the company’s legitimate property rights. This time the answer is not blowing in the wind, but it may lie in the shallow waters 50 km off the shore at Barryroe in the constituency that I am honoured to represent, where the people do get up early in the morning and do work extremely hard and live in the real world. I have the honour of being one of the elected representatives and I will do whatever I can to protect these people in the coming energy and food crisis. The Minister must wake up.

10:12 am

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am pleased to get the opportunity to speak on this very important motion this morning. I thank Deputy Collins for highlighting the very attractive proposal of utilising the Barryroe oil and gas field off the south coast of Cork. It is understood that 365 million barrels of oil and gas are deposited there and deeper exploration could unearth much more. At a time the country is struggling to survive because of massive increased costs for oil and gas, it would surely be helpful if we could access even some of this from our own oil and gas fields in Barryroe. Moreover, as the Kinsale field is exhausted, and the Corrib field deposits of gas are waning quickly, it is vital that we utilise Barryroe and resume drilling for gas off the west coast of Kerry, which the Government stopped, as we will need gas and oil for at least 40 more years.

We should try to be as self-sufficient as possible and use our own jurisdiction to the maximum. The further away the source of oil and gas imports - that is if we are able to get them - the greater the carbon footprint. The closure of Bord na Móna in the midlands and stopping the generation of electricity in Lanesborough and Shannonbridge were short-sighted. We all know that since these generating stations were closed the cost of electricity has gone up daily. The Government should reverse this decision and utilise every bit of turf we have in the country. Turf kept this country going during the Second World War.

Shannon LNG should also get the licence to import gas from western sources such as the United States and other countries that would be minded to sell gas to us. It will not cost the country 1 cent as this company has spent several million euro to date and will totally fund the operation itself. As a reliable energy source with low emissions, gas must remain part of the energy mix. With the trouble caused by Putin and Russia and the problem that we have in the United Kingdom, we need gas from a reliable source, and we need another source now to ensure future energy security and economic prosperity.

I cannot understand it. Cork is lucky to have the Taoiseach at the present time and two senior Ministers. The Government is acting recklessly by not listening to this proposal to provide energy off the county they represent. They are also representing the country and the country depends on energy security. Continuing to expose the country to global oil increases and raking in millions of euro in every kind of tax is all reckless behaviour.

The Taoiseach promised the people of north Kerry when canvassing with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, in the 2020 general election that he would ensure Shannon LNG got over the line. Now he has allowed the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to make submissions against this proposal. This is also reckless. We have to be realistic as families need cars to go to work. There are no other options for people in rural Ireland. They need cars to go to work and to take their children to school. They are struggling. Many families are in serious jeopardy. The running costs of lorry transport has doubled. I saw the price of diesel all along the road as I came up the day before yesterday. It was €2.10 for diesel and €2.20 for petrol. Farmers and contractors are paying €1.60 a litre for green diesel. They are under immense pressure and the Government is doing nothing to help them. The Government could take less tax, but it does not want to do that. Another issue concerns private bus operators transporting children to school. The Minister is not doing enough. The Government could at least forgo the extra carbon tax and excise VAT that it is clawing back now.

The senior Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on 19 May addressed the Seanad on energy and stated:

We have never found oil in commercial quantities. All the likely sites...are in very deep, distant waters.

That is incorrect. What the Minister said is that we just do not have a lot of oil and gas reserves. These statements are incorrect, and I cannot understand why he made them. It shows his fundamental lack of knowledge on this very important matter. The Barryroe discovery is in 100 m of water, 50 km offshore and is regarded as the largest undeveloped hydrocarbon field in Europe. The accepted industrial reserve projections indicate 365 million barrels of equivalent oil and gas resources in that field. I ask the senior Minister to correct the record because he has misled the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an rún seo ar maidin. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Michael Collins agus leis an bhfoireann go léir atá ag obair linn. Rinne siad sár-obair ar an rún seo chomh maith. No self-respecting Government would voluntarily destabilise or disown natural and long-lasting sources of energy dependence for the State, which it has the privilege to govern. Yet, this is precisely what many people see when they look at the actions of this Government and its decision to essentially throw all of our energy needs into one big green basket. In the near to medium term, the effect of such an approach will turn Ireland into a basket case.

It is truly alarming we now have a Government that appears oblivious to any evidence that does not support its own ideological biases. A hundred years after our independence we are, it seems, as dependent as ever on the importation of fuel, not to mention peat. This is completely at odds with what people in the past fought for. The programme of the First Dáil in 1919 stated clearly that the people of Ireland have the right to use their own resources but the Government has taken that right from us and has now put us into a situation where we have an energy crisis and there are questions over our energy security. The Government, therefore, needs to act on these questions because they are coming from very good and reliable sources. We are now regarded as the fourth most energy insecure country, according to the ESRI. The Government can disregard what the Rural Independent Group is saying but is it also, in its arrogance, disregarding what the ESRI is saying because it does not want to hear any of this until there is a crisis? We will be in a deep crisis if the Government does not act.

What is any sane person going to make of the fact that in 2021 alone we imported in excess of 42,800 tonnes of peat valued at €7.3 million. To do so when we have an enormous indigenous supply boggles the mind. It makes no sense. It is the definition of shooting ourselves in both feet, all the while creating a situation where emissions from such activity are multiples of what they would be if we simply used the peat and turf on our own doorstep. I have consistently made the point that while the Government talks a great game about transforming energy sources and promoting and increasing alternatives sources but the facts say otherwise; they are black and white. Only last week it was reported online by The Ditchthat while the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, claimed more than a month ago to have opened a solar farm in Wicklow it is yet to supply any electricity to the national grid. As the The Ditchnoted on the same day the Minister opened the farm, his Department falsely claimed in a press release the farm was delivering electricity to Ireland's grid. Again, it is all about spin. In fact, the solar farm, which is owned by a French multinational energy provider, is yet to be made fully operational despite the Minister and his Department's claims as well as the media fanfare that greeted the farm's opening. It seems to be all about the openings and the fanfare.

The we have the problems I have repeatedly pointed to in the area of microgeneration and the support scheme for it. The Minister confirmed to me in a reply to a parliamentary question that the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities, CRU, "... is not setting a date or deadline for the timing of the first payment ... " to the microgeneration customers. My constituents, including farmers and families, are still waiting to receive such payments. This is totally unacceptable. As reported then, a promised 1 cent per litre cut to the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, levy was not delivered by Government but the decision not to implement it only came to light when revealed by theIrish Independentlast week. The decision means motorists battling soaring fuel rates at the pump missed out on a saving of €20 million of fuel costs. That is to say nothing of the delays in getting the licensed haulage emergency support scheme up and running. Though it was announced in March is was not until approximately six weeks later that 3,000 haulage and freight operators could access the scheme. Where is the sense of urgency?

On the broader picture and how we offer real, practical and vastly less expensive fuel alternatives, I and my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group recently met representatives of both the Alliance for Zero Carbon Heating and Liquid Gas Ireland. These groups offer credible and sustainable alternative models that must be actively explored by Government if it is serious about approaching this issue in a much more credible way.

10:22 am

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: notes that:
- the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future sets out a clear pathway towards less reliance on fossil fuels across every sector of our society, and it specifically contains a commitment to end the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas on the same basis as the decision taken in 2019 by the previous Government in relation to oil exploration and extraction;

- this commitment was made effective immediately, and since June 2020 the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications no longer accepts new applications for new petroleum authorisations and, in addition, there will be no future licencing rounds;

- holders of existing authorisations, including Exola DAC, a subsidiary of Providence Resources Plc are not affected by these changes and may apply to progress their authorisations through the licencing stages towards a natural conclusion – which may include expiry, relinquishment or production;

- the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 gives statutory underpinning to this position and a new policy statement for petroleum exploration is currently being prepared to reflect the current policy and legislative position and to provide clarity to stakeholders in relation to future authorisations which may be granted under legislation;

- an application for a Lease Undertaking made by Providence Resources in respect of the Barryroe oil and gas field is under consideration by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications;

- broader energy policy or energy security considerations have no bearing on the regulatory process: applications for petroleum authorisations are assessed against a number of criteria in accordance with Section 9A of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act, 1960 and Section 3 of the Licensing Terms for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, Development and Production, which includes the technical competence of the applicant and the financial resources available to it in order to undertake the work programme and any other commitments pursuant to the relevant petroleum authorisation; and

- the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications does not publish information on individual applications whilst they are under consideration."
The programme for Government states climate change is the single greatest threat facing humanity and commits the Government to react comprehensively and imaginatively to this challenge in a manner that ensures we achieve a rapid reduction in and then reversal of our impact on the climate. Climate change means the fossil fuel-based economic model is no longer fit for purpose and we must make the necessary structural changes to break the link between fossil fuels and economic progress.

The measures proposed by the Deputies would represent significant changes in policy and would have significant negative effects on key national objectives on the environment, climate action and energy. The Government is opposing the motion and proposing a countermotion that notes that the Government's policy on oil and gas exploration has been clearly articulated through the programme for Government and is underpinned by the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021. The policy and legislative framework sets out that while existing authorisation holders may seek to apply to progress through the various stages in the petroleum exploration process, no new applications for oil or gas can be considered.

Previous Governments have operated a concession system whereby petroleum exploration companies are given rights to explore for petroleum within defined acreage offshore, through a licensing system that progresses from a licensing option to an exploration licence and a lease, in the event of a commercial find. Progression from licensing option to exploration licence and between the individual phases of an exploration licence depends on the authorisation holder fulfilling work programme obligations. Industry carries the financial risk associated with such exploration and fiscal terms have been designed to strike the necessary balance between attracting the high-risk exploration investment necessary to prove the potential of the Irish offshore and maximising the return to the State from Ireland's natural resources.

Since exploration began in the Irish offshore, four commercial gas discoveries have been made, namely Kinsale Head, Ballycotton, Seven Heads and Corrib. While there have been some discoveries of oil in the Irish offshore, to date none of these have been declared commercial. In the interest of transparency and in accordance with section 57 of the Petroleum and Other Minerals 1960 Act, the Minister is required to present to the Houses of the Oireachtas a six-monthly report on petroleum exploration and development in Ireland. This report sets out the particulars of all authorisations granted by the Minister that are current during the reporting period. This includes the amount relating to petroleum exploration and development collected by the Minister during the reporting period and other information relating to petroleum exploration and development in Ireland. In addition, an acreage report setting out the position of each authorisation and a concession map is published every quarter on the Department's website.

The Government is reducing the reliance of every sector of our society on fossil fuels. The programme for Government committed us to ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas on the same basis as the 2019 Government decision on to oil exploration and extraction. This has been given statutory effect in section 21 of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, which prohibits the issuing of new extraction licenses for oil and gas. There is no argument for reconsidering the ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration. A revised petroleum policy statement will be published in the coming months to reflect the current Government position. It will also give clarity to stakeholders on the position regarding authorisations into the future. A transition to renewables is the only way to progress and the proposed change set out in the motion would only distract from this. While no new authorisations for new exploration will be granted, existing authorisations are unaffected by the change and can continue to apply through the licensing stages until they reach a natural conclusion that may include expiry, relinquishment or production. However, any applications for follow-on authorisations still require ministerial consent. The criteria are set out in section 9A(1) of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960 and section 3 of the Licensing Terms for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, Development and Production. They include the technical competence of the applicant, the financial resources available to it to undertake the work programme and any other commitments pursuant to the relevant petroleum authorisation. All applications are processed in the same manner in line with the relevant policy and regulatory requirements and they are all subject to robust assessments from a technical and financial perspective. The timelines associated with processing applications can vary, depending on the nature of the applications, to complete such assessments.

The application for a lease undertaking referenced in the motion is being considered under a robust assessment process by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, in line with the criteria referenced earlier. It is important to note the licence application assessment process is informed only by financial, technical and environmental considerations and not by energy security or broader energy policy matters. The Department does not publish or discuss information on individual applications while they are under consideration.

It would be inappropriate for me or the Department, from a legal and regulatory perspective, and will offend due process to comment on specific details regarding any individual licences or applications pending a formal decision being made.

10:32 am

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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The Minister of State might have heard of the film "Saving Private Ryan". The new film will be about saving Ireland from the Minister, Deputy Ryan. In his opening statement, the Minister of State said the programme for Government states that climate change is the single greatest threat facing humanity. The single greatest threat in this country at the moment to people and their families is surviving because of what the Government is implementing.

We are going to go through the fuel prices as of 13 June. A gallon of fuel is €4.90 without tax. When the Government puts tax on it, that brings the price to €9.67. An average car requires ten gallons of fuel, which brings the cost to €96.80. If there were no taxes the cost would be €49. That is amazing. People are suffering at the moment. The first thing the Government should do is to protect the here and now, and then transition into the future for future generations. It has reversed the cycle to wipe out the here and now, where there might be no future.

I have a green agenda, which is to lower emissions in this country. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, has stated that 87% of people travelling in and out of this country come through Dublin Airport and travel throughout the country for cheap flights in cars and buses using fossil fuels. If traffic was dispersed around the country to other airports, we would reduce emissions. That is a green agenda.

Roughly 90% of roll-on, roll-off traffic comes through Dublin Port. A loaded truck travelling 100 km requires 56 l of fuel, plus AdBlue. Trucks are travelling from Dublin to Cork, Limerick, Galway and Clare. My job is to lower emissions. It is common sense. We have ports in Foynes, Cork and Rosslare, but the Government promotes Dublin. More fuel is burned with trucks travelling up and down the country to export and import goods. That is not a green agenda. Common sense tells us the dispersal of traffic is necessary. Shannon Foynes Port, which is waiting on investment, can take the largest ship in the world. That means we could get rid of 30 or 40 ships and instead use one, which would lower emissions.

In terms of natural resources in this country, I refer to oil exploration off the coast of Cork. We could be self-sufficient while waiting for green energy in the future. Instead, we bring oil from around the world, which uses emissions, into Ireland. We can lower emissions by extracting oil here. The Minister of State will ask me how that is possible given that it is a fossil fuel. It can be done very easily. If oil is extracted off the coast of Cork, we will not have to ship it halfway around the world. We are all under the same sky. I would get rid of the shipping costs of fuel being imported into Ireland from around the world. I would save the environment in the now until we have alternatives.

Some 70 wind turbines have been taken down in Galway at a time of crisis. What do we do? We open up Moneypoint and start burning fossil fuels again. The Government has an ideological perspective. I am in favour of wind farms and offshore energy, but they are not available in the here and now. My job and that of the Rural Independent Group is to protect the people now and work for the future. We do not see anything wrong with the agenda for a greener environment. We are here to protect the people now. The Government and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, are not doing that.

It was stated on social media during the week that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, does not tell lies. He does. He told us that we were getting rid of the 1 cent levy to fund the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA. Some 380 million l of fuel-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I will give the Deputy-----

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I am coming around to-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask you to withdraw-----

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I am not going to withdraw my statement. I am going to explain why-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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It is a very serious statement.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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It is, and it is on the record of the Dáil. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle allows me to do so, I will explain my comment. On the record of the Dáil, the Government told us it was taking away the 1 cent NORA levy. In a press release last week, it said it would not do that. Every month, 380 million l of fuel comes into the country. A 1 cent levy on each litre equates to €3.8 million in taxpayers' money the Government said it was going to give back. It did not give it back. It said it would do so on the record, and is now not doing so. That, to me, is a lie. That is what I am reflecting on. It is a lie.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask you to withdraw what you have said about the Minister telling lies. You can state facts in the way in which you have done so, and there is no difficulty with that. I ask the Deputy to withdraw that.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Thank you.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. What do we call it? Is it a fib? Do we call it mistruths or misleading? Would that suit the House?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I remind the Deputy that there is plenty of scope around language.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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The Government misled the people of Ireland, like the Green Party is misleading everyone in this country. People from the Green Party are now coming to me to tell me they cannot understand what the Government is doing. They have a green agenda, but they know that now they have to live for their families. They are all doing an extra bit to protect their families and everyone around them. Everyone is doing it. I am doing it. We are all sharing cars and doing our bit for the environment.

My job and that of the Rural Independent Group is to protect our families and the people of Ireland who elected us to protect them now and in the future. As I said, we all have our own green agenda, but the Government has single-handedly driven inflation in this country through its views on social media and everything else. Now it is open up to propaganda everywhere and people are jumping on the bandwagon. People are suffering because of these views. We all have the same vision, but the vision is a transition as we have always said.

I remind the Government that if people get sick - please God, they will not - what will come to collect them is an ambulance run on fossil fuel. If there is a fire in a house, what comes to put out the fire? It is vehicles with fossil fuel engines. Our schools and most of our hospitals run on fossil fuels. Garda cars driving around the country are run on fossil fuel. People all want to make a difference, yet the Government cannot see that. The Minister of State needs to wake up. Deputy Collins has said three or four times that the Government needs to wake up to the here and now and protect people into the future.

Off the shores of Cork there is oil to be got, which would make us self-sustaining while we work for the future. The Government and the Minister, Deputy Ryan, are not even replying to requests for licences. Instead, they want to increase emissions by bringing fuel from across the world into Ireland. We need to be self-sustaining.

We can see what happens in Europe. We are at the end of the chain when it comes to getting food in here at exorbitant prices because the Government has stopped us from being self-sustainable for the here and now. Yes, we see into the future and everything is changing, but the Government cannot just turn a switch. As I have said before, it is like "Star Trek" with the Government. We are here and the Government is beaming us to there without any transition. We want the transition and we want to be allowed the time to transition, but the Government has to help and to save all the people of this country for the transition rather than taking us out of existence.

10:42 am

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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The Rural Independent Group has identified a problem but, unfortunately, it has looked in exactly the wrong place for the solution. We have an energy security crisis and the Government has significantly contributed to it. We have an energy cost crisis and the Government has significantly contributed to it. The Rural Independent Group suggests, however, that the answer is new fossil fuel infrastructure, which would be hugely damaging to the environment and would do little for energy security, particularly considering the locking in of such fossil fuel use. We are looking at countries spending billions of euro to buy themselves out of the type of contracts that would be needed if this motion were to succeed. Such infrastructure would last 30 or 40 years. That would take us well past 2050 and any prospect of delivering on emissions reduction targets and, whatever it might do for energy security, it would do absolutely nothing for energy costs. Do we get Corrib gas cheaper than we get Qatari or British gas? No, we do not. Sinn Féin therefore does not support this motion.

We do not support the Government's countermotion either because there is absolutely zero acknowledgement in it of the Government's role in sleepwalking the State into this energy security and energy cost crisis. There is no mention of data centre policy. As recently as yesterday, we had reports that the energy generation being procured by the State to prevent power outages in winter 2023 will cover only about 60% of the generation gap that might arise. Why? It is largely because of data centres. There is no mention that we have become more dependent, not less, on fossil fuels in recent years thanks to a complete failure of policy. There is no mention of the Government's failure, along with the ESB and the CRU, to deliver on committed capacity. Capacity is committed and there is failure to deliver on it. There is no mention of the failure to deliver on our offshore wind potential. If the Government will not take Sinn Féin's advice as to what needs to be done, there is an article practically every week in the Business Postfrom industry leaders telling the Government what needs to be done. There is no mention of the failure to deliver microgeneration in schools, farms or community centres, or anywhere else for that matter, at scale. There is no mention of the failure to adequately support people and to ensure a just and fair transition. Every scheme the Government comes up with fails the equity test and the just transition test.

What is in the Government's countermotion? There is mention of a framework with 31 responses. That will be cold comfort to anybody faced with the reality of runaway fuel and energy costs.

The energy security review needs to be urgently concluded and published. That should have been done already. The Government needs to set out a comprehensive and coherent plan to deliver energy security, with all options on the table. It must deliver a just transition and the most rapid and fair transition to a net-zero energy system. We need to accelerate the delivery of offshore wind energy by providing the funding and resources needed to agencies such as An Bord Pleanála to ensure that long planning delays are avoided. We need to establish a cross-government, high-level task force to bring forward recommendations on how to lower the price of renewable energy here because it is not just fossil fuel energy but also renewable energy that is too expensive in Ireland. We need to draft and publish a national strategy on green energy. In the first instance, the most important thing the Government needs to do to protect consumers is to introduce an emergency budget that provides targeted measures to help households struggling to meet increasing energy costs. This Government and previous ones have pursued failed policies that have brought us to the brink. People know what amber alerts are now because they are part of the public conversation. That is an absolute failure of Government policy to match energy demand with energy supply. It is totally within the gift of the Government to deliver on that, and it needs to do so.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It is very hard for people in counties such as the one I represent, Donegal, to listen to the lecturing of the Minister of State's party leader, the Minister for Transport and the Environment, Climate and Communications, on their responsibilities, considering the failure to deliver alternative renewable sources of energy over such a long time. The microgeneration scheme has been on the agenda for years and years. Deputy Stanley tried to promote it. It is the most basic form of utilising our resources. It is not done. Obviously, we have optimum capacity for offshore wind energy. Wind energy is not dealt with. Green hydrogen is not dealt with. Electricity infrastructure is not available in rural areas. What does the Government do instead? It has the stick ready at all stages. The reality people face right now is a 50% to 60% increase in the cost of fuel over recent months, which is having a horrendous impact on families. The cost of home heating oil has more than doubled, which is also having a horrendous impact. The reality in which we live is such that people in rural communities such as Donegal now have to use solid fuels, unfortunately, to get by. That is having a horrendous impact.

What is the message from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan? Is it to go to the social welfare officer? Christ almighty. "Slow down" was his message recently. The Minister of State needs to talk to his senior Minister and tell him that that is deeply offensive and that people are struggling to get by. Those people have been failed by Government policy and do not take kindly to lectures when the Government has not met its responsibilities to deliver energy security and renewable energy. That is why they are left at the mercy of the profiteering conglomerates we see now. It is because of Government failure for so many years. In the here and now, people need help with this. They need an emergency budget to help them deal with this crisis. I dread what is coming in the winter. I dread the stories I hear about the cost increases on home heating oil, coal, petrol and diesel that may be coming. The Government needs to do something now.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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Luann an rún seo an costas atá ar bhreosla. Tuigim go bhfuil an rún níos leithne ná sin ach mar atá ráite ag mo chuid comhghleacaithe, caithfimid a thuiscint gurb é an bealach is fearr le déileáil leis an gcostas seo agus leis an ardú sa chostas seo go fadtéarmach ná infheistíocht cuí a dhéanamh i bhfoinsí inathnuaite. Sin an rud a chaithfear a dhéanamh go fadtéarmach agus tuigimid freisin nach raibh dóthain déanta ag rialtas i ndiaidh rialtais le 20 bliain anuas chun infheistíocht cuí a dhéanamh i gcúrsaí inathnuaite. Chomh maith leis sin, tá a fhios againn go bhfuil géarchéim ann mar gheall ar an gcostas atá ar bhreosla ach go háirithe. Tuigim go bhfuil ionaid sonraí sa Stát seo a úsáideann an oiread céanna leictreachais is a úsáideann ceantair tuaithe na tíre seo. Beidh ardú air sin go 30% d'úsáid leictreachais ar fad faoi 2030.

Mar gheall go bhfuil an deis agam labhairt leis an Aire Stáit faoi seo anois, ba mhaith liom plé a dhéanamh ar an gcostas sin agus ar an mbrú atá á chur ar theaghlaigh agus ar theaghlaigh tuaithe ach go háirithe mar gheall ar an ardú ar an gcostas ar bhreosla.

Chonaiceamar le gairid go bhfuil ardú 11% tagtha ar phraghas peitril agus díosail le coicís anuas. Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, níl an córas iompair poiblí céanna ag ceantair tuaithe is atá ag ceantair chathracha. Chomh maith leis sin, tá a fhios againn i gceantair cosúil le Conamara nach bhfuil na foinsí leictreachais sin ann i gcomhair carranna leictreachais ach an oiread. Tá daoine ag brath ar a gcuid carranna chun dul chuig an obair, chuig an siopa, chun an ospidéil, nó pé rud eile.

Tá a fhios agam freisin go bhfuil ardú praghais ann ag an bpointe seo agus go bhfuil sé €650 níos daoire anois ná ag an am seo anuraidh do dhaoine atá ag tiomáint carranna peitril. Dóibh siúd a bhfuil carranna díosail acu, tá ardú €640 i gceist ón mbliain anuraidh. Caithfimid rud éigin a dhéanamh chun cabhair a thabhairt do na daoine seo agus teastaíonn buiséad anois láithreach.

10:52 am

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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The boat sailed years ago. This Government and previous Governments have not listened to the Opposition parties in this House. As was mentioned, in the previous Dáil, of which I was a Member, Deputy Stanley tried to introduce a microgeneration scheme. Individuals and small businesses acted on this but they still cannot get excess electricity back into the grid or sell it to the grid. Microgeneration is a solution that was in place; it was not just an idea. The refund scheme was another solution but this Government and previous Governments have said "No". They have decided to forget just transition and instead just beat people with a stick.

A previous speaker referred to what will happen this winter. I, too, dread the circumstances the most vulnerable, the elderly, people with disabilities, and people in rural communities who depend on home heating oil will face. They are not on the grid. What will happen to them? Are we going to be back here again scratching our heads and asking why this is happening.

Previous speakers mentioned offshore wind and green hydrogen. There are solutions but every time we listen to the other side of the House speak on green policy, the only solution they propose is to box people into a corner and punish them rather than looking at what works in other parts of the world. There are simple solutions for public transport. In Japan, for example, people can pay for a train ticket with used plastic bottles. That is a solution and, in the first instance, people are also cleaning the place.

Sinn Féin raised the idea of a refund scheme. I remember speaking on the matter in the previous Dáil when I recalled an earlier refund scheme where people received 5 pence for returning a bottle. The bottle was brought back to the shop where it was washed, recycled and refilled. This meant there was less rubbish, people were educated and they also made a few bob. I mentioned at the time that schoolchildren who were not old enough to get a summer job in a factory would go to a beach or down the bóithríns of this country on their summer holidays to pick up plastic bottles, clean up the environment, educate themselves and get a few bob in pocket money. That is a win-win solution.

I ask the Government to take on board solutions that other parties propose. I am dismayed that we are debating this issue today.

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Members for bringing forward this motion. It raises some sobering points around energy security, an issue that ordinary working families are dealing with at present. Every day, we hear of people who are choosing to miss meals in order to put fuel in their vehicles to go to work or to turn on heating in their homes.

The cost-of-living crisis has become embedded in our daily lives, causing real hardship for working families. Ireland’s energy and food security are intertwined and must be prioritised. The Government’s failure to act swiftly and decisively will have serious consequences for this and future generations.

The extraction of fossil fuels is causing a major imbalance in our human environment and ecosystems. Climate change is irrefutably a threat to the future of our planet and we have little time to spare. Harnessing renewable energy is the best solution. We cannot waste one more day. Planning procedures need to be superseded and major funding in infrastructure must be provided if the Government is serious about having a reliable green energy supply.

Rosslare Europort has recently set out its ambition to become Ireland’s offshore renewable energy hub. It is ideally positioned to serve the many offshore wind developments planned in the Irish and Celtic seas, the majority of which are located within 100 nautical miles of Rosslare. The port already has an ambitious master plan in place and several planned road developments would enhance its bid to become a renewable energy hub. This development will require significant investment and I understand an application has been submitted to secure European funding for it. I ask the Minister of State to support the development of Rosslare Europort as the nation’s renewable energy hub and to assist and invest in this project which would benefit the whole country well into the future in providing energy and food security for all. The investment would also deliver approximately 2,000 desperately needed jobs in Rosslare.

Energy and food security are becoming a real threat to Ireland and we already see the consequences. The Government must act now on opportunities to secure safe, affordable and secure energy for the people of Ireland. One immediate action it could take would be in respect of the planning laws for solar panels on schools and farm sheds, for example.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I commend the work of my colleagues, an Teachta O’Rourke and Senator Boylan. They have consistently put forward solutions that will work and have been consistently constructive in the face of a Government that is becoming more out of touch with every day that passes.

It is some years now since Frances O’Grady, the outgoing head of the British Trades Union Congress, TUC, said there were no jobs on a dead planet. She was dead right on that. She was signalling that workers are up for the challenge of climate change and want to play their part. There needs to be recognition on the part of the Government of the lived reality of workers today. For example, low-income workers do not want tax cuts; they want better services. The Government's advice to workers struggling to find the money for a fill of diesel, which they need to drive to their low-income jobs, is that they should go to the Department of Social Protection on the day or week that they do not have money. That advice is bananas, as any Deputy who has ever held a constituency clinic will say. The resources and capacity are not there and nobody has told the Department of Social Protection. When someone makes that kind of statement it shows workers just how out of touch that person is with their lived reality.

The Government’s inaction and our ever growing dependence on fossil fuels create the space for motions such as this. This is the Government’s doing. It is what happens because motions like this fill the space the Government has created. Our spokesperson, an Teachta O’Rourke, has already advised the Government of the difficulties with the motion.

I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment at which we heard from Wind Energy Ireland that we are missing out and will be eclipsed by Scotland and other countries if we do not get our act together. The poverty of ambition of this Government is matched only by the fuel and energy poverty it has created.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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We often hear the Government pay lip service to climate action. We need real action that will make a difference and we need it worldwide. We need it in Europe and throughout the island of Ireland but we especially need it at local level. We need joined-up thinking. Everyone has a part to play and they must play it. There can be no opt-out for the rich and famous, such as the proposed aviation fuel tax exemption for private jets.

We must have a just transition. Ireland is supposed to be the sixth richest country in the world but we have almost 700,000 people living below the poverty line. They must be supported if we are to have real and fair climate action.

We know that Ireland cannot become a green economy overnight when 87% of our energy supplies still come from fossil fuels. There is no point in increasing carbon taxes on struggling workers and families. It may lead to low energy consumption but at what price will that come?

This Government should be ashamed of itself. We are living in a country where people are going to bed either cold or hungry and having to choose between food and fuel. A poem asks, "For what Died the Sons of Róisín?". They did not die for that.

We need an energy roadmap which reduces our reliance on fossil fuels. The war in Ukraine should be a wake-up call that stirs us into action. Prices of over €2 per litre for petrol and diesel are not sustainable.

A laughable plan revealed recently by an inept Government is not the answer.

How out of touch is it to suggest that driving slower is a solution? I commend the work of Monasterevin Sustainable Energy Committee for its programme of events last Saturday. It was absolutely brilliant. We need progressive ideas but none is coming from the Government. People in Kildare and Laois would use public transport if we had reliable services and it was affordable. At the moment people in Laois and south Kildare are driving to Sallins in north Kildare to avail of the short-hop zone which completely defeats the purpose. The answer is simple: extend the short-hop zone to Portarlington. The Arrow service must be affordable. Enough of the duplicity from the Government, councillors and Senators who say that they support the proposal. Just do it. It is time for the Minister to get off the pot and get on with it.

11:02 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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In 2019 this House declared a climate emergency. Last year we passed legislation to keep oil and gas in the ground through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act although it did not apply to existing exploration licences. That Act commits us to a legally binding path to net zero by 2050. Later today we will debate the annual transition statements. We are waiting on the Government's sectoral target ceilings. Here in Ireland, the Government is not acting quickly enough and we know that globally swift enough action is not being taken. Four critical climate indicators broke records last year: greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rises, ocean heat, and ocean acidification. Extreme weather events with record heat waves and extended droughts across the world amount to dangerous warning signs that urgent action is needed. Real and urgent action is required in Ireland to reduce our emissions. We know how far off track Ireland is and the recent EPA report tells us this. As red greens we in Labour believe that Ireland must, as quickly as possible, develop our renewable energy resources and future proof our society from reliance on fossil fuels and that is the appropriate path to take, not the promotion of extraction of new oil and gas. That is why the Labour Party cannot support this motion. We believe there must be a just transition to meet the necessary climate targets to which we have signed up.

Rarely do we see a Private Members' motion in this House that could have been written by a private company engaged in oil exploration. The motion before us wilfully ignores the overwhelming evidence that we – all of us on this planet - must wean ourselves off fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Drilling in the Irish Sea is not a short or even medium-term solution to the current cost of living crisis, the rising prices of fuel, or the very valid concerns about energy security. The horrific war in Ukraine, waged by Putin, is a wake-up call for Europe on our dependency on Russian fossil fuels and the urgent need to decarbonise. It is not credible to argue now is the time to restart the long-term exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels in Irish waters. Let us not forget that this motion is not about oil that is sitting there ready to be extracted as though a tap can be turned on. Were it to proceed, it would be many years, if at all, before any fuel might be extracted, even if that were desirable or appropriate.

Providence Resources wants to be granted a "lease undertaking license" so to drill an appraisal well in the Barryroe oil field. If it was granted, reports say it would then have to begin raising $65 million to finance that well. According to the company, even if everything worked out production would only begin from mid-2026. This optimistic scenario from the company’s point of view still offers no immediate or even medium-term benefits for our energy security. Therefore, even if we leave aside the huge climate issue, which we cannot do, if licences were granted it is really difficult to see how it would benefit energy security.

The motion also neglects to mention that several attempts were made to find a commercial field at Barryroe in the 1970s. The motion makes various other statements that are simply not credible including "that indigenous energy sources create less environmental impact." Let us be clear: developing new offshore oil wells in Irish waters would have a massive and potentially devastating environmental impact. The solution is not to do more damage, but to mitigate, reduce and repair the environmental harm already caused to our planet through our massive over-reliance on fossil fuels. Only yesterday, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, was crystal clear when referring to western countries, saying new funding for fossil oil exploration and production infrastructure is delusional and would worsen the global problems of pollution and climate change. That is really clear. Only May last year, the International Energy Agency, IEA, reported that we must stop all new oil and gas exploration projects if global warming was to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial level target. This scenario can only be achieved with massive investment in low carbon and renewable technologies. The IEA’s road map for net zero by 2050 makes clear that we need to expand our clean energy supplies rather than doubling down on fossil fuels as this motion would have us believe.

Let me quote directly from the IEA road map report:

Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway... The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output – and emissions reductions – from the operation of existing assets.

The report is clear that pursuing offshore oil wells now would go against all international advice and all plans needed to address climate change in any real and substantial way. It is also the case when we look at our national research. Research from UCC shows that as we decarbonise, it creates significant risks of stranded fossil fuel assets. Again the motion does not take cognisance of this. It is another reason why we should not be encouraging more oil development. Instead we need to support a just transition which does not lock in the wrong sort of investment but looks to invest in renewables, the generation of clean energy and in the job creation that will accompany that. What Ireland can, and we in Labour say it must do, is to ramp up our efforts to build the offshore wind infrastructure we so badly need and invest in active and sustainable travel measures including cycling infrastructure which is woefully inadequate across our cities and the country. We need to retrofit our building stock and provide better supports for those who are keen to engage in retrofitting of their own homes and we need to use new battery technologies and invest in solar energy.

Ireland is now a member of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and we need to be leaders in advancing a fossil-free future. The crisis in world energy markets as a result of the brutal war in Ukraine has told us it is important to stop using oil and our reliance on fossil fuels as quickly as possible. That is reflected in the Minister’s amendment and in many of the other amendments. Indeed, the Minister’s amendment does address key points but it does not go far enough. It does not give sufficient clarity on the time line for getting us to the point where we can meet our targets and finally get to the enhanced production of clean, green energy and renewables.

There has consistently been slippage in the meeting of our targets. The EPA has made that clear. A lack of urgency has characterised the Government response and a lack of sufficient supports to enable people to move to meeting targets. On EV charging points and retrofitting we are seeing a lack of sufficient supports and resources. This means there is a risk that we remain a climate laggard and that we will simply be unable to develop our offshore wind generation capacity and our renewable capacity at sufficient speed.

Finally, I want to raise again the urgent need to speed up the adoption of measures to reduce the reliance of the EU on Russian oil and gas. We in the Labour Party have called for a full embargo on Russian fuels. I welcome the action taken at EU level on oil but we need to do more on gas. New oil and gas wells here or elsewhere are not the solution. Rather we need an urgent, just transition to renewable energy, greater investment in energy efficiency and the development of a green hydrogen strategy. We in Ireland can be world leaders in this. This motion would take us backwards.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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As the Social Democrats spokesperson for climate action and as a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, I am not shocked but I am disappointed to see this motion come before the Dáil advocating the phasing-in rather than the phasing-out of fossil fuels in Ireland. Ireland, like other rich countries, is addicted to oil and it is this addiction we must fix, not providing more of the drug, which the motion suggests. Yes, we do need robust policies to develop our energy supplies and there are concerns regarding energy security - some related to the war in Ukraine and others due to our lack of development of the renewable energy sector - but phasing in fossil fuels is contrary to everything we have come to understand about climate change and the risks to our future.

I also point out and acknowledge that we had a group of students in here today and it was disappointing they were listening to this motion. We are debating the future of those students and their families. I hope they get to understand that some of the views expressed in the Chamber today do not represent the entire Chamber.

Citing the need to expand development of our oil and gas supplies is contrary to everything that has been said internationally-----

11:12 am

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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On a point of order, there is no freedom of speech here anymore. Can we not table a motion that we decide and word our own motion without taking lectures like this?

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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This is a debate, Deputy. I ask that you sit down and let me continue.


Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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You had your time to talk. You constantly interrupt people.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputy Whitmore through the Chair. Deputy Whitmore has the floor.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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She is berating us for putting down our own motion.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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Citing the need to expand development of our oil and gas supplies is contrary to everything that has been said internationally and nationally by scientists, world leaders-----


Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Lig don Teachta Whitmore labhairt.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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-----and Members of the House. Do we now have people in the House denying scientists and their capabilities? That is a very dangerous road to go down, that people in this House think they know more than all the climate scientists who have come together to say this. I was not going to use the term "climate deniers" later in my speech, but I think it is incredibly appropriate at this point. Just this week, we have heard outspoken climate leaders such as UN Secretary General, António Guterres, calling the dash for new fossil fuels as delusional. At home, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, said that urgent implementation of all climate plans and policies, plus further new measures, are needed for Ireland to meet the 51% emissions reduction target for 2030.

I agree we must be cognisant of the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, which recently ranked Ireland as the fourth most energy insecure country in Europe, but how we address energy security in Ireland will define how successful we will be and what kind of future we are laying for the children who come after us. The real reason behind our own energy insecurity is lack of Government implementation of its own climate actions. It has failed to invest in our renewable energy sector or upgrade our grid infrastructure and has failed to think ahead for a generation whose future is now compromised and under threat.

The EPA report referenced the worrying situation of our emissions. Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions projections were described as very bad and, as a result, Ireland is way off course to meeting its targets. It further outlined what I have known to be true as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, that there is a huge gap between the ambitions of Ireland's legally binding climate Act, which targets a 51% cut in emissions by 2030, and the actions needed to deliver on that ambition. The report highlights that even in the unlikely event that every planned climate policy and measure outlined in the climate action plan were fully implemented on time, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions would only fall by 28% by 2030, a little more than half of what is legally required.

There are already concerns about the Government's carbon budgets, as our emissions continue to rise rather than go down. How then can it be justified that we open up more oil and gas fields and rely even more on fossil fuels as a climate measure? Our target to be carbon neutral by 2050 does not legitimise development of our oil and gas supplies. What the Government must do is act on its own ambitions and those as set at international agreements, something this motion conveniently ignores.

The motion further states that Ireland simply cannot become a green economy overnight when 87% of our energy supply still comes from fossil fuels. No one is saying this can happen overnight. The problem was not made overnight. We have known about this issue for decades, and yet climate change deniers such as we seem to have in the Opposition have stalled these efforts. Those very same politicians are now in the House calling for action. We cannot become a green economy overnight, but we will never become a green economy if we do not start to walk away from fossil fuels now.

The reason Ireland is so dependent on gas is that the Government failed to act on renewable energy opportunities and continues to lag in terms of reforming the planning system to cater for offshore wind farm production. There are shortcomings in An Bord Pleanála, the setting up of maritime area consent offices and the necessary upgrades to the grid infrastructure to facilitate such an increase in capacity of offshore wind. The issue here is not the need for more oil and gas but the need to divert away from oil and gas. Even if we were to start opening up existing oil and gas fields off Ireland, it would take years before anything was developed or oil was extracted and ready to be sold on the market.

We have been promised by the Government that an energy security review is forthcoming, and it still has not been published. However, without this, we do not have a clear picture on our energy security situation. As another Deputy mentioned, it is this lack of strategy that provides a gap for these kinds of debates to be facilitated. Furthermore, the Government has failed to provide a strategy on energy demand in Ireland. It continues to allow data centre development go ahead unabated, with no clear plan on how to manage large-scale energy demand. All data centres' energy usage amounts to that of every single rural house in this country. The fact the Government has not strategically managed that is a major failing and one that will come back to bite us.

We cannot have these discussions without first acknowledging energy demand and the disproportionate effect this is having on our energy system. Yes, the Government needs to reduce the cost burden of energy and ensure a sustainable supply channel for both affordable food and energy into the future. It can do this by implementing a transition that is fair and just to rural Ireland, especially for rural areas where farming is dominant, where there is little to no rural transport and where people are very much reliant on traditional forms of energy. Time and again, I have called on the Government to transform dramatically rural Ireland's public transport network, provide public links and rail and incentivise people to invest in electric vehicles.

To address the short- to medium-term price increases, the Social Democrats have called for an emergency energy budget to put €300 into the pockets of workers earning up to €50,000, using a refundable tax credit. We have also proposed the creation of a hardship fund in order that those most at risk of food and fuel poverty can access emergency payments immediately. The Government also needs to reduce excise duty, because the reality is that Government is profiting on these skyrocketing costs. The profits it is making on people's hardship in trying to pay for fuel need to go back into people's pockets.

It is disheartening to hear such rhetoric at this time of full knowledge of what we are about to encounter if we do not act now. The motion goes so far as to suggest a regression of all we have worked for to date. In fact, the motion reads like a lobby love letter from Ireland’s oil and gas sector. What got us here in the first place was a cosy relationship between politicians and industrial lobbyists, a relationship that has proven incompatible with our climate, our future and the sustainability of our local communities. It is time to wean ourselves off this most addictive drug.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I will start by arguing this motion has nothing to do with energy security and everything to do with profit and the bottom-line security of Providence's resources. Perhaps the rural Deputies might considering altering their headed paper to say, instead of "I'm working on behalf of the people of this or that county", "I'm working on behalf of big oil and gas". It seems they really believe that Providence oil and gas will be the saviour of us all. If only we could free Providence from the nasty grip of the Green Party, it would bring down the cost of living, cure climate change, bring joy to the poor town and village dwellers, replenish the State's tax coffers and probably even defeat Putin into the bargain.

Apparently, Providence oil and gas has a miraculous quality that makes it different from other oil and gas companies. Not long ago, I was accused of hypocrisy by one of these climate warriors because I drive a diesel van. However, it turns out that once my diesel van and everyone else's diesel van runs on Providence oil, the problem will be solved. According to the lobby register, Providence Resources has not approached a single Deputy or official in this Dáil since May 2020, when it last met Deputy McGrath to discuss the wonders of Barryroe. It must have been some meeting because, two years later, despite the turbulent time the company has had, Deputy McGrath was so impressed by the briefing that he has composed one of the longest motions in the Dáil, a love-struck motion to a private oil and gas company.

I note the Deputies' concern, with us being dependent on various dictators and tyrants for our oil and gas, but they do not seem to realise that Providence would not have and never has had an issue with entering a marriage with Chinese or Qatari states if it meant it could exploit Barryroe. I agree we need to get away from dependence on oil and gas from dictators, but I go much further and say we need to get away from dependence on oil and gas, full stop. Whether it is fracked US gas, Canadian crude oil or Russian gas, we need to get off this train as soon as possible.

Nevertheless, I have to commend the proposers of the motion on their achievement in cramming in so many half-truths, misleading statements and outright falsehoods into one motion. I want to go through a few of them. The first one is that "Ireland is in an extremely vulnerable and utterly unsustainable position in terms of security of energy supply".

This is not true. What makes us insecure is the crazed policy of allowing data centres to proliferate. It is a policy the Deputies support regardless of whether these centres consume 14% or 30% of all the electricity we make. Another half-truth is that all Irish consumers will face much higher fossil fuel prices following the EU leaders' agreement to ban most Russian oil imports. We face these hikes primarily because of profiteering by energy companies and private firms. We do not depend on Russian gas. Profits have leapt enormously since this crisis began. That is an aspect of the free market, which I am in favour of regulating and controlling to prevent profiteering, but the Deputies are strong believers in that free market. Why would they not be?

The statement that the monetary cost of importing oil represents a net loss to the Irish economy and the Exchequer is utterly untrue. Whatever Providence Resources does with its fields, it will sell its oil and gas at market prices to whoever wants them. Those are the terms of the leasing licence in this State. There is absolutely nothing to say it must or will sell to the State and nothing to say that it will do so cheaper than the oil and gas we currently import. It would be very good news for the Providence shareholders but it will not make a blind bit of difference to the people of this country. Do the Deputies believe that Shell or Equinor sell us Corrib gas cheaper because they put on the green jersey?

The biggest and most dangerous untruth is the one that states there is no justifiable case for not developing our own available gas and oil. This is a slap in the face to the school strikers and the climate movement. It is a death sentence to millions in the developing world and a condemnation for this and future generations. There is no justifiable case relating to the science that states we have ten years to reduce our emissions, the International Energy Agency, which states that the globe cannot build new fossil fuel infrastructure, or the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which told us that our carbon budget would run out in years and that investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure is moral and economic madness. Moral and economic madness is an apt description of this motion. It states, "Providence Resources unreservedly supports Government and EU policies aimed at tackling climate change". Maybe it does in its imagination in the same way Shell, BP, Exxon and Saudi Aramco do. They do so in words while, with every fibre of their being, they engage in drilling and profiteering from oil and gas as long as it is possible. The cry of the fossil fuel corporations and their shareholders is, "To Hell with future generations".

Another claim relates to Ireland having enormous potential to become self-sufficient with the full optimisation of Barryroe. The claim is that there are 300 million barrels of oil in Barryroe and it would not make a jot of difference to Ireland's economy, its energy security or the ordinary people of this world. Its exploitation would swell the coffers and profits of the Providence shareholders. Across the globe, oil and gas companies and their backers make the same claims as they do here. In reality, they are destroying the planet and its future habitability. In April, we found that just 20 of the world's biggest oil and gas companies, including Shell, Exxon, Gazprom and others, are projected to spend €932 billion by the end of 2030 to develop new oil and gas fields. Globally, we will emit more carbon dioxide than ever before. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reach historic highs. None of the consequences, including the extreme heat, drought or storms affecting millions across the globe, matter to those who see just a few more dollars in the oil and gas industry. We need to keep it in the ground and make sure every penny available for investment finds its way into renewable energy, retrofitting every home and paying for free, frequent public transport throughout the country.

The Deputies are right that the Green Party is failing, but it is not, ironically, in the way that the Deputies seem to think. The Green Party is failing to deliver radical measures to address climate emergency demands. It is failing to stop data centres, to retrofit homes on the scale we need and to deliver free public transport. We need that to tackle the root causes of the crisis. The clear contradictions in Government policy allow climate change deniers to deride all climate action. They put carbon taxes on ordinary people while supporting the proliferation of data centres and allowing the fossil fuel industry and its backers to be able to say it is a con, that the Government just wants to tax people and that it is not serious at all. We have tabled an amendment to the motion. It will probably never get heard, but I would like to draw people's attention to it. It is quite a lengthy amendment. I believe I do not have to move it today, but we want to get the Deputies who have spoken against this motion to back that amendment if they have a chance.

11:22 am

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The reason the Deputy cannot move it is that there is another amendment to deal with first.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1:


To insert the following after "reflect changing circumstances following the Russian invasion of Ukraine;": "— the cheapest barrel of oil is the one not burned and calls on the Government to reduce fossil fuel consumption by:
— immediately approving applications received under the National Retrofitting Scheme, which are presently delayed by up to six months, if the homeowner has been fortunate enough to secure an assessment;

— expediting the rollout of the National Broadband Plan, thus reducing the need to travel to work;

— increasing renewable energy under the Biofuels Obligation Scheme to 10 per cent in petrol and 12 per cent in diesel, effectively doubling the usage of biofuels in Irish transport as committed to in the Climate Action Plan;

— establishing without delay a renewable heat obligation scheme similar to the Biofuels Obligation Scheme;

— supporting the development of an indigenous biomethane production for use in heating and transport;

— encouraging the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oils in the transport sector following the model as outlined in the Swedish Renewable Transport Policy;

— directing Gas Networks Ireland to design and construct district heating systems in suitable towns and urban districts;

— implementing as a matter of urgency through Bord na Móna, a bioenergy strategy including the use of fixed price contracts, to increase the supply of biomass for energy from our agriculture and forest sector;

— enacting the Wind Energy Development Guidelines signed off by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in June 2017 to replace the outdated 2006 guidelines; and

— delivering its long-promised policy statement on geothermal energy and the required supporting legislation;"

To insert the following after "does not publish information on individual applications whilst they are under consideration": "and further calls on the Government to take decisive steps to reduce our medium-term dependence on fossil fuels by implementing in full the Offshore Renewable Energy motion unanimously approved by Dáil Éireann on 8th December, 2021, and to set out a clear policy strategy for the domestic production and consumption of green hydrogen."

Mattie's proposals and Eamon's proposals are just Tweedledee and Tweedledum. They are never-never land plans. Actions are being announced and all the decisions are ones I took as Minister. For example, it will have taken five years from the Cabinet decision to stop purchasing fossil fuel buses until the first electric double decker bus goes into operation next January. The reality is decisions take far too long to implement. People are hurting due to the cost of fuel and inflation today and our climate is fast reaching the point of no return. While we are big on glossy plans and targets, we are weak on practical implementation. By 2022, Ireland had committed to funding a programme that would see 45,000 homes retrofitted this year and each year in future, but this green Government has reduced that target to just 22,000 homes. We will be lucky if we see the first of the new retrofitting grants actually paid out by the time the winter fuel allowance is paid this September. Those with rooftop renewable energy generation were legally supposed to receive microgeneration payments this time last year. That was only because I signed up to an EU law forcing this to happen, against advice to the contrary. These families will be lucky if they get the first payment this month.

The focus of Minister after Minister and the battle cry of environmentalists has always been to have more ambition, but no one has taken action to achieve our existing ambition, never mind the new targets for which we have no roadmap. No one is prepared to answer how we will get there. There are no answers, which I fear will ultimately leave agriculture having to carry its own emission costs as well as the other, non-performing sectors, by 2030. The Government is giving away our offshore renewable rights, as it has in the past with oil and gas, just to achieve our renewable energy targets. This is all at a time when some of the so-called environmentalists are literally rubbing their hands with glee at the price of petrol and diesel, quietly hoping it will rise by at least another 50 cent per litre. They fail to realise that with no alternatives, all we are doing is hurting families while we continue to fail our environment.

The €500 million Government climate action fund that was designed to provide innovation needed to provide fossil fuel alternatives in an Irish context is instead being raided to replace the funding that should be coming from other Departments. What we have in front of us is a fairy tale set of proposals from both Government and Opposition, with very little practical action that would make a real difference to families who are hurting. I have set out ten practical measures in our amendment that will wean us off oil and ensure we have a greener society with practical, implementable steps that can make a real difference to families. If we had implemented those, it would not have left the Minister for Transport in the situation he was in earlier this week, where the only practical solution he had for those families who are struggling to pay the cost of petrol to get to work is to contact the local community welfare officer or, to put it more bluntly, "Sod off and contact St. Vincent de Paul". Can we use "sod" any more, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle?

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I support the amendment we have tabled. The motion from the Rural Independent Group is born out of frustration with where we are now and what is going on. It gives us an opportunity to highlight some deficiencies. For example, the national retrofitting scheme has been announced but it is not happening. The national broadband plan is in place but it is not going at the speed it should if we want to keep people in their own localities, working locally, saving on cars on the road and on energy.

We should enact the wind energy development guidelines that were signed off in June 2017 and have not been implemented. We should enact microgeneration payback for people who invested money and put the panels onto their houses with an express intention they would be paid for any excess electricity going into the grid from 1 July last year. To date they have received nothing. They do not even know how much energy is going back out to the grid because it has not been metered. It is a complete kick in the backside for anybody who decided to do anything about changing their lifestyle. They were told to invest, they invested and now they are getting nothing back. The contract is broken. This is part of what is wrong with the agenda we have for climate action. The contracts are being broken left, right and centre. What we have left is people who are taking up the slack for inaction.

We need to make sure transport modes are changed so that people can use a train. The western rail corridor is there to be opened. We have to have another review of it when we could be transporting people into Galway city through a very clean form of transport rather than having Claregalway stuffed with 30,000 to 40,000 cars per day. We wonder why we are not meeting our targets.

The electric vehicle charging infrastructure in this country is a joke. I know of two people who bought electric cars and have sold them again because they cannot rely on the public infrastructure that is there. That is an indictment of what we promise, what we say should be done and how we are going to have this great vision to bring Ireland into a green, renewable economy. We have everything but we have nothing. The motion on offshore renewable energy we brought in last December should be enacted. We should take it on. It was agreed by everybody.

The biggest frustration people have is they are enduring additional costs, including in my own constituency of Galway East, to go to work and bring their children to school. They have to use their cars. They do not have public transport. The school transport system is a joke at times. They pass people by and do not bring them to school. They prefer to see parents coming out in the car and bringing them to school, clogging up the outside of the school, burning more fossil fuels and creating more demand for it, which is leading to a motion such as the one before us. We have announcement after announcement from the Government. We do not have any plan or implementation strategy for them. Therefore we have no action on the plans and announcements the Government makes. We are here today and we have no results. I commend our motion to the House and hope Deputies will support it.

11:32 am

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh na daltaí scoile atá thuas staighre san Áiléar Poiblí.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I support the motion. In the electricity sector, new companies came in such as Iberdrola. Up to last February, companies signed up with Iberdrola. All of a sudden, it decided it was leaving the market. Those who enter into a contract are supposed to honour it. Any person who enters into a building contract or whatever can be sued if they do not honour it. These seem to be able to walk about. In the first quarter of this year, that company made €1 billion profit. Where is the Government holding companies to account that are doing this? Where is the EU legislation? They hit the small person constantly, but when it comes to a big conglomerate, they let it off scot free. How can they walk away with that?

For contractors in the farming community, €1.50 is the price of green diesel today. Those who have the Luas, the DART and all the different public transport modes might not understand that people in rural Ireland have to drive to work. They have to bring their kids to school. When I was going to school there was a bus, but it is backwards we are gone now. If a child is not within a certain mileage of the school, it is a case of "tell Mammy or tell Daddy to bring them in the car" or around Dublin in the SUV. There is no joined-up thinking in how we solve things. We are looking at EirGrid at the moment and talking about new generators. What have we done? We have closed some of the stuff.

I could not believe what I read yesterday about the Minister, Deputy Ryan saying someone should go to the social welfare office. Someone who is on €25,000, €30,000 or €35,000 will go out the door of the social welfare office as quick as they came in. It shows the disconnect that Ministers have that they do not understand that people have to be under a certain threshold before social welfare will even talk to them. They will not even look at them. Why do we not bring in something for the people who are really hurting at the moment, those who have to drive to work and bring their children to school? I know it is holiday time now but it is only a few months until they go again. There are people who are reliant on heating their homes.

There is this thing about retrofitting but with the best will in the world, as the Minister should know, the facts are that even around Dublin schemes are being stopped because building costs are going out of control and getting labour is a major problem. Six companies are in this new retrofit scheme so far. Six companies will not do the number of houses required. We are probably looking at a 30-year period to do the houses we are talking about. The Government needs to show stability and basically help people. People out there are hurting seriously at the moment between the electricity going up and fuel costs going up. There does not seem to be a plan. I read that in Malta yesterday white diesel was €1.41. I saw coming up here this morning that it costs between €2.03 and €2.15 while some places are at €2.20.

Something needs to be done. Decisions have been made by the Taoiseach and supported by most of the House but sometimes when we make decisions that hurt us, such as that on the oil from Russia, we seem to run off and agree with everything in Europe while other countries are going to have it piped all the time. They are not going to suffer like we are. Sanctions should always hurt the oppressor, not the innocent people.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. It is important we discuss our energy policy. It is something I have advocated for some time. We simply do not have energy security in this country at the moment. We are in the decade of remembrance, the decade of celebrations. One of the first things the State did when it was founded was develop energy security and energy policy. It was a massive undertaking. It is fantastic the ESB allows school tours of Ardnacrusha again, just to see what the State is capable of. We are so inured to the failures of the State, the failure to develop infrastructure projects and see what actually could be done. About a third of the GDP of the State in its first couple of years was devoted to building that plant at Ardnacrusha. It is quite an emotional thing to actually see it and realise the sacrifice that went into it. It was blood and bones as well. Men died to build it so the State would have energy security. Then we abandoned it for a false reassurance that we could rely on the kindness of others. That has not worked out very well for us.

I wonder if the Taoiseach still lives in a pipe dream where he thinks we can rely on the kindness of others, or if he wants to rely on the kindness of others to get a job in Europe. As Deputy Fitzmaurice said, he is blithely going along with whatever von der Leyen is throwing out there at the moment, to the detriment of our own people, our State and its security.

The previous speaker referred to a disconnect. There is a massive disconnect between our energy policy and our energy needs. The Rural Independent Group has brought forward this motion that refers to energy security, whether from sustainable or non-sustainable means. There is an elephant in the room. The Dáil as a political entity is very good at not addressing the reality. There is a big debate on whether nuclear power is sustainable and whether it can be considered to be renewable. Either way, nuclear power is key to energy security across Europe.

We are quite happy to buy nuclear power here in Ireland. This Chamber is probably lit with nuclear power occasionally because we buy power from France. France, in its wisdom, did not decommission its nuclear power plants when the Germans were following a fashion. Germany was actually handing over energy security to the Russian state. The Germans are still taking in the Russian gas. We are crucifying ourselves but they are still happy to run their industries with Russian gas. I refer to industries that make arms to sell to Ukraine to keep a conflict going. They buy the energy to fuel the making of those armaments from Russia. It is a ludicrous scenario.

We need to think about nuclear power. I do not love the idea - very far from it - but I recognise that we use nuclear power in this country and have to have energy security. Small modular reactors may well have disadvantages but I would like to know what they are because, equally, there are advantages. To put it in context, each small nuclear modular reactor is about the same size as one of the three generators at Moneypoint. That we were going to power down Moneypoint and just abandon it now seems like such incredible hubris. However, I agree with the Greens on one thing: we cannot continue to rely on coal-powered energy indefinitely. We do need to consider something more sustainable. Nuclear power is more sustainable. I accept it is not without disadvantages but we have to deal with the reality of our energy needs in this country, not with what we would like them to be. If we are to rely on wind, we should remember we have to power the country when the wind is not blowing.

11:42 am

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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I am happy to confirm the Government's position in response to the motion proposed. The Government has moved a countermotion that affirms its policy position on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. The programme for Government indicated clearly how we can achieve that, including by committing to ending the issuing of new licences for the exploration and extraction of gas. This mirrors the previous 2019 Government decision relating to oil exploration and extraction. That commitment has been actively in place since 2020, and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is no longer accepting applications for new petroleum authorisations and will hold no future licensing rounds.

The legislation copper-fastening the commitment in the programme for Government is the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act. The Department is also working through a revised policy statement on petroleum exploration to reflect the current policy and legislative position, which will be published in the coming months. The revised policy statement will give clarity to stakeholders on the position on authorisations in the future. As referred to earlier, it is important to note that the licence application assessment process is informed only by financial, technical and environmental considerations, not by considerations related to energy security or broader energy policy matters. As previously mentioned, the application for a lease undertaking referred to in the motion will be treated like all other applications for petroleum authorisation in accordance with the relevant legislation, with the full assessment being undertaken in line with the relevant criteria. It is under active consideration by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, and it would be entirely inappropriate to comment further pending the making of a formal decision.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Minister of State's reply was almost as brief as the contribution of the other Minister of State. What I am saying is not personal. If the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was not here because he is sick, I will understand and accept it; however, if we see him around the House today or this evening, we will be very annoyed. We tabled this motion in good faith, as we are entitled to do as elected Teachtaí Dála and members of a registered technical group in this House. We are not going to take any lectures from the Government and certainly not from Deputy Bacik, the leader of the Labour Party, or Deputy Bríd Smith, nor will we take any from Deputy Jennifer Whitmore of the Social Democrats. I also welcomed the school tour that was here today. To think that we would be in any way disparaging or disappoint schoolchildren is incorrect. We regularly bring in school tours here from our constituencies and all over.

The problem we have at the moment is groupthink. If you think outside the box and even offer to do so, be wise and be careful so as not to cut off our noses to spite our faces, you are demonised as a climate-change denier. We are no such thing. I resent Deputy Bacik's comments that our motion or speeches were written by an oil or gas company. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Deputy might want to look closer at the connections her party has had with business interests and everything else over the years, not with us here.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It was a disgusting and disparaging remark given that we have one researcher. He does an excellent job for us. It is iar-Seanadóir Brian Ó Domhnaill, whom I thank. I also thank Deputy Michael Collins, who has been pleading with people. We are not looking for new licences willy-nilly; simply and plainly, we are seeking to be sure that we can keep the lights on. We all know we have to have a transition. An Teachta Nolan has been talking about this daily since the lovely phrase "just transition" came up. It is the most unjust transition. It involves shutting down the bogs, coal plants and everything else before we have any alternative. Deputy Bacik said we should cycle. We would look well cycling from Cahersiveen, Kerry. I would look well cycling from Newcastle to Clonmel or Nenagh in County Tipperary to work and whatever else.

I understand now, although I am not certain, that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, told people to go to their social welfare office yesterday. The Department of Social Protection knew nothing about it. I understand the Taoiseach has now said it. I salute the social welfare officers and community welfare officers for the work they did during Covid and continue to do. My concern is over the incompetence and downright blackguarding by the Government owing to its profiteering and tax take from oil at present when a European colleague like Malta has it available for €1.40 per litre. In this regard, let us consider what we are being told by the European Commission. The Taoiseach is so good at dancing to every tune it plays. Even if they are wildly out of tune, he dances anyway. He would dance because he wants to dance into Europe when he, along with his party, will be hunted from the doors by the people of Cork. He will be hunted, imithe, but he will get a big job in Europe. Let us consider the damage he is doing with those who are doing whatever they want. Last week, he was a cheerleader for stopping the importation of Russian gas. I hate this war; it is horrific, but anyone with his or her eyes open can see we had these problems coming down the line before there was ever a mention of a war in Ukraine. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Yesterday the Taoiseach replied to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and said Mr. Putin and the war in Ukraine were the whole problem. This is a total mistruth.

Deputy Bríd Smith said no threat exists to Ireland's current supply of gas coming from the North Sea primarily. She also mentioned the plant at Moffat in Scotland. What happens if it is sabotaged? Accidents can happen. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, and all the Cork brigade - the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, is not involved but I am referring to the other two - are trying to be stronger than each other in attacking the Prime Minister in No. 10. What if he takes action, closes down or squeezes the pipe and turns off the gas to a trickle? I recall a former Fine Gael Minister glibly with a glass of water telling us all he would turn off the tap to a trickle. This might come home to roost, and it could be with oil. Our motion merely wants to ensure our children and families are fed, our workers can go to work and our economy can continue. These are basic human rights.

Deputy Nolan referred to the great men and women of 1916 and the great men of 1921, 1922 and 1923. Many lives were lost to give us our freedom. One of their first acts, as referred to by Deputy McNamara, was developing our natural resources. They were men of forward thinking. As he said, many were injured or lost their lives in accidents when developing our resources, but they had the foresight. We are where we are now because of the latter-day emperor with no clothes, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, who has a second incarnation in the Department of Transport. I was part of the previous Government he was a member of. I fundamentally disagreed with his policies. Now he is back and he has both Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and several Independents backing whatever he does.

I welcome Deputy Naughten's amendment but put it to the Independents that they should put their money where their mouths are tonight. Will they support the Government or put bread on the table for the families they purport to represent? They cannot have it two ways. You would think you could fool the people given the indoctrination that is going on now. I beg the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for her indulgence in that, while I realise we are not supposed to speak ill of our Uachtarán or President, and I do not, to link the horrific terror attack in Nigeria to climate change is certainly stretching it.

The archbishop out there dealt with that so I do not need to say any more about it.

We are indoctrinating the good children in schools across the system that we are backward-thinking and we have no voice. We are not allowed to have a voice and we are not supposed to have a voice, according to Deputy Bríd Smith in her diesel guzzling van. I am surprised she does not have electric or does not use the bike. I know she used to use the bike. Maybe she has the bike in the back of the van, like the Minister, Deputy Ryan, going to Limerick, or in the back of the State car, or whatever. The con job is over. The people are hurting. Businesses are clinging on and have not reopened since Covid and more of them are going to close. God help us all in the winter, when we see the price of oil. All we are asking about is the near 60% tax the Government takes. The ironic and subtle, or if not subtle, then the most sly thing of all is that the more fuel goes up, the more tax the Government gets out of it. They are rubbing their hands with glee. It is like rubbing Vaseline into a fat sow’s I won't say where, but we know where, although some might not. That is what it is. The old people used to talk in those realms and terms. I like to go back and think that the old people were wise.

Let us remember that before the Minister ever came up with his retrofitting and green houses, we had thatch houses with a small window and a lovely cosy roof, that were cool in the summer and warm in the winter, before ever we had all of this green indoctrination that we have. We are all for proper transition but not at the rate we are doing it and not completely blindfolded, with ears blocked – cluais dúinte - and no glasses or spectacles. They are all voting cannon fodder for it. They will get some voting cannon fodder when the people go in with their peann luaidhe into the ballot box. The people will give them some rude awakening and they will want glasses to look at the number of papers to see where they figure on them - none of the above.

This is because of what they do instead of protecting the people, which is their solemn duty, having been elected and gotten the seal of office in the Phoenix Park from Uachtaráin na hÉireann. That duty is to protect our citizens, not to perish them, not to destroy them, not to demoralise them and not to hurt them so much, as they are in so many ways by penal taxes, by punitive measures and by going blindly into different ways of energy, which we support, by the way, but they will not be here for maybe eight or ten years. I was delighted to hear about the wonderful project of the solar farm out in Wicklow, and now we find it was another con job and it is not even connected to the grid yet. What happened to all of the people who are retrofitting and who went into small microgeneration? They cannot get onto the grid.

The Ministers are fooling the people at every angle. They are robbing them and pillaging them. Cromwell did not do the likes of it. We resisted them out of Clonmel and Tipperary; the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, has connections in Ardfinnan. We kept them out but we cannot keep out the ravages of this trio here, the Taoiseach, Deputy Martin, the revolving Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, who is Deputy Brophy's leader, and the Minister, Deputy Ryan. They all seem to be asleep at the wheel. I am told there is rí rá agus ruaille buaille in the parliamentary parties. That is little good to the people who cannot afford to fill their lunch boxes or cannot afford to fill the car to go to work. What about the contractors and farmers who are trying to grow crops to produce the food with diesel at nearly €1.60 a litre? Then there is this nonsense with AdBlue, which has gone up fourfold in the past 12 months. It is patent nonsense. This is something we were supposed to buy into yet it has gone up four times due to the gouging that is going on.

We will take no lectures from Deputies Whitmore and Bacik or the Government, or from Deputy Bríd Smith, above anyone else, about her honesty and integrity. We are entitled to put down our motion here and we put it down. We do not work for any oil barons or oil oligarchs. People would need to look closer to home to see who is funding them and whose support they have – Mr. Soros and others - and where the money is flowing from. How dare they? We are honest representatives of the people, elected by the people to this House, and we will continue to do so as long as we are elected and we have blood running in our veins. We want to help the people. We will see tonight how many more people are going to support us or not. We stand proud of our record here. We are not climate change deniers. We are trying to look after our people because it is our primary duty as elected people to represent the people and to look after their interests.

11:52 am

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you. That concludes consideration of the motion regarding energy security. We must now put the question on the Regional Group amendment to the Government amendment. The question is that the amendment to the amendment be made. Is that agreed?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Which amendment?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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This is the Regional Group amendment to the Government amendment.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Not agreed.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The amendment to the amendment is not agreed.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We are not the Regional Group.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry. If the Regional Group Deputies are not here, they are not putting the amendment. It is not agreed.

Amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the Government amendment agreed to?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Not agreed.

Amendment put.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the vote, insofar as it has been called, is deferred until the voting block later today.

Sitting suspended at 11.56 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.