Thursday, 24 January 2019
Climate Action: Statements
I welcome the Minister to the House. I am disappointed that he is not accompanied by officials. It has been the practice to be accompanied by officials, and indeed I exercised it myself when I was Minister of State with responsibility for trade and in other Ministries. Officials came with me to ensure continuity of work. The Minister has come here with a comprehensive speech about climate change and so on, but it is up to senior officials who should accompany him to list out the proposals made by Senators and see what practicalities will arise from those suggestions. I will make a few such points to him.
On 16 October the Minister took over a broad Department. I believe it is too large. There should be a Minister with sole responsibility for climate action. It is so important that he should not have any other responsibility. Regarding the communications element of his portfolio, he is up to his neck in the broadband issue, which is making no progress whatsoever. What is happening is absolutely disgraceful. He has taken no action in this regard since he assumed office in October, and there have been no developments or decisions regarding broadband coming to rural Ireland. We do not have it where I live in Castlecoote, where there is a poor service. Broadband is the one area which would allow for expansion of development in rural Ireland and it is not available. The Minister might give broadband priority, he might give the environment priority, but if he gives one priority, he cannot give climate action, which is the starkest challenge we face today, priority. It is even bigger than Brexit. It is the challenge to the future of this country and the future of the world. Brexit will come and go and solutions will be found, but climate action and the challenge we face in that regard are enormous.
I will first give the Minister the official line and then I will give him my own views. Fianna Fáil is committed to tackling climate change and ensuring that Ireland meets its obligations.We fully accept the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report finds that to limit global warming to 1.5° Celsius would require "rapid and far-reaching" transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities. This action needs to be taken within 12 years.
I have my own observations about this situation. I suggest that the Minister provide fast-charging electric vehicle, EV, points in all towns and roll them out to filling stations. They are not there at the moment. They should be in every filling station, if the Minister is serious about reducing carbon emissions and promoting electric cars. The charge will not come free because petrol and diesel are not free.
I am delighted the Minister has been joined by an official. When I got up to speak the official was not present. I have very good eyesight.
The provision of EV units at people's homes was a positive step but if motorists are to give serious consideration to electric vehicles they need assurances that they will find fast-charging EV points on their journey. There can be no black spots. For example, in Roscommon town, our county town, we have a number of EV charging points but they take on average seven or eight hours to fully charge a vehicle. There is not one fast-charging EV unit in Roscommon town so what encouragement is there to buy such a car?
The Minister should remove subsidisation of onshore wind energy and subsidise offshore. I welcome, in particular, the announcement by the Department and the semi-State company, the ESB, on developing an offshore wind farm to power 280,000 homes and provide 100 jobs. That will be provided with a Belgian wind farm called Parkwind. It will provide a wind farm approximately 25 km off the coast of County Louth, with 55 turbines which will produce 330MW of electricity while reducing carbon emissions by up to 600,000 tonnes a year. That is a very positive development. The ESB is providing this project. It is an excellent project and I wish it well. I also wish the project off the Arklow Bank well. It is being developed by SSE and will be capable of generating 520MW with between 80 and 100 turbines. This is a very positive development because we are surrounded by water and are in a position to provide good quality turbines in that area which would provide a lot of electricity.
My third recommendation is that the Government should upgrade the energy efficiency of housing in Ireland by providing high quality deep retrofit grants to individual homeowners. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, is offering a deep retrofit grant for old homes with a poor energy rating. Homeowners who availed of the grant in the past are not allowed to engage in other upgrading which is a shame. We should also upgrade all council housing stock. This can be provided by the Government. Where the warmer homes scheme assisted a low income household a number of years ago, it should be allowed to return to upgrade the house to A rating. At present a return visit of works is not permitted. I ask the Minister's officials to consider that and discuss it with other Departments.
When the Minister was Minister for Education and Skills did he ever think it might be worthwhile putting solar panels on every school in Ireland or is he a convert on the road to Damascus in respect of the climate because he was given this portfolio and decided he has to do this now? Will he consider what the effect would be of putting solar panels on every school in Ireland? During the summer months that energy could be redirected to the grid. That is another positive step.
Water harvesting for farmers is vital. I ask the officials to contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to intensify their work in this regard to provide a quality system. I understand there is a grant system in place but there should be more on-farm encouragement of a standard system and a scheme to provide this service.
We have an organic farm and we have organic cattle at the moment. They do not require water from the mains with fluoridation and all the other chemicals which are in the water. Their teeth are fine and their bones are fine. Whatever benefit there is from fluoridation, clear water from the sky is perfect water. It is coming from the Atlantic ocean. Surely we could ensure that we would have a system in place, by getting Teagasc and everybody else involved and making them more proactive. There is not enough action on the ground. There is plenty of talk. The Minister comes in here and makes a speech then he is gone and not much happens in the next few months. I am putting forward a few practical suggestions to the Minister and his officials. That is one practical approach, that is, to have a system designed that a farmer could implement and sub-contractors would be available to price, to provide a grant to them and to get that work done as quickly as possible. There has to be a quality water supply coming from roofs – I know it cannot come from asbestos roofs – that is realistic but the water required for livestock does not need to be treated to the level it does for people who wish to consume it. I have serious reservations about fluoridation of water. It would never come in now if it was not there already. Some countries have eliminated it and some countries which are providing the service would never bring it in now. There are side effects to everything. We might have very good teeth but something else might go wrong after tampering with the water.
Those are the kinds of steps which might be worthwhile. They are simple and straightforward. The Minister is looking at each sector in the State and each Department has to do work in this particular regard. I am not enamoured of covering good quality land with solar panels. It is acceptable to cover land that is not usable for other purposes, such as cut away bogs in some areas. To use quality land for solar farms may not be the best way out because it is not the most productive. To provide them on the roofs of buildings, schools and factories is more realistic than covering good land.
I could go on much longer. Each one of us has a stake in this. That is why the Seanad should return to this issue taking a more constructive approach and having a longer debate, with a question and answer session with the Minister and his officials. We had several Ministers here some time ago. It was a very quick debate. It did not work that well. I thank the Minister for coming in. I know his heart in this from his statements. He has taken action very fast. I accept all that. I wish him well in that regard and encourage him to continue his work and co-ordinate Departments, which may not be as enthusiastic as he is.