Thursday, 5 November 2015
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 13, line 3, to delete "Government" and substitute "Oireachtas".
I welcome the Minister of State. These matters are important as we head towards the Paris conference at the end of the month. Everyone in the House wants to assist Ireland's presentation in being the best it can be. The purpose of my amendment is to bring the Oireachtas into decision making on this matter on the basis that the environment exists for everyone. The Seanad has a proud record in that regard and we would like to contribute to policy making. The Former Senator Éamon de Buitléar was mentioned during our previous debate on this Bill. He was one of those who popularised an interest in the environment. Even further back, the Wild Birds Protection Act 1930, which was described as admirable at the time, was introduced by the then Senator Samuel Brown and passed by the Dáil. The Seanad has a significant potential to contribute to this national enterprise and a record of so doing. For this reason, will the Minister of State involve the Oireachtas under this amendment today or on Report Stage?
The Bill states that "the Advisory Council shall be appointed by the Government, on the nomination of the Minister." In the interim, the Department has appointed an advisory committee. I was unaware of this at the time. I do not want to reflect on the individuals concerned, but the point of the amendment remains. We should communicate these decisions to the wider Oireachtas. The Government would find a large measure of support for the work that it is doing on the environment. There is no longer a dispute on climate change. The level of acceptance before the Paris conference represents a major increase on what existed previously. There have been changes in public opinion in the US. The entire November edition of National Geographic, which came to us yesterday, is on climate change.
This issue concerns us all and we would appreciate the Minister of State's consideration on Report Stage of ways for the Seanad to be involved, particularly given the House's record. The current provision seems to be an oversight, but the Minister of State can tell from the list of amendments that, at several points in the Bill, the Seanad does not seem to exist at all. This House is a valuable resource in terms of considering the environment, and that is the purpose of my amendment. Any progress on this front on Report Stage would make most Senators on all sides happy.
Colleagues will note that we are just concluding Committee Stage today and will not be taking Report Stage for another number of days. This is welcome, as it allows us to scrutinise the proposed amendments and, in particular, the principles behind them. I am unsure about Senator Barrett's amendment, as the appointment is a matter for the Government, but his work in seeking to ensure a role for the Seanad in particular and the Oireachtas in general is important. Where reports are laid before one House of the Oireachtas, we should consider requiring that they be laid before both Houses. Although this was the subject of an amendment debated last week, I hope we will have a chance to debate it again on Report Stage.
He was demoted to the Lower House. There is a case to be made for this amendment. Senator Barrett touched on it. Some of the best debates that the Seanad has had in my 22 years here have been on the environment and climate change. If this amendment is accepted, both Houses would be included. I urge the Minister of State to consider doing so.
The framework should be laid before both Houses once it is drafted. As Senator Bacik stated, we will not debate Report Stage today, but we will get an opportunity then to consider this matter. Perhaps it will not be via the same amendment, but there could be a different wording. The Seanad is noted for its debates.Talking about the environment is action but, by teasing out the issues, we get a better framework and ensure the i's are dotted and t's crossed.
I fully respect the views of all Senators. This is an important Chamber for debate and it is important that we listen and discuss the issues involved.
The amendment provides for the appointment of the members of the climate change advisory council to be performed by the Oireachtas rather than the Government on the nomination of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The independence of the council is explicitly enshrined in section 11(3) following an amendment that was introduced by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. Accordingly, there should be no fear in respect of the council providing robust and independent advice to the Government. Second, and as stated earlier, the council is now operational. Given the importance of its tasks, it was critical that it started its work as soon as possible. Senators will welcome that. With this in mind, the Minister prioritised the establishment of the council in June of this year to ensure it would be up and running and deliberating on the national climate agenda pending the enactment of the Bill. In essence, there was no time wasting, which is important. It is important that it is the Government that will appoint the advisory council, reflecting the fact that the council's role is to provide advice to the Government, as a whole, and individual Ministers with responsibility for mitigation or adaptation matters in the various sectors. Accordingly, I cannot accept the amendment and ask that it be withdrawn.
I will withdraw the amendment on the basis that the developments mentioned by Senators on the Government side will feature on Report Stage. I very much appreciate what the Minister of State said about involving the Seanad. I hope we will repay him for that confidence after Report Stage and in all future debates on the environment and climate change.
I thank the Senator. It is important to put on record that the advisory council can invite any representatives, including Senators, before it to debate the issues. The Minister and I encourage it to do so. If any Senators wish to engage with the council, it will prove an important platform.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 16, line 20, to delete "Minister" and substitute "Oireachtas".
This relates to what the Minister of State said earlier. I propose that the function of the advisory council shall be to advise and make recommendations to the Oireachtas in regard to the matters listed. While I appreciate what the Minister of State said about invitations to Senators to become involved, it would be an improvement if the reports were submitted to the Oireachtas given that they concern a worldwide problem that should involve as many people as possible. I welcome and appreciate the spirit of what the Minister of State said about that involvement. Would the Bill be improved if the advisory council submitted its reports to all Members of the Oireachtas so as to engage in the kind of dialogue the Minister of State described earlier?
I wish to make the same point I made in respect of amendment No. 20, which was also tabled by Senator Barrett. It is appropriate that the Minister be referred to in the legislation but it is important to commend Senator Barrett on his work in seeking to include both Houses of the Oireachtas, particularly the Seanad, when we are talking about the national mitigation plan and the proposal to lay a five-yearly report before the Oireachtas. I echo what Senator Cáit Keane has said. We will be returning to that issue on Report Stage.
This proposed amendment would render the responsibility of providing climate change-related advice by the advisory council to the Oireachtas as a whole rather than to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The fundamental point is that it is the Minister and other members of the Government who are the main actors in and responsible for these matters. Therefore, it is only right and proper that it is to them that the advisory council should direct its advices. The advisory council's annual and periodic review reports will be published for all to see and provide commentary on. In view of this, I cannot support the amendment and ask for its withdrawal.
Another factor in the background of all this relates to people who have been sitting down in the basement for months listening to how the banking collapse happened. Getting the advice to as many people as possible and not confining it to narrow circles must be considered. I acknowledge that the Minister has responsibility but it must be recognised that we all have a degree of responsibility. We must learn from the banking inquiry and about the wider implications for the entire public administration. Not communicating with people, not consulting widely, not involving the so-called contrarians and not getting interest groups involved can prove expensive for the country afterwards. I appreciate what the Minister of State said and I will not be pressing the amendment but, in general, we must bear in mind the principle contained in the banking inquiry reports, namely, that we have to make policy not just for small groups of people, including Ministers and their advisers, but also for society as a whole. The banking inquiry precedent would indicate that we would do far better by involving more people. That is the spirit in which the amendment was proposed. We will think about this again on Report Stage. I will not press the amendment this afternoon.
It gives me great pleasure to support Senator Barrett's points. I will be hosting a public meeting on climate change - under the title "Climate Change Crunch Time" - next week in the Goat Bar & Grill in Dundrum. The implications of climate change and the warming of the atmosphere, in addition to the potential trouble we are walking into, are only beginning to dawn on people. We are about to face what is possibly the biggest calamity this planet has faced. I agree with Senator Barrett that there should be more consultation and political connection. In fact, work should be done by local authority areas, or local electoral areas, to get the councillors and people involved to discuss the issue and drive home the agenda. I am very privileged to be associated with Professor John Sweeney, who is one of the foremost authorities on climate change in Ireland. He has been a professor in NUI Maynooth for 30 years and was rapporteur for the Oireachtas committee in the review of the heads of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill. More importantly, he contributed to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. I agree with Senator Barrett's view that everyone in the country has to be involved on this issue because of its social and economic implications for everyone.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 17, line 35, to delete "Not more than 30 days after" and substitute "Simultaneously on".
This amendment deals with the advisory reports. Why have a delay? If the advisory council submits a report it should be put out there simultaneously. Wishes were expressed in the other House that this advisory council should have parity of operations and esteem with the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. The advice should be put out so everyone can have a discussion on it. What is the reason for a 30-day delay if we are taking this as a matter of urgency, which we all are? Documents should not be on shelves in ministerial, governmental or departmental offices. They should be available to members of the public so they can see what is happening to the climate.
Our amendment puts a timeframe on it and we support the thrust of what Senator Barrett has said. Our amendment proposes that the expert group should report back within ten days and not 30 days, which is what is in the Bill. The wording of the Bill states that in implementing climate change measures the Government needs to "have regard to" - which is a phrase often placed in legislation by the Government - a range of factors, including the State's obligations under international agreements and expert scientific opinion. This is too vague and needs to be strengthened. The expert group should not delay in coming back with its recommendations and we believe a ten-day timeframe is more than sufficient.
The Minister was not here for our previous debate on Committee Stage. We had a lengthy debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan. Those of us on this side of the House, and perhaps some of the Senators on the Government side, felt the Oireachtas should have much more say in policy making in this area. A number of statements were made on which the Minister of State was pulled up and we will not go back over them. I hope that on Report Stage we will not be pressing these amendments because the language will have been tempered and, more than that, the Government can meet us on some of the amendments which we believe are worthwhile to strengthen the Bill.
We had a lengthy discussion on the role of local authorities in local climate change action plans. In the Minister of State's constituency in Waterford, the environment strategic policy committee of what is now Waterford City and County Council put in place a local climate plan, but it was very weak because of the lack of powers the local authority had. It wanted to go further and put in place a proper climate change plan but, unfortunately, because of the limitations of national policy and local government it was not able to do anything of real significance or value. These are the types of issues we want addressed.
I do not intend to speak much more because we hope to get through Committee Stage. I hope that on Report Stage some of the amendments tabled by Senator Barrett and I which were not accepted can be considered more favourably.
One of the frustrations I have found here in the past has been the delays which occur in many areas. Senator Barrett is correct, and I am sure Senator Cullinane is making an effort. Their amendments propose substituting "30 days" after submitting its annual report to either "10 days" or, better still, "Simultaneously". When I came here first I found the annual reports I was seeking sometimes had not been published a year later. I tabled an amendment to every Bill coming through to the effect that reports should be published within three months. Within a short period of time every Bill coming through had the provision they should be published within three months or six months. The delay is frustrating and I certainly support the view Senators Barrett and Cullinane have put forward. Senator Barrett's proposal that it should be published simultaneously is one we should support.
I thank all Senators for their contributions on this and the overall debate. I have not been party to much of it in the Seanad, but I was party to much of it in the Dáil. I agree it is important that with the compilation of the national mitigation plan there is engagement with all sectors including communities, the grassroots and local authorities, which are possibly the first vehicle for delivering on this engagement. The Government amended the Bill in the Dáil to ensure local authorities would be engaged with at a deeper level and I expect this to happen. I support the views of the Senators in this respect.
These amendments call for the publication of the climate change advisory council's annual reports simultaneously with, or not more than ten days after, submission to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government rather than not more than 30 days after submission. By way of explanation for what is already in the Bill, the 30-day timeframe is to provide an opportunity for the annual report to be seen by the Government before it is published. I want to make it clear there is no intention or provision for the Government to seek to alter or amend the annual report in any way. The 30-day timeframe is merely to afford this courtesy to the Government. Therefore, I do not believe a maximum 30-day wait for publication could be said to constitute any undue or untoward delay. The annual report will be published in full by the advisory council without, I reiterate, any interference whatsoever. Therefore, I cannot support these amendments.
I am still an advocate of open government and doing things as quickly as possible. In general, delay is inherent in earlier parts of the Bill so by the time I got to the end of the Bill I was getting frustrated with the level of delay. There are two-year delays and 18-month delays but this is urgent. When the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, was in the House she did not rule out the possibility we might do many things faster than where the Bill asks for a two-year delay and this would certainly be very welcome. It is something to which we might return on Report Stage. This delay is not the worst, but what is the secret? People should find out what is happening in the environment. Compared to two years, 30 days is fairly mild so I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 17, lines 36 and 37, to delete "by such means as the Agency may advise".
The advisory council is to advise in general on all environmental matters, including advising on the Environmental Protection Agency, so why does the Environmental Protection Agency get to say the means by which a report advising the Government on that agency itself shall be published? It is an oversight body, and the body on which it is engaging in oversight seeks, as the Bill stands, to dictate the terms of the oversight.That is contradictory. The expert advisory council may have things to say about the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in the broader national interest, and the EPA will have to face up to that. Genuine independence for the council must be ensured and it should not have to operate as the Environmental Protection Agency might wish. Given the amount of regulatory capture, it may be a good idea if the advisory council and EPA were at loggerheads at least sometimes, as this would indicate that the former was doing its job. Too compliant a relationship between an advisory body and the agency it is supervising and regulating in the wider national interest is bad. I thought this was an attempt by the EPA to achieve capture over what I had hoped would be an independent advisory body. If the EPA does not like the advice it receives, that would be another ingredient in the environmental debate we so badly need to have.
I interpret this element of the Bill differently from Senator Barrett. I read the phrase "by such means as the Agency shall advise" as meaning the EPA would advise as to whether the annual report was to be published in the Irish and English languages, in digital format, online and so forth. In other words, these would be the means by which the report would be published and the EPA would not have a hand, act or part in determining what is included in it. The independence of the agency would be maintained. The provision refers simply to the means of publication.
I am happy to clarify for Senator Barrett that this is essentially a practical matter regarding how to disseminate the information contained in the publications. Senator Keane's interpretation of the wording is correct. The proposed amendment calls for the complete removal of the reference to the Environmental Protection Agency in decisions concerning the means of publication of the annual and periodic review reports. The current text reflects the fact that the EPA will provide back office support to the climate change expert advisory council. The agency is best placed to offer advice on the best means of publication, whether this is in hard copy, online, in bilingual form or a combination of these. The current text refers only to the means of publication and does not relate to the content of the reports. The EPA will not change the content of the publications but will simply facilitate, from a practical point of view, how best to disseminate the pertinent information and publications. For this reason, I will not accept the amendments.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. Given that the chairman of the expert advisory council, Professor John FitzGerald, has been publishing reports on the economy for approximately 25 years, he does not need the advice of the Environmental Protection Agency on how to publish his reports. If there is nothing in the Bill that infringes on the rights of Professor Fitzgerald and his committee to publish reports as they wish, that is fine. As everyone in the country knows, Professor Fitzgerald is highly competent in the preparation and issuing of reports. I will withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 18, line 2, to delete "18 months" and substitute "6 months".
This amendment relates to the start of the expert advisory council's work. The Minister of State indicated that the advisory council was set up in June and all of its members had been appointed. The process is, therefore, further ahead than the Oireachtas in that the legislation has not yet been signed into law. The advisory council shall, according to the legislation, prepare the periodic review within 18 months. Is it able to prepare it earlier or must we wait for 18 months? I had hoped a periodic review would be published within six months. That was the purpose. Given that the council has, in view of the urgency of the matter, started its work, will it be ready in time? This amendment pertains to other delays that are mentioned in the Bill.
l will cite comments made in the international context as we prepare for the Paris summit.According to Taryn Fransen from the World Resources Institute, the vast majority of the intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs this time around - 105 of them - contain concrete greenhouse gas mitigation targets. This, she added, contrasts with the figure of 27 for the Copenhagen summit, the failed conference that took place in the Danish capital in 2009. Ms Fransen stated:
You have quite a few more countries that are now specifying absolute decreases in emissions levels. You have countries like China, South Africa and Singapore talking about peaking emissions through a hard cap. Even much smaller countries like Ethiopia, Bhutan and Costa Rica are identifying absolute limits on the quantity of emissions. I think that signals a real evolution.
If the expert advisory council is already up and running and the rest of the world is getting ahead of us, perhaps the Minister will ask Professor Fitzgerald and his colleagues to submit their report as quickly as possible rather than delaying for 18 months after the establishment day, which could be two years from now, depending on when the Bill is passed, signed into law by the President, commenced and so forth. Will the Minister of State provide evidence on Report Stage or in the near future that it is intended to move pretty quickly in this matter?
I thank Senator Barrett for tabling this amendment, which calls for a shortening of the timeframe for the climate change advisory council to conduct its first periodic review from 18 months after establishment to six months. The first periodic review will be a very important one in that it is specifically charged with analysing the progress made in meeting our mitigation targets up to the year 2020 under the European Union's effort-sharing decision of 2009. While I understand the reasons the Senator and others wish to have the timeframe shortened, we must be realistic in terms of affording the council sufficient time to carry out an extremely important task. As Senators are aware, the council is not a full-time entity, although it will have at its disposal a secretariat provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is in the process of bedding down its operational structures so as to begin its work of collating and analysing all available and relevant information and data. Therefore, it would not be reasonable to expect the council to do all of this and turn around a major review of national mitigation policy and implementation in Ireland within just six months.
We all want a deep analysis, and the first periodic review report must be a substantive and challenging body of work that genuinely adds value to the work being undertaken by the State's institutions in achieving progress on mitigation. We must therefore afford the council a reasonable period to do its job. It is important to note in this respect that 18 months is a maximum timeline only and it allows flexibility in terms of successfully completing the first periodic review.
I appreciate the thrust of the amendment and that the Senator does not want any unnecessary delays. I reiterate, however, that the prescribed period of 18 months by which the council is to complete its work is a maximum term. A timeframe of six months is too short for such a notable and important task. I cannot support the amendment.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 18, line 32, to delete "30 days" and substitute "10 days".
This amendment also addresses the issue of delays. The Bill provides that the expert advisory council shall, not later than 30 days after the completion of the periodic review, prepare and submit to the Minister a report on the review. Why would it take a month to do this? It is the same theme. The council has approximately a dozen members who will prepare their thoughts. This approach seems a strange way to operate. I do not understand the reason for delay, which is in the context of many delays throughout the Bill and the failure to quantify targets. This gives the impression that we need to speed up. I am reassured by the Minister of State's comments that he intends to speed up - for instance, by his use of the phrase "not later than." We would all be delighted if the task could be completed earlier, because Ireland has been falling behind on climate change and achieving environmental targets.
The amendment addresses a similar theme to the previous amendment and I hope it is not repetitive or boring. A sense of urgency is required.What are these 30 days to be used for, given that the report will have been completed? It should be sent on to the Minister and put up on the website so that we can get cracking on this task.
I am not trying to underestimate the Senator's concerns with regard to delays. I do not underestimate those concerns. We are having an important and critical debate about climate change. I think Members of all parties and none are generally supportive of this history-making legislation. We all know and feel that we have to act. I think that is generally agreed. It is not something we need to rush, however. I accept the Senator's concerns. I have to say that when a periodic review has been completed, the advisory council and its secretariat will require a reasonable period of time to document the findings of that review before submitting it. Given the significance and substantive nature of such work, we do not believe that a 30-day wait in this regard is in any way excessive. We must afford the advisory council some time to finalise its report after the actual review process has been completed. That is essentially why we have provided for a 30-day period and why we cannot support this amendment.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 19, lines 21 and 22, to delete "by such means as the Agency may advise".
Section 13(8) provides that "the Advisory Council shall publish the report by such means as the Agency may advise". I appreciate that the Minister of State has said that the EPA will be confined to giving advice on publication. While such advice would probably be redundant in the case of somebody as eminent as John FitzGerald, I would prefer it if this provision were not included in the Bill. If we want the independence of this council to resemble that of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, it should be allowed to go about its own business without being subject to a provision of this nature. It could be suggested that the way it has been included in the Bill is almost patronising. I am glad that the EPA will not interfere with the content of the report. In my own field, the tensions between the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and Professor John McHale of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council enhance the debate. We are delighted. Nobody says that person A got one over on person B or whatever. An advisory council does not have to touch the forelock in any way to the body whose performance it is called upon to assess. I am really assured by what the Minister of State said. However, I hope some lawyer does not find this provision in 20 years' time and use it to curtail the powers of the advisory council after it has published reports on the EPA in a manner which the latter does not like. I will not pursue this amendment further. If it is fully intended that the advisory council will be completely independent and will be able to publish without needing advice from anybody on whether to publish in Irish or in English or on what size typeface to use, this provision is not necessary and we should pass this legislation without providing for the agency to have a role in this regard. There is a potential danger here.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 19, line 25, to delete “Dáil Éireann” and substitute “the Oireachtas”
These amendments relate to matters of substance that we have discussed. I think there is a wide measure of agreement on them. We should make a decision on Report Stage on how the Oireachtas, the Seanad and all of us can be involved. I do not think there is any need to take these amendments individually or in a group. They say the same thing, which I interpret as having broad agreement from the Government benches and from the Minister. I take it that these matters will be looked after when this Bill is debated again on Report Stage. I will not pursue these amendments today. It is very valuable that we have had this discussion.
Both parties in government fully support the amendments tabled by Senator Barrett. I think the officials in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and all Government Departments should realise that the Oireachtas is made up of two Houses. The people verified that not so long ago. The message needs to go out loud and clear that future Bills should not come into this House with references to just one House of the Oireachtas. We intend to send that message out today. Future legislation that comes into this House needs to reflect the opinion that both Houses of the Oireachtas should be consulted. We realise that the Government is responsible to Dáil Éireann under the Constitution. We want the point we are making to be reflected in all legislation that comes into this House from all Departments in the future.
I was about to make the exact point that has just been made by the Leader. It seems that there has been a slip-up. Of course, those who draft legislation can make mistakes occasionally. This is certainly a case of a Bill that should refer to "the Oireachtas" rather than "Dáil Éireann". I imagine that this will be changed on Report Stage.
I endorse what the Leader said about including references to the Seanad, as well as the Dáil, in legislation. The section of this Bill that refers to "Dáil Éireann" should instead refer to "the Oireachtas". I thank Senator Barrett for highlighting the matter. I think we have already made our points about the national mitigation plan in respect of section 6. I accept that there is a difference in the case of an annual transition statement but the same principle should apply in terms of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I will be interested to hear what is said on Report Stage after this issue has been canvassed further.
The point I would like to make involves an extension of a word used by Senator Quinn. He referred to this as a "slip-up", whereas I would express my hope that we are not heading down a slippery slope. Having been in the Seanad for a few years, it occurs to me that everything that comes here has been well evaluated and researched by those who put legislation together. I think that, as Senators, we need to put down a marker on this issue today. We are doing that. I hope we will be listened to and we will see the change that is necessary on Report Stage. I will not, on my watch as my party's spokesman on the environment, allow the slippery slope to be taken with regard to this issue.
One of the first lessons I learned when I was a Member of this esteemed House was that I should listen before I speak. I think that is very important for any public representative. I am listening carefully to what Senators on all sides of the House are saying. I note what Senator Barrett has said about healthy tensions in relationships in politics, business and other fields. It is always important to engage in robust debate that challenges thought processes and encourages differing views and to make decisions accordingly. Any time I have attended this House as a Senator or as a Minister of State, I have found that debates of that nature take place here. For those reasons, I am certainly satisfied to reconsider this in advance of Report Stage. It is important that we take a strong view from both Houses regarding much of what has been discussed. I will conclude with a word of caution to temper what I have said. The Senator opposite has been arguing all the time about unnecessary delays. I would like to make Senators aware that any amendments that are made on Report Stage would have implications for the passage of the Bill through both Houses as they would necessitate the return of the Bill to the Lower House. That is a decision for Senators to make. I will fully respect whatever decision is made. I am happy that we will have further engagement on and consideration of this matter on Report Stage.
I thank the Members opposite and the Minister of State for his response to all the amendments that have been discussed today. It has been a most useful and interesting debate. I thank the Minister of State, the Leader of the House and the Members opposite. I hope the Bill will be improved, even at this late stage, on foot of the debates in this House.