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Budget Statement 2019 (Continued)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 973 No. 2

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  9 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan] This is good for the economy. The analysis has been done. We have done it before and know how to do it. It could have been done at the flick of a switch or stroke of a pen but Fine Gael, because it does not care about climate change, said it will leave that out. This is because the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, wanted that. His only other thread in this budget seems to be the granny flat grant. According to breaking news, just one granny, in Clondalkin, will benefit from this new approach. That is a dramatic win for the Independent Alliance along with its scuppering of climate change action.

The Minister for Finance said in his speech that he wants to put in place a trajectory in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. I am working on the committee and am very glad to be part of it. It is doing important and interesting work. Anybody who wants to follow that work should start by reading what was said by Ms Marie Donnelly, former head of renewables and energy efficiency in the European Commission. She made a presentation to the committee three weeks ago. It was a superb example of how, with an attitude of opportunity, ambition, endeavour and willingness to take risks, make mistakes and think big, what I propose is doable and good for our country. Ms Donnelly outlined the practical measures we could and should be taking. She advocated we should begin by stopping the use of fossil fuels in every Irish home and public building straightaway. As with everything Fine Gael is doing, it is putting this off for another ten years.

Also presented to us were the clear facts on the scale of the challenge we are facing. One cannot be exact about modelling but the best analysis we have from the EPA and SEAI is that, in the next ten years, we will need to reduce our emissions in areas such as transport, agriculture and domestic energy to about 400 million tonnes. Even if all the measures and additional steps the Government is saying it will take but which it will not were accepted, we would be looking at an emissions figure of 500 million tonnes. We are looking at 100 million tonnes extra that we have to cut. We might cut half of that by buying our way out using all sorts of funds and loopholes that the Government has negotiated with the European Union, but even if every single one of those was used there would still be a 50 million tonne gap. It is frightening and scary that when we asked public officials at the committee how they wanted to close the gap, they looked like rabbits caught in the headlights, not knowing what to say or do. Even more frighteningly, officials admit openly that there was no climate assessment of the national development plan, Project Ireland 2040, before it was agreed. How could this have happened in 2018 when the urgency regarding climate change is so clear? How did our political and public administrative system allow a country that is already ranked second worst in the European Union, next to Poland, to sign off on a national development plan that was not fit for the purpose of addressing climate change, which is the direction in which our economy has to go?

What can we do? We could have listened to the advice of the ESB when its representatives were before the climate action committee. It said we need to invest perhaps €25 million this year in high-speed electric vehicle charging points. There is talk in the national development plan about having 500,000 electric vehicles within 12 years but there was not a word today about what the State might do to make this happen.

We might have taken the advice of Professor John FitzGerald, who in his presentation to the committee said we should be spending €5 billion on our social housing stock to improve it and make it energy efficient, and to help the people therein to create cosy homes and get out of fuel poverty. This could have been started and launched today. It would take ten years to ramp it up but we should have started today with a new scheme, and not just continue with the old schemes, which were about small retrofitting measures. We need to think big. We are to get rid of fossil fuels in a generation. This is not a matter of tinkering at the edges. We need system change. There was none of that in the budget today.

The national development plan states we are to have 45,000 houses built per year by 2021 when in truth we are in the territory of the granny flat grant. Only a handful of houses are being built this year. That is reality and that is why I sighed, scoffed and said "shame" when the Minister said we would have massive reductions in our emissions by 2030. This is not backed up by the reality of what is happening on the ground.

On housing, I have not even started to talk about the absence of any discussion about cost-rental housing as the reformative change about which I have heard so many Deputies on this side talk. I know that, in their heart of hearts, some Fine Gael Deputies also understand it is not just a matter of keeping the current system going and boosting the figures but also a matter of changing the system. There is none of that.

We could have changed our housing approach by putting aside money in budget 2019 to put solar panels on every single school and public building in response to the call from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, yesterday. There was not a word about this energy transition today.

The position on transport is even worse. At at meeting of the climate committee, we heard there is not a single major public transport project in construction in Ireland today. With the exception of the Royal Canal greenway, there is not a single cycling project in construction today. While it is correct that we are increasing transport expenditure, as announced, it is expenditure on yet more roads. I am sure people driving on the N4 must think it is great that it will be upgraded but the traffic is heading towards a Dublin that is gridlocked and in which we are planning to take out people's front gardens to try to cope with all the cars. There is no vision as to how it could have a different system based on public transport, walking and cycling, as set out in the national planning framework. It was ignored in the national development plan and ignored even more today in the budget.

There are no public transport projects being built this year and there will be none next year either. While I would love to see the BusConnects project, as promised in the budget today, carried out and while I would like to hear it said we will start designing the cycling projects, we all know the cut in the carbon tax was reflective of an utter lack of commitment within the wider Dáil to that change. That is the problem.

On agriculture, I was glad last week to hear for the first time ever the chief executive of Teagasc recognising the reality that, in order to reach our climate targets and start playing our part, we would have to start considering changing tack and moving away from the policy of doubling everything, including dairy production, and massively expanding the beef sector and high-emissions agriculture. I am absolutely convinced that the alternative, the greener approach to agriculture, will pay Irish farmers better. Farmers are beginning to realise that and to see that the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy will allow us to start paying farmers properly for storing carbon, managing water and maintaining its quality, protecting biodiversity, allowing access to our land and providing high-quality food. The current system is not working. It may work for about 15,000 farmers but the wages of the other 120,000 are below poverty levels. The latter are ageing and the younger generation is not coming forward to take over. We need to transform Irish agriculture to give young people a sense of what the future entails. They are the people we will pay well and see at the front line of climate change action in this country. They are ready and able and will be brilliant at doing what is required but they need a bit of leadership and direction from the Government. We will not get that from Fine Gael.

Money was promised for forestry but there has been no thought put into changing the nature of forestry and no mention thereof. The IPCC report was correct in that there will be a massive amount of new forestry to try to avert the runaway climate change disaster that is unfolding. We have to do this in a way that is not just about repeating the process that saw monocultures, clearfelling, short-rotation crops and single-crop Sitka spruce everywhere. We should be setting ourselves the goal of filling people with hope and inspiring them to create forests that are a joy to walk through and that bring tourists to the country, protect wildlife, and provide really high quality timber. It may take another 50 years but, in our response, we need to think in that sort of timeframe. There is none of that in Fine Gael.

Some might ask why they should do what I propose or why they should heed the warning when the Americans, Brazilians and others are not following suit. In fact, one could point to every country.

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