February 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
This morning, my party set out a unique policy approach that will maintain the strong and stable economy we have built, and sustain a decent society with strong public services, quality jobs, and investment in our future.
Labour’s record on sound public finances and jobs – in this and previous governments – is second to none.
The stable recovery and economic growth that we have delivered – just a few short years from inheriting a collapsed economy and unsustainable public debt – are a remarkable achievement for the Irish people.
But they are not ends in themselves.
Labour sees them, instead, as a means to an end – the necessary conditions that enable us to build and sustain the decent society that the Irish people hope for, aspire to, and deserve.
This is why we keep saying that Irel and needs balance in Government – just as much as it needs stability and competence.
A Strong Economy for a Decent Society sets out how Labour intends to sustain, and build on, the recovery that the people of this country – and the policies of this Government – have achieved through hard work and determination.
It outlines how we intend to share the fruits of recovery fairly, through progressive reform of USI, PRSI and tax credits, to help those on low and middle incomes.
And it confirms Labour’s commitment that we will invest €3 in services for families and communities for every €1 that we take off tax, over the next five years.
This will enable us to invest in even more job creation – quality, high-skilled jobs that provide a career – and deliver public services and infrastructure capable of giving our children a society and economy fit for the 21st century and beyond.
It will enable us to invest in:
- Free GP care
- Mod ern, accessible primary care facilities in our cities, towns and villages
- Properly-functioning hospitals
- Improved access to mental health services
- Better – and accessible – schools with modern facilities, smaller class sizes, and reduced costs to parents
- And affordable, high quality, childcare
It is a sound plan for a stable and job-sustaining economy.
It is an ambitious plan for quality public services and social progress.
And it is platform that resonates with the hopes, ambitions and aspirations of our people.
January 29, 2016 § Leave a comment
Today I expressed my concern at the widespread perception among civil servants that their work was not valued by the public. Responding to yesterday’s publication of the Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey, which found that just 15% of civil servants believed the public valued their work, and warned that this could have a “corrosive effect” on staff morale and public service delivery.
Speaking at the Ireland eGovernment Awards Ceremony at Dublin Castle, I outlined:
“It is always important for politicians to remember that the people who work in our civil and public services are at the frontline when citizens experience or perceive shortcomings in service provision.
“The results of the Civil Service Employee Engagement Survey reveal a very high level of enthusiasm, among civil servants, for the work they do. 70% say they are enthusiastic about their work and only 10% say they are not.
“But, I was equally struck by the finding that just 15% of civil servants believe that the public respects and appreciates their work. This is a shockingly low figure, not least because of the huge positive contribution that public servants bring to the lives of our citizens and communities.
“This widespread perception, among public servants, that their contribution to society is undervalued, could have a corrosive impact on staff morale – and potentially service delivery itself – if it is not addressed.
“This is particularly important now that we are experiencing a sustained recovery in economic activity, growth and – most importantly – employment. We mustn’t forget the huge contribution that public servants have made to this recovery, or how they maintained, and indeed improved, services during the worst economic crisis in the history of this state, and against the background of pay cuts and a 10% decline in staff numbers.
“Now that we are recruiting again, and beginning to restore public service incomes, more needs to be done to highlight both the challenges and achievements of public service delivery. This responsibility falls to politicians and senior public service managers. But it is also a challenge for our media, commentators, and everyone who engages in public discourse on these matters.”
January 28, 2016 § Leave a comment
The closure of Stepaside Garda station – one of 139 stations to close on foot of An Garda Síochána’s 2013 policing review – was regrettable.
But I think our focus now has to be on the future, and on one critically important question:
What is the best and most efficient way to use the resources we have – and those resources are limited – in order to ensure that people are protected, and that our communities are policed effectively.
The provision of resources is an issue for Government. And let me come back to the issue of increased resources that we have now put in place.
How those resources are used is an issue for An Garda Siochana. For the first time ever, we now also have an independent Garda Authority, something my party pushed hard to achieve.
That Authority, which is up and running since the beginning of this year, will have a critical role in reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of policing across the country, and how resources are deployed in order to achieve this.
Efficiency and effectiveness – using the resources to best effect.
I think this means asking the question: which is more effective – modern, well-equipped squad cars, and plenty of them, available to respond quickly, with the most advanced communications technology, and increased numbers of well-trained Gardai – or the maintenance of Garda stations in old buildings, which of course are valued in any community, but which realistically are not geared to the task of combatting highly mobile criminals and gangs, who move so quickly in and out of areas, and can only really be dealt with through a much more modern, sophisticated and responsive policing strategy.
Too many people have had the experience of their house being burgled, with the loss of valuable property and damage to their home. It can be a frightening experience. I know, because it’s happened to me and my family twice.
But I have to tell you that I live only a ten minute walk from the nearest Garda Station, and I know of burglaries within a much closer distance of the station.
In truth, there is no evidence that proximity to a functioning Garda Station is any deterrent to burglaries or other crimes, apart maybe from being next door or right beside a station.
And response time is really down to how many guards and Garda vehicles there are in the area, how quickly they can respond, and how well-equipped they are to communicate.
Since the closure – resources
Since 2013, when Stepaside closed, there has actually been very significant investment in An Garda Síochána.
The moratorium on Garda recruitment, put in place by the Fianna Fail/Green government has been ended, and 1,150 new Gardaí have been hired, many of them deployed in this Division.
My colleague Frances Fitzgerald has initiated Operation Thor, which includes a broad range of activities to tackle burglars, organised crime gangs, and prolific offenders – as well as working with communities to prevent crime.
We’ve invested over €34 million in new Garda vehicles since 2012 with over 640 new vehicles coming on stream in 2015, ranging from more Garda patrol cars to high-powered vehicles for armed units.
This is making Gardaí more mobile, visible and responsive – and effective – on the roads and in the community.
As more public funds become available, there is certainly a strong case for a new Garda station in the West of this area.
The population, and the number of homes in this area, is likely to increase significantly in the period ahead. Cherrywood alone has a projected population increase of 20,000, and Kilternan is identified as an area of future development in the County Development Plan. So we will need to have adequate and appropriate policing facilities, including – but not limited to – physical premises.
So there is a case, perhaps in the context of a strategic review of policing in this part of the city, to look again at what our needs are in relation to Garda Stations, and I would certainly support such a review so that this community can have its say on what the needs of this area are into the future.
Whether this might ever mean the re-opening of Stepaside Garda Station, I think that could only be addressed, as it was in 2013, in the context of what is the best use of resources in order to deliver effective and efficient policing.
Finally, I have also made representations to my colleagues in the OPW about the condition of the building in Stepaside. As a result, I am told that the OPW will undertake painting and other works to improve its appearance.
Although this is not the main issue we’re addressing today, I think it is important to ensure that this building and the physical fabric of the village is retained into the future.
January 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
Speaking at the launch of the 2016 Better Energy Communities grant scheme, which will distribute €20 million to community-based energy efficiency projects this year, I outlined that better-than-expected public finances will allow the Government to review its capital plan earlier than the proposed 2017. Large-scale capital investment is essential in energy efficiency, renewable energy and green transport.
Last month, I published my Energy White Paper, which identifies actions to reduce Ireland’s energy-related carbon emissions by between 80% and 95% by 2050. Ireland will eventually have to generate 100% of its energy needs from clean sources.
We need, as a country, to recommit ourselves to a scale of investment necessary to make our low-carbon ambition a reality. The Government’s capital spending plan, published last September, demonstrates that we are alive to the challenge. But, while significant, it will not be enough to address the entire range of medium to long-term social, economic and environmental priorities that require substantial investment. I very much agree with my colleague Brendan Howlin, when he said that our better-than-expected public finances will allow us to review the capital plan earlier than 2017.
I am part of a political tradition that champions long-term capital investment as a core element of public policy: One that needs to be valued – as much as current spending and tax breaks – by politicians, businesses, commentators and citizens. If we are returned as part of the next coalition Government, Labour will prioritise capital investment in a broad range of areas. This will include Better Energy Communities and other programmes that will help us meet the challenge of global warming, which requires large-scale investment in energy efficiency, renewables, and green transport.
January 18, 2016 § Leave a comment
I visited St John of God in Stillorgan last week (Friday 8th January) to congratulate staff and management on their energy efficiency programme, which cut the hospital’s energy bills by almost a fifth last year.
The hospital undertook lighting, heating and boiler plant upgrades with the help of a €25,000 grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The SEAI develops and implements energy efficiency programmes on behalf of my department.
The work done at St John of God is a magnificent example of the energy-conscious action that will help Ireland tackle climate change by becoming a low-carbon society. The Energy White Paper, which I published last month, placed a huge emphasis on energy efficiency in public buildings, homes, communities and businesses. That’s because all of us have a part to play in saving our planet from the effects of global warming.
December 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
Today (Tuesday 22 December) I formally opened the procurement process for the State Intervention to provide high quality, high speed broadband nationwide by 2020 – this is a defining moment for our citizens, the telecommunications sector, and for our economy, which marks the beginning of the largest and most significant broadband intervention ever in Ireland.
- Formal launch of the Procurement Process with publication of the Project Information Memorandum and the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ).
- Publish the updated Intervention Strategy, which takes account of responses to the public consultation and subsequent expert analysis;
- Publish the 2020 High Speed Broadband Map, which follows ongoing engagement with industry and public consultation;
When I came into office, I set challenging milestones for the delivery of this project. All of these milestones have now been met, culminating in the launch of procurement today. The Government has allocated €275m in initial capital for the first 1-6 years of the 25 year contract. This is the initial stimulus needed to deliver the infrastructure build-out, to be complemented by commercial investment.
While most of the Strategy was outlined in the July consultation, a number of changes have been introduced, including moving from a 20 to a 25 year contract, a two-lot rather than three-lot approach to procurement and a reduction in the number of ownership options from five, to two.
Thanks to accelerated and aggressive investment by industry, approximately 1.2m homes and businesses in Ireland have access to high speed broadband today. That’s almost 1m more than in 2010, before this Government took office and it is expected that 1.6m premises will have access to services this time next year.
The 2020 High Speed Broadband Map published today remains unchanged since 2014. A document published with the Strategy today sets out the approach to managing future changes that may be necessary to the High Speed Broadband Map throughout procurement and during the rollout of the high speed broadband network.
Through the combination of industry and State investment, we will ensure that 85% of premises in Ireland will have access to high speed broadband by 2018, with 100% access by 2020.
December 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
- First time an Irish Government points the way to eventual elimination of fossil fuels
- White envisages a low carbon energy system by 2050, becoming carbon-free by 2100
- More than 90 actions to achieve Ireland’s energy transition
- Citizens will think and act differently on energy in homes, schools, and at work
- Brings huge potential for the economy, innovation and future employment
Minister for Energy Alex White today (Wednesday) published an energy White Paper, which identifies actions that will reduce Ireland’s energy-related carbon emissions by between 80% and 95%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050. Minister White said that Ireland would eventually have to generate 100% of our energy needs from clean sources.
Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030 says that high-carbon fuels like peat and coal will give way to lower-carbon or renewable alternatives in the short to medium term, before fossil fuels are largely replaced by renewable energy sources by 2050. Greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector will “fall to zero or below by 2100.”
“For the first time an Irish Government has set its course on the eventual elimination of fossil fuels from our energy system,” Minister White said, speaking at the launch in Dublin’s Mansion House. “We will only achieve this ambitious degree of decarbonisation by engaging all citizens in energy policy and its implementation. Meeting the challenge of global warming can no longer be confined to the realm of international treaties or Government decisions. It is about changing the way we heat our homes and businesses. It is about reassessing how we travel. It is about participating in decisions about the infrastructure needs of a low carbon Ireland.
“I would encourage everyone to read this White Paper and see how you can play your part in the transition to a low-carbon energy future. Over the next two to three decades, we will be changing the way we live – and changing it for the better.”
To deliver a low carbon future, Minister White said that we need to progressively reduce waste and unnecessary energy use. “The State will provide the supports to enable energy consumers to become active energy citizens. Our energy system is going to change from one that is almost exclusively led by Government and utilities, to one where individuals and communities will increasingly be participants in energy efficiency and renewable energy generation and distribution. It’s a story that will impact on all our people.”
The White Paper sets out how Ireland’s energy transition will be facilitated by an accelerated and diversified programme of renewable energy generation, and an increased focus on energy efficiency, facilitated by innovative financing. It promises strong regulation, effective markets, appropriate infrastructure and deeper European cooperation. It heralds a new focus on citizens and communities as agents of change in the way Ireland generates, transmits, stores, conserves and uses energy. And it sets out actions to enable people to participate in energy-related decisions, including decisions about grid and renewable energy infrastructure.
Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030 sets out over 90 Government actions, e.g.:
- A National Energy Forum will be established to maximize and maintain consensus on policy measures required to achieve the energy transition.
- Citizen engagement measures will include support for local community participation in renewable energy projects; explore the scope to provide market support for micro-generation; a new framework for communities to share the benefits of new energy infrastructure; and the facilitation of national grid access for smaller-scale renewable generators.
- On energy efficiency, there will be improved domestic grant schemes and affordable financing options for energy efficiency upgrades; enhanced advice services for consumers and business; a new affordable energy strategy in 2016; strengthened building regulations; the extension of the energy efficiency obligation scheme to electricity and gas systems operators; a new public service energy efficiency plan in 2016; and enhanced energy education programmes.
- There will be a new support scheme for the development of renewable energy technologies; a policy framework for the development of combined heat and power projects; a new renewable heat incentive scheme; the development of a comprehensive heating strategy; a new policy framework for district heating; and a new regulatory framework for the development of geothermal energy.
- The planning and development of larger-scale renewable electricity infrastructure will be guided by the publication of a Renewable Electricity Policy and Development Framework.
- Transport measures will include grants and tax relief to encourage the adoption of electric and gas vehicles; a support framework for alternative transport fuel infrastructure; a scrappage scheme to replace older taxis with electric vehicles; a green bus fund; and support for rail energy efficiency.
- The transition will be supported by measures to assist the development of energy storage; and an economic assessment of biogas potential.
Minister White said policy would ensure certainty, stability and affordability during the transition, which would present Ireland with significant economic and employment opportunities.
“Harnessing the enthusiasm and creativity of our research community will bring wider benefits to our economy. It will boost the employment and business opportunities available to indigenous high-tech sectors and Irish-based foreign companies alike.”
Minister White concluded by reiterating that every citizen should read this White Paper as it sets out the changes that we will all make in the coming five, ten, and twenty years.
“We will find ourselves thinking in a new way about how we use energy in our homes, in our schools, at work, and when we travel. The changes are not something to be feared. In future years we will look back and wonder what took us so long. We will look on our old energy behaviours and realise that they were no longer sustainable. And we will recognise the positive benefits of our actions for the environment, for the reduction of greenhouse gases, and for addressing extreme weather events. This White Paper will change the way we live, very much for the better.”