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.”
December 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
I welcome today’s announcement that Leopardstown-based SSE is to become the first large business in Ireland to become a ‘living wage’ employer. From New Year’s Day, the energy utility will guarantee to pay all its employees at least €11.50 an hour.
The announcement was an important boost to the Labour Party’s ‘living wage’ campaign, which is designed to ensure that all workers are paid enough to cover their basic living costs including housing, bills, food and travel to work.
Like this month’s restoration of the Christmas bonus and the minimum wage increase, which comes into force in January, our ‘living wage’ initiative demonstrates Labour’s determination to ensure that the recovery delivers improved living standards for all our citizens. SSE’s announcement shows that large, successful corporations also see the value of paying their staff a living wage. That’s because it’s good for business, as well as being good for working families and the local communities where they shop.
The SSE announcement was made this morning at SSE’s Ireland headquarters in Leopardstown, at an event which was attended by Tánaiste Joan Burton TD and Minister for Business and Employment Ged Nash. SSE, which employs almost 750 staff in Ireland, is also the first major energy company to sign up to the ‘living wage’.
December 9, 2015 § Leave a comment
Today (Wednesday) I announced €20 million in grant funding for local communities under the 2016 Better Energy Communities scheme. The scheme, which is administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), has supported 260 community energy efficiency projects over the last four years. As a result over 12,000 homes and community buildings have received energy efficiency upgrades, supporting several hundred jobs each year.
This funding will enable the Better Energy Communities programme to continue to reduce Ireland’s carbon emissions, while improving living standards and quality of life for the people and communities it supports. The building upgrades funded under the programme support local construction jobs, demonstrating that lower-carbon communities also reap positive economic and social benefits. The programme has grown year on year as communities work together to bring about real and lasting change in the energy efficiency of their homes, businesses and community buildings. Putting communities in control of their own energy usage will be among the core themes of the energy white paper, which I will publish next week.
Better Energy Communities 2016 will open for applications in the New Year and potential applicants are being encouraged to start engaging early with community partners for large or small projects. The 2016 programme will see a particular focus on innovative financing models and SEAI is encouraging applications from communities that haven’t previously availed of the scheme.
December 8, 2015 § 1 Comment
I campaigned against the eighth amendment to the constitution in 1983, and I look forward to the day it is repealed.
It prevents Ireland from having a humane framework to deal with tragic cases like the pregnant women whose babies have been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.
It has created a constitutional morass that doesn’t even deliver what its advocates said they wanted. Worse, the amendment endangers the health and wellbeing of Irish women.
But we shouldn’t make the assumption that achieving a repeal of the eighth will be easy. The vast majority of the Irish people sit in the middle ground on this issue. They are uneasy about abortion, but they are no longer prepared to tolerate a regime that puts their sisters, mothers and friends at risk.
Calling for a referendum is not enough. It would have to be won and, for that to happen, we need to explain the merits of the case in a respectful but forthright way. And we will need to debate a new legislative framework that would replace both the amendment and the existing draconian legislation on termination.
The progress of the X Case legislation is instructive in this regard. For 20 years the Oireachtas avoided legislating for that Supreme Court decision. And even after the European Court of Human Rights issued its damning judgment, it took the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar – and Eamon Gilmore’s determination to secure the support of Fine Gael – to achieve legal certainty for the protection of women’s lives.
Achieving the repeal of the eighth amendment will require the same determination, and a level of political sophistication that has been wholly absent from opposition posturing on this complex legal, medical and moral issue.
We will have to convince a majority of members of Dáil Eireann to support a referendum. We will have to convince a majority of the Irish people to vote for repeal. And we will have to put a medical and legal framework in place to address the legitimate concerns that many citizens have.
In the Labour Party we understand that delivering on this issue means putting in the hard work to bring people and politicians along with us – just as we did on marriage equality and the X Case.
One of the most under-appreciated successes of Labour in Government has been our ability to influence a larger coalition partner on these issues. In contrast, it is impossible to imagine those opposition TDs who are periodically vocal on the social agenda supporting a government long enough to actually deliver repeal of the eighth.
Brave voices are now emerging from within Fine Gael to support the change we need. Being in government with Labour gives them an influence they would surely lack with any other potential coalition partner. It also gives them the confidence to say what they think.
It is a plain fact that there will be no repeal of the eighth amendment unless Labour is in government after the next election. Other potential Fine Gael partners (if they actually exist) have shown no commitment to dealing with this issue. Can you imagine the issue progressing through a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil government, for instance? Notwithstanding the progressive position of some Fine Gael deputies and ministers, it simply wouldn’t happen.
The Taoiseach is right to say that Irish society needs to have a debate about the eighth because, while most people believe the status quo is unsustainable, there is no settled view on what should replace it.
To this end Labour Women have published a bill that sets out a basis for legal termination on four grounds: cases of incest, rape and fatal foetal abnormality, or a threat to the life and health of the mother. This is a position that can gain wide support, and all political parties should either sign up to it or clearly set out their own position.
Some argue that we require a new constitutional provision to replace the eighth. But the Constitution is no place for an issue as complex as this. The amendment was introduced as a block on parliament’s democratic role to legislate. In that sense it has been successful, apart from the X Case.
But the people elect a parliament to make these decisions, and legislation is the appropriate place to reflect the considered outcome of a national conversation on abortion.
That said, debate and consultation cannot be an endless excuse for inaction when our mothers, sisters and friends remain at risk. We’ve been discussing this issue for over 30 years and it must be addressed by the next Dáil.
That will only happen if the next Government includes a political party that is wholly committed to repeal, and that knows what it takes to deliver change. In a Government that will undoubtedly be led by a Fine Gael Taoiseach, Labour is the only party that will deliver repeal of the eighth amendment.