4. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to revise the national capital plan in view of the climate advisory committee’s report on the shortcomings of the national mitigation plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 53817/17 asked on 14 Dec 2017)
Deputy Eamon Ryan: To continue the conversation about the national capital plan, how are we going to make it green? How is the Government going to respond to the climate advisory committee’s damning criticism of our national mitigation plan? We are not doing anything, it seems. The latest Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, figures show our emissions rising across all sectors, particularly in transport. The plan within the national planning framework is all about inter-urban motorways. There are no public transport projects listed other than the metro. There is nothing else planned. What is the Minister going to do to change that?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I would urge the Deputy to hold his fire with regard to public transport until he sees the plan. He has already made up his mind even though the plan has not been published yet. He has many powers but I did not realise that he had the ability to read my mind.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: I have read the national planning framework.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: We might ask the Deputy to make some other predictions for the new year.
Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran: The lotto numbers would be good.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I urge the Deputy to wait until the plan is published before he makes his mind up on the nature of investment contained therein. I have said on a number of occasions that I recognise the value of public transport. However, I also must recognise that there are multiple reasons for going ahead with road projects. Much as I would like it to be, public transport cannot be the answer to connectivity for all parts of our country. We have certain road links that need to be safer and of a better quality than they are at present. If I do not respond to that need, I run the risk of creating other difficulties in the future.
If the Deputy looks at the four-year capital allocations the Government has just published, he will see that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport received more than €1 billion extra. The Department is prioritising and focusing on many projects, including public transport. In the recent budget, an additional €200 million in capital funding was allocated to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment for the period up to 2021. This has allowed for a step change in efforts to achieve Ireland’s energy efficiency targets and renewable energy objectives in the context of moving towards a low-carbon environment.
As I have said on a number of occasions, an objective of the plan that is being drafted at present to ascertain what progress we can make from a planning and capital point of view towards genuine sustainability.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: There is nothing in the national planning framework or in any recent Government publications about the DART interconnector, light rail for Cork or Galway or any of the public transport projects the Green Party would want in our cities. I cannot read crystal balls or predict the future but I read Government documents and ask parliamentary questions and I see nothing happening. I have listened to the climate advisory committee, which has indicated there is a problem. Does the Minister admit that we have a problem with rising emissions? In a recent priority question, I asked about the price of carbon and the Minister said that in the capital plan assessment, the price for carbon is €7 per tonne. I asked every serious economist I could find, experts in the field, about this and they all replied that if we were serious, we would be doing what the World Bank and the European Investment Bank are doing and setting the price at €40 per tonne immediately. Will the Minister do that and run it as a rule through his capital plan? Does he admit that we have a problem, with emissions rising across every sector? I can see nothing in the Government’s plans to tackle this. He said that we have done this, that and the other in the budget but it is not working. Will he admit that? What will he do to change?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I want our country to do better on climate change. The national planning framework will not reference capital projects. It is not its role to do so, rather it is the role of the capital plan. The capital plan will make provision for how we can do better in responding to the challenge of climate change and that is something we need to do.
As the Deputy is well aware, the long-term response to all of this is how we better plan and organise our country. A major element of the national planning framework at the moment is how to ensure that cities are developed in a more sustainable way. If we get sustainable development and higher densities of population in our cities, that facilitates, in turn, the roll-out of more public transport projects. In turn, that facilitates the delivery of a better kind of planning to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated in the coming years.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: I bring to my case again the Citizens’ Assembly. The assembly did a fantastic job. There was exasperation among the assembly members at the lack of leadership from within Government. Sticking to the area of transport, one of the recommendations of the assembly was to switch the transport budget, currently under the watch of the Minister, from 2:1 in favour of roads over sustainable transport modes. The assembly members said this would show that the Government is serious about change and would back up its words.
It is not only about climate change. The policy is not working. This city is gridlocking. It is being killed at the moment for the lack of public transport expenditure. If we are serious about creating living cities that are vibrant economic and low carbon, then the Government should do what the Citizens’ Assembly said and switch the transport budget ratio so that it is 2:1 in favour of sustainable transport rather than roads. Will the Minister commit to this Citizens’ Assembly proposal as one of the ways in which we can start changing things?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: As the Deputy will no doubt be aware – I am sure he has welcomed it – we have just had the opening of Luas Cross City this week. That is an example of the kind of public transport of which we need more.
I am aware of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, but the assembly has the ability to consider each item in isolation whereas I do not. I have to pull everything together in the aggregate. I have to ensure all of the expenditure plans across all of Government equate to a figure that equals the amount of tax we are going to raise and the additional funding that we are going to borrow.
Moreover, I have to deal with issues with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and his Department in respect of road safety, regional connectivity and how we can do that in an affordable way. I emphasise again my strong intention that when we publish the capital plan in the first quarter of next year, and I intend to publish it early in the first quarter, it will have an even more strengthened investment component to deal with the challenge of climate change.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We will move on to Question No. 6 now even though Questions Nos. 5, 9 and 18 are grouped together. We will wait until we get to Question No. 9 for them.