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Eirgrid must listen to local communities in Cavan/Monaghan and Meath – Brendan Smith TD

northsouth interconnector image

Below is the transcript of Questions I tabled to the Transport Minister in Dáil Éireann

Question:

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the need to provide the North-South interconnector as proposed by EirGrid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53166/18]

Question:

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his views on the 2018 electricity generation report published by EirGrid and a company (details supplied) on the proposed North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53165/18]

Deputy Brendan Smith

I wish the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State at the Departments of Rural and Community Development and Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Canney well in their new roles.

As the Minister is aware, we have been told relentlessly since 2006 that the lights would go out in Northern Ireland unless the North-South interconnector was built as a matter of urgency. The 2018 electricity generation report recently published by EirGrid and the System Operator for Northern Ireland, SONI, shows a remarkable turnaround from a situation with a significant power deficit to that of a significant power surplus in Northern Ireland for the next ten years, even accounting for a very high level of forecasted demand, which is a demand that is unlikely ever to be reached. It is time that the Minister and the Department questioned the necessity for this North-South interconnector project going any further in the planning stage.

Deputy Richard Bruton

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 58 together.

I am surprised that the Deputy is suggesting that we would isolate our grid in that way. One of the constraints on introducing renewables into our grid is the lack of interconnection. The single electricity market for the island of Ireland has brought many economic and social benefits, both North and South. It depends on the degree of interconnection. Currently, just 300 MW of electricity supply across the existing North-South interconnector is permitted to ensure that electricity is securely provided to customers. The new North-South interconnector will facilitate substantial increases in capacity transfers, thereby facilitating a more effective single electricity market.

Interconnection helps to ensure that only the most efficient and low-carbon generation is brought into the grid. The interconnector also substantially increases the capacity to connect up to an estimated 900 MW of renewables to our grid. Currently, 30% of our electricity comes from renewables, but as part of our strategy to meet our climate commitments, we need to almost double that proportion as Deputy Canney outlined.

The North-South interconnector has been subject to economic analysis and the benefit-to-cost ratio is very positive. The interconnector is expected to bring savings in the single electricity market of €20 million per annum from its inception, rising to between €40 million and €60 million per annum by 2030. Much of these savings result from reductions in network constraints that will accrue from its delivery.

While the project has received planning consent in Ireland and Northern Ireland, these decisions are subject to ongoing legal challenges in both jurisdictions. The development of the interconnector, including associated procurement activities, are operational matters for EirGrid and ESB Networks.

The generation capacity statement 2018 covers both Northern Ireland and Ireland, and is produced jointly between SONI and EirGrid. This is in line with their regulatory requirements to publish forecast information about the power system, including an assessment of the balance between supply and demand. The generation capacity statement is updated annually to ensure an adequate capacity is available in the market on an all-island basis and to plan accordingly.

I am advised that the increase in generation capacity as shown in the generation capacity statement published by the transmission system operator does not impact on the need for the interconnector. It is also important to note that the increase in Northern Ireland generation capacity shown is likely to be temporary in nature. The main increase is from the assumed continued availability of the coal-fired Kilroot generating units and two of the older and less efficient Ballylumford units. The long-term continued operation of these generators is not sustainable in the context of decarbonisation of the industry. In fact, since the generation capacity statement was published, the Utility Regulator for Northern Ireland granted derogation requests on 9 November to AES for the two Ballylumford units, totalling 250 MW, from the requirement to give three years’ notice of closure.

Deputy Brendan Smith

I thank the Minister for his reply. I never suggested that we should not have an all-Ireland electricity market – far from it – and I have always advocated that we develop an all-Ireland economy. I am saying that we have been fed a diet of suggestions that the lights will go out in Northern Ireland in 2019 if the North-South interconnector is not built. The most recent report shows that there will be a surplus of electricity, even under present structures, as opposed to the deficit that we were told would result for a long time. I have many quotes from EirGrid and SONI, their counterparts and other affiliated bodies, stating that the lights would go out if the North-South interconnector was not built.

I am sure that the Minister is fully aware of the grave concern in communities in Monaghan, Cavan and his home county of Meath about the actions of EirGrid and the bullying manner in which this project has been proposed all along. We had the farce of an oral hearing with An Bord Pleanála where all of us in this House, regardless of political parties, and local public representatives made detailed oral presentations at those hearings but we might as well have been talking to ourselves at home because the report did not even have the courtesy to refer to the concerns outlined by Ministers, Senators, Deputies and councillors from Cavan, Monaghan and Meath.

I am sure that the Minister is fully aware that the communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan do not accept the proposal as it stands to have these transmission cables overground should that project ever proceed.

Deputy Richard Bruton

I am conscious that we were just talking about the challenges of climate change and how we will respond to it. One of the responses is undoubtedly to have better interconnection in our grid. There is not only this North-South interconnector which would allow 900 MW of renewable energy to come onto our grid, but also the project for an interconnector between Ireland and France. We need interconnection if we are to have an electricity market that is capable of decarbonisation. It is an absolute challenge for us as a nation to deal with this.

I accept that any change is challenging. I have not been involved in the planning process but I know from others that people had strong feelings. The planning process has been set up to be independent of the political system. That was done for very good reason and I am around long enough to know why it was done. We have to respect the independence of our planning system.

As I explained in the reply, the reason there is capacity to meet demand at the moment and the lights will not be going out is the extended life of coal-burning stations, two of which are now slotted for closure. Of course there will be contingencies to keep the lights on, but in terms of planning for the grid for the long term, interconnection is essential.

Deputy Brendan Smith

I thank the Minister. I would not question the need for an independent planning system. We are all fully aware of the need for that and the way it works. When members of Government, Members of the Oireachtas and public representatives from local authorities go to the bother of making detailed presentations at oral hearings, it would be expected that the inspector’s report would at least refer to them or take some cognisance of the views of elected people. Those bodies may be removed from the political system but they cannot just disregard public representatives either.

There is an issue that may not be in the Minister’s brief that I want to bring to his attention. The Minister referred to An Bord Pleanála giving approval in December 2016 and that approval carried nine conditions. The local communities in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan have stated all along that EirGrid could not proceed without breaching those conditions laid down by an Bord Pleanála, but EirGrid has passed the ball onto ESB Networks to meet all local authorities to force them to bend and sign off on the conditions. All local authorities and planning executives met ESB Networks on 6 September and our position and the position of local community groups which have been very active on this issue over a number of years is that ESB Networks has no right to meet local authorities at this stage on this project. It is an EirGrid project and not an ESB Networks project. I would like it if the Minister would have that matter investigated in his Department.

Deputy Richard Bruton

If there is to be an independent planning process, the representations of Ministers or Deputies cannot be treated in a better fashion than anyone else. The point of having an independent process is that it is not open to influence by political—–

Deputy Brendan Smith

But we booked an oral public hearing.

Deputy Richard Bruton

That is the point of it being independent. It is that Ministers will not be pressurising it or that the planning authority will not provide special access for one group of people as opposed to the other, because that undermines the independence of the process. We know what the planning process is like. It does not always produce the outcome that is wanted and I acknowledge that, but it is fair and public representatives are not treated better than individuals who are representing themselves, and that is as it should be. The quality of the planning is the argument that they have to deal with.

Deputy Brendan Smith

There were qualitative arguments from public representatives as well.

Deputy Richard Bruton

I am not aware of the details of the planning conditions and I will get back to the Deputy on that, but generally speaking, in planning conditions it is not unusual that they would require something to be done to the satisfaction of a local authority.

In virtually every planning permission granted, the roads must be completed to the standard of the local authority or whatever. I will check the provision to which the Deputy refers.

The other point we need to bear in mind is that two independent reports showed that the underground proposal, which is what many people are advocating, would be three times as expensive. They showed also that our system of compensation is fair and reasonable and better than that in many other countries. We are trying to be fair to people but the planning system is independent of Government.

Deputy Brendan Smith

Eirgrid has not tried to be fair to local communities.

 

 

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Cross border drivers need clarity on no deal scenarios – Brendan Smith

brexit north south

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Transport Minister to clarify reports that Irish motorists will need an insurance ‘green card’ to travel to Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) claims the green card system may be necessary if no Brexit deal is reached.

Deputy Brendan Smith said, “The plan being put forward by MIBI suggests that any motorists traveling across the border may have to give notice of their travel plans to their insurer and may need to be issued with a green card if there is a no-deal Brexit.

“This effectively means that people will have to contact their insurers to let them know when they are travelling across the border, and give themselves enough time to secure a green card.  This process could take weeks.  For people living along the border, not only is that ridiculous, it is also untenable.

“There are thousands of people who cross the border every day for work, school, college, medical appointments and to simply visit family or friends and it is not feasible for people to have to apply for a green card for journeys that they are undertaking on a regular basis.

“Minister Ross needs to urgently clarify whether he intends on bringing forward such a scheme.  His understanding of Brexit was exposed earlier this week when the Tánaiste had to correct him on the issue of a hard border.  This lack of knowledge will not be tolerated by the people living along the border who stand to be most affected by a no deal scenario.  The Minister needs to outline what measures will be put in place to ensure that travel across the border will be as seamless as possible”, concluded Deputy Smith.

Need to have Assembly and Executive restored in Northern Ireland – Brendan Smith TD

stormont

parliamentary question regarding the need to restore the assembly and executive ni

It is most regrettable that the Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland have not been functioning for two years.  It is not acceptable that the people in Northern Ireland do not have a local government at such a critical time in Irish/British relations.

BREXIT will have a negative and lasting impact on these islands and all of Ireland will be adversely affected.  This is a time that the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland should be strongly protected and represented by their local politicians.  To achieve that the Institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement should be working on behalf of the people and in co-operation with both the Irish and British Governments.

We need to see urgency attached to Talks between both Governments and the Parties represented in Stormont.

Govt must not allow Community Employment Schemes to be side-lined – Brendan Smith

community employment scheme

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection to ensure that Community Employment Schemes are protected and not side-lined in any reorganisation of the initiatives.

It comes following an announcement from Minister Regina Doherty that she is to set up an interdepartmental group to examine the future of CE schemes.

Deputy Brendan Smith said, “Community Employment Schemes play a vital role, both for the people who participate in them and the communities in which the services are rolled out.  I am worried about the impact that any change to the current model could have.

“While I acknowledge that the Minister has said that she wishes to maintain the social inclusion places on CE schemes , which is of course welcome, I am concerned that she is seeking to remove these schemes from her Department and place them elsewhere, thereby relinquishing responsibility for them.

“Fine Gael has consistently placed an emphasis on the activation element of CE schemes, without fully acknowledging the importance of the social inclusion aspect of these programmes and the huge benefit to local communities.

“I would call on Minister Doherty to give a commitment that any reorganisation will protect the important values which these schemes promote.  It is also essential to ensure that whichever Department assumes responsibility for CE recognises that these programmes are an intrinsic part of communities the length and breadth of the country”.

Upgrading of Resuscitation Area in Emergency Department Cavan General Hospital – Brendan Smith TD – FURTHER INVESTMENT NEEDED

hospital

rcsi hg pq ref 48611-18-emergency department attendances- response letter from rcsi (3)  reply need to improve existing accommodation at ed cgh

Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith has received confirmation from the HSE that refurbishment work is planned for the resuscitation area of the Emergency Department in Cavan General Hospital in 2019.

The HSE were replying to Deputy Brendan Smith following further Parliamentary Questions he tabled to the Minister for Health in Dáil Éireann in relation to the need to improve existing accommodation and provide new facilities at the Emergency Department.

“It is disappointing that the HSE and RCSI Hospitals Group are not giving any indication that substantial improvement works will be undertaken in the Emergency Department at Cavan General.  It is obvious that existing accommodation needs to be upgraded and additional facilities provided to cater for the increasing numbers attending the Emergency Department on an annual basis.  In 2013 attendance at the Emergency Department was 30,000 and attendances in 2016 and 2017 were at 33,000.

“Sometime ago we were promised investment in the Emergency Department but it is obvious that the Minister and the HSE are not committing to a substantial investment”, stated Deputy Brendan Smith.

 

Urgent need to improve Respite Services in Cavan/Monaghan – Brendan Smith TD

minister finian mcgrath, deputy brendan smith and deputation

The Cavan/Monaghan Parents Action Group for Respite Services met with Deputy Finian McGrath, Minister for Disabilities in relation to the inadequate respite services available for persons with a disability in Cavan/Monaghan.

The meeting was arranged by Deputy Brendan Smith and the deputation outlined very strongly to Minister McGrath the urgent need to put in place appropriate respite services without further delay.  They also put specific proposals to the Minister in relation to the need to develop other Respite Centres and to plan appropriately for the longer term needs that will arise in Cavan/Monaghan.

The Minister and the HSE must ensure adequate resourcing of this vital service.

 

 

Vacuum in Northern Assembly cannot be allowed to continue in face of Brexit – Brendan Smith

stormont

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Tánaiste and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to reconvene All-Party talks to re-establish the Northern Executive and to get the Assembly back up and running.

Deputy Brendan Smith explained, “It is exactly 2 years since the late Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister.  It was a move that led to the collapse of the Executive and the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“It is nothing short of an outrage that, two years later, the Northern Ireland Assembly is still not sitting and Northern Ireland does not have an Executive as established under the Good Friday Agreement, overwhelmingly endorsed by the people North and South in referenda.

“While responsibility for the development and escalation of the political crisis in Northern Ireland lies firmly with the two main parties, Sinn Fein and the DUP, the responsibility for re-establishing the Institutions sits with the Irish and British governments as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.

“It is a responsibility that unfortunately, the two governments have not fully taken on board in recent times. There has been little or no activity over the past few months from what we can see.

“In late January 2018, shortly after she was appointed as Northern Ireland Secretary,  Karen Bradley MP told journalists that the “time was short” but there was one last opportunity to restore the Executive. That was one year ago. The time is no longer short – the time is now.

“The Institutions need to be re-established immediately and democracy needs to be restored to the people of Northern Ireland. The situation where decisions now lie in the hands of bureaucrats and unelected Ministers from Westminster  is no longer tolerable.

“I am once again calling on the Tánaiste and the Northern Ireland Secretary to get together – notwithstanding the current issues with Brexit at Westminster – and immediately reconvene All-Party talks designed to get the Executive and the Assembly back up and running, and to return representative government and responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland. The political inertia in Belfast, London and Dublin must end now”.