Dáil Éireann - June 2, 2016
Re: Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: First Stage
An Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.
Deputy John Deasy: On a point of order, while we are discussing Private Members' Bills, may I raise the issue of Private Members' motions-----
An Ceann Comhairle: No... This is not in order.
Deputy John Deasy: ----- or, more specifically, the futility of voting on such motions, as was demonstrated last night, that succeed but are not worth the paper on which they are written?
An Ceann Comhairle: That is absolutely not in order at this stage. Will the Deputy, please, resume his seat?
Deputy John Deasy: There is no point in voting on them.
An Ceann Comhairle: Fair enough.
An Ceann Comhairle: Will Deputy John Deasy, please, resume his seat? ---- I am quite happy to have a conversation with Deputy John Deasy about that matter.
Deputy John Deasy: I am not talking about the substance of the-----
Deputy Brendan Howlin: He is being irrelevant.
Deputy John Deasy: It should have some relevance to legislating in Parliament.
Fourteen new Primary Care Centres are to be built across Ireland, including ones in Dungarvan (left), Waterford City and Carrick-on-Suir, following agreement of a new €70 million 25-year loan from the European Investment Bank.
Backing for the care centres comes from the new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the heart of the Juncker Investment Plan.
EFSI supports lending to crucial infrastructure projects by the European Investment Bank in strategic sectors (such as renewable energy, digital infrastructure, social infrastructure, transport and R&D) as well as financing for SMEs by giving a Commission-backed guarantee on the loans to investors, which increases the amount they are willing to lend.
Financing from the European Investment Bank represents 49.5% of the total investment cost of the new care centres. The project will be co-funded by commercial lenders Talanx Asset Management and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.
The new PPP-based scheme will support the shift from hospital based healthcare to community-based care closer to patients.
They will provide basic health services including GP surgeries, occupational therapy, social work and dietary advice. In some locations additional services will also be provided, including mental health, dentistry and addiction services and a local ambulance base. A total of 150 primary care centres are already operational, underway or in varying stages of development across the country.
The EIB loan to build 14 new primary care centres across Ireland was made possible by support from the Investment Plan for Europe. This new, large-scale investment project will improve patient care and create jobs across the country.
This is the second healthcare project to be backed by the new European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the heart of the Investment Plan. EFSI was established a year ago by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission to enable increased lending crucial projects by the EIB in strategic sectors such as renewable energy, digital infrastructure, social infrastructure, transport and R&D; as well as financing for SMEs.
Over the last 5 years the European Investment Bank has provided more than €3.3 billion for investment in schools, university campuses, upgraded energy links, renewable energy projects and transport infrastructure across Ireland.
Waterford TD John Deasy says there’s still significant scope for the Southeast to share in the €7.9bn Ireland Strategic Investment Fund — the bulk of which has still to be allocated.
Last week the Fund reported that it’s in advanced discussions with over 50 different investment opportunities valued at a combined €2.4bn.
It expects to put over €750m into leveraging additional projects this year and is open to all commercial ideas (see www.isif.ie). Matching private sector capital could double its total worth.
The Fund’s operators, the National Treasury Management Agency, are targeting a minimum average return of 4% from its entire investment portfolio. Commercial viability is a key prerequisite when it comes to sizing up applications.
With “economic impact” also part of its ‘double bottom line’ mandate, Deputy Deasy successfully lobbied at legislation stage to make sure the Fund accounts for where projects are delivered.
“I was concerned Dublin would dominate and so far that’s been borne out, with 47% of approved projects being based in the capital and the remainder spread around the country — two-thirds in the rest of Leinster and 18% in Munster.
“However, there’s still nearly €5.5bn of public capital to work with between now and 2020 so hopefully investors can come in with proposals that target those regions most in need of a lift.”
So far the state stimulus measure — using what was the National Pension Reserve Fund — has invested in capital development projects, finance schemes for SMEs, and recently, in conjunction with Glanbia, an offer of €100m in ‘MilkFlex’ loan supports to the dairy sector.
Deasy says: “I have already flagged with the Department of Transport the potential use some of this money to help generate new business in our regional airports and main sea ports, while still complying with EU State Aid rules.”
He added that regional requirements in the areas of broadband, seafood processing and advance infrastructure for industry would also make good use of some of this catalyst funding.
Waterford TD John Deasy says further urgent measures are needed to help relieve the income pressure on dairy farms.
Following the abolition of quotas just over a year ago, February CSO figures showed a 37% increase in production by the sector compared to 12 months previously.
“However, milk prices have fallen by 20% since February 2015 due to a combination of global factors, and Irish farmers, many of whom have invested significantly, are struggling to cover the cost of production,” Deasy says.
The average February milk price was 24.68c/litre — down from 30.77c/l (also incl. VAT) in March 2015. And short-term indicators look to be static.
With the imminent phased payment of superlevy fines for 2015 set to further impact farmers’ cashflow, Deputy Deasy contacted the Department of Agriculture to see if there was any scope to postpone these instalments for another 12 months in the hope that market conditions can improve.
Secretary General Aidan O’Driscoll informed him that Irish officials “pushed strongly” for a possible deferral to 2017-18 during discussions in the run-up to the March Council of Agriculture Ministers.
However, Brussels had “rejected” this prospect on legal and regulatory grounds.
“While we suggested alternative arrangements it was clear that the proposal enjoyed very little support from other Member States and therefore was not likely to succeed,” the Sec-Gen added.
That means the “optimum repayment model” agreed with farming groups and at government level — 10 equal instalments from May to September in 2016 and 2017 — will proceed as planned.
Nationally some 3,672 farmers (of the 6,109 who incurred the levy) availed of this penalty repayment option; amounting to €35.6m out of a total national levy liability of €71.2m.
The exchequer has already forwarded the money to the EU. It will be repaid by farmers on an interest-free basis by way of deductions from monthly milk cheques covering the peak months of April to August. Co-ops will in turn send these monies on to the Department.
Last week the IFA called on co-ops to desist from any more milk price cuts given the challenges faced at farm level. The industry is heavily represented on the new national dairy forum — a partnership which Fine Gael TDs Deasy and Michael Creed proposed in order to address post-quota uncertainties.
The need for meaningful, confidence-building measures to support a sustainable milk price is sure to be on the agenda when the incoming agriculture minister chairs the forum’s next session.
John Deasy has told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee that it was wrong to pin the blame for all the financial problems at Waterford Institute of Technology on former president Kieran Byrne.
He said: “On a personal level I think Mr Byrne was dealt with very badly. I think that ultimately all the issues which came about in WIT were lumped together and dumped on his doorstep, and it was unfair.”
“When you look at the documentation and the history of this, Kieran Byrne did a lot of good when it came to the institute and I think that’s been forgotten,” stated Mr Deasy, who is the PAC’s vice-chairman.
He said the entire responsibility had been laid in Mr Byrne’s direction. “He became the scapegoat frankly for a lot of things which went wrong in the institute and I think that was extremely unfair.”
In his opinion, “with regard to how he was dealt with personally by the Higher Education Authority, there are questions to be answered.”
With the non-renewal of Mr Byrne’s contract currently subject to legal proceedings, Mr Deasy said “it will probably be the court that determines that” — but “as the facts leak out” as to how he was dealt with, “it’s becoming more troubling frankly … and I’m not the only member of this committee who’s forming that opinion.”
Turning to the completion of the Carriganore sports complex — which, WIT President Willie Donnelly told the committee, will start next week and be completed by June — Deputy Deasy said this was very good news.
He said financial management at WIT has been regularised and since Mr Donnelly’s appointment in April he had “contributed an awful lot to that”. The institute was now at the point of being able to move on with the southeast university application process.
He said he and PAC chairman John McGuinness shared the view that it’s important “to draw a line under the issues that have dogged the institute” in the recent past, and I think that has been achieved … which is extremely positive.”
Mr Donnelly told Deputy Deasy he has “a very good relationship” with his IT Carlow counterpart. The previous merger discussions “fell apart before because the foundation wasn’t there” and “we want to get it right” this time round in order to develop “a university of real quality for the region.”
Deasy: Work to start within a couple of weeks
Waterford TD John Deasy says loan finance is to be made available by Government to finish phase 3 of the stalled Carriganore Sports Complex.
Work is to commence within the next fortnight and will be completed in June.
Deputy Deasy, who is vice-chairman of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, had called on the State to step in to facilitate the completion of the complex, work on which ground to a halt over three years ago.
The PAC recently received documents indicating that costs will be significantly more than anticipated. In a report, Eugene McKenna, former CEO of Diverse Campus Services — the company tasked with delivering the project — blamed leadership and governance issues for work stopping in 2012.
While he wouldn’t disagree with that analysis, John Deasy says it’s important to “move on and ensure that the uncertainty surrounding the project was ended.
“Myself and the chairman John McGuinness have made it clear at the committee that leaving the building like it is simply isn’t an option. When the Higher Education Authority appeared before us last January it estimated the shortfall at €5m. The Department of Education had already committed €2.9m to the project but a realistic means of financing the remainder needed to be found.”
The HEA has already said WIT “overstretched” in advancing its own independent building programme before running into funding problems. The Phase 3 ‘Carriganore Arena’ element was meant to cost €9.7m. But financing issues arose within the college after €6.5m was spent and the multi-purpose building is still largely idle and incomplete.
When the Department was at the committee in September it indicated that a loan was being looked at. This financing has now been agreed on terms that are manageable. Deputy Deasy says the priority is to finish what’s been started, regardless of the various legacy issues.
“The PAC has been dealing with the Department for the past year on this and the WIT debt situation. I think there was a realisation from officials that the State needed to step in and give the Institute a helping hand.”
The Fine Gael TD said new WIT president Willie Donnelly “has steadied the ship and we’re close to being on the right track, finally, to becoming a university, which is the most important thing.”
“In an effort to avoid getting caught in traffic, cars are also stopping at locations that weren’t designed for parking and that’s a danger in itself.”
Waterford TD John Deasy says urgent local authority action is needed to alleviate traffic congestion in the vicinity of Árdscoil na Mara in Tramore.
“I’ve been contacted by parents and residents about this problem. They and teachers in the new secondary school are also very frustrated about traffic delays in the general Summerhill area and potential safety issues.”
The fact that the only access route to the school is via the same junction as the Summerhill Centre — which includes Tesco, Lidl, a busy doctors’ surgery, a bank, and other businesses — has created a bottleneck most weekday mornings and afternoons.
The issue is largely confined to peak times before and after school, particularly in bad weather, which multiplies the number of cars dropping off and picking up; often with chaotic consequences.
Deputy Deasy says the resultant traffic tailbacks are also causing considerable inconvenience for people living in nearby estates such as Moonlaun and Meadowbrook trying to get to work in the morning. Residents are also worried about the effectiveness of existing traffic calming and signage, with many people using Sweetbriar/Moonlaun as a shortcut.
“What’s happened here was inevitable. You’re talking about a school of around 1,000 students and 100 staff, many coming from a wide catchment with no transport other than by car when it’s raining.
“Combine this with the traffic associated with the Holy Cross primary school a short distance away — another 700 pupils and teachers all using the same road network — and it was bound to happen.
“However, people who raised concerns were dismissed. I contacted the council to express my reservations about the traffic arrangements back in March 2014, asking if a revised layout could be put in place instead of traffic lights before the school opened. But I never received a response.
“What you have now is a build-up both on the Ring Road and also coming from the town centre, with the roadway between the Holy Cross Church and the traffic lights extremely narrow.”
These snarl-ups are most severe coming up to 9am, Monday to Friday — but with the Tesco car park effectively being used as a second collection point, there’s a major build-up at these lights after school as well.
“In an effort to avoid getting caught in traffic, cars are also stopping at locations that weren’t designed for parking and that’s a danger in itself,” Deasy says. “I’ve been told of near-collisions, with motorists taking a chance and ducking out blindsided into, and through, queues of cars.
The Fine Gael TD adds: “The council seems to have taken a ‘wait and see’ approach. But if you’re providing for a school of that scale, safe access should be paramount.
“I’ve looked at the location closely and think roundabouts would have been a better solution to begin with. It’s my understanding that the original plans for the Summerhill development included a roundabout system.
“I contacted the council again a number of weeks ago to survey traffic patterns and also the infrastructure leading to and from Árdscoil na Mara with a view to taking immediate remedial steps — not just on the grounds of improved traffic flows but also in terms of health and safety.
“It was entirely predictable that the current system clearly wouldn’t be capable of taking the volume of traffic, and the situation is becoming unsafe,” Deasy says.
He thinks any potential to provide a managed drop-off area should also be explored in an effort to address haphazard parking and driving in the immediate vicinity of the school campus.
After a decade of declining business at Waterford Port, the semi-state has finally made the transition to a new management team — and Deputy John Deasy says legacy issues affecting local harbour users and commercial customers can now begin to be addressed.
“It’s roughly 10 years since I sought a review of the port’s entire management structure. It’s taken too long but we’re finally there,” the Waterford TD says. He believes the port can once again act as a strategic catalyst of growth for the region, but that changes were necessary for that to happen.
“This has been a protracted and difficult process. Putting a new chairman and now a proactive chief executive in place were crucial, fundamental steps.”
He recently met with the Port of Waterford Company’s new CEO, Frank Ronan, at Belview. Only a month in the job, “he has a realistic development agenda and we spoke about a number of capital investment priorities which he intends pursuing with the Department in the immediate term.”
These include a berth extension, river management measures to resolve silting problems at Cheekpoint, an upgrading of the quay walls, and a capital dredge to improve depth levels from 6.5 to 8 metres.
“These types of access improvements — which won’t happen overnight — would make a difference,” Deasy says. “But the challenge of clawing back old customers and enticing new ones will also need innovative thinking: possibly involving strategic joint ventures with shipping operators and attractive dock-level service arrangements.
The Fine Gael TD says there’s a lot of lost ground to be made up. “Waterford has gone from being one of the busiest ports in Europe in the 1980s to a shadow of that today. In 1989 the port handled 1.025 million tonnes in container traffic compared to less than 270,000t last year.
“You’re talking about a reduction in that market share from 33% to 4%, leaving Waterford way behind Dublin (4.5m tonnes) and Cork (1.9m). For Waterford to have less than a sixth of Cork’s container shipping — when it had less than a third of ours 25 years ago — shows how bad things have become.
“But the advantages available to Waterford haven’t changed,” Deasy added. “It remains the closest Irish multi-modal port to continental Europe. Volumes during the Bell Line era prove it has the strategic location and capacity. At least we’re now in a position to start rebuilding relationships and developing new connections.”
Catering for major existing customers is also a priority for the new CEO, who feels there’s a sufficient customer base within a 70km radius to provide a sustainable throughput — once Belview is marketed properly. “Ideally new port-related industries and commercial activity can also come on stream in time,” Deasy says.
As regards capital projects, two possible sources he’s looking into are the €6.7billion Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, and a proposed ‘connectivity fund’ for strategic infrastructure from the €350m sale of Aer Lingus.
“We’re also discussing the possibility of bringing some of the smaller cruise liners up the river in bad weather and facilitate berthing closer to the city itself.”
Waterford TD John Deasy says the first gathering of the national dairy forum “was really an introductory meeting about the structures involved and the role government sees itself playing with industry groups into the future.
“It actually turned out to be a very constructive debate as to what measures might be taken to deal with the volatility we’ve been seeing in dairy markets for the last six months. I think the forum will prove an essential mechanism for the Irish dairy industry to put pressure on the government to take necessary steps when an intervention is needed,” he added.
FOCUS ON MARKET DEVELOPMENTS AND PRICE VOLATILITY
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine | Minister Simon Coveney T.D. today (29/9/2015) hosted the first dairy forum for stakeholders in the sector. The forum has been established by the Minister to focus on strategic issues for the development of Ireland’s dairy sector. Today’s attendees were drawn from the farming, processing and banking sectors, with representatives from Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency, Teagasc, Animal Health Ireland, and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) also attending.
Commenting on the background to the forum the Minister said “as we know, 2015 is an historic year for the Irish dairy sector as EU dairy quotas have been abolished. I’ve consistently said this decision provides a great opportunity for the Irish dairy sector but equally sets us some challenges which will have to be managed along the way. This forum is about bringing key stakeholders together to assess their preparedness for this growth opportunity and to focus on strategic issues facing the sector over the next few years”.
The first meeting of the forum focussed on market evolution and price volatility. The package of dairy measures agreed at the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers on September 15th, was also discussed.
On market issues, the forum received a presentation from Ornua on recent developments for key dairy commodities and the likely outlook in the short to medium term. Commenting on the presentation and discussion afterwards, the Minister said “there’s no question but that 2015 has been a challenging year for exporters of dairy products as a number of factors, including increased output in dairy producing countries and slowing demand in China and Russia. However there have recently been tentative signs that markets may be starting to stabilise as global production eases off slightly while demand starts to slowly increase again.”
Participants also discussed potential measures to mitigate the impact of volatility, following a presentation by Dr. Michael Keane of UCC, on potential market and policy tools. Referring to this discussion, Minister Coveney said “recent price volatility has been a reflection of turbulent global markets. This means Irish farmers are receiving a reduced farmgate price for their milk this year and I am fully aware of the difficulties which this has caused.
While some price volatility is inevitable it is important that Irish farmers and processors have the tools to help overcome its worst extremes. The potential tools available go beyond EU market support measures. They include futures markets, longer term fixed price contracts between farmers and processors, more stable supply and price arrangements between processors and purchasers of raw materials and finished products, and more flexible banking arrangements for farmers, calibrated to allow for periods of temporary market downturn. Today’s forum provided the opportunity for relevant stakeholders to engage in a collaborative way on these challenges and to consider how they might respond”.
Concluding, Minister Coveney emphasised that the medium to long term outlook for dairy remained extremely positive “The main message is that notwithstanding current market developments, global demand is expected to strengthen substantially in the medium to long term and it is essential that the Irish dairy sector is positioned to take full advantage of this opportunity. Today was a useful opportunity to for the industry to engage collectively on how it might go about that. For my part, I will chairing the first meeting of the High Level Implementation Committee of the Food Wise 2025 strategy tomorrow, and I am determined that the agencies represented there will play their part in ensuring that the State plays its part in providing the policy and operational framework needed to realise the tremendous growth opportunity for the dairy sector”.
A new national dairy forum, instigated by Waterford TD John Deasy, meets for the first time on Tuesday against the backdrop of a significant slump in milk prices.
Chaired by agriculture minister Simon Coveney, the meeting will be attended by senior Department officials, as well as representatives of Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, the EPA, Teagasc, the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation, Animal Health Ireland, the IFA, ICMSA, Macra na Feirme, the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, the dairy industry, and the banks.
John Deasy, together with his Cork Fine Gael colleague and dairy farmer Michael Creed, put forward the idea for the forum earlier this year in anticipation of the volatility that would emerge in the post-quota era.
“Farmers need to know that their concerns are being taken seriously and will be acted upon,” the Waterford deputy says. “This is about harnessing every bit of expertise we have to both react to what’s happening right now and to come up with proactive plans based on future trends and areas of opportunity.”
He added: “For example the milk market in Vietnam is worth US$6bn every year and we have very little of it. I believe we need to utilise every arm of the State, including embassy staff in places like Africa, to sell our milk and manage market volatility. The aim here is to coordinate a long-term plan on a global scale.”