11 October 2016
Thank you for attending today's briefing on Budget 2017.
Before I outline what is in my Department's budget, let me first briefly talk about 'why'.
Why is there a Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment?
Why this package of measures now?
Governments and government departments change priority over time. My Department exists to address the connected challenges of a country, and provincial parts of the country especially, that are significantly behind where they need to be, in terms of modern communications infrastructure.
We are also a country playing catch-up on our obligations in relation to Climate Change. This obligation is as much an opportunity as an obligation. In any event it is our children's future and a vital national interest.
The challenges are clear and they are many. What is less clearly developed is the economic opportunity in terms of jobs and investment for a country that is better connected in an information age - Where the scarce and valuable commodity of energy is conserved, in smarter, more fuel efficient homes and businesses.
Across the country, from inner cities to remote rural parishes, there are communities that are partly or sometimes wholly excluded from basic criteria of modern convenience and comfort, in terms of communications, energy efficiency and fuel poverty.
This comes at an economic cost, a social cost and an economic opportunity-cost. Those are the costs today's announcements are intended to address.
Budget 2017 is one significant step in a broader plan to address pressing challenges but also to bring Ireland out ahead into a leadership position in terms employment in growing industries globally.
In a scenario where politically, critical choices had to be made, I have secured one the highest percentage increases in capital expenditure of any department. This is the critical choice I made with Government backing, on the agenda I am charged with delivering up on.
This budget is not a panacea or a ready-made answer. It is, however, a significant step forward in delivering on a thought through agenda.
In 2017 that agenda will unfold as follows:
A key social, economic and political priority for me is Broadband and the National Broadband Plan in particular. This Plan will play an integral role revitalizing businesses and communities across provincial towns in rural Ireland. Additional funding of €5m has been set aside to finalize the tender process in 2017. There is intensive engagement between my officials and the three bidders to conclude contract discussions next year.
In addition and crucially important is that €8m will be invested to facilitate the reallocation of the 700mhz spectrum away from TV broadcasting to support our broadband and mobile telephony plans in rural areas.
This means a very valuable spectrum band is being freed up to deliver better mobile data services including 5G particularly in rural areas. Between now and 2019 I will be trebling the available spectrum for wireless and mobile broadband in addition to the national broadband plan.
Small businesses are the backbone of our towns and villages but only less than 1 in 4 trade online. With people now spending almost €14,000 every minute, businesses need to trade online to grow. For this reason €3 million will be spent in 2017 on the Trading Online Voucher Scheme which my Department operates in association with 31 Local Enterprise Offices. The scheme offers grants of up to €2,500 to small businesses to develop their trading online capacity, along with training, mentoring and support.
Results from the scheme to date show that small businesses grow sales on average by 1/5, increase employment by 1/3, and 3 in 5 begin to export.
This investment is part of the economic opportunity, I outlined.
In the area of Climate Action
Using less energy, and using it more efficiently, is the most cost effective and accessible way for us all to take action on climate change.
An additional €24m funding will be invested to expand energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes across the country. That's an increase of 35% on last year's allocation.
This increased funding will support and empower everyone from householders and schoolchildren, to businesses and the public sector. It also shows this government's determination to meet the Paris Agreement Targets within the next 398 months.
Overall in 2017, at least €100m will be invested on energy projects which will save over 116,000 tonnes in carbon emissions every year. These will support around 3,000 jobs, and reduce our overall dependence on imported fossil fuels.
Removing carbon based fuels from our heating system must be our long term goal. The best place to start is with large industrial heat users. €7 million is being allocated to a new Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.
Since the re-launch of the Better Energy Homes scheme in early 2015, demand for grants has increased by more than 80%. An additional €2 million will be allocated to this scheme to support householders to invest in energy efficiency improvements in their home and keep pace with rising demand.
I will also continue to support collective local action on energy efficiency. In particular, an additional €4 million will be allocated to the Better Energy Communities Scheme, which is consistently oversubscribed.
This increased funding will mean more community groups will receive support in 2017 with €22 million now available overall.
The Warmth and Wellbeing pilot scheme is being expanded with an additional €4 million bringing its total allocation for 2017 to €8 million. This Scheme provides deep renovation to the homes of people over 55 suffering from chronic respiratory problems and living in cold damp conditions.
Energy and Climate Action are inextricably linked. Within the next few weeks I will begin the ratification process in the Dail for the Climate Change agreement reached in Paris late last year. €500,000 will be invested to establish a National Dialogue on Climate Change.
An additional €2 million is being provided for the Environment Protection Agency in 2017 particularly to target illegal dumpers.
€13 million for landfill remediation will be spent next year and the Geological Survey of Ireland will receive an additional €500,000 towards valuable turlough flooding research.
These measures are additional or enhanced commitments, in the context of my leading a new Department, with a clear mission and an overall budget in 2017 of €529 million.