Q & A with…Minister Denis Naughten
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten answered Dan Dooner’s questions relating to his brief, rural Ireland and An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
You romped home in the last General Election, but how do you think your ‘approval rating’ looks now?
As I said at the time, seeing the result at the last General Election in this constituency was the proudest day of my life. It is a privilege to continue to be elected and to know that the people in Roscommon-Galway have put their trust in me. I am continuing to work hard in Cabinet to deliver on behalf of this constituency and rural Ireland as a whole while also continuing my work at constituency level.
Broadband is a topical issue at the moment in rural Ireland but do you think the Internet and advent of social media has made the work of politicians more difficult in that citizens now expect instant results?
When I became Minister 13 months ago, only 52% of premises in Ireland had access to high speed broadband. Today that has increased to 61% and in the next 76 weeks over 77% of premises in Ireland will have access to high speed broadband.
With commercial investment and the National Broadband Plan, which I am driving as Minister, that will rise to more than nine in ten premises in this country within the following 100 weeks.
I understand only too well the frustration of people across rural Ireland and here in Roscommon so I am determined, for as long as I am Minister for Communications, to bring high speed broadband to every premises.
In April, I signed a commitment agreement with Eir that commits them to deliver fibre high speed broadband to one house every minute of every working day over a 90-week timeline. That’s 500 houses every day.
In Roscommon alone under this agreement 2,010 premises have been passed with fibre to the home broadband…bringing the total number of premises in Roscommon with high speed broadband now to 16,007.
In terms of bin charges, will this be just further expense for those who are already doing their bit for the environment?
No. The reality is that we’re running out of landfill space due to the amount of waste we’re all producing as a nation and no-one anywhere in this country wants a new dump in their home county or community. So in order to address this, the Government is ending flat fees for bin collections, which means all flat rate/fixed prices for household bin collection in the coming year will be phased out. It’ll only come into effect when your contract ends if you are on a flat rate fee.
So customers who are currently on a flat rate charge bin collection service will be the only people affected. New payment plans will be introduced by your bin company from autumn this year as your current contract comes to an end.
Other options will be pay each time your bin is collected or pay based on the weight in your bin (for example: per kilogramme; weight bands; weight allowances). Research shows that you generate significantly less waste by using one of these options and it can potentially save people money.
Some commentators believe this will lead to a rise in illegal dumping. What’s being done to prevent that?
I have stated many times that I consider illegal dumping environmental and economic treason. It is disgusting and for this reason I allocated €1.3 million this year to crack down on it with overt and covert surveillance using Smart technology including CCTV and drone technology to catch those responsible and to help clean up black-spots.
85 projects received funding nationwide and in Roscommon alone five clean-up projects are underway including Salmon Lake to Kilnacarrow Bridge Nature Trail, Suck Valley Way and Kilteevan Bog, The Oaks, Frenchpark, Cuilagh and Scramoge.
As for your Ministerial position in general, it’s been a tough brief. Any regrets?
None. I am privileged to serve my constituents at Cabinet level in such a wide-ranging brief. As I say, bringing high speed broadband to rural Ireland is a major focus for me in my work and I will not rest until that happens.
Has this Government done enough for rural Ireland?
In the past I think rural Ireland has not been given the priority it needs by Government for a variety of reasons but mainly due to a lack of resources, particularly during the recession –but this is changing.
This year the Government’s Action Plan for Rural Development was launched with real targets and plans set down – for example supports to create 135,000 new jobs by 2020 and an investment of €50m towards that job creation.
One of the announcements that I made recently, in Longford was a new pilot scheme that I am introducing worth €5 million, specifically targeting people living in this region who are dependent on solid fuels as their primary source of heat. Managing our peat lands will lead to warmer homes, to reduced bills, to job creation and to a sustainable future for the area and for rural Ireland.
Leo Varadkar is now in power. What do you make of his first month in the job and how do you think he will handle the office?
Leo Varadkar has shown real passion for the role of An Taoiseach and listens with a clear focus in mind. I have spoken to him on many occasions since his appointment about the needs of rural Ireland, which he understands completely.
At Cabinet level I am one of a number of Ministers from rural constituencies and as a Government we are determined to bring new opportunities, new jobs, better healthcare and broadband to rural Ireland. Leo Varadkar is serious about this and I think under his leadership rural Ireland will benefit.