Public Policy Bulletin, 19 October 2020

Oct 19, 2020

In Public Policy news, read about progress on Ireland’s National Broadband Plan and how Ireland’s state pension age is set to stay at 66 for now.  In other news, an ESRI report shows that an increase in carbon tax could reduce poverty; and the EU has released its program to guide environment policy until 2030.

Broadband Connection Points launched as part of National Broadband Plan

A key element of the Government’s National Broadband Plan has been implemented with the connection of the first group of  50 ‘Broadband Connection Points’.  

It was part of a new initiative –  ‘Connected Communities’ – which involves using Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) in rural communities to provide them with high-speed internet access at publicly-accessible sites. The BCPs are located in some of the most isolated and rural communities in the country.  Further installations are planned, and should bring the total number of connected public access points to over 300 in 2021.

Announcing the initiative on 8 October, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, TD, said: “The National Broadband Plan is one of the most important capital investments in the history of the State.  It will have a transformative effect on those communities that have too often been left behind.”

The BCP initiative is a collaborative effort involving the Department of Rural and Community Development, the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, Local Authorities and the owners and managers of the BCP sites. National Broadband Ireland (NBI) will act as the Wholesale Service Provider (WSP), while Vodafone Ireland will act as the Retail Service Provider (RSP).  A full list of the connected BCPs is available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/5634d-national-broadband-plan-map/

No change to State Pension Age

Ireland’s state pension age will not increase from 66 years to 67 years in January 2021. This is in line with the Programme for Government. During his Budget speech on 13 October, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, TD, said that a Pensions Commission would be established to consider the issue, although no details or commitment on a timeframe were given.

Stronger together  - National Women’s Enterprise Day

The theme of this year’s National Women’s Enterprise Day was ‘Stronger Together’. Organised by the Local Enterprise Offices, the event, which took place on October 14, was attended by over 2,400 owner managers and entrepreneurs. They joined online events, including interviews, panel discussions and networking sessions, as well as access to experts from State support agencies.

An Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, TD, delivered the opening address and said that “The Government is determined to help more women pursue entrepreneurship as a career” and pointed to the significant increase (58 percent) in women taking up the training programmes that are available.

‘Progressive and poverty-reducing’

A report published by the ESRI has shown that an increase in carbon tax can in fact reduce poverty. The report, titled Carbon Taxes, Poverty and Compensation Options examines how carbon tax can be raised without increasing poverty and disproportionately affecting low-income households. The report also finds that by using a third of the €159 million that Revenue estimates would be raised by a €7.50 per tonne on targeted increases in welfare payments and benefits (as proposed in the recent Programme for Government), would reduce both child-poverty and poverty in the lowest-income fifth of households. The report shows that the overall poverty rate would be reduced by 0.2 percentage points.

The report also referred to the national housing retrofit programme, and suggests that “it would be prudent to incorporate funding for the evaluation of grant effectiveness into any new retrofit programme”.

Proposal published for European Commission’s Environment Action Program to 2030

The European Commission has presented a proposal for its 8th Environment Action Program in response to current sustainability challenges. The program will guide European environmental policy until 2030 and supports the environment and climate action objectives of the European Green Deal. It will also form the EU’s basis for achieving the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals.

The program calls for ‘active engagement of all stakeholders at all levels of governance to ensure that EU climate and environment laws are effectively implemented’. It suggests a new monitoring framework to measure and communicate progress on its six priority objectives below:

  1. “achieving the 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target and climate neutrality by 2050
  2. enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change
  3. advancing towards a regenerative growth model, decoupling economic growth from resource use and environmental degradation, and accelerating the transition to a circular economy
  4. pursuing a zero-pollution ambition, including for air, water and soil and protecting the health and well-being of Europeans
  5. protecting, preserving and restoring biodiversity, and enhancing natural capital (notably air, water, soil, and forest, freshwater, wetland and marine ecosystems)
  6. reducing environmental and climate pressures related to production and consumption (particularly in the areas of energy, industrial development, buildings and infrastructure, mobility and the food system)”

The proposal will have to be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council before it is adopted.

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