Ban Petroleum Licensing and Fracking

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly am 5:00 pm ar 29 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin 5:00, 29 Ebrill 2024

I beg to move

That this Assembly recognises that tackling climate change is a global priority and, to be successful, must be grounded on the principles of fairness and a just transition away from fossil fuel dependency towards a fairer and greener society powered by renewable energy; further recognises that we need to develop solar, tidal, onshore and offshore wind resources across the island of Ireland and off our coast; believes that a move towards renewable energy with a diversity of sources can increase energy security by reducing reliance on fossil fuel imports, which are more susceptible to international markets; acknowledges the deep concerns communities have about the environmental and public health risks associated with practices such as hydraulic fracturing; and calls on the Minister for the Economy, as an important first step in moving away from fossil fuel dependency, to introduce a ban on petroleum licensing, drilling and extraction.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for this debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose, and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. As an amendment has been selected and is published on the Marshalled List, the Business Committee has agreed that 15 minutes will be added to the total time for the debate.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

In October 2020, in the previous mandate, the Assembly passed a motion calling for a moratorium on petroleum licensing. In January 2022, a Department for the Economy paper recommended that the Executive should agree a preferred policy option of a moratorium on all forms of exploration and extraction of oil and gas, to be followed by the introduction of a legislative ban. The previous Economy Minister gave his approval to that position during Second Stage of a private Member's Bill to ban fracking, which was brought by my colleague in front of me, Áine Murphy. Unfortunately, time constraints meant that the private Member's Bill to ban fracking could not progress beyond Second Stage. With no Executive in place for a number of years, neither has the issue of licensing progressed beyond a moratorium to provide certainty.

There are, currently, no active petroleum licences in the North. There are two current licence applications, which are on hold because of the review of the licensing regime. Both applications have faced considerable opposition from politicians, local communities and interest groups. The Hatch report, 'The Potential Economic, Social and Environmental Impact of Onshore Petroleum Development', set out in great detail the environmental risks to the North of even low-level development of petroleum exploration and extraction.

It also found that, since exploration for oil and gas began here in 1965, they have never been discovered in commercial quantities. It adds that, even if they were found, the North would not be able to achieve the economies of scale and low costs of production that would allow for any kind of meaningful impact on energy costs, job creation or the economy. The report warned of the potential negative impact that exploration and extraction would have on existing industries such as tourism.

I hope that it is the view of the Assembly in this mandate, as it was in the previous one, that tackling climate change is a global priority as well as a priority for us in the North. For that to be successful, it must be grounded on the principles of fairness and a just transition away from fossil fuel dependency towards a fairer and greener society, powered by renewable energy, as the motion articulates.

We must move away from fossil fuel dependency, so I welcome the current Minister for the Economy's stated position, which is that he will seek agreement on bringing forward legislation to ban fracking and all forms of petroleum exploration. The Climate Change Act commits us to produce 80% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. We can achieve that only by investing fully in renewables infrastructure, not by keeping one eye on the finite fossil fuels of the past. Banning petroleum licensing will allow us to join the rest of Ireland, and it will be an important step in moving away from fossil fuels and focusing on renewable energy.

A just transition to renewable energy will not only help to meet climate targets; it will free consumers here from the volatility and price gouging that is associated with the fossil fuel multinationals and market. Fossil fuels are the past. A just transition to renewable energy will be better for the environment, the economy, consumers, workers and energy independence and security. A legislative ban on petroleum licensing is the first step in that direction.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party 5:15, 29 Ebrill 2024

I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after "introduce" and insert: "legislation to ban petroleum licensing, drilling and extraction before the end of 2024".

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Thank you, Sinéad. You will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am glad to speak about my party's support for not just a moratorium but a complete legislative ban on fracking. In fact, I think that all parties in the Chamber will be united in their opposition to fracking.

We have all heard from people in communities across the North who have been loud and clear about their opposition to future fracking. Those communities know that fracking is an exploitative practice in local places. Environmental activists and campaigners have led the way in demanding robust action to protect the environment and natural habitats for generations to come. Those dedicated campaign groups that have been sounding the alarm about fracking know all too well that, when fracking takes place, communities suffer the consequences for a long time after the companies have left. The experts, too, have been clear about the environmental and public health implications of allowing the practice to take place again.

A 2017 study found that fracking poses significant harm to health, with mothers who live close to the practice being more likely to give birth to a less healthy child with a lower birth weight. In 2019, a new study found that fracking was linked to higher rates of preterm births, as well as higher rates of asthma. A growing body of evidence is adding to the case for banning fracking purely due to its health impacts.

It is also obvious that climate action and fossil fuel extraction are absolutely incompatible. More than that, to allow even the possibility of fracking in this part of the world is deeply irresponsible, not only to future generations but to our duty to safeguard the natural environment. That was the feeling in this place when we agreed a cross-party motion unanimously in October 2020. Like many across the Chamber, I was disappointed, but unsurprised, when former Prime Minister Liz Truss, in her month-long reign of missteps, backed fracking in yet another example of why no one can ever trust the Conservative Party or its allies on the environment.

The SDLP's record on the issue is clear. In 2015, my colleague Mark Durkan took the pivotal step of enshrining a ban on fracking in policy as part of his strategic planning policy statement. In the previous mandate, we supported the Onshore Fracking (Prohibition) Bill that was sponsored by Áine Murphy, and we agreed with parties around the Chamber that supported its policy intention.

I am glad that the Minister has stated that one of his four key priorities is to reduce carbon emissions. There is no doubt that a ban on fracking fits neatly into his agenda, and there is no reason why any delay should take place. Of course, energy regulation is not the only pressing issue in the Minister's in tray. We have enormous potential on this island and in this part of the world, but it will take the full power of the Government to seize that opportunity. In this mandate, the Minister must get on with delivering the energy strategy and work with the whole Executive to meet our obligations. Households across the North will need and deserve financial support to assist in the transition to more efficient forms of energy. The Minister has already said that he plans to introduce a wide-ranging energy Bill. While it is welcome that the Utility Regulator's powers are to be examined, it must also bring in the regulation of home heating oil, given our reliance on that form of fossil fuel as a region.

All those steps and many more are vital if we are to meet the targets that have now been enshrined in law. Those are targets that, I think, are in danger of being badly missed, not least due to the impact of stop-start government over the past 15 years. However, while there may be much debate about these measures —

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

The Member will probably realise that, as a representative for East Antrim, I have a particular concern because we have two major projects that have been given approval in the constituency. One is gas caverns under Larne lough and the other is Cloghan Point, which is an oil storage depot. If Departments and Ministers, past and present, are to be serious about taking us out of the fossil fuel world, surely you have to agree that both those projects should be stopped and stopped today.

Photo of Sinéad McLaughlin Sinéad McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

I certainly do agree with the Member, and time is of the essence. That is why we are pushing for an actual time for the legislation.

While there may be much debate about these measures in these three years, there is no public support or demand for fracking. It is a practice that virtually no one in this Chamber endorses, but consecutive DUP Ministers have failed to intervene, despite holding the responsibility to do so since 2007. It is good, Minister, that the tide is turning on this.

While I welcome the debate and the opportunity to, once again, speak about our support for a legislative ban, the question now has to be of how long it will take for the Economy Minister to get on and deliver this. In this place, we are in danger sometimes of feeling that, instead of being legislators, we are professional debaters. That has to stop. We need to get on with legislating in and around this. This motion is in danger of serving simply as self-congratulations on a step that the Minister has already committed to. The time has come for the Executive to step up to the plate and finally start delivering. That is the purpose of our amendment today.

In 2019, two new applications were submitted, and, although a consensus exists across the Chamber, we will only know that the threat of fracking has been removed once and for all once the legislation is actually in place. We know that a paper was circulated to the Executive in the previous mandate from the previous Economy Minister that recommended that a legislative ban should be the policy direction for the Executive. I do not believe that the current Minister should roll back on that now. Instead, we need to follow the example of other parts of these islands, including the South, which has banned fracking since 2017. It is time to close the door on fracking once and for all, not merely through a moratorium but through legislation. I trust that all parties across the Chamber will back this call, and I urge the Minister to get on with it.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I call Phillip Brett, Chair of the Committee for the Economy.

Photo of Phillip Brett Phillip Brett DUP

Madam Principal Deputy Speaker, I speak in my role as DUP economy spokesperson. The Committee has not yet considered this matter, so it would not be appropriate for me to speak with any authority on the issue on behalf of the Committee.

The DUP supports the motion. I disagree with the previous Member who spoke, although I respect her, in her comments that the DUP has done nothing on this issue since holding the Economy portfolio. Later in her speech, she went on to recognise that Minister Lyons had submitted a paper to the Executive, and she outlined what that paper stated. Given that it was a cross-cutting and controversial issue, it required Executive approval. To build on that, the former Economy Minister Diane Dodds placed a moratorium on the granting of licensing for exploration. As the Member who spoke previously pointed out, Minister Lyons submitted a paper to the Executive. That paper stated:

"there is no strong economic case to support the exploration for and possible production of any potential onshore oil and gas resources in NI. Such a course of action also runs contrary to the objectives of the NI Energy Strategy and targets in the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022."

We need to inject some realism into the debate. There are no current active petroleum licences in Northern Ireland. Saying that a moratorium and legislative ban on an activity that is not happening in Northern Ireland will be the silver bullet to the issues that we face is simply not true.

Whether we like it or not, two thirds of homes across Northern Ireland are still heated by oil. That can change only if we support householders to go green in a way that is affordable and accessible. That is where the focus of the motion and, hopefully, the Minister's response, should be. I want to hear, as, I am sure, do hard-pressed households across Northern Ireland, when the Minister will bring forward a support scheme to help those householders make the transition to renewables. There is no point in we in the House saying what we cannot do. We need to be able to articulate to the public what we can do and how we are going to support families and households in doing that.

Yes, warm words from across the House are important, but they are meaningless unless we offer an affordable and accessible alternative for households across Northern Ireland. I trust that the Minister will outline in his summing-up how he plans to swiftly bring forward a strategy to enable households to make the transition to renewable energy as a means of heating their homes. Ongoing delay in that will further undermine Northern Ireland's ability to meet the climate change targets that the House set in the previous mandate.

We will support the motion, but we need more than words. We need action, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister how he plans to actually tackle ensuring that householders across Northern Ireland are able to transition from fossil fuels and how he intends to support them.

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

I speak as the Alliance spokesperson for the economy. Alliance will support the motion and all bans on fracking, petroleum licensing, drilling and extraction.

I said recently in the Chamber that we live on a beautiful island in the Atlantic Ocean and have a wealth of renewable energy opportunities and resources at our fingertips. In the future, we should have next to no need for fossil fuels, so now is finally the time to introduce a ban to reassure those local communities that are affected.

As our entire means of power generation continue to positively evolve, Alliance wants to see the transition completely away from fossil fuels and faster movement towards a fairer, greener society that is powered by renewable energy. We need to invest in the diversity of all our renewable sources, and Alliance believes that we must work on that in partnership across the island, taking a shared-island approach in order to develop the scale and energy security that are required. It is also important to continue to develop a system that is connected to Scotland, Wales, France and on into mainland Europe.

We need to address three issues in order to allow us to move at a faster pace and enable the development of renewables. The first is energy security and storage. Energy storage of fossil fuels is all around us, whether it is oil tanks for our homes, petrol or diesel tanks in our cars and lorries, storage tanks at petrol stations or at docks or ports, as has been said. We must quickly address renewable storage, such as how to store additional wind energy for use on days when it is less windy.

The second issue, which is a major problem and which is causing delay in the transition to renewable energy, is a completely outdated planning system. Everywhere I go — I speak to people across the industry — planning delays are raised as the number-one priority. The Minister for Infrastructure needs to address that urgently. We cannot imagine any of our emergency services being called to an emergency but having to sit in traffic, yet we are in a climate emergency, so delivery should not be delayed by being stuck in a planning system. Again and again, we are seeing investment that should and could have been made here moving South.

The Minister for Infrastructure has to get a grip on the issue quickly and reform the planning system to deliver planning decisions in a much shorter time. I am not saying that there should not be consultations; I am saying that we need to have a much easier and simpler process that delivers results. This must be treated as an emergency, and the reform and updating of our planning system must happen straight away.

I will make a final point about the overall design of our energy system. Traditionally, we have had three centres of generation here. With the introduction of renewable energy, generation has spread across the region. There needs to be a lead, in the design of the system, on how we work towards our renewable energy goal. If you start to build a house, you follow an architect's designs, drawings and plans. They show you where you are going and give you the platform from which to deliver. It is not a shotgun approach, and it is not a case of saying, "We'll put this here, do that there and hope for the best". Our new energy system needs the same approach: an overall design that brings together all the moving parts from access to the grid to geography to helping to address the planning issues. Areas of need could be targeted, giving a clear understanding of what is needed in particular areas. Most importantly, that approach would allow our renewables industry to get on and deliver, reducing the need for fossil fuels much faster. We live in an exciting time — an era of change — and Alliance wants to see action, rather than words, on delivering renewable energy transformation.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 5:30, 29 Ebrill 2024

I support the motion and the amendment. Some time ago, when we first thought about fracking, the Ulster Unionist Party's position was, "No, but". The "but" was a reference to the fact that we were open to persuasion and to saying to those who wanted to frack, "Convince us that it is viable, convince us that it is a good idea, and, above all, convince us that it is safe". In the intervening years, we have moved much closer to a straight, "No," than to, "No, but".

"No, but" was a reference to the fact that, frankly, it was about more than just Nimbyism, more than a case of "Not in my back yard". It is valid to question our attitude to whether we want to exploit our natural resources. When lignite was discovered in Northern Ireland, the immediate reaction was a campaign against it. When we discovered "gold in them thar hills" in the Sperrins, the immediate reaction was a campaign not to allow Dalradian to go ahead. Mr Dickson says no to gas caverns in his constituency, yet they have huge potential. We can generate our own hydrogen, but we will need somewhere to store it.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I thought that you might ask.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

First of all, the storage proposal is for gas, not hydrogen, and that would require a new and fully explored planning application. I do not wish to be sensational, but I do not want a hydrogen bomb under East Antrim, thanks very much, Mr Nesbitt. The planning application is for so-called natural gas to be stored. It is to be stored and then used not in Northern Ireland but elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

Thank you very much, Principal Deputy Speaker. I thank Mr Stewart Dickson, who has just made my point for me by saying that he does not want a hydrogen bomb under his feet. There is an element of Nimbyism in our attitudes.

We talked about home heating oil. The Chair of the Committee made reference to the fact that we are much more reliant on it, per household, than the rest of the United Kingdom. However, we do not extract that oil in Northern Ireland; we import it. I remind you of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April 2010: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was one of the greatest environmental disasters of modern times. There was an oil spill because of a blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and 4·9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. Three years later, dolphins and other marine life continued to die in record numbers, yet, today, more than two thirds of Northern Ireland households still use oil as their main source of heating. "Not in my back yard" is an issue that we will have to deal with.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

Yes, happily.

Photo of Danny Donnelly Danny Donnelly Alliance

Does the Member agree that there are more fossil fuels in the world than we can safely burn; that the more we extract, the greater the risk of climate catastrophe; and that we need to keep our known reserves in the ground?

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I thank the Member for his intervention. I think that that is the point I have just made by reference to the Gulf of Mexico. If we continue to extract, there is more risk, and we will have to continue to extract if two thirds of our households continue to use a fossil fuel.

We have moved from "No, but" to "No", because the limited experience in Great Britain is entirely negative. Only one licensee got as far as drilling — Cuadrilla, in Blackpool — and, in 2019, there were a couple of minor tremors that were attributed to the drilling. There were another two minor tremors in 2011. Since then, the North Sea Transition Authority has told Cuadrilla that it must use a plug-and-abandonment procedure on its two potential wells. That was in August 2023, and it has until the end of this calendar year to comply with that demand.

On renewables, of course, we are very much in favour of solar and wind. As we all know, the difficulty with wind is that it is unreliable, which means that we have to work on storage. There is certainly some healthy development in battery storage. The motion talks about tidal energy. Everything that I hear about tidal is that it is not economically viable yet, so we await somebody to make it so. That would be great for us, because we are an island nation and tidal is potentially our greatest green energy source. I remember SeaGen, an experiment in my constituency of Strangford, which produced a lot more energy than it predicted. Happily, the seals that went out for their post-lunch afternoon stroll under water were not cut in half by the blades. There is a lot of potential in tidal to add to wind and solar. For a nation that had no natural mining resources, we could end up in a really healthy position with renewables.

I will support the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin

As Sinn Féin spokesperson on climate and the environment, I am pleased to join my Sinn Féin colleagues in bringing the motion to the Floor calling for petroleum licensing and fracking to be banned in the North. I thank the Economy Minister for being here; for participating in the debate; for listening to the widespread concerns about the environmental and public health risks associated with these practices; and ultimately for taking action on the matter. We need to see legislative change to ban petroleum licensing and fracking here, which have the potential to cause so much damage to our environment and stress to our local communities.

The Hatch report sets out in great detail the environmental risks that we run in the North even with low-level development of petroleum exploration and extraction. The Climate Change Act 2022 commits us to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, a target that we are already hard-pressed to meet. It is entirely contradictory to set that target while allowing space for the development of a future fossil fuel industry here with the production of petroleum via fracking.

We need to focus on the development of solar, onshore and offshore wind and hydroelectric energy production to meet our obligations. We also need to comply with the 30 by 30 commitment made by the former AERA Minister, which aims to set aside 30% of the land and sea as protected areas for nature restoration by 2030 in order to stall biodiversity loss and create new habitats for wildlife. New policies in agriculture are helping to reach that target, but there continues to be a decline in biodiversity, as shown in the 2023 'State of Nature' report. The answer to the biodiversity crisis is conservation work, not the increased exploitation and destruction of habitats.

In recent weeks, the Assembly has highlighted the issue of water pollution in the North. The scenes at Lough Neagh last year brought into focus the significant issues of water pollution that the practice of petroleum extraction, especially fracking, would compound. Fracking uses a large amount of water and opens up the possibility of water contamination, so we need to do what we can to prevent that type of water pollution. The motion is another step in the response to the climate crisis. It is our duty to ensure that our corner of the world carries its weight in the global crisis. I encourage all Members to support the motion.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

The Alliance Party has stood in the Chamber not just today but several times in the past to speak in support of a ban on all forms of exploration and extraction of oil and gas in Northern Ireland, as well as to make clear its opposition to fracking. On this occasion, I take the opportunity to address the motion from an environmental perspective.

First, I note that the exploration, drilling and extraction of hydrocarbons in Northern Ireland will severely obstruct our efforts to meet the climate change targets set under the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. According to recent statistics from the Department for the Economy, only 45% of the electricity consumed in Northern Ireland in 2023 was generated from renewable sources, representing a 5% decrease from the previous year. It is essential that we take significant steps to improve those figures if we are to meet our legally binding target of producing 80% of our electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030.

If we are to reach net zero, it is imperative that we prioritise the transition to utilising clean and renewable sources of energy. That shift would help protect our natural environment, including helping to increase biodiversity and protect our waterways. It would also help reduce our dependence on finite resources that are becoming increasingly scarce. Investment in renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower, must therefore be increased. Additionally, there should be investment in alternative modes of transport, such as public transport networks, active travel opportunities and electric vehicle infrastructure. Those changes would help mitigate the effects that we already experience as a result of climate change and secure a more sustainable future for all of us.

The practice of fracking continues to cause significant worry and apprehension among the residents of Northern Ireland. That includes my constituents in South Antrim, whose primary concern is the drilling activities that will potentially take place in or around Lough Neagh. It is the largest freshwater lake in the UK, a designated area of special scientific interest (ASSI) and home to several nature reserves. It is not an area to be destroyed on the whim of large-profit businesses that care nothing for our natural environment, and I need hardly point out —.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I thank the Member for giving way. He will be aware that some of the drilling activity that we are looking to do is for geothermal energy. Will the Member state whether Alliance supports drilling for geothermal activity, or is it against all forms of drilling activity? That is of particular interest to people in South Antrim, especially those in the area around Lough Neagh.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I will come to that in one second.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker. Before I respond to the Member's intervention, I stress that I need hardly point out the recent environmental challenges at Lough Neagh and the impact that those have had on communities.

I thank the Member for his intervention. We should look at everything on a case-by-case basis. He will know from the tone of what I am saying, however, that my response to drilling is instinctively negative. If the Member compares the areas of Northern Ireland designated for such exploration by some, he will see that we are a many times multiple — over 20% of our land mass — compared with single percentages in the rest of GB, right down to 0·8% in one region.

I am pleased at a local level. My Alliance colleague Councillor Jay Burbank successfully brought a similar motion to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in the recent past. It is unfortunate, however, that that has not been replicated in the other council areas. For instance, my understanding is that the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and, indeed, the SDLP councillors on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council opposed and obstructed such a proposal. It is simply illogical not to have cross-party support at all levels of government for a ban to address what is undoubtedly a widespread concern. It was necessary to prevent petroleum licensing and fracking years ago, and we must continue in the same spirit of environmental protection.

While we on these Benches agree in principle with the amendment, which seeks a ban before the end of 2024, the reality is that achieving such a ban in that short time frame is, unfortunately, highly unlikely, but we support the motion and the amendment on the basis of that principle.

In the interim, and before the legislative ban, the Economy Minister must send a clear message that, in Northern Ireland, it is no longer open season regarding these outdated and environmentally damaging practices. We cannot effectively combat climate change while continuing to support industries that contribute substantially to it.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP 5:45, 29 Ebrill 2024

Mr Principal Deputy Speaker —. Or Ms —. I apologise, Principal Deputy Speaker. It has been a long day, as you can imagine.

I echo my friend Mr Nesbitt's remarks: the Ulster Unionist Party will support both the motion and the amendment. Members will be aware that, in our nation, fracking has been under a moratorium, in some parts of it, since at least 2015. That started in Scotland. In Wales, it has been the case since 2018 and, since 2019, there has been a moratorium. There is no indication anywhere across our nation — with the exception of Northern Ireland, because we have not caught up with the legislation yet — that there will be any more onshore fracking or that any onshore fracking will be allowed.

As many Members have noted, the debate is also about how we manage our renewables and where we go in the future with renewable systems. Minister, as you are well aware, one of our biggest problems is the interconnectivity of the grid. Earlier, when you gave answers to various questions, you pointed to the fact that there are significant areas around grid connections in the Province and rural grid connections. That cannot be overstated. The number of problems that face anybody who wants a grid connection for renewables, whether solar, wind or any other form, is quite frankly scandalous.

The fact that we are paying significantly more for grid connections in Northern Ireland than we would in Scotland, England or Wales, or the Republic of Ireland, needs to be investigated clearly. Without doubt, it is the monopolistic situation here that has been an absolute barrier to the progression of renewable energy across Northern Ireland. Whether in battery storage, novel applications or smart grids, on every occasion the System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) and Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) have been working to the detriment of Northern Ireland. Questions have to be asked about that.

One of the other significant issues that we have to worry about is our regulation process. I declare an interest: I am a great supporter of the Utility Regulator here, particularly the chief executive of the Utility Regulator. However, quite frankly, Northern Ireland is too small to be doing its own energy regulation. Talk to anybody in the renewable energy business, and you find that one of the single biggest problems is getting a route to market and an understandable method of getting contracts for difference.

England Scotland and Wales, interestingly enough, have their own regulator in Ofgem. Neither Scotland nor Wales decided to go it alone. They have a system that industry can buy into and get renewables rapidly onto the market. We cannot do that. One of the things we have to ask about, going forward, is what we do about reforming the system so that we get a proper, fully integrated energy market.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Certainly. Over to you, David.

Photo of David Honeyford David Honeyford Alliance

Thanks, Steve. You mentioned SONI, and I am interested in what you meant by that. You talk about Northern Ireland as if our energy market is alone on this island. We have an energy system that is across the island. Are you proposing that we have a regulator for the island? Is that it?

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Thank you very much indeed. No, I propose that we join Ofgem. Let us look clearly at what we need to do. If you look on this island, with renewable energy, the market and the interconnection is not big enough to make it work in all circumstances. If that were the case, they would not be building new connection grids to Wales and they would not be looking to build a new interconnection system to France, which will then use lots of nuclear energy to fill in the gaps. We need an all-islands solution. The sooner we get to that, the better. It is appropriate that we start thinking strategically if we are to hit our renewable energy targets, which we must, because there is an energy crisis. There is also a climate emergency. We need to deal with those situations.

Minister, when you look at the future of energy generation in Northern Ireland, I ask you to look very closely at how we marry up with the rest of these islands to make it work. Clearly, nobody in the Assembly supports fracking onshore. Let us make a ban happen. Since it is not happening now, we have no difficulty at all in supporting the motion and the amendment.

Photo of Danny Donnelly Danny Donnelly Alliance

I rise in favour of the motion, and I thank the Sinn Féin Members for bringing it forward. In February 2020, one of the first acts of the previous Assembly, following its restoration at the end of a three-year deadlock, was to declare a climate emergency. Much of the wording of that motion remains relevant over four years later, such as the statement that the Assembly:

"recognises that we are facing climate breakdown and a biodiversity crisis, which are impacting here and now, and will affect all aspects of our lives in coming years" — [Official Report (Hansard), Bound Volume 125, p134, col 2].

We only have to look at Lough Neagh to see the damaging impacts of climate inaction.

The previous Assembly made considerable progress on climate legislation through the passage of the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, with its emissions targets of net zero by 2050, sectoral plans for key industries, carbon budgets to deliver on the main targets, and plans to have a Northern Ireland climate commissioner and climate action plan. It is essential that that Act is delivered in full. We cannot afford to water down our targets, as we have seen happen in Scotland.

Transitioning away from fossil fuel dependency is often mistakenly seen as an economic negative. That is not the case. New sources of renewable energy require new skills to ensure a fair and equitable transition, therefore creating newer and greener jobs. That transition must be fair, and must not impact on households financially, as we all need to be able to heat our homes.

Furthermore, as outlined in the Department for the Economy's 'Onshore Petroleum Licensing Policy' consultation document, a ban on petroleum licensing, drilling and extraction would not have a significant impact on jobs or our wider economy. It would, however, play an important role in us meeting our climate targets. We need secure, affordable and clean energy, as was outlined in the Department's previous energy strategy, which looks towards the long-term vision of a net zero carbon economy.

Banning petroleum licensing, drilling and extraction has been recommended by international research from the International Energy Agency and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There is broad support for a change in approach from the Department, and I welcome that the new Economy Minister recognises that that should be the case. As we have mentioned, there are far more fossil fuels than we can safely burn. The more that we extract, the greater the risk of climate catastrophe, so we need to keep them in the ground.

Like my colleague Stewart Dickson did, I will touch on one of the most important issues that faces my constituency of East Antrim. In my current role as an MLA, and in my previous role as a councillor for Larne Lough district electoral area (DEA), two projects of huge concern to me and my colleagues have been the oil terminal at Cloghan Point near Whitehead and the construction of the gas caverns under Larne lough. It is clear that the approval of such large-scale fossil fuel projects runs contrary to our climate change commitments and targets, shackling us to fossil fuels for decades to come. I encourage the Minister for Infrastructure to consider how planning legislation can be amended so that climate targets can be a consideration in planning applications, especially those of such scale.

The motion refers to the deep concerns that communities have about the environmental and public health risks associated with practices such as hydraulic fracturing. That is more prevalent in East Antrim than in any other constituency, especially as — I am sure that every Member will agree — the coastline of east Antrim and Larne lough is incomparable in its natural beauty and biodiversity. I am very proud of the local community and its work in opposing these unnecessary projects. That includes the work of organisations such as Stop Whitehead Oil Terminal, Friends of the Earth and No Gas Caverns. I am sure that Members will remember the successful Stop the Drill campaign in Woodburn Forest a couple of years ago. Those are local people who are campaigning to protect their local environment for future generations. If we are serious about meeting our climate change and net zero targets, we cannot permit the continuation of such projects, with their potentially devastating impact on local communities. We need to stop them as soon as possible.

Although the motion could have been strengthened by greater references to our climate targets and an opposition to wider and cross-cutting projects that will have a disproportionate impact on those targets, I am happy to support the motion. I hope that the Economy and Infrastructure Ministers will do what they can to progress our path towards net zero.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

In virtually every corner of these Six Counties, there is an environmental disaster that has been ignored, encouraged or caused by successive Stormont Administrations. Look at the illegal dump at Mobuoy, where contaminated waste pollutes Derry's waterways. Look to the Sperrins, which Dalradian, with security provided by the PSNI, wants to strip through toxic gold-mining. We see algal growth in Lough Neagh, with Stormont providing financial incentives for industrial farmers to pollute our drinking water and continuing to allow legal and illegal sand extraction. We saw DAERA grant licences for seven gas caverns, which have the potential to create a dead zone for plants and animals. Recently, we saw DUP and UUP councillors conspiring to grant permission for an oil terminal and biofuel refinery at Cloghan Point at Whitehead. When you total all that, this state is an emblem of how not to treat the environment. It is a glaring example of what happens when the Government put the profits of energy giants, beef barons and all shades of industrialists above our natural resources.

For every issue that I have listed, there are grassroots campaigners in communities across the North who are pushing back against it, determined to save the environment from the ravages of a broken system and ensure the rights of nature. As a wealthy minority, backed by complicit Governments, bring us hurtling towards environmental catastrophe, tireless activists are fighting back against them every step of the way. It is fair to say that the proposals to ban fracking and petroleum exploration would not be in front of us today were it not for the efforts of those campaigners, including those from Belcoo Frack Free in County Fermanagh and so many others.

It goes without saying that I support today's motion, but it is unacceptable for the Executive to run with the hare and hunt with the hound when it comes to our environment. We need urgent action across the board to reduce emissions and stop the earth's temperature from rising to apocalyptic levels. That means keeping all carbon in the soil. Banning fracking is good, but it is not good enough if, on the other hand, the Government allow gas companies to dig gas caverns under Larne lough. The Government should not allow an oil terminal to be constructed at Cloghan Point, and I echo the call for the Infrastructure Minister to intervene and overturn the decision on that harmful planning proposal. Cutting emissions will require an AERA Minister who is prepared to challenge the big farmers, whose livestock drive up emissions and simultaneously fuel the crisis at Lough Neagh. I have not yet seen any evidence that the current Minister is willing to do that. Stormont cannot stand by as the Sperrins, a crucial carbon sink, are blown up in the pursuit of gold.

Sooner or later, the Executive will have to grasp the nettle if they are serious about the future of the planet. Every Department has an obligation under the Climate Change Act to act consistently in reaching its emission targets. From what I have seen so far, many are failing at that basic task. We have an Infrastructure Minister who has still not fully ruled out ending free public transport for people over 60, which would force more people into cars. As we speak, the AERA Minister is talking about pausing much-promised action to deal with the pollution at Lough Neagh, which is intrinsically linked to the need to cut farming emissions and pollution. Those are just some of many examples.

There are logical and sensible arguments for keeping all carbon — oil, gas and petroleum — in the ground. There is no room for error if we are to avoid mass extinction. The economic arguments about job creation from the fossil fuel industry have been absolutely shattered. Frankly, they were always bogus. We only have to look at the Stormont consultation on onshore petroleum licensing, which points to the fact that the economic benefits are negligible. The only people whom it benefits are, as always, the wealthy minority who profit from the destruction of our planet. Air quality, public health and mental and physical well-being are all being sacrificed to line the pockets of a few.

We need a strategy for change, but it must put working-class people in the driving seat. We need a just transition to ensure that those working in the fossil fuel industry, in farming, in aviation and elsewhere are reskilled and given opportunities for green jobs. We need to ensure that the wealthy minority, whose interests are driving the climate crisis, are forced to pay for the transition to a greener economy so that working people are not punished for the destruction that was wrought by others. The new Executive need to, as a bare minimum, urgently bring forward a climate action plan and firmly commit to meeting the emissions targets set out in the Climate Change Act. I welcome a ban on fracking and petroleum extraction, but I also encourage —

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

The Member's time is up

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

— activists to keep up the fight and to keep campaigning.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin 6:00, 29 Ebrill 2024

I call the Minister for the Economy to respond to the debate. Minister, you have 15 minutes.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to speak about this important issue. Climate change is one of the defining challenges of our time, and moving away from fossil fuels will be a vital part of the transition towards a greener economy and a more sustainable way of life. Reducing carbon emissions is one of my four key objectives. Reaching net zero by 2050 is both a legal requirement and a moral obligation to the well-being of future generations. I want to see a just transition to net zero meaning that it is used as an opportunity to create a more equal society. Our wealth of national resources such as wind, biomethane and geothermal enables us to become self-sufficient in and even an exporter of affordable renewable energy. Work is ongoing to use those resources to our advantage.

Here, in the Stormont estate, my Department is beginning a geothermal demonstrator project to use the heat beneath our feet. That project, along with another demonstrator in County Antrim, will give us vital information about how to decarbonise the heat sector. We have an abundance of wind on this island. My Department is working to maximise the potential of onshore and offshore with a renewable electricity support scheme. The scheme will incentivise investment in larger renewable electricity projects, guarantee fair pricing for locally produced electricity and encourage a diverse range of renewable resources for secure energy supply. Therefore, the scheme is an important part of meeting the 2030 legislative target of 80% electricity consumption from renewables. Due to our large agriculture sector, we also have the potential to use biomethane to support our pathway to net zero and, at the same time, contribute to regional balance.

The energy efficiency capital grant opens today. It will help local businesses to reduce costs and build resilience through energy efficiency. Businesses can now apply for a grant to buy and install energy-efficient equipment, including, in certain cases, solar panels. That will help to reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions.

In addition to the environmental impacts, the past few years have shown us the economic risk that we run by continuing to rely on fossil fuels. The cost-of-living crisis has largely been driven by increased energy costs, leading to higher bills and increased prices across the board. By developing local sources of energy, we have the opportunity to break the link with global commodity prices and become price-makers rather than price-takers.

In meeting our net zero targets, a key priority is to move from petroleum to renewables. The Department for the Economy has the power to grant licences to companies to search for and extract onshore oil and gas. My Department recently consulted on the petroleum licensing system. The consultation opened on 15 January and closed on 12 April. Research carried out as part of the review found that the positive economic impacts are limited and the negative environmental and social impacts are potentially severe, depending on how much petroleum activity takes place. The vast majority of respondents to the consultation supported the move away from fossil fuels. The South of Ireland and Wales have recently banned all onshore petroleum activity, and Scotland has taken a decision on hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking".

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I appreciate the Minister's giving way, and I welcome the findings from the report. I am happy to be corrected, but it is my understanding that planning application PLA1/16 — I do not expect the Minister to know what that is: it is the application from EHA Exploration Limited for a petroleum licence for drilling in and around Lough Neagh — remains outstanding while it has not been granted by previous Ministers or by him. Can the Minister confirm whether it is still outstanding or whether it is null and void or give us an update on that either today or in writing?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

First, if it is a planning application, it is a matter for the Department for Infrastructure. Secondly, if it is the same issue as the one that, I think, the Member is raising, that is being decided by the council in relation to the application.

As I was saying, it is time for us to act, and I intend to ban all forms of petroleum exploration and production, including fracking. That will help us to transition from fossil fuels to renewables. I will soon ask Executive colleagues to approve a ban, and, if that is granted, I will introduce legislation to the Assembly to ban onshore petroleum licensing. It will require amendments to the Petroleum (Production) Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 and other regulations. The time involved in developing the legislation means that it will be introduced in 2025. In the meantime, my Department will not accept or process onshore petroleum licensing applications.

I will turn to some of the points that were raised in the debate. I thank Members for contributing to it. I am sure that the proposer of the motion will address the issue that was raised in the amendment. The consultation closed about two weeks ago. We have to develop a policy and bring it to the Executive for approval. That would immediately introduce a moratorium from the Department in dealing with any of the issues, and we then have to devise legislation and bring it through. If that can be done this year, that is grand — I would be happy to move on it sooner — but, every time we propose doing something, an amendment is tabled that says, "You must do it quicker". To be honest, it would be helpful if the people who tabled the amendments gave examples of when they held ministerial office and were able to turn such things around within that type of time frame. Otherwise, it is just a bit of grandstanding, as far as I am concerned. I am not overly exercised about it. If we can do it within this year, happy days, we will do that, but I have been here a long time, and I have no memory of the party that tabled the amendment doing things in that superfast way when it ran Departments. Maybe it is just setting a higher standard for the rest of us because it has more faith in us, but that remains to be seen.

Phillip Brett mentioned household support schemes. We will consult in the coming weeks on a proposed funding scheme for low-carbon heat. The funding for 2024-25 is already available through NISEP, which the Utility Regulator operates, but we are, obviously, looking at other issues.

David Honeyford and Danny Donnelly raised planning issues. I absolutely get it that movement in all these areas requires joined-up processes. As I said during Question Time, where we find bottlenecks in the system, we have to make sure that one part of government does not contradict what another is doing. I am happy to talk to my colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to make sure that we move together on issues that are of critical importance to us.

Mike Nesbitt talked about tidal energy, and interesting debate ensued. I say to him that fixed and floating turbines for tidal are under consideration as part of the offshore renewable energy action plan and that my officials are leading on that. While tidal is yet to be developed in a way that can produce the things that we would like, it is nonetheless still under active consideration, as, I am sure, he will be glad to know.

Steve Aiken talked about grid connections and a joined-up system for electricity infrastructure. I had a conversation about that with my colleague Eamon Ryan when we were at the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) plenary, and we intend to meet in the next couple of weeks to develop that conversation further, because there is a realisation that the system has to be there in order to support what we want to do on renewables. The ambition on that side of the border is the same as it is on this side, which is to put ourselves in a space where we are self-sufficient and perhaps even an exporter. In that sense, I hope that connectivity with France or with Wales or Scotland would mean a channel going from here to there rather than the other way round.

Danny Donnelly raised a point about the gas caverns. I am told that those have the potential to store renewable gases such as hydrogen. I know that the debate on that goes on in East Antrim, and I am keen to see it roll on.

John Blair raised a point about immediate action being required. The moment that the Executive approve the policy document that I intend to bring forward in the not-too-distant future is the time for immediate action on a moratorium. We then need to follow through with legislation. In effect, the legislation will enforce the action that we will already have taken. That is why trying to shoehorn legislation into this calendar year, as opposed to letting it be done properly, is, as I say, probably not the most important consideration. Putting the moratorium in place by getting the policy decision taken and following that through with legislation is, for me, the important matter in all this.

I record my strong support for the motion and for a just transition to a greener economy that focuses on renewable energy and protects our environment. I look forward to legislating to enact a ban on all forms of onshore petroleum exploration and production. The amendment looks for that to happen earlier than is possible for us, but let us hope that we can make progress as quickly as possible, as I said.

The key point is that we need to get a policy document on the back of the consultation, which has just closed, and we need to get that to the Executive and, in effect, take the decision and follow through with legislation at the earliest possible time.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

I call Mark Durkan to make a winding-up speech on the amendment. Mark, you have five minutes.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

[Translation: Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker.]

A legislative ban on petroleum licensing and fracking represents a step change that we need to see to safeguard our environment and protect the health and well-being of communities. For a decade, parties across the Assembly have recognised the need to phase out fossil fuels, though some of us recognised that long before others. We have also known that fracking poses a serious risk, from contaminating groundwater to triggering seismic events. The risks associated with fracking are too great to ignore, and Philip McGuigan outlined many of those risks, including environmental and economic risks. As my party colleague Sinéad McLaughlin mentioned, the body of evidence around the health impacts alone should have served as a clarion call.

In 2015, as Environment Minister, I rejected proposals for exploratory drilling in Fermanagh and pledged to review outdated planning policy. I enshrined in policy a presumption against fracking, and I did that pretty quickly. I did so in the face of legal challenge and, indeed, political opposition from across the Chamber, although the opposers were sitting on this side of the Chamber then. I am glad that the DUP has now seen the light. Mr Nesbitt helpfully explained his party's position and journey on the subject of fracking, but I have not received an explanation for the DUP's Damascene conversion.

SDLP Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon took up the mantle and removed permitted development rights for onshore oil and gas exploration, so there should be no doubt where the SDLP stands, and has always stood, on this issue, despite the fact that we have had to remind a few of our councillors along the way. Thanks to Mr Blair for reminding me of that. Those were crucial steps in the shift towards renewable energy and a reduction in carbon emissions and were reflective of more environmentally conscious legislation. The SDLP has been steadfast in its stance against fracking, and while I welcome the fact that the parties across the Chamber now agree with that position, today is not, or should not be, a back-patting exercise; it is more of an embarrassing admission of dither and delay on such a pressing and important issue.

There has been plenty of talk in the Chamber over the past few months about what Ministers and the Executive should or would do, but promises have not been actioned. Ms McLaughlin lamented the fact that, rather than being legislators, we are becoming professional debaters, and I am sure that many members of the public view us as nothing much more than a bunch of master debaters as well.

Our amendment is not just a case of "do things more quickly". We want concrete commitments and targets for delivery. How many things have been getting done for an eternity but never getting done at all? That is across all Departments, and the Programme for Government springs to mind. Therefore, I am glad that we are hearing of movement on petroleum licensing and fracking, but let us see that movement soon. That is what we are calling for.

In 2022, the Department brought a paper to the Executive recommending a moratorium on fracking and gas and oil exploration in the North, and, in February, Minister Murphy confirmed to me at Question Time that he was considering a legislative ban on fracking and hoped to bring forward proposals in the not-too-distant future. That was an already established direction of travel, and I therefore imagine that a body of work has been done by the Department. On that basis, I thought that it would be a reasonable enough request to bring forward the legislation at least by the end of this year. Let us at least get that legislative process started. We must keep step with across the water and the South. We must alleviate fears that still exist in communities here about the imminent threat from the unwanted onshore oil and gas industry, and we must even potentially seek to undo some of the damage that has been done in the past.

I ask Members to support our amendment, which demands delivery and which will, we believe, focus minds. People deserve assurance that hard-won environmental protections will not be undone and that future decisions will be geared towards creating a greener society that supports the economy. We want what is best for the planet and best for people's pockets. As Mr Honeyford said, we need a cross-departmental approach to support a transition to renewables. In our view, the best way to get community buy-in is to ensure that the community derives benefit from renewable projects that are on its doorstep. I urge Members to support the amendment.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin 6:15, 29 Ebrill 2024

Go raibh maith agat as sin, a Mark, Sílim.

[Translation: Thank you for that, Mark. I think.]

I call Áine Murphy to make a winding-up speech on the motion. Áine, you have 10 minutes.

Photo of Áine Murphy Áine Murphy Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

[Translation: Thank you, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker.]

I thank everyone who contributed to the debate. I am heartened that there has been a common thread of support throughout the debate for the motion. The importance of the motion cannot be overstated. As many Members may recall, I brought a private Member's Bill to the Floor, back in 2021, to ban the issuing of petroleum licences to companies that intended to use fracking as a method to extract shale gas. Unfortunately, due to time restraints before dissolution, I was unable to progress the Bill to its Final Stage.

To add context, the threat of fracking has hung over Fermanagh for more than a decade, especially in the west of the county. Ever since the threat of fracking first emerged, people have expressed their widespread opposition to the practice. As a Fermanagh native, I am all too aware of the devastating impact that fracking would have on our environment. There is not a community anywhere in Ireland that wants petroleum exploration happening anywhere next or near it. The Hatch report lays out in great detail the risks that even conventional drilling poses to public health and water supplies for little or no economic benefit. Studies have also linked fracking to a host of health problems, including birth defects, asthma and cancer. The practice has been shown to cause groundwater contamination, soil corruption, earthquakes, noise pollution and significant increases in airborne radioactivity, as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions. It also has serious consequences for biodiversity, with many wildlife habitats and areas of conservation being impacted by industrialisation or destroyed by contamination. The threat of fracking still hangs over these communities because, as we debate this motion, fracking is still legal in the North.

Evidence has been mounting over recent years on the negative impact that fracking has on nearby communities. My county of Fermanagh is renowned for its beautiful countryside and abundance of fresh lakes, to which thousands of tourists and anglers flock every year. As a county, we rely on the income that is generated through tourism, and I have no doubt that our tourist offering would be damaged beyond repair if fracking was ever allowed to go ahead. Many countries around the world have already introduced legislative bans against fracking, and that is set to continue to grow in the future. In 2022, the Assembly passed the Climate Change Act, which sets ambitious targets for net zero emissions. If any form of petroleum extraction were allowed to take place, it would actively work against meeting our commitments under the Climate Change Act, making it less deliverable. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to leave the door open to fracking or other means of petroleum extraction whilst we are required by law to reduce our carbon emissions. A major concern in my constituency is that, due to the different types of definitions of fracking, it could be allowed to slip through a loophole. A ban on petroleum licensing as a whole will reassure communities that fracking is not something that they will ever have to worry about again.

In closing, the people of Fermanagh have fought tooth and nail over the past number of years to prevent petroleum licences from being granted. The fresh leadership in the Department for the Economy provides us with an opportunity to finally deliver a ban on petroleum licensing. I welcome the Minister's commitment to introduce legislation in 2025. Therefore we do not support the amendment, but we will not be pushing for a Division.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly recognises that tackling climate change is a global priority and, to be successful, must be grounded on the principles of fairness and a just transition away from fossil fuel dependency towards a fairer and greener society powered by renewable energy; further recognises that we need to develop solar, tidal, onshore and offshore wind resources across the island of Ireland and off our coast; believes that a move towards renewable energy with a diversity of sources can increase energy security by reducing reliance on fossil fuel imports, which are more susceptible to international markets; acknowledges the deep concerns communities have about the environmental and public health risks associated with practices such as hydraulic fracturing; and calls on the Minister for the Economy, as an important first step in moving away from fossil fuel dependency, to introduce legislation to ban petroleum licensing, drilling and extraction before the end of 2024.

Adjourned at 6.19 pm.