Happy New Year!
We are beginning 2021 with a sense of hope. Vaccines have been found for the Coronavirus, so emerging from this crisis now seems like a real possibility.
However, 2020 taught us much. When we were confined to our own locality, we paid more
attention to it.
Did you walk along the canal bank of visit the historical sites in your area? Recreation is vital to our mental health and we have great places to visit in Laois.
Take Abbeyleix Bog for example. 500 acres of beautiful habitats right there on our doorstep, with the boardwalk making it easily accessible. We’re learning to see the bog in a new light. It has ecological and recreational value. It is drawing visitors and becoming a tourist attraction.
The bog can still be an economic driver. Head out and take a look.
Laois is rich in heritage. Look at how the community in Clonaslee is conserving Kilmanman Church. In fact, almost €750,000 is to be spent conserving medieval churches in Laois next year, keeping our craftsmen gainfully employed.
It’s part of what’s called Just Transition – ensuring that workers are kept in jobs while we switch to a Green Economy.
One of the changes will be how we heat our homes. We’ve been burning fuels to stay warm…but to keep doing so is to damage our own health and our environment.
The solution lies in retrofitting our homes so that we use less energy for heat. 160 local authority houses in Laois are now being retrofitted, receiving insulation, better quality
windows and doors, and renewable energy heat pumps, as appropriate to the house. More will follow. Again, tradesmen will be kept in employment, while our most vulnerable people will be protected from rising fuel prices and will be kept warm in their homes.
This type of investment will make us more resilient to global changes. And we will need to be resilient for the challenges ahead.
Britain departs the EU on 1 January. Our farmers, growers, food producers and consumers will feel the effects. Did you know that we imported a third of our fruit and vegetables from the UK in 2018?
Horticulture and organic farming are my areas of responsibility in the Department of Agriculture.
We have 28 organic farmers in Laois and around 400-500 farmers, nationwide, are likely to switch to organics next year with financial support from the state. I also secured a 50% increase in supports for horticulture for 2021.
As we make the transition, we will be supported by the EU Green Deal. This will mean new jobs in the Green Economy. Look at the recent announcement of 100 jobs coming to Portlaoise for the bottle-to-bottle recycling facility.
Up to now, we have been exporting our plastic waste overseas for other countries to recycle. By doing it here at home we create jobs, recycle plastic and cut out the unnecessary shipping.
In spite of the challenges we face – Covid, Brexit, Climate – I’m genuinely optimistic that we can adapt.
The Green Party in Government is pushing for measures that will build our resilience as a country and help to improve your quality of life at home and in your community.
I wish you the best for 2001.