- You have had an interesting career path, tell us a little about it?
I was a primary school teacher, and then secondary teacher, for about thirty years, then President of the GAA, and Executive Chairman of the Irish Institute of Sport. After that, I became an MEP and have been an MEP for thirteen years. So, an interesting and varied career, but it has been a privilege to serve in all those capacities and I enjoyed every minute of it.
- As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) since 2009, will you give us a brief outline of your roles?
When I started first in 2009, I didn’t know much about the European Parliament and its committees, and I started off in the Regional Development Committee and the Culture and Education Committee. After a while, I decided that I would like to become involved in committees that were more active in terms of legislation, and I joined the Industry, Research and Energy Committee. I became involved in the research area initially, and then the energy area. I also joined the International Trade Committee. I did a lot of work in relation to the Vietnam and Singapore trade agreements, for which I was Rapporteur, and visited both countries. In the area of energy, I was Rapporteur for the Renewable Energy Directive. I’m particularly proud of the fact that we introduced an opportunity for so-called ‘prosumers’ to get their own energy by renewable means, and to sell their surplus onto the grid. I was also involved in GDPR, which has established rules around the use of people’s data.
- The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is currently being redrafted, can you give us a brief outline of its purpose and your role in the redevelopment?
I am now group Rapporteur for the EPBD, and this is a very important area, because if we are to meet our climate targets, particularly reducing emissions by 55% by 2030, the energy performance of buildings is crucial. Buildings use about 36% of the energy we require, and they produce about 40% of emissions, so it’s a win-win to retrofit as many houses as possible. We are now drawing up rules for that and how it will be implemented. Finance is an important aspect of this and I have spoken to the ECB and made some proposals on how they can make borrowing for renewables, and particularly for retrofitting, available at a very cheap cost. We also have to look at the question of skills and the workforce available for this.
- The upgrade of energy efficiency in private rented properties will be expensive and challenging. Rent Pressure Zones (Ireland) limit income, will there be exemptions or incentives to assist landlords to upgrade rental property?
That is a very important question. I have met with the Irish Property Owners’ Association and others, and they made some very interesting points to me. If it is not possible for property owners to upgrade their buildings without incurring huge expense that they cannot recoup, they are not going to do so. I will be taking on board the points that have been made to me and bringing them to the attention of my fellow MEPs, to ensure that it is possible for property owners to upgrade rental properties, and that there are incentives to do so. It is also important that for some properties, especially listed buildings, there are methods of partially retrofitting them or exemptions, in certain cases. These are questions we need to look at to ensure that things are done in a practical way that’s beneficial to everyone.
- The EPBD is expected to include requirements to upgrade residential properties to make them more energy efficient and to include a minimum Building Energy Rating. The number of residential tenancies decreased in excess of 5% since Rent Pressure Zones were introduced. Do you expect the minimum BER requirement to affect the rental market further?
Perhaps – but we need an accurate minimum BER requirement, especially for rental properties. I don’t think it would be right to have no BER, or to allow properties to be rented where there is actually no improvement in terms of emissions. However, buildings have to be made more efficient in a way that is worthwhile for the owners. They need to have consistency regarding the BER over a number of years, and affordable loans must be available to them. I think we need flexibility because, particularly on the continent, there are far more rented properties than owned properties. If owners are not incentivised to improve efficiency, there is no way of reaching these targets. The whole question of BER must be looked at in a practical light, and those who own the properties are key to that. Their voices must be listened to, I urge them to make their voices heard now because we’re going to have the final amendments in July, and will have targets finalised by the end of December. Time is of the essence – get your recommendations into us and other key MEPs as soon as possible, because the more your position is understood, the better.