A beautiful island of emerald light in western Europe. A place where Europeantradition and unique natural scenery create a charm. Ireland is considered one of the best countries to live in the world. What is the driving force? What environmental issues are there in Ireland? Future Eco has interviewed the Irish Ambassador to the Republic of Korea about this.
Ireland is considered one of the world's best places for life. What is the driving force?
Ireland has changed enormously in the past twenty years while preserving many of its character traits. Ireland is a very social county. It is not unusual to strike up a light conversation with a stranger waiting at a bus stop or in a pub. Even in modern supermarkets, a simple request for information or a purchase can often lead to a few friendly words being exchanged. It is, at heart, a friendly country and one that enjoys a lot of socially binding forces. Even traditional pub life is rarely about solitary drinking but, much more often, about conversation. The best pubs play music. I have met a number of expatriates living in Ireland who have joined sports and cultural clubs and become a part of the community. Arecent OECD Better Life Index survey reported that 96% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need. In tough times, people are not expected to suffer alone or in silence. A nother bedrock of social contact is provided by our national sports – Gaelic football and hurling – which are still organized in a local community club and national county basis, reinforcing a sense of local identity and belonging.
But Ireland is also a modern country with a very different population mix compared to twenty years ago. I n 2004, when ten countries joined the European Union, Ireland was one of the three of the existing fifteen members to allow immediate free movement of labour to the citizens of the new members. As a consequence, Ireland very rapidly attracted a new population of Poles, Lithuanians, Slovaks and many others. They have made a huge contribution to Irish life and are now a permanent part of it. They stuck with the country when we suffered a traumatic economic crash and helped rebuild the economy.
Throughout the schools and towns of Ireland, there are “new Irish”, not just from Europe but from Asia and Africa. Almost 20% of the population was born overseas. They have made the country a better place.
As a country, we have also seen tremendous social change, perhaps most notably in 2015 when we became the first country in the world to legalize the equality of marriage, or facilitate gay marriage, following a referendum in which the vast majority of the country voted for equality.
And finally, there is the Irish landscape. Our climate is never too hot or too cold and you are never too far from the sea, or indeed, from mountains.
In Ireland, where the modern urban charm and European tradition blend in with Mother Nature, the environment does not seem to be a social issue. If there are environmental issues in Ireland, what are they?
Like many countries, Ireland facing environmental challenges including targets set within the European Union on emissions reductions.
The EU Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC set Ireland a legally binding target of meeting 16% of our energy demand from renewable sources by 2020. Ireland is committed to achieving this target through meeting 40% of electricity demand, 12% of heat and 10% of transport from renewable sources of energy, with the latter transport target also being legally binding.
The Government has committed itself to reducing our import dependency while maintaining energy security, affordability and reducing energyrelated emissions. One key challenge is the exposure of the Irish economy to international energy fossil fuel price volatility as we imports 40% of our natural gas requirement and 100% of oil. Maintaining investment in the deployment of indigenous renewable energy sources will help to address this challenge and ultimately help to reduce costs on businesses and households.
With fossil fuels accounting for the bulk of electricity generation in Ireland, the Government recognizes that our transition to a low carbon energy future will involve progressively moving to lower emissions fuels, e.g. moving initially from peat and coal to natural gas, and ultimately towards an even greater reliance on renewable energy.
You have been appointed Ambassador of Ireland to Korea a few months ago, what is your impression ofKorea?
My impressions of Korea have been very favourable. As a parent, I have been very impressed by the atmosphere of safety that prevails in Seoul. As a consumer, I have been struck by the commercial dynamism and energy of the country. And as a diplomat, I have found the receptiveness and genuine warmth of Korean people to be remarkable. I think that that experience has been echoed by many in the Irish community, including Irish people I have met who came here for the 2002 World Cup and never left! The young part of our community comprises Irish teachers of English who make up most of our community. They work hard, knowing how important education is to Korean society and Korean parents. In their spare time, many are involved in the Seoul Gaels Gaelic Football team who regularly train Korean schoolchildren in the game. Among the more experienced end of our community are the men and women of the Columban religious order, many of who have been living in Korea since the 1950s and 1960s. One of the Columban priests revolutionised livestock breeding in Jeju Island. Another was the first foreign national to be awarded a PhD in Korean literature by a national university. I had read about the Korean economic miracle before my posting but, only after coming here, have I really had a chance to grasp the scale of the country’s achievements and the country’s extraordinary capacity for organisation. I had the privilege of attending the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics at PyeongChang recently. As a spectacle, it was remarkable. But when the Korean team entered under the unity flag, it was an extraordinary moment.
I know that Ireland has made remarkable growth in the industry in recent years. Please tell us about the policy, including the environmental sector.
Ireland has a highly globalised, open economy. Indeed, on our foreign policy strategy, we refer to ourselves as the “Global Island”. We have a strong foreign direct investment sector – with many of the world’s leading corporations have European headquarters in Ireland. Indeed, exports by both multinational corporations and indigenous Irish companies are a critical part of our economic performance. Ireland is a stable, pro-business country that is embedded in the European Union’s single market for the goods, labour, capital and the free movement of people. We are also one of the nineteen member states of the EU who have adopted the Eurozone common currency. The job creation strategy that assisted in our economic recovery is also based on a number of long-term national investments, including in education. We also have the youngest population in Europe with one third under 25 years of age and almost half the population under the age of 34.
On environmental policy, the Government has long-term strategic vision transform Ireland into a low carbon society and economy by 2050 and reduce the country’s fossil fuel dependency. This ambitious vision for Ireland’s energy system envisages a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from that sector by 80-95% relative to 1990 levels by 2050. The Government has identified the long-term strategic importance of diversifying Ireland's energy generation portfolio and largely decarbonising the energy sector by 2050.
The island of Ireland is likely to benefit from development of renewable energy such as offshore wind power. I would like to know about the status and prospects of renewable energy in Ireland.
Ireland has abundant, diverse and indigenous renewable energy resources, which will be critical to decarbonising our energy system and enhancing our security of supply. In 2016, over 27% of our electricity was generated from renewable energy sources. Onshore wind has, to date, been the most cost-competitive renewable electricity technology deployed in Ireland. In addition to onshore wind, technologies such as bioenergy, solar and offshore energy technologies can play a role in Ireland’s renewable energy mix.
Ireland has a sea area of 900,000 square kilometres, 10 times its landmass, and some of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world. Our Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) sets out Government policy in relation to the sustainable development of Ireland’s abundant offshore renewable energy resource. The sharp decline in the costs of offshore wind generation has resulted in significant interest in these renewable technologies across Europe and in Ireland.
At international level, support schemes are widely used to encourage the growth of renewable electricity technologies, recognising the necessity to finance the cost differential between fossil and renewable energy resources. This is why Ireland has introduced Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) schemes across a range of different renewable electricity technologies, including onshore wind, hydro generation and bioenergy. The cost of the support schemes is recovered directly from electricity consumers via the annually set Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy, payable by all electricity consumers in Ireland.
As in Korea, nurturing high-level human resources in Ireland is likely to be an important national goal. As the 4th industry becomes a hot topic globally, it is a challenge and an opportunity. In this regard, what is the Irish educational policy or direction?
Education has always been an area of major investment in Ireland. In Ireland, 80% of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education, above the OECD average of 74%. In terms of the quality of its education system, the average student scored 509 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), above the OECD average of 486. Ireland’s 15-year-olds are among the best in OECD countries in reading and are above average in mathematics and science. Our primary school students are the best in Europe for reading and maths.
Ireland’s Education Minister, Richard Bruton, who took part in the ASEM Education Ministers and had an excellent exchange of views with Deputy Prime Minister Kim, has recently introduced a new Action Plan for Education which has the overall aim of making Ireland’s Education and Training Service the best in Europe by 2026. Within that wider ambition, there are a number of individual priorities including innovation, increased foreign language learning, more focus on coding abilities within mathematics, increasing the number of school leavers graduating in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, tackling disadvantage, increasing resources for students with special educational needs and increasing the recruitment of psychologists to promote well-being.
Finally, could you introduce the special part of Ireland that Koreans do not know well?
As a native Dubliner, I would want to steer any visitor towards my own town and encourage them to trace its medieval past, or admire its Georgian architecture or perhaps follow the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses – or indeed spend a pleasant afternoon in the city’s most visited tourist destination –the Guinness Storehouse museum.
However, Ireland is a relatively small country and a lot can be seen in a week. I would heartily encourage anyone to travel along what has become known as the Wild Atlantic Way – trail along the Atlantic seacoast where by hiking, biking, riding or driving, you can witness spectacular coastal scenery, including the soaring Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, which is historically, our most visited national attraction.
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