Navigating Ireland’s Sustainable Future

by | May 2, 2024

An Interview with Paul McNama, Local Community Mentor for SEAI Sustainable Energy Communities

A few weeks ago, we went to Atlantic Technological University Sligo, and sat down with Paul McNama, a seasoned Local Community Mentor for SEAI Sustainable Energy Communities, to delve into the evolving landscape of sustainability in Ireland. With years of experience guiding local communities towards sustainable energy projects, he provided valuable insights into the current state and future prospects of sustainability initiatives across the country. 

McNama observed a notable shift in public consciousness over the past decade, with individuals increasingly attuned to issues of energy efficiency, biodiversity, and environmental sustainability. The focus has now transitioned from raising awareness to concrete action plans aimed at saving energy and enhancing people’s comfort. To the question “What would a morning routine in a sustainable house look like?”, he answered “In an ideal world, the whole house would be warm and retrofitted, powered by some nice green technology, and breakfast with locally sourced grains, fruits, and vegetables.” 

While acknowledging the growing interest from some large companies in eco-friendly materials for retrofitting, McNama highlighted the persistent challenge of higher costs compared to conventional alternatives. Despite this hurdle, he noted the potential of eco-materials to serve as both sustainable solutions and reduced emissions. The recent surge in prices, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has prompted individuals to consider investments in home improvements, including the adoption of heat pumps over traditional oil boilers. 

Economic pressures, particularly rising prices and inflation, have prompted discussions about the feasibility of sustainable living, especially in rural areas heavily reliant on private transportation. McNama pointed out the growing trend of urban dwellers seeking refuge in rural communities after COVID-19, driving up housing prices up to 30% in some areas and reshaping local economies. Concerning public transport in rural areas, the dispersed nature of rural settlements will still force people to travel to the local town or a pickup point to be able to use it, making it hard to convince people to use public transport. 

When we went to interview Paul McNama, one of our biggest questions was “How precise are the guidelines of the plans for Ireland’s sustainable transition”? According to McNama, the Climate Action Plans’ guidelines were ambitious. It seems to be a reactive response rather than a proactive response.” This is in line with what we felt: at various events we attended, our impression was ‘These are the major themes with which your projects should be linked. Present us with your projects and we’ll select the best for the grants.” McNama also expressed concerns about the potential impact of changing administrations every 4-8 years on long-term sustainability goals. 

In contemplating Ireland’s sustainable future, McNama remained cautiously optimistic, foreseeing continued progress and improvement: “The best thing you can do for sustainability is get involved in making a change this could be a sustainable project in your community or your home. I don’t want to answer definitively where Ireland’s future is going sustainable-wise, because I don’t know. I think it’s getting better, and I think we will continue to get better”. He highlighted the country’s favourable climate: “Climate-wise, Ireland is still going to be in a good location, we might see more people deciding to live here. People will have to move out of warmer climates because it’s just too hot”. As uncertainties persist, McNama urged individuals to embark on sustainability projects with clear objectives and a steadfast commitment to making a difference. 

As Ireland navigates its path towards sustainability, the insights shared by Paul McNama shed light on both the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead. From raising awareness to implementing concrete action plans, the journey towards a more sustainable future requires collective effort, innovative solutions, and steadfast commitment at all levels of society.