Government under fire for climate action plan in Dail
TDs heard that the introduction of a nationwide ban had been delayed because of a threat of legal action by coal firms.
The government has come under fire from a number of political rivals for its climate action plans.
Tuesday’s Leaders Questions, following the Taoiseach’s appearance at the UN Climate Council in New York on Monday, saw Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe defend his party’s policies on tackling the climate emergency.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the government had a policy of “apartheid on clean air”, after noting that smoky coal was banned across 80% of the State almost 30 years ago by then minister Mary Harney, while areas in rural parts of the country are still waiting for a ban to be implemented.
“That was a decision not an announcement, substance as supposed to spin, a concrete action as opposed to a promise never to be delivered,” Mr Martin said.
“It is incomprehensible that this government has failed to introduce a nationwide ban on smoky coal despite numerous ministers promises to do so, where no action or decision followed.
“EPA reports say towns not covered by the ban are above World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines.
“This is air pollution that attacks every cell in the body, carrying carcinogens, up to 1,500 lives are lost annually, linked to this kind of air pollution.
“The real point is action speaks louder than words.”
Mr Donohoe said he rejected “entirely, the idea that the government is looking to bring in or has any form of apartheid on clean air”.
When the matter was last discussed in the Dail, TDs heard that the introduction of a nationwide ban had been delayed because of a threat of legal action by coal firms.
“I’ve since been informed Minister (for the Environment) Bruton does want to make that happen, there has been positive legal action on this, Minister Bruton is concluding work with the Attorney General on a legislative approach in dealing with this matter,” Mr Donohoe added.
The Sinn Fein leader also took aim at the government’s climate policy, questioning the Taosieach’s announcement in New York that Ireland would be introducing carbon taxes, to 80 euro per tonne.
Mary Lou McDonald noted that thousands of young people took to the streets last Friday to protest the climate emergency, with a message of “system change not climate change”.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think Taoiseach has heard that, they didn’t ask for the government to tinker round the edges or pass the buck or for a half measure,” she said.
She added that young families struggling to pay for childcare, young workers struggling to pay rent, and pensioners struggling to heat their homes would suffer due to carbon tax increases.
“We know from international evidence that carbon taxes don’t work, they don’t change people’s behaviour, and miss the crucial point,” she added.
“The government has done very little to transition to a low carbon lifestyle, there are no viable alternatives to transport and heating.
“You are taking the lazy approach and the easy thing to do is have a go at anyone on the left that understands that climate just has to be more than passing the buck, than punishing the poor, and it requires systemic change and you don’t have the belly for that it seems.”
Mr Donohoe noted the chair of Climate Change Advisory Council told his government that there was a “massive body of evidence from across the world that show carbon tax is essential” and there are “very few carbon tax deniers in the community”.
He went on to call Sinn Fein “hypocrites” as a party “who supports broadening the tax base but opposes local property tax, who supported investment in water infrastructure but oppose water charges, a party in which hypocrisy is embedded in how you handle issues.”