Fine Gael will almost certainly comprise all or most of the incoming government, therefore what they have to say about policy matters a hell of a lot more than FF, Sinn Fein or the Greens, none of whom are likely to have any hand, act or part in government for quite some time. Labour may well yet have a significant say in the next administration (and if the alternate is a rag-bag of ‘independents’ propping up FG in exchange for parish pump favours, let’s hope so)
Fine Gael’s newly-published Manifesto has a section on ‘Environment & Climate Change’, which I reproduce below in full, to open a discussion. My own – very top line – comments are in brackets. Not included in this section is FG’s “policy” on peat bogs (burn, baby, burn, in short). It’s a shameful, gutless capitulation to what they clearly see as their rural “base”.
Environment and Climate Change
The environment is vital not only for sustainable living but for economic recovery too. With the right leadership we can enjoy a clean environment and a roaring economy. (‘Roaring’ economy? The phrase we generally hear is ‘sustainable economy, or the oxymoron, ‘sustainable growth’. This is not an encouraging start).
11.1 Climate Change
Climate Change Legislation: Fine Gael will legislate for a climate change law that sets the Kyoto and EU2020 targets in national legislation but only on the basis of all party agreement. (Suddenly FG is interested in ‘all party agreement’ – sounds like a cop-out. Is their fiscal or tax policy, for instance, also going to need all-party agreement? Didn’t think so).
Effects of Climate Change: In response to natural disasters such as flooding we will legislate to give the relevant line Minister temporary powers to take charge of the State’s actions under the guise of a National Emergency Response Action Committee. (Nothing, nada, not a sausage on mitigating the very climate change that they – presumably – accept to be driving these “natural” disasters. Again, not encouraging).
Investing in Clean, Green Infrastructure: Fine Gael’s NewERA plan will help transform Ireland into a low carbon and competitive economy by investing an extra €7 billion into new modern infrastructure in areas such as energy and broadband. (Not enough detail to warrant comment).
Electric Vehicles (EVs): We will incentivise consumers to switch to EVs by providing an ambitious roll out of electric transport charging points. We will invite companies from the private and public sector to roll out these charging points. We will commission a study into the feasibility of replacing government-owned vehicles with EVs. (So not all of Simon Coveney’s pet project has been thrown overboard? And another ‘feasibility study’ – why?)
Carbon Tax: The €15 per tonne increase in the carbon tax to €30 per tonne proposed by Government for 2014 is excessive, and will be particularly hard felt by the elderly and in rural Ireland. With an increase of this scale, Ireland would likely have the highest carbon taxes in the world, making some energy-intensive industries uncompetitive here. We will reduce the increase proposed in the Government’s 4-year plan by €5 per tonne (to €25 per tonne). An increase to solid fuels will be phased in only when progress is made to control imports of dirtier, more carbon–intensive solid fuels from the UK. Fine Gael will provide an exemption from the additional carbon tax increases for agricultural diesel. (Sounds like more FG caving in to the IFA/IBEC after the recent Climate Bill fiasco. Exemption for agri-diesel, anyone?)
Cutting Home Energy Use: We will double funding for home energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes until the end of 2013, after which time these schemes will be ended. Pre-announcing the closure of taxpayer-funded schemes will encourage homeowners to invest now and stimulate extra activity in this area and create an additional 5,000 jobs. After 2013, Fine Gael will roll out a ‘pay as you save’ scheme to continue home energy efficiency retrofitting work without recourse to public funding. The Warmer Home Scheme will be protected. (Too early to say, but this sounds like FG walking away from probably the single most successful energy initiative of the outgoing govt).
Energy Efficient Public Buildings: We will tender for a ‘pay as you save’ contract to insulate all public buildings in the state. The contractor will be expected to come up with the capital. This will be labour intensive, will save energy and reduce cost in the long run. (Using private funding to insulate public buildings? Bizarre. If energy-saving saves cash, then it makes sense to do it anyhow. Every time we use ‘private’ money for ‘public’ goods we seem to end up with hostage situations like the East/West Link bridges).
Bio-Energy in Buildings: We will reduce carbon emissions from energy hungry buildings by making combined heat and power generators the norm for large buildings. A new State company, Bioenergy & Forestry Ireland, will grow and market the biomass to feed a nationwide roll out of combined heat and power generator technology. (Sounds interesting, let’s see the specifics).
Afforestation: Fine Gael will develop a new ambitious afforestation programme of 15,000 ha per annum as part of our NewERA strategy to feed the bio-energy production industry. This is required to power the developing combined heat and power industry but also has the added advantage of acting as a ‘carbon sink’ to trap emissions. (At last! The very first mention of ’emissions’ in a section ostensibly dealing with Climate Change).
Carbon Sinks: Fine Gael will push for organisations involved in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to be allowed to fund new forest carbon sinks in Ireland in lieu of purchasing foreign carbon credits.
High Speed Broadband: We will reduce emissions from transport by developing dependable high speed broadband to allow more teleconferencing and shared digital information. (Everyone agrees. But how? The main reason broadband is in a shambles is the FF/PD decision to flog off Eircom and thus lose State control on our telecoms infrastructure. Has FG learned this lesson, or will ideology trump experience?)
Waste Competition and Regulation: We will offer better waste services and choices to residents by fostering greater competition in the waste market. Local Authorities will become a waste operator ‘as a last resort’. The sector will be subject to independent regulation by the new Competition, Consumer and Utilities Commission. (On my street, ‘competition’ means three sets of huge bin lorries competing for the same rubbish; this is as daft as a brush and needs sorting out, pronto)
National Waste Policy: Fine Gael will develop a single National Waste Strategy incorporating regional waste plans. We must attract investment in waste infrastructure in a way that maximises potential economies of scale, competition and enables the market to pass on the benefits to businesses and households. Ireland will only meet stringent EU targets on environmentally sustainable waste disposal via a coordinated and planned approach by Government. (Great, but what does that mean?).
Recycling: We will continue to develop recycling services such as brown, green and grey wheelie bins in order to facilitate waste segregation and recycling. In addition, we will extend the network of bring banks and bring centres designed to empower householders to separate and recycle waste.
Zero Tolerance Litter: Fine Gael will take a tough approach with those who litter our communities. We will increase fines and adopt zero tolerance for people found fly tipping in order to protect our natural environment.
Waste Tax: We will introduce an environmental tax on packaging, as recommended by Comhar. (Excellent, but let’s see what’s left of this after the commercial vested interests are through with it. Remember Wrigleys and the ill-fated chewing gum tax?).
Delivering Water: Fine Gael will deliver clean and reliable drinking water in all parts of the country by creating a single water utility company to take over responsibility of water from the fragmented local authorities that will use new investment and best practice to deliver better water services.
Water Charging: Fine Gael will introduce a fair funding model to deliver clean and reliable water. We will not ask home owners to pay for a broken and unreliable system and that is why Fine Gael will only introduce water charging after the establishment of a new State owned water utility company to take over responsibility from the separate local authorities for Ireland’s water infrastructure and to drive new investment. (Well, at least unlike Labour’s unfathomably dumb blanket opposition to water charges, FG haven’t ducked this one – yet).
Septic Tanks: Fine Gael will tackle leaking septic tanks that pollute our groundwater. We will introduce new regulations and standards to address the serious problems associated with septic tanks. As part of our Home Improvement Scheme we will provide short term finance for septic tank remediation assistance for home owners. (But will FG tackle the problem at source, ie. the blight of willy nilly one-off rural housing? That would involve standing up to the IFA…and 60% of farmers are voting FG!).
Noise pollution: Fine Gael will introduce new laws to deal with the nuisance of intrusive noise. (Will these extend to cover raucous victory celebrations on the back of an open trailer in Castlebar?)
Air Quality: Fine Gael will further improve air quality by encouraging greater use of electric vehicles and also facilitating a model shift away from private cars to public transport through the development of convenient park and ride facilities and additional rail services. (Model shift? Wonder did they mean ‘modal shift’? Either way, rail needs investment, so good it’s getting a look-in here).