Environment (5 Days To Election)

Overshadowing everything, perhaps so large an issue that so easily becomes invisible, is the environment. In a saner world, it would probably be the only thing that people would be talking about, not fiscal space and Special Criminal Courts.

In Ireland, if you aren’t in the Green Party, environmental policies are just something you vaguely mention after you talk about the “big” things – jobs, tax, health, transport, housing, whatever – and then go about your business. Sure, the manifestos have their environmental sections, but it’s always buried deep down inside them. More renewable energy schemes…if you can get communities to agree to wind farms. More emissions targets…that are an expectation, not a promise. More of everything to make it all green again…but only if people really care. If there is one thing that I would change about the Irish voting population, it would be to increase their appreciation of the environment as a critical political issue that they have the ability to influence.

We need to do something about climate change. Yeah, even little old Ireland. No party, bar the Greens, seems to have the courage to treat this problem with the seriousness that it deserves.

So, as a change of pace in these issue posts, let’s just take a look at each manifesto one at a time, and see what the opening environmental pitch is. What’s the first policy or proposal in the environmental section is, and see who has the most daring, or the least, when it comes to the defining challenge of our generation.

Fine Gael’s section on the environment and climate change promises early on that “the transition to a low carbon society by 2050 is an achievable and realistic goal and one that will support a more sustainable economy.” I think that’s an ambitious, and more importantly distant, goal to trumpet as your first shot.

Labour has no dedicated environmental section, but a few scattered environmental policies (I’m noticing a lot of manifestos suddenly having lengthy sections on flood defences, funny that). Early on they say “We will establish a Green Infrastructure Fund worth €1 billion.” They are subsequently more worried about explaining how this will be paid for rather than what it will actually do. They know their audience.

Fianna Fail have no dedicated environmental section either, but do have some interesting nuggets in there. Not least a promise to “Establish a new Department of Climate Change. This new department will head up our climate change policy. It will bring together the current departments of Environment, Flood Defence, Energy, Transport, Natural Resources, & Heritage.” Now that would be a dynamic and new way of approaching the problem.

Sinn Fein’s opening environmental gambit is depressingly reserved: “Sinn Féin is committed to reaching the State’s renewable energy targets for 2020.” Not exactly setting the world on fire with that. Or maybe they will.

AAA-PBP’s Common Principals includes a small environmental section, whose opening policy is: “Invest in renewable energy resources. Take Ireland’s oil and gas resources into public ownership and ring-fence them to speed a just transition to a green economy. Immediately ban fracking.” It’s idealistic to a fault – isn’t everything with the hard-left? – but at least it is something.

Renua’s first policy in its climate change section is an annoyingly skewed one, a suggestion to “Move our renewable energy strategy away from wind farming that is based on bulldozing communities through pylon’s and windmills, without adequate consultation and consent”. Uh huh. Good to see what the priority is with them.

The Soc Dem’s have a few different relevant sections, but the first actual policy is to “Set a target to see Ireland as a leader among the 23 coastal EU Member States in developing and harnessing ocean energy, and recognise the great potential that exists there. We will increase funding for new and existing research and development tenders in ocean energy”. That’s something new, specific and good to read.

Of course, the Greens’ manifesto is overflowing with environmental policies. Under climate change, the first policy claims that “By 2050, Ireland’s power, heat and transport systems should no longer rely on fossil fuels and our agricultural system should achieve carbon neutrality.” Like Fine Gael’s, this is a distant and ambitious idea. I suppose as a headline for environmental policies it has an effect, but part of me wishes that party’s would just be a bit more realistic and short-term with their opening moves.

It isn’t all that great is it? With the exception of Fianna Fail and the Social Democrats, no o e is trying to really wow a reader from the off with their environmental policy, and some parties don’t even seem to have a coherent one in their manifestos.

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