Money raised from increases in carbon tax should be reinvested in grants for retrofitting homes, incentives for electric cars and other measures, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said.
Mr Martin set his face against a plan mooted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that would see homes either compensated through a "carbon cheque" in the post or by increased welfare payments, such as child benefit.
In an interview with The Irish Times ahead of the Fianna Fáil ardfheis in Dublin this weekend, Mr Martin also repeated his position that he will facilitate the passage of a fourth budget under the confidence and supply agreement. He believes an election will be held early next year.
His aim, he said, was to form a government with smaller parties and again rejected the possibility of an alliance with Sinn Féin. On a potential grand coalition with Fine Gael, he said it would not be "preferable".
“In terms of Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil, that’s not preferable or an ideal scenario at all after a general election. Come back to me when the election is on and we’ll make it very clear. But I have made it very clear – we want to be in with smaller parties.”
The issue of a carbon tax is likely to be one of the key policy debates of the coming year and the election, and Mr Martin described Mr Varadkar’s stance as being another example “of the ‘I want to be nice to everybody’” approach.
“Money should be invested in making our society more sustainable,” Mr Martin said. “That means more investment in retrofitting, more investment in incentives for electric vehicles. Generally speaking, I don’t think you are going to get away with saying we will raise carbon on the one hand and give the money back in a cheque in the other.
“That is just being politically popular and pretending to people there is no pain here. People can get it back in a more sustainable way. Retrofitting houses, insulating houses, greenways, an accelerated programme of making our society healthier, in terms of taking diesel out of cars. We need more afforestation, we need greater investment in biodiversity.”
He said carbon tax must be ring fenced for specific measures. “I’d do it by legislation so people would see how it is going to improve the environment long term. That is where we are thinking. There haven’t been any final decisions on this.”
The Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action is considering whether carbon taxes should be increased over the next decade in an effort to reduce emissions.
Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Green Party and some independents broadly agree on setting a trajectory for increasing the tax on carbon from €20 per tonne to €80 per tonne by 2030.
People Before Profit is emphatically against any increase. Sinn Féin has indicated it does not favour higher taxes while supports for the decarbonisation of transport and more significant grants for retrofitting houses were not in place.
Mr Martin also claimed some Ministers “lack spine” and that the Government in general was “politically weak”.
“Some of them lack spine. Quite a range of Ministers. I am not going to get personal but political spine is absent from the Government. The first sign of any trouble and they’ll do a U-turn,” he said.
“Ministers need to realise that there comes a time when you have to be unpopular, when you have to take a stance, when you have to not capitulate in the face of a maelstrom or a storm that does erupt from time to time.”
Although declining to single out individuals, he criticised the handling of the CervicalCheck controversy by Mr Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris. He said Mr Harris had "dumped on officials" in a way that "shocked" him.
The Cork South Central TD claimed Mr Harris was too quick to single people out in moments of crisis. He said Tom Costello, the former chairman of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, was "gone very quickly" after meeting Mr Harris about the massive overspend on the project.
“They have a discussion and Tom Costello resigned the next day from the national children’s hospital board. Whereas from a political accountability point of view, the Minister didn’t.”