Miriam Lord: From emission agnostics to climate apostles
Fossil-friendly Danny Healy-Rae says FF and FG trying to be greener than the Greens
‘They looked so pleased with themselves as they alighted at their final and only destination. . . For they had left their government cars at home.’ Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Bloody typical. You spend ages waiting for a Government Minister and then an entire Cabinet arrives in a double-decker bus.
A hybrid bus, for a hybrid government. Or coalition government, as it used to be called before the main parties underwent a deep retrofit to transition their fossils from emission agnostic to climate apostles.
As Danny Healy-Rae (fossil friendly) put it on Tuesday, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael “are tripping over each other to see who can be greener than the Greens”.
If Leo Varadkar and his frontbenchers are being conveyed around in non-toxic omnibuses, Micheál Martin will have to go one step further – especially now that Fianna Fáil is building up a healthy lead in the opinion polls.
Our money is on Micheál and his team travelling to their next major event by hot air balloon, propane burners replaced with hot air generated by his parliamentary party. (Limitless reserves there.)
At the start of the Dáil week, nobody thought to thank the Taoiseach for giving the country such a spirit-lifting belly laugh on Monday by arranging for his Cabinet to travel by Dublin Bus to the launch of the Climate Action Plan. There were no stops along the way to pick up real live passengers, obviously. Photographs were taken en route of the happy politicians enjoying their journey.
Not one of them was noisily eating a bag of cheese and onion crisps or bellowing into their phone or listening to loud music on leaky ear-buds. They didn’t need to press a bell, or present a Leap card or rummage around for the correct change.
But they looked so pleased with themselves as they alighted at their final and only destination – the Grangegorman campus, once the site of a lunatic asylum. For they had left their government cars at home. Their special new hybrid bus, smelling of clean, was the most eco-friendly bus ever.
What the cameras didn’t show, as the Ministers skipped from the vehicle like ordinary people, were the sweating Garda drivers who had to push it wheezing and cursing around the back.
It took a while before the mortifying episode was mentioned, and then only briefly. Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, struggling to keep a straight face, noted the Government launched its action plan “with great aplomb” by arriving on a hybrid bus which she understood to be “one of very few actually in the whole fleet”.
“Is there three of them?” she wondered aloud, looking across the aisle to Brendan Howlin.
“Yes, three, three,” nodded Brendan.
“Yes. Three,” Micheál Martin brightly confirmed.
“Yes. One of three,” repeated Mary Lou.
That would be three, so.
The Taoiseach later explained that they were the first of many, with 600 now on order. To go with the 200 diesel buses ordered not so long ago before the Green imperative took root.
The Sinn Féin leader hopes the Government will set aside time to discuss the plan because of the importance of the issue and the need to achieve “climate justice”.
There was a busload of Ministers in the chamber for Leaders’ Questions which slightly distracted from the pitiful turn-out of Government TDs in the benches behind. The most they could muster, for a very short while, was four.
By contrast, the Fianna Fáil benches were packed. Tails up across the floor. It’s marvellous what a few good poll results will do for morale.
John Brassil flew the eco-flag for Fianna Fáil by drawing the Taoiseach’s attention to the fact that “engines known as Euro 4 and Euro 5 can still be imported into this country”. The Kerry TD said an immediate ban on bringing in these engines should be considered “as they are contrary to all good practice with regard to climate change”.
This gave Danny Healy-Rae his cue to jump in, as TDs are allowed a follow-up question if it is on the same subject as the original one. Which Healy-Rae’s certainly was not.
“But he doesn’t believe in climate change,” protested the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.
Danny surprised nobody by thundering about the new climate policy having a disastrous effect on the people of rural Ireland and that “hullabaloo” of its launch had frightened them.
Hadn’t the independent fossil for Kerry read in the paper that the Government was trying to “force” motorists out of their cars.
“Well, I want to tell ’ooo Taoiseach, that people in rural Ireland cannot manage without a car.”
Junior minister Seán Kyne piped up. “Electric cars?”
But Danny was having no truck (unless it’s diesel) with the new climate action plan. “A lot of your ideas are ridiculous and targets are ridiculous,” he informed the Taoiseach, producing an impressive list of figures about Ireland, China and India to bolster his case. If Ireland were “totally emissions free, it would only equal .13 of 1 per cent in the worldwide context”.
And yet, he argued, “we are all living under the same sky. And d’you see, why are you imposing and suggesting these targets for working families and farmers in rural Ireland?”
The Taoiseach knotted his brow, the better to listen and understand.
“Do you know that they are frightening the daylights out of the people and you’ve already blackguarded them badly enough,” roared Danny. “You see, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael . . . they are tripping over each other to see who will be greener than the Greens.”
Leo reassured him it was not the Government’s policy to force people out of their cars, rather, to move them away from relying on petrol and diesel. This will be done over the next decade and people in rural areas can use hybrids and increasingly will be able to use electric vehicles as well.
He probably thinks he has the measure of Danny now.
After their short meeting recently in Shannon, the Taoiseach certainly thinks he has figured out how to handle Donald Trump.
“I have met president Trump now three times so I think I do have the measure of him, perhaps a little bit more than those who have not.”