Mixed day for Greens who secure ‘wins’ but some modest numbers

Retrofit allocation looks small, but party will point to public transport and artists’ scheme

A significant cut to public transport fares for young people is one of the budget measures likely to be seen as a ‘win’ for the Green Party. Photograph: iStock

A significant cut to public transport fares for young people is one of the budget measures likely to be seen as a ‘win’ for the Green Party. Photograph: iStock

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Ireland’s task of cutting its emissions by half by 2030 is not a rabbit that can be pulled out of a hat. For the Green Party to have any hope of achieving the goal in that time it needs to get action on budget day.

This year the party has done comparatively well in the first year of Government in securing commitments, most recently in the National Development Plan. Does this budget add to that good run? Or bring it to an end?

The answer is neither. The party has done well in getting “wins” in certain areas, but some of the planned spending in key areas look very modest indeed.

Some commitments were already baked in – the €7.50 increase in carbon tax, the €360 million per annum for walking and cycling projects, including new cycling bridges at the Salmon Weir in Galway and across the Shannon in Athlone.

The revenue for carbon taxes will also be ring-fenced for climate change and “just transition” measures, with the Government insisting that 40 per cent of people will be better off, not worse.

A key commitment in the programme for government is to retrofit by 2030 half a million homes to improve energy efficiency. That is costly and time consuming, but if it does not happen Ireland will not meet its targets.

On the face of it you would have expected more new funding for retrofitting than the €202 million announced by Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath.

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Sure, that will support some 22,000 energy upgrades, with more than €100 million allotted to provide free renovations for low-income households. Given the scale of the task, it is paltry.

Investment

Party leader Eamon Ryan said it will accelerate quickly from next year, pointing to McGrath’s reference to €12.9 billion of direct capital investment in Ryan’s department between now and 2030.

Some €60 million will be invested in a fund to guarantee the first quarter of retrofit loans, while measures will be taken to make the getting of low-interest loans for work on homes a simple task.

Meanwhile, there are measurable gains on the transport side. The half-price public transport fares for those aged 19-23 is an innovation and will help to change habits.

It will not be available, though, until the middle of 2022 because the Leap card system will need to be updated to ensure that ages can be checked and, perhaps, to allow the card to be uploaded to mobile phones.

There are also some major commitments in transport. Next year 165 new electric buses , a further 24 hybrid buses, as well as 81 new regional buses will be added to the fleet. Iarnród Éireann will also acquire 41 more carriages.

An extra €100 million is put aside for electric vehicle battery grants and the electric vehicle charging network, with the first, timid perhaps, steps to encourage people to generate their own energy and sell it to the national grid.

Artists

There are also other gains for the Party. Two decades ago the then party leader Trevor Sargent talked about a universal basic income. This year the Government started it for artists. This was pushed by Minister for Arts and Culture Catherine Martin.

“Two years ago a universal basic income scheme for artists was the wildest dream. Now it’s just come true,” said Ryan.

Heritage, which is among Malcolm Noonan’s responsibilities, will get €133.5 million, up by a third.

The party also said that Noonan and Pippa Hackett will be able to announce significant progress regarding biodiversity on Wednesday.

The gains made on childcare and direct provision by Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman are also“significant”, said Ryan. “We have to deliver everything. We are not complacent.”

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