Former FF minister launches attack on Government’s ‘inept’ approach on climate

Growing importation of peat products ‘makes laugh and mockery of just transition’

Speaking in the Dáil on the landmark Climate Bill, Barry Cowen hit out at the ‘slow snail’s pace and lack of progress to date’ which he said was a ‘far cry’ from where he expected it to be in relation to the midlands. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Speaking in the Dáil on the landmark Climate Bill, Barry Cowen hit out at the ‘slow snail’s pace and lack of progress to date’ which he said was a ‘far cry’ from where he expected it to be in relation to the midlands. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

A Fianna Fáil backbencher has launched a scathing attack on the Government’s “lack of progress” in making a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

Barry Cowen claimed there was “apparent inept governance” and said Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan confirmed to him that no jobs have been created through the Just Transition Fund and just €166,000 had been drawn down. The fund aims to support projects that contribute to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the midlands region.

Mr Cowen said the rules and terms associated with the funding did little to ensure the money “will materialise at all”.

The Laois-Offaly TD hit out at the “growing importation of peat products for horticulture and home heating fuel purposes”, and said “this is making a laugh and mockery of the just transition process altogether”.

He said “the lazy argument that it must simply reduce the national herd to play its role is exactly that, lazy and absurd”, because the agriculture industry retained its world-class status through its ability to adapt and change.

Speaking in the Dáil on the landmark Climate Bill, Mr Cowen hit out at the “slow snail’s pace and lack of progress to date” which he said was a “far cry” from where he expected it to be in relation to the midlands.

The Bill commits to a halving of carbon emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050 and aims for systemic change with a just transition to a low-carbon economy.

Mr Cowen read into the Dáil record a letter he had written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin criticising the Government’s lack of progress, particularly in relation to his Laois-Offaly constituency.

Mr Cowen, who served for just weeks as minister for agriculture, suggested that “not having a Cabinet Minister in Offaly, Longford, Laois, Kildare, Westmeath, Roscommon or even East Galway is very telling when it comes to just transition”.

‘No real powers’

He said Offaly is the county most impacted by Bord na Móna job losses and is not prioritised or benefiting as proportionately as it should. He said the Midlands regional transition team “is merely a sounding board with no real powers”.

Mr Cowen accused the Department of Climate of “depriving Bord na Móna and ESB staff of upskilling opportunities that match the jobs that the just transition fund may create” and said “they won’t share any of the details of these employment opportunities they have sought to enter into”.

He said there had been no communications from the department about the future use of the now defunct power station at Shannonbridge.

And he added that the ESB is seeking a refund from the energy regulator or the €5 million “it supposedly gifted to just transition when it announced the closure in the first place”.

Mr Cowen also hit out at the Rural Independents group who he said “failed to inform the House of specific measures they would introduce to meet climate commitments”.

He said many of them “shout and shriek the loudest” for extra funding to deal with flood relief schemes “caused by the very issues we seek to address”.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the carbon charge for air travel should be linked to a person’s air miles. “The more you fly the more you pay because the more you are contributing to aviation emissions.

“The less frequent fliers are those who can least afford to travel anyway, so why should they punished,” he said.

“If you can afford three holidays a year then you should be charged more. If you’re travelling for business it becomes just another business expense.”

He told the Government to “stop blaming the general population for the pollution of the richer and wealthier”.

Debate on the legislation continues.