Pat Leahy: ‘Cheese war’ will melt away but more skirmishes likely

Sniping is a signpost to cultural and policy conflicts to come within diverse Coalition

The sniping between the Green Party and its partners in Government is  to be expected. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The sniping between the Green Party and its partners in Government is to be expected. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

The sniping between the Green Party and its partners in Government is pretty low-level skirmishing that is to be expected in such a diverse Coalition.

But it is a signpost to the cultural and policy conflicts to come – as the targets and policies on climate action to which the Government is committed are made flesh by measures which are hugely unpopular with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs. That is when the Government will face difficulties.

The “cheese war” will likely turn out to be politically harmless. No political or ministerial decision is required. An Taisce will appeal the High Court decision about the new factory, or it will not; if it does, the courts will decide. Politicians will continue to express views, but no more. Backbenchers will be outraged. An Taisce will not be defunded.

But this Government is committed to a reduction in carbon emissions of 7 per cent per year, in line with a legally binding plan to reduce Ireland’s emissions by 50 per cent by 2030.

Demanding undertaking

When you take into account that national emissions fell by 6 per cent last year – during a lengthy economic shutdown – it becomes clear that is an extraordinarily demanding undertaking.

It has not yet been translated into concrete actions but will require big changes in agriculture, transport and home heating, and in other areas too. Inevitably, some of those will be unpopular with the public and politically contentious.

Take one example: the climate plan requires the replacement of half the vehicles on the road with electric vehicles by 2030.

That’s a million electric vehicles. No doubt incentives will be offered to people to switch. But a change of that magnitude won’t come about without some element of stick as well as carrot.

That will mean higher tax on non-electric cars, and higher tax on fuel for them. The experience of both the United Kingdom and France in increasing tax on fuel (which is already heavily taxed in Ireland) has been politically sobering, leading to widespread protests, especially among rural dwellers.

Clock ticking

Government research also makes clear that there will have to be a shift away from SUVs, equally beloved of rural and urban drivers, albeit for different reasons. And the vehicles we drive may be among the easier changes.

While many of the climate action measures that will be required to achieve the carbon reduction targets have not been decided on yet, there is a finite menu from which to choose, and a clock ticking.

Those decisions will put the Coalition to the test.