Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has clarified remarks he made about climate change which were described in the Dáil as close to climate denial.
Mr Varadkar said last week that there were pluses and minuses to climate change and because of warmer winters it could lead to fewer deaths and lower heating bills.
Speaking at the launch of the Department of Health’s climate change Sectoral Adaptation Plan 2019-2024 on Thursday the Taoiseach said “we’re already experiencing warmer winters, and that actually means using less energy because it’s warmer and people need less heating, and it also means fewer deaths as a result of cold weather”.
His comments, first reported in The Sunday Business Post, led to a stream of criticism from political parties, climate activists and NGOs.
In the Dáil on Tuesday he said that what he said was an observation, not a policy statement but “I can see how it was open to misinterpretation by those who may be pursuing a climate sceptic agenda”.
Mr Varadkar said “any benefits that may arise from it are far outweighed, many times over, by the damage it is doing and will do”, which he had also said at the launch last week.
And he pointed out that the report launched last week also stated a number of health benefits could occur because of climate change, including a lower risk of cold-related health illness and death, potentially improved mental health and wellbeing, and increased physical activity.
Mr Varadkar pointed out that the report was a scientific and evidence based document. He added that the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, launched by then minister Alan Kelly, specifically requires the Government to avail of any “positive effects of climate change”.
In the Dáil on Tuesday Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed US president Donald Trump would have been proud of the comments.
“Perhaps you didn’t intend it as such but it’s almost in denial category,” he said.
Labour’s Joan Burton said “you would expect stuff like that in tweets from Donald Trump but not from the Taoiseach”.
She called on the Taoiseach to withdraw his remarks “and to younger people in particular, who are deeply interested in climate change, he should say it was a joke that just went wrong”.
Ms Burton said people were very taken aback by the “flippant” remarks and she doubted that many in Ireland would agree “given the kinds of storms we have been having recently”.
Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the Taoiseach had a tendency to be a bit flippant in his public commentary. She told him his climate change comments “do a grave disservice to your office, the Government” and to the responsibility that he, as head of Government has to this State and the broader global community.
An attempt to trivialise what is effectively a climate emergency “sends a very poor message not just to campaigners but to those who are dealing with the effects of climate change on a daily basis including asthma sufferers and those who are confined to their houses due to severe storms and so on”.
But the Taoiseach wanted to state “in case anyone has any doubt about it, that climate change is real, is happening right now, is man-made, unprecedented and detrimental to human life and well-being both in Ireland and globally”.