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The question is not whether we decarbonise - it’s whether we do it quickly or get left behind

We need to stop talking about climate obligations and look at the opportunities

What mattered most was how the Green Party successfully suborned the administrative state to the green agenda

Brexit, Covid and the Green Party are the forces that shaped this Government. Two were reactive responses to outside events, but were well done. In a Government formed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael after their electoral drubbing in 2020, with the Greens as a third wheel, their approach to policy was marked by ideological apathy. The Greens in contrast had a plan and the determination to make a difference. What strength of feeling existed in the larger parties was hunger for office, and determination to make the compromises required to get it.

The achievement of the Green Party is that they permanently changed the direction of policy, with fundamental consequences. Eamon Ryan, their departing leader, had neither the longevity nor the breath of influence of Seán Lemass but in one respect has exceeded him. He delivered a policy transformation that will reshape not only the economy but the culture for decades afterwards. Decarbonisation is in scale and consequence an irreversible industrial revolution. Whether it is in time to counter global warming, is another matter.

Much of what passes for politics is the perpetual motion of highly competitive attention-seeking people. The goal is usually to attain office, which is frequently confused with power. Few who hold office wield power. A simple reason is that they don’t have an agenda commensurate with the exercise of lasting influence, or the skills to pursue it, or both. Instead, performative politics and the claiming of credit for what is largely business as usual is politics as usual.

What mattered most was how the Green Party successfully suborned the administrative state to the green agenda. The Civil Service greeted the Green Party not with any antipathy, but the reasonable assumption that they could wait them out. The embedding of green policy in legislation, here and in Europe, and the grounding of legislative objectives in detailed, funded plans and the actual work plans of swathes of the public service is what counts.


The Green Party may come or go, but the green agenda is now rooted. Ryan’s department of Climate Action and Environment is transformed, and now a driver of change. Transport, his other department is clearly more challenging, but substantial progress is under way. Institutionally the departments of the Taoiseach and Finance are significantly reoriented to the delivery of major policy change. Then there is the tangible truth, that one retrofit at a time, and with each new electric bus, life improves.

Renewable energy is essential to be competitive for foreign direct investment as well as to decarbonise. We will use fossil fuels for decades to come, but increasingly they will be similarly as attractive as the donkey and cart in the age of the combustion engine. Our political debate is now way behind the curve on where the economic edge is globally.

There is now an 80 per cent chance that the average global temperature within five years will ‘temporarily’ exceed 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial levels

Bike lanes were the chosen point of difference for Fine Gael MEP Regina Doherty who compared them to the Berlin Wall and previously as a member of Government encouraged civil disobedience against the North-South interconnector. Independent Ireland MEP Ciaran Mullooly lambasted a lack of democracy around the endlessly debated, and conspicuously modest Nature Restoration Law. The IFA has declared war on the Green Party. There are always reasons to fiddle while the planet burns and political dividends for doing so.

There is now an 80 per cent chance that the average global temperature within five years will “temporarily” exceed 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial level. That is a horror show. Ireland will deliver a decrease of 29 per cent in projected emissions by 2030. It is a considerable achievement in a short time, but far short of the 50 per cent reduction committed to. The variable factors are political commitment and administrative capacity.

Too little of the green agenda is talked about in terms of opportunity, instead of obligation. Politically, climate denial has mutated into the sowing of confusion and delay. Merchants of doubt are shape-shifting whereby the principles of climate change are usually unquestioned, but every point of action is challenged.

Climate is not core to any other party, except the Greens. There is a lack of conviction across swathes of the other Government parties. Sinn Féin increasingly doesn’t even pretend that climate is a policy priority. There is a lack of realisation of the dangers, here on a still-temperate island. The lack of appreciation of the opportunities for developing renewable energy which we are almost uniquely well placed to do is depressing. Instead, the prioritisation of public transport and the shift in use of scarce road space is the totemic contest between a future that has arrived and a past that is already in its final throes. We are in the final stages of the mass use of the combustion engine and in the last chance saloon to rescue the natural environment.

Why what happens to the Green Party and who its next leader is may matter is not the risk of reversal. What is at stake for Ireland is whether we are leaders in decarbonisation or if, by political dithering, we become laggards. The danger for the Green Party is that it achieves the feat of becoming simultaneously relevant and redundant. The political choice for us is no longer about the direction of travel, it is about whether we want Ireland to be in the fast or the slow lane.