The row over turf-cutting in the Dáil has highlighted the propensity of Irish politics to get bogged down in contrived political disputes which only obstruct decision-making.
At a time when Europe is in the throes of the first major war since 1945, and the world is facing a climate emergency, the theatrics in Leinster House reflect badly on the political system.
By any rational criteria Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan’s plans to ban the sale of smoky fuel, including turf, are an appropriate response to the overriding requirement to reduce the country’s carbon emissions. Another important factor in the decision was to end the damage to public health still being caused by the burning of such fuels.
The performance of some rural Independents who trade on fomenting a false narrative of a rural/urban divide was one element of the drama. Another was the opportunism of Sinn Féin, which took advantage of the row to try for party political advantage.
Sinn Féin has put a lot of effort in presenting itself as the party capable of leading the next government but its casual disregard of the need for a sensible national approach to meeting the country’s climate change targets provides another reason why voters should be wary about accepting its credentials.
The party’s opportunistic opposition to carbon tax while simultaneously attacking the Government for not meeting its climate change targets is something that needs to be called out.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil backbenchers did not cover themselves in glory either by the way they allowed themselves to be panicked into accepting the false narrative of government hostility to rural Ireland being put forward by their opponents. They managed to prevail on their leaders to postpone the ban on commercial turf-cutting but this is only putting off the inevitable.
The Government staved off a potentially serious Dáil defeat through a commitment from Taoiseach Micheál Martin not to ban turf sales for the remainder of the year. Concessions by Ryan during meetings with TDs and Senators from both Government parties also served to reduce the tensions. In the longer term, however, the Government will have to face up to the requirement to eliminate the use of smoky fuels.
While the war in Ukraine is understandably the top priority for all of Europe at the moment the climate change crisis has not gone away and will only get worse as long as essential measures to reduce carbon emissions are avoided.
As for protecting the rural way of life, the fact is that the banning of commercial turf-cutting is essential to prevent the further destruction of the countryside. The preservation of bogs and the biodiversity that they sustain will do far more for rural Ireland than preserving the right of commercial operators to destroy them.