Bruton faces climate for big changes
Denis Naughten’s successor has problems with climate, broadband and underground cabling, writes Willie Kealy
WAS that Donald Donohoe or Paschal Trump in the Dail last Tuesday? Whichever, it was the only hybrid on view in a carbon tax-free Budget that would have done credit to a climate change denier.
At any time this would have been a crying shame, but to come so soon on the heels of a most alarming report from the world’s leading climate scientists, part of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made it inexplicable.
The Finance Minister says he is not unsympathetic to the need for a carbon tax increase, he just doesn’t seem to think there is the backing for it in Leinster House yet. And he could be right, given that when he told those in the Independent Alliance and in his own party opposed to increasing VAT on the hospitality industry, that the alternative was to increase duty on diesel, they overwhelmingly withdrew their objections on behalf of publicans and hoteliers.
The carbon tax of €20 a tonne is not the only answer to climate change (alternative fuel sources is another); but it is one part of the answer and an important part at that. As it happens, the Cabinet member with responsibility for all this is (or was) the recently departed Denis Naughten. Mr Naughten is on record as favouring a carbon tax increase, though how much he did not say, and he certainly did not back the Government’s own Climate Change Advisory Council, which suggested an immediate €10 increase, rising to €80 by 2030. And he obviously failed to achieve any progress on this front in the Budget.
There were lots of impressive sounding figures in Mr Naughten’s Budget contribution on behalf of his own department, but everything seems to be planned for the long term. Not much is deemed to be urgent.
That may change with a new minister. His successor, Richard Bruton, will have a full agenda, with the broadband debacle Mr Naughten has left behind, and the post offices and the future of Bord na Mona, the financing of RTE and the long running dispute with the people of Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, over whether miles of high-voltage electric cables should be placed underground or carried overground on giant pylons.
In the context of Mr Naughten’s angry and ill-tempered exit from the Cabinet and from the Dail chamber last Thursday, this latter dispute has taken on a new impor- tance. For years now the state body, Eirgrid, has been spending taxpayers’ money with abandon to try to break the will of those who object to overground cabling, even collapsing a public hearing as it neared completion, with the possibility that the objectors would not be able to maintain funding their challenge.
But the importance of this sorry tale lies in the relationship between Mr Naughten and his officials and Eirgrid. For it shows that his inability to maintain a proper distance between himself and those seeking a favourable decision from his department, did not start with the National Broadband Plan. This was already highlighted in the Dail a month ago, but at the time it did not get much traction. And yet, if anything, it is worse than the broadband allegations, where, in Mr Naughten’s own words, his main “crime” is one of the optics of the several meals he had with the chairman of the lead (and only) broadband bidder, David McCourt.
But in the Dail on September 21, Fianna Fail deputy Shane Cassells asked Mr Naughten about the “best buddy relationship” shown to exist between his department on the one hand, and Eirgrid on the other, in a series of emails between these parties released under FOI to the journalist Michael Fisher and published as the “Eirgrid Files”.
At the time the contentious matter was under review, Mr Cassells says “officials in Eirgrid were emailing your department with proposed agendas for meetings with the underground review group.
“How can you seriously call it an independent review group, when the very body being looked at is actually putting the agenda together for the meeting.”
He then quoted from an email sent from the department to the independent Review Group which said: “Good morning gents. Eirgrid are trying to structure the meeting on Thursday and have suggested this draft agenda.”
Mr Cassells concluded: “Last time I looked, the defendant in a case does not prepare the prosecution case when they are appearing in the dock.”
The minister off-handedly dismissed this inquiry, saying he had not read the “Eirgrid Files”, and so would not comment.
When the Minister for Inappropriate Communications and Contacts resigned last Thursday afternoon, there were tributes paid from all sides. He was a nice man and everyone was sure that all those lunches and dinners were harmless, but it looked bad and he had to go.
Why did nobody mention that Denis Naughten had “previous” for this kind of thing, and in fact he had form for behaviour that could be viewed as more serious than his broadband dinners?
Richard Bruton has taken over the portfolio, hopefully he will do a whole lot better on climate change, on broadband and on underground cabling, and leave a better legacy than that left by Mr Naughten.
‘Naughten was asked about the best buddy relationship with Eirgrid’
NEW BRIEF: Richard Bruton has taken over Denis Naughten’s portfolio and hopefully he will do better on climate change, broadband and underground cabling. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins