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When Climate And Energy Collide

A question mark hangs over whether or not the energy and environmen­t portfolios are compatible. The coming winter may answer that question, writes Louise Burne

- Louise Burne is Political Reporter with the Irish Daily Mail

The age-old saying usually goes ‘the lights are on but nobody’s home’. Unfortunat­ely, it seems like the same applies in government buildings, as the coalition continues to grapple with ongoing energy issues. Despite the constant warnings last winter that the country was facing blackouts and brownouts, there have been no concrete plans put in place to address the shortage and cost of electricit­y other than repeated pleas to ‘reduce your use’.

While Russia’s war in Ukraine is posing problems to energy supply, it is beginning to feel like a convenient excuse that ministers wheel out. When Taoiseach Micheál Martin was pushed on the fact that the government had not gone far enough to ensure a secure supply of energy this winter, he told reporters that nobody could have anticipate­d the war in Ukraine.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is in charge of steering Ireland’s response to the energy crisis, in his role as minister in charge of the Department of Environmen­t, Climate and Communicat­ions. The government department that started life as the Dept. of Fisheries in 1924 morphed into the Dept. Communicat­ions, Energy and Natural Resources by 2007. Responsibi­lity for Climate Action and Environmen­t was transferre­d into the department in 2017, and it was renamed with its current moniker, with ‘Energy’ retreating from view but still very much within the department’s policy control.

Since Eamon Ryan took charge of the department in June 2020, climate action has been top of his agenda. Ryan has pushed through substantia­l climate action legislatio­n but critics say he has taken his eye off the ball in relation to energy, even the green variety. That pace

of progress for organising a permitting structure for offshore windfarms has been glacial. Investors in the sector view planning risk and grid infrastruc­ture as the greatest challenges to offshore wind delivery in Ireland, and there seems to be little impetus from the top to accelerate solutions.

The wider issue is the compatibil­ity between reducing carbon emissions and keeping the lights on, and having the same individual in charge of both. When climate and energy collide, it can create headaches for the whole of government. Take the contentiou­s turf issue that dominated the political agenda for several months. Under new rules announced by Ryan, the retail sale of turf will be banned from October 31. People with turbary rights can continue to cut and burn turf and will also be allowed to sell the solid fuel in small quantities to their families, friends and neighbours.

In the debate that threatened to topple the coalition, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenche­rs lambasted their Green colleagues and Eamon Ryan over the proposals. The minister stressed during the turf debate that the ban on solid fuels would benefit the environmen­t and the health of the general population. However, conversati­ons about the dependence of people in rural Ireland on turf did not enter the fray.

Ryan and the Green Party are against the developmen­t of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) storage facilities in Ireland. Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have not ruled out the developmen­t of LNG plants, as they know that without them Ireland will not be able to generate its own electricit­y in future years. With a decision on a LNG facility on the Shannon estuary due shortly, the environmen­t vs energy debate could again cause trouble.

Minister Ryan’s intentions and passion for the environmen­t are admirable and laudable. It is refreshing to see a politician stick to their guns and stand up for something they believe in. However, the question remains whether the energy and environmen­t portfolios are compatible. Perhaps the winter ahead and whether the lights stay on will answer this question for once and for all.

‘It is refreshing to see a politician stick to their guns’

 ?? ?? Climate action is more important than energy policy for Eamon Ryan
Climate action is more important than energy policy for Eamon Ryan

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