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Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Simon Harris

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were no-shows today at climate debate ahead of EU election

Neither of the two largest government parties sent a representative to an online debate on climate issues this afternoon.


FINE GAEL AND Fianna Fáil have sat out a climate hustings for Ireland’s MEP candidates ahead of the European election next week.

Neither of the two largest government parties sent a representative to a debate held online over Zoom this afternoon organised by the climate activism organisation Friends of the Earth Ireland.

The campaign group said it invited all of Ireland’s major political parties with candidates in the EU election to send a representative. The parties with a candidate in attendance were the Green Party, Sinn Féin, Labour, the Social Democrats, and People Before Profit, alongside Independent Clare Daly.

The Journal contacted the press offices of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil this morning to ask why they had not put a candidate forward for the hustings but neither party has yet responded at the time of publication.

Friends of the Earth chief executive Oisín Coghlan told the hustings that his understanding was that the parties had tried to find a candidate but could not identify someone with availability, and said it was a pity that they were not in attendance.

Green Party candidate Grace O’Sullivan, whose party is in coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the Dáil, remarked during the hustings that it was regrettable that the other parties weren’t participating to have a “rigorous debate”.

Labour candidate Aodhan Ó Riordáin agreed, saying it was a “real shame that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with all the candidates that they have – which is much more than Labour – haven’t bothered to show up for this debate today”.

unnamed (2) Fine Gael members, including Taoiseach Simon Harris, at a campaign launch yesterday ahead of the EU and local elections

Climate action

A question to the candidates asking them to name one climate policy that would be their biggest priority, if elected, prompted a range of different answers, from free public transport to limiting militarisation to bringing forward the timeline of the EU’s 2050 target for climate neutrality.

Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan said that there are good existing intentions around climate action but that they tend to rely on either individual measures or market mechanisms and she said the “key thing” needed is “tackling the corporate interests” stifling climate action.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin of Labour briefly expressed his worry about the rise of the far-right in Europe, which he said is focused only on anti-immigration measures but also climate denial. He then raised the role of transport in the climate transition and said he would advocate for free public transport and pushing for a switch away from private cars.

Social Democrats candidate Sinéad Gibney honed in on greenhouse gas emissions reductions, saying that she would want to see rapid emissions cuts in legislation and bring forward the 2050 climate neutrality goal to a sooner date, as well as ensuring that climate action does not create inequalities in society.

Independent Clare Daly raised the carbon footprint of militarisation, saying that a move towards “turbo charging” defence risks producing huge volumes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Brian O’Boyle of People Before Profit seconded Lynn Boylan on the call to take on corporate interests. He said that the EU has allowed too much privatisation, particularly in energy, and that it should scrap the practice of carbon trading. He was the first to give, as he said, a “shoutout” to farmers, who he said are mostly “cognisant of the need to have climate initiatives” but are “also really squeezed”.

Grace O’Sullivan of the Greens said that there has been a “disgusting and unbelievable” push away from the European Green Deal from right-wing parties in the parliament, including the European People’s Party that Fine Gael belongs to, and pointed to her priority areas as the parliament’s chief negotiator on the Environment Action Programme – mitigation, adaptation, circular economy, zero pollution, biodiversity, and reducing the footprint of production and consumption.

O’Sullivan also welcomed the EU withdrawing from the Energy Charter Treaty, an agreement that was made in 1994 which has allowed fossil fuel companies to take lawsuits seeking compensation if policy measures are seen as damaging to their business. Making use of the Zoom format for the debate, Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan entered a swift message in the response box: “Minister Eamon Ryan is currently defending Ireland’s membership in the High Court case I have taken against the State [on its support for the ECT].”

The candidates unanimously agreed that they would support a European Commission proposal for emissions reductions of at least 90% emissions reduction by 2040 and to push for net-zero well before 2050.

After a discussion on cutting fossil fuels, particularly pushing back on the Irish government’s eyeing up of LNG as a “back up” energy option, the debate turned to farming and who they believe is best placed to communicate with farmers about climate action.

Boylan called on the media to steer away from “clickbait” that can stir up division and polarisation and also took aim at lobbyists. “When you talk to farmers, they want to make a living and put a roof over their head and pass the farm on to the next generation, so how do we create the framework where that is sustainable and financially viable for them – but it’s really difficult to have those conversations with some of the corporate interests in the agricultural world,” she said, adding that “when you talk with farmers directly, they’re very different to some of those corporate bodies”.

Sinéad Gibney of the Social Democrats talked about party leader Holly Cairns’ background as a farmer. “She represents part of the farming community who I think are not depicted in these media debates that Lynn’s describing where there are so many in the farming community who want to see this change but have livelihoods to protect, families to support, and who need to be brought along. I think our policies are informed by that representation that Holly brings and that’s something I will bring to the parliament myself as well.”

Grace O’Sullivan talked about her late father being a farmer and a member of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), saying she has “always had a good relationship with farmers even though we have very different views”.

She said she had “really heavily influenced” Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael MEPs to vote for the Nature Restoration Law – “and, as Lynn knows”, she said, addressing the Sinn Féin candidate, she was “shocked” to see Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus vote against it.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he believes the farming industry is “not well led”: “I think some of the very personalised political statements by the likes of the IFA are really regrettable and don’t help anybody, and I would challenge them to have a proper discussion which is actually based about the future of all of our families, of all of our people, of our collective humanity.”

Brian O’Boyle said farmers have “a lot of wisdom and knowledge about what needs doing” and should be listened to about the challenges they face. He said that the Common Agricultural Payment (CAP) should be reformed to target assistance to small and medium farmers to “reduce inequality instead of reinforcing it”.

Clare Daly seconded the idea of “listening” to farmers and said politicians need to “enable farmers to make their transition”, adding that it was “really regrettable that the current parliament rolled back on what was already incredibly weak provisions” on nature. “Farmers want a healthy environment which protects nature as well, so I think you deal with them by listening to the different nuances, accepting where the problems come from, and explaining a more just solution for for their issues.”

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