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'A historic day': Ireland on a path to being the 4th country in the world to ban fossil fuel exploration

Costa Rica, Belize and France have already implemented similar measures to end oil activity in their waters.

Image: Shutterstock/James Jones Jr

Updated 1.50pm

THE GOVERNMENT HAS lost a vote on proposed legislation which would place a ban on fossil fuel exploration off the Irish coast.

The Bill secured the support of 78 TDs, with 48 voting against it. It will now proceed to Committee Stage in the Oireachtas, despite the government’s opposition.

Solidarity-People Before Profit’s Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) Climate Emergency Measures Bill aims to stop the issuing of any new licences for the exploration of fossil fuels.

Costa Rica, Belize and France have already implemented similar measures.

The Bill sets out that the government must:

  • Ensure regard is had to national and global environmental considerations when issuing licences, undertakings and leases under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960

These considerations include:

  • The annual average global temperature, the monthly mean level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

With the support of the Green Party, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour, and Independents 4 Change (and pop superstar Cher who tweeted her support) it passed, meaning Ireland is now on the path to become the fourth country in the world to implement a ban on the exploration of fossil fuels.

Reacting to the vote result today, Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan TD said “this is truly is a historic day for environmentalism in Ireland. The tide has turned on fossil fuels, and there is widespread political support now for a just transition to renewable power”.

Bríd Smith, who introduced the Bill, said its passing to the next stage sends “a signal globally” that Ireland takes climate change seriously. During the week she called on the Taoiseach to support the move.

“The Taoiseach recently said that Ireland has been a laggard in regards to our responsibilities – this is the opportunity now for Varadkar to put his money where his mouth is,” she said, adding:

This is only the first small step in the fight against climate change but it is an important one as it would send a message around the world. Ireland needs to take this action and send a message to the world that we are taking climate change seriously and are willing to take the action needed to combat it.

“The measures contained in this Bill are modest and are in line with the government’s policy,” said Smith.

Oil and gas

Solidarity TD, Paul Murphy, said climate change is not just something for future generations to worry about.

“It is a threat to people now. If the government is serious about tackling climate change they must support this Bill and put the environment over private profits,” he added.

Murphy said: ”If fossil fuels continue to be burnt at the current rate, we will break through the two degree Celsius level which was agreed at Paris. There will be an average global temperature increase of around five degrees. Climate scientists estimate that at least 80% of the known fossil fuel deposits must be left in the ground, unused.”

Yesterday, Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughten, who sits on the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment with deputy Smith, said she had no fixed view on whether fossil fuels should be banned permanently in legislation.

Naughten said Smith might be surprised to hear that both their views on the issue are rather similar, stating that “ideally” she should would like to see the use of fossil fuels as “a thing of the past”.

However, she maintained that Smith’s Bill should not continue to the next Stage as it has not been considered in a “holistic fashion”.

She said expert witnesses should be able to give evidence on the issue, and only after the pros and cons are considered should legislation be drawn up.

Reliance on fossil fuels

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley outlined his party’s support for the Bill, saying it would lead to a strong shift away from the reliance on fossil fuels.

He said Fianna Fáil believes the government should be doing more to deal with the threat of climate change, stating that to look away and continue with business as usual would be “one of the greatest acts of negligence”.

“The introduction of the Bill by Smith forces all in power to acknowledge the threats facing the world when it comes to carbon emissions,” he said.

Dooley accused the government of “shying away” from their responsibilities to deal with the issue. While he said Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill, it wants a number of concerns to be addressed at Committee Stage.

A number of exploration leases are already in place, he pointed out, adding that this legislation would ban all extraction licences. He said there are legal issues surrounding those companies who have already paid a lot of money for those licences, but he believes these issues can be teased out and addressed at a later stage.

“If the government will not change, then others must forge ahead without them,” said Dooley.

While the Bill can now proceed to Committee Stage, there are concerns the government could block the Bill at a later stage or water it down when amendments can be made to the wording.

Those who sponsored it hope it will have the same success of the private member’s bill on fracking which was signed into law last year.

Read: Taoiseach says women seeking morning after pill should not face ‘invasive’ questioning>

Read: There was an almighty shouting match in the Dáil between the Healy Raes and a Fianna Fáil TD>

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