Dáil debates

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Environmental Policy: Motion [Private Members]


6:35 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputies from the various parties and the Independent Deputies who spoke on what is a very important end-of-term debate on the environment, which is the overarching economic and social issue of our time. Our motion calls on Dáil Éireann to recognise that environmental pollution and degradation are all too often the by-product of our economy.

We ask all Deputies to join with the Labour Party in declaring that Ireland needs to adopt fundamental changes to our economic model, and in calling on the Government to recognise that under-regulation of economic activity or lax enforcement of existing rules allows greater levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to occur.

Our vision is for a well-regulated economy. We want rules to outlaw dangerous pollutants and to require polluters to pay the full cost of whatever pollution they create. We also want protection for workers and consumers in order that they will not be forced to work with hazardous materials or endure the consequences of pollution. State regulation of the economy needs to be done intelligently, with regard for productivity and efficiency. This has been achieved in countries such as Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands, which are among the most innovative and productive economies in the world. They also lead the way in respect of environmental protection and meeting climate targets. I am heartened that the amendments tabled by Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Green Party all retain Labour's declaration that the best model for Ireland to emulate is a north European social democratic market economy, such as in the countries I mentioned.

I remind Deputies of a report by the National Economic and Social Council in December 1992 - a long time ago - entitled The Irish Economy in a Comparative Institutional Perspective. The report sought to understand the relative economic success of smaller European countries such as Denmark and Finland which have small open economies like Ireland's that were subject to many of same the international forces as us. The report marked a period in public policy when we had a discussion on the future direction of our economy. As history played out, the Celtic tiger economy took off, before being taken over by an unsustainable property boom and subsequent bust.

It has been ten years since the economic crisis and we now need to have a serious national discussion on the type of economy we need and want. International trade has become more protectionist, there is a welcome and overdue global push to reform corporation tax paid by multinationals and the climate crisis has put the current basis of our economy under threat. The Green Party has proposed a circular economy as a model for Ireland and we need to debate that further and understand where it has been successfully implemented. For my part, I point to the fact that in Sweden, the level of greenhouse gas emissions per person is 5.14 tonnes per year, among the lowest in Europe, whereas in Ireland, it is 12.64 tonnes per person, among the highest. Many people in Sweden have greater challenges because of their climate, given that much of the population spends six months per year in snow. Nevertheless, Sweden is able to deal with such issues, whereas we have a way to go. As many Deputies noted, we need better transport, cycling infrastructure, planning, housing and services that work. We can learn such lessons if we choose to orientate ourselves in the direction set out by social democratic countries.

Finally, I return to the issue of the smoky coal ban. It is not credible for the Government to extend the ban to 13 additional towns and pretend there is some impediment to extending it to the wider nation. I have served in many Governments and chaired the European Environment Council. There is a notion that the smoky coal ban can be extended to 85% of the population, with an arbitrary threshold of 10,000 inhabitants. That a population of 10,010 would be okay, whereas one of 9,999 would not, because the Government will be met with litigation, is farcical. It convinces nobody.

I ask the Minister to let the final debate and motion in the House this year be an act of solidarity, unanimously passed, not only to set out a new environmental agenda and economic direction for the country but for us all to agree that the terrible harm being done by bituminous coal should end and that there should be a national ban on smoky coal. I ask the Government to relent, even at this late hour, and allow a unanimous decision to be made by Dáil Éireann.


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