Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

European Council Meeting: Statements


6:00 pm

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

I support the words of my colleague, Deputy Naughten. Everything he said is correct. We do not have any time to lose in harnessing the vast resource on the western seaboard. If we do that, we will set this country and Europe up for many decades to come. I commend the Deputy on his comments.

The Trans-European Network for Transport, TEN-T network, was agreed by the European Council in July 1996. It has been on the agenda at many European Council meetings since then, most recently back in June of this year, when the smart-TEN-T was discussed. This is relevant to events back home in Ireland because the TEN-T programme was cited by An Bord Pleanála as a reason the Galway city ring road project should be approved. I appreciate that different bodies are acting at different speeds when it comes to climate action, but the time for continuing with outdated planning practices is over. It is my duty, as a legislator, to remind the House that the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, which I played a small part in bringing through the Oireachtas, is clear: public bodies must act in a manner consistent with the national climate objective of net-zero emissions by 2050 and the ongoing task to reduce emissions. The Galway city ring road will not reduce emissions; it will increase emissions. The act of approving the Galway city ring road is not consistent with our commitment to reduce Ireland’s emissions. In the middle of a climate crisis, as we see the unprecedented political unity around climate action, a State body is approving a project that will scar the landscape, destroy homes and habitats and increase the level of CO2in the atmosphere. Building the Galway city ring road will be an act of vandalism against current and future generations. Permission should not have been given for it to proceed. I pay tribute to my party colleague, Senator Pauline O’Reilly, because she has been consistent about opposing the ring road, a stance that has not been universally popular. Sometimes, we must have the courage of our convictions. Some people think that the current congestion in Galway city will be solved by another road, but every transport planner agrees that the phenomenon of induced demand exists: new roads cause new traffic, more emissions and more pollution.

I also want to address the issue of the highway industrial complex in Ireland. I call it a highway industrial complex because it is a coalition of vested interests that co-operate to continue the road building mania that makes a mockery of our climate commitments and will do untold damage to our towns, villages and communities, both urban and rural. The highway industrial complex must be challenged and stood down. We have reached the patently ridiculous situation, as is apparent in Galway, where the existing bypasses are full, so we are trying to bypass the bypasses. It is utter madness. Other countries have managed to deal with this problem better. The Welsh Government has suspended all road building plans and is reviewing each road project in turn to determine whether it will increase emissions. It established a roads review panel led by Dr. Lynn Sloman, whom we heard from at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action earlier this year. The reviews are starting to come back, and even for bypass projects, the answer is clear, as Dr. Sloman outlined to our committee. More roads means more cars, which means more emissions. It is unconscionable that Ireland and the EU are trying to expand road building. It makes a mockery of our claim to be acting on climate.

At the European Council meeting there will be discussion of our foreign relations with countries in Africa, the continent that is perhaps most at risk of famine because of climate change. We are still laggards in EU terms. Depending on what base year is used, Ireland has either the third or the fourth highestper capitaemissions in the EU. In his submission on behalf of An Taisce, the eminent figure, Frank McDonald, quoted Lewis Mumford, saying "adding car lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity". It was picked up by the An Bord Pleanála inspector. I am sorry we did not listen to Frank McDonald. In fact, I am sorry we have failed to listen to experts like Frank McDonald for decades now. We would have a much better country if we had listened to them.

However, it is not too late. We know what we need to do. We need quality public transport everywhere. We need to plan new housing in a way that is not disadvantageous to those who do not or cannot own a car. There are a number of valid reasons to take a judicial review of the decision to approve planning for the Galway city ring road, not least the provisions in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act. I hope that campaigners in Galway will challenge the decision. My Green Party colleague, Senator O’Reilly, is supporting campaigners in this regard.I hope we can very quickly reverse course and turn away from being European climate laggards to European climate leaders. We cannot afford to waste any more time.


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