CLIMATE Action Minister Eamon Ryan has defended government plans to quadruple carbon tax over the next decade insisting people at risk of fuel poverty will be protected.
The government plans to raise carbon tax from €26-a-tonne to €100-a-tonne by 2030.
Speaking in the Dáil Sinn Féin TD Darren O'Rourke argued that it will be a "punitive tax" that will "hit workers and families hard".
He said there's already 400,000 people living in fuel poverty.
Mr Ryan said carbon tax has an important role to play in changing behaviours and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
He said that under the Programme for Government there is to be a €7.50-a-tonne increase each year to 2029 and a €6.50 increase in 2030.
The ESRI has been commissioned to conduct research on how to protect households at risk of fuel poverty.
Mr Ryan said that the government will be ring-fencing additional carbon tax revenue for a climate fund of an estimated €9.5bn over the next decade.
There are plans for targeted social welfare increases of €3bn aimed at preventing fuel poverty and ensuring a "just transition" to a low carbon economy.
A further €5bn is to be used to part-fund the retrofitting of homes for energy efficiency - focusing first on social housing and rental properties "where people are at risk of fuel poverty", Mr Ryan added.
There is to be another €1.5bn for a 'REPS 2' programme of farm payments - in addition to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports - to incentivise greener farming.
Mr O'Rourke said Sinn Féin disagrees with the government's approach and asked if Mr Ryan has abandoned a fee and dividend model which he had previously favoured.
Under such as scheme the tax paid would be returned to households. Mr O'Rourke pointed out that Mr Ryan previously said such a model was a signal to reduce carbon that "doesn't hit people in the pocket".
Mr Ryan said: "It is true I was an advocate and still am of the fee and dividend model."
But he also said he had never ruled out the ring-fencing model if it could be structure to achieve the same objective of protecting people in fuel poverty. He said he believes the planned use of the carbon tax receipts will "address that social justice objective".
Mr O'Rourke argued that the model proposed is a "very regressive measure" and he said some in the Green Party "say the same".