Green Party leader plays down candidate Saoirse McHugh's solo run on carbon tax

Eamon Ryan

Hugh O'Connell

GREENS leader Eamon Ryan has insisted the party can accommodate conflicting views after Mayo candidate Saoirse McHugh said she did not support the carbon tax despite it being official party policy.

Mr Ryan played down the difficulties Ms McHugh’s stance could pose if the Achill islander secured a Dáil seat.

“Everyone knows Saoirse has a different view on that. It’s a party which allows for different views. If you completely control ideas or what’s possible then maybe you miss something,” he said.

He said ultimately it would be the parliamentary party which decided what the party would do next if they had a successful outing at the ballot box.

Saoirse McHugh

“One of the things I think we do, and I think Saoirse would agree with this, is move the debate on from where it’s always stuck,” he said.

He said debate on climate action was often bogged down in the likes of the carbon tax and the size of the national herd and the party was united in wanting a far wider debate and more comprehensive response.

Ms McHugh said the carbon tax wasn’t going to “nudge you anywhere except to turn off the light and turn off the heat and sit in the cold”.

She voiced her strong opposition to the proposal during a debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time on Tuesday night.

“I personally don’t support a carbon tax. I think this is why we need rural Greens because not everything can be transposed from Dublin and make sense in terms of climate action across Ireland,” she said.

Ms McHugh, who ran for the Greens in the European elections and recorded over 51,000 first preference votes, said that party leader Eamon Ryan knows how she feels about the carbon tax.

In its manifesto, the Green Party commits to increasing carbon tax each year for the next decade until it reaches €100 per tonne. It currently stands at €26 per tonne following a €6 increase in the last budget.

The Greens also propose to introduce a mechanism to return all revenues raised from the tax to citizens through social welfare increases and tax credits.

“Eamon knows what I feel about the carbon tax and I don’t support it,” Ms McHugh said. “I don’t [support it] and if elected I would intend to feed into the position of the parliamentary party, of the Green parliamentary party.”

She said that research showing that a carbon tax is necessary to combat climate change was not “just not true”. She said a lot of it was based on the success of the plastic bag levy which reduced the amount of bags in circulation in Ireland.

She added: “The way I see it is that until we have alternatives in rural Ireland, like, a carbon tax isn’t going to nudge you anywhere except to turn off the light and turn off the heat and sit in the cold."

She said she believed there is room in political parties for disagreement. She said the Greens currently have three Dublin-based TDs and that a lot of the party's positions reflect that.

But Mr Ryan stressed the importance of raising revenues for climate action, particularly with Brexit threatening economic uncertainty, and he hit out at other parties promising broad tax cuts.

“Anyone promising to cut every tax and raise every spending, I think they should pause for a bit,” he said.

“We have underinvestment in infrastructure in our country that we need to catch up on. In housing transport, water, waste, energy, there is a huge capital commitment we have to make.

“If you’re saying we won’t have a property tax, we won’t have a carbon tax and we won’t have USC and we’ll raise the tax bands – any one of those would undermine the possibility of investments in the other projects that we need. “

Ms McHugh has previously said she is against the Greens going into coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, but on RTÉ last night she appeared to pull back from this position. “I would only go into coalition with a programme for government I could stand over,” she said.