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Sunday 16 December 2018

Greens put Coalition on line over fuel taxes

Party threatens to quit as motorists face price rises

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

A RAFT of new environmental taxes -- including increases in the price of petrol and diesel -- are now essential for the Green Party to stay in Government.

The party is determined to "flex its muscles" to get a carbon tax from Taoiseach Brian Cowen to tackle climate change.

The carbon tax, which Green Party leader John Gormley has insisted will be in this December's Budget, is expected to push up petrol and diesel prices next year.

It could also spark price increases in other fossil-fuel products such as home heating oil, electricity and gas.

The demands will be politically controversial, given the level of tax increases imposed in the last two Budgets.

But the Greens, still smarting from the June elections bloodbath, will warn Mr Cowen that unless there are "green fingerprints" all over the renegotiated Programme for Government, there is a real risk its members will vote to abandon coalition at their convention in October.

Green members are also demanding that the party leadership gets "social justice" guarantees so that the most vulnerable are protected from An Bord Snip Nua's recommendations to cut social welfare rates and slash 2,000 special needs assistants,

Not getting the required two-thirds majority at the October convention would place a major question mark over the party's future participation in the Government.

Leader John Gormley said there would be a climate change bill in the renegotiated Programme for Government. "There's no question about it, it is going to change as a result of those negotiations, make no mistake about it," he said.

His party colleague, Energy Minister Eamon Ryan, has already suggested that a carbon tax could include rises in excise duty on diesel or petrol. The party is currently taking submissions from all members before finalising its priorities for renegotiation of the Programme for Government.

Yesterday, the party's high-profile senator Dan Boyle said there was no doubt about the inclusion of a carbon tax in the December Budget. He said the only question would be how to introduce it.

The party's belief is that both a carbon tax and legally binding emissions targets are necessary to focus all government department and consumers on the climate-change battle.

Achieving these key 'green' goals are seen as essential for the party's recovery after its disastrous local elections when it lost 17 county and city councillors and retained just three.

Revenue

The party had hoped to use the increased revenue from petrol and diesel taxes to reduce the cost of public transport service and therefore minimise the public backlash against the carbon tax.

But it may be forced to accept that the extra revenue will go directly to help bridge the €20bn gap in the public finances.

The climate change bill could have legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse emissions along the lines of similar legislation in Britain -- which now is committed to a 26pc reduction by 2020.

Mr Gormley upped the ante after both Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan recently told the Dail that such 'green' legislation is not going to be published "this side of Christmas".

He was boosted by his party's decision to back the Lisbon Treaty ahead of forthcoming October referendum by the narrowest of margins -- a two thirds majority of 66.66pc.

The mood among delegates at its special convention was in favour of continuing in Coalition -- but only as long as more of their objectives could be achieved in the renegotiation of the Programme for Government.

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