Wednesday 23 October 2019

'Absolute fudge' - Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil clash in early start to Budget battle

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Timmy Dooley. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

FINE Gael and Fianna Fáil have clashed over Carbon Tax in an early start to the annual Budget battle as a cross-party group of politician’s seek to thrash out plan to tackle climate change.

A draft report of the Climate Action Committee currently includes a recommendation that the finance minister introduce legislation this year setting a trajectory to quadruple Carbon Tax to at least €80-per-tonne by 2030.

The introduction of Carbon Tax hikes is set to be a key sticking point in this year's Budget negotiations between the two parties amid the looming general election.

Fianna Fáil has sought to change the Climate Action Committee recommendation on the pathway to increase the tax ahead of the publication of its final report which is due to take place tomorrow.

They argued that there needs to be clearer recommendations on how to alleviate fuel poverty and mitigate the effects of an increased tax on households.

Fianna Fáil’s bid to change the report prompted Fine Gael claims the party is seeking to “fudge” the committee’s findings.

Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fáil’s climate action spokesman, hit back arguing that Fine Gael could have raised carbon tax over the last eight Budgets but failed to do so.

The row has played out this afternoon as the committee attempts to finalise its report.

The government was criticised last year for not increasing carbon tax – which currently stands at €20-per-tonne – in Budget 2019.

Hiking the tax is among the measures experts deem necessary to help Ireland meet its carbon emissions reduction targets.

Fianna Fáil sought to change the climate action report with an amendment saying that that the committee “acknowledges” the advice of the Climate Change Advisory Council and the ESRI in favour of increasing the carbon tax to at least €80-per-tonne.

It also wants the impact on low-income families examined before any increase in the tax and a provision that it shouldn’t be seen as a solitary solution to cutting carbon emissions.

Fine Gael tabled an amendment to the Fianna Fáil proposal that would see the committee “accept” the expert advice that the trajectory of the increases to at least €80-per-tonne by 2030 should be set out in legislation this year.

Both attempts to change the report failed to pass votes in the committee this afternoon.

Earlier representatives of both parties hit out that the other, in what’s likely to be a preview of wrangling ahead of the last Budget to be negotiated under the extended confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Mr Dooley said he wasn’t accepting the Fine Gael amendment.

He said that while his party supports the carbon tax it was was “not good enough” to talk about raising it in the report and “not talk in any meaningful way on how to assist them [householders] particularly those in fuel poverty.”

Fine Gael TD Martin Heydon said Fianna Fáil’s bid to change the draft report is “really disappointing” and accused the party of seeking to water down the report.

He argued that it would be an “absolute fudge” to remove the wording on the trajectory of increases and accused Fianna Fáil of not being “brave enough” to include the measure.

He said it was a “massive retrograde step” for the work that the committee has done since July.

Mr Dooley said he believes the wording Fianna Fáil was suggesting is adequate and there is a need for “absolute certainty for people impacted by the measure to increase carbon tax”.

In reference to Mr Heydon’s remarks he added: “Somebody talked about bravely… I’ll take no lecture from anyone in Fine Gael about bravely on climate action”.

He claimed the government has done “nothing to address climate change”.

He said it was the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition that introduced carbon tax and Fine Gael could have raised it in recent Budgets but “sadly failed to do so”.

Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy said she was disappointed that Mr Dooley would “seek to be so political about this”.

“He says he accepts a carbon tax but won’t put a price on it”.

She said that Fine Gael are very concerned about people in fuel poverty and are seeking to protect them as  well. She also mention the "fee and dividend" model of payments to households - similar to carbon cheques mooted by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a means of mitigating the impact of the tax increase on families.

With Fianna Fáil’s bid to change the report’s recommendation failing and as Fine Gael’s amendment to the rival party’s amendment also failing to pass, the committee’s draft finding that the trajectory of Carbon Tax increases to at least €80-per-tonne stands for now.

The committee has agreed to returned to the contentious issue tomorrow and spent much of the evening seeking agreement on other measures in the report.

Sinn Féin and People Before Profit (PBP) committee members are opposed to any increase in Carbon Tax.

Bríd Smith, a PBP TD, said what was happening at the committee was an “absolute disgrace” and said nobody should be fooled by what she claimed was Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil “dancing on a pin”.

She claimed Carbon Tax increases would be imposed on ordinary people without taking their circumstances into account – whether they need to use a car to drive to work or live in substandard accommodation.

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