Friday 18 October 2019

RTE climate change debate featuring 'sceptic' Michael Healy-Rae criticised as 'awful stuff' by former environment minister

Michael Healy-Rae
Michael Healy-Rae

Aine Kenny

A CLIMATE change debate featuring TD Michael Healy-Rae has been deemed "awful stuff" by a former Environment minister.

Former Green Party TD John Gormley hit out at RTE after the prime Time debate and claimed that the Kerry TD is a "climate change sceptic."

He told "The Healy-Raes, to judge from their statements, are climate sceptics.

"Quite simply, giving a platform to those sort of views is no longer a tenable position for our national broadcaster, given that climate breakdown is our biggest challenge."

Mr Gormley earlier tweeted that while he supports public broadcasting, he had a few choice comments about the debate.

"I believe in public service broadcasting and I would like the Licence Fee to be collected more efficiently. In fact, the last time you got a raise was from a green minister. But can we have proper analysis of climate change issues? This is awful stuff."

Deputy Healy-Rae has previously said that he feels farmers are unfairly blamed for climate change, whereas he thinks we should look at "10,000 aeroplanes in the sky.”

His brother, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has also stated that he does not "subscribe to the idea that man can influence climate".

Former environment minister John Gormley. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Former environment minister John Gormley. Photo: Caroline Quinn

He has said: "God above is in charge of the weather and we here can't do anything about it".

Mr Gormley went on to say that RTE should adopt a climate change reporting policy like the BBC’s.

The British broadcaster issued guidelines on 'false balance' last year, which state: "To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken.

"However, the BBC does not exclude any shade of opinion from its output, and with appropriate challenge from a knowledgeable interviewer, there may be occasions to hear from a denier," the guidelines continue.

Michael Healy-Rae, who also appeared in the debate, defended his appearance on Prime Time. "Firstly I think everyone’s entitled to an opinion."

He then raised the issue of cost. "We can only implement changes that the people can afford."

The Kerry TD agrees with the ‘green’ idea that we need to cut down on single-use plastics.

"There are a ridiculous amount of plastics going into the ground. Years ago we used to have milk in glass bottles; could you imagine if we returned to that tomorrow? It would make an enormous difference.

"I know people in my own constituency who sell milk in bottles. They are washed and re-used, its brilliant.

"In supermarkets everything is wrapped up in plastics. We need to cut down on this.

"These are simple measures we can take that won’t put a burden on the hard-pressed tax payer."

The Independent TD also agreed that deforestation was an issue, but that grants relating to forestry and tree planting had become much less attractive over the years, something he was trying to rectify.

He says he has been "diligently working" on issues like this, and the Green Party aren’t the only ones pushing a green agenda.

"What is the point in two people sitting on a programme with the exact same ideology… it’s not a debate," he concluded.

Many of Gormley's former Green party colleagues also criticised the debate.

Peter Kavanagh, who represents for Dublin Mid-West, says that the framing of the debate was flawed.

"This comedic, ‘Punch and Judy’ style debate, where someone opposes what is essentially fact, is not helpful."

Cllr Kavanagh also claimed that the debate being framed as the ‘green agenda’ versus others.

"I just won a hard-fought battle in a predominantly working-class constituency. Two other now-elected councillors ran on green campaigns, and they were organic farmers.

"This nonsense of rural people versus liberal elites is only making us stay put [and not act]. Business as usual is going to kill us all."

Hazel Chu, newly elected Green Party councillor for Pembroke, says we are living in democracy and people should be able to express their views.

She said: "It was a debate last night because Catherine Martin made good points. But I hate to see it turn into a shouting match, with people not caring about the facts.

"When the argument is not fact-based then it is an issue. Last night a claim was made that you have to change the battery in an electric car every two years. This is not true, it is every seven years or so," Ms Chu said.

RTE said in statement that in relation to climate change, they did not need to ensure balanced debate coverage.

“As specified in the BAI guidelines, all broadcasters are obliged to be fair, objective and impartial in their coverage of News and Current Affairs. The relevant code states: ‘the principle of fairness does not necessarily require that all possible opinions on a subject are addressed or that they should receive equal airtime’."

"The BAI advise that covering issues of public debate should be guided by ensuring ‘equitable proportionate coverage’.

"RTÉ adheres to all relevant codes of the BAI and our own Journalism Guidelines."

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