The senior civil servants warned them. They told the political parties it wasn't clear how to achieve the required reduction in greenhouse gases to bring emissions down by 7pc a year.
n a briefing note to the parties involved in government talks back in March, officials from the Department of the Taoiseach concluded emissions reductions of this magnitude would need "additional policy attention to a range of interventions to reduce demand and substitute fossil fuel usage across multiple sectors".
The memo illustrates the problem behind agreeing to the Green Party's red line issue: nobody knows how to draw it. And therein the talks on government will continue to drag on for some time.
In the year of our Lord 2020 BC (Before Coronavirus), there was a general election. Some weeks after the election, various parties held talks in Agriculture House, adjoining Leinster House and Government Buildings, to tease out where everybody stood.
Eamon Ryan, the Greens leader, entered the talks with what appeared to be a simple request. He wanted the other parties to outline how they would set about reducing emissions by at least 7pc.
Except it's not that simple, gathering policies and information from across a number of departments and agencies, the Department of the Taoiseach facilitated the talks by providing briefing notes on various topics.
A request was made to explain how several options would affect the country.
The resulting 3,000-word memo is being cited by figures in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as evidence of just how complicated reaching the 7pc target would be. This note sets out a preliminary view across all sectors of moving to emissions reductions of 7.6pc per annum to 2030. "To fully analyse the questions posed, further more detailed analysis will need to be undertaken," it cautions.
In other words, there's a lot more work to be done.
Even what appears to be a basic requirement like banning liquified natural gas is not straightforward.
"Banning LNG and/or imported fracked gas would require legislation. Legal advice would be required on such a proposal.
"Nonetheless, it would appear that a unilateral ban by an EU member state relating to LNG and/or the importation of fracked gas will likely be problematic both legally and practically in the context of international trade and trading rules," it says.
The memo does examine "the suite of plans and policies that must be implemented in order for this State to reduce its annual carbon emissions by 7pc" and the systems in place to measure emissions to ensure it is achieved.
The answer is quite vague, hence the conclusion that "analysis has not been undertaken". It states that unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6pc each year between 2020 and 2030, "the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement".
The red line of a reduction in greenhouse gases by 7pc a year to 2030 is not just a single line policy that can be ticked off as a paragraph in a party manifesto or Programme for Government. It deliberately has the potential to have an impact on every area of daily life and how the country operates.
The Greens' difficulty now is a chicken-and-egg scenario where they want Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to agree to sign up to the goal, when the parties want to tease out what it entails.
From the Greens' perspective, it's not simply to reach the target but there has to be the desire to get there in the first place. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil want a prescriptive direct path, whereas the Greens have a series of routes and a menu of options, most notably shifting to heavy investment in public transport, increasing offshore wind generation up to 50 gigawatts by 2025 and a large-scale programme of retro-fitting homes.
The target can't be reached without touching the agriculture sector. As the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action noted: "The agri-food sector, as Ireland's largest indigenous industry, remains the largest emitter of GHGs."
However, land use diversification and changes in farm practices is tied into reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. The budget will reduce, meaning there will be a temptation to stay away from reform.
"We cannot reach our targets without farming," a Green Party TD says.
Giving powers to the Climate Advisory Council and having a Carbon Budget will be important. The Greens feel industry and energy generators need a clear signal government policy is going in only one direction. But the set target remains the deal-breaker.
The Greens have been here before and are wary. Promises made on entering government can be dragged out when it comes to actual implementation. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael promising a Climate Bill within the first 100 days isn't fooling anyone.
In the event of non-delivery, the Greens' only option will be to continually threaten to pull out of the coalition, leading to instability. Back in 2009, they got a commitment in the revised Programme for Government for a legally binding target to reduce emissions by 3pc per year, yet it wasn't included in the subsequent Climate Change Bill.
"No matter what we did, we couldn't get Fianna Fáil to agree to including a 3pc annual target in the Bill, even though it was agreed in the Programme for Government," former party adviser Gavin Daly argues.
The shadow of past under-delivery appears to be acknowledged in Fianna Fáil.
"If this is to last, it can't be on a wink and a promise. At least we should look at the facts of a 7pc reduction and Greens are asking for that as well," a Fianna Fail source said.
From the off, Fine Gael figures have been more sceptical about the chances of the Greens signing up to coalition.
"When is the date of the election?" a Fine Gael TD scoffed.
In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, the Fine Gael hierarchy has become more gung-ho about a second general election. Besides, the party stays in power until someone forms a new government. The same applies in the scenario of a second general election.
Over the past week, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney haven't shied away from firing shots at their prospective coalition partners. Varadkar swiftly undermined Micheál Martin's promise to ditch the increase in the pension age and Coveney poked at the Greens by doubling down on his party's farming base. Yet the Greens remain the best chance of forming a coalition.
Much like the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions, the formation of a government remains on the long finger.