Saturday 24 February 2018

Come on lads, have a vision

Last week's Budget lacked ideas and inspiration on how to tackle the future of motoring, writes Campbell Spray

Road map: Minister Paschal Donohoe needs to offer more. Photo: RollingNews.ie
Road map: Minister Paschal Donohoe needs to offer more. Photo: RollingNews.ie
Campbell Spray

Campbell Spray

Although it was first attributed to George HW Bush in 1987, "the vision thing" is one of the more important metonyms used in political discourse, as a description for any politician's failure to incorporate a greater view in their actions.

Unfortunately "the vision thing" was lacking in last week's Budget, particularly in the areas of transport and sustainability.

It was deeply disappointing, especially as Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Transport Minister Shane Ross are in a way local to me and their backgrounds hopefully don't mire them in the clogging sand of usual political thought and a lack of direction, in which playing it safe is the byword.

Shane was a colleague for many years on the Sunday Independent and an outspoken critic of the political process. Paschal, a former Minister for Transport, lives a few roads behind me in Phibsborough and his office almost faces my house. He always seems a level-headed sort of guy. I like the way he has worked in the private sector, recommends books to people and has no airs or graces.

He caught a bus on the morning he was to be appointed Finance Minister and sat quietly carrying a cardboard box of his effects on his lap. A 21st Century Renaissance man indeed.

But in the face of climate change, our creaking public transport system, jammed roads, diesel-gate and all the runes that are saying actions must be taken, Paschal and Shane have come up with so little in terms of coming to terms with the future.

A bit of money here and larger lump there, a farcical proposal to give benefit-in-kind breaks for one year to electric car purchasers, throw in a few projects that have already been delivered or one that is opening soon and that's about all. No attempt to wean people off diesel, no real investment in public transport or even a vision, just the same old fudge as we grind our way to failing our climate change commitments.

Of course they are worrying about the fall in excise duty when we go electric, the effect on industry if diesel goes up and the pressure from the car industry; but all this will have to be faced sooner or later. The more you kick the can down the road, the more it will eventually hurt.

Perhaps Environment Minister Denis Naughten has some ideas but what we have seen so far has been less than impressive. People want some certainty or at least a plan to gain it. Companies need the same.

That's not to say that the car industry has ever helped itself. It's greedy and self-centred like all industries. It is now only at last coming to terms with the fact that women make most of the decisions in the market. It's too late, for years they were made to feel second-class citizens in the showrooms.

Now people have deserted these shining palaces for the websites and only come to the dealer to sign the contract. That will soon go, too.

Perhaps it isn't the ministers' fault that so few good ideas are coming through, but they are the leaders who should be pushing for them.

It is up to the civil servants to come up with ideas, proposals, costing and arguments. They have rarely stepped up the mark

Do they actually like their work and feel they want to change the country for the better or is the horrible analogy of clock-watching and pension-counting more true?

The world is changing fast. Only last Thursday did Paris announce it was banning all petrol cars from the city's streets by 2030, building on its pledge to outlaw all diesels from 2024.

Most Parisians in fact do not own cars but use the reliable and relatively cheap public transport network as well as the schemes that offer short-term bike, scooter and electric car rental. In Britain, Oxford has also unveiled plans to ban petrol and diesel cars.

I like cars, I love driving but I can see that the future isn't what it is now.

For my children and grandchildren, I want sustainability, I want less reliance on family-owned cars, I want better public transport and I want to cycle safely. I don't want to be damaging the environment.

Shane Ross and Paschal Donohoe are two bright ministers; they work with a Taoiseach who claims to understand what people want. Let's have the vision, lads, everyone deserves it.

Sunday Independent

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