Editorial: 'Voters send Leaders clear message on climate change'
The remarkable surge by voters towards the Green Party has understandably become a national talking point following this weekend's local and European elections. Such discussions are valuable in themselves and can be engaging.
But talk must not divert us from a much more urgent issue: action on climate and the many other existential challenges which we now face. We need a short and very frank debate followed by swift and co-ordinated action.
The voters have relayed their concerns about the world around them. Younger voters have woken up to the threat that global warming, habitation destruction and the loss of species will have real consequences for them in their lifetimes.
Older voters are looking at the prospect that their children and/or grandchildren are likely to inherit a very seriously impaired planet within a generation. Ireland, by the Taoiseach's own admission, is a laggard in addressing these key issues. Reports by organisations like the Environmental Protection Agency showed how Ireland has not even begun to address the issues.
Almost a year ago the Citizens' Assembly - which defied the sceptics and did very prescient and helpful work about dealing with the Eighth Amendment - delivered a hard-hitting climate change report which was a call to action. It had deliberated for a long time, drawing on the advice of a number of independent experts. The assembly report demanded that planning for climate mitigation and adaptation be placed at the heart of government. There was also strong support for investing in cycling and public transport, retrofitting, community-led renewable energy, and climate-friendly agriculture, including organic farming.
There were hard questions asked about carbon emissions from Ireland's huge dairy and beef farming sectors. There was also strong support for a carbon tax to change our behaviour. Some of those recommendations raise difficulties which we need to discuss. The role of the Irish family farm and the need to protect farm incomes must be paramount. People living on low incomes, and dependent on fossil fuels for heat, must not be penalised.
Our politicians are already talking and promising action, but some politicians talk loudly about climate change and other environmental perils but dodge hard choices. Now we find the voters, in opting to back the Green Party, and in raising the environmental issues on the doorsteps with politicians canvassing from all parties, have sent a real message to their political representatives.
We must see some of the less demanding measures implemented immediately. We must begin an honest dialogue on the more contentious measures and see how vulnerable groups can be protected. We must protect Ireland's medium and longer-term interests as we plan for changes.
Many issues will pose difficulties for all of us. But they must be faced.
Ireland needs to regain credibility within the European Union and the United Nations on global warming and general environmental challenges.