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Andrew Lynch: Quest for relevance has led Gormley to his craziest idea yet

John Gormley is getting desperate. He stands on the brink of defeat over the proposed Poolbeg incinerator, his plans for a directly elected Dublin Mayor are still in cold storage and the Green Party remains as low as ever in the opinion polls.

With less than two years to go before a general election that may well end his career, the Environment Minister is frantically searching for some concrete achievement he can sell to the electorate -- but in his ongoing quest for relevance, he has managed to come up with his silliest idea yet.


Earlier this month, Gormley issued local authorities with a directive that must have had even hardened council leaders rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

Under new guidelines, they must now force drivers of commercial 4X4s and small vans to legally promise that they will not use them for any social or domestic purposes.

In any words, your local shopkeeper can no longer use his or her delivery van to drop their kids to school or pick up some groceries for home -- and if they get caught out, their commercial motor tax will be more than quadrupled from €288 to €1,204.

This bizarre idea fails the first principle of any new law, namely that it will be completely impossible to enforce.

As anyone with a bit of common sense will tell you, many people who run small businesses can only afford one vehicle and naturally allow it to double up as a family people carrier instead.

Are the gardai really expected to waste their time flagging down small vans and demanding proof that everyone in the back is an employee or that the driver's bag of tools will not be used to fix the sink at home instead?


Even if this new regulation was workable, however, it would still be a seriously bad idea.

The recession has hit small business harder than anyone else, with a recent survey finding that almost half of them have plans to restructure, downsize or simply close up shop before the end of the year.

At a time when the Government should be doing everything possible to help local companies stay afloat, imposing yet another stealth tax on them is crazy -- and has the potential to put even more people out of work.

Gormley's crackpot plan comes hot on the heels of that infamous 5pc hike in electricity prices, which his Green colleague Eamon Ryan has refused to reverse. Transport Minister Noel Dempsey has confirmed that he's considering a new fuel tax to raise money for road maintenance, a clear rebuke to Gormley's plans to set up new tolls instead.

Meanwhile, petrol prices are almost 20pc higher than they were this time last year -- eating into the profit margins of small businesses who have no choice but to stay on the road.

By now, it should be clear that the Greens' answer to every problem is to slap a new charge on it -- and while they're happy to accept money from all quarters, they clearly see motorists as the biggest cash cow of all.

Next December's budget is likely to see another raft of environmental stealth taxes, including a 60pc increase in the cost of a driving licence.


With the Government still failing to clip the wings of private clamping companies who are making drivers' lives a misery, insurance costs still sky-high and councils imposing ridiculous speed limits in our city centres, it seems that some politicians won't be happy until the roads have been emptied of everything except bicycles and cars that run exclusively on vegetable oil.

John Gormley is expected to attend next month's Electric Picnic festival.

This new proposal from the Environment Minister is simply out to lunch.