Poll pushes party leaders to make climate a priority

Fine Gael’s first election under Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s stewardship was an underwhelming one, with Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton saying the party is coming under increasing pressure to address environmental concerns.

Yesterday, Mr Bruton pledged to deliver the Government’s Plan to Tackle Climate Disruption before the Dail takes its summer break.

The plan includes proposals for a new low-cost loan scheme to retrofit homes, and a series of other measures to address climate change.

Late last Friday night after polls closed in the local elections it was clear the party had not done as well as it would have hoped, with early polling figures showing it was neck and neck with Fianna Fail.

Yesterday, as the early tallies came in it was very difficult to identify where the party could make inroads, with strong support for the Green Party and Fianna Fail in Dublin eating in to its votes.

Mr Bruton said he expected the party to “hold its own” in the capital but said it was clear that an emerging awareness of environmental matters was something the Government will have to address.

He said this would have to include a carbon pricing strategy.

“Carbon pricing is inherent in any coherent strategy to address climate change. If something we are doing is inflicting massive damage on the globe, and it is being done without a charge being imposed up on it, that is hugely handicapping our ability to address the problem.

“Carbon pricing means there will be a carbon price in the electricity sector, as in the ordinary consumer sector.

“What you are doing is trying to impose a cost for the damage that is inflicted.”

Mr Bruton, who was running a tally in the Dublin City Council election yesterday, said the support for the Green Party demonstrates the Government needs to adapt to public concern on climate change.

“I can only judge from here where we are [in Dublin] holding our own and making small gains.

“A mid-term election is difficult. It is definitely an election where quality-of-life issues come to the fore and bread-and-butter issues, which clearly gives people a freedom when making their choices. No doubt that concern around climate and the environment has been a building concern.

“Even though the Government is now doing a massive amount to get our strategy in place to deliver high performance in this area I think the public is impatient to see delivery in this area. I am impatient myself to see delivery.”

Yesterday, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan tried to explain the party’s performance in the local elections by saying it was very difficult for government parties to make mid-term gains.

She was happier to reflect on the European elections, where Fine Gael was likely to see better results when counting gets under way there today. Asked about the exit poll results, she said: “There’s been a number of issues. You have to put this into context. This is a mid-term election. In the last 20 years there’s no government that has made gains in a mid-term election.”

She pointed to increased support for Fine Gael in the European elections and said: “I think it’s a recognition of the Taoiseach and Tanaiste and the work they’ve done in relation to Brexit ,so that’s a positive.”

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