Day of climate emergency launched as Committee debates fossil fuel Bill

Published by Kayle Crosson on

June 11th, 2019

Activists have declared a day of climate emergency with protests and meetings taking place across the capital to demand immediate action from the State.

The main action took place outside the Dail this afternoon as members of Extinction Rebellion Ireland dressed in suits poured fake blood over 10 people clad in white overalls who represented “innocent children” that the groups said will feel the brunt of the impacts of climate change.

Protesters wearing ‘green washers’ uniforms then arrived equipped with scrubs and brushes to clean up the blood. Extinction Rebellion Ireland member Leontien Friel Darrell said that greenwashing is “hopping on the green bandwagon without there being anything to back it up”.

The Government’s granting of fossil fuel exploration licenses soon after the Dail declared a climate emergency is an example of greenwashing, she said. “It’s all words and no action.”

A further protest will take place outside the Dáil this evening at 5.30pm, followed by a public meeting in Buswells Hotel at 6.45pm.

Extinction Rebellion Ireland Photo: Kayle Crosson

Money Message for fossil fuel Bill

The demonstration coincided with the date that the Climate Emergency Measures Bill was slated to proceed to Committee Stage.

The Bill seeks to amend the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act to limit the issuing of new licences for the exploration of fossil fuels.

A letter sent last month to Bill author Brid Smith TD signed by the Minister for Natural Resources Sean Canney, however, said that the Bill now requires a money message.

A money message is essentially a State recommendation signed by the Taoiseach approving of legislation that will cost the State money as per Article 17.2 of the Constitution.

The Article states no law that requires the spending of public money shall be passed without Government approval first. Unless approval is received, a Bill cannot progress to Committee Stage.

Appearing before a Joint Committee on Climate Action hearing this afternoon, Mr Canney said that he first raised concerns with the potential cost to the exchequer to the Committee last November.

Last month, he sent a four page letter to the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, TD “detailing concerns” about the cost implications of the Bill and asked for further consideration of the money message, following which Mr Ó Fearghaíl made the decision to seek a money message.

Mr Canney stressed that potential costs to the State include the repayment of application fees to licence applicants, as well as legal fees for potential challenges by exploration companies.

The Bill was previously held up for several months at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage as a grouping of Fine Gael and independent politicians voted against a report on the Bill proceeding to the Dail.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that the whole approach from the executive in relation to the Bill from the start has been an “egregious insult to the institutions of the Oireachtas”.

“The executive has in my mind exceeded their powers,” he asked. “I would like to have the chance to legally question the process and I would like that to be done in a timely manner.”

‘green washers’ cleaning up after XR Ireland protest Photo: Kayle Crosson

Profound moral hazard

The Department of Climate Action has previously said that fossil fuels will still be required to meet electricity needs and provide a backup supply “when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.”

Speaking at a briefing in Dublin this morning, however, Gregg Muttitt of the energy think tank Oil Change International said that the idea of using gas as a bridge fuel died decades ago when renewables were still expensive.

“Gas is not a transition or bridge fuel, it is an old dirty fuel from the 20th century and we need a real transition to renewables,” he said.

“There is no way the world can achieve the Paris goals if we keep adding more oil, coal, and gas to the system.”

Catherine Devitt, Head of Policy for Stop Climate Chaos, said that opening up new fossil fuel reserves anywhere in the world “poses serious risks” and the Government’s decision to continue handing out new exploration licenses is a “profound moral hazard”.

“By taking this dangerous option off the table legislators could boost research and investment in more ambitious paths to 100 per cent renewable energy,” she said.

“These options are out there and need much more political attention. We need new incentives to get off fossil fuels. Ending licensing for new fossil fuel exploration should be one of them.”

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.