MEP Election: Where do Midlands North-West candidates stand on climate?

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May 23rd, 2019

Irish voters will flock to polling stations in their thousands this Friday to choose thirteen candidates to represent Ireland at the European Parliament.

In the Midlands-North West region, seventeen candidates will compete for the four available seats.

Ahead of the vote, Marianne Foody looks at some of the key candidates’ stances on climate and biodiversity issues.

Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan Photo: Niall Saregnt

Independent – Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan MEP

In a recent report by Climate Action Network (CAN), Luke Ming Flanagan was ranked strongest when it came to voting on environmental issues with a 63 per cent record in favour of climate and energy related amendments.

He believes that “short food chains’’ are the way forward for Ireland and is not in support of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) trade agreements.

According to the European Commission’s official impact assessment, the TTIP partnership will see millions of extra tonnes of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere.

The deal would also see a massive increase in imports of gas and oil from the United States, including from tar sands – the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels.

Flanagan described the advocating of these deals as “the ultimate hypocrisy’’ as they would see grass-fed cattle from Europe replaced with beef from South American feedlots.

“Similar food products being shipped halfway around the globe and meeting each other in the high seas in passing, burning up vast quantities of fuel, while berating the farming community at local level for not doing enough to mitigate climate change’’ he said.

With regards farming, Flanagan is not against turf cutting and believes that how the Government handled affected communities with turbary rights was inappropriate. In 2014, he said that he “wouldn’t ask anyone to stop cutting turf’’ and wants to see the government work with communities instead of a “bulldoze’’ option.

Flanagan is in support of offshore wind-turbines and the introduction of standardised hemp into Ireland with a 0.3 per cent THC level. He is also anti-fracking and anti-GMO.

At the recent Environmental Pillar hustings, he was outspoken about the Government’s climate failures including a forestry plan that saw the plantation of hundreds of Sitka Spruce trees in Co Leitrim.

On a personal level, Luke Ming Flanagan is a vegetarian and takes the train regularly.

Saoirse McHugh Photo: Niall Sargent

Green Party – Saoirse McHugh

Saoirse McHugh is from Achill in Co Mayo and is the youngest of the candidates. McHugh’s vision is one that prioritises climate issues as well as rural communities in Ireland.

“Climate breakdown is the most critical challenge humanity has ever faced. However, it presents an enormous opportunity to the sometimes forgotten communities in the Midlands-North-West,’’ she said at the Pillar hustings in Carrick-on-Shannon.

She has promised to prioritise climate action that will benefit rural Ireland and has urged small farmers to “wake up” and realise that the big farming lobby doesn’t represent their interests.

Speaking on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding she said that there is a “big structural problem’’ in the way it is allocated which “benefits large farmers disproportionately’’. “It [CAP] does not incentivise carbon sequestration or biodiversity benefits to a sufficient level’’.

Speaking at the hustings, she said that currently “our system [to tackle environmental issues] is fundamentally flawed’’ and spoke about the level of hypocrisy seen in the current Government.

“The Government is banning plastic straws while they’re granting off-shore drilling licences. There’s nothing realistic about sacrificing the only planet we have for large wealth creation. It is bonkers’’.

Her main priorities are energy sovereignty, a just transition and resilience and would to see the people of Europe take control of their own energy.

To do this in Ireland, she is calling for a revenue neutral carbon tax, a phasing out of all fossil fuels, and an upgraded energy grid that can support renewable generation.

To support a just transition, she believes that a European-led scheme should be rolled out to retrain and assist communities so that “nobody gets left behind’’ in the transition away from fossil fuels.

Matt Carthy MEP Photo: Niall Sargent

Sinn Féin – Matt Carthy MEP

At the Environmental Pillar hustings, Carthy spoke about the difficulties faced by the people of Leitrim who had been let down by State forest policy that ended in “corporate land grabbing’’ and an influx of ‘’invasive forest species’’.

When asked what Carthy would change about the EU, he said that he would stop the investment of Irish and EU money into the fossil fuel industry completely.

“If the political will is there, the European Parliament could say ‘No’ to the EIB and ECB in order to divest away from fossil fuel industries and dirty business.’’

He also maintained that “corporate lobbyists’’ should be banned from the European Parliament in Brussels and the EU should disengage from “any trade deal’’ that doesn’t contain sustainable goals.

Speaking specifically about the Mercosur deal he said ‘’up to over 200,000 tonnes of beef would be shipped here from Brazil’,’ where they’re actually ‘’cutting down rainforests’’ to produce it.

Commenting on the EU/US trade deal (TTIP) in 2016, he said that it could have “major negative consequences for Irish agriculture, workers’ rights, food safety, and the environment” in Ireland.

Carthy also wants to see the €4billion military funding for PESCO go towards other issues such as eco-issues or the housing crisis.

In February 2019 he called on the Government to condemn the UK’s consideration of sites across the North as potential dumping grounds for radioactive nuclear waste.

MEPs Lynn Boylan and Mairead McGuinness at Brexit and Environment Conference in Dundalk, 2017 Photo: Niall Sargent
MEP Mairead McGuinness (r) at Brexit and Environment Conference in Dundalk, 2017 Photo: Niall Sargent

Fine Gael – Mairead McGuinness MEP

McGuinness is the Vice President of the European Union and sits with the European People’s Party (EPP), ranked as ‘Dinosaurs’ in the recent CAN report.

McGuinness is in favour of banning single-use plastics and decarbonisation in Ireland’s transport sector.

She welcomed the European Parliament vote in favour of a 40 per cent  reduction in emissions from passenger cars and vans by 2030, saying that the vote “benefits the agriculture sector’’.

The huge CO2 reductions necessary to meet our climate targets “cannot be borne by agriculture alone and ambitious reductions in transport are crucial,” she said.

She has called for an end to the “artificial divide’’ between farmers and environmentalists saying that what farmers need is “help and support’’ including advisory systems which would focus on combining “environmental delivery with production’’.

In 2018, McGuinness tabled an amendment to increase the CAP budget in order to address climate issues which was backed by MEPs.

Fianna Fail – Brendan Smith TD

Smith is in favour of free trade deals such as CETA, TTIP as well as EU deals with Japan and Singapore. He believes that exporting goods and agri-products/services is the best way of supporting Irish business and agriculture.

“Trade with Canada, Japan and Singapore is already worth €6.1 billion.  These new deals will allow our businesses and farmers dramatically increase their exports. SF need to be honest about their lack of support in the European Parliament for Irish workers and Irish exporters’’ he tweeted recently.

Smith’s hometown in Cavan is home to many beef farmers and he has spoken publicly about the Mercosur deal which would see thousands of tonnes of South American beef imported to the EU.

This is a priority for his border community as the beef industry may already be taking a hard hit because of Brexit.

Independent – Peter Casey

Casey believes that a carbon tax is not the answer for Ireland to tackle climate change and described it as “a tax on the poor”.

He has said that he wants to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as it is a “one size fits all’’ model that he says does not work for all Irish farmers.

Casey commented on the allocation of sustainable fishing quotas in Europe and said that Irish fishermen were “absolutely shafted” with this development.

Dominic Hannigan Photo: Niall Sargent

Labour – Dominic Hannigan

If elected to European Parliament, Hannigan would call for an “EU Just Transition Fund’’ to address climate change in a way that doesn’t punish small businesses and families.

Speaking at the recent Environmental Pillar hustings, Hannigan said that he would like to see the introduction of a bottle deposit return scheme to encourage consumers to recycle plastic.

He also wants to introduce a bike share initiative in the Midlands-North West area in order to decrease the carbon footprint of the rural areas in Ireland.

Hannigan maintains that 90 per cent of the young people he has spoken to are not happy with the way things are with regards climate issues and have offered suggestions which he says he “will listen to”.

Independent – Fidelma Healy Eames

Healy Eames would like to see a “decent’’ public transport system in place for rural Ireland. When it comes to climate issues, she is calling for a re-education instead of any form of “punishment” to people.

She is against the introduction of a Carbon Tax and instead wants to see Ireland putting funding towards solar and renewable energy.

She is also one of the few MEP candidates running without a poster campaign.

Cyril Brennan Photo: Niall Sargent

People Before Profit – Cyril Brennan

Brennan’s policies were outlined at the Environmental Pillar Hustings earlier this month. The Ballyshannon man is calling for a ban on single-use plastic and a move away from a carbon tax.

He would like to see a frequent flyer tax implemented for those who use airplanes regularly as they have a huge emissions output.

His view is that Ireland needs to stop blaming the consumers and start blaming the polluters when it comes to damaging the environment.

One of his final points was that he would like to see a reduction in the number of cows in Ireland in the coming years so as to minimise Carbon output.

By Marianne Foody

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