May 30th, 2019
The Government can’t be “taken seriously” on climate action so long as it continues to grant oil and gas exploration licences, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said today.
Addressing the Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton during Leaders’ Questions, Mr Ryan also questioned the recent decision that a “money message” is now required before the Climate Emergency Measures Billcan progress to Committee Stage.
If made law, the Bill would amend the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act to limit the issuing of new licenses for the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels.
The Bill, raised by People Before Profit’s Brid Smith, was set to proceed to Committee Stage on 11 June. Ms Smith, however, received a letter this week signed by the Minister for Natural Resources Sean Canney TD stating 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.
Deputy Ryan said that the Government had been trying “every trick in the book” to delay the Bill since the Dail voted in favour of it in February 2018.
In asking for a money message, Deputy Ryan said, the Government “comes back and reverses its decision of 15 months that we don’t need a money order, [that] it doesn’t have fiscal implications”.
“And then, at the last minute, having tried every other trick to block it, [the Government] comes in and says, ‘you shall not even debate the issue’,” Mr Ryan added.
Irish flag not included
In his reply, Mr Bruton said that the Government is taking action to achieve the “net zero target of 2050 and deliver our obligations in 2030”.
Mr Bruton added that preventing domestic gas exploration will “not reduce our greenhouse emissions by one gram.”
Banning fossil fuel exploration in Ireland, he said, will “change our dependence on domestic sourced gas to dependence on overseas gas or overseas oil”.
Mr Ryan challenged this assertion, asking how exploration would give us any greater security as “oil doesn’t come with an Irish flag on it”.
“So all we would be doing if we’re going out looking for it is asking for a store of oil that’s going to burn our planet,” he added.
Scientists estimate that just over 50 per cent of gas and 35 per cent of oil reserves need to stay in the ground between 2010 to 2050 in order to stand a change of limiting global temperature rise to 2 °C.
No obligation to sell back to State
Speaking before an Oireachtas committee last year, Dr Amanda Slevin said that exploration for gas and oil in Irish waters is not necessarily benefiting the state.
Dr Slevin, whose research is focused on hydrocarbons management, said that our low tax rate is one of the “most generous” in the world and that companies are “under no obligation” to sell gas and oil back to the State.
If they choose to do so, “sales are at full market” prices, she said, adding that under our current regime there is no security of supply. “If oil is produced offshore Ireland companies, the oil can be transported in tankers to other countries,” she said.
Mr Bruton also said that the State recognized renewables as a “sector that needs to be developed” in the coming years to move away from the use of fossil fuels, with an ambition to hit 70 per cent renewables on the electricity grid by 2030.
“But when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, we still need alternatives. We need backup,” he warned. “And the backup, until we’ve identified other sources that can be introduced cost-effectively into our network, remains gas opportunities.”
‘Completely nonsensical’ position
Speaking at a rally outside of Leinster House this afternoon, Oisin Coghlan of the Stop Climate Chaos (SCC) coalition said that the Government is sending a very contradictory message by supporting oil and gas drilling while also pushing for an increase in the taxation on the use of fossil fuels in homes.
“[The Government] is basically saying, ‘we’re going to keep looking for more and more oil and gas, and we’re going to ask companies to come and look for more and more oil and gas, but we’re going to tax you more and more to try to stop you using it’,” he said.
“It’s completely nonsensical and [The Government] must know it’s nonsense but they’re not prepared to actually live up the rhetoric they’ve been making over the last few days,” Mr Coghlan added.
He added that in less than 24 hours, 4,000 people responded to a call from the SCC to email Mr Burton and the Taoiseach outlining their support for the Bill.
“Our message to the Government today is [that] nothing else you plan, nothing else you say on climate… none of that will have any credibility unless and until you allow TDs to do their job and debate what a climate emergency means and amend and pass this Bill to keep it in the ground,” Mr Coghlan added.