Oil drilling ban supporters mulling legal challenge against State after Government blocks bill

Oil drilling ban supporters mulling legal challenge against State after Government blocks bill

The chief proponent of a ban on oil and gas drilling in Irish waters has threatened the possibility of a legal challenge against the State in order to resurrect the proposed legislation which has been blocked by the Government.

The Climate Emergency Measures Bill was introduced last year by People Before Profit and garnered the support of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and Sinn Féin before progressing to committee debate stage in the Oireachtas.

Further debate on the bill was due to start in less than a fortnight, but the Government has moved to block the bill's progression, using bureaucratic procedure, on the grounds of a drill ban having cost implications for the State.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said his party and others will begin arguing for the Government to "change tune" at tomorrow's sitting of the Joint Oireachtas Business Committee. However, he said his party has not ruled out legal action.

"We'll certainly look at the legal side of it. We're not giving up on this. We intend to fight this at procedural level, but more importantly at political level," Mr Boyd Barrett said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he was "flabbergasted" that the Government was "willing to disregard the democratic institutions of the State" by blocking the proposal 15 months after the start of the process.

"The Department seems to have gone rogue and I think the Minister and the Government facilitating it is a disgrace and their words on climate change ring hollow as a result," Mr Ryan said.

Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth Ireland said the Government has now lost all credibility around climate action and the environment.

"Nothing else the Government does on climate will have any credibility now, unless - at the very least - they let TDs do their job and debate the bill and amend it and pass it as they see fit," he said.

Mr Boyd Barrett called the latest block "a cynical attempt to sabotage" the bill. He said the move showed "stunning hypocrisy" on the part of the Government after it claimed to acknowledge the public's desire to see more done to tackle climate change, as illustrated by the success of green agenda-led candidates in the local and European elections.

Former Natural Resoures Minister Denis Naughten also said the Government should "pause" the approval of further oil and gas exploration licences.

The latest setback for the People Before Profit-led bill follows formal approval being granted for a drilling programme by a subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, in partnership with oil major Exxon Mobil, off the Kerry coast. This campaign is now likely to get underway before the end of the summer and is being seen as a major barometer of the potential of Irish oil licences.

Exploration industry lobby group the Irish Offshore Operators Association said the bill does not take account of Ireland’s energy realities and would lock Ireland into a future of energy imports and as a result, it would increase, rather than reduce Ireland’s emissions.

"A transition to lower carbon needs to happen and is the right thing to do. However, Irish people and Irish businesses still need oil and gas in the interim. The IOOA remains committed to engaging on energy policy that is realistic about Ireland’s current and future energy needs," a spokesperson said.

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