By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Labour will ring-fence €1bn to replace Ireland's public bus fleet, set up a new bike to school scheme and retrofit almost a quarter of a million homes to bring down energy costs in a bid to promote the green economy in the next government.
The plans were launched today by Energy Minister Alex White during a media briefing in which he failed to rule out challenging Tánaiste Burton as leader should the party lose power after the imminent national vote.
Under the pre-election policy document - which does not contain any reference to the recent COP21 world climate change commitments - Labour intends to set up a €1bn green infrastructure fund, half of which will be paid for through the planned sale of 25% of the State's AIB shares.
This money will be used to set up a new subsidised bike to school scheme similar to the bike to work initiative, the eventual replacement of public transport buses with more environmentally friendly alternatives and the retrofitting of 225,000 homes in a move the party claims will create up to 13,000 jobs.
Speaking at the launch Mr White said the plans would ensure there is "some payback from the banks" and dismissed concerns over the fact the COP21 agreement is not referenced "on every page" as it is the "driving force" behind the initiatives.
The green economy policy document launch also saw the Energy Minister repeatedly questioned over his leadership ambitions should the imminent election see Labour lose power.
Under the party's own constitution, a leadership contest must take place after any election in which Labour does not enter government, a situation which could come to pass as latest polls suggest the current coalition will not be re-elected by itself.
It has been claimed Mr White may consider entering a leadership challenge against Tánaiste Joan Burton in a repeat of the 2014 race to replace former leader Eamon Gilmore should Labour not regain power.
Asked about the option a number of times, Mr White said Ms Burton is an "excellent" leader and that they have a "terrfiic relationship" but did not rule out the possibility.
He said while "ambition is not a word I use very often" and "the future is the future", the reality is "there isn't a single TD who doesn't want to be leader of his or her party".
Responding to the same question Labour TD Kevin Humphreys - who also launched the policy - said: "I'll tell you what my ambition is, to get re-elected. That's the first ambition. I want to serve this country well, that's the second ambition."
After Environment Minister Alan Kelly last weekend said "you're your own boss really" in response to a question over whether Ms Burton is in charge, the Tánaiste responded by joking he is an "incredibly obedient employee".
Asked if he should expect the same response to his decision not to rule out a post-election leadership challenge, Mr White said the Tánaiste is "very popular in the country" before quoting former Conservative British prime minister Margaret Thatcher by saying she is "primus inter pares" - Latin for first among equals.