It is a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ for the Government, with dirty diesel cars being their vehicle of choice, writes Elaine Loughlin.
When the Cabinet and a number of junior ministers travelled to Sligo (in their fume-emitting diesel cars) to unveil the hyped-up Ireland 2040 plan last week, much of the emphasis was on a €22 billion package which will transform our country into a low-carbon economy.
Amid the razzmatazz of the grand unveiling were promises to stop buying diesel buses by the middle of next year; to put an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars after 2030; and by that time a prediction that at least 500,000 electric vehicles will be on our roads.
Judging by those promises, many in Leinster House will be buying themselves shiny new electric cars soon.
A survey by the Irish Examiner has revealed that of those ministers and junior ministers who were willing to give details of the cars they drive, just Denis Naughten, the climate action and environment minister, currently owns a hybrid car.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan claims there is “a lack of initiative” coming from Government when it comes to protecting the environment.
While ‘range anxiety’ had been a major issue in the past, he claims a number of car companies such as BMW and Tesla are now rolling out electric cars which can do long distances.
Mr Ryan, who owns an eco-friendly biodiesel Volkswagen van, called for the introduction of electric vehicle charging points at all filling stations to encourage more people to buy these cars.
This was echoed by Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley, who said there is now a serious need to roll out the infrastructure to make electric vehicles an appealing option.
“There is the option now to change to electric because the battery life in these cars is a lot longer, but the infrastructure is not there. The charging infrastructure is deplorable and even where there are charging points, they often don’t work.”
The Clare TD said he would like to change to an electric car from his current diesel model but a lack of Government commitment and investment in charging facilities means that he would not be able to travel around his constituency.
“What we need is a comprehensive investment programme so the option is there to use electric vehicles. There is a phenomenal lack of commitment.”
We are all now aware of the detrimental impacts diesel is having on our already damaged environment.
Earlier this week the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) went as far as suggesting it is now “justifiable” to hike taxes on diesel up to the same rate as petrol, given the deadly impacts the fuel has on our environment. It said this would cut emissions from the transport sector by 283,000 tonnes per year.
Some in Government have dabbled with electric cars, including Mr Naughten, who took one for a week-long stint last year.
Back in 2014, Tánaiste Simon Coveney — who along with the Taoiseach and Justice Minister are given State cars — test-drove an electric Nissan Leaf while at the Department of Agriculture.
The Taoiseach had also taken the opportunity to test-drive an electric car as transport minister. But when it comes to a longer-term commitment to bring down emissions, it seems ministers are saying one thing and doing the other.
Since May of 2011, Cabinet ministers, with the exception of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and Justice and Equality Minister, have been using their own cars for official business, on the same basis as ministers of state.
While ministers provide their own private car for official purposes, they are entitled to two civilian drivers working week on/week off, and can claim back mileage.
Despite a host of incentives to go green and purchase electric cars, which the current Government has introduced, not one of the ministers or ministers of state who responded has an electric vehicle.
Mr Naughten this week said: “What we are looking at in Government is a suite of measures to try and reduce the overall consumption of diesel, particularly for domestic cars. I think it is something that we have to do to discourage people... and actively consider how we can actually do that.”
Considering Mr Naughten can’t even get his own Cabinet colleagues on board, it appears we have a long way to go to reach 500,000 electric cars on our roads.
Ministers of State:
The following declined to provide information on the type of car they use.
Ministers of State: