Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Editorial: Indecent haste in turning us green is a turn-off for a nation that can’t afford such change just yet

We found it strange to see briquettes from Germany on sale in shops and filling stations these last two years or so. Ireland certainly has enough of its own solid fuel, so why, we wondered, did Germany manufacturers suddenly see Ireland as a market for briquettes?

During the same time, many people have become accustomed to being accused of being polluters, even though they weren’t doing anything different and by any rule of thumb were anything but polluters. Nonetheless, those of a ‘green’ bent seemed to be having a greater say in things lately.

Drink-driving is now rightly regarded as anti-social (as well as illegal, obviously); it just isn’t acceptable behaviour anymore. Smoking in a pub has gone the same way, leading to great craic in outdoor smoking areas; but light up a cigarette indoors now and you can be sure to be shown the door. Perhaps that’s as it should be.

But back to briquettes and turf. This past week, the Green Party, which has 12 seats in the Dáil, was surprised by comments made by An Tanaiste Leo Varadkar. With the sale of Irish turf products becoming prohibited in September, Leo decided that it wasn’t so simple after all, and that people with turbury rights would be allowed to continue to get their solid fuel from the land, at least for now (the measure was being “paused”, he said).

This came as a great surprise to the Green Party and especially its leader, Éamon Ryan. The Greens have been relentless in their pursuit of the green agenda, and banning the burning of solid fuel – a known pollution generator – was high on their list. Preventing its harvesting, distribution and sale was the way to achieve this. Even after Leo’s intervention, it still is, and we all know that the writing is on the wall for turf.

People getting fuel from the land is traditional in Ireland for some families; they often share the fuel with family, friends and neighbours, but such distribution will be banned some day, just not as soon as we thought.

Ireland has earned itself a reputation for being a ‘good EU member’, another way of saying we do what we’re told. Others – notably the Hungarians and the French – are less passive.

The tough measures pursued by the Green Party were always at odds with German briquettes being on sale, even for the time being. It seemed that Bord na Móna was under increasing pressure – pressure to which it has relented – to close down this bog or shut down that manufacturing centre, all of this costing jobs, damaging communities which hurt people.

This was never done to facilitate German business, but the opportunity was there; as Bord na Móna withdrew, others filled the space.
It just seems to be so rushed. Ireland has earned itself a reputation for being a ‘good EU member’, another way of saying we do what we’re told. Others – notably the Hungarians and the French – are less passive.

The Greens would have us adopt tough measures to tackle climate change/global warming tomorrow, if they could. We’re not saying the party or its members are wrong – indeed, we can see their point. It’s just the speed with the rest of us are expected to cope with serious change that is the big problem.

Minister Varadkar’s intervention might have been made for his own political reasons, we don’t know, but it was no harm for someone with authority to suggest to the Greens that they just slow down a bit. We know ‘there is no time’, we get the Gretta Thunberg approach, we can see climate change for ourselves and we see and hear the science. But all we are is people; change takes time, changing an economy takes a long time and changing traditions may take longer than first thought.

Allowing people with turbury rights to continue to lift turf for a few more years won’t bring us acid rain overnight, and if they share a bit with a neighbour, then just let it be. All we are is people, trying to make our way, the best way we can.

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