Europe

A new Green agenda

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar plans to fast-track the introduction of radical climate change policies after voters sent the Government a clear message in last Friday’s elections.

The resounding public support for the Green Party in the local and European elections has put huge pressure on the main parties to take dramatic action on the environment.

The Taoiseach yesterday said the significant vote signalled the need to advance plans to implement new climate change policies after the Greens looked set to make record-breaking gains at the polls.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Varadkar said: “The public have sent us a message which is that they want us to accelerate action on climate.

“It will require changes at individual, community and national level. It won’t be easy and won’t always be popular but the public support is there for it now,” he added.

“It’s going to require a lot of changes at individual level, community level and also at government level in terms of policy, but the statement from the public is they are up for that and want us to do it. We are acting on climate but they want us to act faster. We’ve got that message,” he said.

With ballots still being counted across the country last night, the Green Party was set to win a record number of local authority seats and was also well placed in all three European Parliament constituencies

Former minister of state Ciaran Cuffe was on course to top the poll in the Dublin constituency, while Green Party candidates Saoirse McHugh in Midlands North West and Grace O’Sullivan in Ireland South were also in the mix for seats.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were in a close contest to win the local elections, with Mr Varadkar and Micheal Martin now set to turn to a triumphant Green Party to form the next national government.

The current Government is meanwhile facing a series of by-elections in the autumn, due to the likely election of a number of sitting TDs to the European Parliament.

Sinn Fein, one of the only parties not to support the Government’s carbon tax plan, could have one of its worst elections in 10 years. The election drubbing raises serious questions about Mary Lou McDonald’s leadership of the party.

Meanwhile, Eamon Ryan could become the king-maker after the next general election with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail expected to court the Green Party leader to support a future government.

Yesterday, Mr Ryan told the Sunday Independent he would have a long list of demands for supporting a government led by either Mr Varadkar or Mr Martin.

The former minister said he would demand that new carbon taxes be introduced as soon as possible – but suggested they could be repaid to citizens through a cash or social welfare dividend.

Mr Ryan said he would seek to “change the entire public transport system” to promote cycling, walking and the use of buses and trains.

He would also insist on scrapping Mr Varadkar’s Project Ireland 2040 National Development Plan because he believes it is not environmentally friendly.

Mr Ryan also insisted on the introduction of a €50bn scheme for retrofitting every house in the country to make them more energy efficient.

“People aren’t disagreeing with this but it is about getting down and doing it,” he said.

Early indications suggested Fianna Fail had performed reasonably well in the local elections, particularly in working-class areas, where the party has defeated Sinn Fein in several contests – notably in Dublin and other urban areas.

Fianna Fail now expects to emerge as the largest party on Dublin City Council which would be a significant achievement.

However, Mr Martin will be disappointed with the party’s performance in the European elections, where it looks likely to win two of three targeted seats, and will again fail to take a seat in the vast Midlands North West, although the party is still hopeful that Malcolm Byrne may take a second seat in the South constituency.

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar will be relieved that his party’s bigger-name candidates look set to perform well in the European elections, but will be disappointed with its local election showing, which has seen the party’s support fall back to around 23pc, according to an RTE exit poll.

The Greens are expected to benefit considerably in traditional Fine Gael areas. There was anger among some Fine Gael supporters about the party’s poor result, with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and under-fire TD Maria Bailey being blamed for the poor showing.

In the last week of the campaign, Mr Murphy suggested young people should be “excited” about living in small, shared accommodation while Ms Bailey became engulfed in a controversy over a case she took against a hotel after she fell off a swing.

Smaller parties such as Labour and the Social Democrats – as well as parties on the far left – have food for thought after the elections, and will now also seek to present environmental credentials before a general election.

In Dublin City Council Sinn Fein could lose up to eight seats which will raise serious questions about Mary Lou McDonald’s leadership coming on the back of the party’s disastrous showing in the presidential election early this year.

However, former presidential candidate Liadh Ni Riada is expected to retain her seat in the Ireland South constituency for Europe.

Ahead of what is so far a disappointingly slow count, Independent4Change candidate Clare Daly TD is favourite to take the seat of Sinn Fein candidate Lynn Boylan, although sources from all parties say final seats in the European elections are too close to call.

Separately, the vast majority of people supported the referendum to reduce the waiting period to file for divorce from four years to two.

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