Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs have been accused of “political cowardice of the highest order”, by Sinn Féin after they voted against their motion calling for plans to restrict the sale of turf to be scrapped.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty said such TDs were happy to “go on local radio and give quotes” but that “when push comes to shove they fall into line with the Green Party” with “out of touch proposals” in relation to carbon tax and home heating oil.
In heated exchanges during Leader’s Questions in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr Doherty said his party’s motion, which was defeated by the Government on Wednesday night, would have given “real relief to households” during the current cost of living crisis.
The Sinn Féin motion sought to scrap plans to restrict the sale of turf, cancel the planned carbon tax increase from May 1st and to temporarily remove excise duty on home heating oil.
Proposed regulations to ban the commercial sale of turf from September caused furore within ranks of coalition partners Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael earlier this week, with Ministers and backbenchers expressing anger at the decision.
“Despite the huffing and puffing from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ministers and indeed backbenchers, they dutifully rowed in behind you and your party last night to prevent sense prevailing and I must say there’s a notable absence from those huffing and puffing TDs in the chamber this morning,” Mr Doherty told the Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan.
“They’re happy to go on the local radios they’re happy to give quotes to the local newspaper but when push comes to shove, they fall into line with the Green Party with your out of touch proposals in respect of home heating oil and carbon tax. In my view, it is political cowardice of the highest order.”
The Donegal TD said individuals and communities who rely on turf would be punished and that four per cent of households across the State relied on it as the main energy source to heat their homes, which rose to 9 per cent in rural communities and over 30 per cent in some areas.
“These communities need to be supported instead of facing the punishment that you’re dishing out when there is no realistic alternative for them to heat their homes to keep their families warm and safe,” Mr Doherty said.
In response, Mr Ryan said that 1,300 annual deaths caused by air pollution, according to an assessment from the European Environmental Protection Agency, had to be stopped.
The Minister said warnings had also come from the Asthma Society, heart surgeons, cardiologists and respiratory disease experts who outlined that air pollution had to be tackled.
“It would be so easy to walk away and say, well, we won’t do that as it is difficult but what number of deaths should we tolerate,” he said.
“What should we do in ignoring that reality across the country? I don’t believe we should ignore it and we won’t, this Government will act and will deliver practical measures that are not there to punish anyone.”
Mr Ryan added that the current Government would not “walk away as two previous Governments have done” and “as a series of Ministers have done”.
“We will do what needs to be done while maintaining and helping our people through fuel poverty but not ignoring the health issue, not ignoring the loss of life, that would be reckless and disregard our duty,” he added.
The Dublin Bay South TD also disputed a figure put forward by Mr Doherty that 2,800 people per year die of fuel poverty, which Mr Ryan said dated back to a 25-year-old report.