The Government deserves no credit for Ireland’s energy policy, writes John McGuirk
By the time you are reading this, a litre of diesel or unleaded will cost much more than it does as I write this, on the Sunday evening before the budget. The fact that it costs more will have no impact whatsoever on whether you must drive to work on the morning after Minister Donohue announces his tax and spending measures for the year. He might want to discourage you from driving your car, but you still need to go into town to do your shopping, or drop the children off to school, or drive to your place of work.
Meanwhile, here in North Tipperary, where I live, locals are up in arms over a decision to spoil one of the most naturally beautiful habitats in the country with the erection of yet another wind farm. These bird-killing monstrosities despatch hundreds of thousands of rare birds in North America every year, and countless slightly less rare birds here in Ireland. They do this while blighting the landscape and generating about as much electricity as a hamster on a spinning wheel.
So lacking in confidence is the Government in its renewable energy policy, in fact, that this week it celebrated the award of half a billion euro from the European Union so that it could lay power lines under the sea to connect Ireland to the French energy grid, and import countless kilowatts of French nuclear power. I am sure there is a policy more absurd than taking one of the most beautiful countries in Europe and covering it in ugly windmills that don’t even work, while importing nuclear power from overseas, but I am afraid I cannot think of it at the moment.
Of course, it fits a pattern. Two weeks ago, the Government announced that it would ban all Oil exploration in Irish waters. Whether we have oil in Irish waters is an open question that has not yet been answered, but if we do, the Irish Government’s policy is very clear – we shall leave it where it is and import Oil from the gulf instead. Now, whether you burn oil from Saudi Arabia or from somewhere in the Irish Atlantic Ocean makes no difference whatsoever to the environment. Oil is Oil. The only difference is where it comes from, and who makes money off it.
The Government is, of course, not entirely to blame. If we, the Irish people, genuinely wish to be a greener, cleaner, country, the solution is clear: Pick somewhere where there aren’t many jobs or opportunities for people and build a nuclear power plant of our own. Heck, on behalf of North Tipperary, I volunteer our part of the country. At a stroke, we would have the ability to slash our emissions, produce enough power to run the country almost in perpetuity, and have enough left over to export. We’re importing the stuff anyway – why can’t we produce it ourselves? It would negate the need for those useless windmills.
The answer, of course, is that we would immediately have massive protests from people who would be only delighted to have a nuclear plant – as long as it was on the other end of the country. “Wexford is totally unsuitable”, the local councillors would say. “It should be built somewhere that can cope with it, like Donegal”.
We would have endless re-runs of programmes about the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, hardly any of which would mention that Chernobyl was a disaster of Communism, rather than a disaster of nuclear power.
Nuclear Power produces no emissions of any kind. It is totally carbon-free. If the Government is serious about making us all drive electric cars, we will need cheap and affordable and reliable electricity. If we are serious about tourism, we should be trying to make the country look better, rather than having it look as if we are trying to build enough propellers to enable the whole island to fly. If we are serious about rural development, we should be seeking to build infrastructure that will bring jobs and employment and expertise to rural Ireland. But we won’t, because while most Irish people will be only delighted to boil the kettle using nuclear power, they would rather it be French nuclear power rather than Irish nuclear power.
The other factor of course is that as with every other Irish Government scheme, there’s a whole class of us set to do very nicely out of it. Nearly every wind farm in the country is a commercial enterprise by some landowner or other who is being well paid for it, and in return, the country gets enough power to charge a mobile phone or two, if it’s a windy day.
Irish environmental policy isn’t actually about reducing emissions – it’s actually about making us all feel enough pain so that we believe that the Government is reducing emissions. If we really wanted to reduce emissions, we’d build a nuclear plant. But we don’t – so pay your extra few euros for your diesel, enjoy the windmills on the top of every hill, and rely on the French to make your tea for you.
It’s lucky the Irish Government doesn’t run the Supermarkets. We’d all starve within the week.