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BEN SCALLAN: Ireland’s comically bad turf climbdown

The government’s attempted turf ban will no doubt go down as one of the biggest political L’s in Irish history, up there with the 1982 Fine Gael tax on children’s shoes.

And with most of the plan reversed after backlash, having metaphorically stepped in dog waste, the government now has to walk around awkwardly dragging their feet to scrape off any residue of the policy.

As reported by RTÉ:

“The regulations, which are set to be signed into law in the coming days, will allow people with turf cutting rights to sell that turf or to gift it to others. However, turf sales cannot be advertised and it cannot be sold in retail settings.”

So they’ve conceded basically everything. You can cut turf, you can sell turf, you can give turf as a gift – but shops can’t sell it, and you can’t advertise it. Which would include social media posts.

Now, ask yourself: what in the name of Eamon Ryan’s salad box does this have to do with climate change?

The whole point of the policy was supposedly to stop carbon emissions and save the earth. Turf, we were to believe, was dangerous contraband killing off all life on earth. So if we’re letting people cut, burn and sell it, what is banning advertising of it supposed to achieve exactly?

If turf is as bad for the planet as they claim, this is as stupid as legalising the use, purchase and sale of heroin, but saying you can’t post about it on online. It’s preposterous.

Alternatively, if turf isn’t that bad, then why did the government try to ban it, and have the issue blow up in their faces?

Of course the answer is the government have painted themselves into a corner where they need the Greens to maintain stability, and keep the wolf of Sinn Féin at bay. And so this watered down policy is essentially to placate their smaller coalition partner. But in doing so, they have shot themselves in the foot severely with the general public.

It’s also probably partially to save face, and make the new policy seem like a rolling-back or a slight course correction, rather than a pathetic retreat.

But to be frank, you didn’t have to have a genie or a crystal ball to predict this outcome. All you would need is a modicum of common sense – a resource which apparently our leaders lost somewhere in the supply chain.

Of course, if you asked a government official the rationale for the initial plan, they’d tell you it was for the greater good of the planet, and that “we’re in a climate crisis, you know” – yadda yadda yadda, all the greatest hits. And that’s all well and good if you’re a Green TD, an environmental activist or an NGO worker with money to blow. But that’s just not how middle Ireland sees it.

With home heating bills and the cost of living going up like a rocket, average punters across Ireland already felt like they were being driven to the brink financially. And then they turn on the news to find out that not only is the government not able to help them in this, but politicians are actually conspiring to remove existing fuel sources that are readily available. And that’s not even to mention the carbon tax increase a few months back.

People essentially feel like they went crawling on their hands and knees to their elected officials for help in a moment of desperation, and instead of assistance, they received a swift kick in the stones for their trouble. And in fairness, that’s not far off what actually happened.

This is important, because policies like this have a measurable impact on government support, as a recent Irish Times poll has shown. The government’s support is after taking a sharper nosedive than a Japanese Zero in World War 2, settling at the coalition’s lowest result ever.

Obviously you can’t attribute this solely to the turf issue – that would be absurd. But it absolutely contributes to the situation, and is emblematic of the larger malaise felt by the voting public at large. Fine Gael TDs even believed recently that the issue could bring down the government.

Responding to the recent poll results, the Taoiseach said he wouldn’t let the result change the government’s policy by having any “knee-jerk” reactions to the figures. In other words, “We’re staying the course on our horrendously unpopular agenda.”

But a knee-jerk reaction is what you do when something happens suddenly. There’s been nothing sudden about this slow motion car crash. Poll after poll has shown the same trajectory for months.

This would be like saying you shouldn’t have a “knee-jerk reaction” to being slowly flattened in a hydraulic press. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The Greens, it seems, may successfully do what Sinn Féin never managed to: kill Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil stone dead.

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