THIS is a story about a Town Mouse and a Country Mouse (with apologies to Aesop and his Fables).
The Town Mouse is well-to-do, upwardly mobile, has a good job with a very nice salary, and a fat pension to look forward to. Let’s call him Eamon Ryan.
The Country Mouse is a poor mouth — raggedy clothes, shabby-looking, badly in need of a haircut. Let’s call him John Dolan.
Every morning, the Town Mouse bolts down his muesli (presumably!) and sets off to work, dreaming up ways of making life greener and better for the whole country — nay, the entire planet.
He lives in the south Dublin enclave of Clonskeagh, in a house he retro-fitted and transformed into an A-rated energy efficient haven. Apparently, it can run entirely on a single wood stove.
Well done, Town Mouse!
Mr Ryan cycles to work at Dáil Éireann 6km away, a journey that takes him 20 minutes.
When he was in Government previously, he had championed a Cycle-to-Work scheme, so it’s good to see a politician practising what he preaches on a daily basis.
However, despite such a frugal commute, Town Mouse also reportedly still claims his €750 a month travel allowance for going to and from the Dáil.
That’s €9,000 a year! Naughty Town Mouse!
Meanwhile, Country Mouse bolts down a breakfast of Cornflakes with a generous sprinkling of sugar (“Naughty Country Mouse,” chides Mrs Country Mouse), and leaves his kerosene-oil fuelled home, gently cursing the pending rise in carbon tax that will make the oil even dearer.
He climbs into his diesel car — which will also be much more expensive to run under the increased carbon tax — and drives to work.
“Well,” muses Country Mouse, “I’m hardly going to cycle for an hour and 40 minutes the 35km it takes to get from home to Echo Towers in Blackpool, then do the same in reverse every evening.”
Naughty Country Mouse, with his giant fuel-guzzling footprint..
THIS week, we learned the finer details of the Programme for Government, agreed between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Eamon Ryan’s Green Party.
As you would expect, given the shutdown of the economy for months and uncertainty about Covid-19 going forward, it was low on precise information.
Most of the detail was positive; the triumvirate of party leaders were keen to tell us all the good things they planned to do over the next five years, but not so eager to tell us who is paying for it all... and how... and how much.
But one pledge amidst all the vague waffle stood out loud and proud: The new Government is going to quadruple the carbon tax within the next ten years.
Introduced in 2010, the carbon tax was only recently increased from €20 per tonne of CO2 emitted to €26. The target of the new Government will be to make it €100 by 2030. That’s some heft.
Which will make no difference to Town Mouse and one imagines little difference to all the Town Mice up and down the land, who can walk, cycle, or catch a handy bus or train, for their commute.
But to us Country Mice, this will be a huge imposition, working out at hundreds of euro more in taxation every year.
The idea is that increased prices for commuting will drive more people out of their vehicles and onto their bikes — or at least onto public transport — and create a greener environment.
But is that really possible for rural-dwellers?
At present, assuming that even Stephen Roche would baulk at the idea of cycling 70km every day, I have no alternative to the car — and, yes, I have looked into my options.
When The Echo became a morning paper last year and our working hours changed, I seriously considered the public transport option.
Being the reasonable type, and willing to make some effort, I don’t expect a bus to go straight by my front door out in the sticks, so I investigated the option of perhaps driving into my nearest town of Macroom and parking there for the day, while catching a bus to the city. My work times are 9.30pm to 5.30pm.
However, I would have to leave home at 7.10am daily to catch the 7.25am bus from Macroom to the city bus station.
That gets in at 8.35pm, leaving me a very leisurely walk to Blackpool and plenty of time to sit around drinking coffee before starting at 9.30m.
At home time, I would walk back to the bus station and catch the 6pm bus — if I was running late for any reason, the next one is at 10.30pm, leaving me stranded!
That 6pm bus would get me into Macroom at 7.15pm, meaning I would be home for 7.30pm.
That 12 hour and 20 minute day would leave me precious little time for cooking, eating and playing with the kids.
Contrast that to my present car routine, where I leave home at 8.45am and am back at 6.15pm — almost three hours shorter than the bus option.
As for costs, a monthly bus pass would be €185, or €1,920 per year, although these sums would be €96 and €998 if I availed of the Taxsaver scheme.
These prices compare favourably enough with the cost of commuting by car, but Government subsidies aimed at lowering them would surely entice more of us to ditch the motor. However, the main problem with the buses is the irregular services.
In the coming years, either the Government will have to greatly improve their public transport options for rural folk like me, or we will end up paying more and more in carbon taxes.
I want to give the proposed new Government a chance, I really do.
We’re told that their draft programme will introduce a Rural Mobility Plan — a pledge to provide public transport services in all areas over a certain size, which will then connect to national transport services.
We’re also told that the Government will press ahead with its Bus Connects plan in Cork.
I only hope these schemes give people like me a real alternative. Bitter experience and cynicism suggests not.
Eamon Ryan said this week that the draft programme will be “good for rural Ireland,” but the Green Party leader qualified that: “You’ve got to actually deliver it,” he added.
He can’t just use carbon tax as a stick to beat us with, without offering the carrot of a vastly improved public transport hub that gives people real choices.
My suspicion and fear is that this will be a metropolitan government run by three leaders, Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar, and Eamon Ryan, who are fully paid up members of the metropolitan elite.
Beware of us country-dwellers, though.
Because come election time, we may end up being the Country Mouse that roared.