Ireland's climate change debate in Ireland devolves into a spinning exercise

Ireland's climate change debate in Ireland devolves into a spinning exercise
Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the launch for the Climate Action Plan.

Within minutes of the Climate Action Plan being announced on Monday, every quarter of political and civic society went in all guns blazing to comment on it. 

Government TDs have sung from the rooftops about how this is the plan that will save the planet. Opposition TDs have carefully welcomed it while picking out missing or controversial elements to score a few points on the government. 

For green groups, it doesn't go far enough, and for business associations, it's all a step too far. 

The minor clash between Michael McGrath and Jerry Buttimer is a symptom of the obsession with spin that has derailed so many of this government's plans.

When you read a quote from a politician in a newspaper, it's often been written by someone else and sent out with their approval - it's an honest reflection of their opinions, though the words might not be their own. 

In some cases, a press officer will take a shortcut and come up with one statement, and then localise it as it's sent out to different regional news outlets.

What they forget sometimes is that most journalists are on a lot of different regional lists.

I saw the same statement on climate action a handful of times in my own inbox, with a few variations for its target market. 

There's no real issue in that - press officers are busy people and regional news coverage is a battleground for political parties - but it does smack of this government's preoccupation with PR. 

Micheál Martin frequently accuses the Taoiseach of being obsessed with spin, which is spin in itself but there is some truth to that. 

We saw it with the controversy around the Ireland 2040 plan last year, and the massive marketing budget, funded by the taxpayer, which inextricably linked it with government TDs and Dáil candidates. 

We've seen it in housing, with department policies changed to artificially reduce homelessness figures. 

In those cases and in this one, the substantive issue is ignored as politicians get caught up in the media battle. 

Nowhere in that copy and paste statement does Fine Gael really respond to the request from the opposition to revisit the infrastructure plan. 

If we're going to get serious about climate action, reducing car traffic is key. 

Switching over to electric cars won't be enough - the production of the cars and the production of electricity for them can still be carbon intensive - we're going to have to get more people into buses, trains, and trams. 

So maybe we do need to revisit major roads projects and look at how public transport solutions can solve some of the problems those projects are trying to address. 

Transport policy must be about moving people, not vehicles, so this obsession with cars needs to be put to bed.

And so too does the obsession with spin. 

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