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Mary Robinson criticises Leo Varadkar's lack of progress on climate change action

Former president Mary Robinson has criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for Ireland's lack of progress on climate change.

Robinson, who leads her own Climate Justice Foundation, said that Ireland needs to become a leader on the issue in the same way the nation led the fight against hunger.

"Ireland is a small nation. We don't have a huge industrial base, but we have to play our part," she told UCC's new Plain Speaking podcast.

"Some of the small islands and the least developed countries are the most ambitious because they're going to be the most affected by what happens elsewhere.

"It is not good for our profile or even I think for our morale that as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the European Parliament that we're laggard on climate change. He knows I've quoted him quite often since then.

"But we need to become a leader on climate change because we were a leader in the world and still are perceived to be on hunger.

"Now you cannot be a leader on tackling hunger if you are a laggard on climate change, the two don't fit.

"We need young people to see there's a lot that can be done. We need to bring the farmers with us, absolutely. And I know that that means we have to have much more discussion and debate about it."

She believes calling a citizen's assembly to discuss climate change could progress that debate.

"What I find frustrating is that there isn't that sense of urgency.

"We have a lot going for us in this country. I think our morale is in a good place. We're doing well financially, but we have the shadow of Brexit.

"We have to be careful. It's a good country to open up this debate.

"I mean, one of the good influencers in the debate is the citizen's assembly. They came up with excellent recommendations, which are now being studied by a committee of the Oireachtas. That's interesting.

"I think that the citizen's assembly could be maybe brought in again to help us. Now that we know we have to move, one of the ways in which we can do it more quickly and better. I think that could be a solution."

Ms Robinson has also backed a mooted carbon tax in Ireland.

"We do need a carbon tax, but it must be fair.

"We need to pay attention to what happened in Paris, in France, when the carbon tax was the right thing to do but it was done in the wrong way.

"It was done when the wealth tax had been removed and people perceived a real unfairness and inequity."

She added: "History will be very unkind to us if we don't act now to take all the responsibility we can."

You can listen to the UCC Plain Speaking podcast here.