Any increase to the carbon tax in future budgets would cripple people living in rural Ireland, according to independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.

The Roscommon-Galway representative criticised Taoiseah Leo Varadkar and other political parties for supporting an increase to the carbon tax.

As it stands, the tax is levied at €20 per tonne of carbon – which adds about 5.3c onto a litre of diesel. If the tax was to increase to €80 per tonne, a total of 21.2c would be added to the price of a litre of diesel.

Commenting on the issue, Deputy Fitzmaurice said: “If the carbon tax is increased from its current position in the next budget, then people in rural Ireland will be forced to carry the burden once again.

“The Taoiseach has continued to repeat the line that the tax is not designed to take money out of people’s pockets, but rather to encourage a change in behaviour.

“But people in rural Ireland – and especially farmers – will have an unfair burden to carry once again, compared to those living in cities.

“It is obvious that those living in cities would find it easier to lead a low-carbon lifestyle versus a person living in the countryside.

“People in cities have better access to public transport and are also likely to have a variety of services on their doorstep. On the other hand, a car is a necessity for someone living in rural Ireland.

“A person living in rural Ireland uses their car for commuting long distances to work, doing the weekly shopping, doing the school run, as well as a variety of other errands.

“It is ironic that the Taoiseach is advocating for an increase to the carbon tax at a time when rural bus routes are being cut and when pensioners are being forced to travel longer distances to get to post offices in order to collect their pensions,” he said.

Impact on Agriculture

The rural TD went on to explain that increasing the carbon tax in the next budget would hugely impact farmers, at a time when many sectors are struggling with low prices and other hurdles relating to Brexit.

“Irish agriculture plays a significant role in the national economy, with exports amounting to in excess of €12 billion in 2018.

“But at the moment, we see a situation where beef farmers are struggling to make a profit due to prolonged spells of low prices and high input costs; these farmers are being squeezed at both ends – a situation which is mirrored across other agricultural sectors.

“If the carbon tax was increased in the next budget, the price of fuel would jump as well – further harming the already tight profit margins achieved by farmers when they bring their produce to market after months of labour.

“This fuel hike would also see the price of food for all consumers to rise, given that the produce is transported around the country by lorries.

“It is evident that this notion that significant increases to the carbon tax in the next budget will set us on the right path to bridging the gap to our EU climate change targets was dreamed up inside the M50, without any thought for those living in rural Ireland,” Deputy Fitzmaurice said.

Environment

The independent TD argued that the Government must take a “carrot approach” to encourage the establishment of anaerobic digesters in Ireland if it is serious about meeting the country’s climate change targets as well as improving water quality.

He urged the Government to engage in joined-up thinking, instead of “putting the cart before the horse”.

“If more ‘Park and Ride’ facilities were opened around the larger cities at points where public transport is easily accessible, then congestion issues in the likes of Dublin would be greatly reduced.

“It is that type of thinking that is required moving forward. As it stands, Irish consumers are already faced with some of the highest bills for gas, electricity and fuel in Europe – and that is before any other increase to the carbon tax is implemented.

“An increase to the carbon tax would lead to middle Ireland, once again, footing the bill. Do not be fooled either by the Taoiseach saying that people will receive benefits in other areas as a result of this tax – I am too long in politics now to believe that trick,” he said.

Elections

Furthermore, the independent TD reminded those living in rural Ireland to highlight the issue moving forward, as prospective councillors and MEPs set out on their respective campaign trails in the coming weeks.

“People need to realise that they also have some control over the matter, given that the local elections and the MEP elections will take place this May. It is important that people find out where each political party stand on the matter.

“I am urging people to drive this issue home when people call to their doors in the next few weeks; the carbon tax cannot increase in the next budget if farmers and people living in rural Ireland will be forced to carry an unfair burden.

“Over the past few months we have seen how Government decisions have led to pubs closing in rural Ireland, as well as the extensive post office network being decommissioned.

“An unfair and unjust increase in the carbon tax would represent the final nail in the coffin of rural Ireland, and it would fulfil the Taoiseach’s apparent desire to drive people towards urban areas.

“People must bear in mind that the formation of the Senate will be impacted by the result of these local elections and they must be prepared to voice their discontent at the prospect of an increase to the carbon tax,” Deputy Fitzmaurice concluded.

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