On the day Senator Lynn Boylan and Meath East TD Darren O’Rourke sat down with The Currency for a detailed interview, yet another opinion poll confirmed Sinn Féin as the most popular party in Ireland. And among the many areas where a potential Sinn Féin-led government would explore unchartered territory is climate policy.

The topic used to appear low on the party’s agenda but, in the final months of last year, O’Rourke, its spokesperson on climate action, and transport and Boylan, its leader on climate justice, published a series of three papers fleshing out Sinn Féin’s proposals on renewable energy, public transport and home retrofits. They formed the basis of this discussion, which you can listen to in full above or in our podcasts section.

Both O’Rourke and Boylan sit on the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action. With fellow Sinn Féin TD Réada Cronin, they point out that dedicating three members to this committee, as many as each of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, proves how seriously they take its work.

Sinn Féin has been on a climate journey since opposing, along with Solidarity-People Before Profit, the foundational report on Ireland’s policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adopted in 2019 by an all-party Oireachtas committee in response to the Citizens’ Assembly on climate change.

“It’s not that we didn’t support climate action,” Boylan says. “There was a fundamental disagreement on the carbon tax element of that.” To this day, Sinn Féin opposes the government’s decision to quadruple the carbon tax on fossil fuels over the course of the current decade. “But we also produced a minority report, which is quite detailed and had greater ambition on a lot of issues,” Boylan adds.

The Climate Act emerged from the work of the committee and was ultimately passed in 2021 in a rare example of legislation adopted jointly by Sinn Féin and government parties. O’Rourke claims credit for significant parts of the law, which forms the architecture of Ireland’s climate policy to achieve the ultimate carbon neutrality goal in 2050. “The interim targets up to 2030 may not have happened if not for the efforts of Sinn Féin and others. So we had success there,” he says.

Under the new legislation, the experts sitting on the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) have calculated Ireland’s carbon budgets for the periods 2021-2025 and 2026-2030, and the Government allocated this finite amount of allowable greenhouse gas emissions to various industries in last July’s sectoral ceilings.

I previously tallied the figures published by the CCAC and national emissions reported by the Environmental Protection Agency. They show that the volume of greenhouse gases released in 2021, when the economy, especially the transport sector, was largely curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions, was the maximum annual level Ireland can afford until 2025. And that’s only while the country adopts measures that will cut emissions much more aggressively from 2026. Is Sinn Féin on board with the consensus from the experts?

“We do support the Climate Change Advisory Council,” says Boylan. “There’s no disagreement on the targets. What we’re saying is that we need to start focusing on delivering on the targets.” This is where the party departs from the consensus that underpinned legislating for the national carbon budgeting process.

O’Rourke lists what she describes as information gaps left by the Government in critical parts of climate policy. They include a land use strategy expected in the coming year that would inform many decisions on agriculture, forestry and planning, appraisal tools yet to be developed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to measure the economic impact of climate policies and the lack of “climate-aligned assessments” in various Government decisions. “You see it in the Galway ring road, for example,” he says.

O’Rourke blames this information deficit for Sinn Féin’s lack of a clear position on the sectoral ceilings allocated by the Government. As previously reported, the CCAC had narrowed down feasible scenarios to a range of effort balances between agriculture on the one hand and energy use by the rest of Ireland’s economy on the other, providing estimates of the cost and jobs impact of the various options.

The Government has opted for the lowest possible effort for agriculture, a 25 per cent cut in greenhouse gases by 2030, leaving everyone else to cut their emissions by two thirds. July’s sectoral ceilings allocated three quarters of the required cuts to various industries, with electricity generation expected to achieve the largest results, but the Government left a significant chunk of cuts to be identified later in this decade. 

Then and now, Sinn Féin has declined to say whether they agree with these choices. O’Rourke first deflects by saying that legislation makes sectoral ceilings the sole responsibility of the Government, not to be debated with the opposition in the Oireachtas. Then he adds: “We have said, and we’ve come in for some criticism, that we do not have the information, the detailed information to make the assessments in terms of, not what the cut should be, but what is a sustainable pathway to the maximum possible cut.”

He argues that, unlike financial budgeting where opposition parties have access to Government data to make counter-proposals, what he describes as massive resources including consultant’s reports used by the Government in carbon budgeting are inaccessible to Sinn Féin. “With that caveat, what we’re saying is that the sectoral emission ceilings are the sectoral emission ceilings. Let’s go and make that happen,” he adds.

Although it does not amount to a formal endorsement, the party’s latest proposals for public transport, for example, are indeed based on the Government’s sectoral ceiling of a 50 per cent cut in transport emissions by 2030.

Transport: Congestion charges must be on the table

The paper, Driving down emissions with public transport, was one of the three on climate-related topics released by Sinn Féin at the end of last year. The bulk of measures propose to increase spending on existing Government plans to accelerate them or make them more permanent. This includes reduced public transport fares, the Connecting Ireland rural bus network overhaul, and additional capacity for school bus services.

Asked how the party would fund this in government, O’Rourke points to general taxation. Not increases in the carbon tax, which he describes as a “transfer of wealth” towards better-off households able to afford part-funding a home retrofit (read below). Instead, he says that  Sinn Féin’s alternative budget proposals include a tax on what he describes as gold-plated pensions, an increase in CGT to 40 per cent for gains over €500,000, and more directly climate-relevant measures such as levies on private jets.

Aside from the level of funding, he agrees with a lot of current Government policies on public transport. “Connecting Ireland is an excellent example. It’s a really good plan,” he says, adding that he distributed timetables when the rural bus services improved in his constituency.

“It should be priority number one but, for example, it’s a €56 million plan to be rolled over five years. In the first year, €5 million was committed to it and four was spent, and this year, the Government will commit €8 million to it. So, for me, that doesn’t sound like priority number one.”

O’Rourke says Sinn Féin supported the ongoing 20 per cent cut in public transport fares despite opposition from the National Transport Authority (NTA). He now wants to make it permanent, along with further fare cuts for under-18s.

Along with these carrots, I ask him whether Sinn Féin would favour sticks to reduce the use of private cars, for example, a congestion charge on vehicles entering Dublin along well-served public transport corridors, such as the notoriously jammed N7 parallel to the Portlaoise train line.

O’Rourke says that he has taken part in research led by the Department of Transport under Project Bruce (Better Road Use Charging Evaluation) and is conscious that this is part of a broader issue whereby current funding for road maintenance, which is derived from a road tax based on car emissions, is due to shrink as Ireland moves towards zero-emission vehicles.

“They pointed towards the London example which put an alternative in place: I think it was one-pound fares, the Ken Livingstone approach, ensuring protected cycling lanes but also quality bus corridors, which are an essential part of BusConnects,” he says. “Within that mix, congestion charges and the different use of tools have to be on the table.”

“I know Portlaoise is a commuter town, but it’s how far people live away from the train station. So, it is that last mile, first mile,” Boylan adds. “And again, that goes back to the segregated cycleways, so people can either cycle or e-scoot to the train station rather than having to get into their car in the first place. In London, what they did before the congestion tax was put in place the alternatives, make it cheap, make it safe, make it accessible.”

She speaks in support of BusConnects and the effect the bus network redesign will have on people, such as carers, who need to travel outside traditional commuter routes between the suburbs and the city centre. Yet when it comes to public transport infrastructure and planning, Sinn Féin’s policy document does not mention BusConnects, instead focusing on aspirational long-term projects such as the Navan and Western Corridor rail lines. Is the party shying away from the less popular, dirty work of engaging with residents about what will happen to their bins and their parking when bus corridors are developed?

“Not at all,” Boylan replies, referring to her own experience in the Dublin mid-west constituency. “We’ve engaged really proactively with the community, going in, knocking on doors, asking people. In fairness to the NTA and the BusConnects group, they’ve listened to a lot of those concerns and have actually adapted the system and said: Okay, you’re right, that bus should go that way, or in terms of the frequency of it, or making sure that if you’ve got wheelchair users that have to change bus, there are going to be short waits.”

Renewables: Shift the PSO burden to large users

The past year has redrawn the lines on energy policy, with the war in Ukraine highlighting the need to reduce reliance on imported gas and the Government’s latest plans placing the bulk of climate effort this decade on renewable electricity sources. 

The European Commission has also embarked on a redesign of the EU’s common electricity market, where current rules set prices according to the “marginal” rate charged by producers of last resort during periods of peak demand, usually gas-fired power stations.

In Ireland, developers of new solar and wind farms apply for government support under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS), which offers two-way contracts for difference to the lowest bidders in annual auctions. If the market price is below the level they have committed to, the state supports them with funds collected through the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy on all electricity bills. If the market price is higher, as it has been in the past year, renewable generators must give the difference back, resulting in low or negative PSO charges on users’ bills.

Sinn Féin’s Vision for renewable energy, which is the most detailed of its recent climate policy papers, supports the continuation of a two-way CFD scheme for renewable energy developers, but not the way the state currently raises funds to subsidise them. 

Lynn Boylan (LB): There is the wholesale market, in terms of the price that they’ll get, with the decoupling of gas and renewable energy. But equally, we want to change the way that they’re funded. It was the CEER 2021 report that highlighted the fact that Ireland puts very little subsidies towards renewable energy. 

Thomas Hubert (TH): That’s the European regulator.

LB: Yes, the Council of European Energy Regulators has already flagged that that is an issue and we’ve lost a decade, really, in terms of renewable energy. We should have been leading the way. So we want to see reform of that. But we also want to see reform of the PSO levy, which is the current mechanism for funding renewable energies.

The reason for that is that it’s a regressive system. It’s a flat rate for households, not based on ability to pay. The manner in which it’s designed in this jurisdiction means that households pay a disproportionate amount towards the PSO compared to large energy users. We’d like to see reform of that and the ESRI would support us in that position as well. The ESRI’s preferred model is to look at incremental block rating. It’s the units you use, therefore there’s an incentive to use less electricity rather than just it being a flat rate.

France has used general taxation, which is referred to in our energy policy as well, to fund renewables. And then there is the Austrian model, which has excluded certain households from paying the PSO at all. We want to see wholesale reform of the PSO levy. I think there would have to be some committee scrutiny to look at what the different options are, but they’re the options which are at the table.

The current system is regressive. It’s also not providing enough funding to deliver the scale of renewable energy in the first place.

Darren O’Rourke (DOR): Another point to add – and it would be relevant to the RESS – is our ambition to increase the amount that is community-owned. But that’s additionality, so it’s on top of that committed to the RESS. We see a role for the state in supporting community-led and community-owned projects to ensure that they can compete and are viable projects in a competitive market.

TH: There are a few things to unpack here. I want to start with just making sure I understand clearly: No big issues with RESS as the way it contracts renewable energy generators. They bid for a price; they get more, or less; and we compensate that. You’re happy with that. It’s more in terms of how the money is going into the scheme, where it’s coming from, who is paying for it?

LB: Well, there’s that. But there’s also the fact that our RESS auctions are coming in with very high renewable prices. If you compare us with other European countries, Spain is at €35 to €50/MWh. In Ireland, I think it was over €100 In the last RESS auction, it was €94 then when the document was published. So, there are issues around the cost of renewables in this country.

Yes, we want to seek greater subsidy, but we want better value for money as well. One of the things that we have called for, and the stakeholders have called for as well, is that cross-departmental body that would look at what are the cost drivers for renewable energy.

We know what some of them are. We’ve heard it repeatedly: the delays in the planning system, the lack of resources in the planning system, the lack of an environmental court, delays in grid connections, and the cost of grid connections. They’re things that can be fixed by policy, but we would like to see all of the people around the table who can identify what are the policy levers we need to be pulling to make sure that we bring down the cost of renewables because, as we want more renewables, we want better value for money for people who are supporting them.

Darren O'Rourke: "We look to other countries and see Statkraft and Equinor." Photo: Bryan Meade

DOR: One of the other areas that we think deserves attention is to look at our own semi-states. You’ve got big energy companies, and state agencies that have moved into the energy space, whether it’s Bord na Móna, Coillte, ESB. Look at the state’s role in those: Is there anything that can be done within the constraints of state aid and competition rules to strengthen their position and increase their ambition and ability to compete in competitive markets? For example, dividend policy at this point in time might be reviewed.

There’s an argument that the remit of those agencies needs to have a specific climate and environmental focus, but they have an important role to play in the energy transition whilst recognising as well that the private sector has a very important role as well. We see those relationships, Bord na Móna-Ocean Winds, for example. There are lots of examples. We look to other countries and see Statkraft and Equinor and say: Maybe Irish companies should be in a position to help Ireland and also look internationally to a role there.

TH: What is the advantage of having a state-owned company develop a renewable asset compared to a private one? Is it more in terms of helping drive down the price at RESS auctions? Or is there an ideological preference for state-owned assets in this sector, to have a bulk of them that is in Irish state hands?

DOR: I think it’s a bit of all of it, really. I pointed towards Equinor and others where we have seen in the past the return for Norwegian or Canadian citizens because of the models that they have used. I think it’s important to recognise that it’s a mixture, particularly given our starting point and the skills in the private sector and the resources that are there. But it’s clear that we’re talking about some companies that have a 100-year track record in the Irish market, that have delivered for communities the length and breadth, and I think that it’s important to recognise that as a characteristic.

I think it’s the basis of competition within the market that everyone keeps everybody else honest and there’s an important role for the regulator to ensure that that is the case. But I think it’s about that balance. At this juncture, the state is embarking on an incredible transition and has a role in wider decarbonisation in Europe or across the globe. It’s important that we’re match-fit for that, and that the return for the citizen is maximised. That’s a mechanism that can help in that, whilst recognising the need for the private sector and competition.

TH: If we are going down the route of more state-owned companies getting involved on a bigger scale, we’re talking about raising funds. You’ve talked about then reducing the dividend they pay to the state, but we’re way off the billions that are needed for renewable development, even this decade. So does that mean more borrowing? There’s a whole piece of how we fund potential state-owned intervention in the sector.

DOR: Yes, borrowing caps have been raised for a number of companies in recent years. Those are the policy levers that any government has. In it, you have to weigh up the pros and cons in terms of the potential implications and, obviously, the limit of the opportunity that is there as well.

Not that we’re proposing it, but I don’t think any of these state agencies are in a position to do it all on their own anyway. It’s about the balance of how we ensure that we maximise the return for the state and for the citizens, whilst at the same time being an attractive proposition for those with the skills to deliver on this.

TH: Lynn, you mentioned the PSO levy being too heavy on households relative to the rest of the economy. What’s your assessment of the potential business impact of shifting that more towards business? A lot of companies are struggling with high electricity prices. You’ve mentioned also, in the paper, the network charges component of the electricity price that you say is also too heavily passed on to households. So what’s the business impact of moving away from that?

LB: If you look at it in terms of network charges and the outrage that’s in the public now at the fact that they found out that for 12 years, they’ve been subsidising large energy users with their electricity bills, there’s a level of anger that I haven’t seen in a long time. People are coming up to me on the street, asking when are they getting their €50 back.

There is a level of anger there in that, but that was the way it was designed. It always seems that when it comes to households, all we hear from the regulator is: Shop around, reduce your energy consumption. But when it comes to big business and lobbying, and we’ve seen that with the Department of Enterprise intervention with the CRU decision to align this, they volunteered an opinion they weren’t asked for. It was: "You shouldn’t be doing this, and this is really unhelpful."

Yes, of course, we have to create a system in that you want businesses to stay here, you want to protect jobs. But you have a situation where large energy users were getting energy tariff rates of between five and 15c/KWh while households are up in the 40c bracket. So they’re already getting a better deal in terms of what they’re paying per unit of electricity. You then have a situation where they’re getting a better deal when it comes to the support for renewable energy. And then again, they’re getting a better deal when it comes to the network tariffs. 

This is about redressing the balance, and other jurisdictions do this. In the North, the PSO and the network tariffs are designed in the alternative way, in that large energy users are actually subsidising households. It is about a balance but it always seems to be the case with the current government that, when it comes to households, it’s an individual responsibility to go and try and reduce your energy costs. The Government will bend over backwards to facilitate large energy users.

“What’s raising the cost of renewable energy delivery in this country is the uncertainty.”

Lynn Boylan

TH: Another thing that you mentioned was planning and the cost that comes from that. Looking through the demands of Sinn Féin in recent months, there was a new planning court in the High Court, a new planning regime with more resources and faster timelines for delivery and response to developers. That’s essentially what the government is trying to do with the Planning Bill. So, from a climate perspective, do you support that, or what are the gaps there?

LB: I’ve just heard feedback from today’s committee that all of the planners have slated the government’s proposal in terms of the Planning Bill. I think what this government is trying to do is circumvent public participation and make it much harder for people to play a role in the democratic process.

All the evidence will show you that when that is done, planning decisions are delayed even longer and more judicial reviews are created. What we want to see is an efficient planning system with early consultation that people are engaged with. Evidence will show: when communities are consulted early and often there is a much better buy-in for decisions and for schemes. 

It is about certainty, and we have heard at the committee from the Irish Wind Energy Association and from the solar power people that what they want is certainty of timelines. They’re happy enough if they’re told it will be six months and they can plan around that. What they’re telling us is what’s raising the cost of renewable energy delivery in this country is the uncertainty of when a decision is going to come, and they have to cost that uncertainty in.

So, what we want is a better-resourced planning system, an environmental court that can make those decisions fast but fair, so that people are not being denied access to the justice system. But you try and screen out judicial reviews in the first place and the way you do that is through proper consultation and a well-resourced An Bord Pleanála. Also in our pre-budget submission this year, we looked at resourcing those bodies that are notified bodies under the Planning Act – environmental NGOs, like An Taisce – but also resourcing the environmental planning authorities, the CRU, and Eirgrid.

So, put the resources in place, have mandatory decision timelines, and then have an environmental court so that when things can’t be resolved at that level, they go to a court that is skilled and specialises in decision-making in that sort of sector. And you have quick results. I think that’s what we’re hearing from communities and from the sector: They want certainty and they want to be able to deliver.

Lynn Boylan and Darren O'Rourke say planning authorities should be better resourced. Photo: Bryan Meade

DOR: There is a lot happening on planning but one of the obvious constraints is capacity within the system. The government, for the last two years, has been presented with a workforce plan for the climate and marine section [of An Bord Pleanála], for example. I know its 2021 plan was for 25 staff. They recruited eight and didn’t advertise the other positions. I’m sure the 2022 plan for 2023 is significantly expanded beyond that. Acknowledging the constraints and the challenges to recruiting people, you at least have to be pursuing it as aggressively as it’s possible.

Then the other element of it is prioritising within priorities. We hear clearly from the sector itself that there’s a concern that even those people within marine and climate will be dragged into other decisions like, for example, active travel. Active travel is important, as are other areas, but you get the sense that there isn’t clarity within Government and individual departments around the absolute priorities and areas of focus. So, recognising the challenges, I think it’s important for Government and ministers to ensure that everything is done to maximise resource and that resource is used as best as possible.

TH: Does the planning issue have a component of politicians intervening less in the planning process? Sinn Féin has no exclusive on that, but an example is my local TD, Johnny Guirke, opposing a wind farm in north Westmeath for the best part of 10 years now with his colleague Sorca Clarke in the next constituency. It seems that part of the political system wants to make planning easier, and other parts are just going with what is more popular on Facebook in their constituency at a given time and going against what is on offer for planning. What can we do about that?

DOR: I think we can have a planning system that works, that makes decisions, and decisions happen. As public representatives, our voice is the same as every other citizen’s in the eyes of the planning system. We have the right to make submissions and observations. Projects should be assessed in line with the planning laws and the environmental laws, and decisions should be made on the basis of the objective criteria, accepted or refused.

It shouldn’t be the case that objections from disgruntled communities or public representatives just disrupt the planning system and extend things on forever. It’s really important that there is an opportunity for engagement because I’ve seen very many planning applications with legitimate concerns that have been upheld, but also that have led to the improvement of the applications.

In relation to onshore wind, we are still waiting for guidelines. And there’s a real need for community dividends on projects. There is the basis there, with the right approach, to reshape the energy transition and the role of communities in it. A central part, as I see it, in terms of community opposition to wind farms, are badly planned projects or projects that are speculative and in some cases predatory. There’s an opportunity for a holistic approach to it that actually recognises and realises the importance of delivery of onshore wind, but also the benefit for local communities and the state.

LB: Eirgrid and the wind energy sector have told the committee that they have learned a lot from their past mistakes around engaging with communities. It’s the democratic right of people to make submissions on planning applications such as a Green senator who’s lodged objections to wind farms as well.

You take each wind farm and ask: what is the plan? Then you look at it, that is the democratic process. The point is that the planning apparatus should then kick in and make decisions. These decisions should be fair and transparent. People know then that their concerns are being  taken on board by the people who are putting in planning applications 


Retrofitting: means-testing and grouped contracts

The third plank of Sinn Féin’s detailed climate policy covers home energy retrofits. The paper published by the party in October promised to make the current retrofitting programme “fairer”. Not only does this mean spending more public money on areas deemed priorities – but also taking away from others by cutting the grants available to households with higher incomes.

The retrofitting allocation in Budget 2023 is €337 million. O’Rourke says that Sinn Féin would increase this to half a billion euros. Yet the main difference is in how the party would spend it.

“If retrofitting is not reducing energy poverty at the same time, then all we’re really doing is effectively a wealth transfer to people who have the money to be able to retrofit,  and then that frees up their income to maybe buy a second car or a new SUV, or to take an extra weekend away,” says Boylan.

Current schemes offer high grant rates of up to 100 per cent for poorer households, while the separate one-stop-shop system covers up to half of insulation or heating upgrade costs for homeowners on higher incomes. Sinn Féin wants to target spending much more directly at means-tested households and specific cases such as homes heated with high-pollution solid fuels, and not wait for these homes to apply.

“It’s targeted areas,” Boylan says. “You go into an estate, that reduces the cost because of the economies of scale. You knock on every single door and say: are you interested in retrofitting? This is your household income, this is the percentage of grant you would be eligible for.”

She is critical of Department of Housing officials who told her they had “compartmentalised retrofitting in terms of our carbon or climate action, and energy poverty is separate”. 

Lynn Boylan: "Bring people with you and you dilute those out there who want to delay climate action." Photo: Bryan Meade

I put it to her that from an efficiency perspective, it makes sense to spend a euro of taxpayers’ money on householders who can match it with their own funding, and save the next euro for another retrofit, thereby getting more minutes of heating turned down for the same Exchequer spending.

“We’ve had that conversation, but those lower-income households are more likely to have poor insulation in the first place,” she replies. “They’re more likely to have single-glazed windows, they’re more likely to have older heating systems. So you’re probably going to have a bigger bang for your buck in terms of emissions reductions by targeting those houses that are less energy-efficient in the first place.” By contrast, helping better-off people upgrade from an already higher energy rating would be less efficient and free up disposable income for their “high-consumption lifestyle”. 

Politically, she adds: “I know it’s public money, but at the end of the day, climate action is such an enormous challenge for society, we have to bring people with us. And all the time, people will tell you: I can’t afford to retrofit, I can’t afford to change the car. If you’re demonstrating, as a government, that you’re listening to that message and that you’re actually trying to deliver this in the fairest way possible, you bring people with you and you dilute those out there who want to delay climate action or create a rural-urban divide.”

In terms of public spending efficiency, O’Rourke also insists on Sinn Féin’s area-based approach where contractors would retrofit all the poorest and coldest homes in a given neighbourhood in one go.

This reminds me of the Government’s very first Climate Action Plan in 2019, when then Minister for the Environment Richard Bruton proposed to end individual grant schemes and proceed with such clusters of retrofits – only for this to be reversed under the current coalition since the 2020 election. Maybe the Government gave up on the idea because getting contractors to upgrade a scattering of separate private properties as a single job was too difficult to organise?

“First of all, you have to want to do it,” O’Rourke replies, adding that some community pilot schemes run by the Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and Just Transition projects in the Midlands are trialling this approach. “It’s difficult to do because the one-stop-shops aren’t mandated in that way; there isn’t coordination between them and the local authorities,” he adds.

“What we would propose is that the one-stop-shops and the local authorities work together in a coordinated fashion and take it area by area, based on the best information available in terms of the energy efficiency of homes, and that’s another area of information deficit.”


Beyond the fine-tuning of climate policy, Sinn Féin’s criticism of the Government hones in on an undisputable argument: “We’re talking about targets,” O’Rourke says. “The only target that matters, in my opinion, is emissions reductions, and we’re going exactly in the wrong direction, not minus, but plus 4.7 per cent, or whatever the EPA will finally conclude on.”

“The approach that government is taking, by the only measure that matters, is failing by a country mile and more,” he says.

As the current Government’s climate policy has clearly been driven by the inclusion of the Green party in the ruling coalition, I ask him and Boylan whether, after being so critical, they might still form a government with the Greens after the next election. 

Boylan opens with the party line that Sinn Féin will “sit down with everybody” based on election results. “We sat down with the Greens after the last election, and I was part of those talks,” she says. “I think within the Green Party, there are differences of views. There are some who would be more aligned to us in terms of the social justice element and others who are very much pro-market-based solutions.”

O’Rourke claims that Sinn Féin has a better understanding than the Greens of “where communities are at in terms of the starting point” towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions. He regrets that the coalition, with the odd exception, routinely rejects opposition proposals or amendments on climate policy. “We would need to see some movement in that regard,” he says.