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When we asked our readers what issues they wanted candidates running for Dublin City Council to talk about, climate change was among the 10 they mentioned most often.
But the issue is vast. So the six candidates running on 24 May who we spoke to for this story mentioned a spread of issues – including hitting carbon emissions targets, making city buildings more energy efficient, and reducing the amount of waste Dubliners produce.
Nearly every candidate mentioned transportation and waste as the two most talked-about climate-action-related concerns when they’re out knocking on doors, talking to potential voters.
Candidates suggested ways to get more people onto public transport, and to get more people onto bicycles. They also talked about making residential and commercial properties more energy efficient.
Getting People Out of Cars
Across parties, candidates talked about the need to shift Dubliners away from private car usage by incentivising the use of public transit.
“Cars are significant polluters,” said Andrew Keegan, a People Before Profit councillor who is running for re-election in the Ballymun-Finglas local election area.
The transport sector was responsible for 24.8 percent of Dublin city’s total greenhouse-gas emissions in 2016, according to Dublin energy agency Codema. The numbers do not break out how much of that came from cars specifically.
The council’s Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022 notes that “Less dependency on the private car for routine trips and replacement by public transport, walking and cycling will result in a reduction in consumption of non-renewable resources and CO2 emissions, helping to meet national emission reduction targets.”
That “modal shift” is happening already: the National Transport Authority (NTA) recently reported that the number of cars coming into the city in the morning has fallen for the tenth straight year. They account for 28 percent of journeys now, it said.
The question is how to shift more of that remaining minority away from their cars and onto the public transport – train, Luas, bus, say – or sustainable transport such as cycling and walking.
Keegan was one of the three candidates who said they backed free public-transport schemes as a way to further reduce the use of personal cars. He talked about offering free transport on some public holidays like St Patrick’s Day.
Cathie Shiels, Workers’ Party candidate for the Ballymun-Finglas LEA, pointed at Cork City Council’s recent efforts to “call on the government to introduce a pilot scheme of free bus transport”.
She says she supports a free-transport scheme similar to the one the government is planning in Luxembourg (population 594,000), where public transport is set to be free of charge by 2020.
Denise McMorrow, a Fianna Fáil candidate running in the North Inner-City LEA, says she would also push for free public transport if elected.
“That is one policy that I’ve put forward to have free public transport across the city of Dublin and I believe that is a very feasible plan,” she says.
Dublin city councillors don’t have the powers to make public transport free. They could work on this issue indirectly, using their public platform to push the central government and transport bodies to bring it in.
There’s debate around whether free public transport does encourage people to leave their cars at home – with some transport experts arguing that better and more frequent services are more important, and others pointing to case studies showing a jump in passenger numbers.
Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, Fianna Fáil’s McMorrow, and the Workers’ Party’s Shiels all also talked about their support for upgrading and improving cycling infrastructure to get people out of cars in order to address emissions concerns.
“I would propose and vote for the reallocation of funds in the city’s budget from roads maintenance to specific cycle-lane maintenance and painting to ensure cycle lanes are properly marked,” said Shiels.
Dublin City Council allocated €22.7 million to local road maintenance in its 2019 budget.
Samantha Long, an independent Kimmage-Rathmines candidate, said she supported the expansion of the DublinBikes scheme into the Kimmage-Rathmines area. She said she would also look at allowing people who carpool to “use the bus lane” to encourage the practice.
Labour’s Gilliland, who is running for re-election in the Artane-Whitehall LEA, said she worries that the BusConnects plan, which is designed to overhaul the city’s bus routes to make getting around the city by that mode quicker, may push more people into cars.
“Locals are concerned that if you remove the more local routes that people are going to be forced into their cars. Particularly elderly people or families with young kids,” says Gilliland.
The designers of the BusConnects plan say no one should have to walk further than 400 metres to catch a bus after the redesign.
But some have said that’s too far for elderly and disabled riders, and there have been calls to also bring in a community-transport system to make sure everyone has a way to get where they’re going.
Rubbish and Recycling
Dublin City Council says it aims to “achieve a recycling rate of 50% of managed municipal waste by 2020”. (In 2010, the recycling rate was 47 percent, an old report says.) Candidates suggested ways to help reach this target.
Fianna Fáil’s McMorrow said there was a need to “ensure there are more educational models around how you can separate the rubbish out”.
Workers’ Party’s Shiels said she would propose funding a large expansion in public litter bins. (In the last few years, Dublin City Council had a policy of getting rid of bins in places where people were using them for household waste.)
Independent Long proposed a ban on single-use plastics being purchased by the council for events.
Both Keegan and Carol Deans, a Social Democrats candidate in the North Inner-City LEA, backed similar plastics and single-use-straw bans.
Dublin City Council has said it will improve its own energy efficiency by 33 percent by 2020.
It plan to retrofit council owned buildings includes facilities like homeless centres, senior citizen units and social housing.
That means retrofitting measures such as upgrades to insulation, boiler replacements, LED lighting, and solar PV panels, which would cut 837 tonnes of CO2, according to its Draft Climate Change Action Plan.
For non-council-owned buildings, Keegan suggests offering subsidies to households that look at making their homes more energy efficient.
Deans also said she’d like to see financial support for people to make these kinds of changes. “It all boils down to money,” she said. “Strategies need to be put in place of financing this.”
Deans says a “taxation reward” might be something to consider as an incentive for businesses to make their premises more energy efficient.
At present, commercial properties generate 34 percent of the city’s total emissions, according to Codema.
How Much Can Be Done by Local Government?
While the candidates all had ideas about how to climate change, they also said there was only so much that Dublin City Council can do.
The 2019 Climate Change Performance Index said that Ireland is “occupying a spot among the low-ranking performers in the Energy Use category”.
“Small changes are not going to solve the climate crisis,” said Shiels. “We need a massive economic transition, and that is not something local government can provide.”
Shiels says, while door knocking, one resident told her that “‘the impending climate disaster’ had left him feeling pretty depressed and he felt there was very little I could do as a prospective councillor to affect positive change”.
Dublin City Council says it wants to “reduce the impact of future climate change-related events”, but candidates weren’t clear on what infrastructure or risk-mitigation measures they would back.
The Social Democrats’ Deans said her party would support “any measures” necessary to improve climate change emergency response and impact reduction.
Labour’s Gilliland said she believes many of these changes need to come from central government, though.
“There’s only a certain amount at local level that we’re funded to do. That we can do. And it has to work in tandem with central government plans,” Gilliland said.
If she is re-elected, Gilliland will “use her political party to raise” key issues at the national level, she said.
Editor’s Note: We didn’t have room to talk to all of the candidates for this story. But we’re keeping track of who we’ve spoken to, so we speak to different folks for future stories in this series. We’re also asking for every candidate’s views on this and the other top-10 issues readers mentioned when we asked what they’d like candidates to talk about during this local election, and we’ll get their responses up onto the website before too long.