South Down Councillor Cadogan Enright has issued a warning regarding the details contained in the draft budget concerning the Finance Minister perceived commitment of £4 million each year for four years to fund a Friends of the Earth proposal retro-fitting insulation scheme for thousands of homes across Northern Ireland under the ‘Green New Deal’.

“This figure of £4 million investment is not what it seems” Said Cllr Enright. “This money it proposed to come out of budgets for managing nature reserves and Areas of Special Scientific Interest in the short term. So while this has the appearance of the government investing in a sustainable way it would seem the minister is taking away with one hand and giving back with the other.”

Cadogan Enright called for the funds raised by the ‘plastic bag’ tax to be used right away for this project and said; “Sammy Wilson is obviously hoping that his fiscal sleight of hand is not noticed and that those parties supporting the start of funding for the ‘Green New Deal’ will just be thankful that it looks like he is committing money to it.”

Councillor Enright has also highlighted the fact that for this scheme to be effective and meaningful, much more investment is actually required.

Cllr Enright said: “While we cautiously welcome this as an opening gambit and are pleased to see the first small steps toward implementing the Green New Deal in a serious and effective way, we don’t want the electorate to be hoodwinked into thinking that this is new money being invested nor do we want the important work of bodies managing our natural environment to be compromised for the sake of fiscal expediency.

“This expense heading is one of those rare items where the government can invest money but get a higher return if they do it properly and in a committed fashion. The Minister’s proposal pales into insignificance when compared to what has been happining in the 26 Counties.

“Over 50,000 homes are getting an average investment of €2,500 each in the midst of the financial crisis in the Republic – because political leaders have worked out that it actually saves money to invest in this scheme.

“It has the added bonus of reducing fuel poverty so it is good for social justice, good for the environment and good for the economy. Northern Ireland ministers need to learn by example that such an investment benefits all.

“Properly implemented, the Green New Deal will help to stimulate growth in the construction industry, provide employment opportunities in related sectors, and help point Northern Ireland towards a cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable energy future.

“I have long been championing The Green New Deal. It’s good that Sammy Wilson and the other parties are catching up with us. We recognise the commonsense premise that all areas of society, from the environment to the economy to social justice are inextricably linked and government policies need to reflect this in an honest and sustainable way if we are to progress.”

By Cadogan