“Government Electric Vehicle grants favour wealthier people who have access to public transport” – SF TD tells Public Accounts Committee

The Irish government grants for brand new Electric Vehicles favour wealthier people who have public transport options – poorer people who do not have access to public transport pay for those grants through Carbon Taxes.

So said Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, following an exchange with the SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) at the Dáil’s Public Accounts committee.

Deputy Carthy said that people in counties such as Monaghan were hardest hit by the governments Carbon Tax charges, but these taxes were then distributed to those who had more money and lived closer to public transport which isn’t available in rural counties.

The Cavan Monaghan TD was questioning SEAI representatives including Mr. William Walsh, Chief Executive Officer and Mr. Declan Meally, Director of business, public sector and transport.

The exchange went as follows:

Matt Carthy:  I wish to touch on electric vehicles.

The SEAI annual accounts highlight that half of drivers are unfamiliar with electric vehicles and how they work. Less than a quarter say they will consider purchasing an electric vehicle for their next purchase. I think 6,000 EVs had been sold by mid-August of last year. It is projected that 175,000 will be sold by 2025 according to the Department of Transport.

Is it Mr. Meally’s understanding that we will sell 50,000 or 55,000 vehicles per year over the next three years?

Mr. Declan Meally:  There are 55,000 on the road moment.  Regarding getting that to 175,000, in the past year 110,000 new cars were sold.  We have doubled the number of cars that have received grant aid each year.  The 55,000, which is where we are now, was actually where the trajectory was going to take us to – the 45,000 by the end of last year which we have hit.  In terms of what we can sell between this year and next year, we believe there is definitely the potential and the appetite.


Matt Carthy:  Does Mr. Meally believe it would be 55,000 for the next three years?


Declan Meally:  There are 55,000 already there. In terms of the next—–


Matt Carthy:  What will be sold each year?

Declan Meally:  We see that there is a demand for at least 50,000 cars this year.  The supply chain issues with semiconductors and with supplies coming from Russia and Ukraine due to unfortunate circumstances there are constraining some of the supply.  Definitely the demand is there and we are seeing the demand increasing.  We are on target to hit that number, the 175,000.


Matt Carthy:  Regarding the target for the period from 2025 to 2030, I was trying to extrapolate out what would be expected.  I have come to an average of around 169,000 cars per year for those years.  Would that be correct?

Declan Meally:  I am not sure in terms of the average on that.  A number of factors affect getting to the 2030 target.  The cars are becoming cheaper.  The battery technology is becoming better.  There are longer ranges for the cars that are there.  The signal is being given that people will not be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car by 2030.  All those factors are changing behaviour and changing people’s attitudes.  The survey the Deputy saw from 2020 has changed dramatically.  We have done a lot of work with the dealerships.  They are saying that most of the demand from people coming into their dealerships nowadays is for electric cars.

Matt Carthy:  I understand the general points.  I am trying to get to the specifics in terms of how many electric vehicles will actually be sold and the benefits involved.  We must consider this matter in the context of average sales of electric vehicles of 169,000 over a period of time.

To put that in context, car sales at the peak of the Celtic tiger were of the order of 180,000 per year.  Our target is to reach the sale of 169,000 electric vehicles per year at a time we are estimating public transport journeys will increase by 15%.  There is also investment going into active travel.  The Minister for Transport talks about the 15-minute city and all of that.

How realistic, therefore, is it that we would sell 169,000 electric vehicles each year for five years?  Is that environmentally beneficial when public transport options may be available to those people who may be in a position to purchase electric vehicles?

Declan Meally:  The ambition is to reduce our transport emissions.  There are currently approximately 13 million tonnes of emissions, much of which relates to private driving.  We want to get people out of their cars and onto public transport at the same time as moving our car stock to electric vehicles.  Behaviours and habits will change.  We anticipate a fundamental transition between now and 2030.  Will everybody need to own a car by 2030?  That is another question we will be asking.  We are constantly looking at this issue with the Department of Transport.  The trajectory towards the target for electric cars shows we are on the right path.   We are considering other options with the Department of Transport to make sure there are also public transport options.

Matt Carthy:  I have not made up the figures around the targets for electric vehicle sales. These are the Government’s established targets.

In respect of those targets, is there a further breakdown of those targets for specific locations to deal with, for example, the urban-rural divide?  What are the demographics involved in terms of income streams?

Our guests will know that researchers from Trinity College and Queen’s University Belfast have reported that electric vehicles are luxury goods.  That is reflected in the sales statistics. Electric vehicles favour those who are wealthier and live in areas where there are public transport options.  They do not favour those who are poorer and live in areas where there is no public transport option.  Such people are hardest hit by the taxes that pay for the grants to fund these electric vehicles in the first place.

Do our guests have sub-targets within the target for the overall numbers of electric vehicles that are expected to be sold?

Declan Meally:  We do not have a breakdown of targets; we just have the national target.  That is what we are working towards and we are on that trajectory.  Electric vehicles are sold right across the board.  We want to see as many electric cars as possible brought into the general stock of cars.  They will then become second-hand cars, go into the fleet and work their way right through it.  That is where the grants are focused.

Matt Carthy:  The idea is that someone who happens to be wealthy and lives across the road from a DART station will get a grant towards a brand new electric vehicle this year and in a couple of years’ time will sell it to some poor cod down the country who has been paying carbon taxes to pay for the grant in the first place.

Mr. William Walsh:  I have a couple of high-level comments to make.  Electric vehicles differ from internal combustion engines in their technology.  I remind the Deputy of a time when widescreen televisions were luxury goods.  That was not long ago.  Many people now have widescreen televisions because they are available at a very cheap rate.  We have seen improved technology in electric vehicles.


Matt Carthy:  The Government did not give a grant to those people who were already in a position to purchase high-end televisions at that time.

William Walsh:  That is true but the Government did not have a requirement to reduce emissions relating to televisions.  If we come back to this committee room in 2025, we hope to be speaking about internal combustion engines being expensive and electric vehicles being cheap because technology is driving the market that way.  That is, of course, subject to what we are seeing at the moment with the supply chain issues in the world.  We in the SEAI would be delighted if we could see retrofitting follow electric vehicles.  Everyone is going to be driving an electric vehicle by 2030.

Matt Carthy:  We know what is in place at the moment.  There is a grant available for those people who can afford the tens of thousands necessary to buy a brand new electric vehicle.  The Government is giving those people a grant.

Have our guests examined alternative ways of reaching the same objectives in a fairer way? Interest-free loans could be an example of that.  Are there other measures that will allow those people who are crucified with carbon taxes and have no public transport options to avail of the sizeable level of Exchequer funding that is going into these schemes?

Such people cannot receive that funding at the moment.

William Walsh:  We anticipate electric vehicles will become cheaper than internal combustion engines in the coming years.  There will be options.  Electric vehicles have overturned everything.  Technology is available from particular brands, which I will not name because I do not want to promote them, and vehicles are getting cheaper.  There has been a fall in prices for some types of electric vehicles in recent years.  Brands have come into the market.  We anticipate that trend continuing.


Matt Carthy:  What about the State fleet, including Garda cars, council vehicles and the vehicles used by all statutory bodies?  How close are we to moving to electric vehicles in that regard?  Do our guests see that improving in the coming years?  Do our guests see a role for their organisation in that respect?


Declan Meally:  We do. We have been working with all of the public sector to look at the option of transferring the fleet to electric vehicles.


Matt Carthy:  Does Mr. Meally know the current percentages involved?

Declan Meally:  I do not have that figure to hand but we can find out.  It is increasing all the time.  The Garda was one of the first organisations to take that on.  An Post is also looking to demonstrate how that transition can be done.  Local authorities are taking electric vehicles on board.  It is happening across the board.  All public sector organisations are taking the information on board and working with us.

William Walsh:  I understand there is an intention in the climate action plan to push and force State agencies and State bodies to only purchase electric vehicles where that is feasible and possible.  We have been working with the Office of Government Procurement to ensure there are easy mechanisms in place for local authorities to access centrally procured vehicles.


“Government Electric Vehicle grants favour wealthier people who have access to public transport”
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