Ireland is subsidising ‘harmful’ industries that ‘kill’ citizens, author claims

Government should end subsidies for fossil fuels, sugar, alcohol and car industries, event in Trinity College Dublin told

Government should halt all funding for road-building to help create a healthier Ireland, an event in Trinity College Dublin has been told.

Ireland and other countries need to stop subsidising “harmful” industries that are “killing” their citizens, according to Grant Ennis, author of a book on corporate disinformation.

Mr Ennis called for a new charter for a healthy and more sustainable Ireland, to include an immediate end to all Government-sponsored roadbuilding and road-widening, an end to tax subsidies for marketing, advertising and public relations, and an end to subsidies for fossil fuel, sugar, alcohol and car industries.

Ireland should ensure corporations pay a minimum tax equal to or more than that paid by “alive and breathing individuals”, and should close loopholes that allow industry to exert undue influence, according to the author.

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Mr Ennis, whose career has been in overseas aid and public health non-profit, is the author of Dark PR: How Corporate Disinformation Harms Our Health and the Environment.

Corporate giants are behind the true “nanny state” that is “killing us”, he argued in a public lecture for Trinity’s health and sports week on the role of corporations in framing the global problems of obesity, climate change and “automobility”.

Subsidies for driving lead to more miles driven and thus to more road deaths, he said.

Ireland provides €3.5 billion annually in subsidies for driving and the car industry, despite the harms they cause, according to Mr Ennis.

It provides €3 billion in subsidies towards global warming each year, double the level 20 years ago, he said.

Meanwhile, the makers of ultra-processed foods are heavily subsidised across the world – $5 billion a year in Australia – while paying low taxes, Mr Ennis continued.

“Large companies rig our tax laws so they don’t have to pay. So effectively we, the taxpayers, are subsidising them to our own detriment.”

Housing and land-use policy in Ireland is incentivising low-density living, that is “incredibly bad” for the climate, and also leads to more road deaths, he added.

“You have height limits on building construction which limit how many homes can be built and increases the price of housing, leads to more low-density sprawl, more driving and more high-energy living, which in turn is bad for the climate.”

According to Mr Ennis, large corporates involved in harmful industries spend millions of dollars to boost their narratives on the internet and inhibit political action.

Industry loves to blame the obesity epidemic on an absence of exercise. We have more cycle paths and people exercising and yet obesity continues to rise

—  Grant Ennis

They do this by framing these narratives in certain ways, for example by repetition of their messages and triangulation, or ensuring people get their “alternative facts” in different places at the same time.

Other tactics used by the sugar, car and fossil-fuel industries to resist change include “denialism”, support for “magical” solutions that are not effective and victim-blaming.

“Industry loves to blame the obesity epidemic on an absence of exercise. We have more cycle paths and people exercising and yet obesity continues to rise.”

Education, recycling, energy efficiency and labelling initiatives “don’t work”, he said, because they do not change behaviour.

“If you put people in a structure where choices are rigged and tell them to make better choices, they’re not going to be able to – when we surround people with junk food, people are going to eat junk food. When we surround them with unsafe roads, making them drive, we have more road deaths.”

“You make sugar massively cheap and plentiful and then sell it outside schools and then you tell children not to eat it – it’s ridiculous, it doesn’t work.”

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