Sep 2007

Vote Green. Get a random colour.

The Irish Green Party have lost any shred of whatever credibility they once had. It’s possible they could still emerge with a political future if they pulled out of the coalition right now and admitted they’d made a huge mistake for which they would work ceaselessly in opposition to atone for. The longer they remain as part of this government, the less likely is that political future.

But that’s not what concerns me. The moment they gave their tacit support to the destruction of the Tara valley (a scheme they’d previously described as “an act of cultural and historic vandalism“) in clear defiance of their pre-election promises, was the moment they ceased being worthy of the electorate’s trust. It’s unlikely this Green Party will ever get my vote again (back to spoilt papers for me it appears), and frankly I hope they fade into bitter memory… as I hope does every politician who trades their principles and promises for a brief stint at the top table.

No, what worries me is that they will tarnish the entire environmental movement. By sending out the clear message that they’re just another bunch of career politicians willing to do almost anything for power, so they send out the message that the environment is just another political issue. It’s not life and death. It’s not something we urgently need to get right or we’ll end up damning future generations. It’s just another issue. Which means it’s negotiable. If there are more votes in addressing the crime problem, or building more schools, then that’s what will be done.

Which isn’t to say that we don’t need more and better schools. And it’s not to say that crime should be ignored. Simply that the environment is a different category of problem. If we don’t safeguard the environment, then zero crime and wonderful schools for every child are irrelevant. “Little Timmy got such a great education before he was killed in the water riots. Thank heavens for the Greens, eh?”

But it’s not just Tara. I gave the Greens my vote this time round because I read their manifesto and it was filled with positions that I felt desperately needed representation in The Dáil. But I was lied to. And those positions have no representation. When I voted for them, it was partly because they promised “When in government, the Green Party will introduce legislation to end blood sports” (paragraph 7.1). I mean, there’s very little room for interpretation on that one, right?

Wrong. As Minister for the Environment, Green Party leader John Gormley is responsible for issuing hunting licences. And he has gone ahead and issued a number of hare-coursing licences for this year. I can’t be the only person who sees this as a clear betrayal. Not only is a man who pledged to end blood-sports in Ireland issuing licences to those who organise blood-sports rather than taking a stand on an unambiguous manifesto promise, but by doing so he — and the other Greens — are ensuring that the anti-blood-sports position simply isn’t represented in The Dáil. No other party, or independent, made the same pledge. So a large number of people will have voted for the Greens on that issue.

They — like those who felt that the preservation of the Tara valley needed a voice in The Dáil — have been royally screwed over. When I vote, I vote for the policies and not the person. I vote because I want those policies represented at the highest possible level, even if that means the opposition benches. Paul Gogarty, my local Green TD, is supposed to be representing me. I voted for him based upon the beliefs he claimed to subscribe to in the manifesto. Abandoning those beliefs in exchange for a government job is sticking two fingers up to me and everyone else who gave him their voice. When the history of this age is told, I hope Paul Gogarty’s name — along with the other five Green TDs — is forever linked to that act of “cultural and historic vandalism” he is now party to.

Climate Change

The excuse. According to some in the media who claim to know about these things, John Gormley — as leader of the Greens — made a decision when Bertie approached him to be part of the coalition. Every Green policy was up for negotiation, for abandonment even, in return for a chance to shape policy on Climate Change.

Now, when I first heard that rumour it gave me pause for thought. Climate change may well be the most important single issue facing the planet, and it clearly requires urgent action. So perhaps there’s method to the Green madness. Perhaps all of these compromises can be justified. Perhaps Gormley’s decision to focus all of his party’s effort and expend all of their political capital on this single, vital issue, is a shrewd political move.

Except it isn’t.

Per capita, Ireland’s carbon emissions are extremely high. We’re up there at number 17 in the world and in Europe’s top five. And there’s no question that needs to be addressed.

But when it comes to overall total carbon emissions, we’re way down the list. We’re number 56. Between Serbia & Montenegro and Libya. That’s not to say that Ireland’s carbon emissions are irrelevant. That’s not the point I’m making. I’m just highlighting the cold, hard fact that no Irish Environment Minister can make a significant impact on solving this global problem, when the very best he or she could do would be to eliminate less than one fifth of one percent of global emissions.

That would be a great thing, don’t get me wrong, and we in Ireland should indeed be working towards that goal. But even if we succeed, we just don’t produce enough of the problematic carbon dioxide to make a significant impact on a global scale.

And that’s the reason Gormley’s decision isn’t a shrewd one. The Irish Green Party — even in opposition — have a degree of control over whether or not the Tara valley is vandalised in the name of the private car (looks like Peak Oil is going to be a half-decade too late for Ireland’s most important heritage site). They have a degree of control over blood-sports policy in Ireland. They have a degree of control over a number of significant issues… whether we expand Dublin airport, whether we invest more in public transport or road-building, how much we tax waste, how much we tax flights, and plenty more.

But the Greens have relinquished their control over these issues (not a single voice in Dáil Éireann opposed the granting of the hare-coursing licences) in return for a chance to shape policy on an issue they — realistically speaking — have no control over. Still, if nothing else, we can expect to see Ireland slide down those nationmaster lists. This year we are 17th in per capita carbon emissions and 56th overall. Let’s see how we stand next year, and the year after. I hope the Tara valley was worth it.

Posted in: Opinion