"Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Francie O'Brien's pen" announced Dan Boyle shortly before we broke up last December. He's right too. Senator O'Brien's card and pens arrive like clockwork every year, just as the festive season starts, and it seems to work for him. Of course in recent years Senator Mary White has upped the ante with her boxes of chocolates. I keep meaning to send them back to her, along with all sorts of moral pronouncements about sweetening us up, but the kids always manage to get there first. Our Mary White wouldn't engage in that type of carry-on. You hear all kinds of tales about bottles of whiskey and more changing hands from Dáil Deputies and Councillors in exchange for votes from aspiring Senators, but I suspect most of them know that would rub the Greens up the wrong way. A stack of Dáil envelopes did wing their way to me one Christmas, just before I was elected as a TD, but I spent them back sharpish.
Well, the holiday didn't last long. The phone was buzzing when I started back on the 3rd January. I had a fascinating flying visit to Berlin ten days ago for a meeting of European Green Parliamentarians. We had a good discussion of Climate Change (the 20% reductions announced by the Commission while I was there don't go far enough; Migration (A common European position is required, and the definition of 'safe countries needs to be reviewed); the European Constitution (still lots of enthusiasm for getting the original document passed coming from the German Greens; and Foreign Policy (Lots of angst over the lack of a stronger response from the European Union over the Lebanon Israel conflict. Monica Frassoni and Dannie Cohn Bendit were in fine form; Dannie started groaning when an earnest Swedish Green MEP suggested that a more vegetarian diet could reduce emissions from Cattle. He is clearly a man fond of his steak. Incidentally, I couldn't get over the contrast between the superb organic food that we were offered at the Conference, and the fact that people are still allowed smoke in public buildings in Germany.
It was a good get-together; even though I pointed out that my own use of carbon in getting there amounted to what I use to heat my share of the home for almost a year. However there was great enthusiasm for tapping into Irish exported wind energy for those days when the winds are calm in Germany. I know John isn't a great fan of attending these gatherings, but I still think they're worthwhile for keeping an ear to the ground, and seeing what's coming from middle Europe. Speaking of emissions, that was some announcement from Marks and Sparks the other day. Maybe there's a lot of marketing in it, but a promise to go carbon neutral by 2012, and a commitment to air miles labeling and reductions seemed fairly impressive to me. Tony Juniper seemed enthusiastic, as did Oisin Coughlan from Irish Friends of the Earth. I liked the story from a friend that I heard today who describes how her daughter goes around the house switching off lights and saying "Think of the Polar Bears, Mum".
Meanwhile we're looking forward to a meeting that John Gormley, Eamon Ryan and I are hosting on Tuesday 23rd January. "A Home of Your Own", is an evening of debate and discussion about housing availability and affordability. It's taking place upstairs in the Cultivate Centre in Temple Bar. We've managed to get a hold of Prof. PJ Drudy, Developer Bernard McNamara, Economist Jim Power and UK Green Party Councillor Bill Randall. Hopefully the sparks will fly!