01 March, 2011

Crash, Bang, Wallop

Ouch, that hurt.

wo weeks after the event it all seems fairly clear.

The Green Party went into Government with Fianna Fáil. The IMF came in, and the electorate kicked out Fianna Fáil and anyone associated with them, and that included the Greens.

I had thought people would boot out Fianna Fáil back in 1997, when I first ran for the Dáil in Dublin Central. It all seemed stunningly obvious at the time. The Tribunals had been set up, and everyone was talking about corruption. Even the late Jim Mitchell had taken £5,000 from Ben Dunne, surely Fianna Fáil AND Fine Gael were going to take a hit in Dublin Central and elsewhere. Fat Chance.

In 2002, when I ran for office in Dún Laoghaire I was convinced that Fianna Fáil were for the high jump. Nope, back they came.

2007, and the mask appeared to be slipping. They came back with 78 seats. "The boom is getting boomier" said Bertie Ahern. If you can't beat them, work with them, and that's what we did four years ago.

The numbers meant that Fianna Fáil were going to be back in office anyway in 2007, with the help of the PDs, so why not green the Programme for Government? Small parties get the chance once in a generation to effect change, and we took that opportunity. We started to shift taxes away from labour to energy and resources, and make tax systems more sustainable and job-friendly. Meanwhile as we were beavering away at this, a tsunami came down the street in the form of the financial crisis and intervention by the IMF. No wonder we suffered. Despite trojan work from fantastic staff and supporters, the Green Party failed to win any Dail seats in Election 2011.

The election has delivered a clear result, but the issues that we campaigned on haven't gone away.
As oil hits $115 a barrel, the issues of peak oil, energy security and climate change must remain in focus.

We brought in a transformative new planning act, but it requires vigilance to ensure that it fulfills its purpose.
We published the Climate Change Response Bill, and we’ll be watching carefully to see that it proceeds. Other legislation such as the Noise Nuisance Bill and Dublin Bay Bill didn’t see the light of day, but deserve to do so.

Reform must be a theme for the Greens over the next five years. We need reform to make Government more transparent and open. We need reform to give Dublin a directly-elected mayor. We need reform to make local government more responsible to people's needs, and be more independent of central government. Perhaps we need to re-brand as the Green Reform Party to ensure that this message is clear.

I'll be watching to see how the new Government tackles some key issues. Metro North doesn't seem to get a mention in the Fine Gael / Labour Programme for Government. The new Children's Hospital seems to be in danger of being kicked to touch. Fine Gael voted against the 2010 Planning Act, and I'll be curious to see what Phil Hogan and Willie Penrose mean when they propose that "A democratically-decided Regional or City Plan will replace the present top-down Strategic Planning Guideline model." Climate Change gets just over two lines of a mention, so I'm not overly optimistic on that front either, even though we left a box-fresh Bill in the Senate that's ready to enact. The Dublin Mayor Bill doesn't even get a look-in, which is bad news for the capital, and there are no firm commitments to reduce the number of TDs. The Bill to ban Corporate Donations which contributed to the boom and bust economics of the Celtic Tiger years doesn't even get a mention.

Still, there are positives. Some of the local government reforms could be good, and I love the idea of providing an Irish version of www.FixMyStreet.com. Sure, if we could even come up with clear guidelines for local authorities to respond to email queries, we'd be well on our way to success in that area. I like the proposal to remove barriers to mobility across the public service, and feel that could transform government for the better. I was pleased to see Ruairi Quinn appointed to Education, and was glad to see that the year of free pre-school will be maintained. I wish him well in wrestling with the funding challenges of higher education.

The Green movement will remain as a force in Irish politics. Perhaps though we need to listen more, and lecture less. Perhaps we need to lead the way, but not instruct people that they have to follow us. We need to talk more about the good news that comes from implementing green policies, and less about the end being nigh.

I think I’ll enjoy the freedom of the weight of office being lifted, and in fact I’m already enjoying it.
I’m not making too many plans for the moment, but I do know that I’ve been a campaigner for all of my adult life, and that will not go away.