18 June, 2020

Fail Better

"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs."
 

The lines came from Enoch Powell, and it wasn’t his rather chequered political career he was referring to, but that of Joseph Chamberlain, a British statesmen who wonderfully once campaigned on the slogan ‘three acres and a cow’ to capture the agriculture vote. His son Neville became Prime Minister and perhaps lived up to Enoch’s assessment of his father, given that he sought to appease Hitler in the 1930s.

Politics is an unusual calling. We outbid our opponents in promises to voters, and ultimately disappoint our electorate when we do not deliver all we stood for. If we do not make promises, we are ignored, and so we walk a path between rhetoric and reality. We campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Ultimately, we can never deliver on all we set out to achieve. In the parallel universe of academia, propositions must be evidence-based, and better still published in peer-reviewed journals before they are accepted. In politics, we rely on the electorate, and the fourth estate to capture the essence of our ideas, and achievements, or lack of them. Even though our ideas and policies are grounded in evidence, their implementation relies on the goodwill of the electorate. Implementation of our entire Manifesto can never be achieved.

Back when I was on Dublin City Council, Councillor Andrew Montague told me that all you ever get in politics is incremental change. Over time though, he went on to say, it adds up. You think you are achieving almost nothing and then, as the years pass you realise that the world has changed, and you played a part in making it happen.  Back in the 1980s a group of us campaigned for light rail as an alternative to road building in Dublin. Our button badges read ‘trams not jams’. Decision-makers laughed at us and accused us of being stuck in the past. In 1991, in my first term on Dublin City Council I worked with other councillors to promote public transport investment rather than roads. Over twenty years later I took my place on the first tram leaving Stephen’s Green. Subsequently, we launched a ‘Join the Dots’ postcard campaign to link the red and green lines, and that took a decade to happen, with opposition from vested interests who felt the car should still be king. When I entered local government the city centre population was declining, and we feared Dublin would become a ‘doughnut city’ with a hollowed-out centre. The ‘Living City’ movement led by the late Deirdre Kelly turned the tide and paved the way for policies that allowed the inner city to double in population. Ideas take time to take root and grow. In the 1980s the Green Party campaigned for a Basic Income, and an end to smoky coal. The draft Programme proposes a National Clean Air Strategy, and a Basic Income trial. The steps to implementation are agonisingly slow.

Thirteen years ago, I met a few pals in the Stag’s Head pub and discussed whether the Greens should enter Government. There was heated debate and no clear consensus. In these COVID days of back-to-back Zoom calls there hasn’t been the chance to catch up with my mates, and a pint in the pub is a distant memory. The question remains: should we enter Government or offer advice from the side-line. The draft Government Programme is in sections visionary, but in other parts downright irritating. It proposes a marriage of convenience between three parties that are far from aligned in history or ideology. It is a tough read, all too often opts for studies, reviews and reports rather than action. It fails to grasp the nettle of Seanad reform, and does not recognise the severity of the housing and homeless crisis, and yet…

The Programme seeks to end Direct Provision by 2025; it allocates extraordinary funding to active travel and public transport and proposes to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030. On housing it offers 50,000 social homes, and a Housing First approach to homelessness. It intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% within a decade. None of these gains will happen overnight, and it will take time to ramp up our efforts.

And the planet continues to burn. Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were 386 parts per million back in 2007. The number is 413 today. Since we met for a drink thirteen years ago almost 400 billion tonnes of CO2 have been added to global emissions. It is as clear that we need to act, with an urgency lacking in the major parties. We cannot state that we have a decade to save the earth and then suggest that we sit this one out until the time is right. Meanwhile in the European Parliament we’re adopting a European Green Deal and a Just Transition for regions moving to a low-carbon economy. We can do that here at home. With twelve TDs we cannot dictate policy in every aspect of the new Government's work, but we can sow seeds that will grow over time.

Being in Government from 2007 to 2011 was hard. It may be even tougher now. No-one knows how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, or its long-term impact on our economy that is highly dependent on exports and tourism. If we do enter Government, it will be a tough and demanding job. A decade after we were spat out, I believe we should enter Government again, and play our part in tackling the immense challenges that lie ahead. The road ahead is a tough one, and there will be failures as well as gains. We will never realise all that we wish to achieve, and regardless of the outcome, there will always be naysayers suggesting that we have achieved nothing. The issues are urgent, we cannot wait. I believe we should enter Government.

 Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.


23 February, 2020

A crash course in Stockholm


3,500 pairs of shoes representing those who die in crashes every day
‘The day the knock on the door came'.

This phrase came up time and again in the three days I spent in Stockholm at a Road Safety Conference. For many at the conference that knock represented the day their lives changed utterly when someone called to their door with the news that one of their loved ones had died in a road crash. For others in attendance giving that news was part of their job description. Every one of the 1,700 people in attendance wanted to reduce the toll. Over a million die every year on the world's roads, and many more suffer life-altering injuries. I was there representing the European Parliament at the Global Network for Road Safety Legislators, and to speak at a session examining how we can use procurement rules to reduce the carnage. The outcome of the Conference - the Stockholm Declaration ties road safety in to the Sustainable Development Goals and will hopefully reduce fatalities and injuries in the coming decade. Hats off to the Swedish Government and the World Health Organisation for bringing us all together.

Road deaths are increasing around the world with increased motorisation. The developing world is struggling to keep up with a flood of new and second-hand vehicles that are often sub-standard. A heart-stopping display of 3,700 pairs of shoes in Stockholm’s Central Railway Station reminded us that this number of lives are lost each day on our roads. Nearby was a display of two pick-up trucks, crashed into each other. They illustrated the disparity between safety standards in Europe and Africa. The new vehicle for sale in South Africa had crumpled, the older European vehicle was relatively intact.

There is some good news. In Europe, deaths have dropped from the staggering level of 75,000 per year in 1990 to around 25,000 per year today. The European Commission have a ‘Vision Zero’ plan that takes its title from a Swedish initiative adopted in 1997 with the principle that ‘life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society’. Dr. Matts-Åke Belin developed the Vision Zero Academy to spread the message. He advises road safety bodies on how they can reduce road deaths and injuries. Every September it holds an intensive one-week course to show how this can be achieved. Designing roads for safety over speed helps achieve this, as well as installing barriers to separate lanes of traffic travelling in opposite directions. Such barriers - made from steel or concrete can improve safety by 90% compared to roads without separation. In cities lowering speeds improves safety. Vision Zero works. In Oslo only one person was killed on their roads last year. In Dublin city around ten lives are lost annually, and around twenty in Greater Dublin. We have a lot to learn from our Nordic colleagues.

Of course, it is not just about the road: drivers and vehicles also have a crucial role to play. Young male drivers are particularly vulnerable, and initiatives to work with youth groups on designated driver programs can change hearts and minds, and save lives. Designated driver programmes can lead to less drunk driving. Vehicles are getting safer, thanks to new European laws that mandate air bags, and other safety features such as alerting emergency authorities when sensors indicate that a vehicle has been in a crash. In recent years it seems that ‘distracted driving’ -looking at screens rather than the road is also taking a toll and contributing to a flat-lining of safety improvements in Europe.

At the conference, I met with Barry Sheerman MP, a UK campaigner from Huddersfield and chair of the Global Legislators' Group on roaf safety. When I Googled him to spell his name correctly the first result was ‘Is Barry Sheerman still an MP?’ Well he certainly is! First elected in 1979, he campaigned in 1981 to make seat belt wearing a legal requirement, an initiative that has saved countless lives. However, there is always the danger that benefits of new safety measures are gobbled up by more risk-taking. John Adams, author of ‘Risk’ suggests that one of the best ways to cut down on speeding would be to get rid of seat belts, and place a large spike in the middle of the steering wheel facing the driver! Such a feature might reduce speeds, and save lives, but might be hard to get past lawmakers! I also caught up with Bronwen Thornton from Walk21, an NGO that does sterling work in advocating for walkable communities and improvements in the public realm.

We should not just focus on people inside the vehicles. We need to ensure those outside of the vehicle are protected, and not prevented from going about their daily lives in safety. We shouldn’t have to dress up children up like construction workers in Hi-Viz just so they can walk safely to school. I’d be critical of our own Road Safety Authority for putting too much pressure on pedestrians and cyclists to be ultra-visible, and not placing enough emphasis on reducing dangerous driving and speeding which claim so many lives each year. Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest causes of premature death in Europe, and we need to ensure that people get sufficient exercise and aren’t driven, or drive everywhere. We must ensure active travel such as walking and cycling is normalised, and encouraged:  not seen as an adventure-sport with clothing to match. In the space of a generation, many children have seen their independent spatial mobility dramatically reduced, and it is crucial that we reclaim the street and our roads as a place for all, and not just cars.

It was good to see representatives from Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in attendance, I even had a good old argy-bargy about the Galway Ring Road with a senior Department of Transport official who argued that a new road is needed there so that there’s space for a better bus service! I told him that I had been hearing arguments like that since the last century, and quite frankly we needed to move with the times and stop putting investments in public transport on the long finger. I also met Chair of the RSA Liz O’Donnell who told me that the post to replace Moya Murdoch as CEO is currently advertised. Even Acting Minister Ross turned up, and I wished him well in his future endeavours. The main outcome of the Conference was the approval of a StockholmDeclaration on Road Safety. It neatly aligns road safety objectives with the Sustainable Development Goals, and seeks enhanced action.

In my contribution to the Global Legislators Forum, I made five points:

1. Vision Zero has to be at the heart of all we do. We need more good laws at a European level, and I received a useful briefing on this from Elizabeth Werner who works in the European Commission. We need to ensure consistency on driver licenses across the EU; more measures on cross-border enforcement (that speeding ticket you got in Italy!), and move forward with the Infrastructure Safety Management Directive which will audit major roads to ensure that pedestrians and cyclists, as well as motorists are safe.

2. We need smarter vehicles. By smart I don't simply mean more electronic wizardry. Sometimes it means getting rid of SUVs in cities whose bonnets are higher than a child’s head. It can also mean phasing out polluting vehicles whose manufacturers lied to us about emissions, and which contribute to premature deaths from air pollution. Autonomous vehicles may help, but many at the Conference argued that they should be required to sit a driving test! Some expressed concern at the rise of eScooters and other microbility solutions. Others suggested that they might put pressure on local authorities to make roads safer for all.

3. Travelling less can also play a role. That can mean working from home one day a week. It can also mean mixed-use planning so that people do not have to travel long distances for work, or if they do ensuring that there is public transport and active travel options available. Getting around by bus and rail are so much safer than driving, and putting in place SUMPs (Sustainable Mobility Plans) can help make this happen.

4. Safe speeds are crucial. Rod King, the guru behind ‘20’s Plenty’ was at the conference. He is a passionate advocate for 20 mph speed limits in residential areas in the UK, and 30 km/h limits in other countries. Lower speeds save lives, and in Ireland many if not most drivers in areas with low speed limits break the law. An Garda Síochána needs to treat speeding seriously. If similar numbers died due to Gangland crime Governments would fall. Some Government enthusiasm for speed enforcement using traffic cameras would also be useful. Hopefully Intelligence Speed Assistance will help in the years to come. We also need to reduce speed limits from 50 km/h to 40 km/h on urban arterial roads, and consider 20 km/h limits where children may be present in significant numbers. I have even seen 10 km/h speed limits on public roads in German cities beside children’s playgrounds. Sounds good to me.

5. My last plea was for less victim blaming. All too often, we allow statements like ‘I couldn’t see you’ or ‘The sun was in my eyes’ go unchallenged. We need to remember the title of Ralph Nader’s book ‘Unsafe at any speed’ and take more decisive action to make our roads safer. Mayer Hillman, one of my heroes co-authored a report ‘One False Move’ that took its title from a UK government pamphlet that seemed to shift blame to young pedestrians for bad driving by others. Another co-author John Whitelegg was also there, and we swopped notes.

In a session entitled ‘Producing and Consuming Responsibly’, I spoke about the rule of the European Union saving lives on our roads. We can do this by incentivising modal shift to combined mobility and public transport. Recent Commission guidance on Green Public Procurement mentions other initiatives such as promoting the use of speed limiters in vehicles. Prioritising measures such as these in procurement can save lives.  The EU needs to take a more active role in pushing for a whole systems approach that would tackle road safety along with promoting mode shifts, active travel, and improving air quality.

What did I learn from the Conference? Governments must redouble their efforts to reduce speeds on our roads. We should (with thanks to Teresa Mannion) avoid unnecessary journeys. Where possible, prioritise buses and trains over cars. We must normalise and encourage walking and cycling as the benefits go far beyond road safety. At a European Union level we must stop exporting second-rate vehicles to the rest of the world.  Finally we must strive for the Vision Zero approach pioneered in Sweden, and embed this into all our thinking.

I have no doubt that if we do this properly, we would have more people leading safer, and healthier longer lives, and a reduction in carbon emissions as well. What’s not to like!


20 January, 2020

On the buses

Loads of interest in my meeting with Ray Coyne Chief Executive in Dublin Bus last Friday. Around a hundred of you responded to my call out on Twitter, and I put some of your questions to Ray in his office on O'Connell Street. I punched the Twitter queries into a pie chart, and both operational changes and cleaner buses came in streets ahead of other issues. 

As it happens Ray started off with a discussion about bus stops. Often they are the place where kids hang out, and we discussed how to make them more interesting, and perhaps less prone to vandalism. Some Parisian bus stops have book shelves, and there's some great bus stops abroad with green sedum planting, so maybe scope for improvement. We also touched on a feminist perspective on bus routes. Always a bit dodgy for two guys to get their heads around this, but my colleague Tara Connolly had suggested that traditionally bus routes emphasise radial journeys between home and work, rather than catering for the multi-point trips that are common for women so I thought I'd mention it.  This opens up a whole discussion about Le Corbusier's flawed vision of the zoned city that separated work from home, but we didn't have time to get stuck into this. In fairness, the Bus Connects proposals from the NTA do stress the routes that encircle the city that are currently poorly served, and hopefully these will be improved in the years ahead. 

On the big picture, @RobinCafolla asked how could we double passenger numbers in five years? Good question, and if we're to tackle climate change and reduce congestion we need to vastly improve our public transport offering. Ray says their bus numbers have more or less been around 1,100 vehicles for a round a decade, but there's been a bit of an increase in recent years. This may have been a way of avoiding the ban on purchase of 100% diesel buses that came in last year, or perhaps it was a response from the NTA to increased demand for buses, who knows. Ray felt if the fleet could be increased to 1,600 buses it would make a huge difference in capacity. Buses aren't cheap though. They cost around €350,000, or €500,000 for a hybrid bus. A fully electric bus may cost up to €650,000 so it won't be cheap to electrify the fleet. No doubt these costs will drop significantly over the coming years. Last Autumn I went along to the annual Busworld expo in Brussels (sad, I know), and there were lots of new all-electric buses on display. Shenzhen in China has an all-electric fleet of 16,000 buses, but is one of the few Chinese cities that has fully embraced electrification. The carbon footprint of travelling by bus has decreased in recent years and is now just over 60 grams per passenger kilometre. This is a big improvement, but congestion has slowed down buses considerably. Everyone wants to see improved enforcement of bus lanes. Some number plate recognition cameras and fixed penalties would help, but in the meantime over to you @GardaTraffic! Reliability came up in your comments, and the hope is that Bus Connects can improve this. @areyousreious asked why can't we have a circular bus service beside the Royal and Grand Canals, and as it happens, this IS proposed in the Bus Connects plans. It'll need to be single decker to make it under the low bridges, and fingers crossed will be in place if Bord Pleanála approves the plans.
Cheaper fares were sought by @Kodomonster, and while that is out of the hands of Dublin Bus, it should be on the agenda of the National Transport Authority and the next Government. In Vienna my Green party colleague and Deputy Mayor Maria Vassilakou introduced a €365 annual fare for public transport and it has been a great success. I see David McWilliams has been advocating free public transport recently, and while I'd love to see this happen, if it was introduced tomorrow we simply wouldn't have sufficient buses to cope with the demand. I feel we should start off with free transport for children on Saturday, and then depending on capacity extend that all week, or to students and see how we get on. I'll be watching Luxembourg closely as they plan to introduce free travel from March of this year. 
@AnnieAura asked that @DublinBusNews tweet when a bus doesn’t run, and maybe this could be considered. @Ten4GudBuddy asked for a clean-up of the cluttered Dublin Bus web site, and I've asked Ray Coyne to consider this. @Seathrun666 suggested signs on the back of buses allowing them to pull out. I actually remember these being in place as part of the Dublin Transportation Task Force's remit around about a million years ago, and it would be good if they could be reintroduced. Issues around broken wheelchair ramps were raised by @karlodwyer; internal ventilation by @PositiveWork, and increasing the distance between bus stops got mentioned by @ChrisClarkprjct. @mushypea007 asked about follow up on complaints, and the dreaded web form also got a mention. It seems to me that publication of issues and statistics from the web forms submitted would be worth undertaking, and I've asked for this.

Ghost buses came up for discussion. This refers to buses that appear on Real Time Passenger Information displays (or online) and then disappear. This is infuriating and Ray is well aware of the problem, which is often caused when a bus gets to a terminus to late to start at the correct time and then waits for the next slot. The new contract between Dublin Bus and the National Transport Authority which kicked off within the last month penalises Dublin Bus for not keeping to time, so fingers crossed things will improve. Using the centre doors came up as an issue from @GIviable, @SeanPolDeBurca, @_somerville_, @BrahmaMull. It seems to be a no-brainer, and although perhaps drivers are concerned about fare evasion, it makes sense to use them at crowded bus stops. Many of you including @athenamediaie @wrafter_colin @AlanDillon68 want Dublin Bus to go cashless. This would reduce 'dwell time' and is certainly worth doing. It is the norm in other cities. The percentage of Leap card users is increasing every year and it makes sense to make the change over as the cost of a €5 Leap card is similar to two bus rides. The NTA has plans to further reduce the extra cost of transferring from one bus to another, and the sooner this happens the better. In London you don't even need the Oyster card anymore as public transport works using a debit card, but Ray told me that this is at least two years away.
Many of you raised the issue of close passes by buses of cyclists. From personal experience this can be really scary. Most drivers are absolute professionals, but it would be good to know what action is taken if a driver doesn't make the grade, and I've asked Ray to come back to me on this. I know that there are some good driver education videos produced by Dublin Bus, but it would be great to get bus drivers out on a bike to see things themselves from over the handlebars rather than through the windscreen. @BrightYoungTing mentioned the 'cat and mouse' nature of cycling in shared bus lanes, and @Lorraine_F_22, @Dublin_Suzy, @Rachaelworld, @thearthritictri, @nick_murphy_ie, @xart00n, @DublinPedaller, @WeCanHave, @DevinemjMark all mentioned their concerns about close passes. City centre congestion got several mentions. @AlanDillon68 asked why every bus seems to go through College Green. Shift changes in the city centre came in for criticism as passengers can be left waiting. In addition several people suggested new routes. @FintanDamer wants to see a bus service for Stamullan in County Meath from Dublin Bus, and why not if Newcastle in County Wicklow has one? Both @dwain_schouten and @AcuRodos would love to see a service connecting Dublin Airport to Blanchardstown and Ashtown. Some of this will make it into the Bus Connects plans.

Another long-term issue is freeing up some of the inner city bus depots for redevelopment. I've been harping on about this for over a decade, and Ray was engaged with the issue. He would prefer to see these locations intensified, rather than seeing Dublin Bus being moved out altogether. As the bus fleet gets cleaner and quieter there could be scope for mixed-use development in several locations. Living over the bus station could even become a thing! I still believe some of the sites currently occupied by Dublin Bus at Broadstone and Summerhill could serve better uses and we'll see how this develops. @aoifemace would like to see Sport facilities at Summerhill, and @dgunningdes would like to see the equivalent of the Barbican at Broadstone! I warmed to this one, as two years ago I set my MSc in Urban Regeneration and Development students at TU Dublin the task of reimagining Broadstone Bus Depot, and they were enthusiastic about seeing more appropriate uses on those lands. The big picture is that buses are the real people mover in Dublin City. The entry of Go-Ahead, a private operator into the market has given an opportunity for Dublin Bus to meet growing demand, though I believe Dublin Bus should remain as the lead player in the market. I congratulated him on the provision of the two new night bus routes since last November with the 41 linking the city centre to Swords via the airport, and the 15 linking Clongriffin via the city centre every half hour through the night. We desperately need improvements in bus reliability, and if Bus Connects is delivered properly it can be done without felling hundreds of trees, or removing heritage buildings and features. There's also huge scope to increase capacity, and, looking to the example of cities abroad that provide better value fares. I didn't get a chance to raise all your queries with Ray, but I have written to him separately, and will update this piece once I hear back from him.

20 December, 2019

European Parliament update, six months on...


Well, that was quick.

Just over six months into my mandate as a Member of the European Parliament for Dublin, and it has been busy!

I called it the “Climate Change Election” when I launched my campaign last April, and thankfully there’s been some progress on this at the European level.  The headline item has been the announcement of a European Green Deal. First announced by Ursula von der Leyen the new European Commission President early in her mandate, she fleshed this out in more detail in early December, and we’ll see more details emerge by early March, This will fulfil her promise to launch an ambitious programme within one hundred days of taking office. Radical changes are needed in energy, transport, buildings and agriculture to deliver on this. We'll know more in the Spring of 2020 about the level of ambition from the new Commission and Parliament.

For me it has been a steep learning curve. Firstly, the balance of powers between the different European Union institutions have become clearer to me. The European Parliament is an amending legislature. We can’t initiate new laws, but we can modify proposals that come from the European Commission, composed of twenty-seven European Commissioners, including Ireland’s own Phil Hogan who now looks after trade issues, having previously had responsibility for agriculture. Apart from von der Layen it will be interesting to watch two senior Commissioners: Margrethe Vestager from Denmark who leads on digital issues, and Frans Timmermans a former Foreign Affairs Minister of the Netherlands who will look after the implementation of the Green Deal. I sit on the TRAN Committee (short for transport) as well as ITRE (which has responsibility for industry, telecoms, research and energy). I also keep a watching brief on REGI (which deals with urban and regional affairs). All three committees have key roles to play in tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

Remember that the European Union doesn’t and can’t tackle everything: under the principal of ‘subsidiarity’ it can only address issues that the Member States have decided should be dealt with at European level. That means we can’t tackle housing issues, but I can put pressure on the European Investment Bank and other bodies to ramp up their focus on these issues. When it comes to tackling climate change the EU does have an important role: it sets targets and provides support to countries to ensure that they are achieved. For instance the European Performance of Buildings Directive ensures that new buildings have to meet an A energy rating, and there will be more work on this front in the years ahead. I want to try and ensure that local authority homes are retro-fitted with insulation, draught-proofing and new heating systems, to ensure that fuel poverty is tackled, and cold damp homes are a thing of the past.

The Irish Green Party is part of the Greens/European Free Alliance group within the Parliament. We comprise seventy-four members, or almost 10% of the 751 seat Parliament, and we have a pretty good track record in making substantive and considered amendments to proposed laws. Last week I participated in the Transport Committee and we burnt the midnight oil to improve the working conditions and driving times of lorry drivers. A lot of drafting was put into improving road safety and worker’s rights to ensure that drivers get proper breaks and don’t sleep in their cabs for weeks on end. We eventually finished our work at 6:45am. Talk about a baptism of fire! Of course, any changes we make must be signed off by the relevant Transport Ministers from every country in the European Union, and it remains to be seen whether our Minister Shane Ross TD will give these changes the green light.

The European Parliament sits in Brussels in Belgium most weeks, and then in Strasbourg in France one week in four. It is a crazy set-up, involving huge amounts of travel. The French refuse to give up on Strasbourg, so we all hop onto a charter train once a month to head down to Eastern France where the hoteliers rub their hands at the prospect of hundreds of MEPs and their staff arriving for four days. Back in Brussels, I’ve rented an apartment about fifteen minutes by bike away from the Parliament in an area called St.Gilles: it is the Brussels equivalent of Stoneybatter. Rents are cheaper than Dublin, and there’s much more protection for tenants enshrined in law.

I’m trying not to fly over and back every week, and around one trip in four I take the ferry to Holyhead from Dublin Port. From there I take a four-hour long train-ride to London Euston. Then I walk ten minutes down the Euston Road to St. Pancras, and hop on a Eurostar for a two-hour ride to Brussels Midi. This takes about twelve hours from door-to-door. One issue I’m working on in Brussels is to try and ensure rail times are better scheduled and speeds improved. In addition, we need to ensure that air travel pays its fair share of taxes, compared to rail journeys.

Over the last six months we’ve seen the UK head closer to Brexit, now inevitable with the Conservatives winning last week’s election. We’ll lose our UK colleagues, but I suspect there will be renewed efforts by Scottish nationalists to secede from the UK and rejoin the EU. Brexit brings a united Ireland closer. A useful exercise would be to examine how policies in health, education and policing could be coordinated north and south of the border, and how best to address the very real concerns from northern Unionists about being isolated. Hopefully, the Northern Ireland Assembly will reconvene early in the new year.

It has been a roller-coaster of a year. It has been amazing to see so many greens elected around Ireland and Europe, and brilliant to see Joe O’Brien elected as a TD in Dublin Fingal in the recent by-elections. It is great to have my colleague Grace O’Sullivan MEP for Ireland South as a sounding board for ideas and plans. A real personal success for me was to give my first speech as Gaeilge in the Parliament. I couldn’t have done it with fantastic support from my team in Brussels and Dublin. As we head towards 2020 which will bring a General Election in Ireland, I’ll be working on progressing laws to make the Green Deal a reality in Europe; to tackle climate change and bring about a just transition at home, and in Europe. We'll be working closely with our Green councillors hard at work in Councils all over Ireland, and with our TDs Eamon Ryan, Catherine Martin and Joe O'Brien in the Dáil, as well as Pippa Hackett in the Seanad, and Clare Bailey  and Rachel Woods, Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in Northern Ireland. 

Nollaig Shona Daoibh!