"Deireadh seachtaine maith?" asked the teacher as I dropped the kids into school this morning. "Go h-an mhaith!" I replied.
Looking back, there were five intense challenges over the last ten days, and we got through them all. The Lisbon vote was followed by the hiatus over the Ceann Comhairle, then came the final hours of the Programme for Government negotiation on Thursday evening and approval from the Reference Group, followed by the two crucial votes of Green Party members on Saturday - one on the Programme itself, and then one on NAMA. We got through them all.
I took this pic just after 8.30pm on Friday evening. At that stage the Green Party Reference Group and our negotiators were holed up on the third floor of Agriculture House. Mary White is in the foreground and to her left are John Gormley, Colm O Caomhanaigh, Cllr. Mark Deary, Paul Gogarty, Elizabeth Davidson, Cllr. Vincent P Martin, Roderick O'Gorman, Dan Boyle, Trevor Sargent, Andrew Murphy, Trish Forde-Brennan, Stiofain Nutty and Damian Connon. John Downing's reflection is in the window and Eamon Ryan is just out of shot. It was a crucial moment, did we have a deal or not? John Downing was counting down the minutes to the news, yet we knew that crucial parts of the small print had not been signed off on. Like any agreement there has to be trust, and we went with the line that the deal was done in time for the 9 o'clock news.
The line by line work went on until ten. At that stage the Oireachtas staff were locking us out of the third floor and we had to go up to the fifth floor to continue till near midnight in a Department of Agriculture Conference Room that Trevor allowed us to use. Stiofain then took our edits back to Government Buildings where Noel Dempsey and Eamon Ryan worked with their teams till after 7.30 am. By the end of the night Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were eventually working off a single PC on the master copy. That was followed by a logistical nightmare of trying to print 20,000 pages by 10am. Copiers in Government Buildings and Leinster House were cranked up, and someone from John Gormley's office headed down to Reads and took over four copiers. There was even someone sent out to Stillorgan to a copy shop. That's why the documentation was delayed in getting to the Convention in the RDS until after 11am. Never again! The Programme was given first directly to the members so that they could see it first-hand, rather than through the media lens. The Sunday Tribune carried criticism from eco-socialists saying we had sold out, while the Irish edition of the Sunday Times led with the line that new taxes were on the way. I guess if you're getting equal and opposite criticism when you're in Government you're probably doing OK.
Look, let's have no illusions about it all. There is an avalanche coming down the hill in the December Budget. We have committed to cut €4 billion off current spending next year, the year after and the year after that. The next few years will be tough, and as the man with the green mohawk put it: "I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
Interesting to think that facing across the table from each other at the negotiations were a business women, a former businessman and former Community Youth Worker from the Greens; and two former teachers and a lawyer from Fianna Fáil. They were well matched.
The Programme is transformational and here's a few highlights:
-we're establishing a €100m Enterprise Stabilization Fund and €200m Green Fund in AIB and BOI as well as a deposit account that will be ring-fenced for lending to Green projects. Recommendations from the Farmleigh Global Irish Forum will be implemented, as well as continuing the work laid out in the 'Building Ireland's Smart Economy' Framework;
-promotions within the Public Service will be on the basis of merit, eliminating seniority as a determining factor in public appointments. Senior appointments from Principal Officer upwards will be open to applicants from the the private and other sectors, and someone from outside the Civil Service will chair the Top Level Appointments Committee;
-limiting restrict direct political donations to political parties or candidates to individual Irish citizens and residents only and facilitate a system where donations from private bodies, including businesses and corporations, can be made to a political fund which will be distributed to political parties in accordance with their electoral performance in the previous Dáil election;
-reforming the system of expenses for members of the Oireachtas to ensure the system is transparent, vouched and open to scrutiny, including the regular publication of such expenses. This system will be verified and verifiable;
-reforming local government in Ireland to strengthen the strategic role and function of regional authorities in planning, transport, water and waste management;
-moving from taxes on labour to taxes on resources. That will include site value taxation, a carbon levy and charging for treated water, with a free basic allowance;
-spending twice as much in future on public transport projects as on roads;
-an end to stag hunting and fur farming, and the adoption of the principles and 5 freedoms set out in the Scottish Animal Health and Welfare Act;
-a Climate Change bill that will give a statutory basis to the annual carbon budget to reduce emissions by 3%;
-honouring the commitments to our children given in our 2007 Manifesto with good news on class sizes; Capitation Grants, no third level fees and a referendum on children's rights.
Sure, I'd like to see firmer time-lines and detailed costings, but often political documents are more poetry than prose. The budget will make the costings clearer. Changes in demarcation and work practices can save billions. I think it is a decent Programme, and given that we've implemented half of the original Programme for Government from when the Government was formed over two years ago, I think we should do fine.
October's been a pretty crazy month so far. Let's see how things fare between now and Christmas. As the introduction to the new Programme states:
"Teastaíonn spiorad an Mheitheal anois níos mó ná riamh. Spiorad an chomharsanacht, spiorad an chomhoibriú."