04 October, 2010

Tough choices, difficult times

"Fighting for the last seat"

I was speaking to Brian Dowling from RTE, and he was interviewing me on the seafront in Dún Laoghaire, just beside the railway station. I had suggested the location to him, completely forgetting about the roadworks that were in full swing, so I had to try and compress it all into fifteen seconds, in between bursts from the jack-hammer.

"Look, the thing to remember about Dún Laoghaire is that it's unpredictable. The electorate looks carefully at the candidates in each election. I got the fifth seat in the last two elections and it's now been reduced to a four-seater, so I'll be fighting for the last seat.

"If people want a strong voice for proper planning, a commitment to improving bus and rail services and a focus on green jobs, then they'll vote for me."

I've a sneaking suspicion that he'll get get five separate but similar sound-bites from the five sitting TDs. He'll probably splice them all together into a 'fighting for the last seat' medley.

These are difficult and unprecedented times. It is tough being in Government at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a deep recession, but any government both then and now has these difficult choices. I remember in June 2007, asking myself do we go into Government now, knowing that the economic storm clouds were gathering above the Celtic Tiger, or wait? Despite the recession, I still feel it was right to enter Government at that crucial time.

Was the bank Guarantee the right decision, and should we have nationalised Anglo-Irish Bank? Well, we'll never know precisely what would have happened had we chosen a different route. However it seems to me, with two years of hindsight, that any alternative was more fraught with danger, and could have led to a domino style collapse of our banking system. At this stage we've provided the kind of response that many commentators advised was necessary, yet we're still waiting for the full benefits to show in market sentiment. At a time when we're borrowing substantial amounts for capital, and for current spending, it's crucial that we have international support for the action that we're taking.

What is the alternative? Labour seem to be floating the idea of borrowing even larger amounts to act as a stimulus for our economy. That seems like the actions of a gambler, betting the betting borrowed money on red, and hoping to win. I feel green jobs have a better future than red jobs, and that greater state efficiency, rather than more state control is the answer. Still, I was pleased to hear Eamon Gilmore talking up energy retro-fitting recently. I'm delighted that he's now advocating something the Green Party has been doing in Government for years. Still, I'm not sure though about his plans to scoop money out of the National Pension Reserve Fund for that purpose. I believe we have to think very carefully about how we invest money that has been put aside for future pensions. He also seems unsure about whether to proceed with the Dublin Metro, causing his colleague Tommy Broughan some sleepless nights.

It was curious to see "Joe the concrete mixer driver" being hailed in some quarters as a hero recently. It turned out that Joe's a developer, and has some issues around not playing local authority levies on dozens of unfinished houses. Part of the problems arising from the boom is that we allowed the construction sector to bubble out of control, aided and abetted by tax incentives and laissez-faire planning policies. Well, the 2010 Planning Act came into force last week, and this will help ensure that development is concentrated in the right locations. There's also an 80% betterment tax on rezoned land, in effect the enactment of the 1973 Kenny Report. It is satisfying to have discussed what needed to done when we were in opposition, and get a chance to implement these reforms in Government. Meanwhile we're giving advice on Ghost Estates to local authorities, and we’re focusing on practical steps that can be taken to provide decent facilities to existing residents, and ensure that health and safety concerns are addressed. There's lots of imaginative ideas for the future use of unfinished or vacant housing units, and we're working with Councils to promote their best use.

I'm writing this on the train to Westport, where I'm due to address the Institute of Architects this evening. Architects have been hard hit by the recession, with over 40% made redundant over the last few years, and many more struggling. The Conference theme is "The Architecture of Recovery - a Twenty-Twenty Vision for Ireland", and I'll be discussing how the Government Policy on Architecture as well as the National Spatial Strategy and the 2010 Planning Act can contribute to green jobs in construction. An emphasis on the quality rather than the quantity of building will provide more sustainable employment in design and building. Quality design is worth promoting, and I was pleased to attend the launch of Dublin's bid to be World Design Capital last week. I hope it succeeds. Meanwhile if you're interested a look through the door of any number of great buildings designed by architects in Dún Laoghaire, Galway or Dublin next weekend 7th-10th October 2010 check out Open House over at the Irish Architecture Foundation website, and they all have free admission.


Anonymous said...

you should embed the video discussion you had on proper planning into your website. http://irishdebate.com/2010/05/28/ciaran-cuffe-discusses-proper-planning/

Oisin said...

In light of the fact that the rising tides din't raise all boats, it will be important, and truly green (sustainable and equitable), if the new green collar jobs are targetted at the socially disadvantaged and long term unemployed. There is really no alternative now. This is the only way to fix the economy.

Michael said...


A mealy-mouthed attempt at justification of the worst possible policy concerning the self-imposed catastrophe which has hit Ireland (which I warned you about before you supped with the devil, I would remind you).

"Many commentatory advised" the current approach, including nationalizing Anglo? The same ones who said the fundamentals were sound, and who signed off on the previous annual reports on the banks, no? Why not actually listen to independent expert commentators who clearly wish to help the country instead of their wallets? Instead of which you treat this guy (who proposes solid alternatives) shabbily in his pro bono appearances before the Oireachtas committee: http://bankermathews.com/

The banks lied to you guys on the night of the guarantee (sure, you were in the States at the time, keep up the plausible deniability). Why do you have to honour any guarantees given then? Why is only the advice from the vested interests and the civil servants who saw none of this coming taken on board?

You and the Greens will be wiped out at the coming election, and I'm sorry to say that it will be no loss to be done with such Quislings.


Ciarán said...


Can you remind me again, or point me to the link where you warned me about entering Govt?

I did listen to independent commentators. Unfortunately they were giving different and often contradictory advice at the time.

I wasn't aware at the time that Matthews addressed an Oireachtas Committee. I did have a decent chat with him when I bumped into him recently, but the luxury of hindsight wasn't available two years ago.

Actually, I wasn't in the States in the time, I was in France, but I would have voted with the Government had I been in the chamber.

I don't necessarily agree with all advice given, and I reserve the right to disagree with that advice.

"The banks lied" you say. Sure they did, does that mean we completely reinvent the financial system? I don't think it does. But what we did do was ensure that senior management were cleared out and we've put in a new Financial Regulator and head of the Central Bank who appear to me to be decent straight-talking people.

Thanks for your electoral predictions. As you can imagine, when you're in a small party like the Greens, no election guarantees you a safe seat, least of all the next one.