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.


Donnacha Maguire said...

First off Ciaran, FF couldnt have been kicked 'out' in 1997 - they were the opposition.

Secondly. you are one bitter man. That is all

Unknown said...

If you lay down with dogs you're going to get up with fleas. I predicted the green downfall in 2007 when you went into government with that shower... What happened to Labour after they went in with them? Almost ruined. PDs? Gone. And now Green Party, gone (from the Dáil at least).

Ultimately your party paid the price not for going into government with them though, but for propping them up for at least a year that the public were angrily shouting for an election. You fell because you ignored democracy and the people were disgusted by this blatant disregard.

Anonymous said...

I agree with James. I think there is a huge sense of betrayal felt by those of us who live outside major urban centres, particularly on the western seaboard, and particularly here in Mayo. I don't think that will go away quickly. I, for one, cannot afford to go to Dublin for a conference so will not be able to be there for the 'think-in' that's planned as an attempt to regenerate interest and support. Most of the people I know are really suffering. I'm not suggesting that it was clever of people to build huge one-off houses but no Green policy even makes sense to people here. Turf cutting is a prime example. We have Middle East chaos, and prices rising by the hour, and we have no realistic alternative to peat to heat our homes. All the talk of the SEAI's schemes haven't touched us here. We can't afford them. Two, three hundred euro is a lot of money to invest in the house for us. We are very, very committed to the place but have never been taken seriously. I'm sure that my experience is not unique. But it does give me hope that you say you'll listen. And I hope that some of your colleagues will do the same. Though how we can even talk to you when the infrastructure is so poor that we don't have effective broadband is anyone's guess... Best, Lucy.

Conor O'Brien said...

Hi Ciarán, I am a young architect studying in Brussels. There is a wonderful iphone app in the city of Eindhoven where citizens can report (a photo, gps linked and a short note) a problem with the public space, ie dumping and, this is the best part, the local authority are legally obliged to reply with a response within an immediate time frame, I think about 2 hours http://www.buitenbeter.nl/

TheVirginiaAndrew said...

@loodlebug - the experience of being in Government leads me to wonder just how feasible an environmental movement is in Ireland, or at least one with any credibility.
I just can't see how rising oil prices could ever form the bases for wiping out our natural habitats and violating EU law, thus incurring huge fines. It was a modest move by Gormley, affecting only a very small number of bogs. Yet the media and rural Ireland acted as though war had been declared on them. How can a Green movement flourish in such circumstances?

@Ciaran - great post. I think the road to recovery will be a long one, so lets take our time before making any decisions. We need to do a lot of thinking over the coming months. But a little part of me is looking forward to the experience of building up the Greens in Ireland.

Ciarán said...

Donnacha, you don't have to be in Government to be kicked out.

Bitter? Maybe, but I guess I'm trying to call it as I see it, and I think clientalist politics has contributed to a lack of maturity in how we vote.

James, if we had left earlier the Civil Partnership Act wouldn't have been passed, and neither would the 2010 Planning Act.

Loodlebug, the turf restrictions apply to some sensitive conservation areas that have been designated by the EU, they don't apply across the board. If we don't restrict cutting in certain areas, we face the prsopect of daily fines from the European Court of Justice, and nobody wants that.

Your point about the SEAI schemes is a valid one, but the schemes have been simplified. As regards broadband, it did improve over the last few years, and we're higher up the European ladder than we were in 2007.

Conor, thanks for that, a member of my staff had been working on a Irish "FixMyStreet" program, but we never got it up and running.

Jane Morgan said...

This web site may be of interest

One of the disappointing things about the campaign was the lack of media highlighting the delineation in responsibility between local and national government. Missed opportunity.


Clare said...

Hi Ciaran - sorry to see you and your colleagues loose your seats. The Greens were a valuable force in Irish Politics and I hope you'll be back!

The very best of luck with your next projects.


Unknown said...

Ciaran, Sorry to see you go, and your Green colleagues. Sorrier still for Dublin. The Dublin mayor plan could have made a real difference. I hear what you say about Ruari Quinn but aside from patronage, he doesn't have much to offer education. Still, maybe that's something.

M.Sc in Sustainable Energy Futures said...


You guys were annihilated by the electorate because you ignored the election calls for too long. Yes what you achieved was good but you did so while propping up a corrupt government with no mandate to govern.

I think it being the first time the Greens were in government you guys enjoyed power too much and became entirely focused on maximizing short term gains. Anyone who says that we needed to preserve financial stability of the state neglects the issue that Brian lenihan was the worst finance minister in Europe (economist magazine)

I think you could have achieved all you wanted and more if you had pulled the plug earlier, joined the opposition and formed a coalition post election with fine gael. It would have reinforced your image of integrity in the eyes of the electorate. I think it's a shame because I like the greens and a lot of your policies. But trying to come back from this will be extremely difficult.

tomcosgrave said...


You said it yourself before you did the deal. You wrote on this blog that doing a deal with FF would be doing a deal with the devil and you would be chewn up and spat out - and so it proved.