15 April, 2019

This is the Climate Change Election

Cuffe for Dublin European Election Campaign Launch, Dublin Woollen Mills, 15th April 2019

Friends, colleagues, welcome to the Dublin Woollen Mills. Welcome to the North Inner City, the electoral ward that is home to three European Parliament candidates for the Dublin constituency. There’s clearly something in the air! Welcome to Bas Eickhout, my European Green colleague from the Netherlands. It is an honour to have him here as a co-author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. Bas has represented the European Parliament at UN climate change conferences, and has had the ear of Al Gore. He knows his stuff, thanks Bas.

This is the Climate Change election. We’ve been saying this for a while, but this time it’s getting traction. The language we use has changed. ‘Global warming’ doesn’t capture the nature of the crisis. ‘Climate Change’ suggests that it’s not just about warming. ‘Climate Justice’ reminds us that those who didn’t cause the problem shouldn’t have to pay the price. ‘Climate Breakdown’ suggest that it may be too late, and that we must act immediately.

Last Saturday would have been the eightieth birthday of the late Seamus Heaney. In his poem ‘Höfn’ he described the impact of climate change. “The glaciers have begun to melt. What will we do when the ice makes its move?” That’s a question that must be asked of anyone seeking public office in 2019. What will you do? Will you spend more money on new motorways or will you invest in public transport? Will you invest in low-energy homes and tackle fuel poverty, or will you leave it to the market to provide? Will you take decisive action to tackle rising emissions, or will you propose that we put up more bird-boxes? I’ve served as Minister of State for climate change and I know what needs to be done to tackle these issues.

Acting on climate cannot be done in isolation. It requires joined up thinking at local, and national level, and on the international stage. Here in Dublin as a city councillor I chaired a climate change committee that has produced a Climate Plan for Dublin. That Plan won’t be delivered unless the Government acts. We’ve also learned that the Irish Government won’t act unless it is under pressure from Europe. It has been like that since we joined the European Economic Community back in 1973. The Union is not perfect, but the extraordinary social and environmental progress that we’ve seen over the last 46 years here in Ireland would simply not have happened without our membership. Show me any other part of the world where there’s 28 democracies side-by-side. It is important that we renew the promise of Europe. Today’s big issues don’t recognise national boundaries, and collective action is needed at a regional levl. As we’ve learned from the Brexit debate, we need Europe to protect smaller countries, and resist the rise of far-right nationalism and populism.

This is the Climate Action election. It’s an election where we can look to Europe for solutions from cities that work. As an MEP I’ll act as a bridge to show Dublin what works in other places and what can help us with a just transition here. All over the continent cities are finding solutions to tackle emissions that improve quality of life. I want Dublin to be known for its walkability, bikeability and liveability. Let’s look to Germany for child-friendly cities; let’s look to Austria for quality housing; let’s look to the Netherlands for sustainable transport and travel. All over Europe there are solutions that can work here.

The European Parliament can do more on energy. As Dublin’s MEP I want to legislate for a Just Transition. It’s not going to be easy. In the energy sector we’re going to need a European supergrid to get electricity to where it’s needed. We’re going to need community micro-grids that will allow communities to produce and sell energy at a local level. We’re going to need regulations that reinforces our national energy systems, and allows households to sell their surplus energy into the network. This needs to happen, and with more Green MEPs we can make this a reality.

Don’t kid yourself that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have climate change sorted. They haven’t show the will to do this. A lack of joined-up thinking will cost us dearly unless we act now. You can’t keep building motorways and expect emissions to fall. You can’t price people out of housing in Dublin and leave them with a three-hour daily commute. And don’t kid yourself that electric self-driving cars will set us free. The European Commission, the European Parliament need to know that Trans-European Networks and technologies are not the only answer. We need to invest in walking, cycling and public transport. Sure, we need some big projects, but we need small local changes too. That’s why I proposed that we add one second to pedestrian crossing times in Dublin and I’m glad to say that this is happening. It may not change the world, but it might mean your parents will take a trip to town, knowing that it is a bit easier to get across the road in the time available.

We need new transport infrastructure in Dublin, but we also need the simple stuff. Why is it that we’ve less buses on our streets than we did ten years ago? It’s not good enough to tell people to take the bus or train if they’re going to be squished in like sardines. It’s also not good enough to tell people to take the bus when driving is cheaper and faster. I’m pleased that we offer free travel to those over 65 but let’s start as we intend to finish, let’s make public transport free for children as well as pensioners. Start as you intend to finish. So let’s get the right travel patterns in place at an early age. If other countries in the European Union can’t do this why can’t we? Let’s get Europe to approve a transport package that spends more on active travel than it does on motorways. That means in Dublin taking cars out of Dame Street, Capel Street and George’s Street and creating a living city with cleaner air and more space for people.

This is the Just Transition election, and the European Parliament can do more on housing. Sure, it isn’t currently a European competence, but it should be. Globalisation has priced far too many out of the housing market here in Dublin. There’s too much 1% money sloshing round the globe and disrupting markets wherever it lands. It is clean money, it is dirty money, but it is disrupting and distorting our housing supply. Combined with Fine Gael’s belief that the market will solve this it means that we have 17,000 applicants on our housing waiting list in Dublin City alone, and thousands of families living in hostels, hotels and homeless hubs. We had 1,400 hostel beds ten years ago, we have 1,000 more today, and we still have dozens of homeless people who can’t find a bed. If Eoghan Murphy thinks he’d doing the right thing I’m happy to bring up to the Phoenix Park and show him people living in tents. I’ll bring him to Jervis Street, to the Croppies’ Acre. In my thirty years of living in Dublin’s inner city I have never seen a homelessness crisis of this magnitude.

Europe must help with our Housing Crisis. DG Regio has taken a strong interest in urban and regional affairs in recent years and I’ve carefully watched where this is heading. An EU urban agenda can deliver sustainable cities and a low-carbon trajectory, but to do this we need the numbers in the Parliament to put pressurise on the Commission and Council. We need a Housing package from Europe that will help us build A-rated new homes and retrofit the homes we have to modern standards.

I’m glad that the Irish Government has finally followed the lead of cities in Spain and elsewhere and is drawing down funds from the European Investment Bank for housing, but it’s not happening at the scale required. Let’s look to Vienna where the City of Vienna hosted the “Housing for All” conference last December. Cost-Rental housing is the future, and despite the internal rows in Fine Gael between Senior and Junior Ministers we must make it happen in Dublin.

I’m glad that Dublin City Council has brought the Vienna Model to Dublin, literally in this case with an exhibition that has been to the Docklands and Ballymun and that will be in Richmond Barracks in Inchicore all this week. Quality public housing is needed with people on all incomes living under the same roof. It is time to end the housing policies of exclusion, and look instead to Europe and to Vienna for inspiration from a city that owns 220,000 homes, and where successful housing associations are supported to tackle the crisis. In Berlin the city sold off much of its housing and thousands are now protesting the growing financialisation of the private rental sector.

A Just Transition will provide the funding for Dublin City Council to take the 24,000 homes that we provide, and bring them from a D to an A energy rating so that our tenants aren’t trapped in fuel poverty. A Just Transition would provide quality homes for all, not just for short-stay tourists in AirBnBs and hotels, or the affluent in new student housing. A Just Transition would mandate the Land Development Agency to build on brownfield sites like Broadstone, and provide most of these homes as mixed-income public housing, rather than investment targets for vulture or cuckoo funds. 40% affordable is far too low a bar for these sites.

The Irish Naval Service has carried out extraordinary work in humanitarian rescues in the Mediterranean. But this migration crisis is part of a wider global trend, and we cannot retreat from commitments to the Global South. Irish Aid must continue to align our commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals. We must gender-proof our aid to ensure that women and girls are protected. Let’s look to the pioneering work of Mary Robinson in seeking climate justice for the least-well-off who will suffer most in a world of climate breakdown.

Let’s ensure that those who come to Ireland seeking refugee status aren’t left living in the shameful direct provision system. Cases should not drag on for years and if that means simplifying and strengthening EU or Irish Law then let’s deliver on this. Let’s ensure we accept our fair share of those fleeing persecution, and ensure that integration is at the heart of our policies.

Let’s also ensure that the EU’s foreign policy is geared towards sustainable development, rather than a European Army. Let’s ensure our defence forces have the equipment they need to deliver on humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. Let’s ensure they’re not paid low wages compared to other sectors of the economy. However, let’s not be sucked into defence spending under pressure from other member States that destroys our commitments to Irish Neutrality.

Let’s ensure that our close links to the UK continue regardless of the outcomes on Brexit. Those economic ties and cultural ties are crucial to our future. Now is the time to ensure that student exchanges such as Erasmus are kept in place to provide opportunities to study in the UK and for those across the water to study here. We need these commitments because they are part of the spirit of Europe regardless of the decisions made in Westminster.

Our digital world, just like climate change, does not recognise national borders. As our digital world expands we need to ensure that large companies do not have undue influence, I stand with Senator Elizabeth Warren from the United States when she says that monopolies should be broken up. It is wrong that three companies: Facebook, Amazon and Amazon dominate so much of the digital landscape. They have become virtual monopolies in their sector. We know that WeChat controls communications in China, we cannot let this happen in Europe.

The digital economy had given many benefits, but we need greater transparency on costs and profits, and a more level playing field for the major global companies in today’s global world. The rules of the game must reflect the subsidies and tax breaks given to companies elsewhere in Europe, and Ireland’s position as a peripheral Member State.

I stand with the European Greens when they campaign for Net neutrality, and protect whistle-blowers when they reveal the actions of Government and companies that needs exposure. I stand with Commissioner Margrethe Vestager when she pursues Google/Alphabet and others over the alleged antitrust violations.

Cities can move quickly on climate change. I’ve spent the last eighteen months studying for a Masters in Cities at the London School of Economics, and I know that cities can unlock a low-carbon future. My final project looked at ‘Decarbonising Dublin’ and I’m convinced that the solutions to tackling climate change can be found here. They can be found in policies that promote walking and cycling, from Brussels to the Liffey Quays.  They can be found in District Heating using the heat from the Ringsend Incinerator and electricity generation. They can be found in policies that promote biodiversity, and in green and blue technologies that cope with extreme weather, and provide space for children to play. They can be found in improving air quality through low emission zones and reducing the incidence of asthma.

However, cities must also foster democracy. The gradual stripping away of powers from local government in Ireland leaves us as an outlier compared to other European Countries. We need to give our cities greater control over transport, over waste and over housing. Our lack of powers and the constraints on spending have left us incapable of responding quickly to climate change, the housing crisis, traffic congestion and other key issues. It is time for a directly elected mayor for Dublin with a remit to tackle these challenges and provide the vision for Dublin’s future.

It is wrong that our plans for public housing to require sign-off four times by Eoghan Murphy before we get the green light to build. It is wrong that Minister Shane Ross has dictated that there are less buses on our streets than ten years ago. It is wrong that there are over fifty different agencies with responsibility for transport in Greater Dublin. Dublin needs a directly-elected Mayor.

The extraordinary young leader Greta Thunberg has shown us that speaking truth to power works. She’s speaking to the Environment Committee of the European Parliament tomorrow despite the efforts of the EPP and others to deny her a voice in the main chamber. She inspired the ten thousand school children here in Ireland who gathered outside Dáil Éireann to demand climate justice and a fair transition, and they won’t be going away. In his poem ‘Lies’ the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote: “Lying to the young is wrong...Telling them that God’s in his heaven and all’s well with the world is wrong...Our pupils will not forgive in us what we forgave.”
Greta Thunberg has shown that the young are not complacent. She has shown us that the young can separate truth from spin. She wants us to act, and we must act now.

The Citizens Assembly has told us that it wants us to act. However, it is about more than bird boxes and keep cups. It’s about clean energy, and A-rated homes. It’s about buses, trains and trams that aren’t packed to the gills, but are reliable, comfortable and affordable ways to get around. It’s about a child-friendly city with clean air to breathe and clear waters in Dublin Bay.Let’s ramp up action under the Water Directive so that the Liffey, the Dodder and the Tolka and our canals, even in the Docklands are clean enough to swim in.  It’s about a green city with trees for kids to climb, and parks a short walk from your door.

I’ve campaigned to make Dublin a better place for some time, I’m proud of my city and the changes that we’ve achieved, I want to work with our neighbours in Europe to deliver the climate action, the housing, the mobility improvements that will deliver a Living City for all.

I’m asking you to Vote Dublin, Vote Climate, Vote Green, Vote Cuffe on the 24th May.