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An agenda for the Greens in 2021

Monitor and improve climate, biodiversity and equality. Leave Government if targets are not reached every quarter

By Michael Smith

The Greens have lost their way and are fractured. They seem to have drifted to the right and they are poor at implementation. They will collapse if they do not reorient.

What is going on?

The discourse is 1) tribal, 2) angry and so 3) dangerous.

The Greens seem to have lost their nerve on the need to keep their eyes on the science, the facts, the law, the REALITY.

For example they are obsessing on CETA and not focusing on how USELESS the latest incarnation of the toothless Climate Act is.

It seems that CETA is largely already in force and contains significant social, environmental, and climate protections. Yes its proposed investor court structures are not democratic and may be unconstitutional, and Yes inflating global trade may not self-evidently be good but the increase in trade because of CETA has already happened. And the Programme for Government requires the government to accept it.

A much more important agenda for those Greens capable of focus and analysis is making sure the CLIMATE ACT IS ENFORCED. Faffing around with targets for particular government departments that they will jettison at the first crisis or as soon as the Greens depart is not enough. And boosting the useless, toothless, climate council won’t make radical change. We cannot trust any of the players because they’ve all failed notably on this EXISTENTIAL concern. Carbon reductions of 7% annually need to be set in stone and made JUSTICIABLE BY THE COURTS. That way we can guarantee if there is delinquency it will be reversed by the courts – following litigation by NGOs or the public.


Failures in recent Governance

The current coalition Government’s agenda is crisis-provoked rather than planned, incremental rather than radical, incoherent rather than visionary, serving vested interests not the common good, short-term rather than long-term, dictated rather than democratic.

Recent Opposition

Opposition to the unloved Government has been aggressive but not constructive. Hyper-critical fault-finding prevails. Most of the opposition is forgettable, vituperation over difficult Covid policy, but Sinn Féin and perhaps the parties of the ‘far-left’ are mostly notable for their anger and their critique, not their practical vision. Lack of coherent vision is Sinn Féin’s undiscovered Achilles heel.

The Greens need to become radical and strategic, constructive and principle-driven, democratic and serving the common good. That is the political sweetspot. Anything else will continue to be torn apart.


If there is any simple substantive political agenda that can be plausibly portrayed as the common good (The UN does so) it is sustainability which as an agenda involves equal input from all stakeholders and all sectors – economic, social and environmental (and democratic) and which looks to the long-term as well as the short-term. All this conduces to addressing all sectoral agendas properly. The common good.

The Greens can’t just address an environmental agenda in isolation because that agenda is intermixed with social and economic (and democratic) considerations. A uniquely environmental agenda probably generates a backlash. The agenda for environmentalists is therefore sustainability which integrates environmental, social, and economic (and democratic).


The systematic way of implementing sustainability is through sustainability indicators which are also known as quality of life indicators. The Greens should submit their performance in government to assessment – and leave if it is clearly inadequate.

They should ensure government measures say 100 indicators of success – water and air quality, unemployment and crime rates, income per head and inflation etc etc. If the indicators fall short of reasonable timetabled targets, monitored regularly, then policy has to be adjusted and improved. The Programme for Government promises some but not enough indicators.

So we need sustainability indicators. What would an agenda for optimising the national quality of life look like?

It would need to address economic, social (including cultural), environmental (and democratic), agendas equally.


The Greens are inept at a) implementation and b) presentation.

Climate. Need to make climate targets justiciable. Like planning law is. Think BIGGER on wind, wave, tidal and solar farms. Develop a vast wind and wave farm off West coast somewhere so don’t have to build them elsewhere. Then relieve pressure for wind farms on every hillside. Ensure no new gas capacity is allowed, including finding legal ways to subvert recovery by those who already have licences.

Biodiversity. Address biodiversity on a grand scale – overhaul the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Implement the Habitats Directive where we’re delinquent and Greens are doing little.

Trees. Plant more deciduous trees and re-orient Coillte. The Government has a target of 22 million trees every year for the next 20 years with short rotation conifer plantations accounting for 70 per cent of new afforestation, with the remaining 30 per cent being broadleaf trees. At 11 per cent (770,000 hectares), Ireland has one of the lowest levels of forest cover in Europe – 2 per cent of the country is covered by native or semi-natural woodland. In 2017, Sitka Spruce made up 51 per cent of all trees planted, a total of 343,310 hectares. Need to shift so 90% of new forestry being broadleaf and, while keeping existing conifer, it needs to be interspersed with 20% broadleaf.

Rewild. Reintroduce missing animals and plants, take down fences, block drainage ditches, cull particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise stand back.

A useful strategy is the EU’s Nature Restoration Plan, mostly applicable to

  1. Legally-binding EU nature restoration targets to be proposed in 2021, subject to an environmental impact assessment. By 2030, significant areas of degraded and carbon-rich ecosystems are restored; habitats and species show no deterioration in conservation trends and status; and at least 30% reach favourable conservation status or at least show a positive trend.
  2. The decline in pollinators is reversed.
  3. The risk and use of chemical pesticides is reduced by 50% and the use of more hazardous pesticides is reduced by 50%.
  4. At least 10% [and more would be better] of agricultural area is under high-diversity landscape features.
  5. At least 25% of agricultural land is under organic farming management, and the uptake of agro-ecological practices is significantly increased.
  6. Three billion new trees are planted in the EU, in full respect of ecological principles.
  7. At least 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers are restored.
  8. There is a 50% reduction in the number of Red List species threatened by invasive alien species.
  9. The losses of nutrients from fertilisers are reduced by 50%, resulting in the reduction of the use of fertilisers by at least 20%.
  10. No chemical pesticides are used in sensitive areas such as EU urban green areas.
  11. The negative impacts on sensitive species and habitats, including on the seabed through fishing and extraction activities, are substantially reduced to achieve good environmental status.

Food. Need to massively incentivise the move towards organic, vegetarian and probably vegan.

Air and Water. Charge the EPA with the dynamic enforcement agenda it lacks and make its head more political and visible.

Tax bad things not good things (from plastic to calories to pollution to waste). Environmental taxes MUST be revenue-neutral and also favour the least well off (or they’re not ‘environmental taxes’); carbon taxes, environmental road tolling, polluter pays implemented in a scientific, economics-literate way; and concomitant reductions in income tax.

Planning. Standards of excellence for the phenomenal amount of new building we still plan – emphasising design; amenities; mix of ages, size and social profile. Change criterion for planning permission to proper planning and sustainable development and excellence of architecture (and perhaps an environmental improvement). Assess planning applications against 100 quality of life criteria; perhaps taxincentivise them based on their score; WORLD-CLASS EXPANSION OF CITIES OUTSIDE DUBLIN IS WIN-WIN AND VERY POPULAR. Depends on (not just having strategies on what you want to say YES to but also unfortunately on) saying no to the ongoing quiet sprawl of Dublin into Leinster and of villages into countryside. Eliminate Eoghan Murphy’s boosting of high-rise, low apartment standards; but dramatically increase densities. Develop major over-shop development initiative, with incentives for owner-occupiers and rental (Need to focus on getting shopkeepers to do it and you can’t divide shop from overhead; Dermot Desmond suggested five years tax-free and you could give the same notional benefit to owneroccupiers); provided Major transfer of funding
from roads to rail (between towns and (LRT) in the larger towns) outside Dublin.

Implement radical move to cycling and walking for both commuting and recreation. Implement the guts of the Kenny report – taxing windfall, unearned, profits from zoning; appoint local bodies to compulsorily purchase and rezone strategic lands in accordance with the details that will be laid out in excellent action plans – and sell them on to the private sector with an obligation to build according to the action plans.


International/Scandinavian models of excellence in education, health, social welfare childcare, immigration. Living Wage faster than government is promising. FOCUS ON EQUALITY, particularly our extraordinary pre-tax income inequality. Monitor the gini coefficient stringently as a headline. The Greens should aim to reduce inequality by 1% annually. That would be world-leading. They should monitor it quarterly and leave government if they are not making appropriate progress. That measure in itself would shift the Greens to the radical but practical left.

FOCUS ON PRE-SCHOOL, PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION FOR THE POOREST. NHS model health service. (Need to look at how targets work in education and health and to think if “Choice” needs to be a big thing in education and health). Overhaul inner city estates. Build whatever number of social houses is necessary, to excellent standards, in mixed-use and mixed-class developments.


COST-BENEFIT ANALYSE all major government expenditure. Perhaps structure taxation to the sustainability of the product or development. Enforce competition law starting with lawyers and doctors. Facilitate conversion of some private business into worker-owned cooperatives. Introduce a not-for-profit public banking, like the Sparkassen banking system in Germany. Increase support for indigenous SMEs, especially environmental, knowledgebased, digital and industries of the future.


Openness, transparency, accountability. Follow radical Scandinavian models. Any citizen can see their government in action. More Freedom
of Information. Go for NEW MODELS OF LOCAL DEMOCRACY: internet and town-hall voting on local issues, cross-sectoral roundtables comprising representatives of all the stakeholders in a parish advising local authorities especially about local development, elected mayors with power – possibly even village mayors as in France. This would be a new, non-party-political layer of democracy.

February 2021