By Michael Smith.
The rating standard for Ireland’s Environment Ministers is never how good they are but how negative their legacy. For aficionados Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan now vies with Fianna Fáil’s builder’s friend Martin Cullen and Labour’s manic gerrymanderer James Tully for the title of worst ever, but all the indications are that Labour’s Alan Kelly is catching up since taking the torch in July 2014.
Surprisingly, Fianna Fáil often over compensate for their perceived dodginess on heritage and local government issues and lack of interest in the environment by giving the position to a heavyweight.
Labour’s record on the environment is always poor as its most diligent ideologues prefer social or economic ministries. Incumbents tend to be more excited by the local government aspect of the environment brief than the workaday tedium of environmental regulation.
That the brief could be a popular vehicle for the engine that is quality of life has never occurred to any minister. Perhaps Fianna Fáil’s Noel Dempsey came closest.
Kelly is probably best known as a blow-hard recognised even within his own party as AK47 for his slingshot machismo, the lad who told Mattie McGrath to fuck off in the Dáil. He is allegedly the dynamo who may power the Labour Party out of its crisis-resolving martyrdom, as angry tyro and, soon, as leader. Sometimes Alan can appear almost menacing, though in the context of Labour Party burnout, that passes for a positive.
Surprisingly, Kelly, who comes from an old Labour family, has a distinguished academic background and CV. He earned an MPhil from Boston College, and a diploma in leadership and a masters in business studies, he was the founding chair of the Kemmy Branch of Labour in UCC, was Chair of Labour Youth and became an e-business manager for Bord Fáilte before being elected to the Seanad’s agricultural panel in 2007.
He impressed many to become MEP for Ireland South in 2009, beating the truculent if declining Spring dynasty’s Arthur, and then scraped in as TD in Tipperary North in 2011, while doubling Labour’s vote.
Though Kelly’s chosen rhetorical method is the lisping monotone, his campaigns were slick and well-funded, infused with energy and resources from his high-flying US-politico-PR consultant older brother, Declan (see box on page 29) who donated a total of €7,500 in 2010, personally and through companies.
Having been a Senator and MEP, Kelly shimmied up the junior ministerial ladder on his first election as TD in 2011 becoming Minister of State for Public and Commuter Transport under Leo Varadkar. His specific brief was the 2009 ‘Smarter Travel’ policy which had clear 2020 targets to reduce climate emissions, congestion and pollution, and to increase public transport and cycling use. However, the Interdepartmental Working Group required to provided biennial reports on progress on the Smarter Travel targets was not set up. Public-transport investment was largely abandoned and Dublin congestion was made worse by the approval of two extra lanes on the M7 Naas to Newbridge. EPA reports show increases in the ratio of diesel cars to petrol increased climate emissions by over 2% in 2013 over 2012 levels, and air pollution now breaches World Health Organisation guidelines, with the measures recommended by the EPA not carried out. For example, Dublin Bus continues to buy polluting vehicles rather that the best available emission-efficient standard.
Kelly’s record in Transport made it clear he was no tree-hugger.
Last year he swept aside all-comers to become deputy leader of the Labour Party winning 51.5% of the vote in a contest with Michael McCarthy, Ciara Conway and Sean Sherlock. He took charge of the Department of the Environment and Local Government (DoECLG).
Kelly’s first act as Minister was to defuse the water crisis. In doing so he deployed formidable guile – making sure to bore his antagonists with repeated obfuscation about ‘timelines’ without any sense of ideology or perspective on the common good: “While the timelines may have been dictated by the Troika, we all accept at this stage that they were simply too ambitious. I fully accept this. While I was not a member of cabinet at the time, it is important that as a Government we acknowledge that errors were made – the timelines, the complex nature of the charging structure and poor communications by Irish Water. Many people are preparing for bills in the region of €800. Nobody will be paying these levels for their water. Let me repeat that, nobody will be paying these levels for their water services”.
Alan Kelly would not be the man to explain the ‘polluter pays’ principle that underpins environmental economics, to recalcitrants.
In the end of course it was resolved that householders will be liable for charges of €160 for single-adult homes and €260 for all other homes, while water conservation grants of €100 a year mean the effective costs will be €60 and €160 respectively and it has recently been announced that no-one will be jailed for payment default. For good and bad Kelly killed the issue, even if tens of thousands of diehards continue to protest the principle at occasional marches in Dublin.
Kelly’s ideology is best summed up in an interview he gave to the Sunday Independent where he noted that Labour was a “party of workers that support people who want to work, people who are unemployed, but want to work’’. He warned that the economic policies of Sinn Féin and the far Left would condemn the unemployed to a lifetime on social welfare. The ideology if it can be called that is entirely compatible with that of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party. But the message is delivered pugnaciously by a street-wise 39-year-old with gel in his hair.
Kelly and his party wanted the environment brief to forward their priority policy: social housing. In November 2014, Kelly launched the Government’s Social Housing Strategy: 2020, a six-year strategy intended to deliver over 110,000 social housing tenancies through the provision of 35,000 new social housing units, at a cost of €3.8bn, and to meet the housing needs of some 75,000 households through the housing assistance payment and the rental accommodation schemes. There will be a major acceleration of local authority direct construction and acquisition. A further €300m will be provided by way of public private partnerships. The focus overall is on quantity and little mention is made of the quality of the housing. Moreover, as the Irish Times recently noted, the Minister regurgitates the €3.8bn announcement in the presence of different County Managers so many times that it has become something of a joke.
Kelly is also requiring that new developments include “up to 10%” social housing though even Martin Cullen and Ministers ever since maintained the rate of “up to 20%”. New ‘Part V’ proposals will remove the ability of developers to account for their social housing commitments through cash payments to local authorities, a socially divisive possibility facilitated by Cullen when he was Minister for the Environment in 2002. The new proposals will ensure that the social housing units will be located “predominantly” on the site of the original developments.
€10.5m of additional funding to address scandalous homelessness was announced in the budget bringing the total to €55.5m in the last budget. Focus’s Mike Allen emphasised that this did nothing to deal with the immediate crisis and Peter McVerry, a Jesuit priest working with homeless people, considers that the budget fails to address the major cause of homelessness today, namely the increase in rents in the private rental market, particularly in Dublin. In May last year the Government approved the Implementation Plan on the State’s Response to Homelessness which is focused on people who have been in emergency accommodation for a period of longer than six months.
It is a practically focused delivery plan which contains 80 actions that are direct, immediate and solutions based though it has not arrested the problem.
Prevention measures are a key part of the overall response to homelessness. A new homelessness prevention campaign was recently initiated in the Dublin Region to support families at risk of losing tenancies in the private rented sector. This campaign includes a public awareness campaign to highlight tenants’ rights and also the availability of supports. However, progress is slow and ill-advised temporary measures against homelessness in Dublin City centring on a temporary revamp of Marmion Court before it is demolished, were thwarted by Dublin City Council.
Kelly and his party have also surprisingly acquiesced in the removal of the 80% anti-speculation tax on windfall land rezoning profits, before it had any effect.
Kelly will represent Ireland at the Paris Climate summit later this year. After the budget last autumn he made a revealing outburst to journalists saying that the EU 2020 targets for climate emission reduction were an unfair burden on Ireland. While Irish agri-business has now assumed sacred cow status, there has been no Irish climate strategy since the last one lapsed in 2012. Kelly serves on autopilot, pushing Phil Hogan’s entirely toothless climate bill through the Oireachtas, a model of international worst-practice.
After the EU council meeting in October 2104 on framing targets to 2030 Kelly adumbrated:
“I am on record as stating that the 2020 targets were unrealistic and unachievable and that did not take into account Ireland’s dependence on agriculture or the fact that we have one of the most climate-friendly agricultural systems in the world. This deal recognises that we have secured recognition across the EU of the importance of a sustainable agriculture as a key consideration in ensuring coherence between the EU’s food security and climate change objectives. Having met two weeks ago with outgoing climate change Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, I made it clear that Ireland would not be signing up to any future targets that would be unachievable”.
The DoECLG published its 2015-2017 Statement of Strategy in April, with Kelly’s Ministerial Forward avoiding any reference to namby-pamby climate. The main strategy states: “The overriding aims of Government of primary relevance to the Department are to support sustainable economic growth”. After this “contributing to the response to the global challenge of climate change” is thrown in with a bundle of other considerations, qualified by the small print in an appendix that “the Government will also ensure that any additional climate change and renewable energy targets for Ireland are fair and realistic, and take appropriate account of our particular national circumstances and economic challenges, including in respect of the agriculture sector”. This shows that the real passion for climate change comes from Simon Coveney in Agriculture – and it is a passion for reducing the stringency of targets.
After his appointment, ‘Stop Climate Chaos’, the group of 28 organisations lobbying for climate action sought a meeting with Kelly. This was arranged for ‘Earth Day’ April 22nd, but in case there was a suspicion of any mutual respect, Kelly bailed out, though in the end the meeting was rescheduled. And postponed, though the environmentalists remain uncynical.
At a recent dinner for business-people, Kelly was engaged by a Green Party spokesperson who sat next to him but whom he did not recognise. The conversation turned to climate change and the Minister grew increasingly frustrated and then furious at the tenor of the criticism. Eventually, he told the spokesperson to “get out of my face!”. Subsequently, one of Kelly’s handlers approached, to advise that whatever the environmental NGOs wanted, the Department would be doing the opposite.
Ironically, even the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform seems more concerned about the financial penalties of Ireland exceeding its binding EU 2020 targets, than the Department of the Environment.
A 2014 Review of Expenditure notes that failure to meet Renewable Energy Sources (RES) targets could cost up €600m. For the non-Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) sectors of agriculture, transport and heating a €90m figure was put forward based on DoECLG data. However, this is inadequate to factor the continuation of continuing increases in agriculture and transport, and lack of action on heating.
Earlier this year Kelly announced that “rural Ireland is in my DNA”. He lives in a one-off house on family land at Portroe near Nenagh with panoramic views overlooking Lough Derg. In 2011 an aggrieved neighbour initiated a traditional legal case over use of a laneway against Kelly and his father, which the Kellys won in 2013 after many tears were shed in front of the judge.
His ministry to date is marked by servility to the rural housing lobby. In April he initiated a “review” of the building regulations to reduce the “cost burden involved for one-off houses.” through exemption. In October he initiated a review of An Bord Pleanála weirdly focusing only on rural building:
“Planning is a major issue for rural Ireland…there is a lack of consistency in decision making and priorities in different areas. Now is the time to make sure we have the balance right. There will be no change in the independent status of An Bord Pleanála, but we have to ensure we have the appropriate mix of strategic national planning, that is sensitive to community needs and that allows us to take advantage economically of increased construction activity”. Again, quality doesn’t enter into it.
The message to the beleaguered Bord is: cop on with yer old planning in the country and ignore the fact that policy-derived mass suburbanisation is compromising the service and functional base of villages and smaller rural towns, making cities, particularly Dublin the only viable alternatives.
He is reinforced in the ‘rural’ agenda by an articulate lobby noting that “rural Ireland is dying”. So Kelly with Rural Transport Minister of State Ann Phelan is concerned to “do something”. And if it’s ‘something’ you want, there is no better man than Kelly. In March, 2015 they announced the establishment of an expert advisory group to assist the development of rural development policy and implementation of the report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) which was chaired by footballing Kerry publican Pat Spillane and including Supermac Pat McDonough whose burger-sauce-spattered packaging litters much of the country, rural and urban.
There is much whining about the need for rural public transport, devoid of any recognition that perpetuating dispersed housing undermines its viability and a delusive atavistic dream that the countryside can rival the level of services of major urban areas, without the market that density provides for them.
Kelly will publish a new National Planning Framework to replace the oxymoronic National Spatial Strategy later this year. The recommendations of the Mahon tribunal are clearly dead and there is no evidence that any change from scattergun and developer-led planning will result. Whisper it, but the approach is laissez-faire, in keeping with the Minister’s real gut.
After advice from the Attorney General was first delayed and then finally digested the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly has now finally announced that a senior counsel will go to Donegal to investigate serious allegations of dodgy practice in Donegal planning.
Somewhat disconcertingly, Village, Convie and local newspapers including the Donegal Democrat were unable to confirm an Irish Independent report to this effect and it is not clear what the terms of reference for the senior counsel will be, or how wide ranging his powers. In view of the fact that Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan had to shell out damages to Convie after she originally dismissed his evidence as lacking substance it is important for Labour’s credibility on corruption issues that Minister gets a move on with this issue.
Though Ireland has made much progress in waste-recycling in the last decade, it continues to generate a league-topping amount of it. Kelly is failing to take the action needed to make the producer legally and financially responsible for all categories of “waste” including cars and tyres which are stockpiled in unauthorised sites across the country. In September he made a strong statement to the deregulated waste industry that the “race to the bottom” in service provision was not acceptable, but the range of action proposed is awaited.
With construction activity now increasing the failure to regulate unauthorised quarrying is registering again, despite the elaborate retrospective “Substitute Consent” process that has taken place over the last few years to regulate the industry. The M17 Gort-Tuam motorway, for example, is being built with unauthorised material.
The same placation of vested interests manifests in Kelly’s response to unregulated peat extraction, which is having multiple climate, nature conservation and water quality impact. Rather than integration with the planning system combined with robust enforcement, Kelly is proposing total planning exemption for domestic cutters and light touch licensing for large-scale horticultural compost extractors. This will inevitably generate years of EU complaints and legal actions, though these always result in political settlements as the EU has finally revealed its hand as a deal-making, if grandiose, bluffer.
With the need to hold ground against back-yard gombeen Michael Lowry the poll leader in Kelly’s benighted constituency, the Minister’s online blog is nearly all about North Tipperary led by announcements of routine funding allocations from other Government Departments, as well as his own. A recent one noted: “I am delighted to announce that a Tipperary company is among the preferred bidders to deliver the Government’s Jobpath programme”. The Minister did not have time to record whether he was concerned that the measure, instigated by his party leader, Joan Burton, is part of a privatisation of social security provision.
It might be expected that Kelly’s succession to the fief of Phil Hogan would have seen a renewed emphasis on Labour policy in the Custom House, particularly on climate and energy. Forgotten entirely is Labour’s 2009 policy ‘The Energy Revolution’ to address “overreliance on fossil fuels and our capacity to meet international climate change targets”. The policy included “a major national retrofit scheme”, to reduce domestic heating demand and emissions. There is now major European Investment Bank (EIB) funding for this but action is being stymied by the DoECLG through which EIB applications must be channeled.
The 2008 SIPO report on political donations showed that Labour’s Alan Kelly was the biggest receiver of personal/corporate donations in the Oireachtas at circa €35,000. Among those those donations were 3 from the same address – €2,400 each from Nessa and Michael Madden, a childhood friend, and a donation of €5,000 from RONOC International, €2,500 of which was subsequently returned. A net donation of €7,300. Michael Madden is the MD of RONOC International. RONOC and its associated companies are involved in financial services such as money transfer.
Strangely, Madden was a speaker at a conference in 2009 at the ‘Naval and Military Club, St James Sq., London’ organised by The Defence and Security Forum about the financial global trade and money transfer.
The Defence and Security Forum was founded by Lady Olga Maitland in 1983. It was originally a campaigning organisation known as Families for Defence launched to challenge the anti-nuclear protest movements such as CND. Families for Defence’s remit was to promote the NATO case for multilateral nuclear disarmament and for defence expenditure in Britain.
The links are very odd for an alleged ‘Socialist’ Labour Party then Senator and aspiring MEP. Declan Ganley has been berated in the media for not a lot more. •
Kelly’s interesting brother, Declan, served as an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential election bid in 2008 and was appointed in 2009 as economic envoy to Northern Ireland by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He had sold his Dublin-based company Gallagher and Kelly Public Relations, which he co-owned with Jackie Gallagher, one time special advisor to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, to Financial Dynamics, one of the world’s leading financial communications companies, and a subsidiary of Britain’s Cordiant and then led the buy-out of that company for $340m – the largest price ever paid for a communications consulting company, becoming executive vice president of FTI Consulting, a 3,500-person business with a market capitalisation of over $2bn.
An award-winning business journalist who started with the Nenagh Guardian and went on to the Examiner, he was once described as one of the top communications experts in the world. Business and Finance says that he has been described as this generation’s Tony O’Reilly, and Irish Central reported that: “Several successive Taoisigh in Ireland have acknowledged reaching out to him for advice over the years. He is an adjunct professor in business studies at his alma mater, National University of Ireland, Galway”.
Unfortunately, he was implicated by the New York Times in a 2013 article titled ‘Unease at Clinton Foundation over Finances and Ambitions’ which flagged concerns that some Clinton insiders had about the activities of Declan Kelly and Doug Band, described by some as a kind of surrogate son and “gate-keeper” to Bill Clinton, and one of the forces behind the Clinton Global Initiative, a series of collaborations with corporations and individuals to “solve problems”. Their company, of which Kelly is CEO, is called Teneo. Its idea was to have Fortune 400 companies pay large monthly stipends in exchange for access to Band, Clinton, and their massive international network. It poached executives from Wall Street, recruited other Clinton aides and even Tony Blair to join as employees or advisers and set up shop in midtown Manhattan merging corporate consulting, public relations and merchant banking to a single business. The firm recruited clients who were Clinton Foundation donors, while Band and Kelly encouraged others to become new foundation donors.
An article in the New Republic by Alec MacGillis said Band, who apparently is nicknamed “butt boy”, was more responsible than anyone, except Clinton, for creating a culture of “transactionalism” in Clinton-land. On one occasion Declan Kelly kept Presidents Clinton and Bush waiting while he delivered an oration to Teneo to consternation. On another, Clinton exploded in anger after Kelly suggested to the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin that Teneo had brought the former President there. Concerns about Teneo gained special significance as part of a critical internal review of the Clinton Foundation led by the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
Worse still, in April the US State Department announced it was to investigate its employee Huma Ubedin, a long-term trusted aide of Hillary Clinton, for conflicts of interest in her consultancy work for Teneo. The conservative group Citizens United is suing the State Department for not responding to requests for email exchanges between Clinton and her staff, and Teneo. It is set to be a point of controversy during Clinton’s presidential campaign. •