By Michael Smith.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has set out a ‘Green New Deal’ and 17 questions in a six-page letter sent to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on Wednesday in response to their framework coalition document
The 17 “questions” are:
Will you commit to an average annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 7 per cent?
Will you commit to an ambitious programme of development of, and investment where necessary in, renewable energy infrastructure including off-shore wind, grid and interconnector upgrades and community energy projects?
Will you commit to ending the issue of exploration licences for offshore gas exploration?
Will you commit to ceasing the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure, particularly LNG import terminals that could allow the entry of unconventional liquefied natural gas into the Irish energy mix?
Will you commit to the exclusive provision of public housing, social housing and cost rental housing on public lands?
Will you commit to prioritising urban renewal in line with a ‘Town Centre First’ model?
Will you commit to a comprehensive deep retrofit programme as part of a programme for government?
Will you commit to convening a social dialogue process representative of all key stakeholders with a view to developing of a new social contract?
Will you commit to working towards ending the Direct Provision system and replacing it with a not-for-profit system based on accommodation provided through existing or new approved housing bodies?
Will you commit to setting us on a clear and certain path to meeting our UN obligation to spend 0.7pc of our national income on Overseas Development Aid?
Will you commit to the development of a national land use plan which will inform both the new national economic plan and the new social contract?
Will you commit to rebalancing our transport infrastructure spend, dedicating at least 20pc of infrastructure expenditure in transport to cycling and walking and ensuring that other public transport infrastructure investment is allocated at least two-thirds of the remaining infrastructure budget?
Will you commit to establishing a trial of Universal Basic Income (UBI) within the lifetime of the next Government?
Will you commit to the revision of the existing National Development Plan so that we can meet our New Social Contract goals and climate change targets?
Will you commit to a review of the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, undertaken by the Oireachtas, to enable us to learn lessons for the future?
Will you provide a clear and detailed analysis of how your Joint Framework Document is to be financed?
Will you commit to publishing and implementing a Green Procurement Policy?
The questions posit a remarkably incomplete policy agenda for a Green Party. Greater quality was clearly needed in replying to a very loose document from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, one which included unacknowledged surprisingly progressive but waffly and incomplete agendas for “a new social contract”, “a new green deal” and “a better quality of life for all”, at its heart.
There is no mention of equality in the questions. A basic income is a small part only of any modern equality agenda. It is unclear what a new social contract, a term used in the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael document means. There is more mention of equality in the document outside of the questions, including a reference to the social contract “addressing inequality for all our people”, but little chance other parties or commentators will treat seriously imperatives that failed to make it into the headline questions.
For some time now the Greens have been promoting “social justice” rather than economic equality. That is not the established term for radical movements towards equality. It’s a quainter and more opaque notion than equality, and sometimes rooted in Catholic doctrine.
There are references to equality on several lifestyle and sectoral issues such as gender and race, but, despite acceptance of the need for “anti-poverty” “development” there is no reference to redistribution of wealth and income. It’s clearly not a part of the Greens’ agenda.
Five of the seventeen questions relate to climate change. Four of them are filler – details on the headline question which is about guaranteeing 7% annual emissions reductions, and which to be fair they have properly emphasised. If the 7% is agreed the four other specific issues would inevitably be part of the means to that end. Their iteration suggests the Greens lack confidence in a fuller agenda. Many other conventional imperatives appear in the body of the text but in ramshackle and unclear forms so they are unlikely to be taken up by the bigger parties in this process.
This is confirmed by the fact that the Greens forgot to mention biodiversity, the demise of species – after climate the vital second pillar of a proper green agenda – in any of the 17 questions, though there is an ambitious if airy-fairy reference to it in the body of the text of the letter.
On planning they are looking for something that is already in place and not working – a national land use plan. Town-centre-first is scarcely a comprehensive description of a land-use planning strategy for a party for which planning is assumed to be central.
They have not suggested how they propose to develop the encouraging willingness of the civil war parties, reported as the lead story in the Business Post of 23 April, to facilitate a referendum on the Kenny Report which dealt, in 1973, with the price of building land. There was no sign the Greens see the scope for a referendum that would facilitate plan-led development as well as simply keeping prices to current-use value plus 25%. In general the Greens seem, voguishly, to be emphasising delivery of affordable housing over planning for quality housing, though there approach remains better than that of other parties on the issue.
On an overweening strategic level, there is no suggestion the Greens have remembered that the age-old and continuing problem with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the environment is they provide new measures it is just that they do not provide for their enforcement.
They have failed to score in the open net the big parties left them when they notably committed in last week’s document to “credible” quality of life (otherwise known as ‘sustainability’) indicators. It is central to a mainstream green agenda that a Green Party should look for application of a comprehensive range of quality of life indicators instead of GDP as the gauge of society’s success. This agenda is well established by the UN, OECD, EU and others. The point is that it covers a multitude including reduction of emissions and protection and enhancement of biodiversity; and a full range of other environmental and of social and economic indicators that are established progressively, rendered as targets and systematically monitored.
The letter from Eamon Ryan does duly outline that such indicators should “shape the economic recovery” abut that suggests they are secondary to the economy and there is no mention of them in the questions. The body of Greens’ letter does demand prioritisation of quality of life
It is not clear how central all three of the engaged parties envisage quality of life indicators being. It’s an agenda that’s flattered to deceive since Michael Noonan’s time as leader of Fine Gael and his misunderstood castigation of the “Celtic snail”.
The Greens should look to agree a programme for government that provides for these wide-ranging indicators in detail. And pull out after a year if any of them are not being delivered according to challenging but reasonable targets.
The Greens remain unaware of, or unconcerned by, how little they achieved in coalition from 2007 to 2011. Their own complacency is often reinforced by mainstream commentators, anxious to credit a Party whose agenda is perceived as difficult. who do not understand the evolution of Green policy, internationally particularly by the UN, and nationally. For example a recent article on the Green Party in the Business Post contrived to find reasons to justify the Greens’ participation in the 2007-11 government but could cite only implementation of obligations that were mandated by the EU, managing too to credit Eamon Ryan for policies on building standards that were not even his departmental responsibility.
Specifically we need only to look at the statistics on what sort of impression they Greens made on, for example, carbon emissions, sustainable urban and rural planning, biodiversity and modal-mix between sustainable transportation and cars. And in three-and-a-half years they didn’t even pass a climate act. When justifying their time in government they like to point to measures they introduced but most of the measures were not implemented. That’s always been the case with the environmental agenda: adding to the edifice of law or regulation, as the Greens in government certainly did, is no good if you don’t implement it.
There is a suspicion that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are policy-light but hard-minded and that the Greens are policy-heavy but soft-minded. Their approach to government, including their weak and uncosted manifesto and this key series of questions, suggests the Greens need to boost their policy awareness as well as their tough-mindedness.