RISE TD Paul Murphy says, ‘By going into government, your party is signing up to significant concessions’.
As members of the Green Party, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil debate the merits of the new programme for government, the leaders of the Greens arguably have the toughest task getting the deal over the line, with two-thirds of the party’s membership needed to carry the proposal.
As the battle for the hearts and minds of the Irish green movement begins, we invited two representatives with opposing views to state their case. Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe says this is an armistice moment that must be grasped by those who believe in environmental change, while here, RISE TD for Dublin South-West, Paul Murphy, writes to Green Party members asking them to reject the deal:
DEAR GREEN Party members,
This week you will be presented with a choice: join a coalition government that props up Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael or reject the programme for government and instead help build mass social movements for climate, housing and social justice.
Over the last two months, you have been subjected to growing pressure from media commentators on the necessity to enter a coalition. This will be added to by the leadership of your party in the next days. I and all RISE members urge you to resist this pressure. Don’t sell out your principles and policies for a sliver of strait-jacketed power.
This will be a hated austerity government – don’t be a mudguard for it.
One result of the February election was clear. People voted for change. That Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are now forced into a coalition shows that a fundamental break with the domination of these parties and the big business interests they represent is possible.
Outside the Leinster House bubble, people are correctly concluding that this government is an attempt by the establishment to cling on to power. Austerity, corporate welfare, and a continuation of Ireland’s tax haven status are all contained within the programme for government.
Is there any doubt that this government will very quickly become one of the most hated governments in the history of the state? Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are preparing to make your party a mudguard to deflect the blame.
Some will argue that when the Green Party entered government in 2007, they couldn’t have foreseen the 2008 Financial Crash. The same argument cannot be made now.
The programme for government is clear: they “will utilise taxation measures, as well as expenditure measures, to close the deficit…” and “will focus any tax rises on those taxes which tax behaviours with negative externalities such as carbon tax, sugar tax, plastics…” We all know this means austerity and more regressive taxes that hurt people on low incomes.
Is it worth it?
There are some measures in the programme for the government which could be pointed to as ‘victories’, such as the removal of Shannon LNG from the EU Projects of Common Interest list in 2021, the end of new licences for gas exploration (but note, no change to existing licences) and the €360 million invested in walking and cycling.
These are to a large degree the result of campaigning and pressure on these issues in the last years by environmental activists like you and from the school student strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests.
However, overall the document falls far short in actually preventing the worst excesses of climate change. By going into government your party is signing up to significant concessions on climate, on housing, on transport, on health, and even on Palestine.
The argument that it’s “worth it” wrongly assumes the Greens actually got far-reaching policies within the lifetime of this government. The programme for government is explicit that most of the emissions reductions are supposed to be achieved after this government is gone.
It says: “In the second carbon budget period [2026-2030], strong climate action will be delivered from the foundations established in the initial phase [2020-2025], enabling more significant gains in order to reach the binding average 7% per annum reduction to 2030.”
In selling the deal to the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, Simon Coveney is reported as saying that most of the emissions reductions will come in the latter half of this decade, with “preparations” in the first half.
The same with the home retrofitting programme, there are no targets in the next five years for this government, just a target of 2030 for 500,000 homes. Do you really think the coming recession won’t be used to delay action, as it was before?
On top of that are the highly regressive increases in carbon tax. The fee and dividend model, which could have at least helped soften the blow for working families, has now been ditched. Even the revenue it raises is not ring-fenced fully for environmental measures. Worse yet, these tax hikes will correctly be viewed as an eco-austerity measure by workers and will seriously discredit and damage the climate justice movement.
Setting back the environmental movement
The harm they do politically cannot be overstated. We urgently need to build a powerful climate justice movement, in every community and every workplace, and we are way behind schedule. This work is tremendously impeded whenever environmental policy comes (or is seen to come) at the cost of working families.
The ‘green wave’ was based on growing concern about climate change – this hasn’t gone away. The huge protest movements seen over the last number of years will undoubtedly re-emerge.
From student climate strikes to Extinction Rebellion, the demands of the movement, in line with the science, have moved beyond small incremental, individual-focused change. ‘System change, not climate change’ is now the rallying cry.
As we saw with Repeal the 8th, Marriage Equality, and the anti-water demonstrations, mass social movements are what will force radical climate action onto the agenda. It’s precisely why climate action is even being seriously discussed at all.
The neoliberal approach to climate action, demanded by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and backed by your current party leaders will act to turn people away from the climate movement rather than towards it. Green activists will be forced to defend eco-austerity and play the role of dampening down expectations.
Crisis in society unresolved
This programme for government will also not resolve the many crises faced by ordinary people in society. The measures to deal with the housing crisis fall far short of what is needed. In fact, the policies proposed are just a continuation of the last government’s failed ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan.
That plan aimed for 47,000 extra social houses, this plan promises 50,000. But they are actually proposing to build only “a majority” of those over the next five years, which I believe would only mean 5,000 a year. This is a pittance compared to what the state built in the past and what is needed to end the housing emergency.
The Green Party negotiators failed to get any commitments on the percentage of social and affordable housing on public land and also failed in their bid to get a cap on developers’ profits when building on public land.
Combined with the failure to bring in a permanent ban on economic evictions, or a rent freeze and proper rent controls, it means the housing crisis will continue.
Instead of tackling the root cause of the housing crisis, your party will be helping developers enrich themselves with the expansion of the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, which is really about using public money to prop up property prices.
As with housing, so it will be with the health system. Instead of ending the two-tier health system and creating an Irish National Health Service, the programme for government envisions a return to ‘normal’. There are no numerical targets for any of the supposed improvements promised and the programme actually increases the reliance on the private health sector.
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There is an alternative
You don’t have prop up and greenwash Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. There is an alternative. Reject the deal, join with the Left in the Dáil and help build the movements on the streets, in communities and workplaces.
Remember that the right-wing governments have been forced under pressure of movements to repeal the 8th and legislate for abortion rights, to introduce marriage equality and to abolish the water charges.
Together, we can build successful movements to fight for radical measures to tackle the climate crisis and to improve people’s lives. In doing so, we will be preparing the way for a left government that would act in the interests of working families and young people, implement a socialist Green New Deal that would raise living standards and make environmentally-friendly decisions easy, rather than implementing eco-austerity.
What James Connolly wrote in 1909 has enormous relevance to Green Party members wrestling with how to vote on this deal today:
Moral – Don’t be ‘practical’ in politics. To be practical in that sense means that you have schooled yourself to think along the lines, and in the grooves those who rob you would desire you to think.
The urgency of the climate crisis is not a reason to be ‘practical’ and settle for the illusion of influence. It is a reason to join with the left and build a political and social movement to deliver the change the science demands.
Paul Murphy is a RISE TD for Dublin South-West, part of the Solidarity – People Before Profit grouping in the Dáil. You can read the full programme for government here.