OK, as long as we do not have to commit to any actual actions!
In the latest general election in Ireland in February 2020, Sinn Fein (SF) won the largest number of first preference votes (the “popular” vote) with 24.5%, compared to Fianna Fáil (FF) with 22.2%, and Fine Gael (FG) with 20.9%. But Sinn Fein did not contest all constituencies and Fianna Fáil won the most seats in Dáil Éireann (parliament) with 38, followed by Sinn Fein with 37 and Fine Gael with 35. In the 160-seat Dáil, 80 seats are necessary to carry a majority. Consequently, a stable government will require two of the three big parties, plus some others.
At the moment, the two “main” political parties in Ireland, the “duopoly” of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are attempting to get together for the first time in a new joint government, with their combined 73 votes. Neither wants to be seen to be dancing with SF, so they need either the Green Party with its 12 votes, with maybe a few independents to be safe, or a chorus line of independents.
To entice others to join with them to form a new government, The Duopoly has prepared a draft framework for Government that they hope will not offend anyone or tie The Duopoly’s hands to any specific actions.
No wonder Fintan O’Toole has labeled the document “a colouring book for adults”:
24 pages of idyllic scenes drawn in rough outline. They then passed the crayons to the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party: please colour in these pictures. A bit of green here? Perhaps some red on the fringes? Lots of pink. Whatever you like – so long as the tax stuff stays nice and blue.
While O’Toole is always a wonderful writer, and clear thinker, he has been much too kind in this instance. The draft document is not just glaringly vague and devoid of any substance, it is irresponsible. Most colouring books are far more interesting and useful.
I’m willing to be practical, but just for a moment. The Duopoly figures they can be vague and uncommitted in their draft plan for a programme of Government so those not-SF will consider joining them. That’s the way it is usually done.
But these are no longer usual times. The coronavirus has changed all that. As soon as the coronavirus crisis recedes (assuming it does), the fast unfolding impacts from climate breakdown will resurface as the overriding concern. In addition to whatever we have learned about dealing with the virus, we also know that the climate breakdown is so much more threatening, more far-reaching than the virus, and there is no vaccine for climate breakdown.
What is disturbing about the noncommittal draft programme is that it pretends that there are no concrete environmental actions that it might have put on the table. It is as if the Citizens’ Assembly, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, and the Climate Change Advisory Council did not exist. Such avoidance behavior raises the question that has always been here and that remains: Can The Duopoly be trusted?
Let’s look at the language of The Duopoly’s draft and see what it offers. Here are some statements of intent from the draft plan on “A Green New Deal,” and some suggestions for why it is so vacant.
· “The climate crisis is the most pressing existential crisis.”
One wonders what The Duopoly makes of the word “existential”? Really serious, really bad? Then why so reluctant to offer anything concrete for dealing with this “existential” crisis.
· “Set new carbon reduction targets, identifying and implementing early significant changes and underpinned with a clear road map for delivery”
Not only vague, but they don’t even seem able to commit to increasing the targets. They could just as well mean that they will lessen the reduction targets by lowering the burden on those responsible, say, for example, the agro-food industry
· “Ensure that the recovery at domestic and European levels is carried out through a green lens.”
The green lens seems like a new metaphor. Wonder what that means – those dark sunglass lenses that hide what you’re looking at?
· “Take immediate action in response to the biodiversity crisis…”
If they know that immediate action is necessary, then they must know what that action is. How about telling us, so we can judge their knowledge and sincerity.
· “Invest in public transport across Ireland…”
Does The Duopoly think that we all will be thrilled that it is going to invest in public transport. How can it not. We might wonder how much it intends to invest, and how that compares to investing in roads.
· “Plant 440 million trees by 2040”
Planting trees is the low-hanging fruit that even Donald Trump will eat.
· “Roll out an ambitious home energy retrofitting programme”
How many years have we been promised a roll out of home energy schemes, without effect, even though there is no rocket science or undeveloped technology necessary.
· “Continue to recognise and support Irish agriculture in its ongoing transition to emission efficiency”
Three cheers for Irish agriculture – hip hip methane, hip hip methane, hip hip methane
Whether the draft plan will appeal to the Greens remains an open question, but it seems clear that such an alignment must seem more appealing to The Duopoly than dealing with lots of diverse independents.
The Greens have responded to the draft programme with 17 Questions, setting forth what specific actions they require from The Duopoly. Notably the Greens demand a commitment to an average annual reduction in greenhouse gases (GHGs) of at least 7%, which is double the existing government’s commitment. This would seem to be is a red line in the sand demand.
The Duopoly has responded to the 17 Questions with comments. On the 7% solution for GHGs The Duopoly does not answer with a direct “Yes,” as it does to other Questions raised by the Greens. It equivocates, arguing that “We firmly believe that it is important to consult and persuade people and sectors to take the actions to ensure that we meet any new targets that are set.” In other words, it cannot commit without the endorsement of the agriculture lobby. We can be confident that’s not going to happen. The Duopoly suggests that, “We would like to understand and tease out with you through talks, the specific actions that would have to be taken to achieve at least an average 7% a year reduction.”
Climate actions are needed and now, not teasing. There can be no shuffling climate breakdown aside on the grounds that people need a break from tension, they need jobs, and the 1%ers need money in the post-virus-crisis.
There is nothing clear or visionary in The Duopoly’s plan. They have taken turns leading Ireland since its beginnings and neither has produced a climate plan that carries any weight or respect. There is no sense pretending that together they can do any better. The Greens no doubt have to decide if their presence in government would change that.
The game is afoot, as Sherlock Holmes used to say, and where it ends nobody knows.
EDITOR’S NOTE: update 3 May 2020
For a discussion of the logic, origins and implications of the 7% solution to GHG emissions in Ireland see online webinar hosted by Ireland’s Stop Climate Chaos (SCC), with SCC policy expert Sadhbh O’Neill, and featuring Dr. John Sweeney and Dr. Cara Augustenborg, and Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth, at: www.foe.ie/blog/2020/05/01/watch-it-back-webinar-on-7-emissions-reduction/
Seán Clarke, “Irish general election: full results,” The Guardian (11 Feb 2020). https://bit.ly/3auKiFg
A draft document between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to facilitate negotiations with other parties on a plan to recover, rebuild and renew Ireland after the COVID-19 Emergency bit.ly/2VSMQYH
“Fintan O’Toole: FF and FG have produced a colouring book for adults,” The Irish Times (21 April 2020). bit.ly/3aNdXK3
The Green Party, Green Party response to the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael joint framework document (23 April 2020). bit.ly/3d0wcNG
Letter from Leo Varadkar TD (Fine Gael) and Micheál Martin TD (Fianna Fail) to Eamon Ryan (Green Party), dated 28 April 2020. bit.ly/3bSMNmi