I started off against all this.
I’m generally keen to see the Greens in government, but was concerned that the kinds of policy change we wanted to see would be near-impossible in a government twinned with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
We’ve worked well (I hope!) with all parties and none on Dublin City Council, but in national government, the political differences between these three parties are a bit wider and more pronounced. A difficult space to get things done.
So what changed?
First, the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easy to say in the midst of a crisis that “this changes everything”, but I suspect it may actually be true in this case.
Everything seems to have been upended in recent months – travel, public space, people’s jobs, the wider economy, human relationships and national priorities. We’ve seen here in Dublin city how the pandemic has lead to long-overdue changes to road allocations, but I suspect the changes will be longer-term and deeper.
Having the Greens at the helm of the state at a time like this can have a big impact in that process of change. Not only are things happening more quickly – but many of the traditional, passively conservative barriers to change seem to have fallen away.
Compared to the last crisis, I’m hopeful that the Europe-wide response will be more progressive. (Having Greens ministers represent us there will help too.) There seems to now be a great recognition of the need for stimulus – not just crude austerity.
Given how much core Green policy revolves around infrastructual change, it would be difficult for the party to reasonably evade government at a time when a major continent-wide capital investment is (likely) up for grabs.
Second is the Programme for Government that’s been negotiated. There are plenty of things which I’m disappointed didn’t make it. The Occupied Territories Bill, a stronger commitment to public housing on public land, and some more progressive tax changes.
But, there’s a lot in there which converted me to a yes vote.
The funding planned for cycling and walking is genuinely massive. At current estimates, it’s set at a minimum floor €1 million a day. That, combined with a 2:1 ratio of sustainable transport to roads spending is a game changer. I’ve already had keen council officials on to me with ideas on how to spend it.
The section on climate change seems like an incredible set of wins. I’ve worked in climate and energy policy at an EU level previously – what’s being proposed is seriously ambitious and will be a challenge to achieve. But it can (and must!) be done. The various welcoming statements from environmental NGOs back this up.
Crucially, we just don’t have time to delay on climate change. I don’t see how we can step away from government for five years and make up for lost time in a few years. I just don’t see a credible pathway to faster, greater action on climate.
Finally, the migration section in the Programme for Government is just really damn good (check it out here). There’s the long-awaited (and funded!) commitment to end Direct Provision – with a white paper issuing within six months. That’s amazing.
Most important to me, though, is the commitment to provide legal status to those who are living undocumented long-term in Ireland. I’ve seen upfront how being undocumented leads to a life half-lived – one where fear of deportation or being “found out” means that you can’t engage properly in the society in which you live.
Undocumented people have little or no recourse to employment or legal rights – the authorities are only a threat, never a protection. Healthcare is a nerve racking experience, where very sick people stay away for fear of being found out.
At the heart of it, I think the migration section of the programme would genuinely improve lives for tens of thousands of people – people who this country has otracized and mistreated.
In a world increasingly turning to the hard-right, with hearts hardening and borders closing, this would be something to buck that trend. For me, the migration section of the Programme alone would make this a difficult document for me to vote against.
All that said, I respect and understand why people in the party (and without) are against this deal or are deeply sceptical. I share a lot of their concerns, if not the same conclusion.
But I sincerely hope that Green members vote in the coming days to back this deal – not as the sum total of what we believe, but as a means to improving lives and protecting the shared planet we call home.
I don’t think we’ll get a better chance anytime soon.
The above are some of my initial thoughts having read the Programme for Government and having spoken individually with 40+ local members about this.
Here are some other things in the Programme for Government which I think are really worthwhile. If we vote to go in, I look forward to ceaselessly badgering our Ministers and TDs to get them done:
- Maternity Hospital Exclusion Zones for protests – to give dignity to people accessing healthcare (p48)
- Hate crime legislation (p86)
- Directly elected Mayors (p119)
- A renewed commitment to Sláintecare/single-tier healthcare (p44)
- A living wage (p74)
- Marine protected areas (p71)
- Domestic solar electricity support (Ireland is almost uniquely terrible on this) (p33)
- Big increase in the number of home energy retrofits (p38)
- Ban on further offshore oil and gas exploration (p36)
- End to government support for LNG imports (p36)
- (And more!)
If you want a screenreader-friendly version of the Programme for Government, that’s here.