Below Irish Broad Left reprints the speech made by Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan to the Green Party’s online special convention on the Programme for Government held on Thursday 18 June.

Just as in 2007 our party has come together for a special convention that will shape the party, the lives of people in the party and people in this country.

What we’re about to decide will change and impact people’s lives. Will we form a government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? 

We are also at a moment where we have to decide what our shared vision of ‘Green Politics’ is? What does it mean to be Green? And how does that – and will that – impact the quality of life of those people who voted for us in good faith?

And I have to vote no.

Having negotiated the details of the document and sat in rooms for hours and hours, I really believe that this might be the most fiscally conservative government in a generation.

It not only fail to deliver on our promise to voters to solve, and work on, the climate emergency in a socially just way, but it also fails to tackle the housing and homelessness crisis.

I believe it might make them both worse.

Over the next few days, please shut out the noise that you’re hearing around you in the media and read the Programme for Government.

Climate wins come at a cost

There are some wins for us, but they come at an incredible price.

We’ve secured extra funds for animal welfare, but signed up to live exports, the fur trade, hare coursing, and greyhound racing. 

We’ve secured €360 million for walking and cycling, but signed up to just under €6 billion of spending on roads in the next five years.

We got the beginnings of a bottle deposit scheme, but despite heroic arguing we couldn’t get a promise or a line in this Programme for Government to cease and phase out incinerators, as it would have threatened the development of the Cork incinerator.

We’ve all worked so hard in the last few years to highlight the issue of climate change and have those difficult conversations with people.

All of us here know that to save ourselves, and life on this planet, life’s going to have to change. The status quo won’t be enough. 

Giving the dairy industry a free pass by recognising biogenic methane as ‘different’ isn’t truly helping anyone.

Continuing to under-invest in rail isn’t going to cut it.

Please read the Programme for Government in detail. Does this read to you like the extensive and immediate work we need to do to avert a climate crisis, and do it in a fair and inclusive way?

Worsening the housing crisis

There is a climate and biodiversity emergency, but we also have a housing crisis. This election was the housing election.

People desperately need to see progress on this.

I’m a Dublin Central TD. All around me my constituents are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

My little girl’s friend was evicted into homelessness last year, and she could not understand it. And no seven-year-old should have to have had that explained to them. Every child, every person, should have a secure and safe home to go to.

I want to be really clear here. I’m not voting against this because I don’t think it will solve the housing crisis. I’m voting against it because I think this document will make homelessness worse.

There is no rent control. There’s no ban on evictions due to sale, but there is an overarching commitment to private home ownership without locking in how truly affordable housing could be achieved. 

The social housing proposed is not new social housing. We’ve agreed to continue the co-living model, even after the pandemic, and we know the meaning of Covid and close living quarters.

We’ve agreed to continue with the substandard Build to Rent scheme with so many families on HAP [Housing Assistance Payments] in those units. And worst of all, we’ve agreed to continue with the legislation for the Land Development Agency. We fought so hard in the negotiations on that.

This proposal can only make financial sense if  we sell off the majority of our public land to private developers. That alone is a momentous decision.

We may be deepening the dysfunctional nature of our land management and housing provision, not just for the lifetime of this government up to 2030 but for whole generations into the future.

Deficit reduction means austerity

I think as a party it would be good to remind ourselves what our core values are. We believe that the whole point of government is to look after people. Look after their social, economic and environmental wellbeing. 

We believe in universal basic income, but we’re also fighting for universal basic services – yet we’ve agreed to put back even talking about Sláintecare until 2022.

Please read the document. It doesn’t need to be costed, as a Programme for Government, but it could have had funding commitments. Walking and cycling has funding commitments – ask yourself why other major items don’t.

And that brings us to money. This document promises some conflicting things: to reduce the deficit, to not have any tax increases and to deliver large tax breaks to middle and high income earners on one hand; and to spend on climate action and maintain social protections and basic services on the other.

I want people to be really clear here. We’re facing into the deepest and most severe recession in living memory. It’s a global recession – there’s no going off to Toronto or London if you can’t find a job; this is global.

None of the current economic planning includes a second wave of the pandemic, and none of it includes costings for a no-deal Brexit, which is probably inevitable now. 

As one of Europe’s most successful economies, our access to stimulus funds will be a relatively modest €3 billion or so. There’s no magic European money coming our way.  We’ve spent nearly €8 billion in the last few months just keeping our heads above water.

A commitment to year-on-year deficit reduction puts a self-imposed constraint on our borrowing – even as France and Germany are borrowing themselves to invest out of this crisis; even as the ECB is telling us: “Borrow.”

Instead this programme offers a regressive carbon tax that will link inequality to climate action, and a change to the USC [Universal Social Charge] that will benefit those earning more than €100,000. 

Now, you can say that the language contained in the document implies that it might not happen, but then, that throws the entire document into doubt. This is people’s lives we’re deciding here. 

Look, I’ve been on a lot of constituency meetings in the last week, and there’s been some really forthright back and forth on it. And I’ve been making some of these points. At one stage someone said to me, “Look, I do care about child poverty and I do care  about homelessness, but I care about this 7 per cent [emission reductions per year until] 2030 more”. 

And honestly, I find that hard to react to. If you can say “I care about poverty and homelessness, but…” – and if you end that sentence with a “but”, then maybe you should vote for this document. I think you should.

I think that’s what it comes down to. Because I care about child poverty and homelessness and getting the 7 per cent up to 2030. To me, that’s all the same thing. That’s indivisible – that’s people, that’s a fair world, that’s a fair future. I want every one of those 4,000 children currently living in homelessness to have found a safe and happy home by 2030. 

Greens will own entirety of government’s action

Look, ultimately everyone who went into these negotiations did so in good faith, and I hope, if we do go into government, you the members who will have to look back at the end of the five years can be proud, proud of what we did.

If we have to vote against an opposition bill on hare coursing; if we have to watch the homelessness figures rise; if we see a move back to a two-tier, privatised system of healthcare, as set out in this document – just as we’ve told healthcare workers during the Covid crisis that we valued them, and we would reform, and we would implement Sláintecare.

You the members now have to decide if the gains in environment and transport are worth the cost in housing, and protecting vulnerable people.

On one of those calls the other night, someone else said to me, “Can ye not just go in and do your best and fight?” And I said, “that’s the miss-the-boat argument”.

It is a miss-the-boat argument, and I think it’s a fair comment, and it’s a fair question. We might miss the boat here, but this boat might be the Titanic, and people might drown. 

See people like me, and maybe people like some of you out there – I have a home. I have a big mortgage on a small house, but my kids are going to be okay.

But some kids won’t be okay. Some people will drown. People on the margins, people in precarious jobs, young people who struggle to pay rent no matter how hard they work.

If we go into government, it’s not “the Greens and them”, its “us”. We collectively have responsibility with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for everything that happens in our term of government.

This shouldn’t be about whether we’ll win seats in another election or, say, hold on to the seats we have now.

Please read this document, read it in detail – what it delivers versus what it promises, what it omits, because I have read it and I have to vote no.

A video version of the speech is available here.

Read the full Programme for Government here.

Neasa Hourigan is a Dublin Central TD, a member of the Greens’ negotiating team and the party’s Finance spokesperson. Visit her website here and follow her on Twitter @neasa_neasa.

7 Replies to “Neasa Hourigan warns Greens of ‘most fiscally conservative’ government in a generation”

  1. I don’t understand why some Greens can’t see the difference between imperfect and intolerable, the difference between making limited progress and helping to implement the opposite of your own policies. This recalls the self-serving delusions and rhetoric of the Irish Labour Party, who seemed to think that colluding in the implementation of austerity economics was merely an imperfect deed in an imperfect world, when it was in reality an outright betrayal of all they were supposed to stand for. Similarly, a PfG that makes no real improvement on animal rights/welfare (no bans on hunting, coursing or the live export trade; continuing massive finding for the brutal greyhound racing industry, etc), that reneges on commitments to advocate for the Palestinians, that includes no protection of workers’ rights, and that offers tax breaks to the wealthy is not just imperfect; it’s plain wrong. I’m afraid that the notion of the Greens chatting to Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and suddenly getting them to abandon powerful vested interests is a fantasy. It reminds me of Bono’s vain (in two senses) notion that he could cure poverty and exploitation simply by cosying up to Wall Street and U.S. Republicans and asking them to play nice. Look where all of the above got the Labour Party. This PfG and coalition with the neoliberal right will wreck the GP and reinforce perceptions of the Greens as middle-class technocrats with no real sympathy for either people or other sentient beings.

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