Growing Stronger Together by Sarah Bloom

Below is an open letter to Green Party members in the Midlands, North East, West and North West on the Programme for Government, published by four of the party’s young and rural General Election 2020 candidates, Tate Donnelly, Julie O’Donoghue, Seán McCabe and Saoirse McHugh, on 20 June.

As candidates in rural constituencies who campaigned on the strength of the Green Party election manifesto in the early months of 2020, we feel we cannot support the Programme for Government which has been produced.

The Programme for Government does not offer the type of assurance necessary to give us confidence that the next government will take effective, fair and enduring climate action while also addressing the crises we face in housing, health, homelessness and agriculture.

We are especially concerned that the measures in the Programme for Government will have a disproportionate, negative impact on young people in Ireland.

It is particularly disappointing to see the Programme use the term “Green New Deal”. A true Green New Deal recognises that action to combat climate change will not be successful unless it simultaneously ushers in social and economic reforms that will distribute opportunity more fairly and tackle inequality.

At its core is an understanding that adequate housing, a decent healthcare system, economic security and workers’ rights all constitute the building blocks for the transition our society must make to a zero-carbon future. It understands that climate action which makes life harder for people will be resisted, successive targets will be missed, and the opportunity to avoid catastrophe lost. 

People-centred climate action is pragmatic

The Programme for Government does not offer a Green New Deal, but something more akin to a greener business as usual. The economic vision commits to annual deficit cuts and balanced budgets at a time of huge uncertainty where deficit spending may well be necessary, and cuts are almost certainly going to hit upon the most vulnerable the hardest.

Commitments on housing and healthcare do not offer assurances that these key issues of the last election, and drivers of inequality in Ireland, are to be robustly addressed. 

We are deeply concerned that provisions agreed on housing, in particular the role of the Land Development Agency, will not lead to an end to the housing crisis but rather provide subsidies to developers while prolonging it. We cannot, in good conscience, support that.

The commitment to significantly increase the carbon tax without the Green Party’s fee and dividend model will make life harder for people already struggling with fuel poverty and will impact severely on rural communities who do not have low-carbon alternatives available to them.

Commitments on agriculture do not seek to address the power imbalances and inequality in the sector that have caused hardship for a great many family farms around the country, but rather seek to expand export markets to the benefit of industry interests over the family farm.

Our desire to see people-centred policy making is not an idealistic position, it is a pragmatic one. A recent report by St Vincent de Paul found that the state spends approximately €4.5 billion every year addressing issues of poverty – that is more than recent Government budgets for housing, justice, transport and agriculture.

Systemic inequality is unacceptable and imprudent, and we cannot support the continuation of policy-making that enriches a few while increasing precarity for many.

Existing climate policy celebrated as ‘wins’

We acknowledge the commitments made in areas of climate action and transport are improvements relative to existing policy. However, it is widely accepted that we have lagged far behind our European neighbours on both for decades. Viewed on their own merits, the new commitments will not make us leaders in these areas.

The heads of the Climate Action (Amendment) Bill, which was published by Fine Gael in January of this year, contains much of what is being celebrated as wins in the Programme for Government – for example, the binding carbon budgets and sectoral targets. Commitments on renewables, retrofitting and heat pumps are the same as existing targets under the Climate Action Plan.

We have the utmost respect for the Green Party negotiation team that worked tirelessly to secure the very best deal they could from a challenging negotiation process.

Climate emergency makes just transition urgent

We recognise that people are anxious to see a government formed at this time of uncertainty, and we know that the climate crisis requires urgent action.

However, the need for urgency makes it all the more important to consider inequality. To be fast, climate action must be fair. Policies that hit the most vulnerable in society the hardest and exacerbate inequality are neither just nor effective.

We accept that a ‘no’ vote comes with uncertainty, but we must make our decision based on the evidence before us. That evidence consists of the Programme for Government, the track record of our potential coalition partners on issues of climate and social justice, and the successes and shortcomings of junior coalition partners in recent governments. 

We want to see deep, transformative change the sets us on a course to a safer and fairer future, one in which all the people of Ireland can live lives of dignity and share in the benefits of the actions we must take to avoid climate breakdown.

We want to realise a just transition to a zero-carbon future. What is on offer in this Programme for Government and the proposed coalition is not this.

We urge all Green Party members to vote against the proposed Programme for Government.

Tate Donnelly (@TateForTD) was the Green Party’s General Election 2020 candidate for Cavan-Monaghan; Julie O’Donoghue (@Julie_ODonoghue) was the candidate for Roscommon-Galway; Seán McCabe (@TheGreenMcCabe) was the candidate for Meath East; and Saoirse McHugh (@saoirse_mchugh) was the candidate for Mayo.

Read the Programme for Government here.

Illustration: Growing Stronger Together by Sarah Bloom of the Creative Action Network.

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