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By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

John Gormley? For U.K. readers, who may be unfamiliar with Irish politics, John Gormley is leader of the Green Party and has been our Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for the last three years (the Irish Green Party are currently junior partners in a ruling coalition with Fianna Fáil – the “Soldiers of Destiny”). Anyway, the man at the wheel on heritage issues in Ireland. In the course of a recent interview, in Village magazine (Mar-Apr 2010), Minister Gormley fielded a number of tough questions about the Green Party, its decision to enter what has proved to be an incredibly unpopular Government and his own performance on environmental and heritage issues.

If you get the chance to read this piece – and Village magazine itself is always worth a read – the impression that you might get is of a (mostly) honest man having to fight with inadequate weaponry, sort of a late sixties Robert Redford role; two six guns against the Bolivian army. The thing about that approach, obviously, is that it’s never going to work.

Here’s a few sample quotes and I apologise for the asides (I couldn’t resist);

“Q. Meanwhile across the countryside there have been virtually no prosecutions by the Parks and Wildlife Service, while Rangers are demoralised and frustrated.

A. I want to go talk to these people – if people are demoralised I want to hear from them – I want to hear what the problem is…”

“Q. A third of our raised bogs have disappeared  since the Habitats directive came into force in 1998 to protect them. Are you going to stop this?

A. You know it saddens me to see that level of destruction. The difficulty in this country is this so-called ‘attachment to the land’ which is enshrined in the Constitution – ’my land and I’ll do whatever I like with it.’ Right. What we need to recognise is the ’common good’, which is also in our constitution.” (Good point and great to hear it from a Government minister, but what about that Habitats directive? If the weapon is there surely it should be used?) “… the bogs have to be protected because that’s my commitment – but it’s also something we have to do, legally.” (So do it? Or is that being a bit hasty? There’s still two thirds of them left, but that’s hardly an infinite resource.)

“Q. When you came into office you said EU environment infringement complaints was one of the things you were going to tackle. We’ve now got even more infringement complaints against Ireland and more serious ones seeking daily fines.

A. That’s not true – we had 33 and now we have 28 or 29 – so it’s reduced.” (Hardly a significant reduction for such a serious matter, but it gets worse – at this point Village magazine states that the Commission’s statistics show the (end of 2009) figure to be 34 and the number of daily fines cases having increased to 14, from 10, since the minister took office. This was not put to John Gormley during interview.)

“Q. What about enforcing the law on Quarries? The registration process in the 2000 Planning Act has proved unenforceable and there are quarries operating without regulation or payment of levies.

A. There are political difficulties because the Local Authority and the quarry-owners will tell you that, say, twenty-five men are being employed here. They will give lots of excuses… I’ll show you my address to the Concrete Federation – I was very blunt with them.” (Blunt!)

I could go on in this vein and there were a number of further examples, but that should do for background. So I’ll switch over at this point to our own area of concern, the Tara response, instead;

“Q. What about Tara?

A. Let me just say this. There are things that people say that just sort of come off the top of the tongue. I have to be honest with you when people trot out stuff like that. We were the only party that was involved in the Oral Hearing in 2003. We came into Government in 2007 and the building had commenced. The contract was signed. There was nothing we could do.

It’s unreasonable to expect that somehow the Green Party could wave a magic wand and the whole thing was going to stop completely. But what we have done is to use our position to ensure that the excesses – the terrible planning that you find along motor ways – that simply won’t happen along that route – and I can guarantee that. I did manage to ensure that the road was moved aside from Rath Lugh so that Rath Lugh could be preserved…”

Perhaps those directly involved in the campaign could make a comment on the latter part of that statement? I don’t know. I haven’t seen the motorway. I did vote Green at the last election, however – partly because of a sympathy with their values, but also because of their opposition to the M3. As a party they had become synonymous, in Ireland at least, with truth and the ’common good’, so I found it very difficult, subsequently, to understand how they (but only they, mind – it‘s like eating and drinking for the rest of them) could go back on what they had promised, without giving what seemed to be a satisfactory reason why.

Let’s have a think about this… Was it part of the ‘deal’?..

Participation in government has been disastrous, in the medium to long term, for Green politics in Ireland. Everything that the party has been publicly scourged for – the motorway through Tara, for example, or the issues that Village magazine tackled above; parks and wildlife, disappearance of raised bogs, EU environment infringements, the delinquent behaviour of quarries and Local Authorities – would, of course, have happened and in an atmosphere of collusion, if they hadn’t been in power (they can even maintain that they provided a significant filtering effect on the same). But the merry strains of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ inevitably had to stop and who were the ones left standing there, without a Dáil seat under them? The Green Party. They will, almost certainly, be destroyed in the next election and may never regain their current level of influence.

The key question, therefore, is “have they achieved enough in office to make this ’martyrdom’ worthwhile?“ and John Gormley would argue that they have;

“We have achieved more in the last two-and-a-half years than we did in all our time in opposition – the carbon levy, the new Planning Bill, the new building regulations, investment in renewable energy – the reversal of education cuts. We now have an environmental pillar of social partnership. That would not have happened without our participation in Government.”

You’d again have to wonder how many of these achievements, much like the aforementioned disasters, would also have happened anyway – Greens or no Greens – given the pressure that we were coming under to reduce our carbon emissions. No-one in Ireland can have failed to notice the glee with which a financially morbid exchequer has pounced on the carbon tax. However, it seems rational to deduce that some Green election promises, including the one to “save Tara“, may have been abandoned during the process of coalition negotiation in order to get these same achievements/concessions (nice move, Fianna Fáil). A trade-off along the lines of; “ok, we’ll leave that, because we have more vital concerns”.

That is what I assumed, in my disappointment, a couple of years ago. 

But that is not what they said then and not what he says now. He states that the “contract was signed” and “there was nothing we could do”, implying that this particular election promise wasn’t abandoned in negotiation with their government partners and if they could have done something they would have. He would have saved Tara, but his hands were tied.

Ok. Perhaps we’d best look at what Sundance can actually use when he’s minded to…

The Sunday Tribune last week carried an opinion piece, by Michael Clifford, which began with a balanced look at the Greens in government, but then went on to discuss the activities of Minister Gormley in his own constituency;

“Since assuming the office of Minister for the Environment, John Gormley has been doing his damnedest to undermine the construction of the country’s first municipal incinerator. The facility is to be based on the Poolbeg peninsula, in the heart of Gormley’s constituency.

Gormley was a vocal opponent of the facility since before he entered government. His party has long opposed incineration. Yet the burning of waste is government policy. It has been fully scrutinised by the planning authorities and has got EPA approval. If Fine Gael (constant party of opposition) was leading a new coalition government in the morning, incineration would remain government policy.

Exporting waste costs three times as much as getting rid of it at home. The EU has placed limits on how much landfill can be used, and the state is fast approaching the limit. After that, fines running into millions will be imposed. Unless the citizens are willing to stump up considerably more tax, incineration will be as much a feature of waste disposal here as it is in practically every other developed country in the world.

On a political level, it is understandable that Gormley has attempted to undermine his own government’s policy. If the incinerator goes ahead, he will most likely lose his seat. So he has placed roadblocks where he can, attempting to impose limits on burning waste, commissioning reviews, attacking the proposal at every turn, all designed to undermine the viability of the incinerator that threatens his future.”
 
According to this article, the levy recommended by the ESRI for waste incineration is €10 per tonne. Minister Gormley’s recently published environmental bill proposes a levy of €120 per tonne, an amount that “could make the Poolbeg facility unviable“. No problems with the Green Party’s “magic wand” in this case, it appears.

Let’s look again, so, at what he said about Tara…

“The contract was signed. There was nothing we could do.”

Incineration, like the M3, is government policy and the facility has been EPA approved. The Green party are opposed to incineration, but were also opposed  to the M3 through Tara. Why the difference in treatment then? Given all those examples of ineffectual action, or no action at all – Tara, parks and wildlife, raised bogs, environment infringements, quarries, Local Authorities, cosy interests jobbing away – how come everything, including the kitchen sink, can be thrown at this? Michael Clifford, as you read above, has his own theory about it.

It never rains, but it pours and downpours can cause flooding. A coincidence? This from the same day’s Sunday Independent;

“Environment Minister John Gormley is under fire this weekend for refusing to overturn the zoning of a flood plain for development in Taoiseach (government colleague and leader of Fianna Fáil) Brian Cowen’s home constituency of Co. Offaly…

Following his direct intervention to halt the Carrickmines Retail centre in south Dublin three weeks ago, which has placed more than 1,000 jobs in jeopardy, Fine Gael has blasted the Green minister’s refusal to halt a project on a flood plain.
 
Late last year, two councils in Co. Offaly zoned a flood plain for development despite warnings from the OPW on flood risks…

…Mr. Gormley’s refusal to act comes after he heavily criticised the legacy of bad planning by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael at the Green Party conference last weekend.”

Doubtless I am guilty of ‘over-simplification’, or ‘political naivety’, but if I were to look at the two articles, immediately above, the conclusion that I would draw is that it is well within the Green Party’s ability to influence, or to have influenced events – if they were sufficiently motivated to do so. If they did not do so, at Tara for example, it would be an understandable step to then speculate on the relevant reasons and to regard their public statements (excuses?) in the particular light of those speculations.

Take your choice…

  
From Nietzsche‘s ‘Human, All Too Human’ (trans. Faber M. 1984), Section 9; ‘Man Alone With Himself’;

522. “Men who talk about their importance for mankind have a weak conscience about their common bourgeois honesty in keeping contracts or promises.”

540. “Who publicly sets himself great goals, and later realizes privately that he is too weak to accomplish them, does not usually have enough strength to revoke those goals publicly, either, and then inevitably becomes a hypocrite.”

  

To Pilate, Balaam, or John

What did you get for cleaning your hands;

A few broad beans, or the word of an ass?

There was no sword on the road to Moab

And I can’t see a beanstalk, Jack.

  

Show me your “broken heart”.

  

Previous Heritage Journal Article: John Gormley on how to destroy Irish heritage kindly

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