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Irish Politics

There was no Green wave - prosperity, jobs and housing will dictate the next election

Let’s get a grip on political reality. The results of the local and European elections are really not that surprising. There was a low turnout by voters. These elections, held every five years, tell us very little. They will change very little. The Irish vote will not affect the EU very much, if at all. The local elections will not affect the shape or the substance of local government.

There were no massive swings. The only significant losers were Sinn Féin. The Greens polled less than 6% nationally in the local elections and scored 11% in the European elections. They did well in Dublin. Fianna Fáil outpolled Fine Gael in the local elections but were left trailing Fine Gael in the European elections. Nothing happened for Labour. The Social Democrats had a few successes, suggesting that they are stealing support from Labour.

What does this tell us about the prospects for and at the next general election? Breathless predictions of a FG-Green-Labour coalition outcome seem a little premature.

It’s all very well putting two Greens out of 13 MEPs into the European Parliament. They may have an input into EU environmental policy. They may be critics of EU militarisation plans. So also will be Clare Daly and Mick Wallace who were rewarded for their political independence in the Dáil.

But even if the Greens get five or seven Dáil seats the next time round, the blunt truth is that Ireland’s prosperity and employment levels and housing will be the issues to the fore in a general election.

Are we going to build more homes? And where? And who will own them? REITs, local authorities or individual home-owners?

Eamon Ryan’s call for 20,000 workers to be employed retro-fitting existing homes to reduce heating costs at a cost of €50 billion has to be the subject of a reality check. Who are going to be the builders of new homes if that kind of money is being spent on old homes?

We are already close to capacity in the building industry. Are we going to bring in 40,000 immigrant builders, 20,000 to do retro-fitting and 20,000 to solve the housing shortage? Who will house them and where?

Ryan is already hinting at an end or a major curtailment to the roads programme. Where will Ireland’s growing population live? How will they travel?

Are there really to be new train and light rail services? Who will pay for them? Who will actually build them?

Are we going to build more and more energy-devouring data centres? The Greens have not opposed them to date?

How do we replace the huge revenues the Exchequer will lose if we electrify all transport? How can the national electricity grid cope with the abolition of fossil fuel energy consumption?

No matter how you dream of huge battery storage facilities, wind and solar energy will not be enough to guarantee an all-electric economy’s survival. The protest movements against wind-farms and energy inter-connectors feed from the same political trough as the Greens. Just imagine the furore from the open-toed sandal brigade if nuclear energy is proposed.

If we believe that violent storms are going to become increasingly common, we should remember what would happen if all transport, heat and economic activity – all life in a totally electric society - stops with a blackout.

The idea that Ireland should now ban all off-shore oil and gas exploration is simply daft. If we need gas – and we will need gas for fifty years – it would be suicidal to prefer to survive on vulnerable imports if we have an alternative. Energy security is very important for Ireland.

People talk of the precautionary principle to justify strong measures against climate change.

But there should be an economic precautionary principle too.

Ireland does not have to play a leading role in the world actions against climate change. And we should not paint ourselves into a rhetorical corner that seriously damages the well-being of the economy. We are and should remain conscious that Ireland will have an insignificant and almost immeasurable effect on global warming no matter what policies we implement on climate change.

When I see the Department in charge of housing policy praising “shared living” buildings as the way forward just six years after its ban on bed-sits made 8,000 to 10,000 vulnerable people homeless, and when I reflect that the ban on bed-sits was itself introduced on foot of lobbying by Threshold, a homeless advocacy charity, I immediately think of the need to examine all the simplistic solutions and policies that trip off the tongues of those who are speaking Green-babble.

We have a serious tourism industry. We should think of that when we demand the imposition of taxes on aviation. We are an exporter on the periphery. We should think of that when we demand a reduction in the distance goods are transported.

We have to look around the corners. We have to look after our economic well-being. We have to plan within our means. There is absolutely no case for Ireland boldly implementing untried and untested policies simply because we want to feel good as “world leaders”. We should learn from the experience of others. We should avoid self-induced shocks.

In truth, we need to avoid turning the Dáil’s rather meaningless climate emergency resolution into a charter for naivety. We will have to balance our budgets, we will have to sustain our economic base and our tax base, and we will have to use a sustainable construction sector in a sensible way. We cannot give up on growth or on internationally traded goods and services.

The European Parliament elections have often produced unusual results. Kathy Sinnott and Ming Flanagan are examples of what happens when voters can kick off their shoes politically. But choosing a government is a different matter.

We need wise government. We need less spinning and more substance. We need to keep an even keel and a low centre of gravity. Let’s not lose the run ourselves. Let’s concentrate on health, housing, transport policy and jobs.

Less than 6% in local elections is not a green wave. One or two seats out of thirteen in the European elections does not speak to the issue of who will be our next government.

Lastly, Sinn Féin had a shock. Strangely there is a well-disciplined silence for the moment. It’s not a normal party; it is run by a powerful clique who must be asking themselves whether Mary Lou and Michelle O’Neill can get them back on the road to power. And the candidates who left them because of bullying did better than the party they left.

It isn’t a question of “D’imigh ár lá” so much as “they haven’t gone away, you know”. 



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