Archive for Green Party

Ireland’s New Government

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2020 by telescoper

I remembered this morning that I haven’t posted anything about the news that Ireland has a new Government, so decided to do a quick lunchtime blog on that topic. The election that happened earlier this year left no party with enough seats to form an administration and negotiations to form a coalition were drastically slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week, however, members of the three parties involved in drafting the Programme for Government – Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party – all ratified the proposal. A vote in the Dáil Éireann to formally approve the new Taoiseach was held on Saturday and a new Government formed. Its Ministers have now all been appointed.

Ireland’s new Taoiseach (the equivalent of Prime Minister) is Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil. He replaces Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael who becomes Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister). Under the terms of the coalition agreement they will swap places after two and a half years of the five year term, i.e. at the end of 2022 (assuming the Goverment survives that long).

This isn’t the kind of government that I wanted because it seems to only to offer more of the same short-sighted and socially divisive neoliberal economic policies that have led to disintegrating public services and increasing levels of poverty and homelessness over the last decade. Increasing GDP growth while at the same time worsening social outcomes is not successful government in my view. Tempering my disappointment, though, I do think the coalition represents a step forward in some ways. In my view there is very little difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in terms of policy, which means that there has been little substantive opposition from one when the other has been in power, which has been the way Irish politics has been for decades. Now that similarity in political complexion has been formally recognized and Ireland now has a proper opposition party in the form of a resurgent Sinn Féin led by Mary Lou McDonald. I know better than to try to predict political developments but I can see Sinn Féin rising in popularity in opposition, probably at the expense of Fianna Fáil as the incumbent parties are unlikely to find the immediate future plain sailing. I think Leo Varadkar will be privately happy that Micheál Martin is Taoiseach for what is likely to prove the toughest phase.

Ireland’s electoral system involves a single transferable vote and I know many people who used their ballot to “transfer left”. The Green Party clearly prospered from such transfers during the 2020 election, but now finds itself propping up a Centre-Right coalition. No doubt many who transferred left are dismayed to find that they inadvertently transferred right. What that does for the popularity of the Greens in future remains to be seen. I would comment however that the Greens have been pretty successful in getting their proposals into the Programme for Government and I welcome many of them.

Another thing well worth mentioning is the creation of a new Minister at Cabinet level with responsibility for Higher Education. That was a Fianna Fáil idea but I didn’t see it in the Programme for Government. There is a little bit of confusion* about what the title of this new position is. When it was first announced it was reported as “Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research” though that seems to have morphed into “Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Science”, which has left colleagues in the arts, humanities and social sciences feeling a bit disgruntled. It’s a pity that there isn’t an English word like the German Wissenschaft to use in such general contexts.

*UPDATE: I am reliably informed (by Twitter) that the correct title is “The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science”.

Whatever its precise name, the announcement of the creation of this new Ministry has received a cautious welcome from across the third-level sector. I also see this as potentially promising but I think I’ll reserve judgement until we see what it proposes to do. Interesting, though it was a Fianna Fáil policy to create this new cabinet position, the person appointed to it, Simon Harris TD, is actually from Fine Gael and was the Health Minister in the previous administration. I think the general opinion is that he did fairly well in that position, though reading his biography I see that he dropped out of university without getting a degree, which hardly inspires confidence in his commitment to higher education.

This isn’t the sort of Government I voted for, but I hope it can steer Ireland safely through the ongoing crisis reasonably safely. I’ll take it over the dismal collection of crooks and charlatans who are in power across the Irish Sea any day.

Meanwhile, in Ireland…

Posted in Covid-19, Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2020 by telescoper

It seems an eternity since we had the 2020 general election in Ireland on February 8th because of the intervention of the Covid-19 outbreak, but it’s still been over four months. Now however it seems we might have a new government fairly soon, as a deal has been agreed to form a coalition between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party; between them these parties have 84 seats (not counting the Ceann Comhairle), enough to create a majority in the Dáil Éireann. It’s not quite done and dusted, though, as the Green Party has to ballot its membership and a two-thirds majority is needed to endorse the agreement. We should know next week.

In case you think this delay means that Ireland has been in political crisis since February, it hasn’t really. The constitution makes it clear that if a new government can’t be formed the old one continues until one can (or until another election can be held). Leo Varadkar has continued as Taioseach in the mean time. His popularity has increased in this period, at least partly because as a trained medical person, he is perceived to have handled the Covid-19 crisis rather well. It seems that incumbents have generally received the backing of the public when they have coped reasonably with the pandemic. Whether that continues in Ireland remains to be seen. When the truth comes out about how many patients were transferred from hospitals into nursing homes where they were left to die perhaps opinions will change.

It has taken over four months for the the parties to agree a `draft programme for government’ which you can find here. That document is 139 pages long but largely devoid of concrete commitments and indeed devoid of anything other than vague discussions, platitudes, and `reviews’. At a quick reading I’d say the Greens have been far more effective at getting their agenda into it than Fianna Fáil, perhaps because the latter don’t really have an agenda other than wanting to be in power. The Green initiatives are in my opinion the strongest parts of the programme, but the rest seems to me to be just “more of the same”.

I’d say that the one redeeming factor is the document is the emphasis on stimulus rather than austerity as a way out of the current crisis but of course that may turn out not to be what actually happens.

From the point of view of Ireland’s universities and research community there is little to rejoice. On page 114 you can find this:

Higher and Further Education have been greatly affected by the COVID-19 crisis and we will support the sector through these challenges to ensure that educational opportunities remain and are made more accessible to everyone, particularly the most vulnerable in our society. In addition, we will continue to support our research community to tackle the social and scientific problems posed by COVID-19 now and into the future.

We are committed to addressing the funding challenges in third-level education. We want a Higher and Further Education sector that sees education as a holistic and life-long pursuit. We will continue to build strong connections with other education sectors and wider society, while recognising our global and environmental responsibilities. It is vital we invest in our Higher and Further Education sectors so we can continue to tackle inequality based on race, gender, and socio-economic background. We recognise the potential for our Higher and Further Education institutions to be exemplars regionally, nationally and internationally.

At a time of great economic uncertainty, when so many people fear for their future employment, we will ensure that Higher Education plays a vital role in our recovery. We will equip students with the skills necessary to secure employment, while preparing for the opportunities and challenges posed by a changing economy, the move to a low-carbon future and disruptive technologies, as well as offering retraining and reskilling opportunities to help people into employment.

Warm words at the start and then a worryingly blinkered emphasis on universities simply as providers of skills training. We do that of course, but we do so much more that Irish governments seem not to recognize.

Later on we get a commitment to

Develop a long-term sustainable funding model for Higher Level education in collaboration with the sector and informed by recent and ongoing research and analysis.

Sigh. There’s been an OECD Report (2004), the Hunt Report (2011), the Cassells Report (2016), etc. How many times will this issue be kicked into the long grass?

The Fianna Fáil `pledge’ to introduce a Minister for Higher Education and Research has, needless to say, fallen by the wayside in the negotiations.

The plan for the new Government is that the plan is as the leader of the largest party in the coalition, Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin will take over as Taoiseach for two years, after which Leo Varadkar will return. This is being referred to as a `Rotating Taoiseach’, which is a pretty apt given that the programme has more spin than substance.

Brighton’s Green Nightmare

Posted in Brighton, Politics with tags , , on March 5, 2015 by telescoper

Two years ago I posted an item about the effects of industrial action by Brighton & Hove’s refuse collectors, the ironically-named company Cityclean. Strikes and other industrial action have happened intermittently over the last year, but it has been difficult to establish when Cityclean are working and when they are not because the typical level of service is absolutely abysmal. Apparently the latest strike is supposed to have finished, but some drivers are still “working to rule”.

Brighton_rubbish

The fact of the matter is that this state of affairs is the rule in Kemptown, the part of Brighton I live in. The refuse collection service is shockingly unreliable and more often than not the street resembles a rubbish tip, whether or not there’s a strike.

It’s quite obvious who is to blame for all this. Cityclean is managed, badly, by the local Council which is controlled by a shambolic Green Party more interested in splurging money on vanity projects like the infamous i360, and trying to wreck the budget-setting process, than providing decent services for local people. Given the importance the Green Party pretends to attach to recycling and sustainability, it is appalling that the fraction of refuse that is recycled is just 24%, one of the lowest rates in the entire country. The local Greens think the council should take over running bus services too. If they do as good a job of that as they do with the refuse collection service then I’ll probably be walking to work most days of the week.

I keep hearing from people living elsewhere who a flirting with the idea of voting for the Greens in the General Election and Local Elections forthcoming in May. I very much doubt that there will be any “Green Surge” in Brighton, unless it comes in the form of a noxious ooze emanating from mountains of uncollected garbage. I am pretty sure the Green will get wiped off the face of the Council in Brighton and Hove. If you’re actually thinking of voting for them elsewhere, take a look at the mess they’ve made here and I’m sure you will change your mind.

Britain’s only Green MP (Caroline Lucas) is looking to retain her seat in Brighton Pavilion at the General Election. To attempt to achieve this she has initiated a frantic campaign to distance herself from the antics of the Green Party’s representatives on the local council. I find that attitude completely hypocritical and I hope she fails. If she really doesn’t agree with her party she should stand as an independent. I won’t be voting for her anyway. Apart from everything else I’m not in her constituency..

Brighton’s Rubbish Collections

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on June 8, 2013 by telescoper

Time for a quick post about a local difficulty in Brighton. A dispute over allowances that has been rumbling on for weeks has resulted in a vote for a strike by the city’s refuse collectors and street cleaners, due to start next Friday (14th June). Unless a deal is reached there will be no refuse or recycling collections or any street cleaning for a week. If the warm weather continues, a serious environmental hazard could ensue, as uncollected food waste will no doubt lead to a proliferation of vermin.

I’m not going to comment on the rights and wrongs of the dispute, and facts about what precisely is going on are difficult to come by. A webcast by the Council explaining the background can be found here. The issue is not about basic hourly pay, which isn’t changing under the Council’s proposals, but Cityclean workers are claiming that changes to the Council’s system of allowances will lead to some of them losing as much as £4000 per year in take home pay. I don’t however understand what these mysterious “allowances” are. If anyone can enlighten me through the comments box then I’d be very happy. Other than that all I’ll say is that I hope a settlement is reached before things get even more unbearable, but the atmosphere between workers and Council seems already to be so acrimonious that it is hard to see either backing down. I hope they don’t but things could get very nasty.

I will, however, comment on the state of the rubbish collection in Brighton even before the strike starts next week. A two-day wildcat strike in May led to a pile-up of rubbish beside the communal bins. In the weeks since then “targetted disruption” (the Council’s phrase) has meant that this backlog has never been cleared, despite the Council effectively cancelling recycling collections to concentrate on ordinary refuse.

In fact I haven’t had any paper or glass collected for recycling for a month, so I have given up and now take it on foot to one of the few recycling centres dotted around the place. That’s a bit inconvenient, but not too much of a problem in the grand scheme of things. In fact, it has surprised me a lot since moving to Brighton from Cardiff a few months ago, just how poor the recycling service in Brighton is. Home to the UK’s only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, and with a (minority) Green party controlling the Council I would have expected a much more comprehensive approach to recycling than is actually the case. As it is,  compared to Cardiff (which isn’t brilliant), Brighton’s recycling service is really hopeless. The Greens will probably argue that they inherited the system in a time of austerity and have been unable to improve it, but if they can’t improve something which represents one of their core values why bother having Green councillors? Brighton’s Green Party shows signs of going into meltdown over this issue anyway, with the resignation of a Councillor in Hanover ward triggering a by-election so their prospects in the next Council elections look pretty grim.

Anyway, the immediate problem is not the poor provision for recycling, but the regular refuse collection. Here’s a typical picture of St James Street (Kemptown):

IMG-20130510-00111

It’s extremely unpleasant to have to walk through or around piles of stinking garbage, but remember that this picture was taken before the official strike has even started! It seems to me that Cityclean workers, who are currently getting paid for not collecting garbage, will, when the strike begins, simply no longer get paid for not collecting the garbage. What this means about the likely duration of strike action remains to be seen.

I continue to hope that a settlement can be reached that averts industrial action, but that hope is fading fast, and so, unfortunately, is the prospect of Brighton having a decent refuse and recycling service in the foreseeable future.

And there’s another point. Councils have a statutory obligation to collect and dispose of domestic refuse. There’s no doubt in my mind that Brighton and Hove County Council is failing to meet that obligation, but what action can an ordinary person take? Answers on a postcard, or through the comments box….

UPDATE: I have invited @gmbcityclean to comment here on the nature of the allowances, but they have declined to do so.

Yes for Wales!

Posted in Bute Park, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by telescoper

Still suffused with a peculiar form of vicarious national pride after last night’s rousing St David’s Day concert in Cardiff – of which I hope to do a review later today – I thought I’d put up a gratuitous picture of the daffodils in Bute Park because they’re one of the two official emblems of Wales.

The other national emblem of Wales is the leek, but I couldn’t find any of them growing in Bute Park. It’s the wrong time of year anyway.

More importantly, tomorrow (Thursday 3rd March) is the date of the Referendum on Welsh Assembly powers. The question is a fairly uninteresting one, actually, and is simply about whether the Welsh Assembly should be allowed to make laws itself – concerning those matters over which it has devolved responsibility – rather than the current system which requires oversight by the House of Commons.

As a matter of fact I’ve got another vote to cast tomorrow, in a Council by-election. My ward is currently controlled by Plaid Cymru, but I will be voting for the Green Party in protest against the over-development of Bute Park.

In the Referendum I’ve decided to vote Yes for Wales, a stance which all the major parties agree on in fact. I’m pretty confident the Yes vote will win, but am concerned by a sense of apathy over this, and the Welsh Assembly elections coming up in May.

I think it’s very sad to compare the courage and determination shown by people across North Africa and in the Middle East protesting for democracy, with the attitude of so many here in a mature democracy who just can’t be bothered to exercise the rights that others struggled so hard to establish for us. If it matters so much to people in Egypt, Algeria and Libya to have the right to vote then it matters here too! Call me old-fashioned, but I think the right to vote is not only a privilege but also a duty.

So whichever side of whatever argument you’re on, and wherever it is you’re voting, please get down to the polling station and put your cross where it counts!


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The Ongoing Saga of Bute Park

Posted in Bute Park, Cardiff, Uncategorized with tags , , on February 22, 2011 by telescoper

Recently a wooden fence appeared around the Council Nursery in Bute Park, clearly erected to hide what’s going on inside from prying eyes. Walking into work the other day I noticed that one of the gates was open so I went and had a look. I was shocked by the scale of the building work I saw inside. Foundations are being laid for an enormous new building, mysteriously entitled the Nursery Education and Training Centre.

There’s a helpful sign on the fence to explain what’s going on:

You probably can’t read the text but, amongst other things, it states that a new wall will be built “along the line of the existing conifer hedge, which will be felled by the Council’s arborists in advance of the construction” (my emphasis). Nasty pesky hedges. Nearly as bad as trees. Get in the way of our nice new brick wall. Get rid of them. Still, at least the brick wall might hide some of the horrors lurking inside…

Apparently

It will allow people an insight into the council’s impressive horticultural operation which supplies the city with its colourful displays of flowers and shrubs. For example, there will be a special area for teaching demonstrations by horticultural staff and large windows situated at the back of the centre will allow people to look out over the working part of the nursery.

The facility will also boast excellent learning assets including a classroom and an IT and archive room which will house a variety of resources on park heritage, natural history and environmental themes.

The centre will be available for hire by community and corporate groups and additional facilities will include a catering kiosk and public toilets.

Excellent. People can go inside and see what plants and trees look like on the internet, rather than actually having to walk around in the outside in the fresh air and see the real thing. Mind you, before long so much of Bute Park will have been covered in tarmac that’s the only way people will be able to see foliage of any sort.

I’ve nothing against the idea of encouraging more people into the Park, but not by ploughing it up and building things in it! Do people really want to go into Bute Park to look at greenhouses rather than simply enjoy its serene natural beauty out in the open?

Even more disturbingly, take a look at the artist’s impression to the right of the map. It shows a path wide enough to be considered a road. There are even pedestrians on it. They’re taking a bit of a risk, as the Council clearly intends this to be used by motor vehicles driving into and out of the Nursery. All the speed limit signs in the park have been removed to allow the new influx of road vehicles to drive around at high speed, so this new path will no doubt be just as dangerous as the rest of the park has become.

But wait a minute. Look where the path goes. It doesn’t stop at the planned new entrance to the Nursery. It carries on towards the River Taff, which is just a few yards away. I wonder why?

Let’s take a look across the River from the Nursery gate:

That’s one of the stands of the SWALEC Stadium (the cricket ground) to the right, and part of the Wales Institute of Sport to the left. In between these two is a road which runs from Sophia Gardens towards the River Taff where it comes to a dead end exactly opposite the new Nursery Road.

Let’s have a sweepstake on when the Council starts building its new bridge…

There’s a Council byelection in my ward next month. There’s only one party standing to have stated its opposition to the rapacious exploitation of this beautiful park, and that’s the Green Party.  They’ve got my vote.