As a young Green activist, I will be voting no for the proposed Programme for Government in the South, as I do not believe it ensures a fair future for the environmental movement and the young people that so desperately rely on it. I joined the Green Party in Northern Ireland when I was 17, because for me it was the only party that represented my values of social justice and sustainability. I do not believe that these values are represented in the Programme for Government.
For those who believe this is a one-off opportunity and we can’t do any better: we can do so much better than a deeply conservative document which will do nothing to alleviate the daily struggles of many people in Irish society. This document is austerity focused economically and is full of regressive taxes such as a system of carbon tax which centres the burden of the reduction of carbon emissions on the individual, rather than deeper issues with the existing economic system. The Programme for Government outlines how they wish to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 7% each year and reach a net zero target of 2050. However, most of the reduction is targeted for 2025 to 2030, when the government would be finished. I believe that this is unambitious because, last year, Ireland was shown to have the third highest emissions of greenhouse gas in the EU and as a rich western nation, it should be far more ambitious and targeting a net zero before 2050.
The carbon tax proposed by the Greens was the ‘tax and dividend’ model which redistributed the tax equally among citizens - which was a net benefit to those on lower incomes and targeted those on bigger incomes with bigger houses and multiple cars. However, instead they opted for the 'hypothecated' model which doesn’t redistribute - and therefore punishes the less well off. This is one of a number of taxes which are envisaged to service Ireland's deficit. This programme is a cosmetically green document but it is not going to make a significant enough dent into climate action to make it worth the pain it will cause. In essence, it is not a 'Just Transition.'
The 2020 election was powered by the issue of housing and homelessness; however, this Programme for Government does not address the seriousness of the housing crisis. This is reflected in Fine Gael's continued emphasis on adopting privatisation towards alleviating this crisis. For instance, the Programme for Government aims to progress legislation on the Land Development Agency without safeguards of affordability and ownership. This will see the large-scale transfer of public land for big profits to private developers. Neasa Hourigan TD stated that the Programme for Government “doesn’t do enough for the people on the margins of society.” Those people on the margins, in precarious jobs and young people who struggle to pay rent no matter how hard they work, are all going to be hugely affected by this programme.
The document outlines that there will be on average around 10,000 social houses built annually - a number far too low to address the continued housing crisis. There are approximately 79,000 people on a waiting list for social housing and they are expecting the Private Rent Sector to pick up most of these which is where the problem lies. The Programme for Government fails to set targets for the provisions of public housing on public land. It also fails to propose strategy on affordable building on public land that would cap developer profits and alleviate the housing crisis and fails to agree on any rent control model or an end to eviction based on sale.
Whoever is in government next, they are going to be faced with the challenges of trying to recover from Covid-19. I fear that with this austerity driven document, it will undoubtedly make cuts to some of the false promises within the document that the Greens may have bought into too. This undermines the credibility of the progressive aspects of the Programme for Government and leads to an unjust recovery.
For me, as a Green representative, voter and activist, I worry about the consequences that the party will face if the Programme for Government passes amongst membership and the execution of the document fails. I do not trust Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to deliver on the promises of progressive policies that is indicated in the vagueness of the language in the Programme for Government, which is often non-committal and is more centred on aspiration. I believe we are being used solely to help prop up a right-wing government. And for what? A few gains in environment, infrastructure and transport. Are these issues worth the loss over housing and protecting the vulnerable and young people in Irish society? There is a serious risk of turning the general public against the climate movement if they associate it with a higher cost of living, further homelessness and continued tax breaks for corporations. This government won’t be the Greens and Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael, it’s a collective government where responsibility lies with those three parties collectively. However, when things go wrong, the Greens will be held responsible - particularly if the two major parties wish to divert blame for tax rises and further inequality.
Furthermore, the Greens will have to stand over the implications of the EU's controversial Mercosur trade deal. The Programme for Government only states to carry out an 'economic and sustainability assessment' - not challenge it. It’s very weak language from both environmentalists and those who claim to be pro-farming which accounts for all three parties. The Mercosur deal risks flooding the EU with beef imported from Brazil - a further blow to Ireland's beef industry. Meanwhile the Amazon rainforest continues to burn, opening up future grazing land for cattle and therefore more beef to export. The Amazon is one of the world’s most important carbon sinks as it absorbs a lot of atmospheric CO2 and is crucial in the mitigation of climate change. It is both an environmental disaster and a major blow to agriculture. The consequences of this deal continuing in its current form are dire and will be overseen by the Green Party in Government.
As Clare Bailey stated “the principal of climate justice being social justice is not reflected in the deal.” For me, it is clear that you cannot have climate justice, without social justice, the two are inextricably linked.
Emma is a 21 year old Northern Irish intersectional feminist from Crossgar. She will be starting Queens in September to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Her interests include reproductive rights, climate justice and integrated education. She is an aspiring politician, Green Party Representative and a human rights advocate. She is writing in a personal capacity.