EPA postponed Decision

September 28, 2007 at 9:02 am | Posted in Statements | 3 Comments

Yesterday’s announcement by the EPA that it is further postponing granting a Pollution Control Licence to Shell follows last week’s publication of three new possible pipeline routes for the Corrib gas project. Taken together, these events starkly reveal the dysfunctional nature of the present project.

There could hardly be a clearer example of project-splitting. Approval to operate the proposed refinery is being considered even in the absence of any agreed pipeline to supply the refinery and in the absence of any consent for such a pipeline. 

The project is marred not just by project-splitting. In addition, no proper environmental assessment has been conducted, or can yet be conducted, given that, because no pipeline has been agreed, the features of the overall project are as yet unknown. Therefore, the cumulative impacts cannot, as a matter of logic, be determined. 

Beneath the careful PR manipulation and corporate spinning, the Corrib gas project is now a byword for incompetence and arrogance. In that sense, it fits neatly into, and fully typifies, the general mediocrity and ineptitude of public governance in Ireland.  

Given the refusal of the present Minister for the Marine to initiate a fully independent review of the entire project, the only prospect for a rigorous and detailed examination of the project in its totality now lies with the European Commission. I urge the Commission to intervene as soon as possible to ensure that environmental protection and the rights of citizens are fully upheld.  

Greens neutralised?

August 8, 2007 at 9:41 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

Two recent announcements by Green Party Minister Eamon Ryan give rise for serious concern.

The first were the minor changes he has declared in the taxation regime governing the oil and gas exploration industry. The Minister has proposed a scaled series of taxes on net profits. Given the extraordinary value of fossil fuels these taxes remain relatively low by international standards. There is no reference to royalties, equity share, carbon taxes nor any apparent proposal to ring-fence these taxes for investment in renewable energy systems. Nor are these tax changes to be made retrospective and cover the only gas find we presently have – the Corrib field.

The Minister has also ruled out his own party’s unanimously approved proposal for an Independent Review of the Corrib gas project. The Minister cites the planning permission which the refinery has received as justification for his inability to review the project. He fails to understand the project as an integrated totality. The project does not have all of its required consents – most notably the pipeline consent. Given that, it is Shell’s own choice to proceed with componets of the project. If one element of the consents required fails then the risk and liability are Shell’s alone to bear. In light of an application for a pipeline consent, the Minister is perfectly entitled to review the overall development.

Rather than being ‘neutral’ as the Minister claims, it appears that he and the Greens have been neutralised. Where is the conviction held prior to the election about doing what is right? The Corrib gas conflict has always required political leadership and courage for it to be resolved. If the Greens cannot deliver on policies directly under their control then what is their purpose in government?

Thanks

July 26, 2007 at 10:50 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

I want to record my sincere thanks to all of those who supported my campaign for Seanad Eireann. As a first-time candidate who entered the race in February and with no political party or trade union machine behind me, I am delighted and honoured to have received almost one thousand first preference votes. I want in particular to publicly thank those who allowed their name be used as endorsers of my campaign – Kathy Sinnot MEP, Joe Murray of AFRI, Richard Douthwaite of FEASTA, Lelia Doolan, Dr Jerry Cowley, Davie Philip of the Cultivate Centre, Fr Peter McVerry, Dr Nollaig O Muirile and Donncha O’Connell. 

I ran in order to raise issues that I believe to be of critical importance. These particularly involve the quality of our democracy and our need to reform our economy in the light of peak oil and climate change. We urgently need to bring about a society that is socially and environmentally sustainable.  

I am also deeply concerned about the Corrib gas conflict. This issue should have been resolved years ago and has been allowed to continue because of an appalling lack of political leadership and courage. The people of North Mayo deserve better and I will continue to do all I can to support them. 

Finally, I hope that this NUI Seanad election will be the last one where graduates from all other third level institutions are excluded from voting. The refusal to implement the constitutional amendment expanding the university electorate is symptomatic of our democratic deficit. I look forward to the day when my own students can vote in the same way as students from certain selected universities.

Appeal to Seanad voters – elect a genuine opposition

July 19, 2007 at 10:48 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

Voters in the university panels have just a few days left to vote for true independents who can provide a genuine opposition to the present government / opposition consensus. There is a unique opportunity to make the Seanad relevant as a location where independent and dissenting parliamentary voices can be heard. It is no surprise that the three government parties are so anxious to ensure that candidates supporting them are elected. 

I believe that the Irish people are crying out for intelligent and reasonable leadership that addresses critical issues. They are tired of sound-bites, bluster and clichés. These issues include our democratic deficit, health and crime, our looming energy crisis and, above all, the need to address social and environmental sustainability. The pro-growth, business-as-usual model supported by all political parties is simply not up to meeting the challenges of our times. It is a matter of mounting regret that parties such as the Greens have now become effectively co-opted into supporting this model. 

I accept that the key drivers of social change are social movements. However, for these movements to be most effective and realise their full potential, they need to be allied to parliamentary representatives who can articulate and advance their ideas at parliamentary level. This is simply the lesson of history.  

There is a final opportunity now to elect independent Senators who can challenge the contemporary consensus and seek to address through debate and ideas the intellectual requirement to forge new social, political and economic models. I call on voters to exercise their franchise accordingly. 

Debate about Seanad Reform has become a missed opportunity

July 17, 2007 at 11:28 am | Posted in Statements | 1 Comment

I welcome the commitment made yesterday by Minister John Gormley to undertake a full review of the university registers for Seanad elections. However, Seanad reform needs to go far further than this and must, at the very least, include extending the vote to all graduates of Irish Third Level institutions. 

However, the endless debate about Seanad reform has meant that the main issue of the Seanad election campaign has been the Seanad itself. This is a wasted opportunity to address real issues of importance. Such issues must include significant political and economic reform. We clearly need far greater levels of democracy at local and national level and we need to re-configure our economy towards achieving social and environmental sustainability. We need to recover our concept of the citizen and place citizenship, with the rights and responsibilities that that implies, at the centre of our political and social life. 

In conducting a Seanad campaign, we need to stop talking about ourselves and start talking about the issues. Throughout the country, citizens feel that they cannot meaningfully engage in decisions which directly affect their lives. They have lost the belief that politics is a way of achieving real and substantive change. Vested interests seem to dominant public debate and decision-making. As I have argued throughout this campaign, the difficulties surrounding the Seanad are merely symptomatic of a far deeper democratic deficit and malaise.  

Other infrastructural projects may also be illegal

July 13, 2007 at 9:40 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

The Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, is today meeting with EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas regarding Ireland’s failure to transpose EU Environmental Impact Directives into Irish law. As a result of this failure, questions have arisen about the legality of the Tara M3 road project.  

However, these legal concerns are also relevant to other large infrastructural projects, most notably the Corrib gas project in Mayo. Shell’s proposed re-routing of its production pipeline has meant that the cumulative environmental impact of the project is now unknown. The consequence is that the original Environmental Impact Assessment is inadequate and out-dated. Furthermore, the division of the project into separate components for environmental assessment purposes is contrary to the Directive and is an example of ‘project-splitting’ – also illegal under EU law.  

It is imperative that Irish law be brought into line with the EU Directives immediately and that the government exercises its responsibility in this regard.   

Disappointment at Green Party positions

July 9, 2007 at 3:39 pm | Posted in Statements | 3 Comments

I wish to express my great disappointment at the comments of Trevor Sargent regarding the Seanad election. Mr Sargent has requested Green Party councilors to vote for Fianna Fail party candidates in order that the government can achieve a majority in the new Seanad. This, he says, is to ensure that government legislation will achieve an easier passage through the upper house. 

I believe that these comments reveal a limited understanding of the role and value of the Seanad in our legislative process. In my view, the role of the Seanad is to reflectively review legislation. This is best achieved in a second house of parliament in a non-party political manner. The Seanad should act as a restraint on the Dail by examining Bills outside the heat of party-political controversy. This as a crucial check and balance in our legislative process. I greatly regret that the Greens appear more concerned with the dynamics of power than with ensuring democratic diversity. The Seanad should not be a mere rubber-stamp for government bills.

 I also regret the remarks of Minister Eamon Ryan on RTE’s The Week in Politics. The Minister betrayed a poor understanding of the Corrib gas conflict by assuming that the issue could be resolved by a mere re-routing of a production pipeline. As he well knows, the core issue centers on the method chosen by Shell to process the gas and therefore whether there should be a production pipeline at all within any populated area.  

We need a new Whitaker Plan

July 6, 2007 at 10:03 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

The time has come for a major renewal of our society and economy towards sustainability. In effect, we need a new Whitaker Plan to guide us towards achieving new social, economic and environmental objectives. I believe that there would be great excitement and potential in engaging on a national project like this. But to begin this task what we now need are vision and leadership. 

The reason that we need such a new direction is clear. The age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. This is for at least three reasons. Because of peak oil fossil fuels will become uneconomic. Second, dependence on fossil fuels is becoming a political liability in an unstable world. Finally, our use of fossil fuels is triggering a climate change sequence as yet with unknown consequences.  What all of this means is that ‘business as usual’ is not an option.  

The irony is that a move towards sustainability offers the only viable way to trigger long-term economic growth in this country and greatly improve the quality of our social lives and community. We should commit to a net zero-carbon status within the next twenty to thirty years. To achieve this we will need carbon quotas for each citizen and business, carbon taxes and significant incentives for research and development. We need a serious energy conservation programme. We need a major renewal of our agricultural sector so that can produce more high-quality foods for local sale and crops that can be used for energy and construction purposes. 

The potential is there to make Ireland a world-leader in developing new, sustainable economic and social models. We had the courage and vision in the 1950s to think our way to new solutions. We need the same qualities of leadership today. 

Sustainability is the way forward

July 6, 2007 at 9:21 am | Posted in Statements | 1 Comment

This is the last of the four key issues that I said I would address as part of the Seanad election campaign. My views on democracy, health and crime can be found below.

 Some years ago the debate around the concept of sustainability was still relatively marginal. It was seen largely as an environmental issue. That is no longer the case. Now, sustainability must be addressed as a mainstream economic and social question. 

The reason for this is straightforward. The age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. This is for at least three reasons. First, we are at, or close to, peak oil. This means that the cost of fossil fuels will inexorably rise and these costs will feed back into almost every component of our economy. Therefore, increasingly, fossil fuels will become uneconomic. Second, our reliance on fossil fuels is making us dependent on the political and social situations in countries all over the world and this dependence is drawing the Western powers into ill-advised and unethical military interventions. Therefore, fossil fuels are becoming a political liability. Finally, our use of fossil fuels is triggering a climate change sequence as yet with unknown consequences. For all our well-being, we must move to new energy sources. 

These type of arguments are well addressed in the report of Sir Nicolas Stern in the UK. 

It is clear that ‘business as usual’ is not an option. It is a matter of great concern that we are not having a full debate on this critical issue and that it barely featured during the last election. 

The irony is that a move towards sustainability offers the only viable way to trigger real economic growth in this country and greatly improve the quality of our social lives and community. Here are some specific proposals: 

  • Commit to a net zero-carbon status within the next twenty to thirty years.
  • Introduce a carbon-quota for each citizen which can be traded in an open market model. (For details on how this would work see www.feasta.org)
  • Introduce a carbon quota system for businesses along the same model.
  • Introduce carbon taxes in place of various motor taxes and VAT.
  • Provide incentives for investment in renewable energy systems. These should include significant research and development funding at our Third level institutions.

 There are an immense amount of additional measures required. We need a serious energy conservation programme. We need to greatly improve building standards. We need far greater public transportation networks particularly in rural Ireland. We need a major renewal of our agricultural sector so that can produce more high-quality foods and crops that can be used for energy and construction purposes.  

I believe that there is great excitement and potential in engaging on a national project like this. It would be the equivalent of the famous Whitaker plans of the 1950s. Not only would we build a sustainable economy and recover our environmental well-being, we could renew our societies and social infrastructure. But to begin this task what we now need are vision and leadership.

A new politics is needed

July 2, 2007 at 10:40 am | Posted in Statements | Leave a comment

The University Seanad race is now in full flight. In my campaign, I have tried to speak only on the issues and to do so in a straightforward and forthright manner. I have tried to avoid clichés and the usual serving of platitudes.

 I am standing because I care deeply about certain issues. Primarily, I care about democracy, by which I mean about how citizens can determine the world in which they live. I care about having a civilised society where all people count and are respected. I care about maintaining a rich and diverse environment so that our children can remain fully human and healthy. 

I know that many people in our country are in despair about politics. Politics in Ireland has become a diminished activity where noise and bluster, strokes and cunning, deal-making and favours seem to be the only currency. It’s a politics of ‘dig-outs’, patronage and ritualised pretences of outrage and conviction. 

As a result, we as a people have lost our belief in politics as a moral activity – as a noble endeavour designed to produce a society of decency and dignity. The link between politics and the ‘good life’ is sundered. We are all diminished by its sheer mediocrity and shallowness. 

In my campaign, I have spoken to people from all over the country. Much of what I have heard has been shocking. There are stories that never get heard. I recall in particular a woman still on a waiting list for cancer treatment. Last Friday night, I sat in a community hall in North Mayo with 150 people at a meeting on the Corrib gas project. What did they want? Just to be secure, to be respected, and to be listened to. Last Wednesday night, I heard a woman describe to the EU Parliament Petitions Committee in Galway a horrific story of neglect and ill-treatment from her local authority.  And what sadder symbol of our present condition than the proposal to put a motorway through the Tara complex in Meath. This is an assault not just on a physical feature but on our identity, on our psychic resources as a people, on how we value who we are. We have come to favour 10 minutes less driving time than our own cultural integrity. 

Is it any wonder our despair, our violence, our lost young people? 

We Irish are greater than all of this though. We deserve better because we are better. The politics of greed and the politics of no vision represented at the last election does no justice to who we are and who we might be. We are a generous and warm people who are few in number on a small island. We can make ourselves a great society. I hope that soon there will be a new politics that can allow that vision become reality. 

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