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Irish Citizens Alliance – Green Party for slow learners? June 23, 2006

Posted by joemomma in Greens, Irish Politics.
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This caught my eye on politics.ie – it seems that Vincent Salafia and TaraWatch plan to form a new "party of protest" to contest seats at the next general election. The proposed name of the party is the Irish Citizens Alliance (or "Irish Citizen's Alliance" although I assume that the Alliance is supposed to represent more than one Irish citizen). The necessity for such a party is established as follows:

The idea for the party stems from the experiences of many citizens and citizen’s groups in recent times, which have been unable to find satisfactory support in either the Government or the Opposition parties. There has been an increased perception that parties are reluctant to offend each other by taking stands on any controversial issues that might exclude them from coalition Government.

All perfectly commendable. If your issues are not being represented by the mainstream parties, then setting up your own party or campaigning group is a logical step, and indeed rather courageous. Veterans of "mass immigration" discussions on politics.ie may wish that some of the participants had the gumption to set up their own party, rather than endlessly whine that the existing parties don't represent their views (not to mention those of the silent majority).

But what are the controversial issues this new party wants to promote? What are the issues the other parties fear to speak of in case it might reduce their chances of getting their feet under the cabinet table? Decriminalisation of heroin? Mandatory medical testing of immigrants? Outlawing the Irish language? Paving over the Shannon?

In fact, the list of issues specified is rather more familiar. It's a bit long, so I will quote selectively:

  • Re-route the M3 away from Tara
  • An end to plans for the Corrib gas pipeline
  • Enforcement of international human rights laws at Irish airports
  • Massive investment in heath and education services
  • Reversal of decentralisation
  • Re-evaluation of privatization of national services, such as transport, health, education, and prison services.
  • Increased public housing and revitalization of first-time buyer scheme.
  • Ban GM agriculture and promotion of organic farming through grant system, with a view to creating an ‘organic island’.

As a discerning reader of Ireland's premier political web log, you will already have identified these as policies held by at least one opposition party, the Greens. The points above would no doubt be phrased a little differently in the Green Party's manifesto, and there are some I haven't quoted which might not be Green Party policy or key Green issues (e.g. "Introduction of statutory provisions to limit waste of public money and overspending on public projects " — sounds nice, but probably something you'd expect Fine Gael to run with in the first instance). However there doesn't appear to be anything you could identify as a fundamental ideological difference between the putative Citizens Alliance and the Green Party.

Given that the agenda they seek to push already forms part of the policy programme of an established political party, why do Salafia and his "citizens groups" not just throw their lot in with the Greens? It's not uncommon to come across individuals or groups who share the environmental agenda of the Greens, but can't bring themselves to join that party, usually because they find themselves to the right of the Greens on non-environmental issues. Colm Mac Eochaidh, for example, is a committed environmentalist and yet remains in Fine Gael, a party whose environmental policy is specifically designed to face in every possible direction at once. On RTÉ's Questions and Answers some years back he stated that this was because he didn't agree with the Green Party's economic policies. Kathy Sinnott recently set about creating an "Irish Environmental Forum" to unite groups campaigning on environmental issues. Sinnott is a bit of an enigma, but leaving aside questions of political ambition, I suspect that she does not share the Green Party's social liberalism.

However Salafia's group does not appear to be another bunch of "conservative Greens" — they call for "re-evaluation of privatization of national services, such as transport, health, education, and prison services" and "increased public housing," so you could probably say they are on the soft left. It seems that the issue that divides them from the established Green Party is the latter's apparent willingness to join a coalition government:

Well, naturally, the Green Party would approve of a lot of what we are talking about. But the Green party will have to go into coalition with Fine Gael and Labour – or someother concoction. What will happen to these issues then, is the question.

We will not go into coalition. We will put forward a clear, solid, concrete set of proposals as our platform. If we are elected, we will implement them.

So it's political naiveté then. The author (who I'll assume is Salafia) seems genuinely convinced that his policies are "clearly favored by the majority of people in Ireland", and that this majority, if given the choice, will sweep away the established system of political parties in favour of this new option. To date the Green Party has only managed to attract an 8% level of support for remarkably similar policies, and Salafia doesn't provide any material reason why his new party should fare any better.

There is the possibility that Salafia has it in for the Greens for some reason, or that his party is intended as a ginger group to force the Greens to come out more strongly on the issues in his programme. The Green Party's perceived move into the mainstream has certainly produced a number of disaffected Greens who were happier on the further margins. However I lean towards the interpretation that Salafia genuinely believes that his initiative is new and different enough to attract a level of support exponentially larger than has been given to the party promoting these issues in the past.

He's wrong, of course, but in a sense he is starting out on the same journey of discovery that the Greens have been undertaking over the past 25 years. No doubt the founders of the Greens at one point believed that the policies and ideas they were trying to promote were so "common-sense" (a phrase used by Salafia) that they merely had to be put before the electorate to gain the nation's sweeping endorsement. Other Greens would have been of the opinion that sullying themselves in the murky business of electoral politics at all represented a compromise, and that the movement should remain one purely dedicated to campaigning and protest.

The bulk of the Green movement moved beyond the latter viewpoint fairly early on, and it appears Salafia has also ditched this false notion of the purity of non-electoral politics. However he has yet to learn the hard lessons endured by idealistic Greens over the course of several false dawns and repeated crushing electoral defeats at the hands of parties we all assumed had sacrificed the trust of the Irish electorate. It takes a lot more to get elected than idealism, bright ideas and faith in the electorate's better nature. It is also a mistake to overestimate the public's appetite for change.

Am I just being a big old cynic? Yes, I am a big old cynic. However, I'm not trying to suggest that Salafia's idealism is misplaced. I don't believe that the 8% or so of the Irish electorate who have been convinced to support the Green Party's message represents a limit for the growth of this movement. The issues the party highlights move further into the mainstream every day, and the perceived objections which prevent certain environmentally-minded voters from supporting the party get fuzzier also. I don't expect the Greens will ever be the mass national movement Salafia hopes to build (two seats in every constituency!), but I do believe it will build a more substantial wedge to push the Green philosophy towards the top of the national agenda.

And in case any readers are still wondering (or, indeed, still reading), yes as well as being a cynic I am also a Green.

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Comments»

1. damianob - June 23, 2006

I think I would be far more cynical than you about the proposed ICA (unfortunate acronym). When I read the original post on politics.ie my overwhleming reaction was more despair than anything else. Yet another fringe group on the left, with nothing particularly different or original to say, further fragmenting the progressive vote.

This I think is the bigger issue: While the (mainstream) right is happy to paper over their differences and work together in the pursuit of power, the left tends towards greater ideological purity. And the subsequent fragmentation hands the upper hand to the right.

Given that there appear to be no distinctive policy differences with the existing parties, what’s driving the founders? Is it simply that they don’t want to have to work their way up through the party ranks? Are they not really team players? Is it really about ego rather than environmentalism?

2. Siobhan Rice - July 11, 2006

TARAWATCH STATEMENT

http:.www.tarawatch.org

Saturday, 8 July 2006

TaraWatch, the group campaigning to save the Tara archaeological complex, has made a decision shelve plans to join other protesting groups in setting up a political to run in the 2007 general election, after a strong show of support from Opposition parties.

The idea of forming a new party was mooted at a TaraWatch protest outside Leinster House on Thursday by Vincent Salafia, who stated that TaraWatch was considering doing so, if the mainstream parties did not make Tara an election issue. However, he also stated that it was still preferable that the mainstream parties would take this issue clearly on board from the upcoming election.

Ciaran Cuffe TD of the Green Party said at the demonstration:

“Carving a motorway through the Tara landscape would be an act of sacrilege. The Green Party believes that safety improvements on the existing road would be a better option”.

Shortly after the protest, Sinn Fein TD Senn Crowe issued a strongly word press release in which he stated:

“The Tara/Skryne valley is part of our heritage, part of our history and part of what we are and plans for its destruction are nothing less than Government sponsored vandalism.

“Sinn Fein will continue to oppose the routing of the M3 through the Tara/Skryne valley and will take that opposition down every avenue remaining open to us.”

TaraWatch received news the Labour Party MEP Proinsias de Rossa will meet the EU Petitions Committee on Monday 10th of July, and that Tara and the M3 motorway is on the agenda.

Also present at the protest were Tony Gregory TD and Senator David Norris, who have offered their full support.

TaraWatch Political Affairs Officer, Siobhan Rice said:

“We are delighted to see this clear showing of support and look forward to engaging the in meaningful, constructive discussions Opposition parties, including Fine Gael, over the summer. We hope to find a solution that can best to protect our heritage and deliver badly needed relief for the commuters of Meath.”

“Mr Salafia has indicated that he may be willing to withdraw his Supreme Court Appeal if the matter is handed over to consultants for an independent third party assessment, which could be performed in a few short months.

“While the option still remains open to form a party, we are optimistic that we can work with existing parties to find a solution.

ENDS

==
Irish Examiner
06/07/2006 – 11:45:01 AM

Tara protesters may contest next election
http://www.irishexaminer.com/breaking/story.asp?j=27717040&p=z77y7y44&n=27717224&x=

Campaigners blocking the M3 motorway near Tara in Co Meath may form a political protest party to run at the next general election, it emerged today.

The High Court ruled in March that the route did not impinge on the ancient Hill of Tara site but TaraWatch is currently appealing this decision to the Supreme Court.

TaraWatch supporters today held a demonstration outside the Dáil to protest at the passage of the Strategic Infrastructure Bill through parliament on Tuesday.

TaraWatch spokesman Vincent Salafia, who already faces a €600,000 bill over failed legal challenges, vowed to form a political party to fight the issue at the next general election.

“If the mainstream political parties don’t bite on the issue, then we will have to form our own political grouping,” said Mr Salafia.

“There is a lot of support for our campaign on the ground and there will be a lot of votes on the doorsteps come general election time.

“We believe that 70% of people want the M3 rerouted away from Tara but the Government isn’t listening to them.”

“If we cannot stop the motorway in the courts, we will try to stop it in the Dáil.”

TDs Tony Gregory (Independent), Sean Crowe (Sinn Féin) and Ciaran Cuffe (Green Party) attended today’s demonstration, which was themed ’For the Children.’

Deputy Crowe said: “The Tara/Skryne valley is part of our heritage, part of our history and part of what we are and plans for its destruction are nothing less than government-sponsored vandalism.

“The case has been made time and again by those campaigning against the proposed route of the M3 that there are viable and realistic alternatives where both infrastructure and heritage can be accommodated. Sinn Féin is calling for the M3 to be constructed on that viable, alternative route.

“We are also calling for the Tara/Skryne to be developed as a sustainable tourist site. What people don’t realize is that approximately 100,000 people visit the site annually at present.

“The financial prospects for the County, if the site is developed as a tourist attraction, are colossal.”

Mr Salafia added: “The Government has worked hard at avoiding, rather than finding a solution to the problem of their own creation.

“This issue is a test for Opposition parties to show that they have vision and can solve problems.”

Mr Salafia claimed the successful passage through the Dáil of the Strategic Infrastructure Bill, which fast-tracks major infrastructure projects, will limit the ability of citizens to challenge planning decisions in court.

“The Government and its developer cronies are wrecking our children’s environment and cultural inheritance. They are also stripping away their legal and civil rights to object.

A candle-lit walk will be held later this month along the route of the motorway from Rathnew to Tara.

TaraWatch is also currently compiling an album of songs to raise funds and promote awareness of the campaign.

Entitled ‘Tara of the Kings’, it will feature musicians Paddy Casey and Ronan O Snodaigh.

The title track is taken from a poem written by Co Armagh poet Paul Muldoon.

3. joemomma - July 11, 2006

Thanks for posting that statement here. Nice to know that my little contribution didn’t go unnoticed – if you have any specific comments please feel free to add them.

4. muireann ni bhrolchain - March 22, 2007

Campaign to Save Tara – official grouping
http://www.savetara.com
Wild Irish roads
Four-lane motorways on the emerald island are paving over a rich
heritage.
By Colum McCann, March 17, 2007

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-oe-mccann17mar17,1,1912368.\
story?coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=1&cset=true

IN HIS EXTRAORDINARY examination of landscape, history, texture and
storytelling, “Connemara: Listening to the Wind,” the author Tim
Robinson says that “right living in a place entails a neighborly
acquaintance with those who lived there in previous times.” What
Robinson suggests is that whoever we are now is derived from those who
went before us — their stories, their architecture, their failings,
their journeys, the roads they took. Things connect, and in those
connections lies a certain mystery.

There is a massive ongoing debate in Ireland about a motorway destined
to destroy one of the richest archeological landscapes in Europe. The
expanded route for the M3 motorway goes through the heart of the Gabhra
Valley, between the hills of Tara and Skryne. Legend records that St.
Patrick set ablaze his Pascal fire on the Hill of Slane, just as the
pagan fire was to be lighted on Tara. Successive Irish kings were
crowned there. History lies deep. In a week when Irish politicians come
to America bearing bowls of shamrock, it’s interesting to ponder that
they’re going back to dreams of concrete.

The proposed road is a four-lane tollway, the sort that Ireland has
grown fond of in recent times. Cultural and environmental activists
predict that the motorway will inevitably be followed by all kinds of
commercial and ancillary development. Much of the Emerald Isle is
key-chained with crossovers, flyovers and high steel bridges these
days.

“Future tourists are sure to be confused by what they encounter in
County Meath and indeed throughout the country,” says Muireann Ni
Bhrolchain of the Campaign to Save Tara, a newly formed umbrella group
for the dozens of opposition groups. “Rampant development throughout
the country, much of it facilitated by corrupt officials, has been a
byproduct of Ireland’s breakneck economic expansion over the last
decade.”

Roads touch our lives in more intimate ways too. Recently I was reading
a book about the Irish high kings to my 8-year-old son, John Michael.
He loved the Stone of Destiny, the ancient coronation stone, and was
fascinated by the notion that the stone would roar when touched by the
true king.

“Did it shout?” he asked. I said I had no idea, but I imagined so.

“Good,” he said, and then asked: “Have you ever been there?” Many
times, I told him, even once when I was his age. His eyes lighted up,
as young eyes do at the wonder that their fathers had ever been the
same age as them.

“Did you ever hear it roaring?” he asked. I said I hadn’t, but I bet it
would for him.

Just a few hours later I received a series of photographs showing that
work on the M3 had already begun. Trees were being ripped up in and
around the Gabhra Valley, which happens also to be the site of the
proposed interchange at Blundelstone, near the heart of the matter. It
seemed that the Irish National Roads Authority and the Meath County
Council were trying to get a jump on construction so that the proposed
rerouting of the motorway could not take place.

So be it, perhaps. Roads find their places. Ireland is changing.
Perhaps we should just let it change.

But then the question is, what sort of Ireland might remain?

The area of highest contention is about two miles of the Tara-Skryne
valley. Few people dispute the wider issue of the need for a better
road. Defenders point out that the motorway is about three-quarters of
a mile from the Hill of Tara. It will take 30 minutes off the journey
between Dublin and Cavan. Some even claim, amazingly, that it will
restore tranquillity to the area. There is even an argument that the
road and its floodlights will become part of the archeology of the
future. Hallelujah, the future says. A four-lane highway. Another Stone
of Destiny.

But we bury the past only if we’re ashamed of it. We have a
responsibility to heritage, environment and, indeed, imagination. Yet
most meaningful Irish debates these days seem to take place only in the
realm of time and money. Half-hours are crucial to the economics of the
future. Those who oppose these notions are labeled contrary, dreamy,
populist. Even when viable alternate routes are proposed, the
proponents are labeled simplistic. But nothing is simple, not even
simplification.

As an Irish novelist living in New York, I’ve been told that I should
keep my “bourgeois,” “emigrant” and “sentimental” nose out of the
debate. It is not my story. It is not my road.

But the road here has gone back an awful long way. If we are not to be
ashamed in the future, we must take whatever care we can of our past.
In a strange, naive way, I think my son, here in New York, might
understand this too.

These are our roaring stones — and sometimes they take root in the most
unlikely places.

5. smiffy - March 22, 2007

You know, it would be nice if you didn’t spam our site with your statements. It’s quite rude.

6. Vincent Salafia - September 10, 2008

Hello joemamma,

Well, here we are 2 years later, and look at the mess the Greens have gotten themselves into. Maybe we have been slow learners, but I think there is now more of a need and opportunity than ever for a new political party. Say what you like but the Greens will support Transport 21 cuts to public transport and let the roadbuilding carry on as planned…then tax and toll the hell out of people for using them.

Cheers,

Vincent

Tara Group Smoke Out Greens

The Irish Sun – Tuesday, September 9, 2008

DEMONSTRATORS Siobhan Rice, Vincent Salafia and Colm MacNiallais, of the Save Tara Campaign don fat cat suits and smoke cigars to protest at Green Party headquarters in Dublin yesterday. They say the land for road construction at Tara highlights the Greens ’sell-out’ since entering government with Fianna Fail. The fuming trio also slammed the party’s failure to deliver on their pre-election promises. A recent carbon tax call by the Greens as well as their support for budget cuts in spending on public transport, such as the Metro and the Western rail link were raised by protestors.

TaraWatch Acts the Fuel

Irish Daily Mirror – Tuesday, September 9, 2008

TARAWATCH campaigners fire themselves up as they took their campaign to the Green Party HQ yesterday. Siobhan Rice, Vincent Salafia and Colm MacNiallais, members of the anti-M3 motorway group, in County Meath, hand out bags of coal to the public in Dublin. The protest was in response to the Green calls for carbon taxes and cuts on public transport spending.

7. joemomma - September 13, 2008

Hi Vincent! What’s your estimation on how quickly your new party can get themselves into an overall majority position in order to stop the M3?

I’m not going to cheerlead for the Greens in government, but I have to say I think my post above is more valid than ever. You might have noticed that in the intervening period we had a general election in which 70% of the electorate voted for the M3-supporting parties. The idea that the Irish Citizens Alliance were going to sweep these parties aside through sheer righteousness seems even more naive now than it did then. Sorry.

8. Vincent - November 30, 2008

If the Greens weren’t there, there wouldn’t be a Government, So I have to say you are cheerleading.

The Greens only got 6% of the vote, so us getting support from 30% wasn’t bad, which I think we could easily have gotten at the polls too. And we wouldn’t have sold out everyone who voted for us, like the Greens did, once we got into Government.

So, we definitely made a big mistake by not launching the party, and asking people to vote Green instead.


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