independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Ethical minister hoist with own petard

TREVOR Sargent's favourite memory of Charlie Haughey came at the count for the 1989 European elections.

Running in his third election -- local, Dail and then European -- Mr Sargent lost again. After chalking up a respectable 37,317 votes, Mr Haughey sauntered over to congratulate him and announced: "I'm a bit of a green myself."

Mr Haughey was referring to his management of the Kinsealy estate, rather than his principles, which were completely at odds with what Mr Sargent stood for.

Twenty years later and Mr Sargent has done a great deal to raise ethical and moral standards in Irish politics -- but was ultimately hoist with his own petard.

Following those false starts by the young Mr Sargent in the 1980s, he was elected to Dublin City Council in 1991 and was elected to the Dail in the Dublin North constituency in 1992 to plough a lonely furrow as the Greens' only TD at the time.

During the early stages of his political career, he established a reputation for high standards and highlighting the links between developers and councillors.

His finest hour came at a council meeting when he produced a £100 cheque he had received from a developer to support a rezoning motion.

Turning to his council colleagues, he asked how many other councillors had received one as well, and was promptly shouted down and put in a headlock. Needless to say, the bulk of the furore and the alleged assailant came from Fianna Fail -- who would eventually become Mr Sargent's partners in government.

Mr Sargent worked hard at constituency level and also in the Dail, where he was joined in 1997 by John Gormley.

Mr Sargent became the first leader of the Greens in 2001, when the party finally gave up their hang-up about collective leadership.

The party made the breakthrough to take six TDs to the Dail after the 2002 general election, largely on the back of Fine Gael losses.

In the run up to the 2007 general election, Mr Sargent vowed not to lead his party into government with Fianna Fail.

He continued to raise questions about then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's personal finances, even when his opposition counterparts decided it was no longer politically opportune to do so.

The post-election arithmetic saw Mr Ahern approach the Greens to join a multi-coloured coalition with Fianna Fail, the PDs and independents.



Promise

After examining their consciences, the Greens voted to enter government and Mr Sargent stuck to his promise and stood down as leader to be replaced by Mr Gormley.

In doing so, he not only gave up the leadership of his party, but also a cabinet position.

His lifelong interest in organic farming and horticulture saw him appointed as junior minister for agriculture, with responsibility for food and horticulture.

Dubbed the Minister for Vegetables, he famously put out a press release on budget day telling housewives how to cook sprouts at Christmas.

He was regarded as a diligent minister with a keen interest and aptitude for his portfolio. He was also a close adviser of Green ministers Mr Gormley and Eamon Ryan.

The 49-year-old TD is a fluent Irish speaker and at one stage said he was going to speak in Irish at all times in the Dail -- a habit which lasted a few months.

A former national school principal, he is a practising member of the Church of Ireland and lives in Balbriggan.

He is separated from his wife, Heidi Bedell, a Green Party activist and former councillor. He has openly admitted his commitment to politics played a role in the break-up.

Irish Independent

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