Saturday 19 October 2019

Jody Corcoran: 'Landslide victory a clarion call: climate action is cause of the age'

The resurgent Greens deserve a shot at power, and the old guard must rise to a real challenge

'More than that, in these elections, European and local, the people spoke not with concern, but alarm, not just for the environment, but for the future of humanity itself.'
'More than that, in these elections, European and local, the people spoke not with concern, but alarm, not just for the environment, but for the future of humanity itself.'
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Sometimes the message delivered in an election is so overwhelming as to defy contradiction. This was such an election. The temptation can be to look beyond the obvious for evidence of something else. There will be such evidence in the numbers behind this election when eventually it falls out, and we will look at that here too - what next for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail? - although it has yet to fully unfold. Seldom is an election about a single issue.

The message of these European and local elections is so convincing, though, that to attempt to dilute it upfront with evidence of something else would be to do it an injustice; to lace it with the narrative of the humdrum, with doubt or scepticism, or cynicism, as to its solidity and what will undoubtedly prove to be its endurance, would be as futile as it would be unfair, an outrage, in fact.

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In these elections, environmental politics went mainstream. We should not be surprised. All around, people told us and we told them - friends, family and neighbours - of our concern in the ordinary talk of the week. Did you see such and such a report by those scientists?; David Attenborough is a great man; Trump the denier; Leo's steak dinners; plastics in the sea; put that in the recycle bin; did you put the green bin out?; Dad, I think I will go vegan; species extinction; fair play to those school kids; we should get an electric car; Ophelia; the Beast from the East; Brennan's bread. These are what have become our national conversations.

More than that, in these elections, European and local, the people spoke not with concern, but alarm, not just for the environment, but for the future of humanity itself. That may seem idealistic, but to deny it only makes you the fool. It is so vast, this issue, and so urgent, that it is difficult to get your head around. We are all environmentalists now. The surprise will be if we are not in the midst of a global political moment, more relevant than populism, and more necessary too, although the deniers and agitators will not have gone away either.

For so long the butt of most established political parties' humour - "you're playing senior hurling now, lads" - tiresome jokes about lentils, sandals and bicycles, the Green Party, the green movement, here are, rightly, the main, indeed only beneficiary of the most salient question of the political age. Where were you when they destroyed the world?

Watch now as Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and others scramble aboard the environmental bandwagon. People may become cynical about that, but they should not. For this was not just a message of support for the Greens, or the green movement, but a clarion call to the entire body politic. Take our alarm seriously. Take this issue on. And the body politic will ignore that message at their peril. They won't. If anything, the Greens will welcome them to it, such is its urgency.

Already it is being said that the Greens were here before, in 1994 when Nuala Ahern and Patricia McKenna surprisingly won seats in Leinster and Dublin, and then fell away again. Indeed, Roger Garland, the environmentalist and activist, was the first Green TD to be elected to the Dail, in Dublin South from 1989 to 1992; then there was Trevor Sargent, John Gormley and others. Eamon Ryan kept the flame fanned. They came, they went, but the green movement never died.

This time it is different. It was not just Green supporters who voted Green this time, and not just the Greens hoovering up casually cast second, third and lower preferences - shur, why not? - to help them scrape home.

This was a Green landslide, ushered in by those people who have had such conversations up, down and all around the country, at a guess, since November 2017, when 15,364 scientists worldwide signed a World Scientists' Warning to Humanity report, co-authored by seven among them.

Among other things, it called for limiting population growth and drastically diminishing consumption of fossil fuels, meat and other resources; and was followed by other reports, including most recently, one which made a clarion call for systemic change so that humanity might avert "societal collapse" within the next decade or two, due to accelerating climate change and levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

And this report was followed by another even more recently and equally authoritative, which warned that we are currently in what is called the Holocene extinction, or the Sixth extinction, two such others which - to remind you - related to the Ice Age, and again when an asteroid hit Earth around about present- day India and wiped out the dinosaurs.

The current extinction, which has given rise to a rebellion on the streets, relates to the ongoing wiping out of numerous families of plants and animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods - the human race itself at risk - all caused by the widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforests, as well as other areas, the vast majority thought to be undocumented.

This is the background then to the Green Party landslide this weekend, a debate rooted in sustainable living and production, housing, transport, energy, all of those issues which touch our everyday lives.

The result of these elections will put paid for a while to loose talk of an imminent general election, although the makings of a stable national government can be divined in the fallout. It may well spell the end of 'new' politics in the form of a confidence and supply deal, but within it can be seen an emerging new form of government which would be genuinely rainbow in colour, such now is the onward fragmentation of Irish politics.

The first contest will be to know who wins out between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail at local level, with the short odds on the latter. Fianna Fail will be buoyed by a fair recovery in Dublin and a double-down at local level around the country, aware that its lack of big names - a consequence of near meltdown in 2011 - sees it continue to fail to deliver in elections to Europe. For Fine Gael, the opposite is more accurate, though not uniformly the case. When the votes are eventually counted, though, Leo Varadkar will be most concerned. We predicted a crisis for the party. It may not be a crisis, but will be a blow for its leader. In a way, the farce over Leo's steak dinners - veganism vs beef farming, urban vs rural - sums up the conundrum for Fine Gael. How to be all things to everybody? It can not be; well, certainly not at a starting point significantly to the right of centre.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Greens, the Social Democrats and, yes, Labour too will make at least half the colours of that new rainbow, along with Independents, with either the green of Fianna Fail or the blue of Fine Gael to make up the other half.

An alternative, and one of attraction to whichever of the two emerges the stronger in a general election, might be a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. While the trend continues to point in that direction, perhaps in a decade or two hence, such a coalition would be to deny the Greens, and the green movement, the mandate to govern it will now surely win.

And in all of this, what will become of Sinn Fein? Already, and again, it looks to be left behind. Mary Lou McDonald has never looked more dated, the party she leads never more irrelevant. She is in real crisis.

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