Monday 23 September 2019

Philip Ryan: 'Green surge is a protest vote in peace time'

People are happy to make small changes but might baulk at more costly policies, writes Philip Ryan

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photo: Tom Burke
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

There is an awful lot of excitement about the Green Party. Mostly among people who voted for them or those who are party members.

You couldn't turn on your radio or television yesterday without seeing one of their three European Parliament candidates or the party leader Eamon Ryan discussing their great win. Not a single vote was counted and they were all on prime time shows talking about their plans for the future.

Now, all indicators are showing a good day at the ballot boxes for the Greens, especially in the local elections and in the Dublin constituency where Ciaran Cuffe looks certain to take a seat in the European Parliament.

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It remains to seen be how Grace O'Sullivan will do in Ireland South and Saoirse McHugh will do in Midlands North West.

Either way, both candidates will have received significant votes for their first run at Europe and there is no denying there has been a surge in support for the Green Party

But how long will this last? Were voters overcome by a sudden bout of environmental guilt and decided they now want to save the planet?

Or was it a protest vote in peace time by people who didn't want to vote for Fine Gael or Fianna Fail and couldn't bring themselves to writing the number one beside a Sinn Fein candidate.

The Labour Party has become increasingly irrelevant and no one really knows (themselves included) what the Social Democrats stand for. So voters decided to back the Green Party as their peaceful protest against the establishment.

It will take another election or two to determine if the same voters fully endorse the Green agenda as set out by Ryan and his party members.

Will the almost one in ten (9pc) people who voted Green be happy to pay significantly increased fuel prices?

Will they still rush out to vote with their environmental conscience if taxes on airline tickets are increased to discourage people from flying?

Would they be happy if there were restrictions on beef farming?

Voters certainly did not want to pay water charges despite the obvious environmental benefits of the significant policy change. After years of austerity it was the wrong time to introduce another tax but it was a progressive measure.

But perhaps now when people have a few extra quid in their pockets they would not mind paying for the planet. However, this could all change rapidly if there was a downturn in the economy.

With all the celebrations over the rise in support for the Greens, you would be forgiven for forgetting the threat of a hard Brexit became even more real last week.

Theresa May is gone. Never to be spoken of again. And God knows who will replace her.

It is unlikely to be a politician who will have Ireland's best interest to the fore of their minds. Irish farmers will be low on their agenda, as will hauliers.

Yet these two groups will be significantly impacted by the introduction of carbon taxes on fuel.

Mr Ryan will insist on carbon taxes being written into a programme for government if he is to support either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

He would like carbon taxes paid back as dividends through a cheque, tax credit or social benefit.

Nonetheless, farmers or anyone else who drive a vehicle for a living will be affected. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already felt the brunt of farmers' anger for suggesting he might cut back on meat.

Imagine how the traditional Fine Gael voting farmer would feel if Varadkar were to back a Green campaign to reduce meat consumption which is a policy set out in its European Parliament manifesto.

There are plenty of benefits to voting Green. Investment in transport infrastructure being one. But Green policies are costly and not always palatable to the public. People are happy to make small changes in their own daily lives which will have an impact on the environment.

But asking them to put their hands in their pockets to pay for a better functioning planet could be a step too far.

Green expectations may have to be tempered if they want to keep their political momentum going.

Sunday Independent

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