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Andrew Lynch: Minister at bay as political hounds come circling

No wonder John Gormley feels so much sympathy for stags. These days, the Green Party leader is starting to look like a hunted animal himself.

In the same week unemployment soared to a record high, he faces the humiliating prospect of being hauled before the US Ambassador to Ireland -- to explain why he's doing his level best to stop the creation of 600 jobs.

As the legal row over the proposed building of a 600,000-tonne incinerator on the Poolbeg peninsula drags on, it seems the Americans behind the project are running out of patience. US waste disposal company Coventa Energy says it's being routinely questioned by shareholders about the Irish government's refusal to issue a licence that was applied for nearly two years ago. The American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland has added its voice to the chorus of disapproval, warning that this dispute is hurting Ireland's international reputation and could discourage investors at a time when we need their dollars more than ever.

There is no great mystery about why Gormley is fighting tooth and nail to stop the Poolbeg incinerator. It's all about saving one job rather than creating 600 -- namely, his own. With the Greens down to an alarming 2pc in opinion polls, he knows this is his best chance to stop the voters of Dublin South East from dumping him at the next general election.

That's why the Minister for the Environment is apparently willing to spend hundreds of millions of euro on EU environmental fines in what looks like a doomed legal battle. With the project already approved by An Bord Pleanala, the Environmental Protection Agency and even the Department of the Environment itself, Gormley's one-man stand is increasingly starting to look like a classic example of the NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome. Given his obvious conflict of interest, it seems highly unlikely that he can hold out much longer against the various pressure groups lined up against him.

The bigger problem, however, is Gormley's insistence on pursuing a political agenda that seems utterly irrelevant to the lives of most ordinary voters. Economists may insist that the recession is technically over, but that means precious little to the 452,000 people who are desperately looking for work. They have many things to keep them awake at night, but the welfare of stags and greyhounds presumably isn't on the list.

With a week to go before the Dail breaks up for the summer, Gormley seems hell-bent on pushing through as much legislation as possible. While the stag hunting bill has already caused a major rift between the Greens and the rural wing of Fianna Fail, all the indications are that the dog breeding bill will cause even more bad feeling. Other pet projects such as water charges and the election of a Dublin mayor will have to be put on the long finger, for the simple reason that the minister is taking forever to come up with the details.

After Tuesday night's desperately close Dail vote, FF backbench maverick Mattie McGrath accused Gormley of "bullying" his coalition partners. The reality is that the Green Party leader is throwing his weight around because he realises that he's probably in the twilight of his political career. He knows at this stage that he's never going to be Mr Popular -- but he believes that if he can achieve a few symbolic victories on animal welfare, civil partnership and anti-incineration, he and his colleagues will at least have the comfort blanket of looking like martyrs when they're wiped out at the next election.

The US Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, naturally feels this isn't his problem. He's demanded a face-to-face meeting with Gormley, which is due to take place before the end of the month. As the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, this formidable Irish-American knows a thing or two about laying down the law himself.

John Gormley can run, but he can't hide. The political hounds have picked up his scent -- and sooner or later, they're certain to hunt him down.


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