Emergency Greenpeace meeting ends in stand off

 

GREENPEACE Ireland says it has been "inundated" with donations and calls of support since the announcement that its office is to be closed.

But these messages of support and pledges of financial contributions appear to have come too late to save the branch from the fate planned for it by the board of Greenpeace International.

While environmental campaigners attended a conference on Sellafield in Drogheda on Saturday, representatives of Greenpeace Ireland were in an emergency meeting with members of the international body to try to avert the closure.

The extraordinary general meeting, in which views were exchanged frankly, ended inconclusively after five hours.

Both sides have agreed to meet again in a fortnight. In the interim, an uneasy stand off prevails, with officials on both sides refusing to make any public comment which might aggravate the delicate situation.

Greenpeace International decided to close the Irish branch because it failed to become self funding by the end of last year.

This target, set in 1994, applies to all Greenpeace International branches in countries which are members of the Organisation for Economic Co operation and Development (OECD).

Greenpeace International also wants OECD branches to contribute 18 per cent of their profits to it.

Greenpeace Ireland representatives felt the closure decision was harsh because the self funding undertaking, made in 1995, was the reversal of an earlier funding agreement.

Under that arrangement, made in Tunisia in 1994, the international council agreed that Greenpeace Ireland's funding would be phased out until the end of 1996.

The final tranche of funding in this gradual withdrawal was set at £33,000 for 1996.

Greenpeace Ireland says it spent £195,000 in 1996 and the funding shortfall met by Greenpeace International was £28,000, £5,000 less than was agreed in Tunisia.

Greenpeace International says it has paid about £300,000 to Greenpeace Ireland since 1994.

In addition fund raising consultants have evaluated Greenpeace Ireland's work and made recommendations.

In 1995, Greenpeace Ireland's office spent about £200,000, £70,000 of which was used in its environmental campaigns.

Income raised through membership fees and donations was £130,000. The shortfall of £70,000 was met by Greenpeace International.

Greenpeace Ireland spent about £85,000 on wages last year. This covered the salaries of four full time staff, executive director Ms Clare O'Grady Walshe, campaigns director Mr John Bowler, development campaigner Mr Ronan Fox, and a water campaigner who left in mid 1996.

A part time bookkeeper was," also on the staff and consultants were engaged for a variety of activities, including work on the water education campaign pack for schools in the Shannon area.

The current paid staff are Mr Bowler, Ms O'Grady Walshe and the bookkeeper. Mr Fox left at the end of last year. Some consultants are also still working.

Greenpeace Ireland's case, presented at the meeting, is that it can be self funding over the next three years.

Its approach is understood to be to cut its costs and gradually build up its membership through initiatives such as the pilot county support groups in Tipperary and Kildare/Dublin and the Liffey water campaign.

Members in these initiatives had agreed to promote Greenpeace campaigns and carry out fund raising initiatives in their areas.

Greenpeace Ireland halved the size of its office last November. Its three year plan also includes the employment of an administrative assistant to help in campaigning work and increasing the membership.

The international company disagrees with Greenpeace Ireland's projection. It is understood that it maintains it would cost about £200,000 over the next three years to create the kind of organisation in Ireland which it considers viable.

Greenpeace Ireland has had a 42 per cent increase in its membership since 1994, from 3,200 to 4,630. With an annual membership fee of £15, this brings in some £93,000.

One of the group's board of directors estimates that it would need at least 10,000 members to be viable.

Greenpeace International has identified climatic change and the depletion of the rain forests as the two major planetary threats in the next three to five years and in order to deal with these is expanding its base in South America and Asia.