Greens take shot at NRA militants

 

Dail Sketch: Just as unionists speak of "Sinn Féin/IRA" as a single entity, so environmentalists see the Government and the National Roads Authority as two sides of one coin.

It was no surprise, therefore, when the Green Party launched a scathing attack yesterday on what it called "the Fianna Fáil/NRA organisation".

Or when Trevor Sargent urged the Taoiseach to "decom- mission" the road-building wing of his movement "and reintegrate it into normal society".

The Greens disagree with what they see as the NRA's pursuit of an all-tarmac republic. But their latest attack was the proposed upgrading of the M50 and its escalating cost. The proposed bill has been dramatic- ally upgraded in the past year, from €316 million to €590 million, to the latest estimate of €807 million.

Describing the NRA as "social welfare for engineers", Mr Sargent called on its army council to disband in favour of a new national transport authority.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, promised no Christmas ceasefire on road- building. Nor - on a separate question - did he foresee any let-up in the Government's "love-bombing" of certain Independent TDs.

When the Opposition raised this issue, Mr Ahern admitted maintaining special relations with three supporters of the last government: deputies Fox, Healy-Rae and Blaney.

Although the votes are no longer required, their accumulated customer loyalty points entitle them to continued briefings from an official of the Taoiseach's office.

Trevor Sargent asked if the "love-bombing raids" were as discriminate as the Taoiseach claimed, given reports that deputies James Breen and Finian McGrath have also suffered collateral damage.

Mr Ahern spoke of his unrequited ardour for another Independent. "I've been working particularly hard on Deputy Joe Higgins," he joked. To which Labour's Kathleen Lynch reminded him: "You even went so far as to join his party."

Elsewhere, Mr Ahern suffered a two-pronged attack over pension deductions from patients in public care. Fine Gael's Enda Kenny had "serious reservations" about the legislation to be rushed through today giving the practice retrospective licence.

Although he spoke of how his own party was "pilloried for 50 years about a decision [ by Ernest Blythe] in regard to old-age pensions", he stopped well short of suggesting patients should be repaid in full.

Labour's Pat Rabbitte didn't go much further, even though he asked how banks could be forced to compensate overcharged customers in full when the Government offered its own overcharged victims a €2,000 "goodwill" payment.

Despite the season, goodwill was again scarce, except during the debate on Northern Ireland. The position of the talks at the point they stalled was restated.

However, as major upgrading of the path to peace continues, not even the Greens could question the project's worth.