John Gormley's keynote speech

 

An edited version of John Gormley's speech to Green Party delegates at the party's annual convention in Waterford last night.

Friends, It’s great to be in Waterford at our first ever Convention in this historic and beautiful city, and my thanks to the Waterford Greens and to the Conference team for their hard work in organising this evening’s event.

We are being joined this evening by many thousands of viewers during Earth Hour, a global event to celebrate and highlight the importance of climate change. To mark this event, the organisers of Earth Hour have asked us to dim the lights to publicise the event. We ask you at home to switch off any un-necessary lights at home.

Climate change, as we know, is the biggest challenge facing humanity and, as Minister for the Environment, I left the Copenhagen Summit with a sense of disappointment, but also with a reinforced sense that, in politics, change happens incrementally.

And yet, right now, just over the half-way stage in Government, having achieved so much, we are on the cusp of achieving a lot more.

It requires patience, diligence and resilience – and we Greens have shown that we have those qualities. Government isn’t for the faint-hearted. Yes, it’s an enormous privilege, but it’s also tough and gruelling, and you get results. And sometimes I am asked: “If you knew then what you know now, if you knew that the recession was going to be as tough, would you have done it? Would you have taken that fateful decision in the Mansion House to enter Government?”. And my answer is clear: “yes, yes, yes”.

Governing during the good times can be challenging. But governing during the greatest economic that this country has ever seen, tests your mettle. We have stood solid and we have taken the blows, and suffered electoral reverses last June. We lost many great, loyal councillors. They lost, not because they were poor performers, but because they were in a Government party when it certainly was not popular to be in Government. But their loss is also the loss of the communities. People are beginning to realise that, without the Greens on the local councils, that planning problems have raised their ugly heads again.

Let me be very blunt on this point. There are councillors up and down this country who know that the new Planning Bill currently going through the Houses of the Oireachtas will mean that the sort of unfettered and irresponsible rezonings that took place previously, must now come to an end. And they are trying in a last ditch effort to get through their irresponsible zoning proposals.

The Labour Party councillors have behaved, for the most part, responsibly – but not so Fine Gael councillors. Fine Gael is still receiving contributions from the developers, still rezoning, and still has not woken up to the new reality. They still believe that this sort of mad over-zoning stimulates the economy. Well, it doesn’t. It is disgraceful and it is time that Enda took these guys to task and told them that enough is enough.

The Green Party, I am proud to say, identified education as fundamental to our progress as a learning and innovative society. Our aim was to protect education spending, to protect class sizes, to restore the book grant for the disadvantaged, to ensure access to university and, my friends, we succeeded. On the day we agreed the renewed Programme for Government in the RDS, I paid tribute to the work of the Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Education – and this evening I would like to do so again. Paul Gogarty’s knowledge of and dedication to the education system was the driver towards that successful outcome and this evening the Green Party would like to thank him for his contribution.

Without the necessary investment in education, there can be no knowledge or smart economy. And without a strategic vision for education, all talk of the smart economy is but empty rhetoric.

Our engineers know that capital investment in infrastructure is vital. With the Green Party in Government, investment in flood protection and water infrastructure has increased against a back-drop of massive cut-backs. I am proud to tell you that we are spending more on these two issues than we did in the boom years and before we came into Government.

The €508 million being spent this year on water infrastructure will create and sustain 4,000 jobs.

Jobs are our priority. Green collar jobs, in a green economy. The potential in this area is simply enormous and we need to position this country to avail of those opportunities.

One man who knows this better than most is Minister Eamon Ryan. For Eamon it’s not just about doing the right thing. It’s about doing the bright thing.

Only yesterday, Eamon launched the new on-street charging points for the electric car. Under Eamon’s leadership the electric car will become a reality in Ireland.

His initiative has resulted in €1 million per week being invested by government in insulating people’s homes. That, my friends, is showing real leadership in getting people back to work.

Bhi aifeala orainn nuair a bhi ar Trevor eiri as a phost mar Aire Stait sa Roinn Talamhaiochta. Dhein se ard-obair sa jab sin – rud a d’fhadmhaigh — fiu — lucht an freasura ag an am.

Every year since entering Government, I have paid tribute to Trevor at this annual Conference. But, I think we all agree, that it was the manner of his parting that said most about the character of the man. No excuses, no delays just decisive action.

He is a credit to the Green Party and to Irish politics – a man who epitomises what it is to do the right thing.

Doing the right thing also means bringing to justice those who are guilty of causing the banking crisis. Last year at our Conference, I said that I expected those people found guilty of white-collar criminality to be brought to justice – and this year, my friends, I say that again. We want to tackle the problem of white-collar criminality, because there cannot be one law for the rich and one law for the poor. Or, to put it another way, one law for those in authority and one law for the less powerful and weaker elements of our society.

And that was the unequal relationship that existed between the abuser and the abused in that sordid era of our nation’s history. By commissioning those ground-breaking reports, this Government has shone a light into a dark and dreadful period. And it is the view of the Green Party that we can only get closure when we get all of the answers. No institution can be above the law – and all of those people guilty of those heinous crimes against children must be brought to justice and the survivors of sexual abuse treated with compassion and respect.

There are other divisions in our country which cannot be ignored and must be addressed if we are to get this country back on its feet. One such tension is the gap between the public and private sector. The Government had to take the very difficult decision to reduce public service pay. We regret the public and media discourse surrounding those decisions. Far too often, our public servants were criticised and denigrated. Our public servants, be they teachers or nurses or guards or our civil servants, are absolutely fundamental to a functioning, well-balanced society. We took those budgetary decisions because we had to. It was the right and the responsible thing to do.

But we also want to see social partnership continue and, in my recent meeting with the Unions, that was my message. Because now, for the first time ever, we have an Environmental Pillar of Social Partnership which we introduced and which will ensure a more truly sustainable economy into the future.

I firmly hope a new model of Social Partnership can be forged, that we will have a new and more dynamic public service, where merit and hard work are rewarded, and where the pay scales are fair and proportionate, because a vibrant public sector is absolutely crucial to our economic recovery.

There are divisions, too, between the political parties, in particular between Government and Opposition in this country as is normal in an adversarial system. And I have been on both sides. Government, my friends, is the biggest reality check that anybody can ever encounter. It hits you like a sledge-hammer. Opposition is for talkers and theorists, you can have it every way.

Doing the right thing comes at a cost – the gain does come with pain, as we know. I want to know what the opposition position is on many issues; on taxation for local government, and on animal welfare.

It’s all very contradictory. They say they oppose Nama. But they also say they would operate it if elected in the morning. On the banking crisis they say they would default on the senior bondholders — a barmy solution which has been criticised by Garret Fitzgerald and Alan Dukes and John Bruton. All former leaders of Fine Gael.

They have had their opportunity for political reform when in Government and didn’t do it. We are in Government now and we will deliver that political reform. You cannot go through a crisis by pretending it’s not there – you do it by standing firm, no ducking, no diving, and by giving straight answers to straight questions.

Others can talk about political reform, and they do ad nauseam, but we will deliver it. Previous Governments have spoken about directly-elected Mayors, it never happened. But it will happen under the Green Party. They have spoken about expanding the revenue base for local government, it never happened. But it is happening under the Green Party. And we will deliver real reform of the local government structures. They have spoken about breaking the link between big business and politics, but they never delivered. We have a commitment for the first time in the history of the State of getting rid of corporate donations from Irish politics.

By the end of our term in office, we will have transformed the energy sector by concentrating on renewables, the transport sector by introducing electric cars, reformed local government and transformed the waste market by placing the emphasis on recycling and reduction. We will have introduced more equality for gay and lesbian people, protected our habitats, our landscapes. That will be our legacy.

The protests outside today confirm only one thing: that we are making a difference in government. And those on horseback and on the soapboxes should know this: your actions serve only to make us more determined than ever to make the changes that are needed.

History shows that we have outlasted all other small parties in this state. We have done that by being focused and adaptable and having real self belief. No one should ever underestimate the resilience and determination of the Green Party. We will go on. We will fight for the fairer and more equal society. We will turn it around and we will always, always do the right thing.