Miriam Lord: Small parties bereft of sufficient cash to be boring

Our big four breathlessly announce ‘the launch’ of yet another drab policy message

Green Party leader Eamonn Ryan with Cllr Ossian Smyth, both candidates in the general election, in Ringsend today at the launch of the Green’s housing policy. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Green Party leader Eamonn Ryan with Cllr Ossian Smyth, both candidates in the general election, in Ringsend today at the launch of the Green’s housing policy. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times


The latest addition to a crowded political catwalk burst on the scene yesterday during a moody location shoot on a piece of derelict ground close to the mean streets of Sandymount.

The Viennese model was introduced by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan when he launched proposals for a national housing authority. A welcome change from the ubiquitous Nordic and Scandinavian models so beloved of the others.

Ryan’s Viennese model for new social housing would be self-financing and off the State’s balance sheet. The new authority would borrow on the open market, using future rental income from the resulting developments as security. This money would fund local authorities and housing associations to build units suited to a wide mix of tenants.

He says it works a treat in Austria where social housing in cities is “a sought-after alternative”.

But where to build?

There are plenty of sites in public ownership in convenient areas around the country where people would love to live. The Greens took themselves off to Sandymount by the sea in Dublin’s south side to look at one of them – a derelict 25-acre site which once housed the Irish Glass Bottle Company.

And there’s more.

“Look across the whole of the city. Look at Broadstone Garage, 28 acres, again, right by the centre, where we’ve buses parked at the moment. That could be used,” suggested Eamon.

“Look at RTÉ up the road. Thirty acres, half of it is either car parks or rolling green fields. We think RTÉ would have a brighter future in the centre of town. It would be a revitalised town. There are vacant sites and land available all over this city and cities throughout the country.”

Fair play to the Greens for putting on another interesting publicity launch.

They should have handed out hard helmets for yesterday’s expedition as people headed deep into the heart of bramble, campfire and empty-cans country in darkest Dublin 4. But not before a scout was dispatched to find a gap in a boundary fence.

Broke the bank

Smaller parties have to use a bit of imagination because they don’t have the money to be as boring as the main players. It’s all down to resources. Ryan’s harum-sacrum bus jaunt though Dublin city centre last week probably broke the bank.

In the higher reaches of Irish politics a thriving mobile billboard scene has replaced the requirement for the main parties to actually go out and sell their policies. Even if the Greens wanted to compete in the exhaust-fumed world of the moving billboard (unlikely), they couldn’t afford it.

Meanwhile, the big four breathlessly announce “the launch” of yet another drab message on wheels (usually within safe bolting distance of Leinster House or their party offices) and wait for the media to come to them. It has made for a very dull election. There isn’t half enough gallivanting around the country this time.

Hardly a day has passed without at least one very serious gathering in front of a dreary advertisement on a truck, with a leader or spokesperson waffling for Ireland beside it while surrounded by shiny but silent nodding-dog candidates.

Even Renua managed a brace of recumbent bicycles to parade bullet points from its crime policy around the place.

That’s not to say the Greens weren’t making any effort in the mobile publicity race. Two election candidates, Donna Cooney from Dublin Bay North and Ossian Smyth from Dún Laoghaire, cycled to the announcement.

Ossian’s choice of steed was a large, black, old-fashioned upcycled/recycled affair, while Donna arrived on an orange High Nellie.

Smyth had a large plastic crate on the front carrier. An election poster was stuck to it sideways. The crate was full of apples. Elstar variety, picked that morning in David Llewellyn’s orchard in Lusk. Red, tart and sweet – like Pat Rabbitte when he’s in a very good mood.

The Greens walked around the overgrown site. Fantastic location. Pity about the incinerator, we mused. Ryan jumped in immediately.

Tooth and nail

John Gormley fought tooth and nail and he had it stopped,” insisted Mr Ryan.

Then Phil Hogan, he said, followed by his successor Alan Kelly, undid all Gormley’s work and allowed the project go ahead.

It could have been a happier event. But the party leader seemed slightly down in the dumps having heard news that his support in Dublin Bay South had slipped to 7 per cent. “Politicians do pay heed to opinion polls, and it would be a lie if I said to you that I don’t,” he sighed.

Perhaps the involvement of the Greens with the last Fianna Fáil government is not doing them any favours?

“Every party has a past – some parties have got a violent past, and people seem to forgive them.”

He called on voters to give his candidates a number-one vote if they want to see Green issues voiced at national level.

As for his own chances. “Maybe people think ‘ah, that’s Eamon, he’ll be alright, he’ll get in.’ Clearly that isn’t the case looking at the polls this morning.”

Overall, though, the picture seems brighter. “If we get the 4 per cent we’re currently at on polling day then we’re going to have a very good election.”

Some young volunteers came along to help. They had one large poster between them. They put it up on the pole beside Eamon when he was speaking to the press, then took it down and carried it around on the wasteland walkabout in case it was needed for a photograph.

“We’ve only printed 100, and some have to go to Galway and other places,” explained one volunteer.

They took it away at the end of the launch. So it was a mobile poster.

Just without the carbon footprint.