Environmental Politics

Hello Living Lightlies

In Ireland we’ll be electing local councillors and European MEPs on the 24th of May. Most of the people I know don’t have a clue how best to use their vote from an environmental point of view. As someone who strongly believes in the power of politics to transform society I think we owe it to ourselves, our children and all life on the planet to educate ourselves enough to make an informed decision, but how do you go about doing that?

Here’s a suggested step by step guide to help you sort the wheat from the chaff.

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Narrow down your selectionIt’s hard to do due diligence on every candidate so decide who best suits your values and focus on them.

Most people do this by party, some going as far as to read the various party policies. Policies are all well and good but in my experience a lot of elected officials just ignore the party policies that don’t suit them. I’ve personally seen really good policies completely ignored by politicians because it didn’t suit their own personal agenda and for that reason I don’t advocate voting on policies alone.

For example Labour seem to have very good environmental policies but Alex White was a disastrous Minister for the Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. During his time as Minister he canvassed my house, I was polite and asked him why he wasn’t facilitating community owned wind-farms. He replied ‘It’s complicated’ while backing away from the door! He lost his seat.

The policies of Sinn Fein, PBP look well considered too and I’ve found Brid Smith of PBP and Lynn Boylan of Sinn Fein to be very knowledgeable and very responsive when I’ve emailed them with queries. Just by the by, neither of these parties believe in the concept ‘the polluter pays’ and feel that all initiatives to reduce our emissions and pollution should come out of general taxation.

I found the policies of Fianna Fail and the Social Democrats wishy-washy and very uninspiring. Also having attended a local meeting of the Social Democrats last year I was very unimpressed at the tolerance they showed for snide and insulting comments by one of their very aggressive members. A party that tolerates such disrespectful behaviour doesn’t inspire confidence.

But surely the Green Party has the best environmental polices of the political parties? Well, time for me to come clean. I used to be a member of the Green Party in Ireland and during my 4 year tenure as Chair of Policy Council in the Green Party I managed the development of over 20 policy documents by over 120 volunteers, and those policies were good – properly researched and reference. Having witnessed first hand all the hard work and due diligence that went into creating those policy document I can confidently say that the policies developed up to 2013-17 are the best out there. I can’t vouch for any policies since then.

As I’ve said above policies are only half of the picture and personally I’d rather work with a person of integrity with a differing viewpoint than a manipulative snake from my own camp. The treatment that I received from some of the senior members of the Green Party has left a very bitter taste in my mouth and so I will only vote Green if I have a positive personal relationship with the candidate in my area, as is the case for the local election candidate in my area, Daniel Dunne, and the Green Party candidate for Europe, Ciaran Cuffe. There are other excellent Green Party candidates around the country but I don’t know all of them now that I’m out of the party 2 years so my advice for assessing any candidates stands, look for proof of what they’ve achieved in the community. The self-interested narcissistic ones aren’t involved in the community at all.

I think judging candidates solely by their partys’ policies dis-proportionally favours party candidates and puts independents at a disadvantage and I think that’s a mistake. As a result of my experience in a political party, my interactions with two others, and gossip from members of the rest I’ve decided to favour independent candidates this time around. I feel that party candidates have to become good at power plays to survive in a party and that this distracts them from doing the work we, as citizens, want them to do. I also think overtime it corrupts politics and makes it more about power than public service.

f you are similarly minded then consider candidates that are going poster free in this election, most of whom are independent candidates. The best way of finding who they are is on the FB page Posterfree.ie. I like finding candidates here because i feel at least these people are putting their money where their mouth is.

The website WhichCandidate.ie is another useful way to find out which of the MEP candidates best suits your values. Surprisingly, mine wasn’t a Green Party candidate but independent Clare Daly!

The past is the best predictor of the future – I would argue that we need more doers in politics. There’s far too many narcissists, only in it for the kudos and adoration. For this reason I’m always interested in what someone has achieved in the community prior to running for office. People who like fixing things will be well able to answer this question easily, whereas people who only sat on the board so they could put it on their CV or get in photo shoots won’t. And if this information is not on their leaflet the bet is they haven’t done anything.

How did current Councillors / MEPs perform? – I’ll be honest, local councillors in Ireland have very, very little power. All they can really do is approve the annual budget of the local county council and ask its staff questions about the work they do. Sure they can propose and support motions to indicate how they’d like the council to carry out their work but the council can ignore these motions or, as typically happens, put the undesirable action on a suitably long finger. Councillors won’t tell you this because they don’t want to belittle their standing in the community. If they did you might decide you don’t want councillors at all and then where would they practice their skills for the ‘real’ election, i.e. the general election. God I’m such a cynic!

It wasn’t always this way in Ireland and isn’t the way it is in other counties, but when bribery was found to endemic in areas where the councillors used to have power, central government decided to reduce their sphere of influence. All that said, there are some very honourable committed local councillors, doing their best despite their ham-stringed circumstances and personally I’d rather have someone that is answerable to the electorate keeping an county council activities than not.

If one of the candidates that you’re considering supporting is a local councillor looking to be re-elected then have a look at the minutes of the past council meetings. Most councils post these online and they’re searchable. By looking at the one for my area I could what type of motions were being submitted by each councillor, who appeared to be the most active, and even which way they voted on certain issues. For example by searching for the words ‘poster’ I was able to find out which of the candidates voted against devising a plan to reduce election posters. Interesting!

When it comes to European elections it’s harder to find out yourself how people voted, especially as MEP’s don’t vote independently but as part of groups with MEP’s from other countries. I’ve looked at some of the transcripts of the meetings and found it impossible to even work out what was being voted on! So instead head over to the website Voter Watch, which allows you to search the voting history of your MEP’s.

Also very useful from an environmental point is a recent ranking of EU political groups and national parties on climate change. The European People’s Party of which Fine Gael are members scored 14.3%. The European United Left-Nordic Green Left, of which Sinn Fein and the only independent MEP seeking re-election Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan are members, scored 66.5%. When broken down by country Sinn Fein score 48.7%, Fine Gael score 20%. Fianna Fail doesn’t have a rating because their MEP didn’t voted due to ill health.

Only this week I came across this greatgreat post giving a breakdown of the environmental policies of each of the European voting groups. Very useful indeed and well done to Robin Cafolla for putting it together. I’m not sure if my point about policies being ignored applies to European Voting Groups. I get the impression that they’re more likely to vote in line with them but that might just be my hopeful naivety shining through!

Questions for Canvassers – Recently my local county council was looking for ideas on how to make our area more sustainable. I submitted the following suggestions.  Feel free to use these when speaking to local and European candidates in your area. Don’t worry if they’re not directly related to the role of the candidate on your door, they’ll get the message and that’s more important than the fine detail, which if elected, they’ll be getting paid to sort out.

Energy & Buildings
– Reduction of rates for companies that have been assessed as having reduced their energy usage and waste.

– There are far too few bike racks on private properties like shopping centres. Please increase the minimum requirement for planning approval.
– Subsidise service for repair of second hand bikes.
– More charging points for EVs
– Trial of car free days with free public transport put on for the day.
– Bye-law banning commercial vehicles from sitting with their engine running.

Flood Resilience
– Grant scheme for permeable paving solutions for home owners.

Nature Based Solutions
– If a ban on weedkiller is not possible then it’s use should be banned closes to schools and waterways.
– Subsidised sale of bee hotels, frog hotels etc by the council.
– Ban on all peat-based compost in Ireland.
– Lower rates for shops that sell a certain percentage of organic produce, which is know to help with biodiversity.
– Lower rates for shops that sell a certain percentage of Irish grown / made food as this results in lower carbon emissions than imported foods.
– Ban on products that include microbeads and flushable wipes.

Resource Management
– Creating of reuse centres set up next to recycling facilities, where second hand goods could be sold off at a reduced rate to citizens as they do in Europe.
– Facility to allow citizens to buy package-free peat-free compost made from brown waste collected from households at a reduced rate.
– Brown bin services being extended to apartment complexes.
– Reduced property rate for households that reduce their waste below a certain level.
– Ban on all single-use items, compostable included, in council buildings.
– Levy on all single-use items.
– Grant scheme for rainwater and grey waters harvesting.
– Support for milk vending machines.
– The Green Schools scheme needs to be overhauled. Schools with unsustainable practices seem to have lots of flags and awards.
– The Food Dudes scheme generates a huge amount of waste and needs to be overhauled.
– Love the idea of a community fridge. Could be joined by a community closet and a community library of things, seed library?
– Ban on election posters or at least a restriction of them to particular areas like they do in other countries.

One last word, actually just before I do that, if you like what you read and want to support a blogger that doesn’t take payments from brands in order to stay objective and independent then please consider supporting me with a small donation on Paypal

Back to my last word, if you don’t know who to give your number 1 and 2 to in the next elections then you’re not active enough in your local community. Elections happen every 5 years, surely in the space of 5 years you’ve come across one issue to email your local councillors or MEP’s about. If not then maybe that’s where the change needs to happen.

Till next time


PS – If you liked this post you might also like my post on Why Bottle Deposit Schemes are a Missed Opportunity and Sustainable Living is Not an ‘Either Or’ Game

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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