Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has strongly defended his party’s decision to enter coalition, saying it was the “right thing to do” in order to address both the global Covid-19 pandemic and the enormous challenges posed by climate change.
In his keynote speech to the party’s national convention on Saturday, Mr Ryan vowed that the Greens would deliver on its agenda in Government, outlining a long list of climate change, environmental and other measures it would implement.
Speaking by video to the web-broadcast conference, he said the Government would spend “€1 million per day” each year on creating new walking, cycling and active infrastructure throughout the State.
He also signalled a significant ramping up of public transport in regional cities and towns from November.
Early in his speech, Mr Ryan praised the front-line staff who worked on emergency wards in the first days of the Covid-19 outbreak, “knowing that intubating chronically ill patients would bring them in close contact with a viral load”.
“I recall a meeting of the party leaders around that time when Tony Houlihan gave us his blunt assessment of what was ahead of us. When he left the room to a round of applause my heart stirred, because it said louder than words that our political system would pull together to try and help manage the difficult times ahead,” he said.
He accepted that the public solidarity evident in March has been “sorely tested” seven months later, but said he still believed “the core commitment of the Irish people to work together through this pandemic was still intact”.
“We have a particular challenge in Government to try and get the balance right between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
“No doubt we have made mistakes, and in all likelihood we will not get everything right in all the hard calls ahead,” he said.
Mr Ryan argued that the party’s approach since the general election was the correct one. “I think we did the right thing by opening talks with every other party and not ruling out any options for Government. I also think we were correct to say in mid-March as the first wave of Covid-19 broke that any further talks should be delayed until the immediate crisis was over.”
Referring to the controversies that have bedevilled the coalition, he said “entering government is never an easy process and we all know that this administration has had to manage a series of events which has not made the process any easier.”
But he defended its record, saying: “I think we took the right approach by introducing a €5.2 billion stimulus package in July and I was pleased that we were able to specifically target emergency funding for active travel and retrofitting measures that will be a start to the green new deal we will deliver out of this crisis.
“In the upcoming budget I expect us to deliver further on our commitments by spending at least €1 million each day on active travel, and to target three-quarters of the massively enhanced retrofitting budget to low income and social housing.”
He urged patience, saying the move away from roads transport was just beginning, and also signalled more public transport initiatives in November.
“It will take time but I intend making a further step forward with the promotion of a range of new public transport measures in the upcoming economic recovery plan this November.
“It could see us availing of support from the European Recovery Fund to finance a major expansion of public transport infrastructure in our regional cities.”
He also focused on next week’s Climate Action Amendment Bill which he said would set the country on course to be fully carbon neutral by 2050, through reducing emissions by 7 per cent per annum over the next 10 years.
Praising his deputy leader Catherine Martin, he said: “She has hit the ground running as a Minister continuing the work, including her work on the future of media.
“Our democracy is under threat from the consequences of that lack of funding for local journalism and from the polarising nature of social media debate,” he said.
He said Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman would ensure the White Paper to end direct provision for asylum seekers would be published early in 2021.