Interview With Ciaran Cuffe- Why Not Pedestrianise College Green?
Ciaran Cuffe of the Green Party is a TD for Dun Laoghaire. Some interesting feedback in there that you might want to pontificate on-Lab/FF as the most likely government, pedestrianising of College Green, turning Bank Of Ireland, College Green into a civic building.
Ciaran Cuffe Thanks for talking to us.
IE.com: Quick reaction to the death of Charles Haughey and its subsequent coverage/spinning?
CC: It’s not quite the death of Franco, but I do feel that there’s a sense of closure, and the Country can now move on.
Part of what motivated me to run for election as a city councillor fifteen years ago was my concerns about the destruction of Dublin. Much of that destruction was due to the Haughey family’s stranglehold over the city. Young Sean was Mayor, his uncle was City Engineer and his Dad was Taoiseach, holding Court in Kinsealy. The Fianna Fáil majority on the City Council was busy demolishing communities with their road-widening plans, and replacing Georgian Dublin with crass petrol stations and pastiche office blocks.
I still feel bitter about that time. However I do remember Charlie giving a commitment that Temple Bar would be saved when it was under threat from CIE’s plans for a bus station back in 1989, whereas Garret Fitzgerald would only commit himself to exploring various options for the area. The conversion from culture to alcohol was another story, but it all seems like ancient history now.
I can’t quite get over Vincent Browne’s conversion in recent days. There must have been something in the Chablis. Peter Murtagh’s assessment in the Irish Times last Saturday was a more measured assessment of Haughey’s role in Irish politics.
IE.Com: Dun Laoghaire is very difficult next year. There are lots of candidates and Fine Gael look to be pushing to regain a seat there- some predict your likely to be the casualty. How do you fancy your chances and should you succeed who is likely to join you in the next Dail?
CC: It will be tough. I suspect Barry Andrews, Fiona O’Malley and myself will be trying to divide the last two seats between the three of us, so there’s bound to be a casualty. The Greens always get good transfers, but I worry that Fine Gael and Labour will get the number ones and twos, leaving me with lots of number threes and no seat.
Small parties can have huge swings at elections. I think Trevor Sargent has the only safe seat. A small swing away from the Greens could leave us with two seats. A modest gain could see us with ten seats in the next Dáil. The Party is pushing Mary White in Carlow-Kilkenny, Niall O’Brolchain in Galway, Deirdre de Burca in Wicklow and Brian Meany in Clare. . However I’ll also be watching Mark Deary in Louth, and Bronwen Maher and David Healy in Dublin.
IE.com: How do you rate the chances of the Green Party being in government after the next election? Is the decision to remain outside of a pre-election pact being vindicated in the recent poll numbers or is it too early to tell?
CC: A pre-election pact would be disastrous. We’ve got to be distinctive, and ensure that we get sufficient number ones as a clear separate brand from ‘Finegaelabour’.
I suspect that we have a one in three chance of being in government in 2007, but the most likely outcome will be a Fianna Fail – Labour coalition, perhaps with Brendan Howlin as Tanaiste.
IE.Com: With regard to energy, we are all aware that oil is going to run out, however those who favour nuclear power as a replacement point to the fact that wind and solar power are incapable of replacing the wattage left vacant by fossil fuels on its own. Do you accept this point or are the Greens ready, if in government, to forge a different path on energy? What would such a path entail and would it require the Green party trying to reformulate the way Ireland lives socially?
CC: Sure, wind and solar won’t fill the gap, but there’s at least a dozen other forms of renewable energy that can be tapped into in Ireland, and currently we’re only scraping the surface of renewables. Whatever about wind power, how about turning windmills upside down, putting them underwater and harnessing the all-year round power from the Gulf Stream? We have amazing potential for renewables in Ireland, but when you see the Minister for the Environment putting a down-payment on a 3.5 litre ‘environmentally-friendly’ Lexus, then you know that its time for a change of government.
The big shift that we have to make though, is in planning. No amount of sunflowers or windmills will provide enough energy for the urban sprawl that is dominating our current settlement patterns in Ireland. We need a major re-think on land-use planning and transport to ensure that new communities are well-designed and allow people to live, work and relax closer to each other. We’re still building crappy housing estates where the only place you can buy a litre of milk is a mile down the road in the petrol station.
Meanwhile the roads are too dangerous to let your kids walk or cycle to school. Those kids are becoming obese from being driven everywhere and getting no exercise, and they’re losing the opportunities to play and socialise freely. That’s not only a social disaster, it’s also an economic and environmental time-bomb.
IE.Com: You are one of the rare number of TDs with an active blog, what role do you see for the internet in the forthcoming election and in irish politics more generally. Is there room in our politics for blogs, or political entities like we see in the states or is it more likely that blogging and citizen journalism will be on the periphary?
CC: You can get carried away with hyper-space. Face-time is what your constituents want and expect. The blogosphere is a bit like bit Doheny and Nesbitt’s pub twenty years ago. Full of interesting and opinionated people, some of whom you agree with, some with whom you disagree, and lots of chat and food for thought. There’s a great buzz, but its not real life. At some stage you need to get back to reality and listen to what ordinary people are concerned about. Knocking on doors and listening to people is hugely important, and gives you a much clearer steer on reality.
I don’t think we’ll see blogs yield as much power as they do stateside. Blogs appear to assume greater importance when social networks diminish. We still have a lot more ‘social capital’ here. Curiously enough though, despite Bertie Ahern’s palling around with Robert Putnam, it is Fianna Fail and the PD’s policies in social welfare planning and transport that are eroding those social links that bind us together and give us a sense of community.
IE.Com: You have an interest in urban planning, how do you rate the current space in the captial and in Ireland’s cities more generally. What measures do you think are required to improve the urban space in our country, how much would it cost(roughly if you have it) and what benefits would it bring?
CC: The spaces are often good, more often than not it’s what we use them for that needs a re-think. College Green in Dublin could be an amazing civic plaza, yet we still allow four lanes of car traffic to drive through it. Now that the M50 is built we should start reclaiming these civic spaces for the people. Any other European capital would convert the Bank of Ireland back into a civic building, pedestrianise College Green and give the city an outdoor living room and some breathing space that we could be proud of.
It is depressing that the whole debate about the Port Tunnel seems to centre about what trucks will or won’t still be allowed through the city centre. Some real vision is required. The Boardwalk and the Spire work well, but how about converting the Quays into a boulevard with just local access, public transport, bikes and pedestrians. If we even did it on one Sunday a month for a while we’d realise what could be achieved in Dublin.
The O’Connoll Street scheme is starting to look well, but whatever happened to the cycle lanes that were shown on the plans? The birch trees also don’t look great compared with the London Plane trees that were there before, but the new paving and the wider footpaths have transformed the city. I’m also a huge fan of the Spire, and I think it’s a great point of reference for visitors to the city.
The partial pedestrianisation of Georges Street in Dún Laoghaire works well, put every town in Ireland from Navan to Bray should give the town centre back to pedestrians.
IE.Com: With FG, Labour, FF and the PDs all pledging to leave tax rates untouched if returned to office do you think that the question of social justice and taxation has been put to bed with a consensus ending up on the centre right? Or is there room in our political discourse for further discussion and action on social justice. Is there even a need for such dialogue in the richest period of our history?
CC: It is crucial that such dialogue takes place. Although we’ve seen good work emerge from the TASC think-tank that is Labour dominated, I worry that Labour is putting a sticking-plaster over its mouth so as not to offend Fine Gael. If Fine Gael insists on no new taxes, it will be difficult for Labour to deliver on commitments made to its core voters.
Opportunities have dramatically improved for many, but there are still areas that don’t have access to the jobs, education or housing that many other take for granted. Putting some limits on the tax incentive schemes that are out there could provide revenue that can be better spent on the less-well off. RAPID funding has helped some marginalised communities, but we need a lot more programmed investment in the housing, education, sports facilities and training for those areas.
I’d like to see Local Authorities being given more power to raise cash through bond issues of some other mechanism. I believe that cities and larger towns should have the powers to spend money on project that they feel have merit, rather than having to go cap in hand to central government every time they want a swimming pool or playground.
IE.Com: Is the Green party concerned over the economy in light of interest rate rises, possible housing market crashes, manufacturing losses and SSIA-generated inflation overheating or is this just media hyperbole? Have you or the Greens an alternative view of how we should organise our economy and society? Along which lines and in what manner?
CC: There’s no dramatic U-turn on the cards. What I do think that the Greens could deliver on is a change in emphasis. The construction sector is over-heating, so lets try and put more importance on energy-efficiency and proper planning. Lets ensure that every new building gets an A plus energy rating. In transport policy lets join up the Luas lines and build more of them rather than building motorways as if the oil will last forever. In childcare, lets talk about a family focus that gives more options for a parent to take time of work in the first few formative years if they want to, but also to have access to top quality childcare close to home. In social policy we’ve got to look at the poverty traps that can face lone parents and migrants, and make sure that all Government Departments are working together with smarter policies.
IE.Com: On your blog you seemed to be utterly disappointed at the government response to the bill. What would/could The Greens or any other party have done differently to the government and the minister? Do you think the issue will return before next may?
CC: I’d say it will return as in issue via the Courts. The Green Party proposed three amendments to the Bill. We suggested that the rights of children should be put centre-stage so that their needs would more strongly inform the workings of the Courts. We suggested a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that would allow 15 and 16 year olds to have consensual sex with partners up to two years older than them without either party being criminalised. We also suggested a ‘sunset’ clause that would ensure that we revisit the Bill within two years. We had less than twenty four hours sight of the Bill before we signed off on it, and I watched McDowell amend the Bill in the presence of the opposition Justice Spokespersons. Rushed legislation is dangerous, and we should revisit it.