There were angry clashes last week between Wicklow representatives Labour Deputy, Liz McManus and Green Party Senator, Deirdre de Burca, with de Burca accusing McManus of taking 'silly, inaccurate pot-shots' at Green Ministers and McManus labelling de Burca's statement a 'Green Party rant'.
The disagreement revolved around transport issues, in particular the environmental impact of ministerial cars and plans for an Outer Orbital Road Route which will link Drogheda, Navan and Naas but which will not extend to Wicklow. The sparring began when Deputy McManus questioned, in the Dail, the environmental credentials of ministerial cars and noted her surprise at the high mileage of those of Green Ministers, John Gormley and Eamon Ryan.
Senator de Burca responded to this with a thinly veiled dose of sarcasm, stating, "I welcome my Labour colleague's apparent conversion to Green politics, but it is clear that the Deputy still has a lot to learn. Her comments about the mileage of the hybrid cars for the official business of the Green Party's ministers are inaccurate and misleading. If the Deputy's concern about reducing emissions was in any way sincere, I would encourage her to engage with the Green Party in establishing cross-party-consensus on how Ireland should respond to the climate change challenge . . . Facile attacks based on misleading statistics are a sad reflection on the Labour Party's current political strategies."
Senator de Burca went on to dub Deputy McManus's attitude as 'Johnny-come-lately environmentalism' and claimed it was at odds with the Labour TD's campaign to see the Outer Orbital Road Route, (which will run through Meath and Kildare but stop at Naas) extend into Wicklow. The Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey recently confirmed in the Dail that plans for the Orbital Route will not include an extension through the Wicklow Mountains to Arklow or Gorey.
Senator de Burca stated, "The Green Party has very serious reservations about the prioritisation and extension of a new motorway that is not part of the Agenda 21' transport investment programme, ahead of the delivery of public transport improvements. The first step is the provision of adequate public transport systems.
Then we have to encourage people to use their private vehicles less and to travel by public transport, or bicycle or foot more."
Senator de Burca also extended an invitation to Deputy McManus to seek advice from the Green Party on environmental issues. "As the Green Party has led the political establishment in this area for the last 25 years, Deputy McManus is very welcome to contact us for advice about cycling, public transport and using more fuel efficient vehicles to minimise emissions."
Deputy McManus hit back at Senator de Burca, "The Green Party rant does not change the facts." In reaction to Senator de Burca's statement on the issue of the Outer Orbital Road Route, Deputy McManus noted, "If the Greens have a problem with the Outer Orbital Route they had their chance to stop it prior to entering government. They chose not to. Exclusion from the route could be devastating for Co. Wicklow. We simply cannot afford to be out of the loop. Only if we have public representatives willing to stand up for the future of Wicklow can we expect to get our fair share of infrastructure, whether road, rail or telecommunications."
Deputy McManus also reacted strongly to Senator de Burca's attack on her commitment to environmental issues, stating "I've been active in environmental issues in this county long before Senator de Burca ever appeared in Co. Wicklow, so I understand the need for good transport policy and the practice required of Ministers." She continued, "Many in Wicklow will be surprised at Senator de Burca's concern for public transport. Her party, in their rush into government, were prepared to sacrifice the Luas to Bray project, which was completely dropped from the Programme for Government. Had it not been for local pressure, lead by the business community, it would have been abandoned."
"Her lack of understanding of how important it is to ensure that West Wicklow is part of the Outer Orbital Route is disappointing, but not surprising. I am sure residents and the business communities in this area will let her know how important it is to them in due course."
"I make no apologies for questioning the Green Party. In Government the Greens invite criticism. How can they justify the obscene increases in Ministerial salaries, for example? We didn't hear much from Senator de Burca last week when the learner driver debacle was taking place. These and other questions are in the public interest. That's why I ask them - and the Greens are just going to have to get used to it."
Aoife O 'Grady