Irish Policy – Balance of Power to Input

Do you think profit driven companies should run the country? Do you trust politicians and civil servants to act in the best interests of society and future generations?

I recently attended an Environmental Pillar review. During that time I was reminded of the role I have found myself in. A role I never for one second imagined for myself. A role that can leave me feeling very isolated and burdened yet I feel obliged to continue.

During my time in the environmental sector I have gained a wider perspective of the civil service. I have met Ministers, policy makers, challenged their system, helped change their position and I have also met others who remind me too well of the stifling system and the bully from my time as a civil servant. It has been very insightful. However it has left me feeling very unconvinced in their ability to ensure sustainable development, as in development that meets the needs of this generation while ensuring future generations can meet their needs.

I have seen their dilemmas. I can empathise with their situation. We are hitting extremely challenging times. How do we curb greenhouse gases? Can we slow the acceleration of the climate change we have caused?

If you were in government and had hard decisions to make what would you do?

Here are 2 scenarios:

  1. A profit driven energy company comes offering to answer all of your worries by installing renewable solutions throughout the country. They will manage it, deal with the public, instal the infrastructure, carry out all the assessments required, maintain the projects and basically manage the whole solution. Installation would happen within 5 years so long – subject to planning.
  2. A community group or coalition of communities come in seeking collaboration and support on how they may address these issues at local level. They have considered and costed proposals on how they will form a cooperative, retrofit their premises to be highly energy efficient and generate energy locally with a view to exporting surplus. Local ownership and export income will help secure the local economy. This could take 6, 7 or more years starting with energy conservation immediately and there would probably be financial challenges.

Logistically what would appeal to you?

Over time there are continuous consultations where everyone is invited to have their say on policies at local, regional, national and european level. Now consider how these consultations evolve.

  1. Companies have employees, or pay consultants, to write submissions to the consultation. These submissions will undoubtedly be profit driven and have the best interests of the business at the core. These are companies who may mingle with the politicians and civil servants at energy conferences and events. See the consultation on a low carbon roadmap for example where there were 14 responses. That’s pretty pathetic.
  2. Very often the public don’t even notice these consultations are taking place. Usually our public representatives don’t even know they are taking place. Especially the people you vote in to represent you at local level. They are particularly oblivious to national policy consultations. It’s very disappointing that the people we trust to look after our best interests are so far removed from the generation of critical policy.
  3. Until recently the majority of non commercial interest submissions have been environmental and developmental NGOs like An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Afri. Thankfully as people wake up to the climate and energy issues of our day there are more and more non commercial interest submissions.
  4. Some self serving sectors of society including state agencies, make submissions to suit their members/interests without considering the bigger picture.

To date the capitalist model has been favoured and the power of the energy industry lobby has dictated policy. That needs to change and is as more people get involved. However the number of consultations is rising all the time. There are also european consultations.

Let us consider the balance of power.

  1. Industry has the money to pay people to continuously monitor, research and compile submissions. They also have access to prohibitively expensive energy conferences and events where they can mingle with decisions makers and politicians alike. They can afford to spend time on personal relationships as well as comprehensive submissions.
  2. NGOs have much less resources, possibly one dedicated person shared across a network, responding to all policy consultations. I estimate we have 2 paid people in Irelands environmental NGOs responding to climate and energy policy as part of their job. The rest of us do it voluntarily, learning as we go. Very often the people employed in policy are also responding to European consultations and are spread very thinly indeed.
  3. Communities and most individuals are usually involved because of a project or specific issue. I can really only imagine how challenging it must be.

The balance of power remains with the developers lobby which may include state agencies. While calling for Comprehensive Public Participation we should be seeking skilling up people, exploring options and generally allowing time so that we can offer informed submissions. I look forward to seeing more “people” involved in this uneven battle.

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Ironically enough LEAF sent in one of the submissions. Something I wrote in 2013 🙂

Theresa O’Donohoe

February 2016

 

 


2 thoughts on “Irish Policy – Balance of Power to Input

  1. I was just thinking over my lunch how most of the 19th century infrastructure – canals, railways, telephone systems – was installed by the private sector, motivated by profit and the assumption that people would be willing to pay to use it. Often the companies went bust when their assumptions proved wrong.
    When did things change, and why? Partly the enormous cost of such projects today; partly a desire to share the cost with everybody, even those who will not benefit directly from the project.
    I’m afraid I don’t hare your distrust of the private sector. I believe that it is possible, even desirable, for public and private to work together for the public good. But I also believe that we need a level playing field. By which I mean government support to enable ALL voices to be heard, and much less (zero, even) funding of politicians/parties by private money.

  2. Wow Frank, stimulating lunch 🙂 I think with energy and climate the easiest thing to do is energy efficiency and that doesn’t have to profit anyone but it will inevitable line a few pockets. Hopefully nicely spread as opposed to the 1% profiteering of the oil age. I’m not really mistrusting anyone – I’m just watching how things evolve unchecked. Power and greed go hand in hand and when they are being blessed on their way with policy protection they grow bigger. I always believe we all set out with good intentions but sometimes there are no boundaries and that’s not good. Policy should provide boundaries that prevent monopolies.

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