The Green Party's annual conference in Dundalk - the first since the party joined Fianna Fáil in government - took place in a generally positive mood, with many delegates obviously reveling in the new status of power for their party.
In his opening address the party leader John Gormley outlined the Green achievements in government so far, including the reform of the car tax system, which will be fully implemented in July.
Gormley told delegates that in ten days he will launch a Green Paper on Local Government, which - he hopes - "will deliver the biggest ever reform of Ireland's local administration".
He said the paper provides for a directly elected mayor of Dublin who will have real executive powers. This will include having control of waste policy, regional planning, housing water and other essential services.
The Green Paper also proposes a device to allow citizens to decide key policy directions. Gormley told delegates there was "no reason why people should not decide what the spending priorities should be in their communities".
The Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government also said he will shortly be announcing an initiative to allow people to recycle batteries in supermarkets. This initiative is long overdue, he said.
A wide range of policy motions have been debated on Saturday. A number of these motions were potentially controversial, but less so since the Taoiseach's announcement that he is to stand down in May.
John Gormley used his main leader speech tonight to make an appeal to politicians on all sides not to play politics with climate change. He appealed to members of the opposition to "put away the petty squabbling and cheap shots, forget the nonsense and come on board" to work with the Greens in government "in the best interests of the country and the planet".
Well, this is definitely a different John Gormley than the one we have known for many years in opposition. It is interesting to see how ministerial office can change a man completely and turn him 180 degrees around. And - strangely enough - most of his party is following suit, like a docile bunch of lemmings is running blindly after their leader.
Less than a year into the coalition, Gormley has already realised that he might have made a mistake. But realising is one thing and admitting it is another. And so far there is no open discussion over the shortfalls. Gormley told delegates that "the party knows and recognises that we can never get everything we hoped for in government".
Well, Fianna Fáil are well known for using smaller parties as they please. But John Gormley is still of the opinion that "outside of government the Green Party can achieve nothing".
I would not agree with that, but then again, I put principles before the hunger for power and positions...
Earlier at the conference Communications Minister Eamon Ryan announced that a new code of conduct for broadcasters will protect children from advertisements for junk food. Ryan told the convention that the code of conduct will be included in his new Broadcasting Bill, which is to be published shortly.
Food Minister and former party leader Trevor Sargent has promised a fivefold increase in land devoted to organic farming by the year 2012, while delegates supported a call to end the sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol producers.
Delegates also voted for a review of third level funding, with a widening of tax relief to all third level costs, instead of just fees. Proposing the motion, Waterford delegate Catherine Kinsella pointed out that one can currently get tax relief in Ireland "for owning an enthusiastic stallion, but not for education".
The convention backed a call for a review of the location of centres of excellence for treating cancer and called for the nationwide availability of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) teaching for autistic children.
The Green Party convention made some extra headlines tonight when China's new ambassador to Ireland, Liu Biwei, walked out of the conference hall in Dundalk during the leader's address. Liu Biwei was not pleased to hear that John Gormley mentioning the occupation of Tibet and the oppression of its people by the Chinese government. (See also my entry from earlier tonight.)
Although I cannot forget or forgive the Green Party that it has become the poodle of Fianna Fáil, I have to give John Gormley praise where it is due. In the current climate of hypocrisy over China, where no other politician dares to stand up and call the facts as they are, John Gormley is so far the only TD who has the courage to speak up. Only if we tell the Chinese what we think of them, we can make them see reality and change perhaps some of their ways. Crawling on the belly before them - as Fianna Fáil has done so far - is not the right thing to do.
So, well done tonight, John Gormley! I just wish you would also still be true to your political principles at home...
The Emerald Islander