Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Words on Wednesday...with Ciarán Cuffe

Ciarán Cuffe Hello and welcome to the third edition of United Irelander's Words on Wednesday feature, unique to the Irish blogosphere, which sees me interview various figures from all walks of Irish political life.

Taking my questions this week is Green Party TD and Spokesperson for Justice Ciarán Cuffe.

I'd like to thank Mr Cuffe for kindly agreeing to be interviewed. With that being said, let's begin:

What initially attracted you to political life?

My parents were involved with various campaigns around childcare, Travellers' rights and education back in the 1960's. That politicised me as I was growing up. I remember marching to save the Viking settlement at Wood Quay and hearing Mary Robinson speak back in the 1970's. Later on when studying architecture in UCD in the 1980's a group of us campaigned under the "Stop the Destruction of Dublin" banner to try and stop Dublin Corporation from demolishing Georgian buildings and inner-city communities for road-building. All of that made running for political office seem quite a natural progression.

You are the Green Party's Spokesperson on Justice. How do you rate the current Justice Minister, Michael McDowell?

He's a sharp, intelligent and shrewd individual. I respect his clarity and conviction. He is idealistic, which is a rare attribute on the Government benches. Ultimately his Achilles heel is his arrogance and his occasional outbursts against the Green Party do him no favours.

If you could change three things about Irish society, what would you change and why?

1. I'd ensure that the profits from rezoning land accrued to the State. This could make a significant contribution to curbing the corrupt payments to local councillors that have persisted over the years.

2. I'd vastly increase the powers of local government. This would give towns and counties the ability to harness the creativity and enthusiasm that exists at community level.

3. I'd pump-prime recycling industries. It makes no sense for us all to diligently recycle unless we're also supporting the design, innovation and production of products made from recycled material.

What are your thoughts on a United Ireland?

Its a good thing, and about twenty years away. Apart from the societal differences, one of the real challenges is working out who will pick up the tab for the amount of subsidy currently paid for the UK.

What should be done to improve the situation in NI?

Greater support for integrated schooling would help bring both communities in more contact with each other. Building a viable economy is crucial, and that will have to involve strong support from Brussels. Perhaps the restoration of the Assembly would be easier if we signalled a step towards real regional governance in the South. More investment in cultural regeneration would also be of benefit.

What are your thoughts on the European Union?

I'm enormously supportive of the benefits that the Union has brought to Ireland. The real challenge is to further European cooperation and development without the smaller countries losing their voices. We've also got to prevent a move to increase defence budgets and limit worker protection. I've always felt that a two-tier European Parliament with an upper house composed of two representatives from each country, and a lower house elected proportional to the population would be a good way of ensuring that the smaller countries aren't excluded from the top table. Such a system would be analogous to the US Federal system of Congress and Senate.

What are your thoughts on the Easter Rising and how do you intend to mark the occasion?

It was a strongly symbolic event that should be celebrated and commemorated. However I'd hate to think that those who lost their lives in the Rising should be remembered without also paying tribute to the tens of thousands of Irish who died in the Great War. I'm annoyed at Bertie's vote-grabbing idea of a military parade; I think it's a cynical gesture. Instead why not celebrate the children of Ireland that the Proclamation promised to cherish equally?

What will another term of Fianna Fáil in power mean for Ireland?

More corruption, and more tribunals in ten years time. The gap between rich and poor will increase and there will be more repeats of the Dublin Riots. Bad planning will lead to more commuting and more kids being left into crèches at the crack of dawn. More helicopters at the Galway races, more muddling through, a shift to the right, and more stealth taxes. More soundbites and less substance. Oops, am I going on a bit?

There was anger recently at the perceived backtracking of the Taoiseach in regard to MPs from NI speaking in the Oireachtas. What are your thoughts on that issue? A good or bad idea?

I'd like to see it happen, but I'm not losing sleep over it. It would be useful to kick-start a discussion as to what views Northern politicians have on the practicalities of greater north-south cooperation. It would also make us southern politicians engage more with the North, as we often fall into the trap of delegating the North onto the back-burner.

What are your thoughts on the current conflict in Iraq right now and Ireland's position?

The civilian losses are horrifying, and bear comparison with depravities ofSaddam's regime. The invading forces should withdraw and support a UN-mandated force even though such a force would have an almost impossible task. The thought also occurred to me that if the US downscaled its defence presence in the region by a third, that would probably save enough money to wipe out malnutrition in Africa.

Where should Ireland be twenty years from now?

If we invest more in education and in tackling the needs of those left behind by the Boom we could still be a role model for the rest of the EU. If we can promote green and clean industries and organic farming we'll be at the forefront of Europe. I'd also like to think that Ireland could lead the debate about reforming the UN to face the challenges of the new century. We contributed to that debate back in the 1950's, and should do so again.

There aren't many Irish politicians in the Irish blogosphere. Why do you blog, and do you see more TDs taking it up? (Mr Cuffe's blog can be found here)

It gets me away from the fairly narrow confines of press releases, policy documents and parliamentary contributions. I also suspect it reaches out to a group of people who maybe aren't sure about voting and who might decide to vote as a result of what myself and others are saying in the blogosphere. I also get a techie kick out of taking pix with my phone and uploading them from my laptop. I'd say more politicians will take it up, but it doesn't work if you simply publish your Oireachtas contributions to Blogger as a cut and paste job. I'd say quite a few will repeat the mistake of their lifeless web-sites that are only active at election time.

What would you say to any Irish people reading now who aren't sure who to vote for in the next General Election?

Yikes. I'd say educate yourself as to what TDs can and cannot do when in office; do the math on the particular shade of Government that you desire; and vote accordingly.

Finally, I'd like to play a small round of word association. I'm sure you know what it entails. Basically just outline what word comes into your head when you hear the following names:

Bertie Ahern - Muddler
Tony Blair - Cheshire
George W. Bush - Criminal
Trevor Sargent - Straight
Ian Paisley - Yesterday
Gerry Adams - Balancing
Mary McAleese - Pillar
Padraig Pearse - Stone
Roy Keane - Pope
Ciarán Cuffe - Vote

Next week I hope to have a Sinn Féin MLA take my questions, though I can't comfirm any names at this point...


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