Pauline O'Reilly: Ceta a bitter pill for Greens to swallow 

Hard work of Green MEPs and activists means Ceta has protections for workers' rights and the environment, writes the Green Party Leader in the Seanad, Pauline O’Reilly
Pauline O'Reilly: Ceta a bitter pill for Greens to swallow 

"If the current administration was a single party Green Party government, there is little question we would not sign up to Ceta." Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Deputy Mairead Farrell, in her article of 4th February on the ratification of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) raised a number of issues in relation to the EU Canada Trade Agreement, and the stance of the Green Party in 2017 and now.

It is our commitment in government to make extraordinary change a reality for the sake of the planet and our people. As a minority party not only in government, but in the Oireachtas, we have punched well above our weight, at a time when Ireland and the world is gripped by Covid-19 - one of the most serious issues of our time. 

We have stepped up to form a government when many would not.

The ratification of Ceta, a deal not well understood by many, was signed up to by Ireland in 2017 and is now due to be voted on. What the Green Party must do now, is to recognise the huge changes made to Ceta due to the work of many and to be really honest about the politics of opposing such a deal. Other parties should also be honest.

Green Party and Ceta 

The Green Party was active in criticising the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) in Europe and at home over a number of years. We pointed out the democratic and social shortcomings of such trade deals. 

Since that time, there have been a number of developments in how the deal would operate, including an opinion from the European Court of Justice. These changes have been in large part due to the work of our MEPs and activists across Europe and they have changed the deal to an extent that cannot be ignored. Nor can the realities of working to make real lasting change happen in Ireland.

Deputy Farrell makes a number of assertions in her article about the effects such deals will have on the regulation of things like environmental protection, labour rights and other aspects of our shared lives. 

Most of these are now explicitly excluded from the deal as it stands, changes that are a testament to the hard work and campaigning of so many in Ireland, Canada and the EU.

Changes include the replacement of the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism with a more transparent investor court system, and include a clause that protects countries based on their environment and workers' rights laws.

The work now for our European Greens and all parties is to ensure that in all of the trade deals that follow they continue to protect workers and environment rights, and that they go further than Ceta. Sinn Féin has an obligation to do this too at a European level and has been found lacking.

Politics as art of possible 

Politics is the art of the possible. It is not academics and it is not about standing on the sidelines shouting in. It is our commitment in government to bring about extraordinary change and we are already doing this. 

It is the responsibility of every politician and every group to leave a legacy. This is why each one of us in the Green Party got into politics - to achieve the goals that we fought for.

The achievements of the Green Party include a commitment to an average annual reduction of 7% in greenhouse gas emissions, a revolutionary Climate Action Bill that not only sets this in law, but ends the exploration of oil and gas off our shores and the ending of LNG terminals. 

Senator Pauline O'Reilly: "We will never argue that Ceta is a perfect trade deal and in fact have yet to see a perfect trade deal."
Senator Pauline O'Reilly: "We will never argue that Ceta is a perfect trade deal and in fact have yet to see a perfect trade deal."

We have also secured the largest commitment ever to the restoration of peatlands and support for the communities grappling with this change to their jobs. On animal welfare we have doubled funding and are reviewing and investing in the National Parks and Wildlife Services, while other parties continue to advocate for barbaric practices. 

Next week there will be new requirements for farming grants to ensure sustainable practices. As well as all of this, we pushed for the most transformative budget in public and active transport ever in the history of the State, including €1 million a day and new staff for every council. 

These will be the legacies of our small party that the people of Ireland deserve.

No such thing as a perfect trade deal

We will never argue that Ceta is a perfect trade deal and in fact have yet to see a perfect trade deal. The Brexit trade deal for instance, currently working its way through the ratification process in the European Parliament, is filled with challenges, but to oppose it on the basis that it doesn't fit our perfect model, would be irresponsible and misguided. 

International trade is fraught with challenges – competing legislation across countries, jobs and investment bring with them investors. 

This is why since our stance in 2016, Ceta was changed and now includes a clause, Article 24.4. which recognises the rights of each country to “set its environmental priorities, to establish its levels of environmental protection, and to adopt or modify its laws and policies accordingly”.

If we are very honest with ourselves, across the political spectrum, Ceta may not be Green Party policy but it is the policy of the majority of politicians, not only in the government but in the Dáil. 

It will be ratified with or without us and now the decision for our small party is where lies our responsibility? 

To vote against our government partners is to risk gains in other areas that they would then vote against. This is a bitter pill to swallow, but they also have bitter pills to swallow.

In the general election a year ago, the one defining message of our campaign was that it has never been more important to have Greens in government. We could not have been any clearer about our desire to get in there, to engage in the necessary deal-making and consensus building that would ensure that Ireland would begin to turn the corner on its record on environmental and climate action. 

We knew that going into government in the current climate was not going to be easy. We are in the middle of a pandemic and a climate and biodiversity crisis and it’s all hands to the wheel to set this right.

If the current administration was a single party Green Party government, there is little question we would not sign up to Ceta. While the deal is improved, it is not the vision that we would advance for the promotion of socially just and environmentally sustainable trade.

  • Pauline O’Reilly is Green Party Leader in the Seanad 

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