John Gormley: succumbed to the dictum that power corrupts

There is a case to be made for the Green Party and how it has been conducting itself. Since the country began to come apart at the seams, the Greens have been thrust in with Fianna Fáil as chief culprits for the state we're in.

Some say they should never have gone into government with a party many Greenies regarded as the Great Satan. The counter argument is that by 2007, it was time to put up or shut up. After two decades as a party of protest, the Greens were presented with an opportunity to change the world rather than wail about it. Twenty-twenty vision would have applauded them if they had turned down Bertie Ahern's offer to govern. But it's difficult to fault them for acting as they did at the time.

Through the bubble years, the Greens were the party that objected loudest to the excess. They have been proved correct in the repeated efforts they made to highlight how planning in the public interest had been completely usurped by developers and their pals in the ruling parties.

Since entering government, the accusation levelled at them is that they have gone native. Again, that is unfair. Green politicians maintain with some credibility that they have managed, through all the noise, to further their policy agenda. Planning, energy conservation and education have all benefited from Green involvement in government.

There is an argument to be made that the Greens remained in government for the national interest through the worst of the banking crisis, the establishment of Nama and last December's budget. Political instability during that crucial time could have been catastrophic.

The latest accusation of going native concerns the "jobs for the boys" controversy surrounding the appointment of an extra junior minister. Ciaran Cuffe landed his new post in Brian Cowen's reshuffle. The Greens are accused of having their loyalty bought with a job. It could reasonably be countered that their primary interest is to increase their influence on government. They could also claim that the job will assist Cuffe's re-election campaign, balancing out the negative reaction the party has received for what are effectively the sins of Fianna Fáil.

All the above arguments could be made in favour of the party. There is, however, one recent development that does indicate that the Green Party has succumbed to the dictum that power corrupts.

Since assuming the office of Minister for the Environment, John Gormley has been doing his damnedest to undermine the construction of the country's first municipal incinerator. The facility is to be based on the Poolbeg peninsula, in the heart of Gormley's constituency.

Gormley was a vocal opponent of the facility since before he entered government. His party has long opposed incineration. Yet the burning of waste is government policy. It has been fully scrutinised by the planning authorities and has got EPA approval. If Fine Gael was leading a new coalition government in the morning, incineration would remain government policy.

Exporting waste costs three times as much as getting rid of it at home. The EU has placed limits on how much landfill can be used, and the state is fast approaching the limit. After that, fines running into millions will be imposed. Unless the citizens are willing to stump up considerably more tax, incineration will be as much a feature of waste disposal here as it is in practically every other developed country in the world.

On a political level, it is understandable that Gormley has attempted to undermine his own government's policy. If the incinerator goes ahead, he will most likely lose his seat. So he has placed roadblocks where he can, attempting to impose limits on burning waste, commissioning reviews, attacking the proposal at every turn, all designed to undermine the viability of the incinerator that threatens his future.

Last week, RTÉ obtained correspondence between Gormley and the city manager John Tierney showing the two men have been at loggerheads over the issue. Tierney is in the unfortunate position of having to implement a government policy which the government doesn't want to know about.

On Monday, Gormley's campaign entered a new phase with the publication of a draft environmental bill. He is proposing a levy on waste for incineration of up to €120 per tonne. This is 12 times higher than the levy recommended by the ESRI, and nearly five times higher than that proposed by consultants Gormley himself commissioned to review waste policy.

The proposal could make the Poolbeg facility unviable. Crucially, it also means that disposing waste in landfill might be more attractive than burning it.

The EU considers landfill to be the worst environmental method of waste disposal. Yet through his draft proposal, Gormley is effectively promoting landfill over incineration. The leader of the Green party is showing blatant disregard for the environment in apparently pursuing his narrow political objective of looking after his constituency.

Fianna Fáil is considered corrupt in parties like the Greens because the big party's record in power suggests its members routinely put party and constituency interests ahead of the national interest. Now we have the head of the Green Party attempting to do just that, and give the environment a kicking in the process.

Waste management expert PJ Rudden told the Irish Times that waste disposal was now "in crisis" with the prospect of the state forking out hundreds of millions in fines over landfill policy.

"I wonder does the Taoiseach really know what Mr Gormley is doing," Rudden says.

Most likely, the Taoiseach does. Gormley is donning the soiled garments of corrupted power, looking after number one at the expense of the state, not to mention the environment.