Energy & EnvironmentIssues

A new ‘greener’ government or a government of ‘silos’?

Climate action and environmental policy feature much in the Programme for Government. However, with three jostling parties making up the government one has to wonder about policy coherence, co-operation and implementation. Will this be a government of ‘silos’? NUI Galway researchers Pádraic Ó hUiginn and Brendan Flynn write.

A three-party coalition government has finally been put in place. It includes an historic ‘first’ coalition of the two larger parties that later emerged from the Civil War groupings, together with the Green Party. The Green Party and their coalition partners have also been fierce opponents of each other.

Our Constitution limits the membership of government or cabinet posts to fifteen, including An Taoiseach. However, in a scenario where there are many policies and many personalities, we’ve seen An Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD and his new party leader colleagues avail of the ‘super junior’ role to extend their options. They also made innovative use of Seanad Éireann[1] to appoint Pippa Hackett to a seat at the cabinet in one of those ‘super junior’ roles, as Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity in the Department of Agriculture and the Marine.

Likewise, Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton TD (former Chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action, Communications and Environment) will attend government meetings as a ‘super junior’ Minister for International and Roads Transport and Logistics. Deputy Naughton will be part of the new Department of Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport with Green Party leader and Minister, Eamon Ryan TD. This new department seems a good effort at joining the dots in integrating environmental policies across government. However, it raises the question of where has ‘environment’ gone (something we saw before in 2016)?

Finally, after a protracted day of would-be junior ministers being appointed, declined appointments and protest at having not been appointed, we have the full list of twenty, giving the broad picture of how government departments and their ‘silos’ will be organised.

The image of a ‘silo’ has been used to describe how modern governments have tended to over-specialise into very many small sub-departments or sections, dominated by their civil service experts. Inside the ‘silo’, policies are forged and delivered, but outside each ‘silo’ it is a different story. The inevitable cross-departmental connections with other issues and the bigger picture often get left aside. The result is usually fragmented policy, and sometimes government action under one heading gets actively undermined by another government policy from a different branch.

Climate action in particular needs joined-up policymaking to be effective and to ensure that there is a ‘just transition’. It is disjointed if we have a Green Party Minister for Transport who makes progress decarbonising our mobility but can’t exert leverage on a Minister for Agriculture to reduce emissions from our food production system.

Within this, there is also the strategic economic question around Ireland’s farming emissions being proportionally larger than other EU neighbours that have much larger heavy industry and its associated greenhouse gases emissions. Do we risk excess focus on agricultural/agri-food emissions, that ultimately hampers our capacity for economic recovery and leads to ‘carbon leakage’ etc. through food imports from countries with less sustainable production? Equally, there is a risk that ambitious green measures could undermine other valid policy objectives, on mobility, health and social inclusion.

Environmental Policy Integration: Innovation and Change (EPIIC)

The bottom line from the EPIIC[2] research is that there’s already a lack of joined-up thinking, action and funding across Irish agriculture, energy, transport, climate, marine and other sectors. It is our view, and our research indicates all of this might only become worse with such a complex, three-party coalition, which at the same time is promising so much on climate action and the environment.

In an already ‘siloised’ system, are we facing into a period of miniature governments within government, with each party doing its own thing? If the new government is going to deliver on what it promises for climate change, environment and sustainability, it’s going to have face down the problem of government by ‘silo’.

The good news, as the EPIIC report on environmental policy integration makes clear, is that there are a set of quite simple measures that could be taken to reduce this problem and improve coherence. Some of these involve methods to get the ‘silos’ to inter-act with each other. Analysis of these options will follow in a subsequent article.

With barely its first week done, and already some controversies, on top of navigating Covid-19, can this government transcend the ‘silos’ and join things up?

[1] The Constitution in Article 28.7.1 to 28.7.2 sets out that a maximum of two ministers of government (senior cabinet ministers), other than the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance may be appointed from Seanad Éireann. Separately, legislation provides that a Minister of State (junior minister) may be appointed from either house of the Oireachtas.

[2] EPIIC was published as part of the EPA Research Programme 2014–2020. The programme is financed by the Irish Government. It is administered on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment by the EPA, which has the statutory function of co-ordinating and promoting environmental research. A summary of EPIIC and its report are available here from the EPA website:

Pádraic Ó hUiginn is a Research Fellow and project manager of the EPIIC project at the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway. Dr Brendan Flynn is a Lecturer and Principal Investigator of the EPIIC project at the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway. 

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