By Derek Wall, of the left wing of the English-Welsh Green party:
A calamitous coalition
Wednesday 24 June 2009
The Irish Green Party has provided a textbook example of how not to do green politics. Who would have thought a Green Party would cut bus services and support motorway-building through a heritage site? Who would have believed that a Green government elected partly because of its opposition to the Iraq war would allow US war planes to refuel in Ireland at Shannon?
The Irish Greens have had councillors, MEPs and members of the Irish parliament elected because of the country’s system of proportional representation.
Ireland has two centre-right political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, which have often been linked to allegations of corruption involving property deals.
The Greens made their name as critics of Fianna Fail. In February 2007, Green leader Trevor Sargent told the Irish Times: “I do not see myself leading the party into coalition with Fianna Fail due to its culture of bad planning, corruption and bad standards.”
However, after the May 2007 general election, Sargent resigned as leader and 80 per cent of party members voted to join a Fianna Fail government in coalition.
The results have been catastrophic.
The Irish Green Party, which once strongly supported the Mayo protesters, has become silent since joining the government.
Worst of all from an environmental point of view, the government is building a motorway through Tara, perhaps Ireland’s most important political landscape.
The Greens have acted as a “mud guard,” taking the flak for Fianna Fail’s actions. The Irish economy, based on cuts in corporation tax and banking deregulation, has been in freefall. What is the difference, it is said, between Ireland and Iceland. The answer? One letter and six months.
Savage cutbacks in public services have been introduced and the Greens have presided over cuts in the Dublin bus services.
Before the coalition was created, prominent party member Ciaran Cuffe argued: “Let’s be clear. A deal with Fianna Fail would be a deal with the devil. We would be spat out after five years and decimated as a party.”
True words indeed.
The Green Party now looks likely to stay in government, even if Fianna Fail were to import nuclear weapons and declare war on Scotland or introduce pesticides into school milk. The Green MPs know that if they left government, there would be a general election and they would lose their seats and salaries.
It looks likely that the party will disappear for perhaps a generation.
This is tragic given the urgency of problems such as climate change. The damage done to Green politics internationally is too large to measure.
However, we should not simply cry betrayal and refuse to participate in electoral politics.
The Latin American left has shown it is possible to use the state to help build an alternative. Greens in Europe have created some positive changes. In Scotland the Greens have not gone into government with the SNP but have supported them on progressive measures. Likewise in London, Green Party members supported much of the progressive work of former mayor Ken Livingstone.
While politics involves inevitable compromises, the pursuit of office can sometimes erode all real political gain.
The late great German Green Petra Kelly argued that the Greens should be an “anti-party party.” Perhaps her words need to be rediscovered.
Irish Greens vote to back Lisbon Treaty: here.
Campaign launched to save ancient Irish monuments: here.
- Jane Sterk will remain leader of Green Party of BC (vicnews.com)
- Fianna Fáil and Abortion (cedarlounge.wordpress.com)