The Irish Green Party has taken a considerable battering in the media
after it became public knowledge that the outgoing Fianna Fail
Minister for the Environment Dick Roche, prior to leaving office,
signed an order that brought about a resumption of work on the M3
Motorway near the Hill of Tara. The incoming Green Party Minister of
the Environment John Gormley, on learning of this made a statement to
the media that he was unaware of Mr Roche’s decision prior to taking
Office and he was unable to rescind it due to the manner in which the
decision was made.
The furore that exploded after Gormley’s comments and the Green Party
leaderships response to it has raised a number of interesting
questions about exactly what the Green Party hoped to gain by
entering into a coalition with FF and the PD’s and whether it is not
time that the smaller radical political parties reassessed their
raison d’être for existing and putting themselves before the
Having acquiesced to members of their party entering the Fianna Fail
led coalition government, the Green Party membership has now had the
time to read the detail of the deal that their leadership struck with
FF. It has to be said many party members were astonished at the lack
of hard policy agreements between the two parties and have demanded an
explanation from there leadership as to the advantages of the deal for
not only the Green Party but the environment in general. The members
having pointed out there was almost nothing in the deal about the
fight for social justice and the war on poverty beyond vague promises.
The same is true of what is a central tenet of the Green movement
internationally, opposition to the US/UK occupation of Iraq and their
so called ‘War on Terror’.
If we add the absence of these main planks of the Green Party
platform with the M3-Hill of Tara fiasco, what are the Greens
left with to justify becoming the mud guard for FF’s reactionary
polices. The justification for joining the coalition which the party
leadership has given privately to trusted members, in many ways negates
the need for an independent Green Party, as it boils down to “better us
than the PDs heading the Environment Ministry.” Which one cannot but
find dispiriting as it is not that different to the reasoning behind
Bertie Ahearn decision to ask the Greens to join his government, only
he saw it as “better they piss out of the tent than in.” If one takes
this justification by Bertie at face value, the advantages for him are pretty obvious.
For as well as getting the necessary parliamentary arithmetic, as members of the FF led coalition, it is difficult to see how the Greens can engage in extra-parliamentary activities if they conflict with the polices
of the FF led government, for example over the M3 or Shannon airport.
On hearing this justification for entering a coalition with FF, many
rank and file GP members must have been wondering what they had been
doing all those years building an independent radical Green Party.
When if the aforementioned argument holds water they could have taken
their green politics into Fianna Fail and formed a
green faction within it, in the hope of gaining ministerial seats.
However it is difficult not to conclude that the Green Party Ministers are
displaying a great deal of naivety if they believe all it takes to
implement progressive policies is a Ministerial Chair. One only has to
read Tony Benn’s Diaries about his experience as a Cabinet Minister in
a UK Government or to have watched the TV comedy Yes Minister, to
understand that an individual Minister’s freedom of action is far more
limited than many people realize.
True if the Minister and the Taoiseach’s politics and strategy mirror
one and another, then the Minister is pushing at an open door when it
comes to getting policies onto the statute book.[As was the case with
the PD’s in the last government] But if not; and the Ministers program
conflicts with the Taoiseach, then the senior civil servants and the
political establishment will stall and hinder the Minister at
every turn. Until the Minister in questions head-spins and the
Taoiseach finds a way to either transfer them to another department or
remove them from Office entirely.
As things stand today, almost all the smaller parties within the south
of Ireland appear to lack real political ambition; and are only too willing
to become the mudguard if not lick-spital of the old, tired and failed
civil war Parties. Even Sinn Fein succumbed to this disease in the
lead in to the 2007 general election, when Gerry Adams and other party
leaders went around the country telling all who would listen that they
were ready and willing to serve in a Fianna Fail led coalition; and
this before they had a clue what demands Bertie Ahearn would make of
Perhaps it is time that political party’s like Sinn Fein, the Greens,
the Socialist Party, and possibly even the Labour Party along with
organizations like the Workers Party and éirígí, decided exactly what
their function is within the current system and who their main
political enemies are. Is their purpose to gain a share of political
power at all costs, or is it somewhat different from Irelands two main
parties Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael.
Historically radical left parties represented the working classes and those progressive
elements that exist within the middle classes. Within some European countries this
enabled them to gain enough votes to govern in their own right.
However with the diminishing numbers of the industrial working class
this is less certain these day. Yet if radical left political parties
are to earn their keep they must remain as a bulwark against the
exploitation of the economically poor whilst linking this with the
best interest of the broader mass of working people.
This cannot be done by rushing into coalition with reactionary parties
who represent the middle class at the expense of the aforementioned
30% plus of the population. Yes enter into a coalition if a program of
progressive legislation can be agreed upon by being set in stone.
However the lesson from the FF-Green Party deal reveals that as far as
FF was concerned such a deal was never on the table; and all Ahearn
was prepared to offer up to the Greens was a promise of gravy
tomorrow, which given his track record amounted to now’t.
History teaches us that numerically small radical left parties can
grow and gain electoral support if they apply the correct political
strategy, to understand this one only has to look back before the days
when SF became happy clappey with Bill Clinton and the US green
capitalists, when SF were proud to proclaim they combined their
electoral campaigning with extra parliamentary activities. If we add
in the Green Pary, Socialist Party and the Workers Party as it was, it
was through this type of duel political activities that all four
parties built their core support base that enabled them to gain a toe
hold in Dáil Éireann.
There can be little doubt that as far as SF is concerned, the Party’s neglect
of this duel strategy, partially led to their poor results in the 2007 general election,
especially in the Dublin area.
Even so a return to the aforementioned duel strategy alone will not
increase the lefts electoral support beyond a certain level, not least
because as far as electoral politics is concerned, the Left works
against the best interest of one and another by standing candidates
against each other in constituencies where a single left candidate
could well gain a seat. When it comes to campaigning against the
use of Shannon by the US Security Forces on their way to Iraq etc, the
environment and climate change, the war on poverty, anti racism and
countless other vital issues, the various left parties have hardly a
smidgin of difference between them. But when it comes to electoral
work they become mortal enemies and allow the bosses men home.
If ever there were a time for the left to cease being an also ran in
Irish politics; and attempted to create a common front from which they
could emerge as a force in there own right it is today. With the march
of neo-liberal global capitalism creating the largest gap between the
economically rich and poor the planet has ever experienced, the times
cry out for Left Unity, either via a loose electoral coalition or a