A voice from the past… August 22, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
…funny, speaking of Eoghan Harris last week, for what of another figure from Irish political life who is currently drifting, that being Eamon Ryan, who was recently profiled along with the Green Party in the Irish Times.
Isn’t it a fascinating situation we find ourselves in. Independents and parties of the left somewhat on the ropes after the past two and a half years – albeit continuing to make a very strong showing poll wise – while out there a party with no TDs, no MEPs and an handful of councillors is working to make itself relevant again.
The big problem for the GP was losing all national representation (and this may be a problem others will face in the near future). It’s one thing to have only a smattering of TDs, or an MEP. It’s quite another to have none at all. In that instance it is almost impossible, as Eamon Ryan and the GP will have now discovered, to appear relevant. Attempting to access the media is an uphill struggle. However elaborate or well organised an event there is every possibility no one will pay any attention at all. And there’s the most crucial factor that democratic legitimisation of one’s political voice is lacking.
But, there’s a part of me that thinks that the Green Party’s tenure was always more fragile than it appeared. It’s not that they were necessarily a party of the Celtic Tiger, though there’s something in that. But compare and contrast their progress with that of Sinn Féin, who broke big in similar numbers in 2002, retreated as well in 2007, but returned in much greater numbers in 2011. The focus of SF, and I saw it first hand, on constituencies during that period was huge. But it was linked into a fairly clear ideological orientation and very clear goals. The GP by contrast was all over the place in policy matters, unfocused on constituency issues, and once in Government its energies dissipated as it sought to engage with the day to day challenges that brought and the manner in which that diverted its attentions away from constituencies (something not entirely dissimilar is also true of the smaller parties where significant tranches of cadres have been relocated both physically and in terms of focus on the Dáil – something borne of the necessity of managing a new and different public role from that they had before).
Add to that that the GP was always, and will presumably always remain, rather marginal because of its dependence upon transfers – true of many parties, but given that it lacked a decisive class and/or other niche – when those transfers dried up…
This is a problem because the political environment has shifted decisively. 2013 is not 2006. The landscape is extremely different with a range of players who seven years ago were not a factor or not as much a factor.
The IT piece suggests that:
The party’s recovery has been slow and halting and, ergo, not always apparent. Their partners in political crime, Fianna Fбil, have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and moved on but you sense the Greens have been in a holding pattern for two years now.
But I think it is open to question whether there has been a ‘recovery’. At best it has held the line by remaining extant. But look at the major issues of the past two and a half years since FG/LP took office. Is there a single one where the GP has been evident by its input, analysis, or even presence? Hard to believe that there has. Moreover its policy positions has placed it on – perhaps, the wrong side of the line in terms of rebuilding presence, say in relation to the Property Tax and most likely the Water Charges. Though in truth that’s been a poisoned chalice for others too. Again this is about relevance.
The piece continues;
The party did publish a decent pre-budget submission and has held two major climate change conferences in the Burren and in Dublin.
But to what purpose because the real action, as all are aware, is in a very different area:
However, it has yet to produce its promised new policies and there are clear gaps in representation in constituencies, including some Dublin constituencies where you would expect them to be strong. Ryan is a one-person political think tank with an impressive grasp of the big issues but there is a sense that the party needs to focus more on simple, local and tangible issues.
The problem is that there’s no Green Party there, or not much of one, to focus on those issues. Arguably the local elections preceding the 2011 GE put paid to that by stripping almost all their Councillor base and then there was the loss of the Parliamentary Party (PP) afterwards. With only non-elected representatives to put their case in most of the state their way into the political system is stymied for the moment.
The party learned this weakness to its cost once before. Many of its candidates coasted home in the local elections in 1991, including a student, Sadhbh O’Neill, who was on a J1 visa in America and won a seat without canvassing. At the next election it suffered a major reverse and a painful reminder that ground-up grass roots activism was a prerequisite.
To forget that lesson once is unfortunate, to forget it twice suggests carelessness.
There’s another problem, a sense – exacerbated by their time in government – that they were not terribly interested in the local and that their real goal was government. This wasn’t helped by the palpable distaste for opposition from certain high profile party figures. That’s all very well but even a cursory examination of the historical record would have suggested that participation in government was going to be a fleeting thing, if they were lucky.
To some extent this was true also of the PDs, but the PDs were always careful to ensure they had a broad range of councillors in situ, so much so that when their PP disbanded there was considerable outrage amongst the councillors that the party would throw in the towel.
With only two full councillors (Malcolm Noonan in Kilkenny and Mark Dearey in Co Louth), Ryan has almost come to personify the party.
But only to the extent that he is remembered at all. And that too is problematic because he is part of the leadership that brought them into government. But speaking of government, there’s also a sense that some, if not all, of this was avoidable. That the GP while reduced never needed to find itself in the position it was in.
It was – for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about opposition – woefully unprepared for government. There was far too much rhetoric when in government. It’s actions as part of that government, not least what by any reasonable analysis appeared to be a ministerial carve-up quite at odds with the supposedly open and democratic traditions of that party, were sharply at odds with its previous rhetoric. Moreover it was never as pivotal to events as it made itself out to be (in regard to the ‘necessity’ of stability) and it could have honourably disengaged from government at many many points along the way and done so for entirely the right and legitimate reasons but chose not to. In other words that the shadow of that government still hangs over it, and perhaps will for many years to come.
And what has changed since then? The GP unfortunately often spoke far too glibly about ‘realism’ and the ‘national interest’ and appeared to lack the resources to properly analyse its situation when utter chaos was breaking around it. Functionally it positioned itself firmly on the centre centre/right of the political spectrum in government. There’s been no sense that it believes it did anything wrong in that period, not even the sort of half apology that FF has found expedient to offer the electorate.
One often hears that SF will only break through the 20 per cent barrier when Adams and McGuinness are gone. Perhaps so. But one could argue that it is only when the GP has been through a complete overhaul of personnel and policy, that it refashions itself and relocates itself away from its incarnation in the mid to late 2000s, that it will be able to progress. The problem is that there’s precious little evidence of a willingness to do so, and perhaps more importantly little scope for it to do so in its now much reduced circumstance. And that suggests that for all the aspirations it will be well after 2016 that we see any sort of renaissance for it. Perhaps well into the third decade of this century.
And it’s all of that which makes the following seem so beside the point:
The most significant development in recent weeks has been his decision to stand in the EU elections in Dublin next year. He says it was clearly within the rebuilding plans that the party contested the EU elections.
“It’s one of the ways to get the Green Party back. It recognises the strengths we have is that we are part of a European Green movement that has real scale and power.”
If anyone knows of advance test polling on this it would be interesting to hear it. And while Ryan does have a greater profile than others one has to wonder how he expects to pick up a seat. Could Ryan win? I’m not the person best-placed to make that assessment, perhaps IEL will offer his opinion. But it seems to me that he faces such an enormous challenge, or range of challenges, that his chances are minimal.
Of course it may be that he believes there’s no seat to be picked up but that going forward in the European election will have a positive effect on the GE. But as the IT article notes this raises certain questions.
It’s a big gamble. And if Ryan succeeds, will he relinquish the seat to stand in the Dбil. And then, in which constituency? Dublin South is being reduced from five to three. He says it’s much too early to make such decisions, though does not rule out contesting Dбil elections.
“First I would have to get elected. If I can achieve that it will do a huge amount to help our party rebuild a base and offices and supports that we need to develop the party.”
Dublin South would appear, on the face of it, to be an almost impossible constituency for the GP. With one enormously popular independent already there, and it’s decidedly FG tilt it would seem that 1GP/2FG or even 1FF would be the most likely option (Adrian Kavanagh’s analysis here suggests 1IND, 1FG and 1FF).
Is any other constituency going to welcome him with open arms? Unlikely.
And what if he loses at the European election?
The recession has backgrounded climate change somewhat as a priority issue but Ryan and the Greens say it is still the most important. Moreover, he argues the party’s messages on issues such as the environment, political corruption, pollution and transport will have a strong resonance with the electorate.
Perhaps so. But it is all too likely that the Green Party arguing about such issues will not whereas other formations taking up those issues are more likely to.
To some extent it is almost as if they are hoping to parallel the path Joe Higgins and the SP took in the late 2000s. But there’s one major problem with that. FF may be half-forgiven, the SP did nothing that required forgiveness, but the sentiment against the GP participation in the 2007-11 government is still very strong, though from what I hear it tends to more pity than anger (though anger is still there).
Personally, whatever the flaws of the GP, I regret the fact there is no focussed voice on climate change in the Oireachtas. That’s a dismal lack. But it may well be that this Green Party as it currently stands is not best placed to be that voice, and may lack the capacity to ever be so.
And in terms of national prominence, even if Ryan won a seat, at either European or national level, that would still leave it as marginal as it was in the early 1990s. Or much more so, given that sentiment noted above.