Irish Citizens Alliance – Green Party for slow learners? June 23, 2006Posted by joemomma in Greens, Irish Politics.
This caught my eye on politics.ie – it seems that Vincent Salafia and TaraWatch plan to form a new "party of protest" to contest seats at the next general election. The proposed name of the party is the Irish Citizens Alliance (or "Irish Citizen's Alliance" although I assume that the Alliance is supposed to represent more than one Irish citizen). The necessity for such a party is established as follows:
The idea for the party stems from the experiences of many citizens and citizen’s groups in recent times, which have been unable to find satisfactory support in either the Government or the Opposition parties. There has been an increased perception that parties are reluctant to offend each other by taking stands on any controversial issues that might exclude them from coalition Government.
All perfectly commendable. If your issues are not being represented by the mainstream parties, then setting up your own party or campaigning group is a logical step, and indeed rather courageous. Veterans of "mass immigration" discussions on politics.ie may wish that some of the participants had the gumption to set up their own party, rather than endlessly whine that the existing parties don't represent their views (not to mention those of the silent majority).
But what are the controversial issues this new party wants to promote? What are the issues the other parties fear to speak of in case it might reduce their chances of getting their feet under the cabinet table? Decriminalisation of heroin? Mandatory medical testing of immigrants? Outlawing the Irish language? Paving over the Shannon?
In fact, the list of issues specified is rather more familiar. It's a bit long, so I will quote selectively:
- Re-route the M3 away from Tara
- An end to plans for the Corrib gas pipeline
- Enforcement of international human rights laws at Irish airports
- Massive investment in heath and education services
- Reversal of decentralisation
- Re-evaluation of privatization of national services, such as transport, health, education, and prison services.
- Increased public housing and revitalization of first-time buyer scheme.
- Ban GM agriculture and promotion of organic farming through grant system, with a view to creating an ‘organic island’.
As a discerning reader of Ireland's premier political web log, you will already have identified these as policies held by at least one opposition party, the Greens. The points above would no doubt be phrased a little differently in the Green Party's manifesto, and there are some I haven't quoted which might not be Green Party policy or key Green issues (e.g. "Introduction of statutory provisions to limit waste of public money and overspending on public projects " — sounds nice, but probably something you'd expect Fine Gael to run with in the first instance). However there doesn't appear to be anything you could identify as a fundamental ideological difference between the putative Citizens Alliance and the Green Party.
Given that the agenda they seek to push already forms part of the policy programme of an established political party, why do Salafia and his "citizens groups" not just throw their lot in with the Greens? It's not uncommon to come across individuals or groups who share the environmental agenda of the Greens, but can't bring themselves to join that party, usually because they find themselves to the right of the Greens on non-environmental issues. Colm Mac Eochaidh, for example, is a committed environmentalist and yet remains in Fine Gael, a party whose environmental policy is specifically designed to face in every possible direction at once. On RTÉ's Questions and Answers some years back he stated that this was because he didn't agree with the Green Party's economic policies. Kathy Sinnott recently set about creating an "Irish Environmental Forum" to unite groups campaigning on environmental issues. Sinnott is a bit of an enigma, but leaving aside questions of political ambition, I suspect that she does not share the Green Party's social liberalism.
However Salafia's group does not appear to be another bunch of "conservative Greens" — they call for "re-evaluation of privatization of national services, such as transport, health, education, and prison services" and "increased public housing," so you could probably say they are on the soft left. It seems that the issue that divides them from the established Green Party is the latter's apparent willingness to join a coalition government:
Well, naturally, the Green Party would approve of a lot of what we are talking about. But the Green party will have to go into coalition with Fine Gael and Labour – or someother concoction. What will happen to these issues then, is the question.
We will not go into coalition. We will put forward a clear, solid, concrete set of proposals as our platform. If we are elected, we will implement them.
So it's political naiveté then. The author (who I'll assume is Salafia) seems genuinely convinced that his policies are "clearly favored by the majority of people in Ireland", and that this majority, if given the choice, will sweep away the established system of political parties in favour of this new option. To date the Green Party has only managed to attract an 8% level of support for remarkably similar policies, and Salafia doesn't provide any material reason why his new party should fare any better.
There is the possibility that Salafia has it in for the Greens for some reason, or that his party is intended as a ginger group to force the Greens to come out more strongly on the issues in his programme. The Green Party's perceived move into the mainstream has certainly produced a number of disaffected Greens who were happier on the further margins. However I lean towards the interpretation that Salafia genuinely believes that his initiative is new and different enough to attract a level of support exponentially larger than has been given to the party promoting these issues in the past.
He's wrong, of course, but in a sense he is starting out on the same journey of discovery that the Greens have been undertaking over the past 25 years. No doubt the founders of the Greens at one point believed that the policies and ideas they were trying to promote were so "common-sense" (a phrase used by Salafia) that they merely had to be put before the electorate to gain the nation's sweeping endorsement. Other Greens would have been of the opinion that sullying themselves in the murky business of electoral politics at all represented a compromise, and that the movement should remain one purely dedicated to campaigning and protest.
The bulk of the Green movement moved beyond the latter viewpoint fairly early on, and it appears Salafia has also ditched this false notion of the purity of non-electoral politics. However he has yet to learn the hard lessons endured by idealistic Greens over the course of several false dawns and repeated crushing electoral defeats at the hands of parties we all assumed had sacrificed the trust of the Irish electorate. It takes a lot more to get elected than idealism, bright ideas and faith in the electorate's better nature. It is also a mistake to overestimate the public's appetite for change.
Am I just being a big old cynic? Yes, I am a big old cynic. However, I'm not trying to suggest that Salafia's idealism is misplaced. I don't believe that the 8% or so of the Irish electorate who have been convinced to support the Green Party's message represents a limit for the growth of this movement. The issues the party highlights move further into the mainstream every day, and the perceived objections which prevent certain environmentally-minded voters from supporting the party get fuzzier also. I don't expect the Greens will ever be the mass national movement Salafia hopes to build (two seats in every constituency!), but I do believe it will build a more substantial wedge to push the Green philosophy towards the top of the national agenda.
And in case any readers are still wondering (or, indeed, still reading), yes as well as being a cynic I am also a Green.