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Tom McGurk on the ‘Greens’. April 5, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, The Left.

There’s a piece in the Sunday Business Post this last weekend by Tom McGurk on the Green Party. It’s a bit of a classic, albeit for the wrong reasons. To be honest I’ve rather enjoyed McGurk’s transition from sort of radical [vaguely associated with the original People’s Democracy, if I recall correctly] to often right of centre curmudgeon. But, there’s also something a little half-hearted about it all, it’s as if he has none of the instinctive self-conviction of an Harris or a Myers. Or maybe he realises it’s all a bit more complicated than he/they try to make out. Which may be why his proscriptions can appear oddly confused by comparison to them or their ilk.

As an solipsistic aside I’ve never been fully convinced of the idea that people have to almost inevitably become less radical as they age. That has always appeared to me to be something of a media construct, though the current Labour Party doesn’t help my case, I have to admit. And for someone like myself in – gulp – middle age I can’t help but feel that now, 2011 is vasty more filled with radical opportunities than when I was 18 or 25 or 35. Why on earth would I turn my back on that. But be that as it may…

Back to McGurk…

For Ireland’s Greens, their comprehensive defeat in the election must be all the more bitter given the speed of events elsewhere. Has there ever been a Greener moment internationally?

A Green tide has re-emerged in Germany as a viable political alternative. In the Middle East, political instability is raising ominous questions about the future of oil supplies, while in Japan, the nuclear nightmare shows no sign of abating.

Have environmental issues ever been more front-page? Could the Green movement in Ireland ever feel more sidelined? Of course, environmental issues here will continue to make headlines, but it may be no longer in the context of Green Party politics.

Which perhaps suggests that the Green Party’s defeat was due to something else, perhaps something more local?

As the election smoke clears, we can see that what was shaping up as a credible political force in Irish politics only a few years ago has been reduced to a protest movement barely visible among the even bigger wreckage of Fianna Fáil’s defeat. It must be hard for the Greens to ignore that ‘might have been’ feeling.

Given that half a million traditional Fianna Fáil votes went looking for a new home, had the Greens not been in government, they might well have won more seats this time around than, for example, Sinn Fe¤ in. It could even have been their moment to establish themselves as a larger political force than Fianna Fáil.

That’s an interesting point, though I’d be dubious that many FFers willing to trade votes were interested in going for the GP over SF, or more particularly the LP.

But yes, it’s very possible that had circumstances been different the GP might have picked up votes from FF and brought back a few extra seats.

Except, circumstances weren’t different. In this election I doubt one GP member had a ‘might have been’ feeling, because without GP participation in the Government with Fianna Fáíl there wouldn’t have been and FF government at all [post 2008 most likely] and that being the case there’d have been no election in March 2011 and that being the case… the entire hypothesis outlined above makes no sense at all.

But don’t let that stop him…

Maybe Patricia McKenna, the former Green MEP and long-time opponent of their going into government, might now take a bow. Unlucky or just unwise? There is so much these days for the Greens to be picking over.

Except if they hadn’t gone into government in 2007… well, see the second last sentence I wrote above.

The big question they will have to answer is whether being in government with Fianna Fáil when it imploded under the weight of its own political culture was just bad luck or a measure of the Greens’ political naivety.

Were they ultimately no more than the tail-end of the show, caught up in the wreckage that was Fianna Fáil after Bertie Ahern?

When the economic collapse came, they were always going to be caught up in the lynching.

Even though they were the political party most circumspect and fastidious about cronyism, they were swept away too.

Yes they were. And I think that to ask the question he poses is to answer it.

But he’s not satisfied with that. Not for him the obvious reason the Green Party collapsed, that they were in government with the least popular administration in Irish political history, arguably since the 1920s. Not for him the supporting evidence that Fianna Fáíl itself collapsed to 20 seats. Or that this was preceded by the local elections of 2009 (and the European and byelections of that year) that demonstrated a similar collapse on the part of both FF and more acutely the Green Party.

The question now for the Greens is not about resurfacing as a potent political force, but about survival. For a start, they might seek to answer the question of how they finally became so unpopular.

But the answer couldn’t be clearer. They were in power with Fianna Fáil and they remained in power, yea, verily, right up to the last moment (apparently despite dissension in the parliamentary party where there was an increasing lobby over the previous year and a half to withdraw from government).

Of course, they always ran the risk of falling off the moral high ground, having deliberately climbed up there to survey the Irish political landscape. Too often, they gave the impression that all other political classes were the slow learners and that Green politics was the only progressive and cutting-edge force in the making of a new Ireland.

That might have been an element, but it’s far from a major one. Because it ignores one basic point. The Green Party had six TDs elected twice in a row [bar Dan Boyle, who lost his seat and Mary White who gained a seat] on a platform positioned precisely on that ground. I’d be interested to hear why McGurk thought that 2011 would have seen them lose out – all other things, but most importantly the economy, being equal – when 2002 and 2007 didn’t (and yes, there’s an issue as to their votes declining over both those elections which I’ll discuss in a later post, but nonetheless the ultimate result in 2011 was drastically worse than expected even if one factors in that decline). So clearly the message resonated with some at some level.

But what of this analysis?

In this, they were both messianic and intolerant and they must ask themselves if it would have helped their public image had they had a better sense of humour about themselves and their foibles. The ‘know-all’ label is about as popular in the Dáil and with the electorate as it ever was in the playground.

By the end – even within local political circles – the Greens had become a byword for an obstructive and implacable political culture. They were the most difficult neighbours on the political street, eventually becoming

, not only the common political enemy, but also the whipping boys.

Can this be regarded entirely seriously? Obstructive and implacable? The party that pretty much waved through every single piece of legislation that Fianna Fáíl introduced on the economy and pretty much all else when one thinks about it? That remained in government with Fianna Fáíl almost to the bitter end? Such obstruction, some politicians might think – if only they could only have more of it!

And here is where the argument deflects into most revealing territory. For example, consider the paradox implicit in this:

However, it was hard to share their enthusiasm for the potential of wind and wave power as the panacea. To date, the results from both are mixed – not to mention the growing costs of the technology involved.

Their belief that in just over a decade, we could have a major proportion of our energy needs generated by wave and wind was never credible. In government, Green fantasy land was often too close for comfort.

Am I the only one who sees behind the wave and wind renaissance in the EU the subtle marketing-power of big business selling the technology required? Are we saving the planet, or just flogging windmills?

…and this:

In past columns, I complained about the Green failure to consider nuclear. Then came Japan.

However, it remains to be seen if the current wave of postponement/ cancellation of future nuclear plans across Europe is grounded in genuine safety concerns or just short-term political funk.

Built in appropriate seismically calm locations, the safety parameters of the newest generations of nuclear reactors has not, as yet, been seriously questioned But the most damaging part of the Greens in government was their penchant for ethical show-trials.

Yes, those evil, evil scum in big-Recylables… so entirely different to the saints in big-Nuclear [by the way you’ve got to admire the use of the term ‘political funk’ as regards the issue of actual melt-down of a nuclear reactor and all the attendant difficulties that are coming to light. I’m more rather than less agnostic on nuclear power, but the last month has pointed to some pretty central problems as regards its usage and utility].

And we’re getting closer…

For example their assault on rural Ireland which ended up with a lamentable pyrrhic victory over the Ward Union stag hunters was a measure of extraordinary political adolescence.

The Greens signalled the beginning of suburban-versus-rural politics in Ireland, with rural dwellers seeing it as the opening shot in a longer campaign to teach them how to live like good suburbanites.


Will the Green Party ever get a vote again where the hedges begin?

In the end, it merely illustrated the most worrying problem the Greens have, the intrinsic failure of their political instinct. Unable to distinguish between the politically correct and the politically credible, for far too many of them, Ireland was somewhere they lived but failed to understand. If they are to have a future, they need to begin the post-mortem somewhere about there.

How many TDs did the Green Party in rural constituencies? One and a half. Mary White and Trevor Sargent. And of those what TD was their banker before the election was called, the one they believed would win a seat come what may? Trevor Sargent. And what was their other one bright spot in 2009? Mark Dearey in Louth. And given that Sargent actually was with one E. Ryan the then what was the impact of this supposed ‘suburban-versus-rural’ politics?

I’m genuinely curious.

There are many many reasons to critique the Green Party in government and out (indeed there’ll be a full outline of same coming to a blog near to you very soon), but the problem is that these aren’t they.


1. Cormac - April 5, 2011

“The Greens signalled the beginning of suburban-versus-rural politics in Ireland, with rural dwellers seeing it as the opening shot in a longer campaign to teach them how to live like good suburbanites.”

What nonsense. Hunting is the sport of bigwig townies, and in my experience real culshies hate hunting – the hunting crowd swan around in their fancy outfits, trample all over crops and never EVER close a gate. It was clever of RISE to frame it as an urban-rural thing, but really it was a media illusion


fergal - April 5, 2011

what is “suburbsn versus rural politics”?The real division in this state is as it’s always been between the haves and the have nots as well as the have a littles!Politically and culturally this is an extremely similar place.
Jimmy has just come home form his job at the local hospital,speaks English,goes home to his semi-D,has a quick dinner,watches RTE news and settles down to watching the Spurs match tonight…he wonders how much money he’s left on his bank account..Jimmy lives in Carrick on Suir.Tommy has just had a similar day but lives in Swords!


2. David L - April 5, 2011

Didn’t John Waters rake over this territory back in the 1980s? And more entertainingly. But sure, if the Greens only could crack a few jokes, maybe pull a few impressions, they’d be grand. That, and stop bloody assaulting culchies. Tom McGurk is offering threadbare analysis, recieved wisdom at best.


3. Earl Williams - April 5, 2011

McGurk, Waters – one male menopause case is pretty much like another.


4. WorldbyStorm - April 5, 2011

It sure feels that way sometimes.


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