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Sinn Féin and Labour talk about the Senate. Ah…finally the Opposition stirs… About time. Meanwhile… Tales of the Peace Process – a continuing Series. July 9, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Sinn Féin.
3 comments

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Covering some of the same ground that Cian has already discussed today on irishelection it is good to see that Labour and Sinn Féin are talking about a voting pact in the Seanad. The Irish Times notes that:

Sinn Féin and Labour are attempting to agree a voting pact in the Seanad elections that would give Sinn Féin its first ever seat in the Upper House of the Oireachtas.

The two parties have been in discussions about a deal that would see one of Sinn Féin’s most promising politicians, Pearse Doherty, elected to the Seanad with the help of Labour votes.

In return, Sinn Féin councillors around the State would vote for Labour’s Alex White to give the party an extra seat in the Upper House.

The discussions are being led on the Labour side by Joe Costello. The IT reports that:

A Labour spokesman pointed out that there had always been horse-trading in Seanad elections and he added that there was no objection in principle to a deal with Sinn Féin.

Which is nice of them…

Meanwhile there are precedents for this sort of dealing:

Parties have often traded votes in past Seanad elections. In 1992 the Progressive Democrats and the Workers’ Party entered a voting pact that gave each party a senator.

In 1997 and 2002 the PDs voted for Fianna Fáil candidates and in return were given Seanad seats among the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees.

Somehow there is a more pointed aspect to this election. Already there has been the controversy over the Green/FF voting pact for their respective candidates. I’ve mentioned that on IrishElection, and it continues to rumble through. There does seem to be something a tad calculated about that particular pact, as if the Greens are being dragged into a process they are not particularly comfortable with. Which indeed according to the IT, they’re not:

Green councillors were informed that they would have to vote for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and that they would have their ballot papers inspected to ensure that they fulfilled the pledge.

A number of Green councillors expressed reservations about voting for specified Fianna Fáil candidates and said they would not allow their ballot papers to be inspected.

Perhaps it is the inspection aspect of the process which is difficult to reconcile with what should be a partnership. And the obvious implication of any such process is that there is a serious lack of trust that Green councillors will vote the ‘right’ way. And indeed perhaps that is correct. The privacy of the ballot is one of the few places that a political protest at the dynamic of the new coalition can be registered. To be honest I think FFs fears are somewhat unfounded. There is a considerable, and to my mind entirely appropriate, appetite to to bring Dan Boyle back in. It will be interesting to see if the second Senator that is being mooted as an appointee will come from some other section of the party in order to assuage continuing doubts.

Returning to the Labour/SF talks, this is a process driven by the numbers. Labour needs SF votes (all 58 of them) to have a candidate elected on the Cultural and Education Panel. By contrast Labour has 125 votes which should see their candidate sail through to victory on the Agricultural panel and have sufficient left over to see Pearse Doherty elected.

And that means that this is a purely technical process that doesn’t indicate anything much one way or another in political terms. After all, if the PDs and the WP were able to work together then anything is possible. SF has become a significant enough bloc to be attractive to any party in a voting deal. Indeed, and perhaps ironically in view of Aherns quip about ‘ye haven’t got the numbers’ in the Dáil as regards speaking rights being curtalied due to their lack of ‘group’ status, even FF and SF might have (or might still if the talks go sour) struck a deal.

Still, the optimist in me – and I share this I think with Cian (or as he notes “This may end up coming to nought, but to see the logic of seats winning out over a long standing principle of boycott suggests that the principle of boycotting Sinn Fein itself is now quite weak in some quarters and Sinn Fein’s confidence that parties would come knocking if the numbers stacked up was not unfounded”) – thinks that a direct engagement between Labour and Sinn Féin is no harm in itself. It is not as if informal contacts don’t exist on a local basis. I’ve long been at meetings with councillors and TDs from both SF and Labour where there has been a broad meeting of minds, even – dare I suggest – a tinge of leftist camaraderie, although sometimes I think that that is engendered by the process of local government rather than ideological similarity.

A pity that that sort of discourse is seemingly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate at a higher level because it is going to be a long five years and the role of the left elements of the opposition are going to be crucial…

One last thing. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is remarkable how a number of FG members on Politics.ie are seemingly open to SF being involved at 2012. Now, these are a minority, they may well be unrepresentative. But, political circumstance makes strange alliances, even of those who loathe each other. And I can’t quite shake the echo of Trevor Sargents comments in the Dáil debate a week or two ago where he lambasted FG for not negotiating with SF…

……………………………..

Meanwhile, and perhaps appropriately on foot of the post about Ed Moloney, Alastair Campbell’s diaries indicate a fairly intriguing meeting of minds in December 1997 when Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness arrived. In an excerpt published today in the Guardian Campbell indicates that McGuinness was much less emollient than Adams (a highly entertaining and, worryingly, not entirely improbable take on this meeting is at Dublin Opinion).

Some of the games played are almost laughable:

They came inside and we kept them waiting while we went over what TB was due to say.

Yes, great. Just the way to handle a conflict that had seen 3,500 people die in the previous quarter century. Although he also records that Blair ‘came over as friendly’.

Then there was an interesting admission regarding Martin McGuinness:

I shook McGuinness by the hand, who as he sat down said, fairly loudly: “So this is the room where all the damage was done.” It was a classic moment where the different histories played out. Everyone on our side thought he was referring to the mortar attack on Major, and we were shocked. Yet it became obvious from their surprise at our shock that he was referring to policymaking down the years, and Britain’s involvement in Ireland. “No, no, I meant 1921,” he said. I found McGuinness more impressive than Adams, who did the big statesman bit, and talked in grand historical sweeps, but McGuinness just made a point and battered it, and forced you to take it on board.

Indeed one gets the feeling that Campbell thought McGuinness the more substantial figure, and perhaps more difficult to deal with.

I was eyeing their reaction to TB the whole time, and both Adams and McG regularly let a little smile cross their lips. Mo got pissed off, volubly, when they said she wasn’t doing enough. TB was maybe not as firm as we had planned, but he did ask – which I decided not to brief, and knew they wouldn’t – whether they would be able to sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland. Adams was OK, McGuinness was not. Adams said the prize of a lasting peace justifies the risks. Lloyd George, Balfour, Gladstone, Cromwell, they all thought they had answers of sorts. We want our answers to be the endgame. A cobbled-together agreement will not stand the test of time.

That’s quite an admission regarding Adams and for all those who have already questioned his bona fides it is likely to add a little bit more petrol to the fire. Or is it? Reading the text it is not entirely clear that Adams said that he would ‘sign up to a settlement that did not explicitly commit to a united Ireland’. What it does seem to say is that he implied ‘risks’ were worth taking. A different matter. In any event it made perfect political sense for Adams and McGuinness to run a ‘soft/hard-line’ routine, even at this level of engagement. The British Army has acknowledged that there was no military solution to the situation in the North and that the best they could do was to prod the main players towards some level of non-armed resolution. That was quite a strong hand for SF to be playing and a nuanced negotiating strategy which sought to project a sense that their much vaunted unity of purpose covered a more fissiparous situation would be straight from “Negotiations Strategies 101”.

Campbell notes that:

He [Adams] pushed hard on prisoners being released, and the aim of total demilitarisation, and TB just listened. TB said he would not be a persuader for a united Ireland. The principle of consent was central to the process.

An important, indeed a central, demand articulated by Adams, and consider, this was 1997 when such things were anathema, where the out-going Conservative government would have found them impossible to achieve. A mark both of how far and how relatively rapidly this process has gone. It’s irritating to realise that this is just the level of information considered reasonable to release and that there must be considerably more.

And, of course, all this must be taken with the proverbial quantity of salt. Who knows how much of this is spin to help his Dear Former Leader, or indeed the Dear Former Leaders new ‘best friends’ in the Republican Movement.

Still, an interesting, if clearly partisan, insight into our recent history.

Gormley contra mundum: In defence of the Greens June 17, 2007

Posted by smiffy in climate change, Environment, Global Warming, Greens, Irish Election 2007, The Left.
17 comments

Like Worldbystorm, the recent negotiations and formation of a coalition government have reminded me of a cold December night in 1994. December 14th, in particular, and the conference to decide whether Democratic Left would enter into government with Labour and Fine Gael, the latter described as ‘neo-fascists’ by one over-enthusiastic delegate (he was opposed, I should make clear).

In particular, I keep thinking about a brief conversation I had with a friend of mine at the back of the conference room in the Gresham, after the decision had been taken. I was disappointed, but unsurprised at the result, and was lamenting the future of the party, the Left … the usual kind of thing. His response was short, but to the point: “Better us in there than the fucking PDs”.

Even though I didn’t agree with him at the time, it was a very hard point to argue against and it’s something which has stuck with me ever since. While it’s easy to stand back and make the argument that parties of the left should stay out of government until they can present a truly left-wing alternative in Irish politics, those who adopt such a position (and it’s a valid one) need to face up to the fact that, in the short-term at least and possibly for longer, it condemns the most vulnerable in society to a worse government than might otherwise have been the case. And it’s for that reason that I’ll try and defend the decision of the Greens to go into government, even if I’m not entirely sure that it’s the right one.

There is something very amusing about listening to the radio, or looking at politics.ie, and coming across the denunciations, the lamentations, the screams of ‘betrayal’ and ‘selling out’. It’s particularly rich coming from members of Fine Gael (as if their policies on important issues were in any substantial way different from Fianna Fáil’s) and Labour (who had the decency to sell out before the election, in their alliance with Fine Gael and particularly with the tax policy announced by Rabbitte at conference, rather than waiting until after the results were in like the treacherous Greens). Sinn Féin members have been a little less hysterical, probably because they were never part of the putative ‘Alliance for Change’ but a nasty part of me might also suggest that a party which is willing to share power with arguably the most reactionary political grouping on the island isn’t really in a position to throw stones.

Frankly, anyone who claims to be all that surprised at the Green’s decision is either extremely naive, or deliberately disingenuous. The party never ruled out the principle of coalition with Fianna Fáil. Why should they? They made it clear in the course of the campaign that they wanted to enter government, and there’s no particular reason why coalition with Fine Gael would be any more favorable, from a policy perspective, than coalition with the dreaded Fianna Fáil.

What the more shrieking of the critics seem to forget is that the choice the Green Party was presented with wasn’t either coalition with Fianna Fáil or coalition with ‘the Rainbow’. It was coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats or back to opposition and the continuation, in effect, of the current government. One of the Green TDs (I think it was Paul Gogarty) made the point well on the radio yesterday, citing the protesters outside the conference with signs saying “Save Tara – Vote No”. Now, while entering government with Fianna Fáil may very well not save Tara, staying out of government most certainly won’t.

There is, of course, the argument that parties of the left (with the Greens generally, although not always, included in this grouping) shouldn’t let themselves be used by right-wing parties to help them consolidate their hold on power. Rather, they should be looking at building a ‘left alternative’, usually at grassroots level, in order to achieve real and substantial change at some unspecified point in the future.

A couple of problems with this, however. Firstly, none of the left-wing parties (except the Socialist Parties and the micros) actually subscribe to this. Labour’s entire election campaign was based on cooperation with a Christian Democrat party. Sinn Féin remind us that they’re willing to work with anyone. Unless all parties agree to work together in building the elusive ‘alternative’, it’s not going to happen and it’s unrealistic to expect a single party to stand aside from government in the full knowledge that its rivals on the left would jump at the chance if they were presented with it.

More importantly, though, is that the ‘broad left’ strategy is, inevitably, a long-term one, lasting decades rather than years. In the recent election, after much soul-searching, I gave my first preference to the Greens. This was based on one issue: climate change. While it didn’t factor as one of the big issues during the campaign, in my view it’s the single most important issue facing the country (and, indeed, the planet). And, if there’s one issue that can’t be left aside for ten, twenty or more years, it’s this one.

The climate change policies included in the Programme for Government couldn’t, by any standards, be described as radical or mould-breaking. However, they’re unquestionably better than they would have been had the Greens remained in opposition. Similarly, they’re a lot less concrete than they might otherwise have been, substituting rather vague ambitions for specific targets. This presents a challenge for the Green members of government but also, I would submit, an opportunity. While the more cynical (or, perhaps, astute) observers will state that this allows Fianna Fáil to wangle out of any move on carbon emissions, it also provides gives the initiative to Gormley and Ryan, in their respective Departments to drive the policies forward, put specific proposals to Cabinet and insist that they be accepted.
It’s not going to be easy, however. The party already has a bitter taste in its mouth, with Dick Roche’s extraordinarily cynical and disrespectful stunt on Thursday, signing the S.I. to commence work on the M3. It has the imminent difficulty of having to defend co-location (collective responsibility and the fact that they’ve agreed to the presence of the Progressive Democrats at the cabinet table doesn’t allow them to shrug their shoulders and blame it on the other gang). How will they deal with the possibility of Beverley Flynn being given a junior Ministry? It’s also going to have to face whatever fallout arises from the Mahon Tribunal, and think seriously about exactly how bad things have to get before they might consider leaving.

It’s this last question that’s, perhaps, going to be the hardest for the Greens. At all costs, it must not allow itself to become another Progressive Democrats, a mudguard for Fianna Fáil. It must not be afraid of walking away from power if the circumstances dictate. The great myth of PD participation in government is that they punched above their weight, and forced Fianna Fáil to enshrine their views as policy. In fact, Fianna Fáil never had any difficulty with PD policies. They were never led anywhere other than where they wanted to go. This will not, one hopes, be the case with the Greens. If the Greens don’t find themselves fighting to implement their policies, that’s when they need to start asking themselves some hard questions.

If I was a member of the Greens, I have to admit that I don’t know how I would have voted. Despite the considerations above, the agreed Programme for Government is deeply flawed. franklittle‘s criticism of it that it has very little in it to tackle social exclusion is a fair one (although I would disagree with his argument that the environmental policies are ‘middle-class’ ones. The fact that working-class people may not be particularly concerned with an issue doesn’t necessarily making the issue itself bourgeois, any more than the fact that working-class people support Fianna Fáil makes that party the voice of the proletariat).

As I think Mary White said at the conference, not a great deal, not even a good deal, but, ultimately, I think’s probably better than the alternative (the same government formation, but without the Greens). At this point, though, it has the potential to deliver real change on certain vital issues. It’s up to the Green Party to make sure it does.

Sauce for Goose, sauce for Gander… Bertie Ahern and the trouble with numbers. June 17, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, media, Media and Journalism.
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This may surprise some of you, but despite being of – or on – the left, I’m not a fan of big government. I’m much more taken by distributed power and representation, particularly at local level. Perhaps that is a function of dealing in the community area after leaving Democratic Left in the mid-1990s, going into residents and community groups, working on campaigns. And curiously, that leaves me closer in some respects to Chekov than it does to Rabbitte, to coin a phrase.

So I thought this week demonstrated some remarkable aspects of politic, real and otherwise. And two instance spring to mind.

Firstly let us think about, and thanks to Wednesday for noting this, the short shrift given to Caoimhin O Caoghlain when he sought to shore up speaking rights for Sinn Féin. SF, on four TDs, is now denied speaking rights in the Dáil and is dependent upon the largesse of other formations (unlikely) or a number of set piece occasions which have little or no impact. Yet it was Aherns response to this which was most notable. I was talking to an unaffiliated observer who made the point that Ahern appeared to be giving SF a good kicking on the way down. Certainly the mask, should there be a mask, slipped for more than a moment when Ahern pugnaciously intoned that SF ‘don’t have the numbers’.

One could of course consider what platonic absolute, other than the self-serving procedures determined by larger political formations, makes 7 TDs the necessary threshold for speaking rights.

One might also consider where the Green Party and Finian McGrath, the latter having opined in the Irish Times the previous day that SF and Tony Gregory would not be ‘forgotten’ as regards speaking rights, were during the vote.

But of course one would know the answer. They sat on their hands throughout this process – despite reformation of speaking rights being an explicit plank of Green Party policy since at least 2002.

One might also consider, and I have this on very good authority, that an approach by SF to FG on this matter was rebuffed. With that sort of an attitude I suspect we might see something of a renaissance of SF at the partial expense of at least one other component of the ‘opposition’ over the next five years.

Secondly this very day it is reported in the Sunday Independent that Fianna Fáil in order to quell the despair amongst its long-suffering and long-awaiting back benchers is to create three new Junion Ministers. “And all shall have prizes” springs to mind in this demonstration of largesse. And what platonic absolute is being distorted here, one might reasonably ask?

Coming back to my original point I’d ask do we need 3 extra Ministers? This state is hardly undergoverned and this sort of top loading smacks of political expediency at the expense of any serious strategy.

But really, can we see anything other than two entirely typical examples of business as usual? Realpolitic practised in all its dubious glory by those who have had power for the last ten years and by those who have had it thrust upon them over the last three weeks.

……………………….

Meanwhile, back in the Sunday Independent has there ever been such a remarkable article as that penned by Eoghan Harris today? Having sought a Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition, and seen that horse bolt, he now argues that the Greens have displayed ‘moral adulthood’ by going into power (One might argue that that at least one interlocuter who springs to mind has never seen a principle or bandwagon that he hasn’t felt the need to appropriate or jump, and then later lambaste others for taking the precise same path as himself – but that’s another days work).

Moral adulthood he argues is “not a moral innocent like a child, cannot insist that everybody else give him exactly what he wants”. That this schema breaks down with the most minor consideration, since it entirely ignores relative power between different actors is typical of the frenzied arm waving that passes for serious philosophical discourse down at the Sindo.

Still, in his enthusiasm to declare his latest love de jour suitable what a contrast he points up between those ‘moral adults’ and…

their [political pundits – in this case Vincent Browne] failure to understand that a person who sticks to republicanism or socialism in face of the facts of history is simply a wilful moral child. By contrast, a moral adult is someone who, in a complex situation, comes up with a practical solution whichsits somewhere between his own beliefs and the needs of society.

Note that in the broad spectrum of socio-political thought only two strains are worthy of such contempt…but this self-serving screed continues….

By that standard, the Greens have acted like moral adults. And like many people, I have a higher regard for the party since it did the dealwith Fianna Fail than I did before. For me, and I suspect for the general public, a good Green party is not a party which sticks to its principles, but a party which sticks to its compromises.

And I do mean stick. With the PD precedent, in mind the Greens should never wag the forefinger unless they mean to pull the trigger. And if they were smart, they would stick that finger in their pocket for the next five years. Because they have much to learn. The biggest lesson is that the secret of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s success lies in them being forgiving parties. Like Aristotle, the Irish people have little time for moral innocents – or moral prigs.

Moral prigs? Eh…after twenty odd years of this stuff, all I can say is healer, heal thyself…

An apology to Fine Gael regarding the feasibility of Inter-Party Government. June 16, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
8 comments

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I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Fine Gael and members of that party. I may have, in recent weeks, since the election of the 30th Dáil, implied on Politics.ie that the suggestion that Enda Kenny might fashion together an Inter-Party Government comprising Fine Gael, Labour, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats and a number of Independent TDs was ‘absurd’, ‘unfeasible’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘unwieldy beyond belief’, ‘impracticable’, ‘wrong’ and ‘nonsense’.

I now recognise, in view of the composition of the present Coalition between Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats, Jackie Healy-Rae, Finian McGrath, Michael Lowry and Beverley Cooper Flynn, that my previous statements were entirely incorrect and that the terms ‘absurd’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘unwieldy beyond belief’, ‘impracticable’, ‘wrong’, ‘nonsense’ could equally be applied to the current coalition prior to its formation.

It is now apparent that Enda Kenny was entirely visionary in the suggestion that such an alliance could be formed to prevent Fianna Fáil from attaining Government in this Dáil. The outlines of the Inter-Party Government he sought were almost identical to that finally formed, and the sticking point that others raised, a total incompatablity between the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party on policy issues, was as he correctly discerned a mere detail. Moreover his innovative idea that gene-pool Independents might work with a party of the opposite stripe to their DNA was also essentially correct.

Clearly had Enda Kenny fashioned together such a political alliance it too would have been in a position to deliver as strong and stable a government for this country as the current coalition intends to do.

Again, my sincere apologies…

Think I’m getting a clearer picture now alright… June 15, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
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“When they woke up that morning, the citizens asked themselves what new turmoil awaited them. After the elections but during the period of transition to the new administration a number of factories and enterprises had been taken over by the workers. The young unemployed, who for the previous two years had been occupying abandoned plants in order to engage in ‘wildcat production’ of various socially useful products, were now joined by a growing number of students, older workers who had been laid off recently, and retired people… the day after the new government came into office, these factories were taken back by the police and military. Within hours decrees had been signed by new members – with heavy hearts it was reported in the press – ensuring that their previous owners would have full rights to the property reinstated and those ‘workers’ and ‘students’ who refused to leave the premises voluntarily were escorted away under guard. Those who set out for work found a surprise awaiting them; during the night, in most of the large cities, white lines had been painted on all the major thoroughfares. Henceforth these would have a corridor reserved for the bicycle and Mercedes used by members of the state apparatus, while on the side streets similar corridors were set aside for state bicyclists and motorcyclists. At the major points of entry to ach city, hundreds of bicycles and mopeds were assembled for use by other members of the state apparatus, and long lines of radio frequency blocking vans were waiting to spread out across the city to ensure the silence of their previous political allies from their time in opposition…. The President of the Republic went on nationwide television and …. said… “We must consume better” Until now products had been designed to produce the greatest profit for the firms selling them…henceforth…they will be designed to produce the greatest satisfaction for those who use them as well as for those who produce them… however, it is clear that such a policy would deter our new partners in government so therefore we will hope to implement it within the five year time frame of the government…”

Bought, defeated and silenced. The Left in the Dáil. June 14, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Environment, Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Labour Party, Irish Politics, Sinn Féin, The Left.
11 comments

The aftermath of the 2002 election presented a relatively unusual sight. The broad left opposition in Leinster House, disparate and divided though it might be, constituted a greater bloc of TDs than Fine Gael. It’s rare enough to be noteworthy. Labour, the Greens, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party had 33 seats between them and were joined by Left Independents like Tony Gregory, Finian McGrath and Seamus Healy to make 36. Today, that number is 25, less than half Fine Gael’s Dáil representation.

It wasn’t a cohesive group. All but Labour were part of a Technical Group, giving the smaller parties and Independents the opportunity to put forward points of view, legislation and arguments that had been safely ignored in the Dáil prior to this. But broadly speaking, they were the people who opposed the war in Iraq and bin charges, who backed the protestors at Corrib, Carrickmines and Tara. They proposed constitutional changes to enshrine neutrality and to deliver a right to housing. A large minority of them opposed the Nice Treaty, once successfully and once not.

The outcome of the 2007 election for the Left as constituted in Leinster House is disastrous. Some were defeated. Labour, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party all dropped a seat, eliminating the last from the Dáil, and were joined by Seamus Healy.

Some, the Greens and Finian McGrath, have been bought. And as for what’s left, with the end of the Dáil Technical Group, opportunities for Sinn Féin and Tony Gregory to articulate their arguments will be rarer than a principled Green Party delegate to a coalition conference, leaving the Labour party the dominant left voice in the Dáil. In effect, silenced by Dáil Standing Orders. A bonus for Fianna Fáil in getting the Greens on board.

Some people will, to varying degrees of legitimacy, question the left credentials of the parties and individuals. Some will say they did not oppose or support specific campaigns enough. Others will advance radical revolutionary critiques of the Dáil as an avenue for political change and say the result is largely irrelevant. Fair points.

I’m not trying to overstate the Dáil. But the reality is that the individuals and parties of the Left in there were able to some extent to use it as a platform to offer criticisms, often radical ones, of the existing economic and social orthodoxy in Ireland. They were also able to use the resources and financial benefits of the Dáil to support grassroots campaigns and mobilisations across the country, lending by the simple presence of a number of TDs, credibility to protests and demonstrations. To say that these campaigns cannot survive without a couple of TDs turning up to a protest is nonsensical, but equally, to pretend it makes no difference is childish and naive.

Three final points ‘going forward’ as they say.

Firstly, one of the interesting thing about the Green Party’s deal, or the summary of it which is all I have had the chance to read, is how basically middle class it is. Nothing on social housing, but the burghers of South Dublin can now get money for attic insulation. Nothing on social welfare increases for the one in five Irish people at risk of poverty, but a Carbon Tax, which is likely to hit working class people hard. Nothing on medical cards or tackling the two-tier health system, but they have delivered electoral reform. Nothing to assist or benefit migrants and asylum seekers, but a Noise Bill to ensure the neighbour’s wine reception doesn’t get out of control. I’m not mocking the entire deal. Some of it is good and positive, though not in my opinion enough to go into power with Fianna Fáil (Like WBS I have no fundamental principled objection to such in specific, narrowly defined contexts), but for ordinary working class people, it delivers little, and I find that interesting that their indifference was not even hidden.

Secondly, the Greens are about to experience something they have never had to face in their political existence in Ireland. Opposition. Since it’s founding the Greens have gotten a remarkably easy ride from the media. At it’s worst, they’ve been presented as naive do-gooders disconnected from the real world, but even that has noticeably changed since 2002 with the media eager to embrace them as a ‘safe’ radical alternative. They haven’t had to endure internal divisions that almost tore Labour apart in the 80s, or the animosity Labour endured after going into coalition with Fianna Fáil in 1992. They haven’t experienced, in fairness no-one has, a tenth of the vitriol directed towards Sinn Féin.

Now, in government, they will get to face just that and from people that two months ago they would have seen as close allies from the anti-war movement, the Tara campaign, Rossport and so on. No doubt Labour, eager to stick in the knife, will be busy compiling Tara related Private Members Motions. The Greens are going to have to stand over the EU Constitution. The sense of betrayl among the broader progressive movement, whether legitimate or not based on the past attitudes of the Greens as outlined on Indymedia, is going to get greater, not smaller. And if they pull out of government on principle? Well, Bertie can get along without them on the PDs and Independents.

Finally, in terms of the realignment of the Left that we in the Cedar Lounge talk about, Labour is back in the driving seat. Absolutely, they had a poor election, but they find themselves dominant over a still stunned Sinn Féin and now facing the possibility of making serious in-roads into the Greens over the next five years. Who would argue now within Labour for building a left alliance when there are so few people with whom to build one and the party is instinctively bitterly anti-republican anyway? And with no left alternative, does this mean the Enda and Pat show gets another tour?

Somethings are too unspeakable to contemplate.

The FF/Green/PD Coalition…not sure what I think… June 14, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
10 comments

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“When they woke up that morning, the citizens asked themselves what new turmoil awaited them. After the elections but during the period of transition to the new administration a number of factories and enterprises had been taken over by the workers. The young unemployed, who for the previous two years had been occupying abandoned plants in order to engage in ‘wildcat production’ of various socially useful products, were now joined by a growing number of students, older workers who had been laid off recently, and retired people… the day after the new government came into office, those who set out for work found a surprise awaiting them; during the night, in most of the large cities, white lines had been painted on all the major thoroughfares. Henceforth these would have a corridor reserved for buses, while on the side streets similar corridors were set aside for bicyclists and motorcyclists. At the major points of entry to ach city, hundreds of bicycles and mopeds were assembled for use by the public, and long lines of police cars and army vans supplemented the buses…. The President of the Republic went on nationwide television and …. said… “We must consume better” Until now products had been designed to produce the greatest profit for the firms selling them…henceforth…they will be designed to produce the greatest satisfaction for those who use them as well as for those who produce them…”

Well I think we can be fairly certain tomorrow or the next day won’t be like that. And not just because we actually have bus lanes in operation. Andre Gorz wrote his Utopia for a Possible Dual Society in 1980 as a part of his Ecology as Politics. You can see how rickety some of the thinking is now. But it neatly encapsulates how revolutionary some aspects of his thinking were and how mainstream other aspects have become.

I was thinking about a conversation I had with a person who works in Green Party Head Office some time ago. Casually I had suggested that if the Greens really wanted to make a difference they would go in to government with Fianna Fáil. The response was vituperative. There was ‘no way’ such a thing would happen. The party would not countenance it, etc, etc.

I look forward to my next meeting with this person. The figure of 86% looms large in any future conversation I might have.

And I’m genuinely torn about all this. I have no instinctive animosity to Fianna Fáil. I don’t consider them particularly inept, or indeed morally bankrupt as one contributor to Politics.ie put it. I know it’s tiresome to repeat this, but they remain a populist centre, centre right party. That is the problem. Nothing more. To deal with them is not to sup with pure evil. It is not to sell ones principles down the river. It is not some great existential betrayal.

It is, and I’m sure this is what swayed the 86%, a sensible and pragmatic course of action if you have a program which you want to see implemented, at least in part.

The problem is…in a way not so much Fianna Fáil as the rump Progressive Democrats and Mary Harney remaining in Health (as far as we know) and retaining the co-location policy.

If I look at any other issue I can see why it might be repositioned in such a way as not to be a deal-breaker. Or might be reconsidered at a future date. But co-location is not such an issue.

And yet that is in a sense the point. The Green Party straddles an interesting part of the political spectrum containing within it both left and centre currents, perhaps not dissimilar to the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom. They’re also, and this is purely an observation, a somewhat middle class party, rather like the Progressive Democrats as it happens. The fit, for Fianna Fáil, might well be better than they could have previously expected. Their brand of populist centrism knows almost instinctively how to deal with (and I don’t mean that in a perjorative way, or not much anyhow) such parties, such people.

More over, I’m of the left, albeit strongly in sympathy with almost all the Green Party platform. Co-location is probably going to weigh upon me more than them.

So I understand the wish to be part of government, to prove relevance ability and to at least try to shift the discourse.

In that I wish them well. It cannot but help to have articulate people around Cabinet table putting a point of view which has hitherto been ignored. Their work may well be essential. The small victories may be more important in the long run than a further five years of opposition. Their liberalism is no harm, their constructive engagement with societal solidarity a positive good.

And yet, I still wish it wasn’t this deal now in this government with the Progressive Democrats on board.

Perhaps it makes a future left-green project more difficult. Or maybe not. My fear is that it locks what remains of the social democrat/democratic socialist left into a further prolonged embrace with Fine Gael. And for a raft of reasons I think that is problematic for the left.

Feels like 1994 all over again… The Greens and Power June 13, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
11 comments

Okay, soon all this will finish and it will be possible to move onto pastures new in terms of subjects for posts. But, this mornings Irish Times brings interesting tidings regarding the supposed Program for Government between the Greens and Fianna Fáil.
Now, even accounting for the possibility the anti-FF spin machines are rotating at full speed  deep in the bowels of the the IT the positions presented seem disappointing at best and dismal at worst.

No deal on the M3 or Shannon. Harney to retain Health (although apparently Green Party members will not be given the configuration of any new Cabinet or their place within it, bar the fact they get a Ministry, a Super-Junior and a Junior Minster). Co-Location to be retained. No movement on political reform.
And a sweetener? A carbon tax to be introduced within the life of the government  but no rate fixed. Also the suggestiong that there might be some sort of Department of Climate Change.
Hmmm…

Pretty thin stuff all told.

One can only hope the IT is entirely incorrect, or that the Green Party leadership are in full charisma mode this afternoon and evening, because that’s some sell they have to make.

And hence the comparison with 1994 when Democratic Left was on the brink of entering government. That too was quite a sell. But in way an easier sell. Ideologically the problems between the possible partners were of the sort that could be relatively easily overcome, if only because they had the shared glue of an antipathy towards Fianna Fáil. It’s not much, but in a fix it tends to work.  And like the Greens there was an ambitious Parliamentary party, keen to exercise some degree of power.

But unlike the Greens DL had the comfort, limited as it was, of a larger left bloc to mitigate FG influence. The Greens do not have this. They are essentially an isolated voice in a sea of voices. PD, perhaps a couple of Independents. It’s quite a mixture (and incidentally all is now clear in my mind as to why the Independents continue to be wooed, Ahern must know that this is liable to be close).

That’s not to say that the Conference which tipped DL into government was easy. There were a number, quite a number as it happens, of activists who walked away (arguably the ISN was born that day). And as I keep noting here, once people walk away they rarely return. By that stage I was very semi-detached from the party but was adamant coalition, or rather that coalition, was a bad road for them to take.

As I recall it was a super Junior Ministry which tipped it for DL. I wonder will some policy detail that the IT has missed or ignored function  on a similar level.

We’ll known soon enough…

Campaigning…State power… choices, choices…decisions, decisions. June 12, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
5 comments

Just a quick thought arising from soubresauts comment on the previous post. He (?) quite rightly pulled me up on my rhetoric. But, he also raises an interesting point. What of the campaigns the Green party has been identified with hitherto or as he says:

What is certain is that if the Greens go into coalition by sacrificing various principles (for example, having nothing to do with the Iraq war), many single-issue pressure groups will feel let down, to put it mildly.

And in all honesty, in the absence of the Socialist Party, surely the Green Party is the political formation most closely wedded to aspects of the campaigning model. Chekov raised this issue also a month or so back in reference to Éirigí suggesting that their campaigning model of participatory democracy had certain virtues:

Actually, I think that the example of Éirígí illustrates the opposite of your point. They have grown from a handful of members to several hundred in the space of less than a year – there is no way on earth they could have achieved that had their goals been electorally focused, for a start they would have received a much more hostile reception from the sinners which would have hampered their growth significantly. Secondly, one of the obvious reasons behind their growth is that they were actually doing things – getting out on the streets and giving people a way of having a practical involvement. Contrast this with the other small republican groups who spend all their time developing fantasy programmes for government and infighting for power while doing nothing in practice.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of politics rooted purely in campaigns. The reason? Most people aren’t activists and don’t want to put in the time. And unfortunately that means you need structures. And if you have structures you have to have goals to work for. And while brining the Proclaimation to every door is not of itself a bad thing, I’m willing to bet, in two years time Éirigí members will be bored with doing it. Éirigí, being quite astute, clearly recognised this and have already moved on into an electoral mode preparing to contest the next election, and presumably the local elections before that.

But consider also the way in which the Greens seem eager to achieve state power, even if only in small measure. Their background, as I’ve already noted, is one of grass roots campaiging on a raft of issues from anti-nuclear power, involvement in the anti-war or peace movement (although from a Republican or leftist position I’ve always been intrigued by their approach to the North), and so on and so forth. Where will the M3 go under an FF/Green government?

I have other problems with campaiging around issues rather than through political structures such as parties. Chekov noted:

Think about Shell to Sea. Beyond the local residents of Rossport, the campaign has been completely dominated by Éirígí and anarchists. While it may not have effected change, it’s at least continued to raise the issue before the public. Had they concentrated on raising an electoral platform, nobody would have heard of it beyond those in personal contact with them.

But my problem here would be, who knows about Éirigí and the anarchists beyond the cognoscenti in terms of their involvement in StoS? We do because we’re broadly of a left or anarchist or whatever inclination and largely sympathetic to same. Most don’t, particularly Shell to Sea, and arguably that’s the fundamental weakness of that sort of politics because when it comes to the crunch people won’t vote for a ‘campaign’ or indeed support a ‘campaign’ they’ll support broader coalitions that incorporate those campaigns (And with all due respect to Chekov, I think that’s a reasonable stance, because it’s only in larger formations that it’s possible to actually develop serious policies on issues such as welfare, education, health, etc, etc).

But the inverse of that is that when it comes to the crunch a campaign, any campaign can be to some extent discarded if necessary. Is the M3 more or less important than climate change? Is Shell to Sea? Shannon?

Chekov also pointed up an important aspect of non-electoral politics:

If your programme’s primary goal is to encourage directly democratic participation in decision making, then electoralism is counter-productive. Your programme is validated by participation – bodies on the street, at meetings, in unions and so on.

My critique here would be that I just don’t see an appetite for direct democratic participation in decision making in any significant sector of this society. Quite the opposite. Nor am I entirely sure it’s a great thing. There are good reasons why representative democracy – albeit I would prefer to see it in modified form – can operate. But it’s also probable that once people enter the government process the range of decisions they can make are swiftly limited.

But this is the activists dilemma. The campaign can sometimes be all, or electoralism can sometimes be all. Without some element of electoralism the activist is prey to larger and more powerful forces. Place TDs into the Dáil, well, they may be controllable by the activist base. Place them, or see them enter government, they may not be. And the link between activist and TD can weaken rapidly – as happened in the WP.

I’m not trying to suggest that what is happening at the moment represents a sell-out by the Greens. But I am suggesting that no form of political activity, whether campaiging, or electoral is in and of itself the way forward. At some point some decision will be taken which will lose support. Whether that infers a loss of principles is a different matter.

And that, perhaps, is why it has taken so long for the current negotiations to come close to some sort of closure…

The curious courtship continues… The Green Party and Fianna Fáil June 11, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Greens, Irish Election 2007, Irish Politics.
2 comments

Strange scenes over the past five or six days. I’ve already noted how good the relations were between Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. In a curious cross between Stockholm Syndrome and a forced marriage (forced by the electoral mathematics that is) the latter party were gushing on Friday…

“We shook hands and wished them well…”

Courtesy. That’s always good.

“We actually got to like them…”

Okay…

“And Brian Cowen even said he got to like us…”

Hmmm…

Not that that stopped Trevor Sargent,

“Fianna Fáil knows what we need…”

Too much information. Get a room.

Which – surprisingly – they did. Today. Or to be more precise, at least attempted to continue the courting through the rather Cyrano de Begerac medium of the “letter” and the rather more prosaic “courtesy call” between those star crossed…(I blanche at using the word that springs to mind) “politicians” – Bertie Ahern and Trevor. Mind you, I saw Bertie leaving Government Buildings this evening and he didn’t look like a man pining for the Greens. More like the cat that got the cream.

Although trust Brian Cowen (“He says he likes us!”) to put a dampener on the occasion… saying he:

“…believed a fair offer had been made in talks with the Green Party on the possible formation of a new government.”

It’s roses Brian, or at least sunflowers…

Still, if ever one wished for a lesson in realpolitic, here it is folks.

Note the trajectory of the following key issues…

The transit of US troops through Shannon. Not quite the problem it presented two weeks ago. The M3 routing past Tara. Ditto (Actually, isn’t there a strangely inverted symmetry to the behaviour of Sinn Féin prior to polling day here?). Co-location? The big one. Just how will that circle be squared (and by the by, did anyone note how Sinn Féin said their bottom line was no support for a government that had Mary Harney as Health Minister in it – which of course leaves loopholes large enough to drive HGVs through). How Green will future taxes be? I await the outcome of the negotiations, assuming they are successful, with considerable interest.

Granted some of these are perhaps issues closer to the hearts of activists than the general public. But even so. They’re part and parcel of the cultural mix of the Green Party – its psychological hinterland as it were, and by extension of at least a section of the left. But they demonstrate a number of realities. One being the expectation that any political party entering power will have to make significant changes to its political program. Two that in this state that is the only way forward. I’ve been a bit harsh on Sinn Féin and its approach to the last election. Perhaps unduly so. Perhaps not. But in a sense both they and the Greens have had to take similar decisions for much the same reason…and in part, wailing and gnashing of teeth apart, that’s because that’s the way the system works here.

Maybe it will change, but I doubt it. People talk about the political system, but it’s not just a system, it’s an embedded apparatus of interest groups, modes of behaviour and suchlike. And, rather like capitalism, it has an almost infinite ability to assimilate whatever is thrown at it. And, let’s be honest. The respective weight of the two parties, or indeed as has already been noted here, the left and the centre, centre/right is so disproportionate that assimilation is probably the right word. Six TDs up against 78. One might marvel if any aspect of the Green program survived a coalition (while noting that the PDs were able to largely infuse the last two governments with their own brand of liberal economics). Not for nothing is there the aversion to parliamentary democratic structures by the further left… enter those gates and you’re playing by new rules.

But, don’t enter those gates and you have no influence whatsoever. And the Green Party, quite understandably, have spent a decade in the political wilderness where the comforts of opposition are few and far between. Now is the chance to shape, at least in part, the future. That’s why, even if they falter at this hurdle, sooner or later the events of the past week will entirely rework their approach and attitude to politics. The scale of their success or failure will be instructive.

Nor is this a counsel of despair. I find it oddly comforting somehow that the shape of the challenge is so clear. Perhaps because it’s predictable.

Watch the events this evening and tomorrow and see if on Thursday there is broad coalition and consider just what a remarkable meeting of minds that will represent… perhaps not quite up there with Paisley and McGuinness…but even so…

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