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It's not easy being Green

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jun 7th, 2020 at 11:26:49 PM EST

Both the Irish Times: Leadership and the Green Party, and the Independent have published my letter to the editor today:


It is now exactly 3 months since the Irish general election on February 8th., and we still haven't had a new government formed. This sort of thing might be normal in Belgium or Italy, but is absolutely unprecedented in Ireland. Vital legislation required to fund emergency income supports during the pandemic cannot be passed because the Senate is not fully constituted until a newly elected Taoiseach can appoint his nominees.

The impasse has come about because the three largest parties, Sinn Fein (SF), Fianna Fail (FF) and Fine Gael (FG) all campaigned on a platform of not forming a coalition with one another. FF and FG are the parties which emerged from the 1922 Civil war which was fought over whether to accept an independence offer from Britain minus N. Ireland. SF are the new kids on the block formed as the political wing of the IRA which re-emerged in N. Ireland after the suppression of a civil rights campaign there.

Both FF and FG abhor SF because of its association with the IRA guerrilla war in N. Ireland which often spilled over into the Republic. SF was, until the last election only a very marginal player in electoral politics in Ireland and so this didn't matter much until now. But last February it eclipsed all other parties emerging (just about) with the largest share of the vote (25%) and would have won the largest share of the seats had it run sufficient candidates.

So now we have three parties of roughly equal size, FF (38 seats), SF (37)seats and FG (35) seats who had pledged not to coalesce with each other, and no candidate for Taoiseach with any chance of getting a majority in the 160 seat Parliament.

Over the past three months FF and FG have gradually edged towards working with each other and are currently trying to negotiate an agreed programme of government with the Greens (12 Seats) which would give them a combined 85 seats and a secure majority in Parliament.

Everyone knows the next few years are going to be extremely difficult for any party in government because Ireland faces the multiple challenges of the Covid 19 pandemic, Brexit, global trade wars, global recession, global corporate tax reform and an EU beset by problems elsewhere.

The Irish electorate has a habit of dealing harshly with any government party in power while times are hard, and especially with the minor parties in any such coalition. The Progressive Democrats disappeared after their involvement with a FF led coalition in 2007. The Greens lost all their 6 seats after their participation in the disastrous FF led government in 2011. Labour went from 37 seats to 7 after their participation in the FG led government from 2011 to 2016.

So it is hardly surprising that SF, Labour, the Social Democrats, Solidarity-People before profit parties and a plethora of independents are more than happy to stay in opposition, sniping from the sidelines, and watching as the government parties approval ratings gradually go down the toilet.

The Greens are deeply split as to whether to participate in a government led by the two conservative parties, FF and FG and now the deputy leader and leader of their negotiating team, Catherine Martin, has chosen to stand against their leader, Eamonn Ryan in a leadership election in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and government formation negotiations.

What makes her decision to challenge his leadership so difficult to understand is that he has just led the party to unprecedented success, winning 12 seats (admittedly at least partly because SF failed to run sufficient candidates). Neither is there an obvious policy difference between them, as he has chosen her to lead the Green negotiating team in government formation talks.

Any decision to go into government on the basis of a published programme for government must be approved by two thirds of the party's membership, so it is not as if any leader of the party can over-ride the wishes of the membership. Any members unhappy with the prospect of going into coalition with the two conservative parties have a much better chance of achieving a one third blocking minority in a vote on a programme of government than winning a majority for their preferred leadership candidate.

All the leadership challenge does, at this time, is to weaken the position of party leader, Eamonn Ryan, precisely at a time when he needs to be able to maximise his negotiating leverage in the inter-party talks, and it also reinforces the party's reputation for "flakiness", i.e. a sense that they are not really attuned to the realities of power.

But it gets worse than that. Recent opinion polls have shown that the caretaker FG government, led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, has increased its popularity from 21 to 35% since the election because of a perceived competent management of the pandemic, mainly at the expense of FF, Greens and Independents. If the government formation talks fail and the Greens leadership campaign in the middle of the negotiations is seen as being a contributory factor to that failure, FG will have a strong incentive to seek another election to reverse its dismal showing last February.

So what is the point of the leadership challenge now? Is Catherine Martin going to campaign on the basis of opposition to a programme for government she herself has negotiated? It is considered distinctly possible that the Green Party membership will oppose any negotiated coalition deal in any case, especially as they only have to achieve a one third negative vote to block it.

The smart play now, for Varadkar, is to negotiate a deal "in good faith" and watch the Green Party scupper it and their own chances in the general election he will feel perfectly justified in calling after over three months of failed negotiations. As a sometime Green voter I am especially saddened that what looks like a historic opportunity for the Greens to make a difference will have been thrown away by what can only be described as an ego-driven leadership contest.

There can be only two winners in a new general election called now in response to the failure of all parties to form a government after the February elections. FG, having been seen to have handled the pandemic reasonably well, and SF, which is seen by many of their supporters to have been unfairly excluded from all government formation talks. The fact that virtually no other party, left or right will work with SF merely increases their sense of grievance that their mandate of 25% of the vote has been disrespected and ignored.

The Greens risk going the way of the Progressive Democrats if they screw this up, losing all their seats as they did in 2011, only this time there may be no coming back. FG will consolidate their position as the leading party of the right, with FF relegated to third place and near irrelevance by SF. At least then we will conform to the conventional European model of left/right politics, something the left has been trying to achieve for the past 100 years.

But it would be a pity to see the Greens once again eliminated from Parliament after such a promising surge in the European and general elections. The electorate were crying out for a change of government, and all they got for their troubles were a plethora of parties and independents much more comfortable in opposition. Any new general election, if it comes, will be about who is prepared to lead the country through the next few difficult years. Minor parties, bit players, independents and political dilettantes need not apply.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 8th, 2020 at 01:00:14 AM EST
I'd assumed (because I really don't give enough of a shit about Green Party internal politics) that the point was that the wing of the party opposed to going into government was attempting to stop the leadership that was open to the idea. If that's not the case it makes no sense whatsoever.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 8th, 2020 at 08:57:58 AM EST
And even if you are opposed to the Greens going into government, it's far easier to get 33.4% of the party membership to block going into government than to get 50% for your preferred candidate.

Although Ryan is seen by many newer more left-wing members as too keen to get back into government, it's not clear that Catherine Martin is any less keen. She is reported as having headed up their negotiating team in a constructive manner and has built up good relationships with her counterparts in FF and FG. But then so has Ryan.

I'm not aware of any great ideological differences between them either, so this looks like a purely egotistical power play, the very thing the Greens are most noted for avoiding.

Of course she could do a reverse Michael Collins and campaign on opposing the very deal she helped negotiate. She could claim that the negotiating teams (led by party deputy leaders) couldn't reach agreement on some issues, and then the Party leaders stepped in and finalized the deal with Eamonn Ryan giving away too much in that process.

There could very well be a majority in the membership against any deal, and she might well win on that basis, but stabbing your own leader in the back isn't a good look, especially when he is almost universally liked as an honourable guy.

But that would be to miss the bigger play here. I don't think Varadker/FG want to play second fiddle to FF when they are now at over double the FF vote if the opinion polls are to be believed: FG 35%, FF 15%, and are just looking for an excuse to call a second general election. Catherine Martin and the Greens (and FF) will be destroyed if that happens.

At the very least she has given FG, in particular, an excuse to make no concessions at all to achieve a deal as FG will happily take its chances at an August/September poll, especially now that it looks like the lockdown will be over by then. So whatever deal they get, even if they get one passed by two thirds of their membership, will now be much worse from a Green point of view.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 8th, 2020 at 09:17:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just to be clear. I have often voted Green when they have a good candidate in my constituency (Wicklow) and would generally support their ethos and policies. But they can sometimes reek of a sense of urban middle class entitlement and superiority, hostile to the concerns of more working class and rural voters. I don't know much about Catherine Martin but she is in danger of falling into that stereotype, while Ryan is widely liked as an honourable (if possibly slightly naive) leader popular with many inside and outside the Green party.

But my main point here has nothing to do with the merits of either Ryan or Martin as party leader. Contesting a leadership election now, in the wake of a record election performance and in the middle of a pandemic and government formation crisis is just political amateur hour at its worst. People want their parties to focus on the national crisis right now and not engage in internal party politicking.  Giving FG the excuse to call another general election right now could be utterly disastrous for the party and the policies it seeks to promote.

There simply is no upside to this leadership contest right now, other than, just possibly, for the leadership ambitions of Catherine Martin. But there is not much point in being leader of the party if it is back down to zero seats.  

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 8th, 2020 at 09:54:47 AM EST
There have been some Green candidates with that worrying gleam of the zealot in their eyes, often heading off on crusades against vaccines or radio waves or whatever.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 8th, 2020 at 02:16:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In fairness, SF also have a few weirdos in their ranks and FG candidate selection recently has been shocking. FF also appear to have the most talentless front bench in recent history, and Labour have none of the heavyweights of yore. Overall the quality of candidates, successful and unsuccessful has been worrying in recent times. Not many would qualify to head up a medium size business or public sector organisation. The chief quality requirement at the moment would appear to be an ability to emote the frustrations of the electorate without having the first idea how to address the causes of those frustrations...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 8th, 2020 at 06:39:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Irish Times has published a response to my letter:

Had Mary Lou McDonald, as leader of SF, been included in the coalition talks and ended up as part of a triumvirate rotating the role of Taoiseach between them, then I think the resulting government would have reflected the mood for change in the country as evidenced by the general February election results.

However replacing Eamonn Ryan with Catherine Martin, a TD virtually unknown around the country, is entirely an internal matter for the Greens, and nobody can be said to have voted for that. Just taking the  "old boys look off the three-headed all-male alternative" may be good for the optics, but is that all people voted for last February?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 10th, 2020 at 09:01:55 AM EST
A Chara,

JOHN GLENNON, (Letters,  June 10th.), takes issue with my assertion that whether Catherine Martin or Eamon Ryan is the Green Party leader is hardly a matter of national importance or urgency right now in the middle of a national crisis.  (Letters, June 8th.)

Had Mary Lou McDonald been included in the coalition talks and ended up as part of a triumvirate rotating the role of Taoiseach between them, then I think the resulting government would have reflected the mood for change in the country as evidenced by the February general election results.

However replacing Eamonn Ryan with Catherine Martin, a TD virtually unknown around the country, is entirely an internal matter for the Greens, and nobody can be said to have voted for that. Just taking the  "old boys look off the three-headed all-male alternative" may be good for the optics, but is that all that people voted for last February?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 10th, 2020 at 09:40:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 11th, 2020 at 10:45:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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