Why Machiavelli is Reading the Greens
Deaglán de Bréadún
Having escaped the odium heaped on their Fianna Fáil partners for so long, public opinion has finally caught up with the Greens. The latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi ratings for the party are abysmal.
Senator Dan Boyle: anxious to avoid the political wilderness (Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons )
Small wonder, then, that Senator Dan Boyle, the party’s chairman and unofficial lightning conductor, should speak out on Friday evening to highlight various “disasters” perpetrated by Fianna Fáil in government over the last 12 years.
The Greens have only been in office for the past two years and Boyle’s message was that there needed to be review of the Programme for Government to accommodate more of the Green Agenda.
Senator Boyle is very good at what he does for his party. Time after time he goes out on the airwaves, accepting a media or opposition criticism here, disagreeing a bit with government policy there, never getting ruffled or shirty but always seeking to put that little bit of clear blue water between the Greens and the Soldiers of Destiny.
If he ever gets tired of politics, he could have a brilliant and highly-remunerative future as a spin-doctor. Not since the late Brian Lenihan Sr have I seen anyone this good – and Lenihan screwed-up at the end with the “mature recollection” episode during his presidential campaign. I believe you can take a Master’s degree in Political Communication at Dublin City University. In all seriousness, some eager student should write his thesis on the Skills of Senator Boyle. The man’s a kind of genius.
Unfortunately, the public do not share this writer’s appreciation of his skills or, if they do, it is not what they are looking for in a Member of the European Parliament. Day Two of the poll in The Irish Times saw Boyle at 3% and that is, to borrow his own favourite word, a “disaster”. In Dublin, Senator Deirdre de Búrca was on 6% or twice her party’s national rating. Not bad going under very difficult circumstances although the bookies are focusing on either Mary Lou McDonald or Eoin Ryan for the third seat there.
In the aftermath of Senator Boyle’s statement, which came too late to get much media attention, we had Green Party leader John Gormley on the RTE Six One News on Saturday evening. Although his message was conciliatory and seemed to be designed to take the heat out of any potential row with Fianna Fáil, the very fact that he was denying the Greens were going to walk out of government caused the media to focus on the possibility that they would.
The Taoiseach gave a radio interview later in the evening to Chris Donoghue of Newstalk where he played down the whole issue, reducing Boyle’s demand for a latter-day version of the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations to a run-of-the-mill government discussion on the business of the day. The issue hardly featured in a lengthy interview with Brian Cowen on RTE’s This Week programme.
What started off looking like a blazing row ended up as a bottle of smoke. Looking at this episode in a coldly-clinical fashion, it could be said that Senator Boyle drew attention to himself and this might win him some votes. Likewise some electors may be a little more warmly disposed to the Greens because they feel the smaller party is standing up to Fianna Fáil.
We won’t know the final answer until the results come in on the weekend of June 6th and 7th (Euro-election results can’t be released until after 9pm on June 7th.) It hardly needs saying that former Green Patricia McKenna and Socialist TD Joe Higgins are accusing the Greens of cynicism and opportunism.
More seriously for the party’s political prospects is the statement from Labour’s Eamon Gilmore that he no longer has any respect for them. That’s not close to the bone – it is the bone.
Will Gilmore’s newfound disrespect for the Greens prevent him from doing business with them if their votes are needed to form an alternative government? More and more people are focusing the possibility of forming such a government without a general election, which could well become a live issue if, as most people expect, FF lose the two Dublin byelections.
The Greens started off as brown-rice-and-sandals, muesli-munching idealists charging around on bicycles, and middle-class voters in particular flocked to their banner. Now they have moved onto the level of smooth, slick political professionalism, adept in the black arts of PR. They’re not reading Machiavelli, Machiavelli is reading them! But we’ll soon know if the punters prefer their Greens raw.