Greens want to become the carnivores of Irish politics
Well it looks like the dirty tricks of the property boom didn’t entirely pass the Greens by.
For what we saw unravel over the past couple of days was a delicious example of adroit political gazumping.
Let us sketch the political problem they faced and how their strategy to deal with it:
Here they were facing into local and European elections facing charges before the electorate of being accomplices in crime.
From the party’s point of view it wasn’t fair. They weren’t there when all of the lousy decisions to keep on overheating the economy and the property market was made. Yet, they were being blamed for it. In the mind of the citizens on the doorstep, even the act of consorting with Fianna Fail made rocket and tofu equally as unpalatable as rancid stew.
The party held a parliamentary party on Friday at which this was discussed. And it was no coincidence that Dan Boyle delivered the first shot across the bows on Friday night.
Boyle’s role as chairman of the Greens has been compared with that of Michael McDowell when the PDs were in a coalition with Fianna Fail between 1989 and 1992. He was the Greek chorus and conscience of the party, the enemy within (though with official sanction).
Boyle has interpreted his role as chairman of the Greens fairly loosely. There are times when he’s flying a kite or going on a solo run or saying something that’s never going to be a runner.
But it’s plain as a pikestaff that what he said on Friday night was the official party line.
In an electoral cycle, it moved towards reclaiming the Greens separate identify and distinguished between then and now.
The approach contained two elements and a sting in the he tail.
The two elements:
1. We take no responsibility for the bad decisions that were made before we entered Government.
2. We take responsibility for any bad decisios made since then.
And so the frank acceptance of failures and mistakes since 2007.
And the sting in the tail?
A demand for reform of the Programme for Government.
The opposition deftly portrayed it as the Greens looking for an exit strategy. That infuriated the Greens but you reap what you sow and it was inevitable that the media and the other parties would play it that way.
What the end game for the Greens was to get Fianna Fail to agree to review the programme for government. The party is in an incredibly powerful position now compared to 2007. Bertie’s belts and braces seems to have been made of string and elastic The PDs are gone and Noel Grealish will go independent. The two by-elections will be lost to the opposition. Joe Behan is gone. Jim McDaid is still in purdah. Three are a couple of backbenchers – and Mattie McGrath’s name is always mentioned in this context – who cannot be fully relied upon for support.
Cowen gave a kind of gruding acknowledgement that the Greens’ review would be looked at on This Week on RTE. However, the junior coaliton partner was furious that the media reports on Monday gave the import that the Greens were being put in their place by the Taoiseach.
Hence, a bit of toe-to-toe exhcnages within Government buildings on Monday. It prompted a fuller commitment to reforming the Programme for Government from Cowen. It also allowed Eamon Ryan to issue a statement which more or less implied that the party was glad that Cowen had fessed up and accepted the Green demands for reform.
Its candidates can now go to doorsteps saying it has secured a reform of the programme for government.
So when people give out about cutbacks, they can respond that it’s all up for review.
Immediately, the likes of Ryan and Boyle were talking about reversing education cuts and about the importance of the Metro. (And while I’m at it, is the Metro the right solution for a low density city like Dublin? There are overground lines leaving Dublin to the North, which can then be spurred to the airport).
And immediately, I thought… a season of brinkmanship in the autumn.
This was a victory for the Greens. But they will have to be wary. The party is still being bullish about the local elections. From where I am sitting it looks as electorally vulnerable as its coalition partner. It might shear some of that new-found bolshie-ness away.