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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 5, 2010 @ 11:36 am

    Green jobs that are not very smart

    Harry McGee

    The Green Party, its chairman Senator Dan Boyle argued this week, is not about individuals and personalities, rather about policies.


    The phrase is a compelling one and the thinking behind it may be laudable. Indeed, it has been common currency among Green members for almost three decades, ever since the Irish ecological and green movement came into being in the early 1980s.


    In its earlier days, the party adopted the approach of longer-established Green movements elsewhere, particularly in Germany. Ergo it had no leader, arrived at decisions on the basis of drawn-out and tortuous consensus, and had constitutional provisions that compelled elected representatives to resign their seats or offices to make way for colleagues.


    However, the party has learned to its cost over that period that Irish politics is often, necessarily, about individuals and personalities. The successful electoral slogan of the longstanding independent TD for Longford and Westmeath Joe Sheridan provides a perfect illustration of the highly personalised nature of Irish politics: “Vote for Joe, the man you know”.


    Political expediency demanded it make its decisions by majority (albeit two-third backing of its membership) and elect a poltical leader, with its unofficial head Trevor Sargent assuming that role in the wake of the 2002 General Election.


    The surprise disclosure this week that there was a secret internal agreement, or at the very least advanced discussions, about ministerial rotation was, on the face of it, typical of the Greens.


    Following TV3’s report on Monday that such an agreement was brokered in 2007, the party’s response has been deeply ambiguous. Its political representatives have gone to ground on this sensitive issue, refusing to confirm or deny two key questions. Was such an agreement made at the time? If it was, is it still extant?


    The party should have moved to kill the deal this week. Sure, it was agreed. Sure, there were sensititivies involved. Sure, Ciaran Cuffe – whose seat is really vulnerable – might have been left out of joint.


    But this is the reality: The agreement was bananas. It might have sounded warm and fluffy when the Greens were still a small, idealistic party in 2007 and the world seemed like a nice round place. Two years later, and battle-hardened by Government, the party should know that it’s a non-runner.


    Asking John Gormley to step down would make no sense. He could not lead from the back benches, not with any authority anyway. The media and the opposition would defer to Eamon Ryan as unofficial leader. That’s how it would pan out.


    Several Greens to whom I spoke this week talked about the model being used elsewhere, and pointed to Germany.


    But it’s two decades ago since it was used in Germany and then with very mixed results indeed. There, the Greens wanted their public representatives to make way for others after two years. This was made easier by the fact that the Germans have a list system.  But their best known figure, Petra Kelly, rightly refused to stand down. More latterly, there have been no resignations. The party’s de facto leader in Germany Joschka Fischer was foreign affairs minister for two terms.


    So, where are the Greens now? I don’t think there will be any change at senior ministerial level. The party has been lobbying hard for a second junior. If Cowen goes for a radical reshuffle, perhaps they will get one. But there will be a huge trade-off, and they will have to make a big compromise on a policy issue in return.


    So much for policy being more important than individuals.




    • Andrew says:

      Harry, you cynic! The Greens have had trouble making an impact outside of their ministries. Where they have ministries they have been quite effective. Therefore, if they want to advance their policies, should they not make a grab for another junior?

    • robespierre says:

      The precedent in Ireland has not been very successful. Eoin O’Duffy lead the nascent FG from outside the Dáil with no success and Richard Mulcahy was technically the party leader during the 1st interparty coalition at the very least.

      On rotation of ministries it does not make sense. Would there be work shadowing, succession planning or a hot cut-over. Would the outgoing minister be able to keep drawing a co-minister salary for 3 months while bringing the new one up to speed.

      I know that Gormley is very much perceived as having an agenda and very little interest is certain aspects of his brief (especially civil and construction engineering) and that he is really focused on the environmental parts and some reform of local government. Would Cuffe have the same priorities in that ministry. Would a successor to Ryan have as good a grasp of technology… I am dubious.

      The last opposition politician who really understood communications infrastructure and the strategic importance of it was Ivan Yates. He moved out of the brief in the year 2000.

    • Enda says:

      “The agreement was bananas.”
      I dunno, it may be unworkable, but crazy, I dont think so. “Vote for Joe, the man you know”, now that’s bananas, and stupid too. This obsession with personality politics may make for good copy but ultimately it’s corrosive and corrupt.

    • Mark Brennock says:

      I have no insider information, but from reading the papers the situation could be as follows:

      Say the Greens thought that it would be good if, mid-term, their leader could move to a “super-junior” post – a Minister of State role with real responsibility (media reports have suggested he might have been seeking responsibility for public service reform – not the act of a political coward). Holders of super-junior posts sit at Cabinet meetings so he would not be “leading from the backbenches”.

      Then perhaps Ciaran Cuffe would have become Minister for the Environment, while Eamonn Ryan would have stayed where he is. The Green Party leader would have a really challenging role, the changes would be imaginative. Gormley’s new job would have a lower “rank” in the eyes of Lenister House bubble dwellers, but who else cares? There would be a party leader in a cutting edge role.

      When you read the media reports (and ignore the tiresome narrative thread which says everything the Green Party does is by definition ‘soft and fluffy’ or indeed bananas) the above seems to be the shape of what was being considered. Now, if the media is right, the prospect of the above may be fading, perhaps because the taoiseach doesn’t want to create the new job Gormley might be interested in.

      So it mightn’t happen. Ciaran Cuffe will no doubt be disappointed, but I bet you won’t see him throwing a public hissy fit. And life will go on.

      It will fade quickly in memory as an interesting idea that didn’t happen. However the breathless coverage everywhere suggests a “rift”, internal rows, and nutty weirdo Greens politically naive in sandals squabbling over wacko ideas and jobs for the boys. I don’t think it’s like that.

    • steve white says:

      why would the greens have to compromise on policy?

    • steve white says:

      fg and gormley are suggesting list system, why not lead from the front

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Politics is about ideas and more than that – competing ideas. You need persons to argue for those ideas, persons that can gain trust and persuade other persons of those ideas. There is no big division between politics that is about ideas/policy and personalities. They are one and the same thing. People in the course of choosing who to vote for look to the person and what they are saying.

      As for list sytems – Berlesconi is an example of list sytems. List sytems take the decision as to who is elected in parliaments out of the hands of the voters and makes that decision soley the preserve of political elites. List sytems are profoundly undemocratic.

    • Harry says:

      I agree with Joanna Tuffy about list systems. Completely. Our esteemed former colleague Mark Brennock displays penetrating insight. My understanding of the 2007 arrangement is that it went as follows: Gormley would make way for Cuffe. The Greens would get a second junior. The two elements were mutually exclusive.
      It was only when the the agreement was revisited internally within the party over the past few months that people started having second thoughts about it. It was then that the idea of a super junior was floated. But that, from what I have heard, is now considered a non-starter.

    • robespierre says:

      Which brings me back to my point about succession planning. There were two years of transfer between Bill Gates and his successor Steve Balmer.

      That is the difference between the real world and the muppets in Parliament.

    • Hugh says:

      Of course it’s not about getting elected on individual merit. I would reminder you that Deburca and Boyle were not elected by anyone. Seems like Boyle is fine as an individual and a personality with a twitter account being appointed to the rotten borough of the Seanad though.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Back in the real world while Gogarty is rolling about on the floor somewhere and Gormless and Cuffe are comparing the measurements for their manhood – how many more people have lost their job or finally lost the battle to remain solvent or how many people have brought their son or daughter to an airport or waved good bye to their grandchildren and have those in the Leinster House bubble done a damn thing to stop it – of course not they’ve been so focused on the vital issue of what useless Green sits in a chair around a big table and claims a pension for doing so.

      By the way, how are the officials going on the Paddy’s Day junket and how many wives/significant others are going and who is paying for their junket?

      Oh I feel sorry for the Germans – the mind boggles at how confused they’ll be when Calamity Coughlan shows up … they have Angela Merkel and we have …. well we don’t have Angela Merkel that’s for sure. Will Calamity have her personal trainer and make up artist and hairdresser with her too?

    • Conor says:

      If the Greens are a policy driven party, what policies have they driven through that was not in the 2007 FF manifesto? We still have corporate donations, the money officially spent on elections does not match declared declarations, SIPOC is a toothless organisation, and the Dail is still composed of glorified councillors on higher expenses. Is a cap on local election spending Gormley’s only real achievement in 1000 days of government? Perhaps Cuffe could do a better job, if so give him a run out, since Gormley has gone native.

    • barbera says:

      Aside from a few hiccoughs, and since the Coalition is working extremely well — especially on account of the integrity of its two leaders + the resolute strategy of the indomitable Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, I would opine that it is now time for the GP to merge more fully with FF. What need is there now for such marked distinction between the coalition partners, since FF by association with the GP has absorbed the importance with regard to consideration for all things ecological when implementing policies that directly affect the environment (what policies don’t) and which would lead to more caring and efficient stewardship of the environment? And the GP by association with FF has absorbed a whole history of knowledge and experience with regard to doing politics and in my opinion, has benefited greatly (despite what propagandists put about to the contrary) by association with the party much beloved by the majority (again despite what propagandists put about to the contrary) that people keep voting for. What name to call this new amalgamation of FF and the GP?
      Is there really any need to put the “glas” (Irish for green) on the Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny)? Are we not all green (patriotic/caring of the environment) at heart? But some indication of FF’s new focus on the importance of caring for all things environmental could be indicated by a small “c”, for example, where “c” = “comhshaol” (irish for environment) — so FFc perhaps.

    • El Leader Maximo says:

      It’s all good in Biffostan. We need to think about smart jobs and the GPO going forward into 2016. We are where we are. Smart economy, taking the tough decisions, whose round is it ?

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