Green jobs that are not very smart
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.