Dan Boyle Interview
Deaglán de Bréadún
Green Party Chairman Dan Boyle gave me an interview this week on the break-up of the coalition. A shortened version appears in today’s print edition:-
The Greens will be running candidates in all 43 constituencies in the general election and, despite poor opinion poll ratings, expects to have a presence in the next Dail, party chairman Senator Dan Boyle said in an interview with The Irish Times.
The party retains an undiminished appetite for participation in government although it will be resigning from the current administration as soon as the Finance Bill passes both Houses of the
Oireachtas, even if Taoiseach Brian Cowen delays further in calling the general election.
When the Greens made their declaration of intent last November to withdraw from government, party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley said: “We believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011.” However the Taoiseach,
speaking to The Irish Times this week, indicated polling day could be at the end of March.
Asked when he anticipates the election taking place, Senator Boyle said: “There’s a lot of variables. The Finance Bill is going to be published in the middle of January. It will take three to four weeks to process it in both houses. Our commitment is to leave government on the passage of the Finance Bill.
“We don’t know whether there will be a government in existence for a number of weeks after we leave government and we don’t know the choice the Taoiseach will make as regards the length of the election campaign.
“The earliest an election could have been was mid-February and it seems the latest an election could be is late March.”
It normally takes six weeks for the Finance Bill to pass both Houses but Senator Boyle expects it will only take “three to four” on this occasion.
“So it will be mid to the third week of February by the time the Finance Bill is processed. We’ve tried to quicken up the process as much as we could, we’re bringing the Oireachtas back earlier, we’re publishing the Bill earlier – around the 20th [of January] I believe.”
How important is it for the Greens to have the election soon? “Well, I think a lot of confusion has been caused by our November 22nd announcement. We were probably over-optimistic in saying that an election could be called in January, rather than for January, there was a lot of confusion that was caused by that.
“We thought that the Finance Bill could be microscoped more than it could: last year it was April 3rd when it was finished. But we’re getting cooperation as regard to having the Finance Bill done in the quickest possible time but it doesn’t look like that can be done quicker than the middle of February or the third week of February.”
There are still a number of items of legislation initiated by the Greens which remain to be passed by the Oireachtas, including Bills on the Dublin Mayoralty, Corporate Donations and, most recently, Climate Change. Were these a ploy by Fianna Fail to buy time?
“No, I don’t think so. And we’ve never said we wanted time beyond the Finance Bill to pass legislation. We’ll work to have [our own] legislation passed, we believe the legislation can be passed.
“We have two Houses of Parliament; we have different stages of legislation; there is parliamentary time that’s free when the Finance Bill isn’t being dealt with by one or the other Houses.”
However once the Finance Bill, implementing the terms of the Budget, has been passed, the Greens will be gone: “We have said that we will stop our participation in government once the Finance Bill is passed.”
But if the Taoiseach doesn’t call an election that day, will the Greens be sitting on the Opposition benches? “Well, I think it would be too difficult to re-arrange the sitting, to be honest. It doesn’t really matter at that stage where you sit in the Chamber.”
Asked if he now believed the Greens should have waited until after the December 7th Budget to announce their withdrawal, Senator Boyle replies: “I think if we waited until the Budget was passed, it would have been seen as a more cynical exercise.
“There were a few things that informed us on the weekend leading up to November 22nd, one was the decision to enter into negotiations with the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund which, in our mind, undermined the legitimacy of government going on.
“But there was still a job of work for the Government to do in terms of financial viability and stability, so we couched it in a way that we would honour our commitment in terms of the Budget and the Finance Bill and the reaching of agreement with the EU and IMF, but we didn’t feel that the Government had a natural life beyond that.
“We were also conscious that the nature of that announcement and the social mood at the time was very dangerous. We felt that our statement added a bit of clarity to the situation: I think it has been misrepresented by a lot of quarters since. But now there is certainty about the fact that there will be an election in early 2011 and we think that helped calm a situation that might have got more out of control.”
Many have wondered why the decision to pull out of government was not conveyed to their Fianna Fail partners until immediately prior to the press conference on November 22nd?
“Because the nature of these type of decisions is that you have to make sure that your story is presented in the best possible light. The nature of politics is that, if you give more than a minimum amount of notice in these situations you’re going to be spun against, that’s the reality, and we wanted to make sure that our story was as tight as it possibly could be and that we were the people who were telling our own story.”
There was a rows at Cabinet subsequently, on Budget Day, December 7th, where Green ministers were insisting on their legislation getting through and Fianna Fail Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said they “should have thought of that before they called time on the
Boyle comments: “We were conscious of all the things that would result from the decision we made, including the fact that we may not get our legislation through.”
The Party is running candidates in all 43 constituencies in the general election, including Cork South-Central, where Senator Boyle will be carrying the Green banner. The last two Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI polls have put the Greens at two per cent, but Senator Boyle says: “I would be confident that we will have a Green presence in the next Dail: to what extent I don’t know, because it depends on too many variables.”
Despite the rollercoaster ride of the last three-and-a half years, the party still prefers being in government to opposition: “I think we can contribute either way, but our experience has been that you can achieve more in government.”