Green Party Conference
The Green Party conference is taking place this weekend in Kilkenny. It’s a low key event with a a few hundred delegates, with a good deal of self-examination and talk of renewal.
There could be few more suitable opportunities for a party in search of its soul than to go in search of its stance on the fiscal treaty.
It’s a generation now since the party ditched its rule that no policy would be agreed without the full consensus of its membership. But it still has an exacting requirement where a two-thirds majority is required before a policy decision is adopted.
That has been achieved a fair few times in recent years: notably, when the party made the fateful decision to enter a coalition government with Fianna Fail in 2007. In Government, over two-thirds of members backed controversial Government decision on Lisbon Two (by one vote!); NAMA and the renewed programme for government (the latter in October 2009). The party took no stance on Lisbon One, as it was six votes shy of a two-thirds majority to support that treaty.
The result was announced a short while ago, with a 62 to 38 per cent weighting in favour of Yes. That was more resounding than was expected. But it not a decisive enough majority to give it a mandate to campaign.
The debate itself this morning was interesting and telling in a number of respects.
The modest turnout at the sessions so far remind us of the party’s evisceration last year and its reduced circumstances. No TDs or Senators; and only three ‘full’ county councillors (it took a pasting in the 2009 local elections as well!).
The party, under new leader Eamon Ryan, has pushed forward a lot of younger and fresher faces, although there is a core membership that has stayed loyal to the party through thick and thin. That includes virtually all of its former TDs and Senators – former leaders Trevor Sargent and John Gormley; Ciaran Cuffe; Dan Boyle; Mary White have been in attendance.
Small as it is the party is as broad a church as any other. There have always been divisions about policy and direction between the fundies (so called fundamentalists) and the realos (the realists) and they are still apparent. In essence, it is the debate between principle and realpolitik; and what, if anything, can be made subject to compromise.
There were some excellent and passionate contributoins from both sides on the fiscal treaty. It was interesting that all of the party’s former parliamentarians, as well as two of its councillors, supported the Yes side. Local councillor Malcolm Noonan was the only dissenting voice. But he did attract plenty of support from many other members.
Some of the contributons were strong and persuasive, on either side. One of the things that’s noticable about the treaty is that you can be swayed by arguments on both sides. That’s because the treaty itself is porous: nobody pretends that it is anything other than a sticking plaster solution that will be changed in time, perhaps sooner than we can draw breath.
The tenor of the Yes speakers today was that the treaty for all its faults was better than the alternative. For the No side, the party needed to return to green principles, which is not compatible with the current neoliberal orthodoxy in Europe. A sub-argument was that the party needed to reassert itself as a strong voice of opposition and campaigning for a No vote would show there were alternative voices to the likes of Sinn Fein and the ULA arguing No for different reasons.
A Yes advocate, John Goodwillie put the quandary best when he said: “The choices are between austerity which is very bad and austerity which is terrifying. A no vote will only make the likelihood great that austerity will be increased in the future.
“Of course, it’s unfair, The economic system is unfair… [but] we have to work within framework of an interntional system,” he said.
On the No side, Arthur Doohan used a farmyard metaphor to describe how impossible the new rules will be to operate. “You cannot get 11 gallons of milk out of a 10 gallon cow without killing the cow over a short period of time.”
Doohan was one of several who argued that the party needed to return to principles and reestablish itself as a significant force in Irish politics, advocating alternatives.
“We have taken a beating. We are not a very significant force in irish politics. Things which have heppened in the recent past have empowered the likes of Sinn Fein… We should be in the place where Sinn Fein are.”