Regroup and rebuild is already the Green mantra after election wipeout

Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 00:00

ANALYSIS:The party got no Dáil seats and will not even get election expenses, writes MARIE O'HALLORAN

JOHN GORMLEY summed up the Green Party’s behaviour in government by quoting British economist EF Schumacher, a hero of the environment movement.

The party leader told bemused reporters at the RDS count in Dublin that “we follow the dictum of Schumacher – ‘we must do what we conceive to be the right thing and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we’ll be successful because if we don’t do the right thing we’ll be doing the wrong thing’.”

Following Schumacher’s dictum thus far, however, has proved catastrophic for the party, left with no Dáil seats and no State funding because it failed to get the 2 per cent of the national vote it needed to recoup election expenses.

Stunned party members must now indeed burden their souls about what happened and how they can reverse their parliamentary annihilation. Now the party has just three county councillors in the Republic and 10 town councillors. But it is 22 years since the party has been without a representative in the Dáil and the rebuild is a monumental challenge.

And, however badly Fianna Fáil has done, it at least has a very strong party base. The Greens have an estimated 1,500 members but only about 300 party activists.

Former Dublin Mid-West TD Paul Gogarty acknowledges, “we went into government when we weren’t absolutely needed. We did have some clout when we were revising the programme for government, but we didn’t have enough at the start. So, as a result, no matter when we went in, after 2008 we were going to get hammered.”

Probably their single major achievement in government was to change the planning laws against unfettered development, although some would argue those changes were inevitable.

Former communications minister Eamon Ryan believes they need to take time to “reflect”, get used to working with far fewer resources and manage the party in a completely different way. He wants to see their defeat as an “opportunity to be innovative and to pull in a whole load of bright young people and engage them in a meaningful way”.

People were not happy with a government that introduced lots of tax increases and very significant cuts. “We had facilitated their continuation in office and we were blamed for that,” he says, but there was “the sense of an immediate economic crisis” and they could not just “throw up our hands and say ‘we’re out of it’.”

The one hope on the horizon is that they are part of a wider European green movement.

Ryan noted that Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic faced similar catastrophes and worked their way back.

Former member and party critic Patricia McKenna reiterated her view that the party should never have gone in to government and that it was “impatient”.

But Gogarty said that argument would always go on.

“I never think it’s wrong to go in to government if you think you can get your policies implemented.”

The party went into government in 2007 and “electorally our vote was holding up until September 2008. Then the banking crisis came home to roost and that’s when our vote started to go down.”

He says, however, that people did not want to hear the Green message, “that we’re going to run out of oil and will have higher costs for heating”.

People “feel they can’t afford to be green right now, but if they think the current global recession is bad, it’s a walk in the park compared to what’s coming”.

Gormley said they would consider the leadership – under the party constitution they must re-affirm leadership within six months of a general election – but most members agree it is not an immediate priority.

Asked whether they should have pulled out of government earlier, he said they could not operate from hindsight.

“We had to make a decision at the time. I stand by those decisions. We made difficult decisions.”

He said that he was proud of their work.

His plan, reiterated repeatedly, was that the party would rebuild and regroup. It was “united” and had a “core set of values” and a “vision”.

But if the Green Party continues to follow dictums, its members may be forced to reconsider whether Schumacher’s is the best approach.

GREEN PARTY

Seats: 0 (2007:6)

Share of first preference vote: 1.8% (2007:4.7%)

TDs WHO LOST THEIR SEATS

John Gormley

Eamon Ryan

Trevor Sargent

Ciaran Cuffe

Mary White

Paul Gogarty