Large support for new deal
The Green Party Special Convention has overwhelmingly backed the Programme for Government and has also rejected, by a large majority, a motion opposing the setting up of the National Assets Management Agency (Nama).
Shortly before 7pm, the Green Party chairman Dan Boyle announced that some 84 per cent of over 600 delegates who attended today's special meeting had supported the Programme, agreed between Fianna Fail and the Greens late on Friday night. Party rules require the backing of 66 per cent of members to endorse motions of these kinds.
The strong backing for Nama was also being received as a massive endorsement of the party leadership, given the divisive and contentious nature of the bank-rescue plan. Because of the way the party's National Executive Council phrased the motion, members who were opposed to Nama needed to muster the support of two thirds of those voting in order for the Nama proposal to be struck down. In the end their motion was rejected by 69 per cent to 31 per cent, a much larger defeat than had been envisaged.
Of the 622 valid votes in the vote on the Programme, some 523 were in favour with 99 against. In the second vote, some 415 delegates voted against the motion (and, therefore, in favour of Nama) with 189 supporting the motion.
Party leader John Gormley, speaking immediately after the vote, described the outcome as an overwhelming endorsement for the party and for the Programme for Government.
"We have to live up to those very high expectations," Mr Gormley told delegates to loud cheers.
He said that the new Programme for Government was about recovery, about getting the country on its feet again. "We have no illusions. Some very hard decision have to be bade. We are willing to make those decisions," he said.
He said the programme would end political and planning corruption in Ireland, would see an end to corporate donations and reverse education cuts. He also said that the internal debate within the party on Nama would contribute to the Government and the Irish people getting better legislation on the asset recovery plan.
Today's meeting got underway at about 11.30am with a question and answer session. The debate on the Programme for Government concluded at about 4.30pm and the succeeding debate on Nama is now underway.
While the sessions have been closed to the media, the controversial Nama plan was a recurring theme during the debate on the Programme for Government. At least six or seven delegates argued strongly against the Programme on the basis that it and Nama could not be separated but were inextricably interlinked.
According to a number of those who were in attendance during the debate and who were attempting to gauge the reaction of delegates, there was a sense at lunchtime that the result of the first debate would be on a knife-edge.
However, later in the afternoon the vast majority of the speakers spoke in favour of the legislation and there were standing ovations for the negotiating team plus some of the commitments that have been identified with the Greens. Of 30 or so speakers chosen at random, only two spoke against the programme.
The 40-page document, agreed between Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Green Party leader John Gormley at 8.20pm last night, was made available to the public this morning.
It contains commitments not to introduce third-level fees, to recruit an extra 500 teachers and to ban corporate donations.
In addition, there is a major new commitment to create 127,000 new jobs within a decade in the green and smart tech sectors; to effect far-reaching political reform, and to extend extra protections to families who fall into debt and whose homes are threatened.
The new mechanisms to restrict political donations will involve donations from corporations and private bodies being placed in a central ‘political fund’ and being distributed to political parties in accordance with their electoral performance in the previous Dáil election.
A new independent Electoral Commission will also decide on if the 166 TDs and 60 senators in the Oireachtas is the appropriate number or is too high. It will also consider extending the voting franchise to 16-year-olds in the local elections.
The most eye-catching of the commitments is the decision to conduct a feasibility study into converting the GPO complex into a new Abbey Theatre by 2016, in time for the centenary commemoration of the Easter Rising.
There are a number of commitments that will have strong resonance with Green Party members. There’s a commitment to phase out fur farming in three years; and also to end stag hunting and to replace the culling of badgers with more effective and humane methods of control.
Party leader John Gormley will also say that he was won some concessions from Fianna Fail on incineration. The ‘Waste’ section of the document contains a commitment to place a cap on incineration capacity to prevent waster being drawn to incineration which would otherwise have gone to recycling.
This may have implications for the arrangements the Dublin local authorities will have with the planned incinerator at Poolbeg.
There are also references to extraordinary rendition, and to NAMA, which will likely be the focus of the most heated debate in this afternoon’s session.
A number of members who are opposed to Nama told The Irish Times that they will vote against the Programme for Government because of their fundamental opposition to Nama. The document provides for a levy to be recouped from the banks should Nama make a loss over time; a new combined code for corporate governance; and protection for families which are having difficulties with mortgage payments.
The Minister for Energy and Communications Eamon Ryan told reporters earlier today that the members of the party have a very difficult decision to make today.
“It’s not an easy or a popular time to be in Government. But it’s a time when you can have real effect and effect real change,” he said.
He said the proposed programme would result in a huge change in the means of politics and of standards, in terms of unvouched expenses and restrictions on corporate donations.
In relation to Nama, he said the protections for homeowners was crucial. “People in debt can use a range of measures to help them out.”
He accepted that the party had not won everything it had set out to win. “We are saying that we have to be honest that it’s a difficult time and there will be Budget-day cutbacks. We can do certain things but our flexibility is constrained.”
He accepted that there were criticisms around Nama and other issues and said that he and other negotiators had tried to answer them to the best of their abilities.
He said that the education wins for the party were the most crucial.
“More than anything else, we were right to say that even in difficult circumstances that it was important that we hold the line on this because it is right,” said Mr Ryan.
Those arguing in favour of the new programme and Nama say that the massive majority backing the National Executive Council’s decision on the timetable and the order of business was a positive sign.
There was a broad welcome for the education commitments and also for some of the measures on animal welfare and on extraordinary rendition.
Most of the criticism during the early afternoon was directed at the party backing Nama.
The party leadership expressed tentative confidence at lunchtime that it could attract the necessary support. A small number said that they were confident that the party leadership could attract 80 per cent of the votes.
Because of the delays the party has decided that the debates will be slightly truncated . Two thirds of the members will have to support the revised Programme for Government if it is to be accepted as official policy by the party.
Conversely, those who oppose Nama will need to attract the support of 66 per cent of delegates. This vote is not expected to be carried but may attract more than 34 per cent opposition, which would prove a symbolic victory to those in the party who are opposed to the bank rescue plan.