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Green Party duo always likely to break ranks on divisive NMH issue

Neither Hourigan nor Costello in favour of Coalition that was formed in summer 2020

If ever two Green Party TDs were to go overboard and vote against the Government, the likely candidates were always going to be Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello.

There is precedent.

Hourigan voted with the Opposition against the newly formed Coalition, of which she was a member in July 2020, over a Bill on housing.

At the end of 2020, she and Costello said that if a Government motion to ratify the trade deal between the EU and Canada was put before the Dáil in its then form, they would vote against it. The motion was withdrawn.

In fairness, neither of the two had been in favour of the novel Government arrangement that came into being in the summer of 2020.

Hourigan, TD for Dublin Central, and Costello, who represents Dublin South-Central, voted against the Greens going into a Coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, along with Francis Noel Duffy.

For the first year of the Coalition, they were identified with a group within the Greens which was seen as more to the left on economic issues and which put more emphasis on social issues than the traditional ecological Greens who focused on the environment.

The most prominent members of that group included Hourigan, Costello, Duffy and Dublin Cllr Hazel Chu. Members of the more radical wing, Just Transition Greens, would be closely aligned, politically, to this group. Catherine Martin would have been seen as its leadership figure rather than Eamon Ryan.

In the spirit of the first item on the agenda of any political party being the split, the Greens seemed to be embroiled in an internal civil war during 2020 and the first quarter of last year.

It culminated with an extraordinarily angry March 2021 parliamentary party meeting over the decision by Hazel Chu to run as an Independent in a Seanad byelection.

There were fractious exchanges between Martin and Chu on the one side, and Senators Pauline O’Reilly, Pippa Hackett and Róisín Garvey on the other, with the latter group describing Chu’s decision as disloyal.

Some of the exchanges were described as bitter, juvenile and disrespectful. It seemed the divisions between the two sides were intractable. But there has been a discernible easing of all those internal tensions since.

If Hourigan and Costello had gone overboard a year ago, it would have been seen as precipitating a crisis and, perhaps, defections.

Not any more.

Perhaps that angry meeting represented a clearing of the air between the two factions. Since then, those tensions and divisions have dissipated and the party has presented a united front which was not evident during its first year in this Government.

It would be too simplistic to portray the infighting as “teething problems” but there is no doubt that the atmosphere now is much more settled and the Greens trying to focus on policy issues rather than personalities.

‘Conscience’ vote

It was striking how relaxed Green representatives were on Wednesday about the prospect of two party TDs defying the Government whip and voting for a Sinn Féin motion in the Dáil.

“There was always going to be a good chance that at least one or two would just find some votes too much of a compromise and would vote according to their conscience,” said one.

There was recognition that this is a particularly sensitive issue for Hourigan and Costello. Indeed, a majority of Green Party TDs would support their views that the National Maternity Hospital should have been built on State-owned land. The difference is they have acceded to the views of their Coalition partners on it.

“I believe that both Neasa and Cossie [Costello] are Green politicians instinctually and belong to this party rather than any other party,” said one TD.

They said the parliamentary party was “comfortable” with the stance taken by the two and did not believe it would have any implication for Green unity.

The difference this time is that the disciplinary measures will be much more robust than the last time, when Hourigan and Joe O’Brien (who abstained) received minor sanctions.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will insist that both TDs lose the parliamentary whip for a defined period and the Greens are likely to go along with it.

But unlike in July 2020, or December 2020, or even March 2021, nobody in the Greens seems overly concerned that it will have any long-term implications for party unity.