Green Party negotiators at odds over merits of government deal
Hourigan voices ‘considerable’ concerns while Smyth cautions against ‘ideological approach’
The Green Party’s Ossian Smyth (left), pictured with other members of the party’s negotiating team Roderic O’Gorman and Neasa Hourigan at Leinster House last month. Photograph Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times
Green members must decide if the climate measures contained in the party’s government deal with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are “strong enough” to cover underachievement in housing, the economy and social justice, a member of the party’s negotiating team has said.
Ms Hourigan was one of three TDs who abstained when the deal was voted on by the Green parliamentary party earlier this week. The deal was ultimately endorsed by the parliamentary party and will now go to the party’s membership for ratification.
One of five Green TDs chosen by her party to steer programme-for-government talks, she said she was unable “to square the circle” of reducing the deficit and allowing tax breaks while investing in climate action and services over the five weeks of talks between the three parties.
She was speaking as another member of the Green Party’s negotiating team - Dún Laoghaire TD Ossian Smyth - cautioned against being “wedded to an ideological approach”.
Contrasting his own stance with some of the Green Party’s younger activists, he told RTÉ’s Prime Time: “I don’t hate the people in the other parties. It’s not part of my identity that ‘I am me’ and, you know, ‘I’ll never speak to these people’… I worked very closely with the other parties over the last few weeks and part of this was not just to discuss policy but also to establish trust.”
Explaining her position, Ms Hourigan said: “We worked really, really hard over the last few weeks, and did our best to get as good a deal as we could. Now it is for the members to decide.
“Myself personally, I have concerns on housing, around the provision of public housing, affordability and the idea that public land should remain in public hands.
“I have considerable concerns around the economic strategy, including year-on-year deficit reduction, tax breaks up to and above €4 billion and no tax increases over the lifetime of the government, while promising to invest in things like climate action and basic services. We have discussed this for five weeks and I still can’t square that circle.
“Are the environment issues enough and strong enough and binding enough to allow for underachievement in housing, social justice and finance? It is up to the members to decide.”
A number of prominent Greens including Mayo general election candidate Saoirse McHugh and Cllr Lorna Bogue in Cork have already rejected the programme.
Cllr Bogue told Prime Time on Tuesday night that the youth branch of the party was “very policy oriented” and there were insufficient commitments in the deal. She said the target of reducing carbon emissions by 7 per cent would not be achieved within the lifetime of the government and “it seems as though the most we are going to get for the first five years is 4 or 4.5 per cent”.
Asked about her stance on the programme, Mr Smyth said: “I don’t know if I can convince Lorna but I spent today my ringing my members, and they were very enthusiastic about this.”
He added: “Lorna is part of the young wing of the party. All of our parties have youth wings. They are passionate and vigorous and they have a purity of purpose. I’m not wedded to an ideological approach.”
On Wednesday, Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe said that his party should “grasp this nettle” and the extraordinary opportunity to promote a green agenda “even if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are not our natural bedfellows”.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show, Mr Cuffe said that the Green Party “can’t sit out this one” until it found a perfect political alignment. “We can stand on the sidelines saying ‘do something’ or roll up our sleeves and get in.”
Over his three decades in politics he had built relationships on all side of the political spectrum and had huge admiration for people in the two other political parties, he said. His colleagues “have to have trust” in their opposite numbers in the Oireachtas.
“We can’t wait, we can’t sit this one out. I don’t think the electorate would thank us,” he added.
The three parties have begun the process of seeking the approval of their party organisations and grassroots members for the deal.
While sources in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are confident of winning internal endorsement, Green TDs admit that party leader Eamon Ryan faces a battle to get the two-thirds approval from the party membership that his party’s constitution requires.
However, several senior Green sources say the deal stands a strong chance of being ratified after deputy leader Catherine Martin signalled her support for it. Some party sources said they would wait to see how vigorously she will campaign for the deal.
Fianna Fáil will hold online meetings in all constituencies, which will include members of the negotiating team and party leader Micheál Martin. Justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said he would back the deal, and said he hoped to serve as a minister in a new government.
Fine Gael will hold a special delegate convention on Sunday via Facebook, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will also hold conference calls with public representatives and there will be four regional Facebook Live events.
Meanwhile, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll suggests that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voters are strongly in favour of forming the three-party coalition with the Greens.
Asked about their preferences for government formation, 53 per cent of Fianna Fáil voters said they favoured the three-party coalition, while 55 per cent of Fine Gael voters were in favour – making the proposed coalition by far the most popular choice for voters of the two parties.