Green Party rift on EU-Canada deal sidelined via Coalition committee

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement a persistent cause of simmering discontent

A potentially damaging split within the Green Party over the controversial EU-Canada trade deal has been averted by a Government decision to refer the matter to an Oireachtas committee.

The deal known as Ceta – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – was due to be ratified by the Dáil in December. But the vote was postponed over fears that at least two Green TDs would vote against the Government.

Since then the third Coalition party has been involved in an intense and divisive internal debate over Ceta. It held a number of web seminars in January. Several prominent councillors and members have resigned from the party in recent weeks over this and other ongoing issues.

The issue was due to come back to the Dáil later this month for ratification – 14 other EU states have already ratified the deal.

However, the Government confirmed on Wednesday that it would be referring the matter to the Oireachtas European affairs committee which will examine the issues involved before a Dáil vote is held. It came after a meeting between Green leader Eamon Ryan and his partners in Government, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar.

The decision is a concession to those within the Greens who opposed the decision. Prominent critic Neasa Hourigan, who is a Dublin Central TD, said the decision had come after pressure by environmental groups and the public, who opposed fast-tracking the deal. Ms Hourigan and Dublin South-Central TD Patrick Costello have led opposition to the deal within the parliamentary party.

The left-wing group within the Greens, Just Transition, also welcomed the decision. Cllr Una Power said it was a testament to “grassroots democracy and activism”.

One of the main divisions is over the role played by the Investor Court System, which opponents say will give private companies the right to override environmental rights, health rights, and workers’ rights.

Movement to scrutinise

There is also a dispute within the party as to whether Ceta is part of the programme for government. Ms Hourigan has insisted her party did not commit to the deal. But other negotiators have argued that the Greens committed to supporting the deal as part of the agreement to “support new and existing EU trade deals”.

The three Green Ministers agreed at Cabinet in December that the trade agreement should be put to a vote and none raised an objection. But after the row erupted the party’s deputy leader, Catherine Martin, expressed misgivings about the deal and argued at the January meetings that diverse voices should be accommodated. It is also understood that Ms Martin may have raised some concern over Ceta to party colleagues earlier in December.

A spokesman for Ms Martin said she is satisfied there is now movement to scrutinise the agreement at Oireachtas committee level.

“She has voiced concern to Green Party colleagues and she has listened to the membership, NGOs and civil society groups,” he said.

A Fine Gael source said the decision was agreed between the three leaders but added there is little chance of the actual deal being reopened by the European Union.

“There is no changing the trade agreement. At some stage it is going to have to be ratified,” said the source.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times