An intense debate is raging in the Green Party over the programme for government and whether it goes far enough to achieve Green objectives to decarbonise the economy and tackle climate change.
However, the findings in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll suggest that for the public tackling climate change is far down the list of priorities it wants the next government to address.
Asked which of a menu of issues that they thought should be the “top priority” for the next government, the number one choice by a significant margin was “rebuilding the economy”, which was nominated by 36 per cent of respondents.
This was followed by “protecting Ireland from Covid-19” (20 per cent); housing (17 per cent); and health (17 per cent). Just 8 per cent chose “tackling climate change” as the number one priority.
Perhaps predictably, however, climate change was the number one choice among Green voters, among whom 26 per cent said it should be the next government’s top priority.
Just 4 per cent of Fianna Fáil voters and 4 per cent of Fine Gael voters nominated climate change as their number one priority.
Support for tackling climate change among Labour, Sinn Féin and Independent/small party voters is higher than among Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voters – but not that much higher. Just 5 per cent of Labour voters, 9 per cent of Sinn Féin voters and 8 per cent of Independent/other voters believe that tackling climate change should be the number one priority for the next government. And for each of these groups, the issue is bottom of the list of priorities.
The findings are not inconsistent with similar surveys around the time of the general election which found climate change was not regarded as a priority issue for most voters.
What does this mean for the debate raging in the Green Party?
Clearly, there are some Green members who will never assent to joining a coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – though the poll numbers suggests that if the membership is reflective of Green voters, they are a small minority (only 5 per cent of Green voters said the party should never do a deal with the two bigger parties in any circumstance).
There are also many Green Party members who will judge that the programme for government is not a sufficiently good deal to warrant joining the proposed coalition.
But there are also Green members who will seek to make a judgment between the deal on offer and the alternative – political uncertainty, perhaps another election and the possibility of a different coalition that might produce a “greener” programme for government.
What the latest poll suggests is that there will be no public clamour for climate action to be given a higher priority either in a second election or by a new government that might follow it.
And the voters of the parties of the left, according to the poll, do not have much more enthusiasm for tackling change.
The choice for the Greens is a classic gamblers’ dilemma – take your winnings or risk them in pursuit of a bigger prize.