There will be fierce opposition in the Greens, but will they walk away from government?

Analysis: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s rural wings remain deeply suspicious of the Greens

So they’re in. The Greens’ parliamentary party voted on Sunday by a two-thirds majority to enter formal coalition talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, clearing a very significant hurdle in the painfully slow process of forming a government.

There have been three important developments in government formation since the general election. The first was when it became clear that a Sinn Féin-led left-wing government could not command a majority. The second was when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agreed to work together towards a coalition. This is the third. The pieces of the jigsaw have been put together slowly and painfully. But they are now almost all in place.

The move means that the odds on a new government being formed, probably next month, have now risen sharply. Although the Greens warned in their statement that they would walk out of the talks if they did not yield “transformative” change on climate action, it is true that no party has ever been involved in formal negotiations on a programme for government and not ended up with an agreement on a programme for government. Momentum, which will now swing behind the process, is a vital dynamic in politics.

Furthermore, no party has ever agreed a programme for government only to have it rejected by the party membership. There is, of course, a first time for everything but it is worth recalling that the Green Party membership voted to remain in coalition with Fianna Fáil in 2009, at a time when the fate of that government was all too clear.


If the party’s membership voted to reject a programme for government negotiated and promoted by its leading members – and which, they will insist, achieves many of their most cherished objectives – Green candidates would find it hard to seek votes to put them into government in any subsequent election.

Some Green sources say the current party membership is younger and more radical than previously, and is committed to broader social justice objectives rather than just environmental and climate action. That remains a danger for Eamon Ryan.

There will certainly be fierce opposition within the party and in the broader left. Although TDs must have known it would come, the ferocity of the online assaults in the wake of the announcement was intense. The gap between what the Greens want and what Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are prepared to sign up to will take some bridging. So it is not a done deal, by any means.

There has never been a process like this, in circumstances like this. A substantial chunk of the three parties that will sit down this week to begin the talks will – for their varying reasons – have objections to any eventual deal.


Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s rural wings are deeply suspicious of the Greens. Every wing of the Greens is suspicious of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Parts of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil cannot bear the prospect of coalition with their historic rivals. And there’s a school of thought in Fine Gael that looks at the party’s energetic surge in the opinion polls (up to 35 per cent on Sunday, according to the Business Post’s latest numbers) and thinks that an election wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world right now.

But none of these is the prevailing view of either the leaderships or a majority in any of the three parliamentary parties. The three leaders have made their moves and taken the political hit – so it is now in their interests to see the process to a conclusion. It doesn’t mean they will make a success of the next government. But it does mean its formation is now more likely than not.