The Green Party is in the midst of a difficult and often emotive debate with itself on the question of coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The two bigger parties have stopped only just short of begging the Greens to join the next government. But will the Greens take the plunge? And should they?
The party needs to ask itself and honestly answer a number of questions. Firstly, can it make significant progress towards its objectives as part of such a government?
Nobody in a coalition government gets everything they want but their own electoral strength, the arithmetic of the 33rd Dáil and the weakness of the two old parties certainly offer the Greens a historic opportunity, greater than any the party has seen before.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have conceded most of the Greens’ 17 demands and indicated a willingness to discuss how to achieve the remaining objectives, including the 7 per cent reduction in annual carbon emissions that matters so much to the party.
Can the Greens trust Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil? The answer that many Green members and activists will reflexively give to this question is: no. These are the parties, after all, which have in government made Ireland one of the climate laggards of the world. But no coalition government operates solely on trust – rather, "trust, but verify" is the sensible modus operandi.
A programme for government should set out time-bound targets to be reached by a series of actions. To put it another way, the Greens will have to do smart politics and work the levers of government with application and diligence if they are to achieve their objectives. The achievement of Green objectives is more up to the Greens than Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.
Thirdly, is any alternative imaginable government that might be formed after another general election more likely to implement more Green policies? In other words, is a better deal available anywhere else? The anchor of any left-led government would be Sinn Féin – which has ruled out a carbon tax. The signs are not good.
And finally, what are the political implications of staying out? The Greens attracted many new voters in the February election. They voted for Green policies to be implemented in government. Passing up this opportunity in order to wait for something better that may or may not come along is unlikely to be without consequences for the party.
Politics, we are often told, is the art of the possible. But it is also, Vaclav Havel said, the art of the impossible – of making the world a better place. The Greens have a chance to make the next administration the greenest government Ireland has ever had. They should think carefully before passing up that opportunity.