By some measures, the Green Party has never had it better. It has more TDs than at any point in its history, along with a solid base of councillors, senators and MEPs. It controls three important Government departments, and in a whole range of policy areas, including the one it values most – climate action – its influence is clearly apparent. So far the Greens have confounded critics who assumed the administration's smallest party would be its shakiest pillar; the party has gone about its work quietly and efficiently while Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that have suffered periodic convulsions and controversies.
Few voters will thank the party for collapsing a coalition in the middle of a pandemic, and it will hardly advance the Green agenda
But the resignations last week of a handful of councillors and between 50 and 80 party members over the Mother and Baby Homes controversy is a reminder that the Green Party must steer a careful path if it is to maintain internal unity while remaining in office. A significant portion of the party's members – just under a quarter – voted against entering government. Some oppose coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on principle, either out of ideological opposition to the old ruling duopoly or a more pragmatic conviction that voters will punish the party at the next election. And, being a political party, the Greens are naturally prone to internal rivalries and competition; just a few months ago, deputy leader Catherine Martin mounted an unsuccessful attempt to oust party leader Eamon Ryan.
There is no neat solution to the party’s dilemmas. Government is built on compromise between competing interests, and the longer the Greens stay in, the more uncomfortable it will be for those members who see compromise as a synonym for defeat. Yet few voters will thank the party for collapsing a coalition in the middle of a pandemic, and it will hardly advance the Green agenda. The best strategy is to stay put, in other words. But the party leadership should not expect that its work will speak for itself. It must make the case each day for its participation in government, and it must focus relentlessly on making a mark in the small number of policy areas that matter most to it and its supporters.