The Greenfingerprints


Delegates to the special Green Party conference have confronted their core values, their conscience as the protest party, swallowed hard and opted to go into government with Fianna Fáil. Their parliamentary party made a mature decision because, in the world of politics, more can be achieved in government than in opposition.

Pragmatism won out over principle and, at the end of protracted, perhaps naive and certainly most unconventional negotiations, the Greens will be cabinet members in the first three-party Fianna Fáil-led government in the history of the State. And Trevor Sargent, in keeping with his election promise, has resigned as leader. What a catharsis!

It is clear when the programme for government with Fianna Fáil is analysed that cabinet membership and future political influence took precedence over immediate policy implementation. Policies of principle, such as the use of Shannon airport by the US military and the construction of the M3 at Tara, failed to tip the balance against the required two-thirds majority.

The package of measures that went before yesterday's conference was strong on aspiration but short on specifics. In some cases, such as local government, electoral reform and a windfall tax on land speculation, it involved a reheating of old Fianna Fáil promises. In others, important, carefully circumscribed, policy concessions were extracted. A target for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions was agreed. A carbon tax was proposed during the next five years. On the controversial hospital co-location programme, disagreement arose between the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats on what, precisely, had been agreed with Fianna Fáil.

There is no doubt that the fingerprints of the Green Party appear on key elements of the draft programme for government. But it lacks a solid Green footprint. The concessions secured are important and environmentally progressive but not, as the PDs were able to boast on entering government with Fianna Fáil in 1989, mould-breaking. Green Party negotiators have sold the draft programme as a work in progress and promised that further advances could be expected during the life of the government.

The so-called "deal breakers" that Mr Sargent specified during the course of the election campaign were quietly forgotten. A demand for extra spending on education was significantly scaled back, as was a requirement for more energy-efficient building regulations. But a €100 million fund for better home insulation was agreed. No obvious progress was made on party policy affecting tax cuts and reliefs, VAT rates and capital gains tax.

With six Dáil seats at their command, Green Party negotiators were never going to get all the concessions they wanted. In a three-party configuration, the Taoiseach, with 78 seats, could depend on the PDs and a number of Independent TDs to return him to government. It was a hard call in the end which may haunt the Greens.