Bryan Wall: The Green Monster


From top: Green Party’s Ciarán Cuffe arrives at the European elections count centre at the RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4 yesterday; Bryan Wall

With the election results all but in, now comes the time for a post-mortem. The left vote has collapsed to large degree. Sinn Féin has lost the gains it made in the last few years and parties farther to the left have not been able to capitalise on the failures of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Instead, the Greens are the main winners right across the country.

Many are lauding this as proof of a greater awareness amongst Irish people of the challenges facing the country when it comes to climate change.

Perhaps there’s a realisation that all the other parties have failed to do anything about climate change. And now the Greens have stepped into the fold with a mixture of the right ideas and the right people to do something about it.

Their electoral success should be seen as a protest vote more than anything else. The Greens are far enough from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that there is a difference between them in the minds of some people. This makes voting for them palatable.

But the simple truth is that the Greens have more in common with the big two than with any of the parties to the left.

Having spent the last decade in the political wilderness, this has been forgotten or is simply not known by a generation of voters going to the ballot box for the first time.

When the Greens were in coalition with Fianna Fáil their record was, quite simply, atrocious. As the Shell to Sea campaign noted, when the Green’s current leader, Eamon Ryan, was a minister in the coalition with Fianna Fáil, he was happy to “impose” the Corrib gas project. Ryan, they said, “mobilis[ed] hundreds of Gardai and the Navy in order to do so”.

Former Green Party leader John Gormley, who was leader while they were in power with Fianna Fáil, stood by his party’s support of the bank guarantee. He argued in 2009 that “If we had not acted, the costs to the economy would be incalculable and that is why we had to act”. Although he later claimed that he was reliant on bad advice from experts.

Nonetheless, during his time in coalition he defended the austerity budgets he helped to impose on the basis that it was in the “national interest”. And during the banking inquiry he insisted that:

“Every one of those austerity budgets was progressive. In other words, each budget hit the wealthier members of our community proportionately harder than the less well-off.”

According to a prominent Irish activist, before getting into government, Gormley was also known to regularly attend meetings of the Irish Anti-War Movement and was “gung-ho” about Palestine. But they noted that as soon as Gormley went into coalition with Fianna Fáil, “that was the last we heard of such things”.

And current Green Party star Ciarán Cuffe was more than happy to hob-knob aboard the USS John F Kennedy aircraft carrier when it visited Dublin in 1996 while he was a member of the Dublin City Council. As The Phoenix noted, he did this while members of his own party were picketing the presence of the US ship.

This brief and incomplete history of the Greens is telling and all the more given Eamon Ryan’s comments while counting of the ballots was still ongoing over the weekend.

During an interview on Newstalk, he apparently refused to be drawn on whether or not his party would go into coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

His defence was that:

“Every party increasingly in our system vote to agree internally to go into power or a Programme for Government”.

In another interview he told the Irish Times that he could see the Greens being part of “rainbow coalition with a range of different parties”. Cuffe refused to be drawn on this when questioned by journalists.

Fellow star of the party, Saoirse McHugh, has been more forthright, however. She said “Yeah” when asked if she would resign from the party if it entered into a coalition with either of the big two.

Cuffe argued that the idea of a coalition was “hypothetical” but nonetheless said, “Let’s see how things go today and then we can have a look at all these issues”.

Although McHugh seemed put out being asked about a possible coalition with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, saying “I don’t know why everyone keeps talking about it” as no general election has been called, it appears that her seniors have begun planning for the possibility.

Both Ryan’s and Cuffe’s comments are indicative of this. And, probably more importantly, it appears that Fine Gael has begun setting the stage for the Greens to go into a coalition with them.

Varadkar has said an early general election is possible. This is probably a greater possibility than ever before now that the Greens have shown their willingness to at the very least consider going into government with Fine Gael.

Hoping that the Greens’ local and European electoral success will translate into Dáil seats, he likely realises he can use them to prop up his party in the aftermath of an election in which Fine Gael would inevitably lose some seats.

The political courting has begun, with Simon Coveney saying:

“you will see in the next few weeks… a very significant climate policy coming from the government”.

With the Greens itching for another chance at power having spent the last decade in the wilderness, it seems they believe that their time has come again.

Having surprised everyone with their “surge”, their likely hope is that they can carry this success forwards into a general election. But what hasn’t been widely reported are the demographics of the Green Party’s new voters.

According to the Irish Times‘ Mary Regan, “42% of 18 – 24 year olds in Dublin” voted for the Green Party compared to 7% of the same age group voting for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

This means, then, that the “surge” in support for Ryan and company comes from people who either don’t know or don’t remember the role of the Green Party helping to cripple the country and, in particular, my generation who lost their jobs, income, homes, and, all too often, their lives.

The Greens represent nothing but more of the same old politics we’re all used to. For that reason they’ll be gladly accepted by either of the big two parties, thereby giving us the option of green neo-liberalism or green neo-liberalism.

The signalling of both Ryan and Cuffe that they would willingly enter into such an arrangement shows how hollow their professed green beliefs really are.

And with a general election possibly around the corner, watch as their already pliable beliefs become even more flexible as power draws ever closer.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. This is an election special. Bryan’s regular column appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


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39 thoughts on “Bryan Wall: The Green Monster

  1. RuilleBuille

    Has GP guru Ciaran Cuffe still got his thousands of shares in six oil companies?

    1. ReproBertie

      The ones that were part of a portfolio he inherited from his mother back in 2003 and sold when it was pointed out to him? No.

      I am really enjoying all the sour grapes from people pointing out that the Greens have made mistakes in their past. No doubt many of the same people are telling us to move on from Sinn Fein’s terrorist and bank robbing history and that FF are not the same FF that sold our sovereignty for some builders’ debts.

      1. Nigel

        I get a kick out of the talk of short memories when people voted for FG after the children’s hospital, cervical check and the broadband plan all happened, like, last week and the rest of the left failed to turn any of those memories into votes

        1. Nigel

          Even dismissing the Green Wave as a protest vote implies that the electorate are still cleaving to FG on a fundamental level which begs the question after everything FG has done how come the left haven’t managed to roll them up like a bad carpet and toss them in a dump? WHY IS THE FG CARPET STILL ON THE FLOOR BRYAN WALL? FOR FECK’S SAKE!

          1. Ciuncainteach

            I hate the term ‘protest vote’; implies that the main parties are entitled to this vote, and the only reason anyone would vote otherwise is as a show of transient dissatisfaction.

  2. Ciuncainteach

    You state at the outset that:

    ‘the simple truth is that the Greens have more in common with the big two than with any of the parties to the left.’

    Then completely fail to substantiate this assertion in your piece with regards to actual policy positions.

    The only thing you’ve shown they have in common with either party is that they happened to have been in government, which the other left wing parties have not.

    Being in opposition is easy (although it is a necessary component of the checks and balances on the powers of the executive). Being a junior party in Government during the largest economic crisis in living memory is not. If you want to draw reasonable comparisons – try looking at The Labour party’s last term in Government.

    1. realPolithicks

      His point is that if people think that the greens are a party of the left are mistaken as they have demonstrated their willingness to form coalition governments with right wing parties previously.

      1. Nigel

        This is certainly true to the extent that there are no other viable left wing parties ever in a position to form a government because the Irish electorate always puts a right wing party in the senior position of any coalition and when a left wing party goes into coalition as a minor partner with a right wing party the rest of the left gets confused and upset because the coalition dominated by the right wing party does lots of right wing stuff which means the left wing party is now a right wing party. I don’t know who’s most at fault in all this but it’s headwrecking.

        1. ReproBertie

          I seem to remember the Greens having a shouting match with the Shinners when that coalition was announced. Something along the lines of the Shinners having their chance to form a left wing rainbow style coalition (with Labour, the Greens and an independent or two) but being more interested in sitting on the opposition benches.

  3. Pee Pee

    I’m a Green voter, but I find the leadership to be very smarmy, Ryan and Gormley. The new guard, and their policies, entice me to vote for them. I think the young bucks in the party will propel them to become one of Ireland’s most popular parties for many years.

  4. A Person

    Bryan, you are a bitter man. The hard lefts and the shinners lost. Why not write an article on why that is (people like you, I suggest)? Instead attack the Greens, who are a minor party, including bringing up instances that happened in 1996. To you and all the hard lefts and the shinners, ha ha ha ha ha ha. The country has spoken.

    1. RT

      +1, where is the analysis of WHY the left vote collapsed, and where they should go from here??

      Whole piece stinks of begrudgery!

  5. Dr.Fart MD

    no party is what they say they are. Labour aren’t socialist, Green aren’t green, and so on. I’ve given up on any hope for a change in the Irish politcal landscape.

  6. dav

    I hear joe duffy is doing a hatchet job on the greens on the radio as well, poor company to be in Brian

  7. Emily Dickinson

    Bryan is 100% right about the record of the Greens in government, which is why the surge in support comes as such a shock to those of us old enough to remember that period.

    In particular, their record around climate change and the environment was shocking.

    Perhaps the single worst thing we’re doing on emissions is to generate electricity from peat. It’s far more polluting even than coal and it’s epically inefficient (it costs about 100k a year in subsidies to keep one person in a job earning 50K a year – it would be cheaper to close the plants and pay the entire workforce to just sit in the canteen all day).

    The Greens did nothing about it. They didn’t even start the process. So we’re still buring peat today and will be for years to come.

    I’m not anti-Green. The activists seem sincere and well-intentioned. But the party’s track record of delivery is atrocious.

    1. ReproBertie

      Damn those Greens for not implementing their entire programme when they were the very junior partner in a coalition as the economy collapsed!

  8. GiggidyGoo

    The one thing to take from the past while is that (yet again) polling companies only function as regards politics, is to produce what they are asked to produce to push agendas.
    Wryan Tumbleweed made a big deal of the RedC exit poll – wouldn’t you think that would have been fairly accurate?
    He even had two ‘experts’ on with analysis. All three wetting themselves with excitement, excreting.

  9. Nigel

    I would find this more compelling, and perhaps young people would too, if the left weren’t so completely bloidy useless in an electoral sense.The centre is collapsing across Europe and the far right is on the rise and after years of swingieng austerity and waste and incompetence the left are still nowhere to be seen on the Irish political stage, a few honourable exceptions noted. From protesting the Iraq war to Occupy to Corrib to water charges they’ve turned energised, angry popular movements into dead ends time and again. Who ste the Greens going to form a left wing coalition with? Feckin LABOUR?

    1. edalicious

      I was hoping the Sockies would have a better showing this time around with ex-Labour voters migrating to them but nope. I think this piece above is a great example of why the Left is suffering at the moment; this political piety of “if you’re not following my beliefs exactly, you’re basically just right wing”. I think everyone needs to just chill the flip out and make some compromises instead of allowing the Left to eat itself and have another hundred years of FG and FF taking turns at the helm.

  10. SB

    I’m always surprised at the vitriol directed at a small party like the Greens over their coalition with Fianna Fáil. Why not just criticise Fianna Fáil directly instead? If you want to make any changes in society I think you have to make some compromises, otherwise you’re going to be like Sinn Féin – full of great ideas when in opposition but never in a position to DO anything about it. Taking just one example, the Greens, on the other hand, by getting into power, managed to introduce the Cycle to Work scheme, increasing the number of people cycling by 43%.

    1. Nigel

      I think it’s because the left can form an informal coalition with the right and defeat the Greens by savaging them from two sides at once whereas the left has failed time and again to put a dent in FF or FG. It took a global economic crash to bring down FF and were the left positioned to jump in and save the working class from the consequences and punish the bankers and developers and regulators? Were they feck.

      1. A Person

        The left don’t want to be in power, as they will did have to make decision. Brid Smith after the last GE stated that she did not want to be govt. They prefer to be hurlers on the ditch, just say no to everything, and never make a decision. I, and the country, would rather vote for leaders.

        1. realPolithicks

          ” I, and the country, would rather vote for leaders.”

          Are you talking about the “leaders” who brought you thousands of homeless people, hundreds of thousands on hospital waiting lists, billions wasted on childrends hospital and national broadband plan and on and on and on…those “leaders”?

          1. Cian

            Perhaps he means the “leaders” that brought you 400,000 additional jobs…. reduced unemployment by 190,000. Returned a surplus last year.

            It’s the economy, stupid.

          2. realPolithicks

            You’re fg to the core cian so obviously don’t give a toss about all of these issues.

          3. A Person

            I am not FG. I want people to make decisions not just to protest, and not jump on every band wagon going. I want people to be elected to make decisions. Note that the shinners were the biggest party in Dublin. How many houses did they deliver? How may times did they vote down building height increases? Children’s hospital and broadband are totally the wrong decisions, but where were the left protesting, holding marches? Nah, would not look good to the electoral. You called in wrong.

  11. Scundered

    Reducing the amount of humans on the planet is quickest way to help the planet, I wonder how many in the Green party intend on creating more consumers for our planet by having families? Or is it all just a bit of lip service?

    1. Ciuncainteach

      Overpopulation is less of a concern than excessive consumption. The developed world has a much larger footprint per capita, so we need a rationalisation of needs more so than a reduction in population.

      1. Scundered

        But if that population is still increasing you have to ration more and more as it increases, you still will be left with a problem unless something dramatically culls the amount of humans like war or disease etc.

        1. Ciuncainteach

          That’s fair, and measures to correct the population boom should also be taken.

          People have a tendency to overemphasise the overpopulation argument however, which implies that the issue is with people in developing countries having too much children rather than those in developed countries consuming more than their fair share.

          1. scundered

            true the biggest problem is undeveloped countries, and also the fact that charities are not trying to reduce the population by pushing birth control mainly…. as to reduce the population would reduce the profits for charities, which are of course mostly just businesses in disguise. However we in the western world also have our part to play, it should be a collective effort which will be difficult in such a divided and profit obsessed world. And in this part of the world we reward people having kids, by tax breaks and benefits etc… there is no incentive to not have kids. That will be a very controversial subject for most to discuss.

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