New Island (2012), 280 pages
Irish History & Politics
Without Power or Glory: The Greens in Government, by the Green Party‘s ex-Senator Dan Boyle, covers the party’s disastrous period in government with Fianna Fáil between 2007 and 2011. The Green Party won six seats in the 2002 general election and this marked a turning point in the party’s fortunes. They realised the need to become more professional, to broaden their support base by developing their policies, and to use the media more successfully. The Green Party had to both maintain their unique appeal as an environmental party and also remove the perception that they were more of a pressure group than a political party. The Green Party’s attitude to economic growth is crucial to many of their policies. They, “reject the constant goal of achieving economic growth as being the keystone of economic policy. For Greens, how growth is defined is flawed as any economic activity, no matter how negative, is seen as contributing to economic growth.” (p.26-27)
The Green Party won six seats in the 2007 general election and voted to become the junior partner in a coalition government with Fianna Fáil. Dan Boyle lost his Dáil seat but got nominated for a seat in the Senate and was involved in negotiating the programme for government with Fianna Fáil. Green Party TDs have always come across as fairly honest and plain speaking and they clearly weren’t fully prepared for the machinations of a hugely experienced (and better funded) Fianna Fáil. Some Fianna Fáil ministers clearly hated working with the Greens and were more concerned with political point scoring and minimising the role of the Green Party instead of recognising the legitimate right of the Greens to have a real input into government.
Boyle is refreshingly open about the shortcomings of the Green Party and its internal divisions. He feels, at least, that the division between the “fundis” (the more left-wing ecological fundamentalists) and the “realos” (the more pragmatic realists) has been bridged. Although the Green Party has been unlucky enough to attract more than its fair share of candidates who leave the party once they build up a support base through the party it has a solid core support (Nessa Childers is probably the classic example of a fairweather candidate, she left the Labour Party to join the Greens, then left the Greens to rejoin Labour, and has subsequently left Labour to run as an independent candidate!). The Green Party were involved in agreeing to the bank guarantee that played a major role in almost bankrupting the country. Boyle, somewhat disingenuously, tries to blame advice given by economist David McWilliams as a key factor in approving the bank guarantee. It’s now clear that most of the cabinet were out of their depth and that they made this vital decision too quickly, without fully understanding the consequences of what they were agreeing to. Such a crucial decision should have been discussed in the Dáil. While some form of bank guarantee was probably needed to prevent a run on the banks the guarantee given was too broad. The Green Party must share some of the blame for failing to, at least, delay the giving of the guarantee without it being fully discussed.
The Green Party, despite attempt by Fianna Fáil to marginalise them, did have several achievements in government. They helped reform the planning laws, they pushed Fianna Fáil to introduce civil partnership legislation, they introduced the Bike to Work Scheme, they improved animal welfare laws, placed an annual tax on second homes, insisted that any water charges be metered instead of using a flat rate, and improved various environmental laws. However, in hindsight, it’s obvious that the Green Party propped up Fianna Fáil for too long. They should have left government once the Mahon Report illustrated Bertie Ahern‘s dodgy financial dealings. Ahern’s replacement, Brian Cowen, was clearly an Ahern supporter when what was needed was a clean sweep which could only have been provided by a general election.
The Green Party lost all of their six seats in the 2011 general election. They will survive, unlike the Progressive Democrats, but it remains to be seen if they can be viewed as a credible political party or will revert to being seen more as a pressure group than a party of government. The upcoming local and European elections will be the first real test of Green Party support since their obliteration in 2011. Without Power or Glory is interesting in parts but is probably only of real interest to the more politically minded reader.
sendboyle – Dan Boyle’s twitter account
Green Party – Official website