Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Fianna Fail and the Green Party

We've seen the shortest-lived partnership turn toxic and receive a humiliating critique from McKenna
Fianna Fail have done it again. They have injected their toxin into another political party, the Greens, poisoning it and probably killing it.

What Patricia McKenna has delivered, in her interview in 'Hot Press' with Jason O'Toole, is a valedictory on the Green Party in which she convincingly shows that virtually every significant shred of policy, in principle and in practice, has been stripped from the Greens. They stand now for none of the things they presented to Irish voters up to this point, and this point is their first grappling with power.
Before coming to that in more detail, it is worth summarising briefly the devastations Fianna Fail has visited upon Irish political life and the integrity -- generally speaking -- of those who trust them. This has been a product of their political performance since their need for partnership put them into the business of engulfing other parties.

In 1987 Desmond O'Malley remained neutral while Haughey scrambled to govern without a majority. Two years into that experiment Haughey made the mistake of going to the country, losing seats and bending to pressures for a coalition deal. O'Malley gave it to him but called the shots.
O'Malley won. Haughey was forced out by the junior partners, Reynolds took over and misjudged what he was dealing with. He too was forced out by an election that gutted him, and Fianna Fail found another victim, this time the Labour Party led by Dick Spring.

It astonished the country that Spring could do this and it cost him and the Labour Party their participation in that partnership, damaging them hugely for their misjudgement. Fianna Fail destroyed Labour under Spring and it was Spring's fault for trusting them.

In the event it was Fianna Fail that lost power, but Labour lost public trust and prestige.

The Progressive Democrats had done the destroying in 1992. Amazingly, they came back to support again a party whose treachery was familiar. But this time they had lost the knack of exercising minority power. Both Mary Harney and Michael McDowell trusted the new Fianna Fail leader, Bertie Ahern, and repeatedly gave him the benefit of the growing doubt about him.

The results, eventually, were their own annihilation. The killing of the PDs was like an episode in a 'Godfather' sequel, cold-blooded, calculating and cruel. The PD electorate was deprived, in the full light of publicity, of a party worthy of any support at all. Under Desmond O'Malley it had held Fianna Fail to account. Under Harney and McDowell it played a pandering role that shamed it into extinction.
Labour survived its toxic experiences and recovered. The PDs went under, but only after many years of holding wilful and deceitful politicians to account.

The Green Party is set to follow these sad examples. It will do so in its first flush of power, from the summer of 2007 until now, as we witness the unravelling.

Fianna Fail cheated or persuaded them out of every plank in their political platform. Even while the ink was drying on their deal for partnership with the larger party, Dick Roche signed off on Tara.
The Save Tara campaign was a major Green Party issue, as Patricia McKenna made clear in her 'Hot Press' interview. It was most improperly taken out of their hands. At the same time, the incinerator at Ringsend, another major Green Party issue, was implemented, leaving a rueful John Gormley in charge of something he had supposedly opposed tooth and nail.

This was disdain for the party of a high order, right at the beginning of a so-called partnership. What else went? Strict Shannon surveillance of rendition flights and other military movements was reversed. The reversal of Shell in Mayo was dropped. As to the key Green Party issues of renewable energy and climate change, well, that has been largely taken out of the domestic arena by the EU and this process, reinforced by new thinking in other parties, strips the Greens of their last shreds of decency.

Not surprisingly, another rebel in the Green Party who speaks his mind, Paul Gogarty, said privately last Thursday that the Greens would not win a seat in Dublin because of Patricia McKenna's departure .

Nor will the party receive much support anywhere else; instead, there will be looks of pity and embarrassment at their growing political nakedness.

The most curious figure in all of this is Trevor Sargent. He held valiantly to one principle -- that of not leading the Greens into Government with Fianna fail -- but then urged entry into coalition with Fianna Fail on the basis of a deal that no one could assess properly at the time. It was done with suicidal haste.

Perhaps there is something still worse in all of this that was not covered in Patricia McKenna's damning interview. This was the complete and absolute reversal of the Green Party's position on the EU and the Lisbon Treaty.

John Gormley, who was a member with Dick Roche of the Convention on the Constitution which became the Lisbon Treaty, opposed it and backed an alternative approach. This became Green Party policy and was a considered position respected by supporters.

It has all been thrown out of the window. Not alone is he now a 'Yes' voter; he also favours further potential moves by the Government which may well involve fresh legislation to remove the requirement for the referendum of giving equal airtime and television time for the 'Yes' and 'No' viewpoints. That would be a serious departure from democracy.

We have seen his and the Green Party's acquiescence in the shelving of the Forum for Europe. And this and other proposals are being adopted before Green Party ministers know what the EU package contains!

We have seen the shortest-lived partnership turn into a toxic relationship and receive from a former leading member a humiliating critique on the lack of basic integrity.

With other parties, one could understand this. But the Green Party -- fresh in everyone's memory, the living spirit of care and concern for its supporters -- how soon has this brave party come to a shuddering contradiction of all that it stood for.

John Gormley is fond of talking about being in politics for 'the long haul'. This is not 'the long haul'; it is the brick wall.