Does the Green Party have a Future?


Eamonn Ryan was recently on the radio speaking against nuclear power, responding to a pro nuclear expert who had been given airtime to promote it on RTE the previous day. Eamonn was reasoned, logical, persuasive. Then the texts were read out a string of bile aimed at him and his party along the lines of "the people have spoken why are you interviewing this has been" etc. No real reference to the arguments or issues.

This was a few weeks after the election when the Green Party had suffered a devastating defeat. Their vote had more than halved on the previous general election and all 6 Dail seats had been lost. They had even failed below the crucial 2% threshold for state funding, despite running candidates in everyone of the 43 constituencies.

The Green Party is in deep crisis, a crisis of it's own making. Founded in 1981 originally as the Ecology Party, becoming the Green Alliance and eventually the Green Party it has mirrored the development of similar parties across Europe. Many founding members are still in the party and many are not. The early days saw it going through the usual formula of being an alternative to both capitalism and socialsm, being very much about environmental sustainability, peace activism, wealth redistribution etc.

The founding principles agreed at its first convention in Glencree in the Spring of 1982 were:
    * The impact of society on the environment should not be ecologically disruptive.
    * Conservation of resources is vital to a sustainable society.
    * All political, social and economic decisions should be taken at the lowest effective level.
    * Society should be guided by self-reliance and co-operation at all levels.
    * As caretakers of the Earth, we have the responsibility to pass it on in a fit and healthy state.
    * The need for world peace overrides national and commercial interests.
    * The poverty of two-thirds of the world's family demands a redistribution of the world's resources.

And they still are the principles of the party theorectically anyhow.
       The Green party contained many active environmental campaigners and anti-war activists.  Many had become active through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarment, in various anti war campaigns, in animal rights activity. Whilst the party was overwhelmingly middle class it had a social justice orientation, in the classic liberal sense. It could accommodate a fairly broad range of members and even a few self identified anarchists. the party began contesting elections in November 82. In 1983 it failed to take a position on the abortion referendum as the party was as divided as the rest of Irish society, but that year saw a major breakthrough by the German Greens which inspired the party in Ireland to move more into the electoral sphere.  In 1984 it became the Green Alliance and registered as a political party. Contesting elections now became a major focus of activity, there were always tensions between the so called "Fundis" activists who believed in the partys founding principles and the "Realos" people who were willing to compromise in the interests of achieving a little. A similar balance existed across the European Green movement.

     The Greens were firmly Euro sceptic, but internationalist at the same time, and fought on the No side on every european referendum until the Lisbon referendum when now a junior partner in government and well on their way to the respectable middle ground the leadership attempted unsuccessfully in the first vote to shift onto the yes side, this failed and the party had to remain neutral, however by the second round the party had shed a fair few of the more principled members and they leadership successfully got the party to back a yes vote.

    The Greens had moved from a radical environmental, peace and social justice party to a party hungry for a share of power at any cost. The party had adopted a leadership model exactly the same as other parties and policies were no longer set in stone but free to be dispensed with when need arose.

    In the nineties and early oughties the Greens provided many speakers for anti war platforms, firmly aligned themsleves with the Shell to Sea campaign, backed unswervingly anti road protestors in the Tara/Skryne valley etc.  Party TD for Cork South central Dan Boyle published a book about the party "A Journey to Change" which eulogised thier activities in many spheres. " The use of Shannon airport by US personnel became a focus for Irish opposition to the war. Green elected representatives participated in many demonstrations at the airport." He refers to two members Tim Hourigan and Ed Horgan who were part of the plane spotters group at the airport and highlighted the US use of the airport.  When there were direct action attacks on US aircraft by anti-war activists Mary Kelly and then the Pitstop Ploughshares, Green TD Trevor Serageant tied himself up in knots in the Dail trying to play both sides, law abiding politician and anti war activist.  When the Grassroots Network Against War called for a mass invasion of the airport after the massive demo against the war in Dublin in February 2003 the Greens took the oppurrtunity to put clear blue water between themselves and the radical wing of the anti war movement opposing the protest in Shannon. In government the Greens quietly dropped their opposition to US military use of Shannon and their local councillor Brian Meaney is now a firm supporter of the US presence. This destroyed completely the Greens base in the anti war movement and resulted in the shedding of embarrassed and outraged members.

     The Shell to Sea campaign was to suffer a similar betrayal, the Greens abandoned the whole issue on entering government and Eamonn Ryan even went so far as to say he had been reassured by Shells experts about the safety of the projected pipeline route only to have An Bord Pleannala rule it out a few weeks later. Another layer of activists alienated. Other pet Green issues suffered a similar fate those campaigning against the motorway in the Tara Skryne valley got short shrift from their former allies.

     But as the Greens shed these issues and activists around them, they were busily recruiting green entrepreneurs and oppurtunists to fill out their ranks. Their access to the corridors of power now attracted the very sort of individuals who see only personal oppurtunity and advancement as the reason to be in a party. Bitter former members began working on alternative initiatives and in the European elections of 2009 the Green party candidate was outpolled by party disident Patrica McKenna, the Greens lost most of their council seats and their Euro vote dropped dramatically.

    There were murmurings of dissent as the Greens went along with every dirty deal and bank bailout by Fianna Fail. Former councillor Niall O'Brolchain bigged it up as a dissenter until he was bought off with a senate seat, Deidre De Burca left after failing to get a job in Europe and dressed her resignation up in principle. The writing was on the wall the partys decline was terminal, but the Green ministers liked their jobs and their wages and the power, though little positive was done, green businesses were getting grants and hand outs though.

Finally the end came and the government stumbling for months fell, but not before the Greens helped push through a budget that cut welfare, the minimum wage and all the other anti-worker , anti-poor requirements of the IMF/EU.

    The Greens are now in a seriously bad position, the emerging united left and progressive independents has taken its place in the Dail, the electoral field is crowded with many new formations preaching a similar message and the credibility of the greens amongst the layers of activists from which they drew their initial strength is zero. Can anyone now picture a Green speaker on an anti war platform, a green party activist in the leadership of any progressive campaign really? Many environmental activists have found a home outside the party in the Climate camp movement and other campaigns and there is a residue of former members who are extremely hostile but still politically active. 

    The Greens may rebuild, but their radicalism is spent and they will never again have the kind of appeal that drew in progressive young campaigners. They are now firmly part of the establishment, part of the system, part of the problem, for all the fine rhetoric about being neither capitalist nor socialist they have shown themselves utterly committed to the capitalist system and no friend of the working class.

WORDS:James McBarron