If being in government isn’t easy, then being in coalition is extremely tough, which means being in coalition sandwiched between Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar would be utterly excruciating. Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner alluded to the fact that many FG members would jump at the chance to regroup in Opposition and start performing the much easier task of opposing rather than governing. Leave the poisoned chalice to FF and let them get the blame for everything when it goes awry. Mary-Lou would have been absolutely delighted that she wasn’t included in the talks. A huge mandate to oppose a fledgling Government. Why FF didn’t make a U-turn on governing with SF surprised me and I believe it to be poor politics. Dangle the carrot in front of the Shinners, lure them in and lock the door behind them once they find themselves in the Dragon’s Den of governing. The realisation of not being able to simply say “fund more”, “end homelessness” or “we need more taxes!” and suddenly shoot up in the polls would be a sobering one. But alas, Martin and Varadkar have had to turn to the Green Party to form a government.
The Greens, who after the 2007 coalition weren’t just decimated, after the 2011 election they were blown up. 0 seats. 0 mandate. Nothing. But in the past 9 years they have rebuilt something of substance once more. A movement people can associate with. A movement that young, passionate people have got behind. Green Party candidates, who were once seen as “they’ll never get in”, have transformed into a party that, in 2020, nearly tripled the amount of first preference votes it received (compared to that of 2016). 12 seats, over 7% of the vote and the 4th largest party. A genuine foundation that can be built on from the Opposition benches.
So why is Eamon Ryan so determined to get a seat at the table? Being involved in government is of course always going to appear very lucrative. A chance to change things, a chance to implement their values. But Ryan appears to have fallen into a fatal political trap. Being close to power, does not mean you wield power. The Green Party will be thrown under the bus for the inevitable failures that will accompany this incredibly hard period of governance. This 7% figure that Ryan drawing his red lines upon are “not credible” according to one of Ireland’s most senior civil servants, Robert Watt. Although there is now some written agreement that gives way to Ryan’s demands, he has stuck himself to the issue so much that there will no getting away from it. Agricultural industry takes a hit? Blame the Greens. Farmers unhappy? Blame the Greens. 7% a huge success? Well, didn’t FG/FF work so hard to make that target.
But the talks aren’t even the biggest challenge that they face. The biggest challenge lies on their own doorstep. Some Green TDs are so against going into coalition with FG that they have supposedly said behind closed doors that they will make the move to becoming independent. The image of the Greens being Dublin-centric “Blueshirts on Bikes” will be projected to the rest of the country. More importantly, it will be projected to its own party members, many of whom are young and vocal. Young people are the biggest campaigners in the struggle against climate change and are such a key component of the Green’s current position, deciding what their political future will look like. In a statement made 3 days ago, the Young Greens said, “We have constructively raised a number of policy concerns with our Parliamentary Party throughout this process, and we are disappointed they haven’t been taken on board.” But what will this supposed “disappointment” look like? Perhaps people will revoke their memberships, perhaps a new movement will be formed, perhaps nothing will happen. But Eamon Ryan cannot afford to take that chance. The hard work that the Green grassroots have persevered with will be undone at the end of a pen. If Ryan somehow manages to convince the one or two TDs he needs, I dread to think what will become of the party that has worked so hard to be in a position to provide credible opposition.