Saturday 1 October 2016

Parties refusing to help form government are part of the problem, not the solution

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

ONE of the interesting sub-plots in the current saga surrounding coalition formation is the respective positions of the new Dáil's two smallest parties - the Social Democrats and the Greens.

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The Social Democrats and its three leaders/TDs - despite saying before the election that they were open to being in coalition - did the political equivalent of taking their ball and going home, saying they would not serve in a minority government led by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

There was some high-minded rhetoric about Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil doing the right thing. But it was impossible to shake the nagging feeling that the party, which has caught the fancy of the middle-class liberal left, has decided being in government is not conducive to its goal of usurping the Labour Party.

It has altered its stance slightly, stating its TDs could support a minority government on a case-by-case basis from the Opposition benches. Why this shift in position? Was it a fear of being seen as self-serving?

Regardless of the reasons, compare and contrast the approach of the Green Party and its two TDs. Right from the start, the Greens have been upfront that they are willing to be part of any effort to put together a government. Nobility isn't a trait that is on display too often in politics, but it's the only word for the Green TDs' position. If anyone was entitled to a free pass on coalition talks it's the Green Party, more so even than Labour. No party has been unluckier in the history of the State in terms of the timing of entering government. During the noughties, the Green Party was the only party - repeat, the ONLY party - warning about the dangers of the housing bubble (and advocating measures to tackle it, including a site valuation tax). Then it went into government and was hit by an economic tsunami.

Despite the party's reputation for flakiness, the six TDs got on with the hugely unpalatable job of doing what had to be done to save the country. There was some naivety on display at times. But in the main, they made horrible, but absolutely necessary, decisions in the full knowledge that they were signing their political death warrants. And so it proved, as the party was entirely wiped out in the 2011 General Election.

The level of bile towards the Green Party at the time was extraordinary. It was widely blamed for a crisis it had absolutely no role in creating and got zero credit for doing the right thing. But such are the vagaries of political life.

It would therefore have been entirely understandable if Eamon Ryan had said his party was still in a rebuilding phase and would not be part of a government this time around.

Given the electoral record of government parties across the eurozone since the economic crash, it would probably have been the politically savvy move. Ask the Social Democrats.

But, to their credit, the Green Party didn't hide behind such excuses. It took a much simpler line. A Government needs to be formed. We've two TDs. If we can help a coalition get up towards 79 seats, we'll do what's necessary to help.

There's been much talk in the past couple of weeks about the need for a new type of mature politics to resolve the challenges thrown up by such a fragmented. So far, it's the Greens, more than the Social Democrats, that have shown that maturity.

It wasn't always the case for the Greens. Remember the ludicrous stunt of tying themselves to trees on O'Connell Street? Given the trees were totally unsuitable for the capital's main thoroughfare, it was pure tokenism and tree-hugging nonsense.

But the party has grown up a lot since then. It couldn't have known what it was letting itself in for when it went into coalition back in 2007. Without the benefit of hindsight, it was the right call for the party.

It was an unprecedented opportunity to implement Green policies for the first time. It would have been political cowardice not to take it.

The same probably holds nine years on. Ireland's response to global warming, the greatest crisis facing the planet since World War II, has been pitiful. The Greens, as well as having an old-fashioned belief in 'doing the right thing', sense the chance to play a central role in changing that dire performance.

The Social Democrats hold equally strong beliefs. It took a brave stand before the election in going against the grain and saying there should be no tax cuts, with the emphasis instead on improving public services.

It struck a chord with a lot of people, even if they didn't manage to add to their seat tally. But why not follow through on that by directly influencing the policies of the next government?

The people spoke last month and it's now up to the parties elected to the Dáil to get on with forming a government.

There is an onus on every party, including Labour, however shattered it might be, to work to put together a government, either from the inside or the outside. Those parties that don't are part of the problem, not the solution. And that's something they'll have to explain to voters if the result of their inaction is another General Election.

Shane Coleman presents the Sunday Show on newstalk.com at 10am

Irish Independent

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