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Green means 'go' for a very upset Chinese ambassador John Gormley embraces his wife, Penny, as (left) Trevor Sargent and (right) Mary White look on after his speech

AS John Gormley basked in the applause at the end of his speech, Dun Laoghaire TD Ciaran Cuffe scurried across the stage. "Did you see the Chinese diplomatic delegation walk out?" he hissed to his party leader.

John's eyes went out on sticks. "There'll be trouble! There'll be trouble!" he declared giddily, for a split second perhaps picturing himself as a be-robed Lawrence of Ringsend galloping through the majestic dunes of Sandymount Strand while fomenting revolt.

The Great Wail of China -- which saw Ambassador Liu Biwei and two aides depart the Green Party Conference in Dundalk -- was by far the most dramatic moment in an otherwise rather lacklustre weekend.

Castigated

On the steps of the hotel the Ambassador sternly castigated the Environment Minister as being "totally wrong" for describing Tibet as a country.

"I will lodge my strong protests," he declared through his interpreter, as the group of reporters huddled around him tried to resist doing cartwheels that the conference had finally produced a bit of real news.

Despite it being the first big Green get-together since the party had tiptoed cautiously into coalition with Fianna Fail last summer, the event had a muted feel to it.

Nonetheless, there was plenty of evidence in the Fairways Hotel that the Greens had taken up residence -- one fresh-faced lassie strolling through the foyer with her bicycle tucked casually under her arm, and another casually breastfeeding her baby in the middle of a busy corridor.

There were also stands selling Ethical Threads (T-shirts) and Biodiversity for Food Security (plant seeds). There were children everywhere -- one Green councillor climbed onstage to oppose a motion with a child in his arms -- and there were draughts everywhere.

The Greens love a bit of fresh air, and every fire door in the hotel was flung open all day.

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And besides keynote speeches from the two senior ministers, John Gormley and Eamon Ryan, and from junior minister Trevor Sargent, there were all sorts of workshops.

There was a Cycle Lane Workshop, where a bit of a barney broke out over how to differentiate 'cycle path' from 'cycle lane'. And for those keen to stay on the Green wagon, Ciaran Cuffe had devised Twelve Easy Steps to Reduce your Carbon Footprint.

But as Ciaran discovered, it ain't always easy being Green. One workshopper had a problem with her compost bin. It attracted rats.

But Guru Cuffe had a simple, cheap and non-polluting solution. "Borrow a Jack Russell," he advised. No wonder these boys are in government.

Perhaps it was the lack of beefs (as opposed to beef) that kept the Green hordes away.

Now that the two ministers no longer have to face pesky questions about Bertie and Mahon, many potential conference dust-ups were headed off at the pass.

But until the Green Party leader poked the Chinese delegation in the eye with a sharp chopstick, his keynote address had the bite of a plate of overcooked celery.

If there was a frisson to be found, it was in the conference hall during the speech by Communications and Energy Minister Eamon Ryan. The 45-year old Dubliner has become a bit of a rock star.

During a discussion on how to attract more young people to the party, Louise Archbold of the Young Greens got a bit frisky. "When all else fails, we just put up some Eamon Ryan posters and watch the girls -- and some of the boys -- sign up," she said naughtily.

Passionate

When he was winding up his speech on Saturday, Eamon got a bit passionate. In order to wrap the world in green cloth, he was prepared to take drastic action. "I will take off my jacket. I will take off my shirt!" he announced to a bit of lusty cheering.

Sadly for the womenfolk Eamon kept his shirt on, even when a spot of serious disco shapes were being thrown in the hotel bar late on Saturday night. The minister left the dance floor to vegetable-loving junior minister Trevor Sargent who made like a Mexican jumping bean during 'Leim Thart', Des Bishop's as Gaeilge version of 'Jump Around'.

But the biggest shape thrown belonged to the ambassador.

And yet John's army appear to have adapted that old saying by Chinese general Sun Tzu about keeping your friends close and your (former) enemies closer. It seems that the party are content to bring the wrath of 1.3 billion Chinese down upon their little green heads, just so long as they don't invoke the ire of the first emperor of the Biffo Dynasty.

As the ambassador stalked off into the Louth darkness, a Green party aide looked rattled and relieved. "We might have offended the Chinese, but at least we didn't offend Brian Cowen," he muttered.

Indeed. The Mandarins of Merrion Street are a far scarier bunch, and no mistake.


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