They're back, sort of. Yes, our Green Party re-launched last week, a surprising development and one that will be welcomed by those of us who support a robust democracy. It is also a prospect heartily welcomed by those of us who support genuinely green values.
However, enthusiasm turns to concern when one sees some of the language at the re-launch, such as the continuing worship of big government and the addiction to high-spending capital projects which we simply don't have the money for, like the now-postponed Metro North and the Western rail corridor. It reminds one of the old charge that the Greens are really just slow-motion socialists, as opposed to being a broad-based movement concerned with lifestyle and values. In the UK, green values are embedded in the political culture and the Conservative Party has specific Green MPs such as Zac Goldsmith. The Greens constitute, at their roots, as much of an old-fashioned right-wing philosophy as that of the left. Indeed, they should be beyond left and right, and above tribalism and ideological swings.
For the reality is that, despite their recent electoral wipeout (which was really only because of their support for a deeply unpopular Fianna Fail government) the contribution of the Greens has never been more important to our society. This is a no-brainer and should not be snorted at by the more philistine of our political primitives who believe purely in economics, jobs (and media soundbites) and who like to divorce political action from the process of everyday life.
Look at what the Greens actually stand for. It was the only party with a responsible attitude to local planning during the Celtic Tiger. It opposed ribbon development, one-off housing and building on flood plains. At a time when our recovery is connected to the agricultural sector and food exports, the Greens have prioritised the quality of what we produce and eat. They are at the forefront of looking for new and less expensive energy sources. All of this is valid, but unfortunately the Greens have to be mindful of what should be prioritised. And there wasn't enough of a sense of this at the party's relaunch where Eamon Ryan outlined their objectives and talked up their past wisdom. Some of the claims were a bit exaggerated, such as the claim that if the party's idea of a land value tax had been introduced 30 years ago, there would have been "no property bubble and no banking crisis". A bit of a stretch, surely, although an interesting consideration.
However, much of what Ryan wrote was entirely valid, and he reminded us again that green ideals are not just morally or altruistically valuable but practical and self-serving, and yes, even selfish. Stressing that the world's resources are not infinite, he said that, "for us in the West, it means economic security: energy security and sustainable jobs which won't disappear overnight". In other words, this would contrast with the discredited tail end of globalisation and those "always in the balance" jobs provided by Aviva or Talk Talk, which can move country at the drop of hat.
Ryan also invoked our sense of community, illustrated by local interaction and the GAA, much like David Cameron's 'Big Society' concept, which, although derided by those who insist on spending state money on everything, is actually entirely workable. But then, Ryan makes a claim for also "ending the shame of global inequality", which is about as specific as declaring a war on terror, or ending the bad weather. One would be more effective getting ashamed at the inequalities in Irish society. This might be something we could rectify. The universal is in the local, as the Greens should know. And let's nurse the world's natural resources, not blow them on destructive development.
There was further woolly talk when Ryan participated in a radio discussion with the 'We the Citizens' grouping and seemed to endorse their well-meant but ill-defined concepts of civic "inclusion" and "public consultation". We need to hear concrete policies here, not vague concepts. But the future could be promising for the Greens. Twenty per cent of the party's membership has joined since the election, presumably young people attracted by environmental concerns rather than Dail arithmetic. And, incidentally, what has become of the old Greens?
Only two of its former nine TDs are on the new frontbench, which, interestingly, is the youngest frontbench of any Irish political party. So where are those former famous faces (Paul Gogarty, Dan Boyle etc?) Enjoying retirement perhaps or staying away from the relaunch for fear of reminding voters of how they shored up Cowen and a now vanquished FF.
Some may chortle but let's see how other politicians get on, like the Labour Party who were so critical of the Greens in government, mainly because they wanted to be there themselves. At least, the Greens did not make a raft of promises they knew they couldn't keep. Also, at least the Greens know exactly what they stand for. Unlike FF which is still flailing around looking for an identity. Is FF to go left and protest against the cuts and compete with Sinn Fein? Or should they be robust on the economy, and on public sector reform? Confusingly, they're currently doing both. And they've been speaking with two voices on Europe, although it should be said that last week's contribution by Micheal Martin on the euro crisis was one of the most considered of any Irish politician.
But Martin does not have the luxury of a movement like the Greens behind him, and an international philosophy linked to our everyday lives. He does not have a party that has gained 20 per cent of its members since the last election and a young and fresh frontbench. No, he has the likes of Dev Og O Cuiv, threatening to go to jail over a septic tank, in protest at green policies. Actually, that says it all, really.