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Those Green shoots may be an angry FF partner

IN spite of everything that has occurred, sometimes it is possible for even this Government to be hopeful.

Last week Mary Coughlan may have dominated the headlines after her imitation of a rogue elephant gambolling through a field of political landmines.

But whilst this provided us with much-needed laughter, on the broader political front for the first time since Bertie left, chased by a blizzard of accusations about sleaze, the possibility of some form of political soft landing for FF emerged.

Though the voters are still playing hard to get, Lisbon II appears to be at the point of being carried, whilst Brian Lenihan's 'softee softee catchee monkey' approach to Nama has been greeted by sullen resignation rather than riots in the streets.

But even as the Budget is being carefully calibrated to serve the interests of Fianna Fail -- and of course the nation too, for in the world of Mr Cowen they are one and the same -- the Taoiseach would be wise to remember Albert's famous warning about the dangers of small hurdles.

Mr Cowen may be wrestling with three hydras called Lisbon, the Budget and Nama, but one small little Green footstool could yet derail all of his plans.

Such a possibility is all the more surprising for, within the Dail, Mr Cowen is far more nervous about his own TDs than his disciplined and loyal coalition partners.

It all represents some sea change from the beginning when the incorporation of the Green squares into the FF/PD/independent dolly mixture was seen as being another classic example of Bertie's excessive political caution.

As we now know, Ahern's anxiety to ensure the Greens would provide FF with a majority which was as unsinkable as the Titanic was more than justified.

Of course, the success of the experiment has also been helped by the resemblance of the Greens to the boy from an orphanage who, on being sent to grammar school on a scholarship, expends all his energies on proving he actually belongs there.

However, though they have been flexing their muscles more frequently since the great revolt of the plucky pensioners, nothing epitomised the Greens' increasing attachment to governance better than a small recent vignette where a foreign delegation of visitors bowed and scraped in the presence of the loudmouth Green senator Dan Boyle and some no-mark Green apparatchik called Niall O Brolchain.

As Dan the man and O Brolchain luxuriated in the deferential bows of the delegation it was clear that if those guys have anything to do with it the Greens will be staying the full five years in office.

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Sadly, however, one nightmare is threatening this increasingly idyllic marriage of convenience, for on October 10 the Greens are holding one of their much-derided 'delegate conferences' on Nama and the new Green/FF (no PDs, thank you) Programme for Government.

The bad news for Niall, Dan the man, and the rest of those happy members of the Green hierarchy which has managed to become embedded within government, is that a simple majority will not carry either motion -- under party rules any motion must be carried by two-thirds of the delegates.

Recently that wise old political owl Michael Noonan cut to the core of the difficulties this poses the Greens via the observation that even those Machiavellian political sophisticates of the GAA struggle to secure those numbers.

Of course, the Greens are also all too acutely aware of this dilemma, for even after the departure of Patricia McKenna the party only won the backing of its members for Lisbon by a single vote.

Ironically, the two-thirds majority rule may initially help the Greens hierarchy for any motion on Nama will be calling for its rejection.

So far, the embedded ones are confident that the opponents of Nama will not secure the requisite two-thirds majority. However, when it comes to this modest objective they would be wise to be cautious, for seeing as less than 30 per cent of the 'normal' electorate support Nama they could struggle to get even a third of their party to vote for Nama.

It does not help that suspicion is growing that something is rotten in the state of Nama.

Last week, the mood of the opposition was summarised by the happy comment that when it comes to Nama 'the wince factor' for the 'sandal-wearing-and-muesli brigade is huge'.

As even FF struggle to defend the scenario where children's allowance is being cut and our 'dead bankers walking' are being bailed out in a €54bn punt on sub-prime property based on nothing more solid than a guesstimate, the concern must be that many will also be tempted to follow the precedent set by Ben Dunne's famous Lisbon I warning of 'if you don't know, vote No'.

Ultimately, the greatest problem which the Green hierarchy face is that the two-thirds majority rule is a double-edged sword.

The plus side for the embedded ones is that even if a majority of their delegates vote against Nama, so long as the Nos fail to get two-thirds of the vote they can still technically stay in government.

However, the converse side of this is that if the party's TDs fail to secure the support of two-thirds of their members for the renegotiated programme for government they will have to walk.

Whilst Dan the man, Niall, and the various little Green ministers and TDs all have jobs, salaries and fine expenses to lose the last spores of their Garret FitzGerald heritage, the Greens are ethical creatures who are not at all fearful of the politics of self- immolation.

It would represent one delightful irony if a government with the flimsiest mandate in the history of the State was brought down by the excessive attachment of its junior party to the principles of pure democracy.

Of course, the embedded ones are not for turning but if even a third of those defeated county councillors believe the moral thing is to engage in a radical act of vengeance against the builders, bankers and FF they will cut the political heads off their current leadership as easily as those Puritans who executed Charles the first.

It all suggests the Taoiseach should remember how the formidable former Fine Gael TD Louis J Belton once famously warned Bertie Ahern during another quiet spell in politics that he should remember that "when it's quiet in the cowboy movies it's because there's Indians in the hills".

In this case the 'Indians' may be members of the Green muesli-loving tribe.

But Mr Cowen may soon learn that even such outwardly harmless creatures are just as adept at the art of taking political scalps as the rest of the political tribe.


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