Too busy posturing with their principles, the even more junior c oalition party missed the trolling being undertaken by their colleagues in Government. Fine Gael triumphantly hailed the “good news” that fuel allowance recipients will get another €100 to help with the rising cost of living.
The image accompanying the announcement last Monday was two fine baskets full of turf. The symbolism was less than subtle. Never mind the environment, energy crisis or inflation, any opportunity for a dig at the Greens is lapped up by the Blueshirts. And the departure of two TDs from their ranks will merely reinforce the view that the Greens can be poked at.
Now the messing, prevaricating and virtue-signalling is out of the way, the Greens can get on with the important business of being in power. If anything, the departures of Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello over the relocation of the National Maternity Hospital will help to focus the minds of the junior coalition parties on the task at hand.
Nonetheless, there is a political price to be paid for losing 18pc of your TDs, especially when coming to the table as the smallest partner. The Greens elected 12 TDs and for that contribution to the Coalition, they got three senior Cabinet portfolios, four junior ministers and priority items in the Programme for Government – most notably the climate action plan.
Now they are 10, there’s a political price to be paid for the loss of two TDs, as it burns political capital and weakens influence.
Admittedly, there’s never a good time for a TD to go overboard. But those inside the Coalition will hardly be surprised by these two departures – it was more a matter of when, not if. Newly elected TDs tend to be more jumpy and Hourigan and Costello were opposed to going into coalition in the first place and showed signs from the off of being uncomfortable with the responsibilities of being in a party in government.
Besides, both are already in marginal seats come the next general election. Hourigan is vulnerable to being targeted by Sinn Féin in Dublin Central with Mary Lou McDonald having an AN Other running mate. Right now, she is the most likely to fall. Costello is vulnerable to whoever can get their act together from Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and the Social Democrats in Dublin South-Central, who are all fishing for the same seat. The pair were already on the watch list of defectors. The bulk of those in the Greens who were uneasy about the wide variety of problems with the hospital got on with it. “It’s posturing. It’s just party political appealing to the base. The ministers get on so the Programme for Government should be the focus, rather than point scoring,” a senior government source said.
The Coalition’s majority is not in danger as the opposition is not a coherent block and there are plenty of Independents willing to provide the numbers and ensure the Government continues.
Take a look at the voting record of Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish, Cathal Berry, Verona Murphy and Peter Fitzpatrick and, to a lesser extent, Denis Naughten and Matt Shanahan. On the next level are a few Independents who certainly don’t want an election any time soon, with a prominent surname being mentioned there.
The next six months is tricky territory as the Coalition reaches the halfway mark of its term in office and with the Covid-19 pandemic delaying so much of its policy agenda. The changeover of personnel at the end of the year, with the rotating Taoiseach and reshuffle will reorder the priorities for the final two years before the next general election.
The spotlight has already moved on. In less than two months the broad parameters for the budget will be set out in the Summer Economic Statement, with several domestic and international threats to be contended with.
The cost-of-living crisis and the associated new round of public-sector pay talks are firmly on the table. A legacy item for the Greens will be to get a significant element of state childcare supports in place as part of the package, as it falls under Roderic O’Gorman as Children’s Minister.
Alongside that though, a crucial process for the Greens in
government is the setting of carbon reduction targets for each department. Eamon Ryan is said to be talking to cabinet colleagues about their respective areas and will be a busy boy over the coming weeks. The Government is getting a lot of flak over the inadequate translation of the formal legislation into actual actions. Sectors want to know exactly what is being demanded in minute detail.
It’s pretty predictable that there will be an attempt to water down the agriculture reductions and postpone the energy movement due to rising fuel costs. The nationwide smoky coal – and turf – ban is another battleground. The Greens are in a position of strength on climate action. Getting distracted by rows over policies they have agreed on doesn’t serve that purpose.
It was privately noted within Government that Costello’s departure also makes the passage of another cause celebre of the Greens a lot easier. Bizarrely, for a TD in a government party, Costello has been challenging the constitutionality of the EU-Canada trade deal in the courts. Once a Supreme Court appeal is exhausted, the ratification of Ceta (EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is expected in the next six months. Expect a row but how long drawn out it becomes is up to the Greens as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are well on board and it’s naive in the extreme to expect the EU and Canada are going to alter a significant trade agreement to accommodate a few naysayers in a junior Government party in Ireland.
Going in to government is for grown-ups. It’s not about put up and shut up – it’s about step up. Green ministers and TDs flailing about over a tough decision doesn’t engender confidence. The Greens want to be in government to save the planet, but not when it comes to anything remotely unpopular amongst their own base. Politics is all about compromise. Step up.