It is instructive now to look back on the manifestos of the political parties which contested the general election in February, particularly that of the Green Party which urged voters to vote Green if they wanted to see implemented green policies to protect and enhance our living environment. In the opening paragraph of their manifesto, the Greens warned there was now international consensus that we had just a decade to make the changes necessary to halt the warming of our planet and save our natural world. We needed to rethink how we lived, travelled, worked and how we consumed, the Greens said in language strikingly similar to that used by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in the broad coalition framework document presented to the smaller parties last week.
"We, the Green Party, have a special role to play in this decade of change, because we have spent forty years thinking about how we can protect the environment while simultaneously advancing social justice, nurturing our economy and building our communities," the manifesto continued. It went on to detail practical solutions that would redress the damage done to our natural world and make Ireland a better, fairer place to live, with clean energy, cheap and accessible public transport and thriving rural communities. "Every person and every place matters in making this a fair process and a just transition," it stated.
On the back of excellent results in the European and local elections last year, the manifesto clearly resonated with the electorate. Among the smaller parties, the Greens showed the largest gains, increasing from three to 12 seats. By any yardstick this can be taken as a mandate to enter government to implement green policies. That was last February. The world has changed since. The coronavirus outbreak has, in some ways, made that election somewhat redundant but in others has made the imperative of green policies all the more urgent. Yet the Greens here are showing remarkable reluctance to enter government. In doing so, the party risks squandering its input into half of the precious decade remaining to make the changes necessary to save our natural world. This is an unconscionable state of affairs.
The Greens are not alone in risking the potential to act on the mandates received. The Social Democrats urged citizens to "Hope for better. Vote for better" and had their best-ever result, winning six seats, a gain of four. Similar to the Greens, the Social Democrats are showing every sign of passing on the opportunity to act according to the mandate provided by voters. Indeed, of the three smaller parties, only Labour, under its new leader Alan Kelly, could be reasonably excused from seeking to avoid participation in an emerging government involving Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Labour had a poor to average election result. The oldest party in the State has served in the past in difficult times. Undoubtedly, it has paid the price for so honourably serving. It has been reasonably speculated that the fear of similarly losing support is what is keeping the Greens and Social Democrats from stepping forward now. If that is the case, then a fair question arises as to the purpose of either party: to effect the change both espouse or to protect their seat gains for no defined purpose?
Should the answer be the latter, then the practice of politics in this country will be greatly diminished again.