It’s appropriate that the Green Party is flagging footpaths as its biggest win in the government deal. It’s symbolic of how they got walked all over by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Reading through the Programme for Government, Green Party members will get a somewhat green hue from the document. There are apparent wins in there on retrofitting, emissions, public transport and footpaths. There are clear losses on housing, farming and economic policy.
Sure, there’s a good record of implementation of policies contained in a Programme for Government, with about two out of three being acted on.
The question arising since the document was agreed 10 days ago is whether it’s worth the paper its written on. A programme’s value is based upon the parties signing up to the spirit in which it was agreed.
Delivery needs buy in.
Fine Gael has form in killing off their junior partner’s pet projects. When Ruairi Quinn, as Labour Party Education Minister, sought to cut State support for fee-paying schools in 2011 and 2012, he was met with visceral resistance from Fine Gael. Shane Ross’s attempt to tackle cronyism in judicial appointments dragged on so long it just burned out.
Yet the new commitments appear to unravel by the day. A combination of over-selling by the Green leadership and undermining by Fine Gael raises major concerns. In the economic negotiations, the Greens lost out on wealth tax, flight tax, site valuation tax, windfall tax and, symbolically, a carbon tax model that pays money back to households.
More significantly, the party was blown out of the sky on deficit reduction as Fine Gael held firm. Despite scarce resources, Leo Varadkar is suddenly enthusing about the budget cutting inheritance tax, which would predominantly benefit wealthy people in Dublin – an issue his party hasn’t addressed for the past decade in office.
The trolling of the Greens continued, with the Taoiseach suggesting the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the Shannon estuary might proceed through the planning system. The Greens are claiming an end to the importation of fracked gas, so Catherine Martin, the Greens’ deputy leader, described his comments as “really unhelpful”.
The penny seemed to drop on the Programme for Government as she said Fine Gael media appearances in recent days had “cast doubt” over the strength of the agreed wording on LNG. She should also be concerned at Varadkar reminding her who’s boss when he ruled out a review of the deal at the halfway mark.
To put further manners on the junior coalition partners, Paschal Donohoe and a supporting cast of ministers made it clear promised motorways will be built, regardless of how the Green interpret wording.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Blueshirts are trying to scuttle the Greens’ ship.
Fine Gael unhelpfulness stems from the party’s argument it has to sell the deal too. The party’s commitment to internal party democracy is so robust it has individually numbered each ballot paper. How a TD, councillor or representative voted is traceable, technically. With a straight face, a party spokesman said the numbering was to ensure the security of the ballot: “Fine Gael is in no way whatsoever monitoring how people are voting.”
Varadkar and Micheál Martin identify an appeal to being seen to be environmentally aware. Besides, if they don’t tackle climate change voluntarily, the EU will make them do it. But they’re not going to do anything that will cause their base enormous damage.
The Greens should be worried when farmers are broadly happy, and Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil rural TDs can’t believe their luck. “It’s one thing a fellah selling a pup, it’s another buying a pup. Even if it is cobbled together, it isn’t going to last pissing time,” a backbencher sagely noted.
The claims of big wins the Greens are making smacks of desperation. Ryan pronounces the Programme is a “left-wing document” due to Donohoe’s plan to borrow and invest in a post-Covid stimulus. Wait until that money runs out and see is it left-wing. The new housing targets are being soft-focused to gloss over the prominent role of the new Nama, the Land Development Agency, as a bridge between public and private building.
It’s a good old-fashioned carve-up deal. Varadkar and Martin had the key positions taken before Ryan even sat down at the table. Fine Gael came third in the general election and yet will have the Taoiseach and Tánaiste’s office for half the term and initially keep the Finance and Foreign Affairs portfolios. Not bad. The Greens are getting nowhere near the real Cabinet power or purse-strings in this pact.
Yer man, the Green TD, whose wife replaced him as a county councillor, and then he hired her as his secretarial assistant; he’ll fit in fine with the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lads. He gets it.
‘Project Fear’ is now being employed as the Greens’ members are fed doomsday warnings of a “political crisis” and “no plan B” if they reject the deal. Micheál Martin is palpitating at the notion of going cap in hand to the Shinners, going head bowed to the voters in a second election – or just going nowhere.
The Office of Taoiseach is so close and yet so far.
Within Fine Gael, beyond Varadkar’s goading, Donohoe is viewed as the most pessimistic all along. Tánaiste Simon Coveney seems to believe the coalition can last a decade. No wonder he’s nicknamed Clark Kent around the Dáil Bar, because he thinks he’s Superman.
Eamon Ryan is reputedly more confident now. The prevailing wisdom is the Greens will pass the deal. The same prevailing wisdom held that Hillary Clinton would become US President, the UK would stay in the EU and Sinn Féin wouldn’t make a breakthrough in the general election. Be wary of the prevailing wisdom.
Fine Gael’s John Paul Phelan branded the Greens “nutters”. Presumably he was talking about the leftie-hardliners. The soft-touch Green leadership are really nutters if they think they got a good deal here.