The Irish Green Party has voted to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and join the government. John Molyneux argues that this is a serious mistake .
The Irish Green Party has voted by a substantial majority of its members to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two main establishment capitalist parties in the Republic of Ireland. For those not familiar with the history and details of Irish politics some context is necessary.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail derive from the Irish Civil War in 1922-23, which followed the Irish War of Independence and led to the North/South partition of Ireland. Fine Gael, originally led by Michael Collins, supported the Treaty with the British that accepted this partition. Fianna Fail, originally led by Eamon De Valera, came from the wing of the IRA that opposed the Treaty.
Between them Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, similar in some ways to the Democrats and Republicans in the US , have completely dominated Irish politics over the last 100 hundred years alternating in government (sometimes propped up by the very right wing Irish Labour Party) and between them hoovering up 70-80% or more of the total vote. The legacy of the bloody Civil War was extremely bitter and the hatred between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael used to be visceral but for decades now it has been clear that both parties were equally committed to capitalism, neo-liberalism and the imposition, when deemed necessary, of austerity in order to fend the interests of the Irish rich.
This arrangement suited the Irish ruling class very well. It meant that they controlled both the government and the opposition. If things went wrong, as they did from time to time, and the Government became unpopular there was a completely ‘safe’ alternative waiting to replace them. However, ten years of austerity following the devastating economic crash of 2008 has seriously eroded the FF/FG hegemony and at the recent general election in February of this year neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael won a majority , indeed such was their failure that even combined they did not have enough seats to form a stable government.. The party with the biggest popular vote was the left of centre republican party, Sinn Féin, but both FF and FG rejected going into coalition with Sinn Féin. Enter the Greens!
The Greens had benefited from a certain ‘green surge’ in the wake of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion. They increased their representation in parliament to 12 seats. Fine Fail had 37 seats and Fine Gael 35.[Sinn Féin had 37 and the far left had 5]. Given that 80 sets are necessary for an overall majority FF and FG needed the Greens to form a government.
After four months of negotiations a deal has finally been struck, a Programme for Government has been agreed (by the leaderships of FG, FF and the Greens) and the Green Party have voted to sign up. So what have the Greens got in return for keeping Irelands two conservative parties in power? The answer is very little.
Extinction Rebellion Ireland have branded the Programme for Government ‘not good enough’ and ‘full of fluff’ and commented:
The PfG uses the word ‘review’ 127 times, ‘examine’ 68 times and ‘consider’ 44 times. It also promises a dozen different commissions. This is clearly politics as usual, promises little solid progress, and will not deliver the systematic change we need.
This programme is uncosted, unambitious and unacceptable.
There is no space to go through the Programme in detail but on three key environmental questions it is completely inadequate:
- On the central question of greenhouse gas emissions the Programme promises an average of 7% a year emission cuts. BUT this is only over a ten year period with the vast majority of the cuts backloaded to the end of the second five years. Anyone with any experience of Irish politics and FF and FG knows that such promises are not worth the paper they are written on.
- On the question of methane emissions and the national cattle herd, overwhelmingly owned by rich beef barons, there are no plans at all to cut the herd. But this sector is Ireland’s biggest source of emissions.
- On Ireland’s desperately poor system of public transport there are no plans to move towards free and expanded public transport.
In addition there is the crucial fact that with the COVID Recession developing this will be an austerity government committed to increased taxes on working class people, presented as ‘green’ carbon taxes, and cuts in pay and public services. Any notion of a just transition will go out the window. The association of the Greens with such a deeply unpopular anti-working class agenda has the potential to do real damage to the environmental movement among working people.
For all these reasons GEN affiliates and members in Ireland – People Before Profit and Paul Murphy TD [TD is the Irish for MP} of RISE have campaigned vigorously against the deal and urged Green Party members to reject it. In an Open Letter to the Greens, signed by Brid Smith TD, Richard Boyd Barrett TD, the author of this article and others. People Before Profit wrote:
“Let us be honest; neither Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael are interested in the kind of measures we need to take to avert catastrophic climate change, neither will confront the vested interests in fossil fuel industry or corporate business that are propelling CO2 emission and neither will take the radical measures needed in public transport or setting up a publicly owned utility that can invest and harvest renewable energy such as off shore wind.
Neither will be interested in taking on the beef barons and corporate food interests in the agricultural sector that is necessary to reduce emission there. Instead they will defend those interest pretending they are looking after the ordinary farmer.
Both will defend the rights of private companies to make decisions about fossil fuel infrastructure, investment and use.
Neither will deliver a just transition that looks after workers, communities and the most vulnerable…
We need to continue building a movement that can force any Government to take the real action needed. If the Greens enter coalition now they will turn their backs on that movement. “
Similarly Paul Murphy TD argued:
“Mass social movements are what will force radical climate action onto the agenda. It’s precisely why climate action is even being seriously discussed at all.
The neoliberal approach to climate action, demanded by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and backed by your current party leaders will act to turn people away from the climate movement rather than towards it. Green activists will be forced to defend eco-austerity and play the role of dampening down expectations.”
The Irish Green Party have a record in this regard . In 2007 they went into coalition as the junior partner with Fianna Fail. They walked straight into the 2008 economic crash and proceeded to back the government’s bank bailout and its austerity measures to pay for it, while completely shelving its own environmental agenda. As a result they were wiped out at the 2011 election. Unfortunately it looks very like history may be going to repeat itself.
There are international lessons to be learned from this.