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Green Party division on entering government laid bare as party concludes online convention

About 2,600 members of the Green Party registered to watch the online convention.

Hazel Chu chairing the online debate.
Hazel Chu chairing the online debate.
Image: greenparty.ie

Updated Jun 18th 2020, 9:40 PM

THE GREEN PARTY has concluded its online convention ahead of a vote by the membership on whether to back the programme for government agreed with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. 

About 2,600 members of the Green Party registered to watch the online convention that was chaired by the party’s chairperson Cllr. Hazel Chu. 

The all-day convention ended with leader Eamon Ryan TD making an impassioned plea for members to back the deal. 

Ryan was preceded by the party’s finance spokesperson Neasa Hourigan TD, who said she could not vote for the agreement after being part of the negotiating team. 

Hourigan said that the new government could be “the most fiscally conservative government in a generation” and expressed concern that the programme for government could make the crisis in housing and homelessness worse. 

Hourigan said she has concerns around costings and taxation, saying the two larger parties had no plans to broaden the tax base.

Asked earlier what happened to the Occupied Territories Bill, which seeks to ban imports of goods and services from occupied areas, Hourigan said: “Simon Coveney happened.”

The Tánaiste is staunchly against the Occupied Territories Bill, which has cross-party support.

Ryan on the other hand argued that the party had campaigned during the election on the basis that they would “work with everyone”. 

“We don’t believe in the politics of division at this moment in time because the leap, you have to make is so great that if we do it as a left versus right, our young versus older rural versus urban divided politics, it won’t work,” he said.

We have to win people over by rational argument on the passion of our arguments. But we have to win people over through politics through engagement through our democratic institutions of our state, which I believe in, they can work. 

The Green Party requires two-thirds support from its members, a higher amount than the other parties, which means a deal could yet be scuppered as some grassroots Green Party members have expressed concerns about going into a coalition with two large centre-right parties.

Earlier today, deputy leader of the Green Party Catherine Martin confirmed that she will be voting in favour of the agreed programme for government. 

“I have decided to vote yes to entering government,” she told members. 

The backing of the deal by Martin will be seen as a big boost in getting party members support.

Of the registered members for today’s convention, 237 applied to speak, with 68% wanting to speak in favour of going into government. A total of 32% wanted to speak against it.

Martin told members that the decision to enter into government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is “one of the most vital discussions, considerations, deliberations and ultimately decisions” that the Green Party will ever take as a party.

“We must ensure our party’s independence and core values are never undermined or weakened. I promise you here today that I will never tolerate an undermining of our core principles. If we go into government we go in to make real and substantial change,” she said.

Martin said there was never going to be outright winners in the negotiations.

“We had some wins and some losses,” she said, stating that her party made big wins on education reform. She also said there are “green threads” in every policy area.

file-photo-green-party-deputy-leader-catherine-martin-endorsed-the-plan-for-government-something-regarded-as-significant-in-helping-to-secure-the-required-two-thirds-backing-of-party-membership-end Green Party deputy leader Neasa Hourigan TD. Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The deputy leader said she is satisfied the deal is the best her party could have achieved, but did speak of her disappointment in not making more gains in animal welfare issues, and housing.

She said the other two parties have “quite different world views to ours”. 

Martin did warn that members should not look at this programme for government “through rose-tinted glasses”, stating that the Greens must enter government with their “eyes wide open”.

No member of the Green Party would want to be part of a government that won’t deliver on the green agenda, she said.

“It will take courage to enter government at this very difficult stage”, said Martin, pointing out that there are significant challenges for the country in the post-Covid era. However, Martin said she will never tolerate the undermining of the Green’s core principles.

“You have my word,” she said. Martin promised party members that she will keep fighting for the green agenda in government.

While it would be easier to be in opposition, is would not be the right place to be, said Martin.

“It is worth giving this a chance,” she said.

Having said that, Martin said she is acutely aware of “near obliteration” of the Green Party when it was last in government, stating that this must not be allowed happen again.

She also acknowledged that many in the party will have a distrust of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail “due to their past record”.

Members were told by some parliamentary party members that if Green policies are reneged upon, the party will bring down the government, something Martin indicated would be a possibility if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not take the Green Party seriously.

She said the implementation of policies must be reviewed “every step of the way every”, stating that her party in government would be reviewing the programme for government every two months.

This is not an easy decision for any of us, she told members today.

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“It is a risk, a huge risk… we must put the country first,” said Martin.

Blueprint

On Monday, almost all Green Party TDs supported the government formation blueprint, including deputy leader Catherine Martin.

The Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar this week warned of a “political crisis” if the membership of the three parties fail to endorse the programme for government deal.

Discussions with Independent TDs and party leaders are taking place today. Speaking at the convention today, Martin said she did not know what role Independents might play in the new government, but said no special deals will give them special access to ministers. All TDs should have the same access to ministers, she said.

Ossian Smyth TD said major road projects are not being cancelled under the programme for government. He said he looked for the decriminalisation of cannabis in the talks, but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil said no.

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy

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