Irish Greens Playing with Fire

18:20 Wed 06 Jun 2007
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The Irish Green Party ended up with six seats in this year’s election. The largest party in the Republic, Fianna Fáil, got 78. With 166 seats total in the Dáil (the Irish Parliament), Fianna Fáil need some partner(s) in order to rule effectively.

The technical possibility exists that the second-largest party, Fine Gael (51 seats), could form a patchwork coalition with Labour (20 seats), the Greens, the Progressive Democrats (two seats, and don’t let the name fool you), and the independent candidates (five seats), which would combine for 84. That looks rather unwieldy, and I’m not at all convinced that such a Government could survived based solely on hatred of Fianna Fáil—especially since the PDs were in coalition with FF the last time around.

So the question is: how will Fianna Fáil form a coalition? While a coalition with Fine Gael might make a lot of sense (the two parties are quite similar, both center-right), it will never happen, partly because those two parties represent factions of Irish politics that have been opposed for, well, probably more than a century.

A coalition with Labour, for a healthy total of 98 seats, would be strong, but Labour have promised not to do that, and Fianna Fáil would prefer a smaller partner so that they don’t have to give up much power (mainly represented by numbers of Cabinet seats).

Fianna Fáil would like to forge a coalition out of their previous partners the PDs in combination with the independents (or some of them). However, such a coalition would seem quite fragile, and Fianna Fáil would also like to minimize the chances of another election being called before 2012. If they form a weak coalition and some crisis ensues where they don’t retain the support of their partners, elections would likely ensue.

They won’t form any coalition with Sinn FÉin, who have four seats and appear to currently be considered the untouchable pariahs of Irish politics, largely because of their longstanding association with the IRA.

This leaves the Greens. Their six seats put Fianna Fáil at that nice 84 number, and because the Greens are a party rather than an disparate group of independents, they’re theoretically more stable.

As for the Greens, this would be a chance at being part of the government, which they’ve never yet had in Irish politics. The problem is that Fianna Fáil are extremely ruthless, experienced, disciplined, loyal to their own party, and conniving. The Greens will have to watch out for the entirety of the term, and may simply be unable to avoid ruin at the hands of their FF “partners”. It’s quite unclear whether or not they should try for coalition with FF. The parties are currently involved in (apparently serious) policy negotiations.

Fianna Fáil are apparently pushing for a larger coalition involving FF, the Greens, the PDs, and some number of the independents. My firm belief is that the Greens should reject such a coalition out of hand, and negotiate anything with Fianna Fáil only if the coalition is between those two parties alone. I can’t see any advantage to such a coalition for the Greens, and in fact think they would suffer terribly, as FF would be able to play the other parties against each other, and further would be able to ignore any one partner’s grievances because the other partners would give them enough of a buffer. I think the Greens will have their hands full with just Fianna Fáil, and that involving another party plus individually-oriented independents would make the whole thing too tough to handle.

If the Greens are to have any hope, they need to have the leverage over FF of being able to bring down the government. Without that, they’ll get pushed around for five years, and used as political cover for all kinds of crap, and have credit for their better policies stolen. that might happen anyway, but at least if it’s just FF they’ll have some hope of dealing with the situation.

I honestly think they should be prepared to simply walk away from any agreement that requires them to partner with anyone apart from Fianna Fáil, and if FF are willing to let them go, I suspect that FF didn’t need them enough for them to have a shot at effectiveness anyway.

I might be missing something.

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