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It’s not easy being green | Conall Mac Dhonnagáin – PRO for UCD Young Greens

It’s no secret that I am in favour of new leadership in the Green Party. I made that clear in my last piece; “Ryan Is Not The Green Messiah, He’s A Very Naughty Boy“. So let’s be clear from the top – I am biased. However, the following is not intended as an attack on the new Minister for Climate Action.

The points I intend to prove instead are simple:

  1. Bowing to the will of conservatives is, for lack of a better word, bad.
  2. A political party cannot function simultaneously on two sides of the political spectrum.

I have also been told that if I walk away from the Green Party out of dissatisfaction with leadership, I’m throwing teddy out of the pram. I’d argue instead that I don’t own a teddy and I can’t afford the mortgage on a pram.

Before the Green Party voted to enter government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, I chaired a Zoom meeting with Eamon Ryan and the UCD Young Greens. After referring to the party’s warring factions as ‘Blueshirts on Bikes’ versus ‘Soy Sinn Féin’, I asked him how he plans on reuniting the party.

He answered by saying that he would “be green”. He explained what being green meant to him – it meant that we would be a pacifist party where everyone is welcome. (Thinking about this now, the pacifist element seems odd to mention given that Shannon airport will not be fully demilitarised under the Programme for Government.)

Regardless, it was a politician’s answer, and on the surface it seems fairly harmless. I should provide some more context.

The meeting took place on the first of June, one week after rumours had spread that the Green Party would appoint an Attorney General (AG) who campaigned to keep the eighth amendment. The rumours were false, but Ryan’s response to them did not help dispell them.

Deputy Ryan went on air and ruled out the specific candidate mentioned, but refused to rule out the appointment of an anti-choice AG. He instead said that we shouldn’t go on a “witch-hunt” or rule out someone based on one issue. Despite the Green Party’s pro-choice policy, he left the door open to the appointment of a pro-life AG, which would be nonsensical when negotiating legislation on exclusion zones and 3-day waiting periods.

He was trying to sound inclusive, which is understandable to an extent. However, not all inclusivity is positive. Positive inclusivity is about making sure that environmental action leaves nobody behind. Welcoming conservative ideology excludes the working class, so it is not positively inclusive. I believe that Karl Popper’s views on tolerance apply here – we should not include exclusivity in the same way that we should not tolerate intolerance.

Returning to Ryan’s answer in the meeting, it seemed unusual that he was once again preaching inclusivity to the UCD branch of the party. To some of us it meant that he was willing to accept anyone, no matter how right-wing their views were socially or financially, as long they were “green”.

Of course, there are some conservatives already in the party. Most members are not conservative, despite the decision to enter government with conservative parties. Having spoken to yes voters in the party, there were many who were reluctant to vote for the deal but felt that they had no choice. I am instead referring to people who are hardline conservatives.

At the Annual Convention for the party last year, members voted in favour of adopting the New Zealand model for sex work. The policy is yet to be announced, but there have been some issues with the vote raised by conservative members who refuse to use the term “sex work”, opting instead for “prostitution”. One of them said that the membership “didn’t know what they were voting for” when they voted for the New Zealand model.

This is just one policy area, but bringing more conservatives into what was a left-wing party will impact other policies in the future. I don’t want to paint them all with same brush, but the presence of conservatives tends to drown out anyone else. That’s not inclusivity.

The temptation to leave the party increases with each day. The day before the results of the vote, a new option appeared on the members’s page of the Green Party website – the option to resign my membership. It was a kick in the teeth, as we were fairly certain by then that we had lost the vote. As my mother would say; “It was like having a hand on your back as you walk out the door”.

I have resisted the urge to click it so far. But the more this party opens its front doors to welcome conservatives, the more liberals will exit on the other end. The notion that a political party could exist outside of that spectrum is nonsense.

It’s easy to be a centre-of-the-road party during an election, but it becomes more difficult when joining a government. I learned that the hard way. During the election, I could act as the “reasonable” middle-ground while trying to garner votes from both sides, despite truly being a leftist. (I took the quiz on the political compass website and landed in the anarcho-syndicalist bracket, just next to the bottom left corner of the libertarian-left.)

Now that the Green Party have entered Government with two right-wing parties, I can’t canvass anyone. (I say right-wing because the political compass places Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the authoritarian-right section, in complete contrast with myself.) I now can’t ask left-wing voters to vote Green because we have empowered right-wing parties. I can’t canvass right-wing voters because they think that FF/FG will tick enough of the climate change boxes on their own.

The recent Green Party divide is a reflection of a wider divide in Irish politics, where everyone has backed themselves into a corner by becoming defensive about their own side. Trying to bridge that divide is a tiring task, one that we cannot be certain is achievable. There are enough other problems in the world to expend energy on that task.

I was told to stop taking things personally and to look at the bigger picture, so I tried. I saw another way of bridging that divide of left and right – a Sinn Féin / Fianna Fáil / Green / Social Democrats coalition. It would represent factions from each of the three corners represented in Irish politics, i.e. the authoritarian-right, the authoritarian-left and the libertarian-left. (The libertarian-right don’t appear to exist in Irish politics, despite some claims from Fine Gael members. Their perpetuation of Direct Provision will quickly dispell this view.)

Like a lot of people, I am lamenting the lack of Sinn Féin in this government, but not for all of the same reasons. Sinn Féin did not “win” the election, but this was a missed opportunity.

Having them share power with other parties would give them some responsibility without giving them all of the power. SF’s connection to the IRA is Ireland’s worst-kept secret but the only way to de-radicalise any remaining IRA members is to give them some responsibility. They would still only represent (at most) half of the government and could influence the direction of the country without being able to control it.

Their presence would not just be about policy decisions. Bridging Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil would gradually shift the Overton Window to the left in Irish politics and in wider society. The eye test (or perhaps the ear test) would suggest that most people accept a need for “change” in wider society.

My money is on our politicians saying that various forms of change “can’t be done” over the next few years. I hope I’m wrong.

Conall Mac Dhonnagáin  – PRO for UCD Young Greens