Comment: The Green Party loves pretending it doesn’t have power

After losing his seat in the February 2011 general election, Eamon Ryan decided to be “sincere”.

Days after his party experienced a humiliating defeat, losing all of their six sitting TDs, he published a video on his YouTube channel. Looking into the camera, visibly dejected, Ryan explained how the Greens would have to “really think clearly” about what they stand for and what their future role in politics might be.

“It’s very difficult. It’s hard. It’s sad for us,” he said. “We’re down, but we’re not out."

After almost a decade of solemn contemplation, the Greens’ recent return to government has been if nothing else an opportunity to demonstrate what a reformed Green Party believes in: taking a principled stand against themselves.

But I’m a nice guy, really

Like the thousands of ‘accidental landlords’ across the country, like a Tinder profile featuring photos of a white-collar professional surrounded by orphans during a few weeks of charity work, benefitting from class privilege isn’t enough for the Greens – they need you to think they’re nice too.

The purpose of the Green Party is to provide a vote laundering service to middle class liberals who want to support Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael but are too embarrassed to do so. That way Green voters can feel good about themselves while preserving a status quo that has seen record homelessness, a collapsing health service and more than 70 percent of young people considering emigrating.

Once you understand what the Greens are actually offering it makes sense that their elected representatives so often pretend to be people who don’t hold the levers of power.

Among them is ‘rogue’ Green TD Neasa Hourigan, who previously lost the party whip for voting in favour of a Sinn Féin motion on the National Maternity Hospital. She’s also criticised her coalition partners for their indolence on air pollution and this week called on them to “consider the effects of a full-scale lifting of the eviction ban”.

“I think it’s completely the wrong decision, and I’m very disappointed that there was nobody in the room with those three leaders to speak up for Green Party values,” she told Claire Byrne on Tuesday. “And I can guarantee you that next month I will be sitting in constituency clinics and there will be mammies coming in to me saying I am being evicted through no fault of my own.”

Over the past three years we’ve seen what “Green Party values” are.

Hourigan embodied them when she voted alongside Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael against banning co-living and build-to-rent apartments, when she voted to give €18 million to the greyhound industry, when she voted to pay an additional €16,000 to ‘super’ junior ministers already on a salary of €124,000 a year and when she voted for every other stupid and cruel thing this government has done.

Hourigan is accompanied by fellow rebel TD Patrick Costello. Oh boy. Costello took out a lawsuit against his own government over its plan to ratify the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada. He boasts of having successfully “lobbied” government – in other words: his party – to include provisions for poor people in its annual budget.

Costello too has voted alongside Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on everything from housing to healthcare to the recent decision to exclude people who spent less than six months in a mother and baby home from the state’s redress scheme.

Hourigan and Costello may ultimately resign and distance themselves from the Green Party. The gesture would be meaningless.

A protest against me

We saw similar Green Party theatrics a few weeks ago.

On Saturday, 18 February around 50,000 people marched in Dublin to repudiate the spate of fascist-organised anti-migrant protests in Dublin over the past few months and to reject the dehumanising, for-profit Irish asylum system. About 24 hours beforehand the Green Party announced its intention to participate.

“We hope you can join us there,” the party tweeted, before adding “#RefugeesWelcome.”

Let’s be clear about why this was so egregious: the Greens are a government coalition partner implementing racist policies against migrants and asylum seekers. They have not only failed to follow through on the proposals included in their 2020 election manifesto – they’ve made the Irish state more racist.

Despite objections from other marchers, a group of grinning Green Party TDs, councillors and other representatives showed up to express solidarity with victims of Green Party policies.

Afterwards Green activists on Twitter highlighted the plight of another unfairly maligned group: Greens who were incredulous that anyone would dare confront them about their present position in government and their historic role in creating the material conditions for fascism to spread. Austerity measures defended by the Green Party directly contributed to the ongoing extreme deprivation that fascists now blame on migrants and asylum seekers.

A kinder, gentler direct provision

In their 2020 election manifesto the Greens pledged to end direct provision and replace it with a “not-for-profit system based on accommodation provided through existing or new approved housing bodies.” They reiterated this to the media. In a July 2020 interview with the Irish Times, Roderic O’Gorman, the Green minister n​​ow responsible for direct provision, said he wished to remove the “meanness” from the asylum system.

Things appeared to be moving – at least on a surface level – in 2021 when O’Gorman published a white paper on the system.

“The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will lead the development of the new model which will come into effect on a phased basis between February 2021 and December 2024,” the 175-page document reads.

Nowhere does it recommend what the Greens did next: create a two-tiered asylum process that prioritises one group of vulnerable, traumatised people over another and propose making refugees who live in direct provision pay rent.

The Greens’ legacy of their time in charge of the Irish asylum system: the state welcoming Ukrainian refugees, handing them a €20 Dunnes Stores voucher and leaving them to sleep rough on the streets. (The cost of a tent in Dunnes, in case you’re wondering, is €35).

Last month the Irish Daily Mail reported that the state has opened an additional 79 direct provision centres since January 2022. We can be assured these centres are not characterised by “meanness” like the ones from before the Greens were in power.

South Dublin farmers’ markets: we see you – we hear you

So-called green capitalism is the reactionary idea that seeks to preserve the existing social order by pretending climate catastrophe can be averted by reasoning with the forces destroying the planet for profit. No need to challenge power: a mixture of individual consumer choices, bike lanes and punitive carbon taxes should be enough to prevent the almost certain collapse of civilisation by 2100 as a direct result of climate crisis.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is clear. The Earth is overheating, which will result in death and displacement on an unprecedented scale – now is the time for drastic action.

Given these circumstances we might be able to tolerate the Green Party – including Eamon Ryan’s recent claim that free public transport is undesirable because it would result in “unnecessary trips” – if this meant Ireland did its part to prevent the planet bursting into flames.

We're not even doing that. Included in the Greens’ laughable 17 demands for going into government was a promise to reduce emissions by seven percent per year by 2030, something Ireland had already committed to. As John Reynolds and Colin Coulter pointed out in a piece for Jacobin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil agreed to this figure on average per year, which conveniently defers any meaningful action on climate until after the lifetime of the current government.

It remains to be seen whether future voters will believe Green Party TDs when they claim to have opposed their own actions or whether Ryan – or his successor – will publish a similarly “sincere” video after a similarly humiliating electoral defeat next time around. Recent polling suggests support for the Greens  may be as low as four percent.

Maybe though the party has just spent its time in government fulfilling its true purpose.

The Green Party: an inveterate mudguard for the establishment, the political arm of South Dublin farmers’ markets, perpetually trying to convince you – and itself – that things would be slightly worse if not for its efforts.

Paulie Doyle

Paulie Doyle