June 15, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 3:45 PM GMT
FROM THE IRISH TIMES: Green Party TD John Gormley is presented with his seal of office at Áras An Uachtaráin yesterday by President Mary McAleese with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photograph: Alan Betson
For the few hardcore Green Party activists, the compromises the Irish Greens had to make to enter into a coalition government with veteran prime minister Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail party were too much.
But 86.6 percent of the voting 510 voting Greens said that the risks of further compromise from inside the government for the next five years outweighed the value of throwing stones from outside the system.
And so the Irish Greens parlayed their six percent national vote total into two cabinet seats (on a 14-person Cabinet). The Greens earned the Environment and Heritage portfolio, and the Communications and Energy portfolio.
This will forward the Green agenda in ways that few other Green contingencies across Europe have been able to accomplish, forget the Green Party in the U.S. And this benchmark could teach U.S. Greens about developing realistic policy aims that make candidates electable. Allan Brison down in New Haven seems to understand this.
"We can drop all those tired old cliches about flaky idealists with little understanding of the real world," said the editorial in The Irish Independent daily newspaper June 14, titled "It's Green for go."
"The Greens could not have come of age at a more opportune moment in our history, given the challenges we face," the Independent's editorial proclaimed. "For a party with only six seats wrestling over policy with a party of 78, it is a significant achievement."
To obtain two seats in the cabinet and two minor ministerial positions in the power-sharing agreement, the Greens set aside significant portions of their platform, like opposition to American military use of Shannon Airport, among various other local issues.
Dozens of stories in Irish newspapers noted the realism displayed by Green leaders in striking a deal with the dominant center-right Fianna Fail party, and its lesser allies the Progressive Democrats.
"[The Greens] made a mature decision because, in the world of politics, more can be achieved in government than in opposition," The Irish Times editorial "The Green Fingerprints" said.
"Pragmatism won out over principle and, at the end of protracted, perhaps naive and certainly most unconventional negotiations, the Greens will be Cabinet members in the first three-party Fianna Fail-led government in the history of the State."
Irish Green Party leader Trevor Sargent won acclaim because he kept his pre-election promise to resign as party chair before marrying the Greens with the FF. Sargent did not earn one of the Cabinet seats, but called the entrance of the Greens into power as "the proudest moment of his life."
One radio station featured a contentious debate where he was harshly criticized. Some writers compared him to Michael Collins, and as expected, other columnists mocked him and his negotiating team for getting nothing but recycled promises from the FF.
But less cynical observers noted that the Greens certainly had less hand in the negotiations, and managed to extract concessions about global warming and carbon emissions.
More importantly, the pundits now see the Greens as credible for playing ball, for understanding that utopianism is wonderful, but impractical. Plus, the unprecedented news coverage and the continued influence of two full-time ministers will grow the Greens here in ways that their American counterparts could only dream of.
If politics is the art of the possible, and if compromise is essential to democracy, then the Irish Greens have just taught us all a lesson. Sometimes the impossible goal has to be sacrificed to make real impact.
As a story in Independent noted, the Greens figured on the wisdom of the old Irish proverb, "A little bread is better than being without a loaf."