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Greens may be naïve – but they should still have a role to play in Irish politics

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The contrast between a party on the rise and a party in the doldrums can be easily gauged by its national conference – as evidenced from the contrasting experiences of Sinn Féin and the Greens.

The Sinn Féin conference in Wexford was held in the snazzy Opera House and attended by almost 2,000 delegates. It had its star turns – Gerry and Martin and Mary Lou and Pearse – and all its Euro election and local election candidates were paraded for the live television coverage. The large media presence flocked everywhere the party celebs went.

In contrast the attendance at the Greens in Dublin was like a medium sized wedding – the headcount for party leader Eamon Ryan’s speech was about 150.

There were only two journalists there for most of the day and there the only live coverage was the tweets being posted by delegates (and they had a tiny audience because the conference clashed with the Italian rugby game).

And so we witnessed a relatively regular phenomenon in Irish politics – the slick presentation of a party on the rise and the more gritty efforts of a minor party, for which every debate is a soul-searching one.

The Green Party is relatively unusual in Ireland in that it seeks allegiance primarily on its ideas and policies, and not for historical, tribal or geographical reasons.

As such, they were – and will always be – niche, even though it will argue that its so-called ‘niche’ policies should be the core principles for any society: confronting climate change; promoting sustainability, ensuring a clean society and clean environment.

But what remains nice about the Greens is that there is still a Don Quixote like naivety to them at times, a wish that everybody veers towards a utopian outlook. There has always been a split in the party between the ‘realos’ (realists) and the fundies (fundamentalists).

At its recent conference there was a motion that no TD should be allowed serve more than two terms, among other things to ensure people have clean hands and are doing it for the right reasons. 

But it was overwhelmingly defeated by a party with a fair share of ‘realos’, who recognised that experience is necessary, and that limiting a TD’s career to two terms would favour those with means at their disposal.

What was also good was that the absence of TV cameras (and then need to preen to the nation) meant that the quality of debates and interchange was much better than at other conferences… though, having manageable numbers does help.

The other thing about Green politics in Ireland is that it goes in and out of vogue. Greens tend to do better when the economy is at its height, as voters are not as obsessed with economic policies. And the pendulum swings the other way during recessions, although the underlying rationale just doesn’t vanish.

The best example of that was the 1991 local elections. A 21-year-old Trinity student Sadhbh O’Neill got elected for the party on Dublin City Council. And what was noteworthy about her election was that she never canvassed. She was in the US on a J1 visa when the election took place.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune

Connacht Tribune

Schools plan overshadowed by row over Ministerial pay

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Education Minister Norma Foley...busy week on road to recovery.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

The good; the bad; the clever; the stupid – we’re going to get the full mixed bag during this Government’s term. But the past week was a cocktail of sublime and ridiculous.  First up was the dog’s dinner – otherwise known as the row over ministerial pay. There’s nothing that irks people more about politicians than stories about them earning more money. The perception is they are feathering their own nests.

The trigger was the presence of three super junior ministers in the Government, one from each of the three parties – all of them at the Cabinet table but with one crucial difference; they don’t have the right to vote.

The last Government also had three super juniors. But the legislation only allowed for two of them to have the salary of a senior minister – a difference of just over €16,300 from a junior.

When Leo Varadkar was appointed Taoiseach in 2017, he dropped Mary Mitchell-O’Connor as a senior minister. As compensation, a new super junior ministry was created.

But when it came to trying to bump her salary up by €16,000 to the same as the other two super juniors, Fianna Fáil just wouldn’t buy it. Mitchell-O’Connor got an extra stripe on the uniform, but no extra pay.

This time around, there was no such problem. The three government parties have a majority and agreed unanimously to right that injustice, so the third minister would get the extra €16,000.

The problem was that it needed to be legislated. It was tacked on as an amendment to the legislation setting up the new senior ministry of Higher Education – except the Government didn’t bother to tell anyone.

So, when the press found out about it, they unsportingly went to town on it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Odds already lengthening on Coalition lasting full course

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Euro money...Micheal Martin in Brussels this week.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Barry Cowen’s departure is proof yet again that, when a politician is under the cosh, what often does for them is the original transgression – aided by new information. When they are hanging on by a knife-edge, even the slightest new controversy will topple them.

Most of the time, when people look at it afterwards, they realise the new information did not stand up to scrutiny. But it doesn’t matter about the substance. It’s all about timing.

In a few months’ time, the Garda internal inquiry might vindicate him (to some extent) in his claim he did not try to avoid a Garda checkpoint. But by that time, politically, it will be water under the bridge. Everything will have moved on.

What’s clear already is it’s going to be a rough ride. By the time you read this, the Green Party leadership contest will be in its final throes.

In a way it’s a replay of the debate about going into government and the vast majority of those who voted NO will vote for Catherine Martin. But the contest won’t be as lopsided as that.

Few people believe she can oust Ryan. But on a lowish turnout, she could possibly run him close. A win is a win – but if the margin is narrow, it might plant the seed of doubts as to whether or not Ryan can survive the entire term in government.

Is the Government going to last five years? That’s very difficult to know.

It has a majority of only four in the Dáil and three of the Greens voted against going into government. We have seen it already – Opposition parties tabling motions or amendments (last week it was on maternity leave, and on rights for low-paid workers) designed to embarrass the Green and put pressure on their TDs.

With Sinn Féin as main Opposition, you can bet the house that they will continuously pummel the smallest of the three Government parties on issues close to its soul, but which they had to sacrifice to the other two parties.

And while some aspects of the economy are ramping up again, everybody knows that everything is just stuttering about.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Cowen claming up left so little room for manoeuvre

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Brian Cowen...too many unanswered questions.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Just when things were beginning to settle down. The Government had been formed. The Ministers had been appointed, followed by a bit of commotion in the backbenches. Only speed-bump on the potential horizon was the Green Party’s leadership contest.

And then new Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen was outed over a three-month ban he received in 2016.

He was coming home from the All-Ireland, driving with a provisional licence. If he had had a full licence he would not have been banned. But because it was a learner permit, he got his three months.

It was administrative, he did not have to go to court. He also paid a fine of €200.

Cowen made a profuse apology in the Dáil where he said he viewed the incident with profound regret and shame and should have mentioned it to his leader Micheál Martin at the time.

That seemed to be that, more or less. There was some complaints he had not explained why he was on a learner’s permit after so many year’s driving. But those could be ironed out.

Then the story took on a different complexion when the Sunday Times reported that Cowen had tried to evade the Garda checkpoint by doing a u-turn and there had been a pursuit. The report was based on the Pulse record of the incident.

Cowen strongly disputed this, asking for the record to be corrected – which is why it has ended up that the Garda Ombudsman opened an investigation.

The information was personal and should not have been leaked. But it was. And once out, the political reality was that Cowen now needed to deal with ‘the facts on the ground’ – that an official Garda report alleged he tried to avoid a Garda checkpoint.

The implications of this were, naturally, serious. Contravening an order by a Garda to stop your vehicle is an offence under the Road Traffic Acts and is arguably as serious an offence – if not more serious – than being slightly over the blood alcohol limit.

The Opposition called for him to make a second statement and answer questions in the Dáil. There were calls too from the Greens for more clarity. Cowen took a decision on Monday, under legal advice, not to say anymore and he cleaved to it.

It seemed that that particular ploy might work. In a Morning Ireland interview on Tuesday, the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar seemed to accept that it was now being investigated by the Garda Ombudsman and they would have to await the outcome of that before any further action was taken.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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