15 July 2009

Green is the new Good

Continuing on with this week's theme of commenting on Good Things(tm) I am delighted to note last night's rebellion by Green Senators over the Government's new Criminal Justice Bill.

By rebelling I mean abstaining with the full support of their party leadership in a largely meaningless vote that was never in any danger of failing thanks to support from Fine Gael, and after the main parliamentary wing of the Greens voted in favour of the same bill when it passed in the Dail by 118 to 23 votes a few days ago. The more cynical members of the Fourth Estate have suggested that this was a largely symbolic measure meant to bolster the party leadership before they face the rank and file members in a closed meeting on Saturday to decide the fate of the revised Program for Government and the Party's stance on Lisbon II, but this week I am rejecting such notes of cynicism.

While the Criminal Justice Bill is draconian enough to be worthy of the McDowell himself, we are led to believe that it might have even been worse without the intervention of the Green ministers. Still, the introduction of the Bill along with recent Blasphemy legislation and the watered down provisions of the Civil Partnerships Bill are making very uncomfortable bedfellows of the Greens and their colleague Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern. What is worth taking from the events of the last few days is the new Green policy of being seen to be expressing opinions in Government outside of their specific ministerial portfolios, on areas that have long been key Green Party issues of social justice.

Whether or not this policy of visible and vocal dissension will be enough to win back many of the floating Green voters who deserted in their droves in the recent EU and local elections remains to be seen. Indeed it also remains to be seen if it is enough to placate the vocal minority of party members who are also dissatisfied with the Party's progress in Government, and judging by the emails I have already received in advance of Saturday's special meeting calling for a "No" vote in the Lisbon II motion this vocal minority might not be such a minority. One such mail argues for a "No" vote because:
"1) It is a Green Party grassroots democracy issue. We have already had a Special Convention on this issue, and a vote. The decision of the membership was that the party should not take a position either way, but that individual members could do whatever they liked.

This was a good decision. Referenda are for the people to decide, to decide issues such as sovereignty that are beyond the competence of the Oireachtas. Everyone has a right to express their own opinion in a referendum campaign, and not to be limited to “The Party Line”, whatever that is.

A number of [Constituency] Greens spoke very well against the Lisbon Treaty at the last convention. They were right then, and they’re right now.

The Green Party Manifesto of 2007 contains a commitment to “ensure that the EU Constitution will not be put to a referendum in a form that has already been rejected by referendums in other member states” (Section 13, Page 33)

2) It is a Constituency issue. The electorate of [our Constituency] voted overwhelmingly against the Lisbon Treaty the last time and it falls to us to represent the views of our constituents in our political party. There is nothing new in the various texts that have been presented by the government. They are “clarifications” of clauses within the Lisbon Treaty that has not been altered in any way. What we have been presented with is a “large print” version of some parts of the Treaty to make it easier to understand, as if our constituents did not understand it perfectly well the last time. They did, which is why they voted No.

3) It is a National issue. The Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty. Our political leaders were expected to take it back to Brussels, and to renegotiate the elements that the Irish people found to be unacceptable, or bury it. This has not happened. We are being asked to vote on the same Treaty again without alteration. Our political leadership have, in this regard, failed us and it is for us to point this out at the convention next Saturday 18th either by speaking but certainly by voting No."
To date I have received no emails or other communication urging a "Yes" vote on this issue.

While I am genuinely pleased to see Senator Dan Boyle and Minister Ryan expressing concerns over the Criminal Justice Bill this morning, this pleasure is somewhat dampened by the report this morning that Shannon Airport actually saw an increase of almost 5% in the number of US troops passing through in the first six months of this year alone, with 130,922 troops passing though on 991 flights, bringing in €3.5 million in revenue for the airport. Since 2005 over 1.35 million US troops have passed through Shannon on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan, admittedly some of them more than once, bringing in over €30 million in revenue to the Airport. On top of this the cost to the Irish tax payer in additional Gardai and Irish army personnel deployed to the airport to provide security for these troop movements is estimated at around €10 million:
"Recent figures from Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern show that the State has spent €8.6 million on policing at Shannon airport, while the Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea has confirmed that the Army has been paid €964,702 to patrol the airport over the past three years.

Mr Ahern said €4.8 million had been paid in salaries during the period with an additional €2.7 million paid in overtime.

A further €1 million was spent paying travel and subsistence expenses." - The Irish Times, 15/07/2008
In 2003 objection to the use of Shannon by US troops was such a central theme of Green Party policy that John Gormley addressed the crowds at a day of mass protest at the airport, accusing then Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen of lying to the country over the nature of the flights and their violation of Irish Neutrality:
'The Minister for Foreign Affairs [Brian Cowen] has already admitted, after many denials, that guns are being carried on these aircraft, but expects us to believe that the bullets have been left behind.'
Fast forward to 2009, Cowen is Taoiseach, Gormley his Minister for the Environment, and the party is strangely silent on Shannon.

Still, as this is my week of positivity I am going to choose to focus on the good. Last night's revolt by the Green Senators is the first major public sign of what has to be a much greater struggle that is going on behind the scenes. The Green Ministers have fundamental ideological differences with many of their Fianna Fail colleagues, now most visibly with Dermot Ahern, and in the interest of presenting a public face of governmental unity in our current economic crises, much of the work that they no doubt are doing to temper the right-wing ideologues within Fianna Fail will never be recognised or rewarded.

The scary and unfortunate truth is that the Greens in Government no doubt have had a series of private triumphs that have mitigated the worst excesses of their Fianna Fail colleagues, and without them things would have been an awful lot worse. Scary, because it really is difficult to imagine just how things could be worse than they are today; Unfortunate, because the private nature of these triumphs means they will be of no help come the next election.

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