Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Last October, Irish Green Party members reaffirmed their commitment to staying in power with the centre right Fianna Fáil party, by voting to support a mid-term renegotiated ‘Programme for Government’. More significantly, the party also voted to support the coalition government’s favoured initiative to rescue Irish financial institutions: the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA).
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Green Party leader John Gormley announced that the new programme would be transformational – a statement that succeeded in focusing media attention on the new agreement negotiations and away from the controversial NAMA. The NAMA solution had created widespread unease among party members, but what many had failed to realise was that the two Green cabinet ministers had already signed off on NAMA at cabinet meetings.
Despite John Gormley’s stage-managed and dramatic ‘transformational’ announcement, only a political dilettante would ever believe that there could be a transformation of the political policy landscape under a Fianna Fáil-led government. Yet Green parliamentary party members and ministers continued to nod through budget cuts in social welfare entitlements, along with cuts to the disabled, the blind and carers.
And as if to add insult to injury, the Greens even walked through the yes lobby in support of a blasphemy bill, championed by the hard-line Fianna Fáil minister for justice, equality and law reform. The same minister has decimated the Equality Authority and the Combat Poverty Agency. The overall budget for 2010, agreed by cabinet and supported by the two Green Party ministers, identified savings of EUR4 billion by targeting child benefit, the young unemployed, the blind and community support schemes. Public sector pay has also been reduced, with all workers, including the lowest paid, getting sharp wage cuts.
While all political parties represented in the Dáil have accepted the need to balance the national finances and agreed the need for cuts, there has been widespread condemnation of the options chosen, with accusations that the budget was callous and uncreative in its approach. For example, recent research has shown that if tax breaks on personal income and corporation tax were reduced to average EU levels, their cost to the exchequer would fall from EUR7.2 to EUR2.2 billion. This EUR5 billion saving would be more than EUR1 billion more than the cuts targeted at the less well-off.
A key problem for the Green leaders is that, despite much public handwringing, they are firmly embedded in a government that is lurching from crisis to crisis. Ireland’s economic collapse has exposed grossly inept if not corrupt practices at the highest levels in both the political and financial spheres, and in the senior public and civil service. But not a single person has been sacked or jailed as a result.
So where does this leave the Greens? Many now believe that the decision to enter government in 2007 was a major tactical and strategic error. The Irish Greens had two choices – to go into government in a minority position and prop up a socially-conservative, centre-right administration, or to remain on the opposition benches, giving the organisation time to broaden and deepen the party’s electoral strength and influence.
By staying out of government, the Greens could have greatly increased their membership and local authority base and expanded the Green parliamentary party with a view to government in a subsequent election. Instead, the Greens got a drubbing at last year’s local and European elections.
The Greens’ strategy has been to define the party’s policy on narrow environmental lines, appearing to ditch its equality and social justice platforms and moving the party to a more centrist, ‘Green-lite’ position. Its minor environmental gains, while admirable, have been dwarfed by its support for massive bail-outs of financial institutions, coupled with draconian cuts to the most vulnerable. In essence, the Greens are perceived as upholding policies that support the most culpable to the detriment of the most vulnerable.
To be fair, any government in power in Ireland in the current economic situation would face a backlash from the public, and being in government will always involve compromise. The lesson to be learned from the Irish Greens’ experience is that, before entering into any coalition agreement, you must adopt clear and unambiguous bottom-line policies – and stick to them.
A former Dublin city councillor and deputy lord mayor, Bronwen Maher was a senior member of the Irish Green Party for 20 years before she resigned early last year in opposition to the policy direction taken by the Fianna Fáil/Green coalition government. Maher is now co-chair of the Irish Labour Party’s environment and sustainability policy committee
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun