MICHAEL WOLSEY: When Green idealism meets voter hypocrisy
THE Green wave was not quite the tsunami RTE’s exit poll had led us to expect. More of a spring tide, really.
And that, for the party, could prove a blessing in disguise. It has not been given control of any council nor put in a position where it will have to implement its policies, and so will be spared the outrage this would provoke.
People who voted Green would like to see the party achieve its aims but most of them baulk at the ways and means. They would like to see the planet saved, but they don’t want to do an awful lot to save it.
They voted Green because they don’t regard European or local government elections as terribly important and it seemed like a nice sort of gesture. The same thinking prompted many who had voted for other parties to lie to the exit pollsters, which is why the poll overestimated the Greens’ support.
Voters are happy enough to wrap the Green flag round them. But Green policies … now that’s a different matter.
In the first flush of electoral success, Green leader Eamon Ryan was discussing some of those policies with a radio interviewer.
He didn’t want to build any new roads and he wanted to stop widening the ones we have: “We need to throttle back on the traffic.”
He wanted to scrap the National Development Plan which is aimed at developing cities and larger towns outside Dublin: “It’s not fit for purpose.”
He wanted to hugely reduce the amount of dairy farming in Ireland: “We need to completely change the pattern of land use.”
He wanted to push ahead with the plan for directly-elected mayors, rejected by voters in two out of three plebiscites. And he wanted to see urban cycle lanes increased at the expense of road space for cars.
Other Green policies include a carbon tax, the introduction of a congestion charge in Dublin, no more drilling for offshore gas, a ban on the use of coal by 2030 and a tax, or total ban, on non-recyclable plastic.
And the Green Party supports water charges. Remember them? The small parties of the Left most certainly do. Those parties did badly in the elections and would be delighted to see a fresh attempt to introduce water charges which gave them their finest hour as they led thousands on mass protests. I wonder how many of the water protesters voted Green last week. And I wonder how many of them will still be Green voters if they are asked to pay up and have the courage of Mr Ryan’s convictions.
I am as ambiguous about the Greens as most voters, so I was quite pleased about their electoral success. They are decent people and it was a vote for decency.
But I’m glad they have not been handed real power and, instead, have been given the chance to refine their policies and align them a little more closely with the real world.
That process will be difficult for some in the party.
Saoirse McHugh, the Mayo woman who did so well in the Midlands North West constituency, declared that she would quit the Green Party if it ever went into coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.
That declaration seemed to strike a chord with party members. But FG and FF remain by far the country’s biggest parties. Coalition with one or the other is the only way into government for the foreseeable future.
So if the party follows Ms McHugh’s advice, its policies will never be implemented. Which is maybe just as well. As Kermit told us, it’s not easy being Green.