The Irish Green Party has abandoned a number of core political beliefs in order to enter into a coalition government in Dublin, securing the return of Fianna Fail’s Bertie Ahern as 26-County Taoiseach.
Progressives and radicals were dismayed when a meeting of party delegates strongly backed a programme for government containing rehashed Fianna Fail policies taken from old election manifestos and ambivalent position statements.
Among the concessions made by the Green Party over ten days of negotiations include the party’s acceptance of the destruction of Tara, the unexcavated ancient capital of Ireland under threat from motorway construction, the utilisation of 26-County airports by US forces for their war in Iraq and the erosion of Irish military neutrality.
The crucial debate at last night’s Green Party conference was described as “emotional” and at times tearful. Supporters of the coalition deal, including the entire party leadership, stressed the opportunity to achieve practical results in government.
Opponents included the party’s first TD, Sean Garland, who said he felt “totally betrayed” by the decision to opt for coalition with Fianna Fail.
Speaking before the vote in the Mansion House on Wednesday, Mr Garland described the deal agreed between the two parties as “unbelievably bad”, and predicted that the Greens could face a “wipe-out” at the next election.
Mr Garland, who won a Dail seat in 1989, said Green voters had voted to specifically keep Fianna Fail out of power and would now feel betrayed.
Mr Garland described proposals for a carbon tax, without a date or an agreed level as “waffle”. He said accepting the continuation of military flights through Shannon airport was “completely against all green principles of world peace”.
He also criticised the decision to accept the present M3 motorway route through Tara, and the continuation of corporate donations to political parties as being contrary to core Green Party values.
In a critical intervention supporting the deal, party leader Trevor Sargent said that the Greens would get two senior ministries in the new government, but denied he was interested in power, incongruously pointing to his pre-election commitment to resign as party leader if the Greens entered into government with Fianna Fail.
The debate was described by one senior party member as “very emotional”, with much of the party leadership in tears.
The most prominent speaker against the motion was former Dublin MEP Patricia McKenna, who said she could not live with her conscience if she voted Yes, referring specifically to the Iraq war issue.
Shannon airport campaigner Ed Horgan was quoted as saying he was “filled with sadness” at the prospect of a coalition with Fianna Fail, which offered “Mercs and perks”, but little else. Condemning the role of US forces in the Middle East, he said the Greens were “supping with the devil” and, if they entered a coalition, they would be complicit in deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats’ plans for co-location of private hospitals on public hospital land were said to be a major concern to speakers against the motion.
Speakers in favour of the motion argued that the Greens would have to wait a long time for another opportunity to participate in government.
Criticisms of Fianna Fail were greeted with applause but so too were arguments that it was “now or never” and the Greens should accept the deal on offer.
In the end, the vote to enter government received the support of 86% of party delegates. The next day, Green Party TDs John Gormley and Eamon Ryan were beaming as they were elevated by Bertie Ahern to the positions of Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, respectively.
Before the day was out, however, evidence of Fianna Fail trickery emerged as outgoing Environment Minister, the demoted Dick Roche, signed an order for the destruction of Lismullin Henge at the Hill of Tara.
Earlier this month, amid a growing campaign for its preservation, the World Monuments Fund announced that the Hill of Tara has been included in the World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.
The newly discovered henge at Tara, said to be the size of three football fields and with an unknown ceremonial function, is to be bulldozed within weeks, according to the order. John Gormley, the new Green Party Minister subsequently declared himself powerless to prevent the destruction, to the fury of Tara campaigners.
The ‘TaraWatch’ group is taking legal measures to ensure that all works on the site cease immediately. Its spokesman, Vincent Salafia, said he was “appalled” by Roche’s order and the attempt to remove the new Minister from responsibility for the threatened cultural disaster.
“This site is a show-stopper and is without doubt a national monument of world significance. It would be a sin to demolish it. Legal and expert advice is being taken with a view to seeking an interlocutory injunction in order to secure the site before it can be demolished.
“This is the first ancient site to be found along the motorway route. It did not appear in any of the extensive tests carried out in advance of the project.”
Salafia said legal advice suggested the entire Tara complex was a national monument and there was nothing in the National Monuments Act which would prevent M. Gormley from placing a preservation order on the valley.
“We are asking Minister Gormley to do the same thing that Minister Roche did to 16 Moore Street - declare the entire site a national monument”.
The Campaign to Save Tara plans to “lock down” the Lismullin site over the coming weeks, and has vowed not to allow construction workers or archaeologists near the monument.