The Green Party has moved to distance themselves from their Fianna Fail Coalition partners by refusing to call on their supporters to transfer their votes in the three sets of elections scheduled in hte 26 Counties for June 5th.
Green Party Minister for Energy and Communications Eamon Ryan said yesterday that his party’s supporters should “make their own mind up” and “transfer as you see fit” in the European and local elections as well as the two parliamentary by-elections in Dublin.
The second and lower-order preferences of voters can often decide elections under Ireland’s proportional representation electoral system.
A Green Party spokesman later denied the Minister had snubbed his Fianna Fail partners in Government, saying it was in line with the way the party had always fought elections.
Reports that the coalition partnership is under strain multiplied after another Green minister, John Gormley, announced that he was scrapping the planned introduction of electronic voting machines.
The highly contentious machines, still in storage, cost over fifty million Euro in consultancy fees and storage fees in what was widely seen as a government fiasco.
Considered potentially open to abuse by unscrupulous government agencies or hired hackers, their deployment was repeatedly delayed by the lack of an independent paper verification process and other technical problems.
The painful decision to abandon the project reportedly caused upheaval at the cabinet table, with Fianna Fail ministers desperate to avoid any crisis which could precipitate a general election.
Strains have also been voiced over the clumsy manner in which economic measures, such as the withdrawal of mortgage interest relief benefit from homeowners, have been introduced in recent weeks.
Fianna Fail, for long the largest party in the 26 Counties, is facing a disastrous result in the local and European elections, with Fine Gael and the left-wing parties expected to make significant gains. Polls suggest the self-styled “institutional party of government” can now count on just one in four of the electorate.
Some commentators have predicted a general election could follow a Fianna Fail meltdown.
McKENNA QUITS GREENS
A surprise development in the European election campaign was the decision of former Green Party MEP, Patricia McKenna, to leave the party and stand as an Independent in the Dublin constituency where she was twice elected to the parliament.
Ms McKenna said in an interview in Hot Press magazine that she felt embarrassed about being a member of the Green Party as it had failed to deliver its promises and abandoned its principles for the sake of power.
McKenna, a respected figure among progressives, will be contesting the seat against sitting Sinn Féin’s sitting MEP, Mary Lou McDonald.
Green Party European election candidate, Senator Deirdre de Burca, said she was not surprised that Ms McKenna had decided to quit the party.
“The pity about Patricia McKenna’s move is that she did not do it at least a year ago and spare herself and her party colleagues a lot of time-wasting and strife. It has been increasingly clear that she does not share the same views on many issues with Green Party members,” she said.
Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said earlier this week that the Dublin contest would end up as a straight fight for the third seat between her party and Fianna Fail.
Launching her campaign, she acknowledged that she faces a major battle to be returned because the constituency is being reduced from a four to a three-seater.
However, she said the June 5th election will be “a seminal one” for Dublin’s working class districts, who are facing cuts in welfare rates and others benefits in the December budget.
“People know that things are not good, but they also know that they could get an awful lot worse in December,” said Ms McDonald.
She acknowledged that working class districts traditionally have a poor turnout for European elections, but she insisted that Sinn Féin will marshal higher numbers this year. “This is a crunch election for us, yes, and for me. We are in this to win, notwithstanding the scale of the challenge.
“Any election you take on you can win or you can lose. That is just the nature of political contests. You have to fight to win, but you also have to be equipped to lose,” she said.
The Six County Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, who attended the launch, said: “I think that this will be a highly volatile election.
“I think the Government parties are facing into this with some considerable trepidation.”
Meanwhile, former Irish television reporter George Lee, was formally confirmed as the Fine Gael candidate for Dublin South at their selection convention for the constituency last night.
The candidacy of Lee -- a high-profile economics editor for the state broadcaster, RTE, and not previously linked to Fine Gael -- provoked consternation in both media and political circles. He is most associated with his dire, and ultimately accurate, warnings over the potential for a crash in Ireland’s overheated economy.
“You ask me what is the one thing I believe in mostly,” he told his former journalistic colleagues.
“For me it is freedom, it is freedom to go and to participate and have a range of views and to do things and explore things and live. The reality is that, as far I am concerned, the freedom of everybody in this country is being threatened.
“There are 388,000 people on the dole and I don’t believe any of them is free. The truth is they are trapped. Another 300,000 are in danger of being trapped.
“We have been led into a situation where people are trapped by debt, by unemployment and by fear of the future because there is no leadership. There is no direction and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.”