THE Greens have once again displayed a maturity in politics that some might not have expected from them some years ago. By voting overwhelmingly for the new Programme for Government last Saturday, they have again shown that they have grown up in Irish politics. They first showed that maturity more than two years ago when they originally agreed to share power with Fianna Fáil.
The alternative this time was more stark than it was in 2007. This time, the party was not merely staring at several years on the Opposition benches. It was staring at decimation and oblivion.
Rejection of the Programme for Government would have meant a general election now and the possible, if not probable, loss of all the Green Party seats in the Dáil.
A few years on the Opposition benches would have been even better than that.
The fact is that, as Mary Harney said, the worst times in Government are better than the best times in Opposition. But the worst times in Opposition are better than having no seat at all in Dáil Éireann and only a small handful on local authorities.
And that was the possible outlook facing the Green Party if they had not given at least two-thirds or 66% support for the programme. As it happened, they supported the programme by an 84% majority.
Of course, they have been criticised by the Opposition and by many commentators. But what were they supposed to do? Vote for their own demise? Turkeys, they say, do not vote for Christmas.
Anyway, apart from the threat from an angry electorate, they have some chance of implementing Green Party policies in Government. They have no chance outside.
That is the reality. People who might have thought the Green Party would pull the plug on this very unpopular coalition and who are more angry than ever that they didn’t, should bear that in mind.
You can talk forever about the failure of the Greens to stand up to Fianna Fáil on this, that, or the other issue. You can shout until you are blue in the face about them selling out some basic Green Party principles.
When you are a small party in a coalition Government, you cannot expect the big party to give you everything you want. You have to bargain and compromise. That is the price you have to pay for involvement.
The Opposition know that but they have to pretend to be shocked at the Green Party’s continued support for staying in power with Fianna Fáil.
A general election now would not solve any of our economic problems. A Fine Gael-led Government would be little different to the present one. And a general election at this time would bring further instability to an already shaky economy.
With regard to the proposals outlined in the revised Programme for Government, I must say that they did not contain much to get too excited about.
The decision not to go ahead with the proposal to restore third-level fees may save some Green skins at the next election, as may also happen with the decision to appoint some 500 extra teachers.
But I saw nothing wrong with the idea of making those who can well afford to pay for a university education, actually pay for it. It means that savings will have to be found elsewhere to pay for educating the children of some well-to-do parents. That might be alright when times are good and the State coffers are overflowing with cash. But I resent it if my taxes are going to pay for educating the well-off son of a well-off politician, developer or judge.
I will not criticise the appointment of 500 extra teachers but I will question whether it will ever happen. We can only wait and see.
The section on electoral reform promises much but, again, I will be surprised if there is any significant change in this area. Fianna Fáil will always support the status quo because the status quo has been good to Fianna Fáil up to now and they know that any change might harm them.
The question of reducing the number of TDs will be “examined” by a commission. That’s enough for me. I will eat these words if I see a reduction on the number of TDs elected to the Dáil in my lifetime. I think once again of turkeys voting for Christmas.
If the promise to ban stag hunting or fur farms excited you in any way, I am delighted for you. But those proposals do nothing for me. The idea that the Government might fall on one or both of those issues is ludicrous.
So, to sum up, the revised Programme for Government was nothing great to write home about. But if it keeps the Government together for another while, that makes me happy. But I don’t know about you.