Two ways of looking at this: On the one hand, it’s the personification of the electoral price the Greens will pay for entering coalition. If Saoirse McHugh, of all people, can’t support them, then how likely is your average suburban dripster to do so?
On the other hand, given her record of contradicting the party leadership over and over again, and generally being “off message”, other greens might look at this and decide that it’s a reason to vote “yes”:
'We're willing to throw homelessness under the bus for the chance that we might get one or two gains.’
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) June 16, 2020
It is notable that the opposition to coalition inside the Greens seems to be coming mainly from their young, fundamentalist wing. Here’s Tate Donnelly, who was the youngest candidate anywhere in the country in the recent general election, garnering a respectable (for the Greens) 2,501 votes in Cavan Monaghan:
Why I cannot support the programme for government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I urge all members to vote NO. This will not be a Just Transition. This is not what I campaigned for and goes against every reason I'm in politics. Please reject this programme for government. pic.twitter.com/3vnqzjaPtS
— Tate Donnelly (@TateForTD) June 18, 2020
And here’s another young Turk, Tipperary candidate Rob O’Donnell:
After reading the entire PfG and listening to both the pros and cons, I'm going to be voting NO.
I ran to help both the people AND the planet.
On the latter, we've made progress – no doubt. But I can't support the same social policies- steered by FF & FG. We deserve better.
— Rob O'Donnell (@RobODonnellGP) June 17, 2020
What does that say about the chances for the thing passing? Well, the Irish Times’ Harry McGee is a very astute observer, and he seems to be optimistic that pass, it will. But even using his metric, it’s going to be a very close run thing:
Senior party sources said momentum was firmly swinging behind support for a coalition. Two-thirds of the 238 members who requested to speak backed the draft programme for government, while it also emerged that only 195 of 800 North-based members had registered. There was a sense that northern Greens would be more likely to vote against than for entering coalition with the deal.
Harry may be right that momentum is swinging behind coalition internally, but externally, the vocal level of opposition seems to be growing. Of course, that could be evidence that a tiny minority of people can make a lot of noise, or it could be something else.
Consider, though, that the explosion in Green membership in recent years has primarily been driven, by all accounts, by the young, and consider the absence of prominent young Greens in favour of the document, and you might come to a different conclusion. 32% of those who sought to speak yesterday spoke in opposition. If that was reflective of the party overall, then those speakers needed to persuade just two or three percent of their colleagues in order to sink the deal.
In the event that coalition does pass, and passes by a very narrow margin, the McHugh question, to coin a phrase, becomes more relevant. Do the opponents of Government stay in the Green Party, causing trouble and strife over every major Government decision for the next five years, or do they follow McHugh’s promised lead, and walk away?
Neither is a particularly good outcome, for the Greens, but the latter is a much better outcome for the country, if you value stable government. A Green Party leader who is constantly being assailed by much of their membership (many of whom have considerable social media followings) to be more radical, will feel under pressure to constantly revisit and strengthen the Green elements in the programme for Government, bringing constant conflict in the coalition. If the members walk, on the other hand, well, things get easier.
Paradoxically, the happiest people in Ireland with Saoirse McHugh today should be the people in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Pushing the Greens around for the next five years will probably be easier if she’s not there, shouting in her tuppence from the sidelines.