Extraordinary reporting here by long serving and respected Oireachtas reporter John Drennan, who has always had an admirable gift for getting TDs to give him somewhat hysterical quotes:
A senior FG TD said: ‘We don’t need a Green Party: we need parties with green policies. These Green ministers are all siloed from the real world. They are like some cult who only talk to themselves. They certainly don’t talk to us.’
Another Fine Gael TD said: ‘Green ideas need a different home. Lots of Green voters are lost Fine Gael voters. They should come home. Some of the adults have to take control before Ryan and his cycle lanes are the political death of us.’
Eamon Ryan has prioritised the development of cycle lanes as a legacy issue. Another €63million of funding for greenways across the country has been announced, while a further €290million has been announced for cycling and walking projects. The funding includes around 70 projects at various stages of planning, consultation, and construction.
But the issue has drawn the ire of the Greens’ Coalition partners, with concern being acute in Fine Gael that ‘Ryan’s cycleways are making our cities impassable. It’s worse than the Berlin wall in some places.‘
The topic that has sparked this alarm about the Jonestown-esque nature of our Green friends, if you are wondering, is not the carbon tax or the proposed cow cull or even the price of diesel: It’s… cycle lanes. Fine Gael are apparently getting it in the ear in urban Dublin about how Eamon Ryan’s maniacal drive to build cycle lanes everywhere is severing the connective tissue of the capital city, as Una Mullally might put it.
The odd thing about this is that it is both true, and, in its own way, admirable: The Green Party, of the three teams that comprise the Government, is probably the only one that recognises that the point of power is to use it to re-shape the country according to your image, rather than simply to keep power in perpetuity. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seem to see politics as a form of sport where the objective is to stay near the top of the league; The Greens, by contrast, are there to make permanent and indelible changes to the country, and if it costs them, well, there’ll always be another election.
In that sense, they probably do seem like a cult to most normal FF and FG backbenchers, who’d never dream of imperiling their seats over such an indulgence as believing in something. The Greens want to ban cars and get us all on bikes and growing watercress in the windows. The FF and FG chaps, by contrast, want a good quota at the next election, and no party running mate, thank you very much. With such a conflict of values, and with the next election approaching, conflict is inevitable.
What’s interesting is the assertion above that Green voters are “lost Fine Gael voters” who should “come home” to the party. One wonders what these TDs believe it was that prompted those voters to abandon Fine Gael for Eamon Ryan: Is the party that gave us marriage equality, and repeal of the eighth, and the carbon tax, and the gender recognition act, and more green tax credits than you can throw your hat at…. simply too right wing? If it is, then I might venture to suggest that those voters are never “coming home”, and are more likely, should they decide to abandon the Greens, to take a good long appraising look at that nice Holly Cairns and her merry band of purple people.
I might venture that the bigger problem for both of the two larger coalition parties is that there is basically no longer any natural support base for either, outside of those poor souls who feel a generational attachment to both. If you are thinking to yourself that you’ll be voting FG or FF at the next election, then I’d wager with you that foremost in your mind is not the remarkable achievement of either party in Government, but your desire to keep a less desirable option, in Sinn Fein, on the sidelines. Where Fianna Fail were once the natural party of small farmers, tradesmen, and small business, and FG the natural party of big farmers, larger businesses, and professionals, now neither party has a natural constituency outside of that dwindling population which retains some tribal loyalty to either. The “lost Fine Gael voter” didn’t switch to the Greens temporarily because of some fit of pique – they switched permanently because they no more feel FG is “Green” than many farmers any longer believe it is “pro farmer”. Straddling the fence for so long has given people on both sides of that fence time to find more appealing options – the Greens on one side, the rural independents on another.
The irony here is that if FG was a little bit more cult like itself, and a little more devoted to actually doing something, the Greens would have much less power than they do. And yet increasingly, one gets the feeling that cycle lanes are the least of their problems. If this is a party that can get pushed around by a small “cult” in Government, one wonders what resilience it shows when fighting for Irelands interests in Brussels, or elsewhere.