The Irish Government survived a vote of confidence today, two days ahead of the lifting of the eviction ban. Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin looks at the record of the Green Party and how they have kept this landlord Government going.
When the Green Party were on the brink of entering coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael back in the summer of 2020, John Molyneux made the following analogy:
“We are passengers in a train that is heading at 150 kph towards a canyon spanned by a bridge that is crumbling. The train is driven by a crew who are acting on orders from the railway company which is ignoring the danger and concerned about its profits and its race with a rival company over who can offer the fastest service.
“The passengers become aware of the mortal danger they are in and start to get restless. They talk about taking control of the train and bringing it to a halt. Then a group within the passengers says never mind this talk of rebellion, let’s form a deputation and negotiate with the driver.
“Then the deputation returns and says ‘We’ve reached a compromise; the driver will slow the train to 75kph. It’s not everything but it’s better than nothing’.
‘But that just means we’ll crash into the canyon at 75kph … we’ll still be killed’, objects one passenger.
‘You’re just a typical loony lefty against everything ‘, replies the leader of the deputation. ‘Don’t you realise that half a loaf is better than no bread. We have to be practical.’”
Nearly three years on, the Green Party’s time in government has gone pretty much exactly as predicted. But don’t expect any introspection from Eamon Ryan.
“This is the price you have to pay for being in government”, Senator and Chairperson of the Green Party Pauline O’Reilly said the week before about the vote to lift the ban on evictions. “We have to send a signal to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that we don’t want their TDs voting against things that we’ve negotiated”.
This is what things have come to now for the Green Party. Soaring rents, astronomical house prices, and now the lifting of an eviction ban which will result in thousands of people being made homeless. We’re expected to believe that there is some sort of acceptable pay-off for this, that maybe there is a correct number of bike libraries or new dart stations that can be traded off for thousands of children being deprived of a home.
Optics and Dramatics
After the vote, we got the dramatics.
The so-called “rebel TD” Neasa Hourigan, voted against the government. For doing the right thing, she has been suspended for 15 months from the parliamentary party. A string of Green Party Councillors took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the move, support Hourigan in her decision, and…
And what? Announce they were leaving the Green Party? Pull their support for this government? Take to the streets in solidarity with the people facing eviction?
Of course not! This is the Green Party, after all. It’s all about the optics. Despite all the tweets supporting the TD who voted against making thousands of people homeless, it didn’t seem to occur to any of them that the Greens are still in government, supporting Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policy, and no amount of hand-wringing about sanctions will change the fact that they are part of the problem.
Neasa Hourigan herself voted confidence in the Government today. Having dominated the airwaves with her vocal opposition to the lifting of the eviction ban in the week leading up to the vote, normal service has now been resumed.
Grim Looking Greens
Hourigan made it clear in the lead-up to the eviction vote that she was perfectly capable of voting against the government when she “feels passionately enough” about an issue. If you look at the scorecard, the issues that didn’t make the grade don’t paint a pretty picture, for her, or for the Green Party in general.
It includes the current housing disaster, for which the eviction ban has been a plaster on a gaping wound. The Green Party voted confidence in Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien last December.
It includes some of the largest increases in greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.
It includes a Mother and Baby Home survivor redress scheme that excludes those who were resident from birth up to 6 months of age.
It includes the continued erosion of Irish neutrality, a policy that the Green Party has long supported.
It includes the expansion of the Direct Provision system.
Direct Provision Disaster
In this case, the degeneration of Green Party policy is almost farcical. Since their last period in government, they had opposed the Direct Provision system. They entered government with a commitment to end it. Scarcely a month later, Roderic O’Gorman spoke about taking the ‘meanness’ out of the system, refusing to give a target for when the system was to be wrapped up. A year later, he published his white paper on ending the system – so far, a lot of talk, and no movement.
Since the war in Ukraine began, however, the Greens appeared to have abandoned any aspirations to end the system, or indeed any efforts to show even basic humanity towards refugees. An apartheid system for refugees has been set up, which prioritises Ukrainian refugees over refugees from elsewhere. Initially this meant that Ukrainians were not to be put in Direct Provision. As options ran out however, other refugees have been moved out of centres and into empty office blocks and other buildings that are not fit for purpose, in order to make way for Ukrainian refugees. It is a mark of the extent of Government failure that it even failed to implement its racist system in a way that might keep Ukrainians out of Direct Provision.
Meanwhile, refugees from other countries have been sleeping in tents in the middle of winter. Deportations have been stepped up. And now, refugees who arrive here are being instantly made homeless – given a €20 meal voucher and told to find their own accommodation.
All of this in the name of compromise and sensible government. This, along with the ever worsening housing crisis, has created the conditions for far-right groups to stir up anti-migrant hatred. Direct Provision centres have become an easy focal point for racist rallies.
None of this seems to have registered with the Greens, who showed up to the Ireland For All march that was, in part, protesting against their Government. They then had the gall to try to twist the narrative and imply that People Before Profit members who opposed their presence on the march were motivated by racism and misogyny, and not the policies they are supporting in Government. It was a prime example of how neoliberals will often try to co opt and weaponise movements against oppression in order to obfuscate and defend the status quo.
Profit-Driven Housing Model
The reality is that it is impossible for the Greens to end Direct Provision precisely because they will not challenge Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael housing policies. The two issues are very much interlinked. In fact, far from the far-right narrative that asylum seekers are being given homes while homeless Irish people are left on the streets, it is systems like Direct Provision that set the bar on the floor when it comes to treating people with respect and dignity.
When direct provision was set up as a temporary measure in 1999 the homeless figures were between 3,000-3,500. 24 years on, far from being abolished, the system is now entrenched and has been expanded massively in the last year. Meanwhile, the homeless figures have reached a record 12,000. Unless we fight back for housing for all, a combination of thousands of evictions and more asylum seekers being left without accommodation will mean these figures will rise even higher.
All of this, of course, remains highly profitable for certain groups of people – corporate landlords, vulture funds and companies profiting from the Direct Provision system. All of it made possible by the Green Party, whose major claim in the lead up to the 2020 election was that they had to be in Government in order to act on these issues.
Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them…
This is the paradox at the heart of the Green Party’s approach to politics. Firstly, they claim that it is imperative that they are in Government, that change can only come from Government – a Government with the Green Party in it. Once they’re in Government, they can’t do anything because they have to compromise with their “partners”. This compromise always looks suspiciously similar to other Governments that didn’t have the Green Party in them.
Nevertheless, the line keeps getting trotted out: Our planet is on fire, and the Green Party are the only ones who can save us. Eamon Ryan – yes, that guy – is the knight in shining armour we need, despite all evidence to the contrary.
We Need a Fightback
If you thought this was the only way, you’d be forgiven for descending into profound despair. Thankfully, it is not.
People will get organised in communities to resist evictions. We will have no choice but to do so. Part of our job will have to be to cohere the strength of many campaigns into a larger struggle against the government. We should take inspiration from the workers who are in revolt in France over pension reforms. This Government needs to be jolted out of its complacency.
The same is true of the fight for climate and biodiversity. People will fight against LNGs, against toxic mining, and for positive action like the introduction of free public transport. They will gain inspiration from similar struggles across the world.
Real positive change will come from below, as it did in this country with the Repeal referendum and the defeat of the water charges. It will not come from horse trading deals with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
There is a lesson in the sorry story of the Green Party for any others who would consider coalition with the right-wing parties. You will not change them, but they will happily use you as a mudguard and a prop so that they can continue forcing through their policies.
Anyone serious about radical change should categorically rule out coalition with both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ahead of the next election. As well as taking the fight to this Government on the streets, it’s time to start talking about a Left Government – what it could look like and how we can fight for it.