Thursday, November 01, 2007


Well, as the saying goes, you say tomato, I say total and abject capitulation.

Us political hacks were roused out of mid-afternoon somnolence yesterday to be told that John Gormley and Brian Lenihan would be over to brief us on something significant.

And what was it? A new proposal to legislate for civil partnerships.

If you weren't as hard bitten and cynical as us, you would say: great. That's a fantastic breakthrough.

But there's a fly in the ointment!

And it's this:

Last February, the Labour Party tabled a Bill that would make civil unions between homosexual couples legal.

The Green Party enthusiastically endorsed it, with its justice spokesperson Ciaran Cuffe backing it to the hilt (listen to Cuffe's interview on Morning Ireland here)

In fairness to them the Greens also got a commitment into the Programme for Government. But the more hesitant FFers insisted that the phraseology be civil partnership rather than civil union.

The difference is important. A civil partnership can never be considered the equivalent of gay marriage - it will never be on a part with heterosexual marriage will will retain its preeminence in the Constitution.

Civil partnership is certainly a massive improvement on what we have at present. It will allow the legal rights of partners to be recognised by law (including succession rights and a possible share of assets). Forms of life partnerships other than homosexual ones will also be recognised.

But the manner in which it was all rushed through last night smacked of a little panic (though Green handlers were blue in the face last night saying that the party's programme manager Donal Geoghegan has been working on it since last September).

Tactically, it was a clever little move by the Labour Party. By retabling a motion that the Greens backed so solidly last February, they were calling the junior coalition party's bluff.

Would the Greens have to vote against a Bill they backed only last February and face more embarrassing taunts of sell-out and capitulation?

Did they have any choice but to pressure the senior partners to come up with something that would give them comfort?

The Government's own proposals (yep, they have been working on it since last September) were delivered orally by Brian Lenihan and John Gormley and were so vague that two words came to mind. One was 'back'. The other was 'envelope'. Heads of Bill by next March. Legislation by the end of this term. Proposals saying they would take account of the plethora of reports that have been produced in recent years.

All it was was a reiteration of the Programme for Government commitment with a couple of bells and whistles.

You need to be careful about the optics. This will be perceived as a reactive measure rather than something they came out with themselves. The Greens can't always be responding. They need to begin to assert their own agendas.

Otherwise it's going to pan out as a series of ass-saving exercises.


Ray said...

I preface this by saying that i am a supporter and member of the GP.

Do you think this is fair Harry? Is the Green Party supposed to achieve everything in the first year? Are their six TDs supposed to enforce their will over the rest of the government? Yes the Labour Party can spend the next four or five years trying to trip up the green party. But to what end? Even if the Green Party lost all of its seats at the next election, it wouldn't be enough to put Labour in a position of power.

With so few seats, it was obvious that they were only going to be able to implement a small part of their election manifesto.

If they refused to compromise, and left government after 6 months, you would say that they showed that they are unreliable, and an unviable partner for future governments.

What would you have liked to see them do this week.
Vote against the government, and thereby leave government?
Vote against this bill without introducing an alternative?
Divert time away from their portfolios for the last six months, so that this bill could be ready? - Would you then say that they had not shown competence in their specific briefs?

From reading your articles, it seems that they are on a lose/lose.

Harry McGee said...

No, they are not on a lose/lose. The point I was making is that sure, they will have to compromise and remind people that they are six and FF are 78 etc and there's only so much influence they can use.

But they also have to avoid being reactive all the time and come out with their own bold gestures apropos of nothing.

It just seemed to me this morning (and I may be wrong) that the Civil Partnership initiative became focused in their minds only because there was a Labour Party Bill with potential to embarrass them. H

Ray said...

"It just seemed to me this morning (and I may be wrong) that the Civil Partnership initiative became focused in their minds only because there was a Labour Party Bill with potential to embarrass them."
This is highly likely (I don't say this with insider knowledge, just guessing from the way it panned out). But they cannot be on top of everything. The two ministers have huge portfolios where they are "coming out with their own bold gestures apropos of nothing". They voted on a lot of issues while in opposition. They have limited resources, and will never be able to ensure that they have a plan in place to deal with every single issue where they differed from FF in the last dail.

If they spent their time foreseeing and avoiding possible embarrasing situations they would not have time to implement policies in their departments.

Ultimately, if they do well in their own departments, I will be happy.

They are an easy target at the moment. But they are very genuine people. I hope that the more refelctive parts of the media will step back and look at the good things that they are doing.

Harry McGee said...


They are genuine people. I am writing an analysis for tomorrow (which I'm sure you will find ultra cynical - I'll post it on the blog tomorrow) in which I acknowledge Ciarán Cuffe's honesty.

Of course, they are going to take it in the neck, when they have to compromise on issues. And of course they don't have the resources of FF.

But it just seemed to me that they rushed to get this Bill through to save them the embarrassment of having to vote against a Bill they endorsed so enthusiastically last February. I'm sure that Labour doing a bit of bluff-calling and there was some political cynicism behind its motives.

The net point I was making, however, is that the Greens need to push their own agenda, not seem to react to the agendas of others.

And tactically, my opinion (which is as fallible as the next person's) is that they should not have gone through the artifice of presenting alternative legislation when it is clearly much too early to do so. They should have taken it on the chin, said that regretfully because we are in Government vote against the Labour Bill, and then pointed out that a Civil Partnership Bill was in the Programme for Government and that they would ensure that it was given the highest and most immediate priority.

Dan Sullivan said...

ray, there was nothing about being in government that would have prevented the greens on a practical basis from supporting the Labour motion or saying they would abstain.

This was a motion in favour of something that is not in opposition to the program for government.

What is more damaging for the party is the suggestion that they supported a bill 6 months ago that they viewed as unconstitutional but they did it "to highlight the issue". There are means to get the spotlight on issues other than supporting something that you claim afterwards to be unconstitutional.

Ray said...

"ray, there was nothing about being in government that would have prevented the greens on a practical basis from supporting the Labour motion or saying they would abstain. "
Maybe not in theory, but in practice, for a government partnership to work, the government as a whole has to take decisions on bills. The government would not survive if the GP started supporting opposition bills that the rest of the government opposed. If it were the other way, and FF supported an opposition bill in an area where Eamon Ryan had planned his own legislation, the GP would probably walk.

Anyway, my fundamental point is that, as an idealistic party, it is very easy to criticise the Greens because, with only 6 TDs, and without the ability to collapse the givernment, there is going to be a gap between how they want to vote, and how they do vote in this dail. They will not achieve all of their objectives in this government. They will have to vote against their consciences at times. But the alternative is that they vote as they wish, and leave the government. Then they will be labelled as too unstable for government, and will not have achieved anything.

For me, and this is (obviously) only a personal opinion, i think that if they do well in their departments, it will have been worthwhile.

SeanR said...

Ray raises the issue:
"Is the Green Party supposed to achieve everything in the first year?"

My view is no, but the GP did have a policy on gay marriage and had shown support for Labour's Bill before. Also, when Howlin's bill was rejected, the previous govt suggested returning to it in six months. All of these indicators point to GP flip-flop on the issue.

Just substitute "lesbian and gay" with "black" or "traveller" or "women" and tell me that they could adopt the same crappy response. It is shameful,it's homophobic, and the GP will be ousted next time.

Harry McGee said...

I'll post the article I wrote for this morning's paper, which deals with my response to some of the issues. The Green Party's government spokesman John Downing rang me this morning to say that the article lacked a historical perspective when it came to this issue (I partly went along with what he was saying).

Harry McGee said...

Got a second phone call from a different Green insider this morning. He made the fair point that, yes, Labour was retabling its civil union Bill and it had potential to cause mischief.

But what the Green Party did was that it put itself in a position to put pressure on FF to come up with the goods for the debate... and give a definite date.

Ergo, he said, the Greens ensured that this issue was prioritised and that FF did not get the opportunity to long-finger it, or kick it out into the ether.