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Green Party could be stronger again following another election

Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The oddest thing about the election results so far has been the Taoiseach’s reaction. We hear your message about the environment, and by the way there could be a general election pretty soon, he seemed to be saying.

What was that about? Surely he knows that every time a Taoiseach starts ruminating about an election, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in no time at all? 

Especially in a situation like this, where an opposition leader could well be tempted to tell him to put up or shut up.

The Taoiseach — any Taoiseach — needs to play the cards he or she is given as well as they can, and they need to be seen to do it in the national interest, or else they’ll pay a heavy price. 

Leo Varadkar has played those cards brilliantly when it comes to Brexit, although his touch has been a lot less sure in respect of other issues.

Now, of course, he has to look at the possibility of several hard-fought by-elections, although they don’t need to happen until almost the end of the year. 

The by-elections are likely to be caused by the election of Frances Fitzgerald and Billy Kelleher, with other possibilities in play.

There may not be as much to fear in those by-elections as it seems, but there is the possibility that they will lead to the government running out of rope. 

Until then, if the Taoiseach has any sense, he will insist that it’s his job to lead the country through necessary Brexit transitions and that he’s not thinking beyond that. 

Talking up a general election at this stage is only inviting the blame for it if it happens.

The other odd thing about the elections results is the questions it throws up. 

Like, is it all change or no change? A shift to the right or a shift to the left? An increase in division or a new sense of unity around issues?

While it may take the rest of the week for things to become entirely clear, a couple of things are emerging strongly.

First of all, we’re different. Whatever direction Europe chooses to go, we go our own way. If there is more than a hint of new nationalism about the results so far across Europe, there is little or none of that here. 

The parties peddling the most obvious and loathsome nationalist lines, dripping as they were with racist and misogynist themes — Irexit and Anti-Corruption Ireland — came right at the bottom of the polls.

In fact our elections, coupled with the result of the referendum on divorce, have a distinctly progressive feel to them.

Or maybe it just takes us a while to get stuff. A couple of years after an election in which water was one of the main issues, and the basis for a hard left protest vote, the parties that led that protest (Solidarity, People before Profit), or pretended to support it (Sinn Féin), suffered a reverse in this election. 

The party that has always stood four square behind responsibility in relation to water use and conservation — and taken a lot of knocks for it (the Green Party) — is the big winner in this election.

By way of declaring my own interest, I have to say that the party of which I’ve been a life-long member, Labour, had yet to turn the corner. 

Yes, there were some good gains in seats at local level — and perhaps there’s a basis for rebuilding in that — and the party’s vote share is still marginally higher than that of the Greens.

But this election seems to confirm that Labour has a continuing problem of relevance. 

One friend of mine, looking at the results, said rather sourly: “They’ve forgiven the Greens for helping to destroy the economy from 2008 to 2011. When are they going to forgive us for helping to rescue it?”

To be fair to them though, the Green message has remained constant since the foundation of that movement. 

For sure, they lost their way in the aftermath of the bank collapse, and got sucked into a vortex of bad politics that spiralled out of control. 

But the fact that they survived that — and hopefully learned lessons from it — means that the centrality of their message now has enabled them to attract the support that environmental issues have always deserved.

The big question is whether they will be able to hold their nerves when it comes to delivering, because there’s a huge difference between accepting that we can’t save the planet without making sacrifices, and actually being prepared to make those sacrifices.

For that reason I’m not sure that if I were Eamon Ryan I’d be offering myself as a party of government just yet.

The Greens are likely to be in the strongest position in their history after another election. They will need to think long and hard about how to use that. 

Propping up Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil in government might not be nearly as effective a role as driving them forward without the trappings of office. 

They need to think more about how to maximise their real influence, and less about attaining office.

Because one of the other things that seems clear right now is that neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil command anything remotely approaching a situation of workable government. 

As I write this (in other words, before the final counts are in, so I’m relying on the latest online data) the Irish electorate seems to have done its usual highly sophisticated thing.

In the local elections, they’ve given FF the lead — 26.9% to 25.2%; and in the European elections (although these would be even earlier figures), it looks like the electorate has reversed that. What’s the message from that? 

Is it “we like FF better at local level, we trust FG more in Europe?”. Or is it, “we haven’t made up our minds yet which one of ye we’re prepared to trust with government?” 

That’s the big question, on which the future of politics depends. These elections, fascinating as they are, haven’t answered that.

I was unable to contribute my usual column last week due to a close family bereavement. 

I had intended to take the opportunity to refer back to the column I wrote the previous week about the continuing injustices suffered by survivors of institutional abuse.

That article was based on what I saw and heard at a Conference I attended, and participated in, on May 11. 

I have had an overwhelming response to the article, in person, through e-mail, and on social media. 

A lot of it came from survivors, and the vast majority of people who have been in touch with me know that I am utterly committed to the cause of justice for them.

However, a couple of people, themselves survivors, took exception to the article, and to some of the language I used. They have told me that they found it offensive and damaging to them.

Since that was the last thing I intended, can I say without equivocation to any survivor who was upset by anything I wrote, for whatever reason, that I am genuinely sorry.

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