Folly of pleasing ‘literal-minded guardians of political morality’…

The Green Party has not had the start it undoubtedly would have wished itself in the Republic. John Gormley’s haste in asserting the irrevocable nature of Dick Roche’s order order for the “preservation by record” of a newly discovered prehistoric henge at Lismullen, Co Meath looked uncertain may teach him that advice from senior civil servants may only be the first but not final source of advice he should seek before making a ministerial announcement. Likewise, John Waters in the Irish Times today reckons that former Green leader Trevor Sargent needs to learn a thing or two about democratic politics.

…when Sargent said he would resign he was speaking to a tribe comprising people of a certain crude sentiment concerning Fianna Fáil.

These people are fond of gathering at dinner tables in south Dublin to chant incantations against the party representing close to half of the electorate, and shudder between courses at the idea that people who are not like them should be running the country. The thought of voting for Fianna Fáil, never mind sitting at the same table as Fianna Fáilers, gives these people indigestion, or so they say.

Sargent’s rhetorical self-indulgence in advance of the election had been intended to relieve this indigestion. Last Wednesday night, Sargent returned to the real world. After two weeks of negotiations, he and other Green Party leaders had come to the conclusion that Fianna Fáil was more useful than The Irish Times or the south Dublin dinner party circuit.

During the coalition talks they had been reported several times as remarking how much they had got to “like” the Fianna Fáil negotiators, giving rise to fears they might be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Fianna Fáilers were not demons after all. It was said with an air of breathless shock and wonder.

The Green Party had appealed during the recent election, as throughout its history, to the tribe that dictates the moral framework of Irish politics, and to that tribe’s many representatives in the media. For the umpteenth time, this strategy failed to deliver power, and, in the aftermath of the election, it seemed like the Greens were destined to be the eternal bridesmaids of Irish politics.

Then, the persuasiveness of the arithmetic wreaked its magic on the party’s pseudo-principles. It was a dizzying moment, like an adolescent taking a first pint or buying a first condom. If the arithmetic had been otherwise, the Green Party might have gone on for years mouthing the same incantations about the culture of Fianna Fáil. But now, reality reared its radical head.

By any objective standard, Sargent’s resignation was ridiculous and unnecessary: either he was affronted by partnership with Fianna Fáil or he was not, and judging from his smile and reported response, he was anything but.

Resignation was not a protest but a way of mollifying the formerly benign gods of Dublin 4, of denying critics of the party’s decision the leverage afforded by such a discrepancy between words and deeds. And the truly bizarre thing is that this tokenistic action will probably be sufficient to satisfy the self-appointed, literal-minded guardians of political morality, who believe integrity to be a matter of semantic consistency rather than straightforward matters of intention and effect.

It would have been a far better thing for Irish politics if Sargent had stood his ground and said he had simply changed his mind.