This was the second party conference featuring public representatives on both sides of the border; although unsurprisingly with just one MLA and three councillors in Northern Ireland the emphasis was on Greens in Government. But considering last weekend we heard from the largest party in the state, the Greens consistent the second smallest. And it sounds like a number of the bloggers who went along were less that gripped by the content. Mark complains “there was nothing fresh or new”. In particular he notes the passage that got Gormley one of the loudest cheers of the evening:
We are not compromised and we will break the link between big business and politics. That is why I intend, as Minister for the Environment, to introduce legislation to stop political donations from the big corporations, to restrict the spending of money by political parties between elections and to reduce the limits at which donations have to be declared. It will be the most radical piece of legislation on political funding ever.
As Mark suspected, it was a re-announcement of Cowen’s more detailed statement last week:
As part of the ongoing reform programme which the Government is undertaking in this area, we will be proposing a major reduction in both the levels at which donations to national political parties must be disclosed and to the maximum allowable donations. Specifically, we will propose the halving of the declaration limit from just over 5,000 per year to 2,500. For the maximum allowable donation the figure would fall from roughly 6,500 per year to 4,000 per year.
Hmmm… It’s a basically sound move, if not exactly going to set the world on fire. Gormley bolstered it with another internally popular but essentially rhetorical line:
In Opposition we said we would clean up the planning system. One man who led the charge on corrupt planning was Trevor Sargent. A defining moment in this partys history was when Trevor stood up in the Dublin County Council chamber holding a cheque received from a developer and asked the question: Did anybody else get one of these?
If there was a problem Yellow Roman Candles picked it up. This was the Green’s chance to pitch to the nation on something approaching Prime Time TV. But:
…the in-house stuff is boring for anybody outside the party organisation. And thats where this speech was most lacking: there was very little of interest for the wider public. The couple of new policies – which have yet to be sketched out in any detail – wont excite anyone watching at home.
The thing I was looking for in all of this was not the detail of the policy promises (of which there were some vague hints in the party’s Green New Deal document), but confidence in the party’s decision to go into government with a party whose polls ratings has, in relative terms, dropped through the floor.
The most vocal answer came from a very pragmatic answer from Patricia McKenna (who was originally against going in); now they were in, they have to stick it out until there is something to show for it…
Perhaps the very modesty of their achievements (and the modesty aims and single-mindedness of their base) that will get them past the hurdles of the next council elections. Two potentially hostile motions were voted down, and as Peter Doran noted in the comments zone on Slugger earlier:
Any nervousness among local and European election candidates was largely quelled today by confident performances by Senator Dan Boyle in an all out attack on the financial excesses of the banking elites, and Minister Eamon Ryan, a champion of the Partys New Green Deal.
So, barring further unforeseen events, no flash elections until after June then. Given the Green Parties rating is covered by the margin of error (+/-3%), we won’t know how well their support will hold in the local elections. But even then, if they do get a caning the party has the look of a team committed to a set of tasks almost regardless of how they are viewed at the polls.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty