The Green strategy to push through the Wildlife Amendment Act last week before the summer recess managed to kill a number of birds with one stone, if you’ll excuse the expression. It consolidates the core green vote, rewards animal rights activists for supporting continuance in Government and creates brand distance from Fianna Fáil. And whether by accident or design, aided and abetted by the botched Fine Gael coup and the professional campaign orchestrated by RISE, managed to distract attention from the more pressing issues.
Notwithstanding the fact that the legislation is weak – it only bans the hunting of stags on horseback – the Greens were at pains to dilute the two bills (Wildlife and Dog Breeding) to soothe the nerves of Fianna Fáil backbenchers. The only Green representative that may suffer fallout is Carlow Kilkenny’s Mary White.
Interestingly, the Greens appear to have adopted a hectoring style and tone judging from reports from that ‘media-shy magnet’ Mattie McGrath who claimed that Trevor Sargent suggested he ‘get the posters ready’ while Mary White advised him to consider a ‘full frontal lobotomy’.
Whatever the backbench fall-out from the tension filled pre-recess week, a number of things have become clear – Fianna Fáil have serious leadership problems and will have time over the summer to foment dissent, Fine Gael are similar and have unveiled an aging team under the misnomer of ‘youth and experience’. Labour stand accused of cynical politics in their refusal to support the Wildlife legislation and may have redeemed some voter sympathy in urban areas with its support for the Dog Breeding Bill. One wonders, while the party is strong in Dublin, can it really afford the luxury of dropping votes and possible Green transfers in favour of its country cousin candidates?
The Greens had a good week and are embarked on a strategy of difference as they head into the home straight toward the election. However the leadership will need to show that its policy differences and impending legislation are credible and relevant to ordinary people’s lives. To date, minor criticisms aside, the general thrust of its planning and renewable energy policies are positive.
However the real challenge for Green survival, and to reactivate the necessary transfer patterns that are a prerequisite for Green candidates come election time, will be the introduction of policy that is people-focused, e.g. Civil Partnership Bill, and not the technical/structural areas it has been associated with heretofore (apologies Mary Coughlan).
What the media failed to pick up was that the Civil Partnership Bill (another welcome but weak Bill) was also an indirect payback for the relatively new but sizable grouping of young gay members who have been hothoused by the leadership and, in return, have remained extremely loyal.