I canvassed with and for John Gormley in Dublin South East in advance of election 2007. Looking back, I am not sure why. Maybe Labour didn’t return my shouty calls or the local branch of the PDs were busy that evening. I was happy that John was elected but actually happier that he had out-polled Michael McDowell. After John and the boys and girls of the Green Party decided to go into coalition with Fianna Fail later that summer, I wrote John a letter outlining some concerns. In hindsight, it looks a little naive but here it is:
June 27th 2007
Firstly, can I offer my congratulations on your re-election to the seat in Dublin South East. I am proud to have been part of a team that has managed to return a Green Party TD for a third time. I learned very many things in the course of the campaign through my limited engagement and made a few friends along the way. I apologise for not having acknowledged your letter of the 14th of June last, it having sat unopened under a pile of papers on the kitchen table.
Secondly and perhaps more crucially, I wanted to make you aware of the difficulties I see with the Party deciding to vote itself into government with Fianna Fail, the Progressive Democrats and others. I am not going to drag over the coals as to the progression of events between the end of the election and your nomination to Minister. To do so at this stage would be to shake my fist at the horse bounding over the hill and me left holding the stable door. The news this morning that Patricia McKenna has decided to put herself forward for Party leadership is testimony to her professionalism as well as the ability of time to heal. Primarily my concern was with Fianna Fail as an organisation known more for its ability to stay in power than its ability to achieve what we might collectively believe is politically desirable. My own concerns about the mixture of policies being negotiated and about what or what cannot be achieved aside, FF as a party are no less than a national vote-hoovering organisation for its own sake. Failed FF candidates in the Taoiseach’s own constituency know this lesson only too well.
The party’s ability to incorporate all interests and none while appearing to do both is taken so for granted that it is Irish political and symbolic culture itself, deeply embedded in local and national discourses. Principles can be set aside for short term expediency and it is this in particular that the Green Party’s participation might come unstuck. Will you be able to successfully manage junior colleagues in government as well as FF backbenchers from sniping at the GP for being marginal, not representing the ‘real people of Ireland’? Will you be able to look cabinet colleagues in the eye when you know they are responsible for initiating this sniping? Will the GP in government be about taking the heat for FF being feckless and politically lazy about local governance? FF is many-headed, capable of contradiction in the same political moment, almost solely responsive to hidden and moneyed interests and a reliance on what is not said.