It's been a tough year for the Country, for the Government and for the Green Party.
This week has been one of the most difficult I've faced in my 27 years in the Party. If we don't conclude talks tomorrow morning with Fianna Fáil on transforming the Programme for Government we walk.
I was on Late Date on RTE Radio One earlier this evening saying all of this. It was curiously cathartic to talk about how I felt and outline where things are at. Our team -Mary White TD, Minister Eamon Ryan and Senator Dan Boyle, have had over forty hours of talks over the last eight days with Ministers Dermot Ahern, Mary Hanafin and Noel Dempsey. I don't know if we can reach agreement. From the start we've been emphasising jobs, political reform and eduction as being key areas where we need to transform this government. There's been progress, but the clock is ticking.
Our membership have called a special convention this Saturday in the RDS in Dublin to decide whether or not we stay in government, and whether or not to support the NAMA legislation. We require a two-thirds majority to stay in government. A motion to vote down NAMA and end our participation in government would also require a two thirds vote. The bar is set high to stay. This will be the fifth time this year that members have met to discuss crucial issues for the Party.
The strains and stress take their toll. At a personal level its becoming increasingly difficult to manage the huge demands that are being made on all of us. There's a balance that has to be struck between family life, responsibilities to the constituency, to the Green Party, and to Government. You can never get it all right, but between the normal demands of a Dáil constituency, the responsibilities to attendance and participation in Dáil committees and votes, and the concerns of the Party it can be a mountain to climb. Oh, and I left out the work life-balance part.
I'm trying to be fairly philosophical about it all, but it's not easy. I really believe that green ideas are crucial to getting us through the current economic and environmental challenges. We've got to move Ireland from the boom-bust buildings and big cars fixation into an Ireland that's better planned with a more diversified economy. It'll involve green jobs - in the digital economy, agriculture, renewable energy, sustainable construction and smarter travel. It will be based on confidence in the political system, investment in education and proper planning. There has to be a move to resource taxes, and away from taxes on labour. I believe the Green Party is best placed to help guide, lead and transform politics through the tough decisions that lie ahead for several years to come.
I met someone from the Labour Party today. She talked about how necessary it is to have Green Party as a force in Irish politics, to tackle energy and climate change issues. I also bumped into a Fianna Fáil back-bencher who spoke in desperation about the need to be relieved from the necessity of almost daily funeral attendances of constituents to allow him to concentrate on policy and legislation. The political system requires systemic reforms.
There's a yearning for so many of the ideas that the Green Party brings to the table, whether it be on environment challenges, local government reform, or matters as simple as Safe Routes to School. Its a tough, tough time to be in Government. The John O'Donoghue issue was the straw that almost broke the camel's back for the Greens. I'm hoping that it will act as a catalyst for all of us to reform, and transform the politics of business as usual.
Politics is never easy. I remember having intense debates and rows twenty-five years ago about whether the Greens should be a campaigning NGO or actually contest elections. We chose the latter, and entered a world that is rarely black or white, and that has many shades of grey. Looking back, I think that was the right choice.
I've been on the phone a lot in the past few days talking with Party members. I'm telling them that if we do get a deal that transforms the Programme for Government, then we'll put it to our members on Saturday and ask them for supoport. I'm saying that the NAMA vote is a tough one, but that we have got changes in the Bill, and there are more to come, and that on balance I believe it is the best option to deal with a banking crisis that was not of our making.
A lot depends on what happens over the next 12, and perhaps 48 hours. I'll try and keep you posted.