The Green Party Special Convention has overwhelmingly backed the Revised Programme for Government and has also rejected by a large majority a motion opposing the setting up of the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA).
523 delegates (84%) who attended today's special meeting supported the Programme, agreed between Fianna Fail and the Greens on Friday night. 99 voted against. A failure of the leadership to secure a two-thirds majority would have plunged the country into an immediate general election.
Surprisingly there was strong backing for NAMA. Delegates voted down a motion opposing NAMA by 69 per cent to 31 per cent. The motion opposing NAMA needed the support of 66% of the delegates. 415 delegates voted against the motion (and, therefore, in favour of Nama) with 189 supporting the motion.
The Green Party has made a virtue out of necessity and is now inextricably tied to FF until the 2012 general election barring accidents. A decision to plunge the country into an immediate general election would have resulted in a wipeout for the Greens at parliamentary party level. The party has already been decimated in the local elections. The loss of its TDs in an early general election would be the coup de grace. The Greens would go the way of the PDs. FF would also have suffered heavy seat losses. By remaining in government the parties buy some time. They can hope for a modest economic recovery in 2011 and 2012. However such a recovery is unlikely to impact on the electorate sufficiently to ensure a sufficient feel good factor.
Most of the provisions of the revised programme for government are aspirational in character and are unlikely to be of major benefit to the government parties. The reality is that government finances are in a horrific mess. Proposals are just proposals. The government lacks the financial wherewithal to implement them. The party has secured a promise to hire five hundred extra teachers over the next three years. Unfortunately this means very little as 800 teachers have lost their jobs this year. The revised programme promises no reintroduction of third level fees. This is welcome. However registration charges alone rose by €6oo this year. The policy of pushing up registration charges will undoubtedly continue in future years. This is the reintroduction of third level fees by stealth.
The December Budget will be the next test for the coalition. The government must cut expenditure by €4bn. Undoubtedly Social Welfare and Education as huge spending departments will face swinging cuts. Public sector pay will undoubtedly face the axe. Any miscalculation could potentially blow up the government. Massive street protests could destabilise the government. However on balance it is likely that the coalition will stagger on buttressed by the desire for self-preservation. The story does not end here. Savings amounting to €4bn must also be found in the December budgets of 2010 and 2011. The next three budgets promise nothing but pain if the government is to rein in the public finances. The harsh medicine may further depress economic activity and exacerbate the chronic unemployment situation.
The decision to accept the revised programme ensures a stay of execution for the Greens. Naturally political turkeys do not vote for Christmas. John Gormley and Eamon Ryan can breath a sigh of relief for now.