Sargent forced to back down over Fianna Fáil veto

At the Green Party's think-in, Trevor Sargent was forced to say that a strong anti-Fianna Fáil line was his personal position, and not that of the Green Party. By Eoin Ó Murchú

Green Party leader Trevor Sargent has been forced to row back from the strong anti-Fianna Fáil stance he had adopted in the debate about potential coalitions after the next election.

At the party's parliamentary think-in in Aughrim, Co Wicklow, Sargent said that while he personally remained unwilling to be involved in a Fianna Fáil-led administration, this was not the party's official position.

The Greens, as a party, are not committed either to putting Fianna Fáil out or Fine Gael in, and will make a judgement after the election on the basis of negotiations about implementing key parts of their policy programme. The official Green policy is that they are open to such negotiations with all parties.

Up until now, Fine Gael and Labour have assumed that the Greens would automatically row in to help form a Rainbow coalition after the election, but the position outlined at Aughrim emphasises the Greens' political platform over office-holding manoeuvres.

In fact, Sargent told the media in Aughrim that he didn't see much difference between the two power blocs, and argued that the Greens needed the political leverage of an increased and strong mandate to change the country's political culture, and in particular to bring about the changes in environment policy that the Greens say are absolutely necessary and a policy precondition for their involvement in government. This entails policies to ensure that Ireland keeps its Kyoto commitments to limit greenhouse emissions, and particularly to radically and speedily shift transport policies from reliance on private cars to public transport.

The second key element the Greens have identified is housing. They insist that social and affordable housing must constitute far more than the paltry current output of five per cent, in order to resolve the housing crisis for those on lower incomes.

This change of emphasis in the Greens' stance may yet see the Greens go into a Rainbow coalition, but essentially, it means they cannot be taken for granted and are open to be wooed by both power blocs.

Fianna Fáil's Dermot Ahern has already indicated that his party would be willing to do business with them, and it appears that a new element has now entered the increasingly convoluted political equation.

Eoin Ó Murchú is the Eagraí Polaitíochta of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta. He is writing here in a personal capacity