Back in the day when I believed Dan Boyle was one of – if not the most articulate, well-motivated and capable politicians in Dáil Eireann, I interviewed him for the West Cork People freesheet – of which more below.
That was in 2005, two years before the general election when nobody, but nobody – possibly not even Dan himself and certainly not this naïve citizen journalist – could ever have imagined the about turn which the Greens were destined to make in order to earn themselves a place in government in 2007. As a former member of the UK Green Party and supporter of the Irish Greens on returning to Ireland in 2001, there was every reason to believe they meant every word of what they said about their policies – right up to the second they began negotiating for power-sharing with Bertie Ahern. Shortly after the election in 2007 I emailed Dan Boyle to commiserate with him for having lost his seat in Cork. As soon as the scale of the Green Party’s sell-out began to be apparent, I emailed Dan Boyle again. Our exchanges are below and it’s clear that even at that early stage, the person formerly understood to be Dan Boyle had begun to be reprogrammed as a Fianna Fail clone, out of whose mouth immediately began to come the effortless, substanceless FF dissembling that we have (most of us I believe) come to know and hate during the economic crisis in particular:
5th May 2007
Subject: Message of Support
I was really sorry – and surprised – to see how the election turned out foryou. Sincerely hope you will not be doing a McDowell on us – it was a very odd election result.
I’m obviously disappointed but I’m already thinking about the next campaign. I’m greatly encouraged by the messages of support I’m receiving.
Having lobbied and campaigned for rights for people with disability in the run up to the election, I emailed Dan again a few weeks later about that and about the use of Shannon by the US military while the FF/GP power-sharing deal was being struck:
19th June 2007
Sincerely hope that the Green Party’s opposition to the use of Shannon will not be sacrificed.
Ive not made any statement yet for the Disability Election Pledge Alliance– which depressingly met with what was effectively unanimous rejection from all parties. Ciaran Cuffe told me in person that no issue was non-negotiable and made it pretty clear, reading between the lines, that disability was not a priority despite all the mainfesto claims to the contrary. . We had fine words from Greens, SF and Labour but no promises.
You are not going to give us rights, are you?
On Shannon there is a complication of a subsequent UN authorisation given to the US for ‘reconstruction’ in Iraq. It is an obvious complication. What we have secured is a promise is that if should the circumstances arise again as arose in 2003 where overflights and landing rights were given without a UN mandate could not be repeated with the Greens in government. And we secured a stronger commitment on the inspection of suspected rendition flights. On disability half the National Disability Strategy will be implemented by 2010 [hasn’t happened]. I’m confident a cost of disability payment will be introduced [instead we have had stealth cuts]. On rights based legislation the review of the Disability Act will give the opportunity of bringing that about. [Not even off the ground.]
I know it is only half a loaf but were hopeful that as we find our feet we can achieve more.
Later that same day, following announcements in the media of the power-sharing deal I sent Dan Boyle this:
I’d sent the email [above] before the Green Party struck its deal. I cannoteven begin to express to you how astounded I am by what the Greens have done. FF were on the ropes – the best they could do was cobble a tiny majority together and you gave them all the strength they needed – inincluding the discarding of everything that your voters believed they were voting for. I can only think that some form of collective madness must have descened on you all in the heated pressure of those negotiations. A terrible, terrible mistake. It has profoundly depressed me – and finally persuaded me that there is no future for any of us in electoral politics.
It is almost distressing to hear Ciaran Cuffe and John Gormley speak –close your eyes and it’s just another Fianna Failer speaking all the usual meaningless double-speak – an invasion of the body snatchers. All of the environmental groups are saying they will never again allow a green party spokesperson to speak at any of their events or come within a mile of being ssociated with you.
I mean no personal disrespect or unkindness – but it would be better if the Green Party had never existed than to do this.
To which Dan Boyle then replied:
We have been anticipating negative responses to our decision, our collective decision, to enter government, however we have been surprised that they have been outnumbered by the positive reactions. I believe that most people vote Green to see Green Party policies being enacted in government. We cannot pick and choose our ideal situation for being in government, and certainly this current situation is less than ideal, but the opportunity may not arise again for a generation by which time it could be too late for many of our policies to be put into effect. For me the moral question is whether you go on the inside to try to effect some change and fail in trying to do so; or remain on the outside being politically pure but ineffectual?
We have not jettisoned any principles what we believe remains the same. Where we have made a judgement call is on what can be achieved and by when. There is no policy difference between a government led by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Neither do I believe that one party has a moral superiority over the other. Power corrupts and absolute powers corrupts absolutely. It only through being in power longer that Fianna Fáil has the capacity to be more corrupt.
I haven’t had any experience of environmental organisations wanting nothing to do with us, some have actively encouraged us down this road. One of things I believe we can achieve is to advance environmental ngos within the social partnership system.
Political nirvana is not possible. Achieving change involves compromise often ugly. To those who inhabit political ghettoes far far away from where the resources are and where decisions get made I would ask how else can change be achieved? If we fail we fail but we will try damn hard to make those changes we believe need to be made. Blame us not for trying only for when we fail to achieve.
To tell the truth I kinda feel sorry for Dan myself to have been on the receiving end of my next message to him in some respects but I hope readers will understand what motivated it.
Thanks for your reply. I won’t write again because I am sure you are busy,as I am myself, but I feel I have to respond to your last email.
There is so much in what you say that confirms my view. Your response isan implicit acceptance of the uselessness of the electoral system as itstands – that you have to throw everything away in order to gain power.
Nobody is imagining that political nirvana is achievable but there are better ways of doing things than this. Surely, after 60 years (or whateverit is) of Fianna Fail governments when most people don’t vote for them, it should be enough to make you wonder if there isn’t something wrong with a system that never delivers the polcies which people actually want – eventhose who vote for Fianna Fail for goodness sake!?
In common with all capitalist ‘democrats’ you are convinced that being in power is the only way to effect change. All the evidence points in the opposite direction – even if official history doesn’t record it: all social and ecnomic progress that has benefited society as a whole is as a consequence of social movements propelling ‘great leaders’ to respond -not the other way around. Democracy itself, so far as it has ever existed,
was brought about in exactly that way. It is true that Irish people are exceptionally passive – and that is a huge part of the problem in this country – but again it is something that people out of power have more rather than less scope to change. Real democracy is bottom up – not the sickly top down version we have been labouring under for all this time.
You cannot say that your principles are the same as before and watch Taradestroyed, for example. Gormley simply has to turn that decision around. The pantomime over Roche signing off the day before etc, is stomach churning. A naked face-saving exercise. And if you weren’t aware of it at the time, why was it not immediately fatal to the nrogitation! The problem with the Green Party, Labour and Sinn Fein is that they spend all their time worrying about getting into power instead of working effectively for change – building a consensus on the issues and changing hearts and minds. That sort of effort is being sorely neglected by the opposition parties – it is dying on the altar of ‘political pragmatism’ – a pernicious creed that has been poisoning the Irish political system since Dick Spring and Fergus Finlay did their worst with it. The Labour Party has morphed into a sort of muzak version of its former self.
You can’t even say what you think in public now, can you? Your version of democracy boils down to the period of post-election horse-trading, which voters have no say in whatsoever and which is dictated by the likes of IBEC and party donors behind the scenes – those whom Fianna Fail and the PDs are contracted out to. Their agenda is your agenda in that situation, no matter what you say. The outcome reeks of it. Nothing said before the election counts for anything. The Green Party have delivered all of Fianna Fail’s nastiest policies for them right up front. It is you who gets to look bad, not them. You have been played like fiddles. And now look at what FF are doing to keep Beverly Flynn in the fold – it’s disgusting! To say nothing of Ahern himself.
You are not a restraint on Fianna Fail, your a part of Fianna Fail. As to messages of support – I know that Fianna Fail people are tending to say that the Greens are at last showing signs of ‘political maturity’ and I dare say are delighted. Perhaps your messages are coming from them? How many of your members particiapted in the vote?
Anyway, enough said.
To which Dan Boyle replied
“I understand all that Miriam but it isn’t the electoral system that is at fault, it is the way that people vote. Between them Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael win 70% of vote. The Green Party has won less than 5%. Any democratic system has to accept that reality. I think you are wrong about the Green Party being silenced, we will continue to speak strongly on a whole range of issues. I realise you view is unlikely to change your view but I would ask you to judge us after a period in government that is something longer than 2 days.”
But I still wasn’t quite able to shut up – the last short email of the exchange:
Within 2 days you had dropped Tara, Shannon, Co-Location…
I don’t mean to lecture you – only to convey the real depth of feeling that exists about what you have done. I ask you to keep people like me firmly at the front of your mind because we are the sort of people who got you elected. (I personally did not give Quentin my first vote because of my experiences with Ciaran Cuffe on the disability issue which was my primary concern) but I have been a committed green. My husband wrote to you separately as an ex Parliamentary candidate in the UK. We were both very active Green Party people at one time. It is your core voters you have alienated most of all. The others think you are all grown up now. I don’t think I’ll trouble to vote again under our current system.
Thanks for taking the time to respond.
In the meantime, along with over 6,000 others, I’ve been ‘following’ Dan Boyle on twitter with an increasing sense of betrayal, bewilderment and anger –which at last morphed into disgust. Last night, unable physically or mentally to withstand any more of the ossified platitudes that characterise his pronouncements whether on twitter or in the media generally, I announced to my own small crew of followers that I was blocking Dan (i.e. he no longer receives my tweets nor I his):
“@murior A lot of hard decisions have to be made. Especially in the capital spending area”
“@lostexpectation Politics is about stating what you stand for and challenging those who oppose. [!!!] Labour has to justify not merely condemn.”
“@Littlesapling You’re presuming I’d want to spend 5 minutes with Joan Burton. It’s easy to do populist slogans.”
“@HarryBrowne: One tweet Harry many on other issue @mediabite [me] has never dealt with me with anything other than invective.”
Dan has tweeted that he will not miss my ‘nasty style of argumentation’. I suppose I must have been nasty to Dan Boyle in some way for him to say so, and certainly I have not tried to hide my exasperation from him in pointing out the contradictions and oversights in what he says but evidently he has forgotten our exchanges above and the nasty interview I did with him back in 2005 from which these are just two quotes:
“There were two reasons for wanting to talk to Dan Boyle for this article: firstly, unlike most of our national representatives he has contributed a lot to public debate (including some hard-hitting speeches in the Dail) about services for people with disability and in the opinion of many his contributions have been welcome and insightful about the difficulties that people are facing. So, credit where it’s due. Secondly, and in view of the mounting frustration and dismay that is felt by groups around the country about government attitudes to disability issues, it seemed worth exploring an alternative approach to our political system to see what possibilities it might hold.”
“’Neither do we see the pursuit of power as being our exclusive objective [said Dan]. As an opposition party we also have an important role to play in trying to hold the government to account for its use of those resources and the way in which they are managed.’ With another general election looming in the middle distance the disability lobby might do worse than to use these well articulated principles as a template for assessing who will actually deserve their votes! (Miriam Cotton, June 2005)”
The rest of my nasty invective can be read here.