One of the major talking points regarding the Programme for Government negotiations in the Republic of Ireland was the vote of the Green Party’s membership, which, included the Green Party in Northern Ireland (GPNI).
Founded as the Northern Ireland Ecology Party in 1983, GPNI changed its name in 1985, in line with the Ecology Parties of Britain and Ireland. This east-west and north-south tandem action has been central to GPNI’s ethos since its inception, but the party became a full regional section of the Green Party in Ireland in 2006. Since this move, northern Greens have been fully fledged members of the Irish Green Party, meaning that their votes carry equal weight in party votes, which operate under the one man, one vote system.
Despite their status as an all-Ireland party, the party designates as other in Northern Ireland’s institutions and does not advocate republican positions north or south, with former leader Steven Agnew having said that the status quo should remain “until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise”. The two regions within the Green Party of Ireland are rarely, if ever, to be seen commenting on the other jurisdiction, which possibly explains the surprise in some quarters when it was revealed that the party vote on the Programme for Government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would include northern members.
Overall, the Green Party of Ireland has 3,200 members, 800 of them GPNI members. In total, 1,904 party members registered to vote on the motion of the Programme for Government, 195 of them being northern Greens, less than a quarter of the northern membership. Votes within the party require a two-thirds majority in order to pass.
In the lead up to the vote, the party’s two MLAs and eight northern councillors were quiet on their views on the deal, with none publicly backing the deal and GPNI leader Clare Bailey MLA abstaining from a parliamentary party vote on the programme, saying that she had not yet fully read the document. A special eight-hour long online party convention was held to discuss the deal, during which Belfast City Councillor Anthony Flynn became the first northern representative to make his position clear when he urged the party’s members to reject the deal, criticising it as “not good enough” on austerity, housing or animal rights.
Days later, Bailey was one of eight signatories of a statement from Green Party elected representatives that rejected the deal that they said would lead to the “most fiscally conservative arrangement in a generation” and said that a “better deal was possible” and that voting against the deal would be “a step towards securing that better deal”. The statement was signed by Bailey, along with party chair and now Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu, deputies Francis Duffy, Patrick Costello and Neasa Hourigan, Cork City Councillor Lorna Bogue and general election candidates Seán McCabe and Saoirse McHugh. In response to the statement, party leader Eamon Ryan said that there was no “wriggle room” to renegotiate the programme.
The Green Party were the last of the three parties involved to report the result of their vote, after the memberships of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had approved the deal, and reported a 76 per cent yes vote, with the majority of the 195 northern Greens who voted believed to have rejected the deal. Afterwards, Bailey said that she had opposed the deal as it would not “fulfil the Green Party’s commitment to social justice” but that she accepted “the democratic decision of the membership”.