Putting a glas on it: Eamon Ryan, John Gormley and Dan Boyle at yesterday's Green Party meeting in Mullingar

At last, some Green shoots. Just a week after an opinion poll gave it a core support of only 2%, the Green party has started to show the first signs of recovery. Three-quarters of its membership might want a change of government, and 50% might oppose Nama, but for once, over the last few days, the headlines have been all positive. There is no question that the Greens have enjoyed their best seven days since they joined Fianna Fáil in government 15 months ago.

For a start, Green ministers appear to have convinced many of their members that they have put their stamp on the Nama legislation and simultaneously made the proposed agency a little more palatable to Joe Public.

Such support is crucial. The harsh reality is that if the Green party cannot convince their members to support Nama and a renegotiated programme for government by the time the grassroots have a general vote on it next month, the government will collapse. If that happens, each of the six Green TDs are in grave danger of losing their Dáil seats in the general election that would follow.

It's a point not lost on the opposition parties which reacted with scorn to claims by communications minister Eamon Ryan that the Greens played a pivotal role in drafting the Nama legislation. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore dismissed the amendments to the Nama proposals as "a genetically modified fig leaf" that was intended to give political cover to the Greens so they can continue to support Fianna Fáil without a backlash from their grassroots.

'A political deal'

Fine Gael's Richard Bruton said the Nama legislation is "a patched up political deal to help the Green party" and a Fine Gael insider told this newspaper: "It is so stage managed. Fianna Fáil has just cleared off the pitch for 24 hours so that the Greens can claim whatever they want in order to convince their members to support Nama."

Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan claimed "The Green party's attempts to make Nama acceptable are pathetic. The party is window dressing in an attempt to save face. They will not bring this government down even though they know it's the right thing to do, because they are worried about their own political careers. They know if they went before the electorate right now they would be decimated because of their support for the FF plan to bail out greedy speculators and corrupt bankers."

So was the Green's announcement on Wednesday 'genetically modified window dressing' or have the Greens finally become proper coalition watchdogs, keeping Fianna Fáil on the straight and narrow? In a briefing to political journalists on Wednesday evening, Ryan outlined how the Greens have been involved in the conception of Nama from the outset. His account of the Greens' involvement suggests the party were not window dressing at the eleventh hour ahead of yesterday's party meeting in Athlone.

According to Ryan, the Green party has been involved in Nama at the highest level since as far back as last February.

He recalled going for lunch at the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) building in February where he met with Michael Somers, the chief executive of the organisation charged with running Nama, and the concept of a 'bad bank' was discussed even at this early stage.

From that point on, Ryan claims the party were constantly involved in the process of drafting the legislation and during intensive discussions at a series of Cabinet meetings in recent weeks the two Green ministers sought to stamp their authority on the most important piece of legislation ever to go through the Dáil.

Ryan said, "Nobody would choose to be in a position in government where the state must clean up and repair the banks. However this is the position we find ourselves in. Having examined the options available over the past six months, I believe that Nama is the best option."

Green party chairman Dan Boyle has referred to Nama as "the least worst option" and it is up to the party's leadership to convince the grassroots that Nama is the only show in town.

Green changes

The changes announced by Ryan on Wednesday evening included a risk-sharing mechanism, which will deliver an equal sharing of the risk between Nama and the banks, and legislation that will make it a criminal offence to seek to lobby Nama.

Other innovative measures include a windfall tax of 80% on profits gained from increases in land value due to rezoning decisions. This will be introduced in a committee stage amendment to ensure land speculation is not rewarded in the future.

In a strikingly 'Green' amendment to the legislation that echoes the party's calls for development control when they were in opposition throughout the boom, Nama will have the ability to make land banks available in a controlled manner to ensure best planning practice.

Environment minister John Gormley will bring forward a new planning bill to the Dáil that will include measures to ensure that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

Nama will also have to report to the minister for finance on a quarterly basis and will not be allowed to borrow more than €5bn without the minister's approval.

Underlying problems

The leadership used yesterday's meeting in Athlone's Sheraton Hotel to brief members about Nama and allay their concerns behind closed doors and gauge opinion through a 'preferendum'. They will make their final decision on Nama next month when the sceptics will have to reach a two-thirds majority if the party is to oppose Nama.

But the internal opposition to Nama is by no means confined to the outdated stereotype of 'tree-hugging sandal-wearing' members and many articulate members such as Gary Fitzgerald have genuine concerns about Nama.

Fitzgerald, a former Green Party candidate, told the Sunday Tribune, "The fundamental problem with Nama is that it transfers money from the taxpayer to the banks. That is all it is. It's a state entity that takes money from the ECB, transfers it to the banks and in return we add money to our national debt.

"It doesn't address the underlying structural problems with our banks, problems with our property market, or the hundreds of thousands who took out mortgages over the last 10 years who are now struggling to pay them and in negative equity.

"I don't think the Greens have done enough to leave their stamp on the Nama legislation given that we pride ourselves in saying we are a radical party yet there is no radical Green policy in Nama.

"The only thing not left with the bank is the risk. This must be the first time that a country has nationalised banking risk and not done anything else. I am not opposed to an asset management company but the changes that were needed are fundamental change. A conceptual change of approach to the banks is required."

Last Friday, bookmakers Paddy Power were offering 5/1 odds on the anti-Nama faction winning the crucial internal vote and 2/7 on both the Nama legislation and the Lisbon treaty getting passed.

Having prudently and consistently warned about excessive development in the past, many Greens find it especially hard to accept Nama.

That said, the stakes are high and voting for the legislation may be the "least worst option" for the future of the party.