Stepping out: Greens could be forced to withdraw from government after their convention next month

TALKS will finally begin this week between Fianna Fáil and the Greens on the re-negotiation of the programme for government, amid genuine fears that the smaller party will face a serious struggle to secure the endorsement of its members for any new programme and avoid precipitating a general election.

It emerged yesterday that Green Party leader John Gormley had written to members confirming that a two-thirds majority will be needed at a special convention to vote on the new programme next month to keep the party in government. There had been speculation that technically it might be possible for the Greens to continue in government in the event of the re-negotiated programme failing to receive that two-thirds endorsement – because in this event the ‘status quo’ would prevail.

However, Green figures pointed out last week that the political reality was that the Greens could not continue in government in such a scenario and this is confirmed by Gormley’s letter. The environment minister also said that the Greens will pull out of Government if a two-thirds majority vote against the Nama legislation.

While the possibility of two thirds of members voting against the leadership on Nama looks unlikely, there are serious concerns within the Greens that it will be extremely difficult to secure a two-thirds majority in favour of the new programme for government, particularly given that the economic crisis effectively precludes the government from spending any additional money.

Sources insist that this is not brinksmanship on the part of the leadership in advance of the talks with Fianna Fáil.

This means the immediate future of the coalition hinges on the Greens winning enough concessions in the new programme for government to sell the deal to members concerned about the drubbing the party took in the recent local elections and sceptical about the controversial Nama legislation.

The renegotiation process will begin this week with an exchange of position papers between the two coalition partners, followed by talks between the negotiating teams. The identity of those teams has not yet been revealed but the Fianna Fáil team is certain to include transport minister Noel Dempsey – a mainstay in FF negotiating teams over the years. The Green side is likely to include Senator Dan Boyle and communications minister Eamon Ryan.

Gormley has said the re-negotiated programme must be “transformational in nature”, while Boyle said the programme needed to “capture the imagination and bring out real initiatives”. But Boyle also said the Greens were realistic as to what was attainable given the bud­get­ary constraints. “You can’t create a utopia in a recession” he said. Among the measures the Greens will seek are changes in how appointments are made to state boards, reform of the system of political donations and an end to the current system of unvouched expenses for TDs and senators.