"Our achievements have been viewed as trophies. We look at the stag hunting and the dog breeding legislation as Community Games medals. But the civil partnership and planning legislation are like Olympic medals for us" Paul Gogarty

Leinster House is a goldfish bowl. TDs and senators exist inside that enclosed space and are not fully aware of the 'real world' outside, or so it is often claimed.

Before the Dáil adjourned for a lengthy 12-week recess last Thursday, the issue of goldfish bowls was introduced to the debate on dog breeding legislation.

As the environment minister John Gormley steered the surprisingly controversial bill into law, Tom Sheahan, Fine Gael TD for Kerry South, stood to his feet and claimed, "the general public are afraid of you".

Sheahan went on to explain why he believes the public are afraid of Gormley and the Greens. It turns out that Sheahan read an article about one of Gormley's Green party colleagues in another country.

That unnamed politician in the unnamed country was trying to implement legislation whereby one side of all goldfish tanks would be darkened so "the goldfish could only see out three sides of the tank".

Sheahan said, "That is why the public are afraid of you. This is the cuckoo stuff you are bringing in."

After three weeks of mainly Green initiatives being shunted through the Dáil before Thursday's recess, Sheahan's bizarre comments were echoing a more widespread sense of frustration among rural TDs on all sides of the house that the Greens are getting too much in government.

But the Greens could not disagree more. Outspoken Dublin Mid-West TD Paul Gogarty told the Sunday Tribune, "Up to recently, the narrative was that the Greens were only propping Fianna Fáil up in government. But that has changed now. We have shown that we are not just a bunch of hippies. We are getting constructive and creative policies through that will help the country going down the line."

With so much Green-friendly legislation being forced through, Gormley was the brunt of more intense focus in the past month. So how is the leader of the junior partner performing and has he got the mettle to keep the Greens in government in the autumn?

One Fianna Fáil backbench TD is highly critical of Gormley. He claimed, "A number of us had a meeting with him about the dog breeding bill a few weeks ago and we came away feeling that we had made progress and reached agreement. Then we heard him in the media saying something completely different. It was as if somebody got to him in the meantime. It's almost as if he is not in control and some of his advisors are calling the shots."

Productive period

Despite the backbencher's views, the Greens can look back on the last Dáil session as their most productive in government.

Gogarty said, "Before the recess we got that report into negative equity, the animal legislation and the civil partnership legislation, which would not have gone through in its current form without Green input. And the biggest one for us was the planning bill."

The Green achievements have been termed trophies in recent weeks. The thinking is that the party now has a few legislative achievements that it can show to the electorate in the event of a general election, should they decide on an issue worthy of jumping ship on.

"We look at the stag hunting and the dog breeding legislation as Community Games medals. But the civil partnership and planning legislation are like Olympic medals for us," said Gogarty.

So Gormley heads off for the summer with his Community Games and Olympic medals. But are the Greens happy with his leadership?

"I think that he has been performing well. He has a tendency to go for the jugular just as he did with Michael McDowell in the 2007 general election," said Gogarty.

"My understanding is that he was advised not to have a go at the Labour party but his instincts told him otherwise and that was for the better. Labour showed themselves up to have been complete opportunists over the stag hunting issue and Gormley went after them on that and milked it for all it was worth.

"He is not into grandstanding or showcasing and instead he would rather be working in the office than out batting. But he is well able to go out batting when he is needed."

Vehement opposition

Gormley is a vehement opponent to the project in his own Dublin South East constituency and he has made no secret of the fact that he is not going to allow the project to get off the ground in any circumstances while he is environment minister.

An Bord Pleanála, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Environment have all approved the project. The only issue that stands in the way of it going ahead is the acquisition of a foreshore licence for the construction of a water cooling system.

The paperwork for the license has been ready for some time and it is sitting on Gormley's desk for months. While Gormley has been to the fore in driving Green legislation through the Dáil, he has been dragging his heels on signing the final paperwork.

Incineration is national and EU policy so it is bizarre that Gormley has been allowed to stall the project in his own backyard.

There has been increased media comment about this issue in recent months with a number of commentators remarking that the responsibility for the project should be taken out of Gormley's hands as he has a clear conflict of interest. That is the biggest challenge facing Gormley as he cannot continue to long-finger the incinerator.

As well as the thorny issue of Poolbeg, Gogarty believes that, on a high after pushing so much of their agenda through the Dáil, Gormley will forge ahead with new legislation on the new office of Dublin Mayor, restricting corporate donations to political parties and further legislation regulating appointments to state bodies in the autumn.

Former Green party MEP, Patricia McKenna, said, "I would say that Gormley is still in control. Even when he was elected leader there was always the Ryan camp and the Gormley camp and that is still there.

"Because he is leader, he is held responsible for everything and takes all the flak for the Greens. When the whole issue of the rotation of minister came up a few months ago, Eamon Ryan evaded the controversy and it all stopped with Gormley.

"And when Deirdre de Burca left the party, all the criticism was focused on Gormley and what he did wrong. There was no focus on Ryan."

Autumn hurdles

McKenna predicts that the Greens will hang on in government for as long as possible, but she believes that they have a number of hurdles to jump in the autumn.

"There has been some mention that flat rate water charges may be introduced. This would do nothing to address the issue of water consumption as nobody is going to bother conserving water. This has always been a core issue for the Greens. I have taken a back seat in politics but I would lead the charge against this if it happens.

"I think that Gormley's leadership is safe. But one way or the other I would expect that there will be a heave against him at some stage. The Ryan camp has not gone away."

Back to Gogarty. He said, "It was crucial for us to get some of the legislation that was agreed in the programme for government implemented before the summer recess. We had asked John Curran [the government chief whip] to get the Dáil to sit for an extra week so come hell or high water we were going to get some legislation through.

"There is still a lot of work to be done after the recess, such as corporate donations and appointments to public bodies where a proper interview process would be in place rather than political patronage. Unfortunately the Dublin Mayor legislation was not ready for this Dáil term but I understand it will end up going to cabinet as early as next week."

The Greens may have a selection of medals or trophies to be proud of in summer 2010. But they should not lose sight of the fact that the Labour party, as the junior partner in government in the early 1990s, had a number of trophies such as ethics legislation, but they still got slaughtered in a subsequent general election.

On the back of a few productive weeks, Gormley and his party will have to perform even better in the autumn when the TDs and senators go back into the goldfish bowl.