Andrew Lynch: Split between Gormley and Ryan threatens to tear Greens asunder
Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. At the end of a doorstep interview on an RTE news bulletin, John Gormley and Ciaran Cuffe strode off in one direction. Eamon Ryan, wearing the enigmatic smile that makes it so hard to guess his inner thoughts, shuffled away in the other.
In that split second, the camera captured the personal schism that is rapidly threatening to tear the junior coalition partners apart.
It has become an open secret over the last few weeks that relations between the two Green ministers at the Cabinet table have broken down, thanks to the internal tensions arising from Deirdre de Burca's resignation last month.
The big question now is not whether the Greens can recover -- it's whether any of them might still have a future in politics after the party is hammered at the next election.
Gormley used last night's press briefing to complain that the media are boring him with their constant speculation over the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle. With all due apologies to the Minister for the Environment, it might help if he and his colleagues levelled with the public over the secret deal to rotate their ministers that they drew up when the coalition was formed back in 2007.
Ryan finally let the cat out of the bag yesterday by admitting that there was such an arrangement (although he provided no details), breaking a silence that even chief Twitterer Dan Boyle had managed to maintain for a whole week.
The reality is that the Greens are deeply embarrassed by the whole issue -- for the very good reason that swapping Cabinet jobs around as if they were sweeties would make the party look even more like a bunch of amateurs.
Now that this has finally dawned on them, the chances are that Gormley will stay in place and the only change will be Cuffe or Mary White taking Trevor Sargent's old junior ministry. The fact that this exploded into a public controversy in the first place, however, shows just how dysfunctional the Greens have become -- and as Mary Harney and Michael McDowell could tell you, a small party whose leaders start squabbling in public is probably not long for this world.
One of the Greens' proudest boasts is that they focus on long-term issues such as the future of the planet rather than the grubby day-to-day matters that concern other politicians.
Even so, they would be well advised to focus on what might happen to their reshuffle candidates after the election that is now just a couple of years away.
John Gormley is odds-on to lose his Dail seat in Dublin South East, partly due to the unwanted Poolbeg incinerator that he appears powerless to prevent and partly because of the Greens' general unpopularity. Ciaran Cuffe looks even more like a dead man walking, since Dun Laoghaire is being reduced to a four-seater and he only scraped in last time.
Eamon Ryan has a fighting chance in Dublin South now that George Lee has left the scene -- but if he's left as the last Green standing, the chances are he would join another party rather than struggle on with one whose day in the sun was clearly over.
As he proved back in 2004, when he announced his desire to challenge Mary McAleese for the presidency, Ryan is an exceptionally ambitious man. He has also been badly bruised by recent events, particularly the Dail debate in which he was forced to defend Willie O'Dea and looked as if he was on the verge of bursting into tears.
The Greens should probably have made him leader in 2007 instead of Gormley, but it's too late now -- and while the Communications Minister remains a talented politician, he may yet conclude that the Green Party is no longer the best vehicle for those talents.
John Gormley and Eamon Ryan are headed in different directions. The Greens may soon have to decide which of them to follow.