“It’s time for a new generation to redefine where they are and what that role is” Rachel Carey Sat Down With Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan
Rachel Carey sat down with Green Party leader Eamon Ryan to discuss the comeback of the Green Party into the Irish sphere of politics and what this means for students.
I met Eamon Ryan in his party’s offices on Suffolk street in early September. Throughout the interview Ryan remained positive about what his party had to offer in the upcoming elections.
The party currently has 16 elected councillors across Ireland and currently has 5 candidates going forward for the upcoming General Election.
When speaking about the regrowth of the Green Party, sovaldi Ryan referred to it as a “10-15 year path”. ‘It’s something that every single other green party has gone through in terms of any time a green party in Europe has gone to government they tend to lose all their seats and it’s a slow hard process of rebuilding. That’s the path we’re set on; it’s probably a 10-15 year path.”
Ryan also went on to speak about how the regrowth of the party will occur and what place it will take in Irish politics and Irish society, “I think to a certain extent it’s not necessarily up to me to determine what and where and how it happens it’ll happen organically it may take a bit of time but I think the space is there, my job is to try and provide that opportunity.”
When asked what he would like to see changed in Irish politics, Ryan gave the following answer.
“I think the very nature of politics itself, it just seems to be at the present time, what’s going on? We are back to auction politics, big style, we are back to can I promise to tax cuts? Can I promise you pay rises? I’ve a great regard for our democracy, I like living in a democratic republic, and I wouldn’t be as down on the political system as some people would be but I’m old enough I suppose to see in my lifetime 3 or 4 times we’ve crashed because we’ve been promising ourselves everything. I think politics in that way hasn’t changed; we’re right back to auction and promise politics.”
Secondly, we have an incredibly centralized political system and that’s increasing, everything were doing at the moment is a centralisation of power, how we manage water, the local government reform. If you look at the details of how we run anything, we don’t trust local government, we don’t trust people with power locally, so that’s one of the second areas I’d like to see changed more than anything else. The third way politics hasn’t changed; we aren’t the slightest bit green. In the recent leadership contest in the European election there wasn’t an eye to the long term, not a single person mentioned the fact that the planet is burning and we need to slightly adjust the way we live on this earth. Between Enda Kenny and Joan Burton, it wasn’t a feature; none of the main opposition spokespersons mentioned it. That kind of lack of a long term perspective is a way in which I don’t think we’ve reformed or changed.” he also added.
When asked what he would say to students who believe the Green Party are a party which focuses solely on ‘Green Issues’ Ryan stated that he did not separate out ‘Green Issues’ and democratic issues believing them to be connected. Also stating that ‘Green Issues’ were not he “sole perspective” of the Green party. “The nature of politics, the nature of the democratic system connects to the environmental questions we face. Equality issues connect to the environmental issues we face. I see it as a slightly broader agenda then some might see it. If some people portray us as just interested in nature, well that’s not a bad start.”
When asked about third level education fees Ryan stated that during the Greens last time in office they came to the decision to introduce college fees. “So we came to that viewpoint that we should introduce college fees, I mean there is now a reasonably significant fee for third level education but we didn’t want to go down the route that the UK have done, up to €10,000 €15,000 that sort of level, I think that was the right call.”
Ryan also commented on the increase of college fees by then Education minister Ruairi Quinn. “You know some people say broken promises, well the one on the college fees is probably the most obvious at the moment, I felt sorry for Ruairi Quinn on that having signed his name to something and then going the other way. But our time, in that time, we didn’t, I think we need a further opening up of college, because there is a problem of who goes and how they survive when they’re there.”
Ryan also agreed that students had been let down by the current government through their “broken promises”, stating that “they brought it on themselves”. “They played the crisis for every vote they could get, and they made a big mistake, they didn’t have to do that, they were going to get elected and get into government anyway. I’m sorry, they brought it on themselves, they deserve every bit of criticism that they’re getting. It’s not easy; it’s tough being in government. I support people in general, we’ve got to get out of the crisis, do what you have to do, but where Labour went down was during the previous government when, I’m sorry, but I think they were completely and utterly dishonest on student fees and a whole range of other issues as well.”
When asked what he would change in regards to third level education if his party was to come to power, Ryan spoke about the amalgamation of colleges and the increase need to digitalisation. “One thing I have been working a lot on is digital policy and I work in the institute of international affairs in a digital group and its interesting through that just watching what’s happening with third level, because third level is just opening up, you can go anywhere, I can go to Stanford in the morning, I can go to Harvard, I can go to MIT.”
Ryan asks where Irish universities fir into that changing environment. He answers, “one of the things I things we should respond to, in a very increasingly globalised world, is a much closer cooperation between the different colleges. I’d go to the end degree in saying could you not have a module system where you can pick between different colleges, where I’d do this from Maynooth, this from DIT, this from UCD and this from Trinity. Could we not amalgamate our colleges in a way that really scales up the ability of Irish students and students coming here. To kind of pick and set a module that really works for them, I’d go that far.”
Ryan suggests starting this scheme with UCD and Trinity college but then going further. “I think we’re very small in that global context and I would wonder could we not make it a really affective online module system where you can pick and choose between the Irish colleges, maybe have a core college where you’re based but could we not make it really affiant where you can tap into what’s going on in UCG as well as in UCD at the one time. It’s a small and very broad kind of change but it’s one that I think we need to do.”
The Green Party are currently trying to create Green Party societies in Universities and Colleges across Ireland, the party’s aim in doing this is to build an organisation with strong roots. Ryan also hopes people will choose to get involved to help make decisions. Ryan also believes people need political parties to get their viewpoints heard. “We need some people to be involved in politics, it is the way we collectively decide things in our society, it is just an organisation of people, the world is too complex now, you think you know everything yourself, you think you have it all sussed and you’ll be your own little independent voice and you won’t have anything to do with party politics, well try it and see how difficult it is.”
“I’m hoping we will from a small base we are now, will start to grow.” he also added.
Despite admitting to faults while in government, Ryan does not believe people are unwilling to move past some of the decisions the party made while in government with Fianna Fail. “No, we’ll see in time. I certainly don’t experience it when I’m out and about, it’s not what I get picked up on, people are interested in what’s happening today and where we go from here.”
Ryan refers to his time in government as “tough”, claiming that the issues now formost people are not what happened before but where they go from here. “The burning issue for most people in where do we go from here and what are the political decision that we need to take. My time in government was tough, we arrived at a very difficult time, no matter who as in government no matter what they were going to face remarkable international crisis. As I said I’m looking forward to going into an inquiry to explain some of the decision making around that time but I think I’m more interested in what we’re doing today what’s are solutions today and I think, from my experience talking to people, that’s what they’re more interested in.”
The Green Party are supportive of the Marriage Equality referendum with many of its councillors and members taking to the party’s website and various social media sites to show their support and state their Yes Vote.
On the topic of a possible referendum on repealing the 8 amendment Ryan refers to it as “probably the most difficult and complex issue going back 30 years.”
“We have always maintained a position that there is freedom to choose your position on the issue, that there wasn’t a party whip, that it was a matter of conscience so therefore we didn’t have a fixed formal view.”
Ryan believes the amendment should be removed and they should start again. “The original 8th amendment has not served anyone’s purposes it has created legal quagmire, we’re caught in a knot, legal difficulty and my instinct is that I think we should go back and remove that amendment and start a completely different way because it has not worked, what has been tried and the various twists and turn in the X case and now the Y case. It’s not protecting women or babies; it’s not serving society’s needs at all.” What they should replace it with? Ryan believes a constitution convention should be set up, “I think it should be a dedicated one; this subject cannot be debated in a weekend, its going to take time. I’d be very respectful to whatever different views, pro-choice or pro-life, in that debate, I think I’d be listening intently to what they think we should be doing. But the status quo, I’m sorry, we can’t be doing what we’re doing, in terms of the way that woman was treated, its only one case but it showed up fundamental flaws in the approach that we’ve taken.”
Finally, Ryan has this to say to those looking to get involved with the part. “Ring my office. Give me a call. We’re going to be very busy this autumn getting groups up and getting the party back. We need people to come to us and we will give them the power to make it happen themselves. It has to come from the colleges, people have to take their own form of leadership by setting things up and the way they get there is maybe just getting in touch with us and we have that experience, we’ve done it before and we’re keen to do it again. We just provide them with the systems to get up and running. But first things first they need to make that first step and give us a call.”