Before we begin, let’s clear this up. I am a Green Party member. I speak for myself and not for anyone else in the party who happens to share my positions. I am a young (22 years old), left-wing college student. I will be voting against a deal with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I nominated Catherine Martin to run for leader and I will be voting for her in the upcoming leadership election.
Those are separate facts and should not be conflated with each other, especially not the last two statements.
For years I have thought that Deputy Martin would be a better leader, long before the idea of this coalition began. When I joined the Green Party, it was in part because I thought that the party could (eventually) grow to be as big in Dáil numbers as the Civil War parties, in a scenario where Catherine would have a shot at becoming the first female Taoiseach. While it may seem idealistic, I was not the only person who felt this way.
What has struck me in the last few months is that current Party Leader Eamon Ryan’s loyal followers seem to have formed a personality cult, with even some prominent journalists coming out to bat for him. Miriam Lord focussed on discrediting those who reacted to Ryan’s latest blunder, while Fiach Kelly describes him as “The Optimistic Environmentalist”. They contribute to an overall image of Ryan as a lovable, hard-working, bumbling fool – and they’re not wrong on that. What they don’t understand is that some people don’t want a bumbling fool to lead their party, no matter how lovable or hard-working he might be.
Ryan is not being called a racist, but his misreading of how to communicate an anti-racist message, through the inclusion of a loaded pejorative word, highlights a level of disconnect with the message he was trying to convey. Nobody in the party is suggesting that he is as bad or worse than the Independent TDs that many Greens dislike (Grealish, Lowry, McGrath, Murphy and Healy-Rae). His mistake on Thursday was just his latest in a long litany of unnecessary own goals.
It’s not that long ago that we were excusing his remarks about growing lettuce in south-facing windows or explaining his comments about wolves and car-sharing. Going back further, my own confidence in Ryan was shook by his erratic attempt to explain waste problems by pouring waste on his own Dáil bench.
While Deputy Ryan is to be thanked to some extent for the return of the party from their disastrous post-coalition election nine years ago, it is unjust to place the credit solely on him.
The image of Ryan, a lone wolf working in an otherwise-empty Green Party office after the 2011 election, is an unusual one to hear from media sources – especially when Catherine Martin was elected to the position of Deputy Leader at the same time.
To place the party’s success on any one person is unjust. This notion of anyone as a near Messiah-like figure for environmentalists in Ireland disregards the incredible work that has been done by many on the party’s behalf. Hundreds of members volunteered their hours to canvass all over the country, convincing voters at their doors that the country can achieve systemic social change to tackle the climate crisis.
Even placing all of the credit on the Green Party as a whole would be to disregard the truth. Our small island has witnessed an outcry in the last few years. Extinction Rebellion saw crowds gathered in town for protests. For the first time in my own memory, school students took to the streets to protest the current government’s lack of action on climate change. Many of them were inspired by their own desire for a greener future, not by the policies of any party. Some might point to Greta Thunberg as their leader, but none of them would point to a politician.
Thunberg is equally credited for a wider European movement towards environmental responsibility. 2019 and the early months of 2020 saw the cross-European movement known as the “Green Wave”. Elections saw massive gains across Europe for Green representatives, most notably in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Germany’s Green representation was increased by 12 MEPs (up to 25), France’s increased by 6 (up to 12) and the UK by 5 (up to 11). Ireland followed this trend, going from 0 MEPs to 2, an increase that is approximately equal to the European average. The UK local elections of 2019 saw the largest rise in Green council seat gains in 20 years. To credit Deputy Ryan for all Green achievements ignores the fact that this trend was widespread internationally.
Finally, to suggest that replacing Ryan as Party Leader is a stunt from a “younger, left-wing” cohort is a misunderstanding of the grassroots members. While a youthful, left-leaning group of members in the party does exist, it goes under the name of an autonomous organisation – the Young Greens. Many of the Young Greens are among those who want a change in leadership, but this desire does not solely belong to younger members, as many County Councillors in the party will confirm (see: Twitter).
If you ask the more left-wing members which Green Party voice spoke to their wishes before joining, many will credit Saoirse McHugh or Peter Kavanagh instead of Catherine Martin or Eamon Ryan. The proposed Leader in Deputy Martin is rather seen as the reason those members stayed, as she worked on the inside to give them a voice and helped them use that voice on the doorsteps.
Deputy Martin is not a radical, far-left politician, but a left-leaning representative for the Greens. Her position on the political spectrum lies approximately halfway between Ryan and McHugh, putting her in the perfect position to re-unite the party after the recent cracks appeared.
She is not the Messiah, but she is far from a bumbling fool.
Conall Mac Dhonnagáin – PRO for UCD Young Greens