Trouble in Green paradise?

From kingmakers to contest

Many people forced to remain at home due to Covid-19 will likely have noticed the constant focus on three major news stories in Ireland these past few months: the coronavirus pandemic, the BLM movement and government formation talks.

Flying not too low under the radar has been the ongoing leadership election in the Green Party, all while they have been negotiating a programme for government with the Civil War parties and now taking ministerial positions in the new government. Is it true the Dáil Éireann kingmakers are engaging in a public civil war? How fair is it to credit Eamon Ryan as the sole reviver of a party decimated in 2011? Is Catherine Martin the future of the Greens?

It appears that the “coup” is less the product of Machiavellian scheming, and more a result of unfortunate timing. Tate Donnelly, the founder and former chair of the TCD Young Greens now sits on the party’s Executive Committee. “In accordance with the Green Party constitution, a leadership election must take place within six months of polling day of a General Election,” he said. “This meant that it had to be completed by early August. The proposed date in July was almost as late as we could allow constitutionally and was agreed by the Executive Committee.” 

Arguably the overlap of the government negotiations and leadership contest was the result of heel dragging by other parties following the election and the time consuming clashes of conflicting party philosophies. This certainly has not stopped the circling of the wagons around the incumbent leader. Many members tout Eamon Ryan’s achievements in bringing the party from just three local councillors and no parliamentary representation in 2011 to 49 local councillors, 12 TDs, two MEPs and four Senators nine years later. His colleagues commend his drive, his work ethic, and tireless commitment to the party when they had no state funding and a cratered membership. Among them is Malcolm Noonan TD of Carlow-Kilkenny. “I committed my support to Eamon because of the track record he has and what he has done in bringing the party back – I know it wasn’t just him, it was collective, including Catherine, but I just think he has done a huge job in taking the party back, literally off the floor to where it is now. So I would like to see that consistency continue.”

However, others point to the woman who served as Ryan’s number two throughout his leadership as deserving a serious portion of the credit for bringing the Green Party back from the brink. Catherine Martin, the Monaghan native turned Dublin Rathdown TD, has received plaudits for establishing the first Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus in the Dáil in 2017 and for passing legislation aimed at ending period poverty. Viewed by many party members as being to the left of Eamon Ryan, Martin has nevertheless gained the respect of not only party progressives, but also many rural members like the Secretary of the Rural Young Greens, Tara Nic Giolla Seanáin. “Catherin Martin knows Ireland, both rural and urban. The Green Party needs a leader with a vision to unite us all as we fight for our nation and our planet,” Nic Giolla Seanáin said. “She is the leader who can effectively communicate the urgency of the climate crisis to those who fear they will be most affected by it. It is also high time a woman was at the helm of our party, which has been male dominated for so long. It is time for change and Catherine would be a change for the better.”

There had been calls for Catherine Martin to allow Ryan to run uncontested for the leadership and to revisit a potential leadership election in the coming months once the coalition dust has settled. There were no clear suggestions as to how this process would take place, but it drew sharp criticism from the likes of Cllr Lorna Bogue of Cork and Gavin Nugent, Chair of the Young Greens for sexist undertones. “The Green Party is Ireland’s most democratic political party, and it’s only right that members have their say on who leads the Party,” said Nugent. “I’ve been glad to see a positive, future focused campaign from both candidates, outlining their visions for the future of our party.

“The controversy around the election has been amusing, and says a lot about the standard of political discourse in Ireland. People are shocked that the Green Party can have a leadership election without a Leader resigning in disgrace following a scandal or electoral wipeout, or being toppled. I’m glad to be in a party where members have their say.”

Martin received in excess of 200 nominations to contest the leadership election- over four times the required amount and twice that of Eamon Ryan. While Ryan is seen to represent the moderate wing of the Greens, Martin appeals to the more left leaning sceptics of the coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael  like TCD Young Green Chair Julie Smirnova. “I nominated Catherine Martin in my personal capacity, and the Trinity Young Greens committee also voted unanimously to urge Catherine to run in the leadership election. I have so much respect for the work Eamon has done as leader, but there’s a democratic need for the election to be contested and I’m delighted that Catherine has accepted her nominations,” she said. “I think that Eamon was the right person for the job in 2011, but the party has grown and changed since then, and I believe that Catherine is the right person to lead it into the future. She’s strong, progressive and articulate and best represents the party I joined in 2019.”

However, following weeks of talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the Green Party ratified the agreed Programme for Government by 76%. This more than met the two thirds of the party vote required by a margin, which caught both sides off guard and has been widely viewed as a vindication of Ryan’s leadership. With the final leadership hustings taking place this week, postal ballots will be returned to be counted by June the 22nd. According to Nugent, “It has been an energising process, and whoever wins will enjoy a strong mandate to lead the party into the next five years.”

This article was amended at 13:51 in 15/07/20 to correct the date by which postal ballots must be returned. It was amended at 18:18 on 15/07/20 to correct an error which stated that Catherine Martin is a TD for Dún Laoghaire, when she is in fact a TD for Dublin Rathdown.

Sean Gordon Dalton

Sean is a Deputy Features Editor at Trinity News