Reports emerged last night that Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan, TD for the Dublin South constituency, was facing questions over his leadership. As reported in the Irish Examiner, four Green Party councillors from Cork – Liam Quaide, Oliver Moran, Lorna Bogue, and Colette Finn – wrote to Deputy Leader Catherine Martin of the Dublin Rathdown constituency encouraging her to contest the leadership election which is required under the Green Party Constitution following any general election.
The letter stated that the four councillors believe Martin to be “the right person to lead the Green Party into the new decade”.
“In February Ireland voted for change. We believe, with your style of leadership, your convictions, and your work ethic, that you are the right person to lead the Green Party. We have worked with you, and have seen you work with others, working collaboratively within the political system to drive real and lasting change”, it said.
It stated that regardless of the outcomes of the government formation talks, the signatories believe that the Green Party “needs a new leader, someone who will fight hard for all of our futures.”
“We urge you to put yourself forward as a candidate for the leadership of the Green Party. You have our support”, it concluded.
It may seem strange for a party leader to face a leadership challenge after quadrupling their share of seats, but on occasion Ryan’s comments, which have disillusioned rural voters on issues of importance to the Green movement, have proved damaging to the party. Of course, it would be very optimistic to suggest that rural Ireland was every going to embrace a measure like the carbon tax which will be directly felt in voters’ pockets, but at times he has engaged in seemingly needless conflicts on rural issues. These are arguably the very same voters he should be trying to embrace, with the party itself acknowledging that “we are facing a climate emergency, and the impact of that will disproportionately hit rural areas.”
His comments on the National Broadband Plan are a prime example of this, where he suggested that it was giving an unfair advantage to rural homes, stating during an Oireachtas Committee meeting that “we’re giving a better deal to rural Ireland than to my constituents”. While the sentiment expressed here – that the conferring on to rural Ireland of the benefits of living in Dublin represents an inefficient allocation of resources – is not in itself disagreeable, It wouldn’t take more than an hour of dealing with the glacial internet speeds common in rural Ireland to understand why this would be seen as Dublin-centric or out of touch with reality of life outside of major towns and cities. He should have been more mindful of the view, seemingly held by many voters, that Irish politics is at least partially a case of “Dublin vs. the rest” – his failure to do so has damaged the Green Party’s standing in rural Ireland.
Whether he remains Green party leader or not, a great deal of the failure to placate the concerns of rural voters must be taken by Ryan. This is reflected in the results of the recent general election, with only four of the twelve Green Party TDs being elected outside of Dublin. Only two of these – Brian Leddin of Limerick City and Marc Ó Cathasaigh of Waterford – were elected outside of Leinster, both in constituencies that are at least partially urban and not rural in the same sense as the likes of Sligo-Leitrim, Cavan-Monaghan, or Mayo.
As has been previously expressed on this website, the Green Party need to be politically viable long-term should they wish to fully see out their goals. This will not be possible without the support of rural communities, who will face the greatest disruption as attempts are made to mitigate the climate emergency. It is thus imperative that these communities view the Green Party’s plan for a Just Transition as, well, just. This will only be possible should the Green Party’s leading figures articulate their views in a careful and considered manner, fully conscious of the suspicion many in rural Ireland feel for the Green Party’s policies. It is not enough to simply state that these policies are necessary. The negative effect on rural communities should they not be implemented need to be expressed, and more effort needs to be put into presenting the Green Party as the friend of rural Ireland and not their enemy. It is hinted in the Rural Young Greens’ letter that this is why they took the decision to back a change of leadership.
It is clear that Eamon Ryan has a fight on his hands should he wish to remain party leader, with Catherine Martin stating, as can be seen in her letter below, that she will give “serious consideration” to contesting a leadership contest over the coming days. Regardless, recent events have shown that Eamon Ryan does not have the unequivocal support of the Green Party membership, and in some senses he has only himself to blame.