ALISON O'CONNOR: Eamon Ryan and the Green Party could bring a fresh perspective to political landscape

As leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan is looking to a general election campaign after five years on the sidelines, writes Alison O’Connor.

Leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan

It’s hard to imagine how Green party leader Eamon Ryan restrains himself from blurting out “na, na, na, na, na” when watching the images of our flooded landscapes on the TV news each evening.

After all haven’t he and his ilk have been warning us about climate change for the longest time, and we haven’t exactly paid much attention now, have we?

In truth though it’s impossible to imagine him doing such a thing, even in the privacy of his own home. It’s not his way and he knows that such an attitude would hardly be much of a vote catcher.

He has been raising the subject, but in a restrained way. Check out his Twitter feed and you’ll see a photo of a large For Sale sign, advertising a site for housing with frontage onto the River Shannon. It has a large Sold sign plastered over it. The ‘joke’ is that the sign is waist deep in water and site is flooded.

He tweets how a one-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures leads to a seven per cent increase in precipitation, or how daffodils were flowering in November and his rose bush was a blooming Christmas tree. He also calls for a pre-election debate on what each political party will do about climate change — a point which colleagues from other parties are avoiding rather steadfastly, despite our recent deluges.

Surely though, the country’s battles with the elements and the unprecedented levels of rainfall we’ve had which have proved devastating for so many people with flooded homes and businesses, must provide some sort of opportunity for the Greens in the General Election campaign?

Even better is the fact that apparently the thinking of the global Green movement has changed now, so that rather than making us as individuals feel guilty for how we’ve neglected the environment, the far more effective approach, they believe, is to tackle it globally at the source of the problem.

“We’ve made people feel guilty,” acknowledges Ryan, “in our ‘look at me having my sustainable coffee’ kind of way. We realised we were getting it wrong. But the environmental movement realise now that to tackle it you do so through politics and government, you go to the source, rather than the end result. Rather than being presented as a hardship it is in fact a better option.”

As leader of the Green Party he’s facing into a general election campaign after five years on the sidelines and an experience of being in Government with Fianna Fáil and the PDs which might best be forgotten, except by some voters who will nurse that grudge regardless of the time that has elapsed.

He has stuck with the project over those years and kept the party going, and came pretty close to getting elected in Dublin in the European elections last May. The Greens are expected to run a candidate in all 40 constituencies, but Ryan has the best chance of getting elected in his Dublin Bay South Constituency. But it’s a hard call. A win would clearly be a reason to celebrate, but it would a rather lonesome station if he is the sole party representative in Dáil Eireann.

It’s easy to like Eamon Ryan and admire how he’s stuck with the project since their ignominious exit from Government in 2011. Clearly this was a personal choice but assisted, probably, by the fact that the Green movement has been around for so long and has a global network and wasn’t a new entity. He’s optimistic after the agreement reached before Christmas at the Paris Climate Conference, as well as the 17 sustainable development global goals ratified by UN members last year in New York that provide the blueprint for the world’s development over the next 15 years.

While there is already a dizzying array of pronouncements from other parties on who they will and will not coalesce with the afterwards, the Greens are apparently open to all comers as long as they have been democratically elected and have a mandate, he says. Not for them the pre-election game of ruling in and ruling out which can be thrown to the wind once the numbers fall a certain way on election day. As far as the Greens are concerned their project needs parties from the left and the right to ensure it’s success.

Ryan feels strongly on the issue of corporation tax and how it presents us as being “utterly sleeveen” and “rightly or wrongly” seen as a tax haven, which is not in our interests. It’s very difficult to disagree with that but you’ll find few politicians to say it out loud given the job dependence we have on these multi nationals.

There is a Green constituency, he says, who get the Green way of living and the “quality of life” thing. They don’t want to eat junk and prefer not to drive their kids to school. They like Ireland having a successful economy but they don’t want us to be a tax haven.

He is straight up on the abortion issue, saying that his view goes further than that of the party, and what will be in the Green manifesto. He comes from a pro-life position, he says, but believes it is unacceptable that Irish women travel to the UK and elsewhere for terminations for what should essentially be an issue between a woman and her doctor. However he would want to see a 12-week limit.

The abortion issue does come up on the doorsteps, he says, and while in the past it was always raised from a pro-life perspective, now many of those asking want to know when will changes be made to our restrictive regime. This might be expected given the profile of the Dublin Bay South Constituency.

In Government the Greens did have some moments of incredible political naïveté but Ryan says he doesn’t make any apologies for the decision taken by them and Fianna Fáil while in Government saying that he’s heard no viable economic alternative presented since then of the decisions they had to take in the face of our national bankruptcy.

When the party left Government it had €200,000 in the bank and used that to rent a party premises for the last few years. He’s been getting a ministerial pension of €40,000 for the past two years, and does some consultancy for an international climate change organisation.

In contrast, say to Fine Gael, who are currently rocking a Conor McGregor type optimism, he says they might get no seat in the general election or they could get up to five. They’ve zero budget — “literally not a penny” — so will be relying on their wits for exposure and attention.

Listening to him it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Irish politics is a better place with the Greens in it. There are lots of people out there who are realising how little we seem to have learnt from our spectacular fall from economic grace; how the political research shows that while apparently none of us want to go “back there” collectively as a society, we would rather like to do so for ourselves individually to regain all that we personally lost.

While the Greens say they’ve given up on being our guilty conscience they could well serve a purpose in reminding us that it is not all simply about money.

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