Daniel McConnell: Leadership battle could see Greens snatch defeat from jaws of victory

Daniel McConnell: Leadership battle could see Greens snatch defeat from jaws of victory

Former Green Party leader and Minister John Gormley was back in Leinster House today.

Whether his presence was a coincidence or not, those who stopped to chat with him, including me, only had one question to ask him.

What does he make of the decision of a number of councillors to call on deputy leader Catherine Martin to stand and challenge Eamon Ryan?

“Why would we do it to ourselves, the timing is unfortunate,” he exclaimed with a weary sigh.

Gormley was speaking after the Irish Examiner revealed that four Cork city and county councillors had written to Martin urging her to stand in the pending leadership vote, which party rules dictate must happen within six months of a general election.

The four councillors – Lorna Bogue, Oliver Moran, Liam Quaide and Colette Finn – have said that while they are grateful for the job Ryan did in saving the party, his time is done.

“We cannot be sentimental. The urgency and challenge is too great. Just as Eamon was the right person then, Catherine is the right person now. She has a harder nose. She’s surer in the Dáil,” Moran said.

Gormley and Ryan had soldiered in that ill-fated Fianna Fáil-Green government between 2007 and 2011 which saw the country descend into economic chaos and while they had their disagreements, they respect each other.

For her part, Martin was at the table in Agriculture House for government talks this morning, unfazed that she was the centre of a raging political storm within her own party.

While the parties waited to commence the talks and engaged in chit chat, her position and whether she would stand was “the elephant in the room,” said one negotiator.

Tensions in the Greens have been mounting since the General Election on February 8 when the party gained an additional nine seats from the three it left with in the last Dáil.

It is fair to say that Ryan is no longer in control of his party as he once was.

Some of the new intake of TDs, led by Martin, have stymied his clear desire to jump into government and he has been forced to battle hard to get them to the negotiating table.

Martin’s clear opposition to going into government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in defiance of Ryan has galvanised the disenchanted left-wing ranks of the Greens.

The irony is that Martin, a political pragmatist, is far less ideologically driven than the rank and file councillors who are backing her.

Her statement this evening confirming that she will give "serious consideration" to contesting the party's forthcoming leadership election, will only add to pressure on Ryan.

Daniel McConnell: Leadership battle could see Greens snatch defeat from jaws of victory
Leader of the Green Party Eamon Ryan and Deputy Leader Catherine Martin. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

She insisted that her "focus remains on the crucial government formation talks".

"I believe it is important that government formation talks fully conclude uninterrupted and that any leadership campaign happens subsequently,” she said.

Ryan, for his part, had sought to play down the internal divisions within the party over whether going into government is the right thing.

He has repeatedly said such disagreements and differing views are a healthy thing, but surely, he must feel somewhat aggrieved at the moves to oust him given what he did to rebuild the party from the ashes of 2011.

Those seeking his demise have pointed to Martin's wider appeal to voters outside of Dublin as a primary reason for backing her.

“For people outside the party, and outside her Dáil constituency, she’s flown under the radar this last decade. That’s deliberate. 

"But she’s been a revolutionary force within the party. She’s changed the way we think about politics, canvassing, negotiations, organising locally, everything. 

"The skills and nous the new Green Party councillors and TDs have, we learned from her,” Oliver Moran said.

Catherine knows small town Ireland, she was born there, it’s in her blood.

 

"She has grit like no other, she consults widely, she considers each move like chess, and she moves with certainty. 

"That’s what we need for the next decade of the party."

Whatever the clear frustrations with Ryan’s leadership are, the timing of all of this is, as Gormley said, unfortunate.

For the Greens, if they can stay the course in terms of government formation talks, there is a big prize to be won. 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil stand weakened and are clearly willing to concede a lot of ground to the Greens to form that majority government.

While Martin insists she will only consider any challenge once the government talks are concluded, in reality the race is now on.

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