Alison O'Connor on Election 2020: Green Party keeping it in the family

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Turlough Duffy raised an eyebrow ever so slightly at his teacher’s suggestion that he be on the debating team opposing the motion: “We need a change of government.”

Alison O'Connor on Election 2020: Green Party keeping it in the family

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Turlough Duffy raised an eyebrow ever so slightly at his teacher’s suggestion that he be on the debating team opposing the motion: “We need a change of government.”

Almost immediately the teacher recognised what he was trying to communicate and changed him to the team proposing the motion.

After all, this pupil doesn’t just have one anti-government general election candidate in his house, but two — his mother and his father — as well as a third in an uncle also running for election.

Turlough told his parents recently that he thinks he might be a politician himself. His brother Tadhg, 11, is really excited at the prospect of the election count.

As their parents prepared for a Saturday afternoon canvas, both boys were at home with a babysitter, along with their nine-year-old sister Stella.

According to deputy Green Party leader Catherine Martin, running in Dublin/Rathdown, and her husband Frances Noel Duffy, the party’s candidate in Dublin South West, the entire family is up for this general election.

Down in Kildare North, their uncle Vincent P Martin, Catherine’s brother, is the Green candidate.

The Duffy children, says their father, know no different and it’s natural for them that their parents are campaigning.

Himself and Catherine met at an election. His father was running in the local elections in Carrickmacross in 1999, as was Catherine’s brother Vincent.

Francis, an architect and lecturer, is chatting about how it all came about.

He goes silent. “I’m about to say we hooked up at the local disco but obviously hesitating at saying that!” he laughs as we agree that phrase would have suited just fine 20 years ago, but not in today’s world.

The couple decided to get fully involved with the Greens after the crash and burn of the 2011 general election.

Francis says he has 11,000 doors to knock on over the next three weeks. He’d been out in Tallaght canvassing earlier that day.

Overall his own tallying put his No1 doorstep pledges at 35%, “although I don’t believe it all, obviously, so you halve that”.

His big-ticket issue is that the proposed Metro North be extended to Rathfarnham with a future extension to Knocklyon/Firhouse.

Catherine and Francis are in the company of party leader Eamon Ryan where they, and supporters, have gathered for a “super canvas”.

This leafy, decidedly middle-class location, was chosen because the three constituencies meet at the nearby Orwell Bridge. It’s also right beside the River Dodder.

Eamon Ryan lives nearby and spoke of the joy of nature when walking there, including the bats, badgers, and a recent otter sighting, and the need to protect it.

The three candidates split and head for their respective constituencies. Catherine’s canvas team heads up to Columbanus, a former Corporation estate, where refurbished houses now sell for around €450,000.

Catherine’s 15 years as a teacher in Tiernan’s Community School, which has disadvantaged, or Deis, status, clearly stands to her in term of her place within the community and people knowing her, as well as her term as a TD.

A woman in a dressing gown, clearly mortified at being caught not fully dressed, holds the door open only a fraction, but she does want to hear what the candidate has to say.

“As you know it’s a three-seater, if you want to hold on to me a No1 is needed. The other two are high-profile ministers (Josepha Madigan and Shane Ross). We’ve been told we’ve got only 10 years to act on the environment. We really feel we need a strong Green team.”

The Greens are running 39 candidates, 38% of them women. In terms of the party’s much vaunted momentum ahead of the general election, Catherine says her local branch has tripled in numbers since last year. The party is being more publicly modest in its expectations but pundits have estimated the Greens could win as many as 12 seats, up from its current two.

In another house with three dogs, two of them barking loudly in the garden, and a very strong smell of incense wafting from the hall, a woman raises the environment and animal welfare.

“You’re preaching to the converted, that’s what I’m all about,” the candidate tells her. The No1 is pledged.

Another woman says she is very interested in the environment, but doesn’t give a commitment to the candidate. One man opens the door to the canvas team, looks sourly at the leaflet, and waves them away before closing it again.

A little further on a man in his garden tells Catherine he is a member of the Defence Forces. He says he is at a rank high enough that he is OK in terms of salary, but it’s a different matter for very many others. Too many are leaving. He never voted Green before. His family had a strong tradition of voting Fine Gael.

“Would you consider voting Green now?” asks Catherine. “I would,” he responds.

Does Catherine think that voters are ready for the sacrifices and cost associated with putting their bank accounts where their Green sentiments and aspirations lie? Earlier the party leader, for instance, had mentioned a nationwide ban on smoky coal as a top priority within a year.

Fine Gael has a 2% annual target reduction in carbon emissions but the Greens believe it should be 7%.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan with Deputy Leader Catherine Martin taking part in a canvass at the Dropping Well Dublin. Photo Leah Farrell/
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan with Deputy Leader Catherine Martin taking part in a canvass at the Dropping Well Dublin. Photo Leah Farrell/

EARLIER on Saturday at a Fine Gael press conference, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar put it up to the Greens, calling on the party to make clear how it would actually achieve the radical reduction in carbon emissions and its costs to individual citizens and the economy.

Eamon Ryan was having none of it, saying the Taoiseach was showing Fine Gael’s lack of ambition more than anything else.

The Irish people are ready and willing to do more, he insists. Irish people do not want to be climate laggards in Europe, pointing out that the EU is also more ambitious than Fine Gael.

He pointed out that the Danes have pledged, by 2030, to reduce emission by 70% below the 1990 level.

“They believe they will get a great economic advantage. This is the way the world will go,” says Ryan.

“Do people want to vote for Fine Gael and the status quo because that is what Fine Gael epitomises?”

That status quo line is one Catherine Martin repeats at each door as part of her spiel. If you want green, vote Green is their essential message.

Ryan also said this is not a five-year election cycle issue, but more a 10- or 15-year one, in terms of addressing climate change. However, human voting behaviour doesn’t necessarily or usually match or suit that way of thinking.

Catherine believes it will this time. She says the climate narrative has changed from change to action to a “climate emergency” now, that people know we’ve been given 10 years to act which means things have to be done now.

No doubt that’s an issue that comes up in her nightly debriefing chats with her husband and brother as they swap notes on how that day’s canvas went.

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