Concern that Eamon Ryan does not want to 'rock the boat'

Sources say Minister Ryan's opinion on lockdown has 'evolved' since March 
Concern that Eamon Ryan does not want to 'rock the boat'

Exiting the lockdown in the summer, Minister Eamon Ryan was seen as a more conservative voice at Cabinet level, preferring to take a slower approach to reopening society and the economy. File picture: Sasko Lazarov / RollingNews.ie

The Green Party's leader had his own change of heart on the public health advice, but sources say it was less dramatic than Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's.

Eamon Ryan's thinking on lockdown has "evolved" since March, party sources said, but others worry that the transport minister is "afraid to rock the boat" with his coalition partners about the handling of the crisis.

Exiting the lockdown in the summer, right as the coalition Government was coming to power, Mr Ryan was seen as a more conservative voice at Cabinet level, preferring to take a slower approach to reopening society and the economy.

However, by last Saturday, he was advocating a less stringent level of restrictions, forming a section within the Cabinet arguing against going to Level 5.

"Eamon and [finance minister] Paschal Donohoe would have been among the contingent arguing for things to remain as normal as possible," says a source.

"He was worried about the prospect of sending things back to lockdown and the effect that would have on people and the economy.

"By Monday, however, his thinking had shifted and he accepted the arguments put forward by other ministers."

Sources said that Catherine Martin had argued for a 4 week lockdown and was an early advocate of the social bubble concept.

They added that Green Party members were "a little surprised at Mr Varadkar's conversion" to backing Level 5. 

Some in the party also noted that it was Ms Martin who raised the gender imbalance of the discussions, arguing that Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys were each in departments greatly impacted by the restrictions.

Some in the Green Party, however, question if Mr Ryan is "being led" on the issue, though it is understood there was broad support in the party for the decision to move to Level 5 on Monday.

There has been some criticism of the party leader, however, in relation to the previous Nphet advice two weeks ago.

Some Green sources say that Mr Ryan and his Cabinet colleagues Catherine Martin and Roderic O'Gorman were too quiet on Tánaiste Leo Varadkar's attack on Nphet following the release of a letter recommending lockdown a fortnight earlier.

Mr Ryan was in the meeting with chief medical officer Tony Holohan the morning after that letter was issued. Sources say that he was unhappy with the method of the letter's release, similar to Mr Varadkar.

"There was real concern particularly about how the letter was dumped onto the public so suddenly," the source said.

However, Green Party members said they were "taken aback" by Mr Varakdar's attack on the public health team and "even more surprised when Eamon didn't say anything about it, really".

"He shows the coalition a lot of respect. He's not going to rock the boat."

While some accept there is merit to this approach, a need for unity, others insist it shows a pattern of deference to the larger parties.

"Look at his wet tissue reaction to Dara Calleary and Golfgate. He respects Leo too much."

At Cabinet level, there is a feeling that this issue has not been split across the three coalition partners, meaning there is "less tribalism and more discussion".

"It really doesn't seem, at Cabinet level at least, that this is being split along any party or even regional lines. Ministers are arguing their points based on their opinions and conclusions."

However, questions have been raised by TDs about the feed of information from Cabinet to them when decisions are being made.

"Sometimes the decisions are made so quickly it feels like the media knows more than us," one TD said.

While Mr Ryan’s contribution to the weekend’s event may not have been as dominant as others, many have pointed to the developing relationship between him, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.

“The three of them are good politicians in their own right. They disagree about a lot of things but there is a level of respect. He is the third wheel in the relationship but he is not easily discounted and his previous government experience is clear to see,” said one senior source.

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