Eamon Ryan spreads word that world is going green. But will Irish voters?

Decimated last time out, Eamon Ryan is hoping to see Green shoots of recovery, says Michael Clifford
Eamon Ryan spreads word that world is going green. But will Irish voters?

The young woman peers to check out the leaflet and, satisfied that it is not contaminated, extends her hand. Eamon Ryan engages her in conversation.

She likes the Green party, but despite being accosted here on Grafton St, her constituency is actually Meath East. No problem.

“Seán Ó Buachalla is running there for us, he’s a good guy,” Ryan tells her. It turns out that the young woman looks older than her years — she’s actually still in school.

“Do you have a vote?”

“Not this time,” she says.

No problem. Ryan continues talking, ploughing for the future, planting a few seeds. After all, the planet is going to be around long after the next election and the recruitment of green advocates is just as important as snaffling a few first preferences on February 26.

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Ryan is a natural canvasser. He says he loves it, which is just as well as he’s been at it now for two years solid. He is standing in Dublin Bay South, but as leader of the Green Party he is obliged to traverse the country and give a dig-out to the 40 party candidates. This is done on a shoestring. With no representatives in the national parliament, the Greens don’t get any State funding.

It’s all a long way from the heady days when Ryan and his former leader, John Gormley, sat at cabinet, heralding, as they must have seen it, a new dawn for the Greens in the country.

The Greens won six seats in the 2007 election — a high point after 20 years of slow, methodical building — and Bertie Ahern extended an invitation to join his cabinet. In contrast to some parties operating in this election, the Greens opted to enter power in order to pursue its policies rather than remain on the opposition benches for strategic reasons.

Its timing was atrocious. It signed up just as the economy began to tumble under the weight of the reckless stewardship of the previous five years. Despite the crisis that greeted it in the next few years, the Green Party stuck the course. Some saw this as a desperate urge to cling to power; others as politically naive. In 2011, all six TDs lost their seats.

About one in four passers-by accept Ryan’s approaches at the mouth of Grafton St. One man is travelling fast with his head down, but he catches Ryan’s face just as he shoots past.

“Ah Eamon. I thought it was religion you had,” the man says. And you can see why the tall figure in a long coat might be mistaken for a priest. “I’m an old Fine Gaeler,” says the man.

“Could I convince you to vote Green?”

The man is non-commital, but he gives the impression that Ryan will attract some element of his franchise.

A young woman is next. It turns out she’s a student from Waterford.

“Have you heard of Grace O’Sullivan,” asks Ryan, name-checking the party’s candidate there. “She was a Greenpeace activist.”

The woman leaves the impression that she may well come on board.

Ryan had an unenviable job rebuilding the party but he got stuck in. By 2014, it appeared that a breakthrough was at hand. He looked to be on course for election to the European Parliament, where he felt he could make a serious impact as he was already involved in a lot of work on climate change in Europe.

As the count stretched on, all the soothsayers were saying Ryan would definitely get one of the two remaining seats, with either Brian Hayes or Nessa Childers losing out. At 3.30am, the bombshell struck: Transfers had not gone as had been predicted. Ryan lost out.

“It was disappointing but I wasn’t devastated,” he says. “It would have meant that the party had funding for five years.”

Back on Grafton St, another woman gladly takes his leaflet. “I’m going to read everything but I like the Greens,” she says.

“The world is going green,” Ryan replies.

Further exchanges unearth that the woman is an actor of some repute. “Do you watch Fair City,” she asks.

He doesn’t but he replies: “You’re in Fair City, you’re famous.”

“Not as famous as you,” Donna Anita Nikolaisen responds, revealing that she met him years ago, before her screen fame, and presumably at the height of his.

He admits that he watches very little TV, and when she mentions Red Rock, he asks what exactly that is.

The bookies say Ryan is in with a good shout in this election. If he doesn’t make it though, it’s not the end of the world. “I’d love to get back but I’m not a career politician. If I don’t, I won’t do a Michael McDowell on it,” he says, referencing the former Progressive Democrat leader who dramatically announced he was leaving politics when he lost his seat on the night of the count.

If Ryan isn’t elected, he says he will step down as leader and revert to working in other areas concerned with the environment.

“The tide for environmental thinking goes in and out. With the financial crash it went out. Things have changed now, with the New York agreement on sustainable development goals and the Paris agreement (on climate change). There is no hiding place anymore. Looking after the environment is looking after ourselves. Even the Pope has weighed in on that one.”

Ryan points out that irrespective of his fate in this election, things are looking up for the party. “No matter what happens there is now a cadre of young people running which gives us a long-term shot,” he says.

With that, he’s back on the canvas, spreading the word as much as selling himself.

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