Alison O'Connor: Chu’s Seanad move is diverting attention from real Green agenda

This party chairwoman, just seven months ago, refused to rule out joining another party, writes Alison O'Connor
Alison O'Connor: Chu’s Seanad move is diverting attention from real Green agenda

Green Party chairwoman Hazel Chu: On the week that the Climate Action Bill was published, the attention was on a row over her Seanad nomination.

Shenanigans is a word used in various contexts during the recent US Presidential election campaign. It seems appropriate to employ it now when examining what has been accurately described as the soap opera going on within the Green Party. 

There is no shortage of scene stealers involved here.

The saga has been playing out in regular instalments. But even for those keen to know what exactly is going on its intricacies can be difficult to follow. It is painted as being based on gender and diversity, but it is far more, or less, than that. The bottom line is that in the midst of all our Covid woes some Green Party members have been involved in a form of political madness.

The party, it’s been said, has a woman problem. But to be more specific just now it has a Hazel Chu problem. Backing that up is a problem with its deputy leader Catherine Martin, and a few others. Both of those are in one of two main party factions.

There isn’t a political party in Ireland that does not have a “woman” issue, except perhaps the Social Democrats. That party has two female co-leaders. The two male TDs are outnumbered by four women deputies, and ten of their 18 councillors are female.

The Green party chairwoman Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin has been a highly impressive political performer. She topped the poll in the 2019 local election in Dublin, with almost double the quota needed.

In her current role in the Mansion House, she has managed to get more exposure probably than all her predecessors combined over the previous decade. ‘Brand Chu’ is in an incredibly healthy state. I’ve interviewed Hazel previously and been very impressed with her candour and honesty, and how she has overcome a childhood of racist taunts that continue, often viciously, to this day on social media.

She is absolutely correct to point out that across the political landscape in Ireland there is a shocking dearth of women, as well racial diversity. The picture is overwhelmingly dominated by middle class, white men. 

The Green party chairwoman Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin has been a highly impressive political performer. She topped the poll in the 2019 local election in Dublin, with almost double the quota needed.
The Green party chairwoman Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin has been a highly impressive political performer. She topped the poll in the 2019 local election in Dublin, with almost double the quota needed.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin did not inspire much confidence recently when, in an interview with Women for Election, he said he did not think significant improvement, would come about until our voting system was changed. 

Basically when proportional representation is replaced. Let no one hold their breaths in the hope of that happening anytime soon, if ever, for fear of turning blue and keeling over.

The latest row in the Greens concerns the upcoming Seanad elections. There is a pact between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael for the vote on the Seanad’s industrial and commercial panel. 

Fianna Fail candidate Gerry Horkan is the favourite to take the seat. For the Greens party leader, Eamon Ryan wanted his parliamentary party to vote for Coalition candidates on the basis the favour would be returned if another vacancy arose.

Hazel Chu rightly points out that if she did not stand the ballot would consist, on yet another occasion, of white men. Standing as an independent candidate she has acknowledged she has no chance of winning. 

However you cannot ignore the fact that party politics has to have certain rules to operate; that for a three-party government coalition to work there needs to be co-operation and compromise, and crucially, that just because you say something does not make it so. 

What we have here is a gender and diversity gloss being painted over what are essentially political power struggles and advancement.

To elaborate on the last point when the Lord Mayor has done interviews recently she will insist she is not driven by self-interest, that her actions do not damage the party, and nor do they distract from its wins in Government or weaken the party leader Eamon Ryan. 

On the Today with Claire Byrne Show on RTÉ this week, she said the Greens had “just launched the most ambitious climate bill ever”.

However on the week that Climate Action Bill was published – a week that should have involved a huge victory lap for her party – virtually all attention was on the row to do with the Seanad nomination. 

Chu glosses over this when questioned as if by merely painting it in a different light it is actually a different reality. While the Greens may be different from other political parties they are not that different. 

This was a serious sabotage, with much – understandable - seething behind the scenes.

It is worth remembering that this party chairwoman - yes chairwoman of the party - just seven months ago refused to rule out joining another party, the Social Democrats. She said at the time that while she had no plans to join the party for the “foreseeable future”, she will “see how it goes”.

The party, it’s been said, has a woman problem. But to be more specific just now it has a Hazel Chu problem. Backing that up is a problem with its deputy leader Catherine Martin, and a few others. Both of those are in one of two main party factions.
The party, it’s been said, has a woman problem. But to be more specific just now it has a Hazel Chu problem. Backing that up is a problem with its deputy leader Catherine Martin, and a few others. Both of those are in one of two main party factions.

I have been a long admirer of Catherine Martin’s, especially the way in which she quickly established a Women’s Caucus in the Oireachtas after being elected for the first time in 2016. She saw the value of women, even those from different political backgrounds, co-operating in parliament.

She may well make a very fine leader of the Green Party. But launching a leadership bid just as the party was attempting to settle into Government after a bruising coalition negotiation in the middle of a global pandemic? 

Then to continue to stir the pot by signing Chu’s nomination papers for the Seanad election? I simply can’t figure out what she is at right now.

What does it do to the cohesion and working of the party that after a majority of the parliamentary party members request, entirely reasonably in the circumstances, that Chu step aside as chair until after the Seanad by-election, she refused? 

Last weekend the party’s executive defused the situation by not calling on her to step aside and ordering a review of how Seanad by-elections are selected.

Afterwards, Chu said: “I’m happy the executive has dealt with this issue and I will continue to serve the party in the position of chair as best I can.” 

This is a typically prosaic political statement, but utterly disingenuous given previous weeks have seen the party chair cause such serious damage to the party.

We’ve been told for some time now that the among the many rows besetting the Green factions is the direction the party needs to travel in terms of focussing entirely on environmental issues or to incorporate social justice. 

Many of those in the latter group would appear to see themselves as very definitely on the more righteous and justified side, an attitude that makes it far easier for them to dismiss those who think differently.

It all seems quite daft. The Green Party is in Government and it has managed to push climate to the top of the agenda. No one is saying that what is being proposed on climate is perfect or goes far enough, but the momentum is certainly going in the right way. 

This is how it should be. If action is not taken very promptly here we will all be in serious trouble. The problem is that when I think of Hazel Chu, or indeed Catherine Martin, it is not climate issues in any form that come to mind, but instead everything to do with palace intrigue and politicking.

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