The Irish Green Party: A warning to the environmental movement?
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The ‘Green Wave’ swept across Europe in the last couple of years buoyed by Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future movement. Ireland was one of the countries that benefited and the Green Party entered into government in summer 2020. However, their short time at the top table has been dogged by infighting and allegations of harassment and misogyny.

Going into coalition

The Green Party won twelve TDs (MPs) in the 2020 Irish general election, a six-fold increase from 2016. This propelled the party into government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, two centre-right parties. 

It was a historic coalition as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were traditional rivals, and while one or the other had led every government since independence nearly a century ago, they had never done so together. Their underwhelming results of 35 and 38 seats respectively meant they needed the Greens to make up the 80-plus seats required to govern. 

A Programme for Government promised a 7 per cent per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions and a promise to move away from the direct provision system for housing asylum seekers. Green Party members backed the deal by 76 per cent and they entered into government. 

All of this was especially remarkable when just five years ago the Green Party had zero representation in the Dáil (parliament). A legacy from their wipeout in the 2011 general election when voters turned on them for their part in a coalition with Fianna Fáil that introduced harsh austerity measures in the wake of the financial crash in 2008.

However, all this success has come with challenges and higher levels of scrutiny from both their supporters and the media. Some of the scandals in the last seven months since they entered government include; the leader Eamon Ryan falling asleep during a motion on workers’ rights to which he then voted against, Eamon Ryan saying the n-word in the Dáil when quoting a newspaper article, a Minister and a TD voting against the government on legislation around rent freezes, rows over the contentious EU-Canada trade deal and a crisis over the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman’s mother and baby home legislation which led to the resignation of several high profile members, including Councillor Lorna Bogue and chair of the Young Greens Tara Gilsenan.

“If the Green Party is not able to hold to its principles and is easily brushed aside when it comes to questions of integrity and what they stand for, then I worry that the entire environmental movement can be dismissed in the same manner just with a little tut and a roll of the eyes”, Councillor Peter Kavanagh tells The Meridian over Zoom. He resigned from the Green Party on 25th January. He says the party has fundamentally changed in the last year and he left as he felt there was no longer any room for debate and a ‘top-down leadership style’ had been introduced. 

EU-Canada Trade deal Controversy

This has been encapsulated, Kavanagh believes, by the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA). It is a controversial deal that includes special courts in which commercial interests could take legal action against states for policy decisions which affect their investments. 

It is also a deal that Eamon Ryan described in 2017 as giving big business power over governments and courts and that the deal offers no certainty of protection of environmental rights. However, Ryan made a sharp U-turn last year and now campaigns for the deal to be passed despite strong opposition from within his own party. The vote was due to take place in December 2020 but has been postponed until sometime later this year.

Harassed out of the party?

Hostile is how Neasa Hourigan TD described the environment in the party, and Councillor Lorna Bogue – who has left the party – says she had to deal with misogyny from other members. When she raised her concerns, she says nothing changed. She decided to resign after the handling of the mother and baby home legislation in October 2020. 

These homes were institutions where unmarried women and girls who were pregnant were placed and abused and mistreated. Survivors and human rights experts had strong misgivings over the legislation surrounding the survivors’ data. Bogue resigned in protest and over the treatment of women by the party.

Kavanagh also found the party difficult to deal with. “I’ve just received an awful lot of abuse and an awful lot of harassment from people who claim to be supporters of the Green Party” he says, adding that he doesn’t feel “there was any real appetite in the political leadership of the party to deal with that.”

As Councillor Sophie Nicoullaud, who resigned last week, tells The Meridian, “I didn’t leave the Green Party, the Green Party left me.”

A warning for Europe

And it seems voters are also leaving with the latest polls putting the Greens at 3%, slashing the 7.1% they received in the general election less than a year ago. 

It is a trend that may concern European Green Parties. Four others are in government across the continent currently. The Irish Greens may act as a warning to them, especially those hoping to enter into government. The German Greens are poised to make significant gains in this year’s federal elections and Europe Écologie-Les Verts (EELV) in France are hoping to capitalise on the gains they made in last June’s municipal elections.

“Have some guts!” is Nicoullaud’s advice. She hails from France before moving to Ireland in 2006 and becoming a councillor in 2019. She also cautions against going into coalition with right-wing parties. “It doesn’t add up to have green policies and a neo-liberal economic system. If you were going to write this as an equation, the mathematician would say no that’s not possible.” 

Councillor Peter Kavanagh strikes a similar tone. “The solution is activism, making sure that you hold the Green Party to account” and he advises “if the only option for a Green Party is to go in with a party that doesn’t share an ideology then make sure that you extract the maximum for what ultimately will be your probable political demise and I feel like that that’s something that the Green Party in Ireland has failed to do.”