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'Anyone who says they're not planning for an election is lying' - Eamon Ryan on the Green Party's revival

The party kick off their September think-in in Blanchardstown today.

90430589_90430589 Eamon Ryan. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

FOR THE GREEN Party, last year’s election was all about keeping the recovery going.

While their opponents in Fine Gael may have been running under that slogan, the Greens were focusing on their own recovery. They were wiped out in the Dáil in 2011 election, shipping a sizeable portion of public backlash as the minor coalition partner in a deeply unpopular Fianna Fáil-led government.

In 2017, though, it’s a different story. The party has two TDs – leader Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin – a Senator in Grace O’Sullivan, 12 councillors and five public reps in the North.

As they kick off their September think-in in Blanchardstown today, the sense around the Green Party’s members is one of optimism. They talk of trebling their representation at all levels and they’re not ruling any coalition out next time around. Green shoots, if you will.

But at the same time there are questions about the Greens. What is their electoral ceiling? Can they shake a reputation of being a party of urban “elites”? Can they sell their message that an environmentally-friendly Ireland can be a jobs-centric, entrepreneurial place?

That’s the challenge for Ryan, who has led the party since 2011, when he lost his own seat, which he won back 18 months ago.

But what did the time away from Leinster House teach him? Well, for a start, he says he didn’t miss the place too much because he was able to stay involved in politics.

“I was really glad to get back (to Leinster House) and I would have been disappointed had we not got the seat, but experience helps.

Having been in government and been in opposition, you have a better idea of how things work.

Ryan, it seems is echoing Kelly Clarkson’s maxim that what didn’t kill the party made it stronger, smarter and more ready.

2011 scars

90211766_90211766 The Green Party launch their 2011 election campaign. Source: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Heading into the 2011 election, the party had a tough case to make. The government which they had formed part of had been bailed out by the Troika and the public perception was the party sat by and fiddled while Rome burned.

The feeling on the doors in the cold, wet winter of 2011 was that the party had been as complicit as its senior partner.

The electoral result was brutal – the party received just 41,000 first preferences and lost all of its seats.

Though the leadership has changed, their are some who still hold that against the party as a whole. But on that point, Ryan is pragmatic.

I didn’t really mind that bit of it. It wasn’t nice losing all of your seats, but every single European Green party that has gone into government has lost all of its seats – and come back.

“We knew we’d face electoral problems, but the challenge was to come back.

“Listen, we live in a democracy, you don’t have a job for life.”

But if you think that the experience has dampened his optimism or his willingness to go into government, you don’t know Eamon Ryan.

Of course you regret different things, but (do I regret) the basic premise of going into government? No. We were there at a time of real crisis, but I don’t regret it. We definitely lost the public’s confidence at the end of that government.

Asked if he feels the blame laid at his party’s door was disproportionate, Ryan shrugs.

“I wouldn’t obsess on that.”

Election footing

90413044_90413044 Ryan and party deputy leader Catherine Martin. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Ryan reiterates a number of times during our chat in the lobby of LH2000 that he is a man who is prepared to govern – if the deal is right.

He does not rule out going into coalition with anyone and says that Ireland is heading for a northern-European political landscape that will see four- and five-party coalitions becoming the norm. This is in stark contrast to the increasingly entrenched two-party systems in the UK and US, something Ryan is happy about.

“I would ask people who say they’re not willing to go into government – what are you in politics for?

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“It’s not as if we’ll support the government on everything or fight them on everything. There’s a new style of politics emerging in this Dáil – one that forces you to look for consensus. It rewards people who are willing to work with people.

It strengthens the parliament because you’re not going to get mad plans like decentralisation or massive giveaways, because there’s a check on everything.

Whatever Ryan’s opinion of the current Dáil, its makeup has meant that speculation on when, not if, an early election will be called has been rampant since it first met. Does that mean Ryan is ready to go whenever Leo Varadkar takes trip to Áras an Uachtaráin.

“If anyone says they’re not on an election footing, they’re lying.

“I think most people are of the opinion there will be an election next year, but I’m not sure when. I’m also not sure it’s necessary.”

Coalition of the willing

90410101_90410101 Counting in the 2016 general election. Source: RollingNews.ie

With the chance of an election of within 15 months, Ryan knows that a case will need to be made to the public. Five years in the wilderness was a heavy penance, but has the party been absolved?

“A bit of humility on our part would be no harm.

“For too long the Green movement was kind of superior, we know best, we know everything. I think our period of government taught us a bit of humility. We learned stop telling people what to do and ask them to help you get there.

But I prefer where we are now to where we were then. Out canvassing, we have a great relationship with our constituents.

“Our goal now is to get it across that this is the green industrial revolution and it makes sense for Ireland to be involved in that.”

And if an election goes the Greens’ way next year, is anything off the table? No, says Ryan.

“I think you pick a half a dozen things and go back to a potential coalition partner and say ‘this is what we think’.

“If you can agree a Programme for Government, you do and if you can’t, you can’t.

“But for us, I think it would be part of a bigger coalition.”

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