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Neither a ripple nor a wave - the Green Party's record-breaking election

The Green Party’s best ever election result has been overshadowed by the Sinn Féin surge.

Eamon Ryan himself topped the poll in Dublin Bay South.
Eamon Ryan himself topped the poll in Dublin Bay South.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

LAST MAY, THE Green Party was tipped to play a crucial role in government formation. After a surge in the European and local elections, the party seemed set for a record-breaking election. 

Today, the party has plenty of reasons to celebrate. It may yet get 12 seats, its best ever general election result, while both party leader Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin topped the poll in their constituencies. 

In Carlow-Kilkenny, the party’s longest-serving councillor Malcom Noonan was elected, while in several constituencies – including Dublin Central and Waterford – the party won where it never had a TD before. 

Yet the result is perhaps not what it might have beeen. Whereas the Green Party was expected to be a major beneficiary in this election, the party’s rise has been eclipsed somewhat by the remarkable surge in support for Sinn Féin. 

European elections

Back in May 2019, the rise of the Green party was the story of the European and local elections. To many commentators, it was a sign that climate change had finally pushed through as a mainstream issue. 

With both Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan winning seats, the party’s vote share jumped by nearly 9% since the last general election.

In the local elections, the party also did well – support rose by 4% since 2014, with a surge particularly notable in Dublin where the party won nearly 30 seats across the county’s councils. 

The success raised hopes that the party, which lost all its seats in the 2011 election, might be on course for a historic resurgence – echoing the rise of green movements across Europe.

Those hopes were raised further when Joe O’Brien was comfortably elected in the by-election in November in Dublin Fingal.

Those hopes seemed to be reflected in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who many predicted would start wooing the party when it came to coalition negotiations – despite some disquiet in at least one of the two big parties. 

But today, the position of the Green Party in any mooted government is uncertain. The rise of Sinn Féin has overshadowed the party’s record-breaking election, with the republican party – not the Greens – now perhaps on the precipice of entering government. 

It follows a campaign where climate change never dominated and according to the the exit poll, only 6% saw the issue as a priority. 

Historic

Before this election, the highest number of seats the Greens ever had was six – achieving those heights in 2002 under Trevor Sargent and retaining them all in 2007. 

In 2007, the party received nearly 5% of the vote. Thirteen years later, it’s risen to over 7%.

It’s a major achievement for the party, winning seats across the country from Dublin to Waterford to Carlow-Kilkenny and putting Irish Greens nearly on par with their counterparts in Germany when it comes to vote share. 

The party has also shown that it can build on both local council and European elections success. Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan has her base in Waterford, while two-time councillor Patrick Costello got a seat in Dublin South Central. 

Yet there might also be a sense of what could have been. The Sinn Féin surge has seen candidate surpluses disrupt several races, with transfers benefiting Solidarity-People Before Profit before the Greens.

In Mayo for instance, it was the Sinn Féin candidate who emerged to nearly top the poll, with Saoirse McHugh falling to a disappointing result despite her national profile. 

And in terms of historic surges in Irish politics, the Green performance is also significantly lower than Labour’s famous ‘Spring Tide’ in 1992

Still, by the party’s own standards it’s an impressive result. In December, Ryan said that he hoped to return at least six TDs to the Dáil after the next election – now, his party is on course to nearly double that. 

In that same interview, Ryan did say that he thought a Green Party taoiseach was possible in two governments’ time. On that score, he may be disappointed today. 

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