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High Table Election Debates

Ryan vs. McCarthy: These two lads had a mighty row about the trauma of government

In our third election debate, Labour and the Greens do battle on the environment and being in government.


THE GREENS AND Labour have a lot in common.

They’re both centre-left parties and have served as junior coalition parties in recent years. The Greens were wiped out, losing all six of their Dáil seats, in 2011, while Labour is facing into an extremely difficult election this time around.

But on the environment there are sharp differences of opinion. Labour says it’s done far more than the Greens managed between 2007 and 2011, including the passing of the first-ever Climate Change Bill.  But Eamon Ryan says Alan Kelly is an “anti-green” environment minister and becomes visibly furious at the very mention of his name.

So with such divergent views we thought we’d get both parties in to debate the environment and other issues in the third of our High Table Election Debates.

In the green corner is Ryan, the Green Party leader and former communications minister, who is seeking a Dáil seat in Dublin Bay South.

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And in the red corner is Labour TD and Environment Committee chairman Michael McCarthy, who is seeking re-election in Cork South-West.

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Both tall and somewhat imposing, these men weren’t afraid to get stuck into each other right from the off:

Aoife Barry /

The best bits

1. Labour’s anti-green in everything it’s doing 

Right from the off, Ryan didn’t hold back in a lengthy critique of Labour’s record on the environment:

Aoife Barry /

He said Labour has delayed the transition to renewable energy, reduced building standards, killed off major public transport projects and increased fares, made “an utter mess” of Irish Water, put people in “tiny box apartments” and wanted to burn rubbish rather than recycle it.

It’s in everything they’re doing. They don’t take the environment into account in anything.

As Ryan ranted, McCarthy found it all a bit funny:


2. Labour’s law

In his and Labour’s defence, McCarthy repeatedly referred back to the enactment of climate change legislation as evidence of Labour having done more than the Greens on environmental issues.

He said it was “tragic” that despite being in government for four years, the Greens failed to get climate change on the statute books whereas Labour had managed to do so.

I think there’s an element of denial around that with the Green Party because it was largely seen as a green issue. We didn’t just talk about it, Labour in government did it.

Ryan disputed the law’s value, saying that and the government’s recent energy white paper had effectively delayed the process of switching to renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions.

He said: “Instead of doing what it should do, saying we will make this change to a new economy, a new model, a cleaner one, a better one in the next 30, 40 years, you said: ‘No, we’ll wait until the next century, until 2100, to wait and do something’.

That’s what your climate bill does, it’s all talk and no action.

But McCarthy wasn’t having any of it and a tense back-and-forth ensued:

Aoife Barry /

3. The incinerator 

McCarthy accused Ryan’s former Green colleague John Gormley of having signed the order for the Poolbeg incinerator in his own Dublin South-East constituency, describing the move as “deeply ironic” and “contradictory” by the former environment minister.

Ryan came back to that point a short time later, and claimed that Gormley had actually halted the project by proposing an incineration levy, an idea that was subsequently scraped by Gormley’s successor Phil Hogan.

He wasn’t finished there:

The only thing you can say is I’ve got a bill, I’ve got a bill. The bill is meaningless, the bill does nothing, the reality on the ground is that you’re turning us away from the green direction that the rest of the world is going and you can talk about the bill all you like, but the reality of what you’re doing is nothing.

When we put the levy issue to McCarthy, he seemed unable to come up with an answer:

Aoife Barry /

4.  ’Worse than Fianna Fáil’ 

When we put it to both men that ultimately neither the Greens nor Labour had done enough on the environment while in government, Ryan launched another attack on Labour’s record.

But this time he also made the rather extraordinary claim that the relaxation of building standards under this government meant Labour is “worse than Fianna Fáil”.

Here’s how McCarthy reacted to that:


And this is what happened next:

Aoife Barry /

5. The trauma of government 

Towards the end of the debate Ryan put forward an argument, often-cited by members of the last government, that Fine Gael and Labour effectively implemented the Fianna Fáil-Green four-year plan.

McCarthy vehemently insisted this was not true. Throughout the interview he suggested the Greens and Ryan were suffering a “trauma” from having served in government for four years. He said:

There’s an inbuilt refusal here, I think it’s deeply psychological, and also I think there’s a legacy hang up from that very traumatic government that you were involved in.

Ryan didn’t think much of that claim:


The Labour deputy then asked Ryan towards the end of the interview whether he regrets not bringing in any climate change legislation while in government.

Ryan dismissed any suggestion of regret as “nonsense”, claiming he was too busy implementing other green measures. With mock outrage, McCarthy concludes:

That’s part of the trauma! That’s part of the trauma! Denial is not just a river in Egypt!

6. Working together 

Despite their differences there’s a clear mutual respect for each other. Ryan insists he’d work with anyone:

I’d work with the Labour party, I’d work with Fine Gael, I’d work with Sinn Féin, I’d work with Fianna Fáil, I’d work with the independents and not in a way where we’re just hammering each other, but in a positive way, where you get what’s working and make more of it happen.

McCarthy insisted that Fine Gael and Labour will be returned to government but, when pushed, said he would have “no difficulty whatsoever” in working with Ryan and the Greens.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.


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