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Hourigan says being in the Greens is 'hostile' and 'lots of people would be relieved' if she left

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, the outspoken TD says she is staying in the party – for now at least.

GREEN MANIFESTO 982 Neasa Hourigan speaking at the launch of the Green Party manifesto in January 2020. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

IT HAS BEEN been a really tumultuous year, it has been very difficult. Nobody could have known, when when the election happened, the kind of year that we were facing into.

Neasa Hourigan has been a member of the Green Party for almost a decade but was only elected to represent the Cabra-Glasnevin area on Dublin City Council in 2019. Less than a year later she was elected a TD for the Dublin Central constituency.

Hourigan is the Green Party’s spokesperson on finance and health, and was one of those tasked with negotiating the Programme for Government – a document she later said she could not fully endorse.

In June Hourigan said she and others “negotiated hard and long, and in good faith” and she believed the deal is probably the best “in the circumstances, we could get”.

However, she said issues like homelessness, evictions and child poverty are not sufficiently dealt with in the programme.

Shortly after this Hourigan was among those who formed the Just Transition Greens, a group within the party that promotes the idea that social justice is intrinsically linked to climate justice and shoule mean “no worker or community is left behind“.

In late July, she resigned as party whip after voting against the government on the Residential Tenancies Bill. She remained in the party but her speaking rights were withdrawn for two months.

More recently she has been critical of plans to ratify the controversial CETA trade deal, expressing anger at some of her colleagues’ u-turns on the topic.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie carried out last week, Hourigan reflected on the past year.

“Being in the Greens right now is quite a hostile environment, it’s not very easy for me to be here,” Hourigan says.

However, she says if the CETA row “has shown anything, it’s that often you’re better to be in the circle or in the debate rather than standing on the outside”.

A vote on the deal was due to take place in the Dáil earlier this month but was postponed until January after a number of TDs raised concerns about it.

A split in the Green Party emerged over the deal with Hourigan and her colleague Patrick Costello both saying they won’t back the full ratification of the trade deal.

Hourigan said a senior staff member recently told the parliamentary party her position on CETA was “delusional”. 

“It is quite an aggressive and unpleasant work environment,” she adds. 

I think that there’s probably lots of people who would be quite relieved to see me leave the party. But I think it’s better at the moment to be in there and remind people what it is that we ran on, what are the policies that we put before the electorate.

Some colleagues have asked why she doesn’t leave the party if she’s unhappy, she says, but she doesn’t want to name them. 

Will she leave if the government ratifies the Ceta deal in January as expected? “I can’t answer that,” she tells us.

“But I think that what I’m doing right now, which is upholding party policy, and making sure people remember the discussions that happened in negotiations, I think that’s worth doing, even though it’s incredibly uncomfortable for everybody involved.”

A number of high-profile people left the Green Party this year including Saoirse McHugh and Cork city councillor Lorna Bogue. Both women have spoken out about what they perceive as bullying and misogyny in the party. 

Does their experience sound familiar to Hourigan?  “Absolutely,” she says. 

“From what we’ve heard this year, there’s absolutely misogyny in the party, I think all political parties have an issue with misogyny and we’re no different. It’s just happened to play out in quite a toxic way this year for us.”

Hourigan says being branded “delusional” by a colleague over her position on CETA highlights how female politicians in particular ”get painted as slightly hysterical and delusional if they take any sort of a dissenting view”.

When asked for comment about the issues raised by Hourigan and others, a spokesperson for the Greens said the party is “a grassroots organisation that encourages and welcomes robust debate amongst its members”.

“The last few months have been challenging, the organisation is growing, and different platforms and modes of communication have entered the frame.

“In recognition of that and as part of our commitment to continuous improvement we are in the process of reviewing and updating procedures and policies around dignity and respect, along with educating and informing members about those processes.

“External experts have supported and continue to be consulted in relation to the development and implementation of Party-wide well-being measures.”

The spokesperson added that any allegations of bullying or harassmant reports to them will be taken “extremely seriously”.

The curse of the small party

Hourigan has been critical of the government’s plans to tackle climate change, saying they don’t go far enough.

She says the promise to deliver climate action legislation within 100 days in office was a mistake, and the focus should have been on the quality of the Bill, rather than how quickly it was produced.

“I think taking climate change seriously is a process. There was a certain amount of work done in the previous governments and it’s been a struggle to extricate the good things in that work and give them a Green Party review and sensibility.

“It was a mistake to prioritise the 100 days target over the quality of the Bill.”

Hourigan said she hopes certain elements of the Bill can be “amended suitably at Committee stage”.

“Interim targets and carbon budgets for me, are really, really important, and a recognition that all greenhouse gases are a problem and need to be addressed.”

Hourigan previously expressed concern that emission reduction targets will not be prioritised and will be back-loaded into the latter part of this decade.

The programme for government, which can be read in full here, states: “We are committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 (a 51% reduction over the decade) and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.”

Political parties are often less popular after a spell in government, but a minority party in a coalition can be decimated – as Labour and the Greens themselves have found in recent years.

“Being in government for a small party almost always has a negative impact,” Hourigan says.

She knows a minority party will always have to make concessions when they enter a coalition but doesn’t want the Green Party to forget its “principles”.

“One of the problems is that as a small party, it’s very hard to hold on to your core principles.”

Hourigan believes another issue is that the Green Party “never fully reviewed or accepted” the mistakes it made when in government from 2007 to 2011.

All six Green TDs lost their seats in the 2011 general election. In contrast, 12 Green TDs were voted into office in February 2020 – the party’s best ever election result.

However, some people fear another wipeout could be further down the line if the party compromises too much and doesn’t deliver certain election promises while in office.

Hourigan says: “I don’t think there’s ever been a real acceptance or a real review in the party of the 2007 to 2011 government, and the mistakes that were made, and a genuine acceptance of the impact that some of those decisions had on people’s lives.”

She notes that some people “from that era” have been put in senior positions in the party, something that “would suggest that really there wasn’t any learning from that process and there hasn’t been an understanding of what went wrong there”.

“I think that’s for the whole party to reflect on that,” she says.

Could the Just Transition Greens break away from the main party and form its own party? Hourigan says she’s “not the boss” of the group so can’t speak on behalf of everyone but she “didn’t get involved in that for that purpose”.

“The group has to find their own way. I’ve always thought of it as a place to find like-minded people who have a particular vision for green politics that maybe doesn’t align with what the Green Party is right now.

“I very strongly feel that we need a political group in Ireland advocating that idea of environmental justice as a way of achieving social justice. And I’m not ready to let go of that that idea because of the formation of this government, and the Just Transition Greens was a space for us to do that.

“I don’t think it was set up on the basis that it was a was going to be a separate party but, as I said, it’s not for me to set the march for them.”

‘A tumultuous year’

Overall, Hourigan says it has been a “very difficult” year – for many reasons.

“It’s been a really tumultuous year, it’s been very difficult. Nobody could have known, when the election happened, the kind of year that we were facing into so I would suspect that every TD is very much looking forward to Christmas and a bit shell-shocked.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the opposition benches or in government, I think it’s been an incredibly difficult year.”

Hourigan says she was hoping that working in the Dáil would be more collaborative, instead she’s found it “adversarial”.

“Considering the 2016 government was a minority government and people who were kind of forced to work together a bit more, I was hoping that this government would be less adversarial, and that there would be more of a recognition of the usefulness of cooperation.

“And I don’t think that’s been the case on either side, either from government or opposition. And I think that that’s a great missed opportunity, because I personally like to work in collaboration, everybody has a good idea every so often.”

Hourigan says the “backbiting” and “abuse” that some people engage in on Twitter “doesn’t appeal to me, and it makes politics a bit of a battleground and it doesn’t need to be”.

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Homeschooling amid the pandemic

On a more personal note, the pandemic has also been difficult for her family.

Hourigan’s husband is in a high-risk category for Covid-19 and her oldest daughter has special needs.

“Covid has been difficult for us, my husband is high-risk so has been stuck in the house for a year. And then obviously I have an eight-year-old who has special needs.”

Her daughter attends Christ the King School in Cabra which Hourigan says is “the most incredible school for looking after people”.

“I just couldn’t speak highly enough of them, but I am not a good homeschooler.”

Hourigan says homeschooling is difficult for everyone but particularly so if a child has additional needs.

“My daughter would be learning Braille at the moment, that’s like learning a new language and I am not good at Braille so homeschooling during the first lockdown was a massive challenge for me, and she definitely did go backwards a little bit.”

However, when her daughter returned to school in September “she learned it all back pretty quickly”.

Hourigan says the biggest change for her family in the last year has been her working very long hours.

“The council is really a part-time thing. Now I’m in work 9am to 5pm, if not 9am to 11 some nights. It’s just a different dynamic – daddy is home, mammy’s in work.

“It’s a big change from the last five years when I was home all the time. I think we all found it difficult, all five of us.”

Hourigan hopes the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that people, including TDs, can work remotely sometimes.

“The hours that the Dáil sets are really family-unfriendly. You shouldn’t have to come to work at nine o’clock and still be at work at 11 o’clock at night. That’s just not good for anyone’s family or their kids or anyone’s mental health.

“I hear talk that people don’t like it, but it seems to be changing anytime soon. I don’t know how women who come from down the country or up the country do it.”

Hourigan says to encourage more women and people from different backgrounds to enter into politics, “you would need is to change the definition of how the Dáil sits”.

“Because at the moment, everybody has to be on site. And there’s a huge amount of committee work and things that could do remotely.

“I think Covid taught us there’s so much you can do from your sitting room. It does strike me that if we really want to have more women and more diverse people generally in the Dáil, that we could look at that and loosen the definition of how the Dáil sits and make remote working more viable.”

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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