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Opinion: The Greens had a climate action win this week, and they wasted it

Political commentator Dermot Ryan says the Green Party has been distracted by petty internal squabbling this week, at a critical time in its history.

Dermot Ryan

THIS WEEK HAS seen significant progress with government approval for its Climate Action Bill, committing Ireland to carbon neutrality by 2050.

The legislation also includes a target of reaching a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030 and commits Ireland to become a “leader rather than a laggard in addressing climate change”.

Like most progressive change, there are many reasons for this success. Citizen action and mobilisation, including the school strikes and other community-based actions, have played a significant role in changing the public debate.

The coverage of climate issues, not just on our news, but across our media including entertainment programmes proves that it is an issue that is not going away and to the forefront of people’s concerns.

The Green movement

But political leaders, for the most part, Green parties across the world have also played no small part. It is hard to see that this bill would be approved by a government less than a year in office if it did not include the Irish Green Party.

Yet the volume of the celebration from Green members and supporters would not exactly cause concern to anyone about potential Covid spreading house parties.

Progress on climate action is at the very core values of The Green Party. It is akin to The Labour Party winning progress on equal pay or Sinn Féin making key advancements in achieving a united Ireland.

We often see politicians crowing and patting themselves on the back and painting a picture of how great they are when announcing good news. It can often grate to see and hear your local TD or councillor crow about all their most recent achievements.

The reality is that politicians and political parties need to inform the public of their role in achieving change. Promoting your achievements reminds the public that it matters who they vote for and that however frustrating the Punch and Judy show of politics can be, democracy is precious.

This week’s sideshow

Why then, given what surely is a significant achievement for the Greens in government, was there very little of this political ‘crowing’ or for that matter even mild celebration from Green Party representatives and supporters?

It would appear that their focus was not on the Climate Action Bill but on the drama surrounding the news that their Chairperson, Lord Mayor Hazel Chu, has chosen to throw her hat in the ring for election to Seanad Eireann as in Independent, after the party’s decision not to contest the by-election.

Her run is supported by the Party’s Deputy Leader Catherine Martin, a number of other Green Party TDs and senators and significant numbers of local councillors. On the other side of what is now a social media drama, three of the party’s senators, including Minister of State Pippa Hackett put down a no-confidence motion (since withdrawn) in Hazel Chu as Green Party Chairperson.

I don’t know Hazel Chu. I know that she received an incredibly impressive number of votes in the 2019 local elections and that she has been subjected to vile racist and misogynist abuse from some online.

I also share the view that the historic nature of her election to Dublin City Council and as Dublin’s Lord Mayor are important and to be celebrated. I am not and never have been a Green Party supporter, but I have always respected them as a Party driven by clear values, and as representatives and members with a strong ethical core. But there is a bigger point here about how progressive parties often fail to use wins to build support and move on to the next success.

It is worrying not just for the Green Party, but all political parties, that the focus this week has been on an unwinnable seanad by-election, rather than a key policy win. The saying “this is why we can’t have nice things” comes to mind.

Nobody, no matter what their profile, or how many votes they received in a previous election has the right to be supported by their party to go forward for an election. But it is also questionable as to why senators clearly closely aligned to Eamon Ryan, also wasted the opportunity for the celebration by putting down a motion that has served as nothing as a sideshow and has been damaging to the party.

I wish Hazel Chu well, I hope she goes on to do great things for climate justice and her supporters, and I hope she achieves many firsts. I don’t know the full ins and outs of what has gone on this week internally in the Green Party and suspect I never will, but neither side has come out of this looking like serious politicians focused on change. And for a small party, that happens to be in government, that is truly a shame.

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They would do well to remember that politics is a team sport and real progress has always been won by the collective endeavour, not slagging matches about the process and unwinnable elections.

Dermot Ryan has worked in politics and for campaigning organisations over many years in Ireland and Australia, working with both the Australian and Irish Labour Parties. He has consulted with the Washington DC-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), which promotes democracy across the world. He has also designed and delivered training for Women for Election. He is Principal of Dermot Ryan Advisory.

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Dermot Ryan

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