The future of the Green Party

Image Credit: Illustration credit: Laoise Tarrant

After a series of controversies, Charlotte Waldron shares her analysis on where the Green Party is headed.

The battle to define the future of the Green Party is on. Catherine Martin is seeking to portray herself as the person to lead the party into the post-pandemic world. She has emerged from the backlash regarding the decision to enter the current government coalition relatively unscathed. Only time will tell whether her astute political moves are enough to outmanoeuvre current leader, Eamon Ryan, and successfully lead a united Green Party.

The foundations of the current Green Party rift lie in the decision to enter the coalition government. The formation of ‘Just Transition Greens’, an affiliate group of the party, directly resulted from the discontent that arose out of this decision. The founders of the group felt the party leaders violated principles of climate justice in forming a partnership with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The group views ‘climate justice’, the merging of the environmental agenda with social justice policies such as worker’s rights and public housing, as the only way forward and were outraged when the Programme for Government did not include effective engagement with these issues.

The Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA) has worsened the existing rift. The deal contains a provision for the establishment of an Investor Court System, which would provide a mechanism for corporations to sue the Irish state over regulatory decisions that adversely impact their profits. The Green’s decision to support the government in ratifying this deal in Ireland has proved to be a bone of contention, with Ryan supporting ratification while others such as Neasa Hourigan staunchly opposing it. The party had previously voted to oppose CETA while in opposition, arguing it would make the Government less likely to implement effective environmental policy. Fearing lack of support, the decision on ratifying CETA has been deferred pending a review.

Deputy Leader Catherine Martin has proven herself to be an astute political player during this rocky period. She has successfully worked with leader, Eamon Ryan, in government while distancing herself from him on contentious issues such as CETA. She is said to have raised concerns about the CETA deal in December, as coalition partners tried to force the deal through the Dáil. Her support of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Hazel Chu in her run as an independent candidate for a Seanad by-election, in defiance of Ryan’s leadership, is the latest indication that Martin is moving away from Ryan. The Chu scandal has drawn clear battle lines and exposed the deep divisions that exist in the party. Chu, along with others such as Hourigan and Costelloe, have grown frustrated with Ryan’s leadership and his cosiness with the other coalition leaders.

The events of recent weeks paint a clearer picture regarding the future of the Green Party. It in increasingly likely that Martin will launch a new leadership bid on the back of current upheaval in the party. When asked directly on This Week in Politics, Martin denied this and indicated that she is supporting Chu because she has always supported women in politics. While this may be one aspect of her support for Chu, it is difficult to believe that she will not benefit from this particular political move. The media frenzy caused by the Chu scandal has completely overshadowed the introduction of the Climate Action Bill, a key legislative win for Ryan.

However, if Martin successfully challenges Ryan’s leadership and continues to remain in the coalition partnership alongside Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, she has a difficult task ahead in uniting the Party.

The formation of ‘Just Transition Greens’ is an indication that many Greens would like to see the party move to the left and marry climate change policy with social justice. Martin has given some indication that she agrees with a more left-leaning approach. In the concession speech she gave upon losing to Ryan last summer, she indicated that the Programme for Government will be judged “not by the words written on each page but by the implementation of, and whether or not we succeed in building, a fairer and greener society”.  

In the longer term, CETA represents the greatest challenge for the leader of the Green Party, whoever that may be. It is an issue that has evoked the passions of outspoken party members such as Hourigan and Costelloe already. It cuts right to the core of the identity of the Green Party and fundamentally defines who they are. It provokes many questions. Do they still want to adopt a centrist position in Irish politics? Are their members willing to compromise on issues such as CETA that cut to the core of the Green’s environmental and social beliefs? Or are they redefining themselves as a more left-leaning party, as the ‘Just Transition Greens’ group proposes? Only time will tell.