On the campaign trail with Eamon Ryan
Harry McGee catches up with the eternally optimistic Green Party leader
Some of the oncoming traffic see him up ahead and shift into fifth gear, and speed-walk past like impatient drivers accelerating on seeing an amber light. Some of the rejections are polite. Some are brusque. We have seen chuggers who have experienced more friendly greetings.
Ryan’s problem is simple and logistical one, that any experienced chugger could tell him. It has nothing to do with the standing of the Green Party among the electorate. It is this: he is standing in the wrong place. Too many people, too many tourists, too many of them moving too quickly. It’s just not possible to engage.
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A few minutes later, he is on the more relaxed thoroughfare of Grafton Street, joined by a small swarm of volunteers (they are all volunteers in the Greens these days: the electoral wipeout in 2011 resulted in the party losing all State funding). There is an immediate change in dynamic and while the occasional cold shoulder presents itself, there is far more engagement.
Fianna Fáil has been on a public journey of renewal every since it was disgraced in the 2011 election - content to wear sackcloth and ashes (for a while anyway).
But the Greens were dealt a double whammy. Not only was the party humiliated in 2011, it was no longer on the radar. With only three councillors left it could hardly call on a national mandate. It reverted to a group of core loyalists, a mix of long-term Green diehards and young activists. Its national conferences were modest in venue and modest in numbers. To quote the great line of Con Houlihan’s about an Irish Press colleague who quit his job to become a famous writer: forgotten but not gone.
But the Greens are on a bit of a comeback trail and that much has been evident over the past six months. But it’s modest and soft. It’s likely to result in the party making some gains in local elections but success might be judged by it creeping into double figures.
It’s in the European arena, however, that the party might pull off something like a coup. In the past the Greens were particularly successful in European Parliament elections when it was just doing so-so in local and national politics. At one stage it had two MEPs.
Ryan has taken a big gamble by putting himself as leader of the party forward for the European elections (and without the safety net of a run for a council seat). If elected, he has committed to serve out his full term in Brussels, which means we will have an unusual situation where an Irish political party is led by an MEP. Will it work? It will be tricky.