Minister of State and Green Party TD Pippa Hackett has said Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu’s decision to run for the Seanad as an independent candidate “undermines her role as chair of the party, but also our position in Government”.
Ms Chu launched her campaign for the Seanad on Wednesday as an independent candidate, after the Green Party did not vote to support her run.
Green Party TDs and Senators had raised questions around confidence in Ms Chu, but deferred a formal debate on the matter on Wednesday evening during a long and heated discussion over her decision to contest the Seanad byelections as an Independent candidate.
Ms Hackett, along with Senator Pauline O’Reilly and Senator Róisín Garvey jointly tabled items for the agenda of the weekly meeting of the 16-strong parliamentary party calling for a debate on the question of confidence in Ms Chu. They also submitted an item for the agenda asking all 16 TDs and Senators to support the two Government candidates.
The inclusion of the items on the agenda met with an angry reaction from supporters of Ms Chu, according to a number of party sources. Ms Chu, who is the current Lord Mayor of Dublin, attends the meeting in her role as party chair but does not have a vote.
There was what was described as a long discussion on Ms Chu’s candidacy and it is understood there were heated and bitter exchanges, principally between the three Senators who tabled the items on the one side, and deputy leader Catherine Martin, Ms Chu, and to a lesser extent TD Neasa Hourigan on the other side.
One TD demanded that the three Senators withdraw the motion but it is understood the Senators deferred it on the basis that the motions had only been put forward on Wednesday morning and the TDs and Senators needed more time to consider the matter.
Some of the exchanges were variously described as “angry”, “bitter”, “juvenile” and “disrespectful”. One source said the divisions have become so embedded that they now seem intractable.
Ms Hackett proposed the motion of no confidence in Ms Chu, along with senators Pauline O’Reilly and Róisín Garvey.
Message to members
Ms Hackett outlined why she believes Ms Chu’s position as party chairperson is untenable in communications received by Green Party members in Laois-Offaly on Wednesday evening.
In the message to members, seen by The Irish Times, Ms Hackett describes Ms Chu as “an incredible politician” who “has shown amazing resilience and courage in the face of horrendous personal abuse, particularly since she became Mayor of Dublin.”
But she says the role of chairperson comes with responsibility and adds: “Her decision to run as an independent candidate has been deeply divisive, and I believe it not only undermines her role as chair of the party, but also our position in Government.”
Ms Hackett accuses Ms Chu of going against the wishes of the parliamentary party and the executive committee and says “many of us feel this makes her position untenable”.
She says the issue was discussed by the parliamentary party on Wednesday evening and they agreed to defer the vote on the motion to allow for further discussion.
Ms Hackett also notes that: “Previously, when an ordinary member of the Party decided to run as an independent candidate in an election, they were asked to withdraw their membership.”
She does not say who this is nor does she say this is what she is seeking in Ms Chu’s case.
She said pressures raised within the coalition by Ms Chus’ candidacy are “significant” and adds: “I, along with most of the PP [parliamentary party] and the majority of members, want us to stay in Government, so we can deliver on our hard fought PfG [programme for Government] commitments. Look at what we have achieved so far.”
Ms Hackett says being in Government “brings with it both responsibilities and privileges.
“In this case I believe the responsibility is to deliver on the understanding that we would support the Government candidates.
“The privilege meanwhile is that we have influence at the heart of Government, which is greater than our number,” she said.
She said “being in Government is hard.
“It requires co-operation, compromise, and consensus, and an endless willingness to accept that change can be slow and incremental, and can really only ever be achieved by taking responsibility and working from within. I want you to know that for as long as I represent this party that is what I will try to do.”
Ms O’Reilly said Ms Chu has been a “valued member of the party”.
“However we are obliged to examine whether it is compatible to run as an independent and continue as the Chair of our party,” she said.
“This is important because achieving in Government is what our membership has committed to doing, for the country and for the planet.”
Ms Chu secured nine nominations earlier this week, six from Green colleagues, and three from Independent parliamentarians. The majority of the parliamentary party (10 out of 16) did not support a Green Party candidate, and the party’s executive council did not agree to hold a selection convention. Neither body achieved the required two-thirds majority to block a person seeking to run as an Independent.
However, others in the parliamentary party portrayed Ms Chu’s decision as an act of disloyalty to the party, and part of a campaign to oust party leader Eamon Ryan, and replace him with Ms Martin. This is denied by supporters of Ms Chu and Ms Martin, who, at the meeting on Wednesday night, contended those who put down the item did not have the courtesy to inform the Dublin councillor of the motion of no confidence.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ms Chu said she would “most likely” take the Green Party whip if elected as a senator in the byelections for the Upper House next month.
Ms Chu secured the required nine nominations to stand for the vacancy on the Industrial and Commercial Panel.
She indicated she had made the decision to run as an Independent because of the importance of candidates who were women, and candidates from diverse backgrounds, to be included on the ballot paper.
At the launch of her campaign in St Stephen’s Green on Wednesday, Ms Chu said: “I have made it very clear for 18 months now that there needs to be people of all backgrounds on ballots and I made that very clear to my leadership and executive as well.”
She also pointed to the lack of a pact or agreement between the Greens and its two coalition partners, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, over the Seanad byelections. Pointing to the situation as she saw it in the Green Party, she said: "There was no pact. There was no whip. There was no prevention of anybody from running."
Mr Ryan has already indicated he will vote for the two Government candidates in the byelections for two vacant seats in the Upper House. According to others, he made little contribution during the two-hour meeting.