Green hopes of gains outside Dublin swept aside by Sinn Féin surge

Party set to make good on its opinion poll predictions of 8 per cent nationally

If you came fresh to the Green Party’s performance in the general election, you would be reaching for the superlatives.

Here was a party that was voted almost out of existence less than a decade ago. While it did win two seats in 2016, the comeback was tentative, as it gained only 2.7 per cent of the vote, so nothing to write home about.

As counting continues, it now looks as though the party will make good on its poll findings of 8 per cent nationally (and perhaps 13 or 14 per cent in Dublin) and creep into double-digit seats, with an outside chance of getting more.

But given the momentum the party had last summer, that sharply upward travel direction of its fortunes has levelled off and – perhaps – has fallen. Much of the the talk of a “climate-change election” or of a new green politics has withered on the vine.


The Green revolution has been forced to get in line because Sinn Féin’s “revolution in the ballot box” (as Mary Lou McDonald calls it) has been given priority by the Irish electorate.

The party's pitch at being something more than an urban party has fallen short a little of expectations

In fact, the Greens and the Social Democrats are the only parties that have not been wholly smothered by Sinn Féin. The former party looks like making gains in a number of key Dublin constituencies: Dublin Central; Dún Laoghaire; Dublin South-West and Dublin West. It has seemingly fallen short in Dublin South-Central and Dublin Bay North, although there is still a lot of counting to go as this is written.


The party had also expected to make gains outside Dublin, but it was here that the Sinn Féin surge really impinged on its aspirations. Party leader Eamon Ryan had described its predominantly female western seaboard candidates as its "wild Atlantic women". But hopes of breakthroughs by the likes of Lorna Bogue in Cork South-Central, Róisín Garvey in Clare and Pauline O'Reilly in Galway West were swept aside by a huge uplift in Sinn Féin support in those constituencies.

While Brian Leddin in Limerick, Marc Ó Cathasaigh in Waterford and Vincent P Martin in Kildare North were still in the frame during Sunday, the party's pitch at being something more than an urban (more specifically Dublin) party has fallen short a little of expectations.

This is not to take away from the performance. It is the best showing in its history by the Greens. The party has had difficulty in the past making the transition from local, and European, elections. People did not associate green issues with national politics.

The best illustration of that was in 2007 when the party was expected to make big gains but ended up with the same number of TDs (six) it had in the previous Dáil.

This time it was going to be different. Climate change became the dominant issue in the election cycle last May, and all other parties rushed to triangulate their policies to ward off this new electoral threat.

But come the actual election campaign, it never materialised. For voters climate change is a little like a pension for a younger worker, something you know must be addressed . . . eventually. The repercussions still seem such a long way off that they are outranked in priority by more immediate issues such as health and housing.

Exit poll

Indeed, in The Irish Times exit poll, climate change was identified as the main issue by only 6 per cent of voters, compared to over 30 per cent for health and 26 per cent for housing.

Ryan is not a natural orator or debater, and suffered during the debates from a lack of punchiness

But if climate change was sidelined, it could be partly attributed to the Greens themselves. The party must ask itself, if the prevailing mood was “change”, why it did not benefit more. Its willingness to enter coalition could have dampened its appeal to some voters, who would have seen it as prepared to deal with the status quo, and the establishment.

In addition, the party and its leader, Eamon Ryan, did not have a stellar campaign. Ryan is not a natural orator or debater, and suffered during the debates from a lack of punchiness and reliance on declaratory statements.

The party did not cost its manifesto either, which played against it a little. Unlike Sinn Féin, which distilled its message down almost to a simple mantra of change, the Greens had too many messages, which left it open to confusion.

While its seat tally might fall short of expectations, it can still look back at a campaign in which it reached a new high watermark of seats. It is also likely to be the fourth-biggest party in the Dáil.

Still, the Greens, no more than other parties, will have lessons to learn, and it will be intriguing to see how it leverages the extra seats to its advantage – and, more pertinently, to address the climate emergency – in the 33rd Dáil.