Greens as prone to splits as any other party
Catherine Martin’s leadership challenge underlines other divisions within the party
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin: some in the party feel the timing of leadership challenge is not ideal. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
The Greens keep saying they are different to other parties, that they eschew daggers of all kinds – metaphorical or otherwise – and that politics is never personal for them.
“People join the Green Party not because they are interested in the spectacle of politics,” says Michael Pidgeon, a Dublin South Central councillor for the party. “It is more because they are interested in a set of policies, or policy areas. They will look at the documents and make their decision based on that.”
However, no matter how united a face the party has presented following the declaration by deputy leader Catherine Martin that she would challenge Eamon Ryan for leadership, the brutal fact is the Greens are as prone to personality battles, splits and divides as any other party.
The wider membership and representation of the party might prefer to focus on policy alone but a minority have lined up on either side in a personality battle revolving around Ryan’s leadership as well as an ideological battle on coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that has more than a tincture of acid in it.
Other parties think raising the leadership question in the middle of government negotiations is distracting and unhelpful. Most people you speak to in the Greens will say the timing is not ideal, but insist it won’t affect the party’s focus in the negotiations.
Pidgeon says some are very pro-coalition and some very against it, but most fall somewhere in the middle. “In my own area, most are on a spectrum of wanting to see what is in the programme for government and voting on that basis.
“For me, I am very keen to see direct provision ended and status for undocumented migrants. The political system has not caught up yet with that. So I will be looking to that.”
As to the leadership question, he insists it is not featuring. “From our own WhatsApp groups in Dublin South Central, so far we have seen little to no chatter on the leadership.”
Clondalkin councillor Peter Kavanagh argues members can separate the negotiations from the leadership question. “People knew there was going to be a leadership contest, so when Catherine declared there was little surprise. It is not going to impact the programme for government talks.
“We are mature and friendly enough to make sure we get the best deal possible. That is the most important thing.
“People are obsessed with the drama but there is not much drama I am afraid, just a lot of detail.”
Clare councillor Róisín Garvey says the timing is not ideal but adds the focus is on negotiations.
“I don’t see how they would have any time to do anything else to be honest with you. It’s a pity about the timing but under our constitution it had to happen after the election.”
Privately, others are worried about the government formation process and feel it cannot be separated from the leadership question as the respective roles of Ryan and Martin during the next few days will have a crucial bearing on the future of the party.
For one who wants a new leader it comes down to this: “To be honest my greatest worry is not Catherine’s declaration, my own personal concern is that when Eamon Ryan sits down with the other leaders to iron out the parts that have not been agreed, he is liable to be far too conciliatory.
“That is a problem for the people like me who want to have a very strong agreement for the Greens on social issues.
“If you look at the 7 per cent issue, that is short of what the Greens’ policy is. To throw social policies and equality out the window to get into government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would not be acceptable in my view.”
A Ryan supporter takes a polar opposite view, saying the leadership debate has made a laughing stock of the party. “It seems bad timing to me even if she would be a great leader.
“I think personally there’s a small loud minority not wanting a programme for government to get voted in and want her as leader in opposition, while the majority of us are staying quiet and hoping we get a good programme for government.”