Greens’ hard work at local level pays off as party secures two seats

Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin have focused on core issues since 2011 wipeout

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin celebrate their election at the count centre in the RDS. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin celebrate their election at the count centre in the RDS. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Lazarus stories abound in electoral politics and the Green Party now has its own one to tell.

The party’s fateful decision to go into a coalition with Fianna Fáil in 2007 ended in catastrophe. While the Greens could not be blamed for causing the economic crisis, they were party to the severe policies that were pursued to correct the collapsed economy.

It paid arguably a bigger price than any other smaller coalition party for its period in government. The party lost all of its six seats, and its national vote fell below 2 per cent, thus depriving it of State funding.

Other parties, such as the Progressive Democrats, who faced near obliteration in the past have just folded after such a shut-out. But the Greens picked up the pieces and continued as a party under new leader Eamon Ryan. It was all done on a voluntary basis and the low ebb was painfully obvious: a little more than a handful of people attending its conferences with little visibility nationally.

Local representation

Its first goal was to regain some local representation. The 2009 local elections had been bad as it lost all but three of its outgoing councillors. In 2014, it ran a big slate of candidates and won 12 seats nationally, including two councillors in the Dublin Bay South area, where Ryan would eventually be the candidate. Catherine Martin was also elected as a councillor to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

There was a setback when Ryan was pipped by Nessa Childers in the European elections. It was a huge blow but in retrospect may have been a blessing in disguise.

The party campaigned on a shoestring and, without a national political representative, found itself at a disadvantage. But the media is probably more generous to the Greens than its support indicates and gave it a fair degree of coverage, including news stories on its court action over its exclusion from the RTÉ party leaders’ debate).

The party had no difficulty attracting young and enthusiastic recruits who did not really care about 2011 and the great unpleasantness that preceded it. It was able to run a candidate in every constituency in the country , which gave it the sense of being a national, rather than a South Dublin, entity.

During the recession climate change dropped like a stone as a political issue. However, with a climate deal agreed in Paris last December as well as an improving economy, climate change came back into the frame. The party’s slogan “Think ahead, act now” also resonated with people.

The Green Party also tried to broaden its appeal, both beyond Dublin and across a wider range of issues, to try to move the perception of it beyond that of a niche party. It landed some very strong candidates who may hold out longer-term prospects of winning seats.

Ground campaign

However, what made the difference was her incredible ground campaign in her constituency. For more than three years, she spent every available moment canvassing in the constituency, meeting people on the doorsteps and in shopping centres. Her great strength has been on a one-to-one basis, where she has been engaging and able to relate to people.

The outcome was two Dáil seats and national support well above 2 per cent. So another Lazarus performance. Or in their terms a successful recycling project.

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