It’s time to defang the attacks and reunite the Green Party
Analysis: Two factions fight a bitter battle of attrition, in full view of everybody else
Neasa Hourigan has been at the centre of a breakdown in relations within its parliamentary party. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
One place where there is no sign of a 7 per cent reduction in toxic fumes is in the Green Party where debate over the programme for government has become dangerously inflamed in recent weeks.
The party had an extraordinarily successful day-long online convention last week that was an exercise in how democracy works. Sadly for the party that was the only beacon of light in a dark period as two factions fight out an increasingly bitter battle of attrition, mostly online and in full view of everybody else.
Classified at its most reductive, one backs the programme for government and, by extension, Eamon Ryan. The second group oppose the programme for government, hate Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and want Eamon Ryan inducted into the Green Party Hall of Fame (ie sent out to grass). The tiny sliver of an intersection in the Venn diagram for both groups is deputy leader Catherine Martin.
You could add extra categories – young versus old; environmentalists versus social justice advocates; centrists versus anti-capitalist socialists; those who are pragmatists versus those who want to stay ideologically pure; those who say “now” versus those who say “later”.
The debate about entering government with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was always going to be divisive but the level of discourse in this debate has descended – occasionally – into score-settling, invective and insult.
Some of it has been directed at Ryan. Some of the comments from Green members and representatives when he used the N-word were – objectively – OTT. But, in response, his supporters then piled in to lambast those who made them. We have seen this pattern repeated in recent weeks.
The latest allegations from Cork councillor Lorna Bogue gives an illustration of the schism that has torn the party apart in the past two months. It extends to the highest level where there has been a breakdown in relations within its parliamentary party, centred on Neasa Hourigan. She has been a powerful advocate against going into government but some of her colleagues feel a sense of betrayal that she remained as a negotiator until the end, signed off on the housing section (which she has since excoriated), abstained on the vote, and then came out railing against the entire programme.
Some of the younger members have found themselves singled out. Daniel Whooley, a young councillor, posted a relatively innocuous tweet saying Sinn Féin were prepared to talk if coalition was rejected. One reply asked him why he was not joining People Before Profit. No campaigners are constantly challenged to point out the alternatives. Some of the Nos in turn accuse the Yeses of being “FF-FG” appeasers. Neither side believe there is an equivalence of abuse, in other words, a parity of insults from either side. What everybody recognises is it has become very toxic.
Several TDs and councillors said on Wednesday that the Covid-19 restrictions had resulted in the debate happening largely online and in social media. Such media are tone deaf to nuance and reason, and situations can quickly escalate. That has exacerbated the problem but is not its only explanation.
All agreed that irrespective of the outcome, something must now be done to defang the attacks and reunite the party. That will be a big challenge.