This isn’t about guardians of Ireland’s rural soul versus the Gonzaga Greens - it’s about us all

Those who have crafted this narrative will be louder than most when they’re next looking for Noah’s Ark to rescue them and decrying insufficient support

Eamon Ryan, who is stepping down as Green Party leader, made a serious difference in relation to transport, renewable energy, climate law and nature restoration initiatives. He did that with dignity and thoroughness. Photograph: Leah Farrell/

Studying ecology was the preserve of a privileged few in Ireland in 1979. Eamon Ryan was one of them, as was Ciarán Cuffe, both then students at the Jesuit-run Gonzaga College, a private school in Ranelagh in South Dublin. It stirred in them a mission and purpose that recent election results have suggested is now limping rather than – as climate change demands it should be – roaring.

The decline in support for the Green Party undermines the maxim used about smaller parties in Irish politics: that they need to be radical or redundant. This phrase, employed by Michael McDowell when speaking of the now-redundant Progressive Democrats, needs reconsideration, as it is being radical that is threatening the Green Party with redundancy.

The organisation of bicycle tours was Ryan’s business before he devoted himself to full-time politics. There was a message in that pursuit that remains relevant; as Ryan put it early in his political career, “I think you can be enterprising and concerned.” The Green agenda, however, as he suggested in his resignation statement this week, has been narrated as one of punishment and loss, the changes and adaptations relating to climate and nature commonly referred to as an “attack” on those who see themselves as guardians of Ireland’s real and rural soul against the Gonzaga Greens. It is a narcissistic narrative and entirely self-defeating, and those who have crafted it will be louder than most in decrying what they regard as insufficient support when next looking for Noah’s Ark to rescue them.

It would be trite to assert that Ryan’s career has ended in failure. With his colleagues, he invested much in the slogan, more than 30 years ago, that “The Nineties will be Green”. They hardly were, but Ryan subsequently evolved into a politician who made a serious difference in relation to transport, renewable energy, climate law and nature restoration initiatives. He did that with dignity and thoroughness, communicating a message often greeted with hostility, but which other politicians were compelled to address, even if far too many of them did so halfheartedly.


The Dublin dimension to the Greens’ appeal has been both a blessing and a curse and certainly needs to be addressed, as does the meaning and reach of “just transition”. The year 1989 was the first time the hitherto-loose coalition of environmental campaigners contested a general election under the banner of the Green Party. All 11 candidates (except for Seán English in Kildare) were located in Dublin. Collectively, the candidates received 25,000 first-preference votes. In the 1991 local elections, 13 city and county councillors were elected for the party, largely in Dublin. This gave them increased profile and mass, but also underlined the scale of the challenge to make their message travel further.

Following the 2011 general election that saw all Green TDs lose their seats, the party’s former chairman, Dan Boyle, who lost his Cork seat, suggested there was “a growing desire to go back to the future in the party, to reacquaint itself with its activist roots”. That desire may manifest itself again but, given the urgency of climate change, the argument to try to push change from within government has had an understandable force.

For all the progress made by Green parties internationally in recent decades, there has also been a consistency throughout that period in how their agenda has been responded to. As Jean Lambert, then chair of the Green Party of England and Wales, put it in 1995, that response involved “dirty tricks, co-option of the easier policies or attempts to co-opt the parties into compromising alliances, and outright opposition, which has brought together management and workers against the Greens”.

Eamon Ryan profile: Despite aiming at ‘moonshots’, the Greens leader was a realist at heartOpens in new window ]

This month’s European election results suggest the continued effectiveness of such strategies. The resistance internationally is massively resourced; in his 2023 book How to Fix a Broken Planet, Julian Cribb of the Council for the Human Future highlighted research that documented how, “through purpose-built ‘lie factories’, the US $7-trillion petroleum sector (coal, oil, gas, and petrochemicals) has sought to misinform, manipulate and sabotage world efforts to rein in climate change by corrupting governments, distorting public discourse, and circulating falsehoods”. Cribb also quotes American scientist Peter Hotez: “Antiscience has emerged as a dominant and highly lethal force, and one that threatens global security, as much as do terrorism and nuclear proliferation.”

The politics of human survival is of course far bigger than Green parties, but if those parties cannot survive, such politics will be even more diluted. The jokes about muesli and sandals have long worn thin. As for “senior hurling”, which former Fianna Fáil minister Séamus Brennan told Eamon Ryan and his colleagues they were finally playing when entering government in 2007, those who have been foremost in deriding the Greens haven’t even reached junior sub level, while our hurling fields are scorched or drowned.