Eamon Ryan admits stage is set for a ‘trickier, tenser period in government’ as elections loom

‘There ain’t time to postpone action on climate’, says Green Party leader

Eamon Ryan is a subscriber to what might be called a tidal theory of climate politics. “It keeps coming in and coming out”, he says from his corner office in Government Buildings as he prepares for today’s Green Party national convention.

He says there was a “deep environmental consciousness” in place when he entered politics in the late 1980s, which has ebbed and flowed since. “But it will come back in because of the underlying reality of climate change striking home now,” he says.

He believes there is no longer breathing room to wait for tidal rhythms to restore the Greens to government again. “There ain’t time to pause now,” he says. “There ain’t time to postpone action on climate.”

Ryan comes across as utterly convinced of his mission and how he is approaching it. Whether voters share that conviction, though, is what matters.


Part of winning over voters will be convincing them that the Greens being in government has delivered tangible benefits. TDs and Senators almost universally point to increases in childcare subsidies from Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman - which they say other Coalition parties are eager to claim.

“Success has many fathers. We have a lot of people claiming the childcare fees – and that was Roderic,” says party whip Marc Ó Cathasaigh.

Róisín Garvey, the Green Senator based in Clare, quips that “even our own members aren’t aware of what we’ve actually achieved”. She blames a media narrative that suppresses good news stories in favour of an “if it bleeds, it leads” approach, agreeing that “the good things we do, other parties are happy to pretend it was their idea”.

Ryan seems sanguine enough about this, praising O’Gorman’s policy as “one hell of a political achievement – and understandably Government colleagues are all over that like a rash”.

However, he is unwilling to give any commitment on further cuts to childcare fees. One senior Green source last week said their expectation was that supports would increase again for parents next year. However, it is not expected that O’Gorman will flag anything in his speech today, and observers believe he is eager to implement inclusion reforms for underprivileged children, and disability reforms – all of which cost money.

Ryan is hardly emphatic in endorsing the idea that more should be done on childcare fees, which he says is ultimately more a question for O’Gorman – and for much closer to the budget. “If I was putting resources in that regard, I’d put it into housing solutions”, he remarks, saying the cost of childcare has been halved already. “In general, what do we do further in terms of supporting families raising children, I think it’s connected inextricably to the cost of housing so you have a certain freedom when you have young children – which is a hard time – to make your choices. You do that universally by continuing to work on housing.”

Ryan seems uncomfortable with his Coalition partners’ eagerness to promise budget giveaways in April, remarking it is “politically difficult” that colleagues are “promising this, that and the other”, describing a “long list of committed budget promises” after Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ardfheiseanna. As elections loom, Ryan admits the stage is probably set for a “trickier, tenser period in government”.

Ryan, who will shortly mark the beginning of his 14th year as party leader, believes Irish people are by instinct green, citing Environmental Protection Agency research that says 85 per cent believe more should be done to address climate change. In 2022 he predicted one in ten voters “can and will” support the Greens. While this remains his view on where the natural home for the party is, he now says that 6 or 7 per cent in the local and European elections would be a good day.

Despite the potential wellspring suggested by the EPA research, as the Greens gather at the RDS today, Irish Times polling suggests they command just one in 20 first-preference votes.

In the 2020 general election, the party secured more than 7 per cent, and exit polling suggested a 12.9 per cent haul in Dublin – where eight of its 12 TDs are based.

The party sustained some of that momentum in Government, regularly polling at 5 per cent plus, before a slide in the autumn and winter of 2021 until early this year, when the most recent Irish Times poll in February suggested a two point recovery – but only to 5 per cent.

More encouragingly, their support in Dublin in February was at 10 per cent, having dropped as low as 3 per cent.

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The Greens are fiercely proud of what they have achieved in Government. Ó Cathasaigh, the party’s Waterford TD and whip, says the challenge is getting people to understand that.

He believes the party has delivered both in terms of deep structural reform and on the ground, but he says it has traditionally had a problem where it talks “at a high level and doesn’t do a good job of relating that down into people’s lives”.

It’s a common view among the Green parliamentary party – that if only people understood what they’d been doing, they’d be rewarded.

It takes six to nine months to prepare for negotiating a programme for government. You need deep analysis in your political party of what you really want in a negotiated agreement

—  Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan

He may not do auction politics – at least not in April – but Ryan is not above planting a flag in certain policies. He says reduced public transport fares, which are due to expire at the end of the year, should not be going up before the next election. “My political view is that now is not the time to be increasing fares,” he says. And on sectoral policies the Greens have championed like a pilot scheme on a basic income for the arts, he says his view is it should be expanded and he hopes it can be put on a more lasting footing. “I think it should grow, I think it has worked,” he says.

Party strategists plan to urge voters to “keep going green”, arguing their policies benefit people and the planet, as well as making the case that as the hard right rises in Europe, the Greens will safeguard the presence of their policies. Public transport fares, new rural bus routes, retrofitting, domestic solar panels and support for forestry and organic farming will be emphasised. The party will also claim the cuts in childcare bills, expanded parental leave, and seek to portray remote working and domestic violence leave as Green wins. Ryan says work will start on mechanisms to pay farmers for nature restoration and land use change.

Meanwhile, he thinks there should also be a focus on the next government. “It takes six to nine months to prepare for negotiating a programme for government. You need deep analysis in your political party of what you really want in a negotiated agreement.” On this front, he says strategies to decarbonise aviation fuel and freight need to be devised so Ireland can meet its 2040 climate targets.

Ó Cathasaigh says the party should be “unapologetic” about its green credentials but also equally so on social change. This is shared by Ryan, who reminds his Coalition colleagues that “we have an agreement with Paschal and Michael McGrath and in Government that it will be a progressive budget – that the final arbiter in terms of the outcome of the budget is the bottom three deciles benefit more than the top three”.

The party has much on its plate between now and the next election – not least the future funding of RTÉ, which Ryan says Catherine Martin will deliver before the summer. A potential fault line has emerged over the model to be chosen, with opposition within Fianna Fáil to an exchequer-based model said to be favoured by the media minister. “My key imperative is we get a decision and solution that gives certainty and that will be seen as historically important”, Ryan says, pledging to back whatever solution Martin brings to him.

There is a frustration in the party about how tenacious the idea that the Greens are antagonistic to rural Ireland has become, with Ryan’s view that some people are “frantically” trying to establish what he calls a “politics of fear and division”.

“For too long it has been said that the Greens are against rural Ireland, and it makes me sick”, Róisín Garvey says, arguing it suits those in politics who want “business as usual, they’ve their heads in the sand, put out the Child of Prague, let us keep cutting the turf forever. They want nothing to change and because they know they’re wrong, they attack the Greens, because they know we’re right.”