‘Everything to play for’: Green Party conference hears Ireland is ‘an outlier when it comes to local democracy’

Members fired up to get out and canvass for local and European elections

The Green Party conference opening was both amusing and sobering. After welcoming delegates to the RDS national co-ordinator Cllr Caitríona Kelly moved on to some housekeeping items, including reminding members that those who brought their keep cups would get a 10 per cent discount on teas and coffees.

And there were certainly some takers on that, while everyone else got their drinks in a ceramic cup or mug, and not a paper cup in sight.

But smiles turned to concern when she warned of the possibility of “incidents”. In the wake of the demonstration by masked protesters outside the home of Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman, the party was on high alert.

Cllr Kelly told delegates the plan. If there were any “incidents” they would suspend proceedings for 10 minutes, and she appealed to members not to film or photograph the scene should it occur.


In the end there was no disruption and the concerns about protests returned to the theme of the convention, an election rally to fire up members to get out and canvass for the party in the local and European and Limerick’s first directly elected mayoral contest.

New young candidates who were introduced had a particular interest in public transport. Tate Donnelly running in the Carrickmacross/Castleblayney area of Monaghan spoke of the railway service in his county that operated up to 50 years ago and connected to the North. Now there is no railway service in Monaghan, Cavan or Donegal although new rural buslinks routes are opening up regularly.

Ruadháin Bonham running in Ratoath Co, Meath said he wanted to ensure that the trainline from Dublin to Navan – the reopening of which has been pledged for decades – was not only reopened but that it would extend to Monaghan, Donegal and Derry.

He also pointed out that one fifth of the population was under 25 so “surely one fifth of councillors should be under 25″, particularly given that the Ireland had its youngest Taoiseach ever, the “TikTok Taoiseach”.

In a discussion on “why we need Greens on Councils” Cllr Mark Hackett spoke of being the only Green local authority member in Offaly said the fact that the Greens, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are all in government together “has softened the edges and we all get on well but I wouldn’t like to be relying on “them”.

For Dublin City Cllr Janet Horner said councillors frequently heard on the media decisions taken by the council executive that it did not bring to the council. “The battleground is different” in Dublin, she said.

Limerick-based Cllr Sasa Novak told the convention that the Greens still get ridiculed in the council and said afterwards that it is predominantly from rural-based councillors because the city councillors are starting to realise that the solutions we’re promoting like public transport and active travel are actually working because they mean less cars on the road and for those who have to drive a more easy traffic flow”.

She said “the Greens are the obvious target,” but “in all honesty it’s probably just for publicity”.

“There is not so much of it now but occasionally ‘climate change is a hoax and Marxist watermelons are doing such and such’, there is that kind of ridicule.” But she adds “we’re the ones basing our motions and policies on facts, on science. So that ridicule is not warranted.”

In a session on big ideas around communities, energy and nature Donnacha Geoghegan, candidate in Donaghmede, Dublin highlighted the opposition to a proposal for park benches to be placed in a park. It was refused on grounds that it would encourage antisocial behaviour.

“What else are young people going to get up to but antisocial behaviour if there’s no place for social behaviour,” he said to applause.

Dundalk South Cllr Marianne Butler said that Louth was “going gangbusters on retrofitting” and “got the gold star” for its efforts and last year doubled the number of homes retrofitted. She believes her work as a councillor is “not done until my town and county are climate proofed and future proofed”.

Diarmaid Griffin, a candidate in Killarney said that for him, running in the election is about a liveable future for Killarney and linking the town better. It had a growing population and more homes were needed but they had to have the proper amenities and services including proper sewage treatment, links to schools and community.

Dublin Kimmarge Rathmines Cllr Carolyn Moore a former dress designer told the convention that “you can’t shop your way to a sustainable wardrobe” and the most sustainable one is “the one you already own”. She said that in the EU alone there are 15 billion items a year of “fast fashion” with a huge amount of them in existence for less than a year before they are thrown out.

In a discussion with the party’s two MEPs Ciaran Cuffe in Dublin, Grace O’Sullivan in Ireland South and Senator Pauline O’Reilly in Midlands Northwest Mr Cuffe said “Ireland is an outlier when it comes to local democracy. It is outrageous that the plebiscite on whether Dublin should have a directly elected mayor has been postponed from being held on June 7th.

“If we believe in democracy, we should give local government in Ireland the powers and the leadership it deserves, that the norm elsewhere in Europe.”

The conference ended yesterday evening with party deputy leader Catherine Martin encouraging members to get canvassing with the rallying call that “there is everything to play for” in the elections. Party leader Eamon Ryan highlighted Green successes in Government, and with 44 current councillors in a number of counties he believed they could have at least one councillor in every county, a major breakthrough.

June 7th will determine that prediction.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times