Eamon Ryan profile: Despite the ‘moonshots’, the Greens leader was a realist at heart

Ryan first became involved in politics through his chairmanship of the Dublin Cycling Campaign

Eamon Ryan will be remembered 'as the person who transformed Ireland’s environmental movement and made it mainstream', says colleague Malcolm Noonan. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Eamon Ryan’s last major journey as a Minister was to Luxembourg on Monday to witness the Nature Restoration Law pass through the council of ministers and become official EU law. It was a notable moment of achievement for somebody who has campaigned on that issue for a political lifetime.

His colleague Malcolm Noonan said on Tuesday that Ryan would be remembered “as the person who transformed Ireland’s environmental movement and made it mainstream”.

When Ryan began his political career 30 years ago, the environment was so peripheral to Irish politics as to be inconsequential. Now, it is at the centre of political discourse in Ireland. That has been a huge achievement for Ryan and his party. Where the friction lies politically is the opposition to the changes (some of them painful and costly) that the Greens have prescribed.

When Ryan joined the Greens it had no leader and a radical agenda that stemmed from its roots in the ecological and anti-nuclear movements. Even then there was internal conflict between the realists and the ideological purists. That tension continued until the 2020 general election but seems to have dissipated in recent years.


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Ryan always had his feet planted more in the realist camp. Educated in Gonzaga and UCD, he ran a cycle business from the Belfield campus and first became involved in politics through his chairmanship of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.

After being elected to Dublin City Council, he was elected to the Dáil for the first time in 2007. With six TDs, the Green Party went into coalition with Fianna Fáil and Ryan became minister for energy and communications.

What's behind Eamon Ryan's shock resignation?

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The Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan, is stepping down after 13 years at the helm. However, the Transport Minister is staying on as a member of the Cabinet, as the government enters its final phase in power. He says it will be up to the next leader of the party to decide if he remains in that role. The Greens lost their European seats and half their councillors in the local and European elections earlier this month. It was a poor result but it wasn’t quite the collapse that had been speculated upon. After Leo Varadkar’s shock departure in March as the leader of Fine Gael, and this latest announcement, is the prospect of an early general election even closer? And who is likely to succeed Ryan as the party leader?Presented by Bernice Harrison. Produced by Aideen Finnegan.

From the start, his personality traits were obvious and consistent. He did not relish the combative side of politics and always sought compromise. He was ambitious in his targets, with a penchant for aiming at “moonshots”. In the financial crisis, many of them foundered. But his big target of 40 per cent of electricity being generated by renewable was achieved, albeit later.

The party was all but wiped out in 2011, losing all its Dáil seats. Ryan took on the job as leader and gradually rebuilt the party, achieving a big breakthrough in the 2019 local and European elections. It went on to win a record 12 seats in the 2020 election.

The split between the pragmatic and radical wings re-emerged. After a bruising battle, the membership voted to go into government. Despite the election results, Ryan narrowly survived a leadership battle with Catherine Martin held immediately after the election.

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Ryan’s second period of government has been marked by an unwavering focus on his wide portfolio of environment, climate change, transport and energy. The Climate Change Act became a reality. Spending on transport was skewed towards public transport and active transport. The move towards offshore wind energy, to solar power, moved on at pace.

There have been controversies and misjudgments and assertions he brought the party too close to its centrist Coalition partners. Along the way, and to his regret, he has been portrayed as the enemy of rural Ireland, of farming, and of roads.

Ryan has remained calm in the face of some nasty insults, especially on social media. He is highly regarded in Europe for his environmental credentials and was the EU’s lead negotiator for “loss and damage” at the last two global COP conferences. Many of his friends believe his career post-politics will be in Europe.

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Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times