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Eamon Ryan resignation will make management of the end of this Coalition more fraught

Ryan’s departure looks to be drawn from the we-have-to-try-something school of thought as Catherine Martin confounds expectations stepping down as deputy

Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin are both stepping down from their roles as Green Party leader and deputy leader respectively. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

To lose one party leader might be unfortunate. To lose two ...

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan became the second of the three party leaders in the Coalition to step down this year when he announced his resignation at Government Buildings this lunchtime. Like Leo Varadkar’s bombshell in March, the announcement came out of the blue, though Ryan’s party had suffered a severe drubbing at the recent local and European elections, losing almost half its council seats and both its European Parliament seats.

The Euro losses were particularly galling; for a time, it looked as if both Ciaran Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan might somehow manage to hold on. But it was not to be, and Green Party soreness at Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil candidates who sought to criticise the party during the election campaigns has only increased as a result.

Announcing his departure at Government Buildings on Tuesday, Ryan stressed it was for personal reasons – he is worn out and he has caring responsibilities for his son who has special needs. The relentless online abuse must be wearing, after a time.


General election could take place in October as calls grow within CoalitionOpens in new window ]

But you can’t take the politics completely out of it either. The decision is likely an attempt to detoxify the Green brand, which has become, among certain cohorts of voters and in rural Ireland especially, somewhat noxious. This is largely as a result of a highly personalised campaign against Ryan among rural independents and others opposed to Ryan’s version of the green agenda.

The party has also been targeted for increases in the carbon tax. More broadly, it demonstrates the political cost that climate action – which many people agree with in principle but don’t like its practical applications – can exact on its promoters. Green parties all over Europe have been monstered by voters unhappy with aspects of the changes that climate action requires.

O’Gorman and Hackett possible contenders to succeed Ryan as Green leaderOpens in new window ]

It remains to be seen if Ryan’s departure as party leader will rehabilitate the Greens in advance of the general election. That will depend, to some degree, on the performance of the new leader. Catherine Martin confounded expectations that she would run – after all, she challenged Ryan for the leadership during the negotiations with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in 2020 – with a statement saying she, too, was stepping down as deputy leader.

But while it is not clear at this stage if there will be a contest, it is hard to see a successor that would be a more substantial figure than Ryan, the man who brought the party back from electoral disaster in 2011 and led it into government nine years later.

But in any event, his successor is unlikely to be less committed to climate action as Ryan, nor is the Green Party likely to water down its green credentials and policies. From that point of view, this resignation looks to be drawn from the we-have-to-try-something school of thought. It may well be drawing inspiration from the Fine Gael experience with Simon Harris. But that looks like hope, not strategy.

The resignation of Ryan will undoubtedly be a destabilising event for the Coalition. Ryan had built up a close relationship with Micheál Martin over recent years and the meetings of the three party leaders on Monday nights in advance of the following day’s Cabinet has been the cockpit of Government decision-making.

Any new leader will be coming to this forum without the reservoir of trust and confidence that he has built up. The change will make managing the end of this Coalition – one of the chief tasks it now faces – a more fraught prospect than previously.

What's behind Eamon Ryan's shock resignation?

Listen | 17:42

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.