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Three-cornered stool comes crashing down after another quiet quitting

The Government will runs its course, promised Micheál once more, with feeling. But the Greens have pulled the window down

Word that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan was quitting sparked a reaction that wasn’t so much one of widespread shock, but more of a mild surprise. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Another leg gone from the original three-cornered Coalition stool.

The Great Resignation continues.

This time, a quietly quitting Eamon Ryan standing outside Government Buildings and calling it a day.

Three months ago, in the same place at about the same time, Leo Varadkar stepped down as taoiseach. His was a surprise, short notice exit too. It shocked the political world.


But there the similarities end.

When Varadkar announced his news, he walked in silence to the steps outside the main doors accompanied by senior party colleagues. As he spoke, they cushioned him in a doughnut of despond – one looking more bereft than the other.

The outgoing taoiseach seemed on the verge of tears for much of his abdication speech.

In contrast, word that the Green Party leader was quitting sparked a reaction that wasn’t so much one of widespread shock but more of a mild surprise.

Podcast: Why is Green leader Eamon Ryan stepping aside?

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There weren’t immediate grumblings about the viability of the current administration or ominous rumblings of “whither the Government now?”.

When Leaders’ Questions kicked off shortly after Ryan’s statement, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald didn’t even refer to it.

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If this had happened before her party suffered a sobering electoral setback last week, she would have been proclaiming this as the last nail in an ailing Government’s coffin and redoubling her demands for an immediate general election.

After the usual mad panic to get to Government Buildings for the big announcement, the soon-to-be retiring Minister for Transport was symbolically 25 minutes late.

Ryan explained afterwards that the Cabinet meeting went on longer than expected but didn’t elaborate any further, so we don’t know if there were gifts involved and maybe even some weeping, which is always a risk when Paschal Donohoe is in the room.

To fill the time before Eamon appeared, people fell to speculating about his successor.

“He’s a big hole to fill,” said one commentator, which seemed overly harsh.

Roderic O’Gorman, perhaps?

Green Party leader and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan announced that he will be stepping down as party leader and will not run in the next election.

But that might be a bit cruel as poor Roderic is the most overworked Minister as it is and it mightn’t be fair to saddle him with another job.

At least the party has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose, most of whom were hanging out an upper floor window directly facing the podium where Eamon would eventually stand.

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.

“What about the man with the bun?” asked somebody else, spotting Wicklow TD Steven Matthews standing under a tree at the back of the courtyard. They were referring to his distinctive hair as opposed to his lunch.

Or maybe Brian Leddin after his meteoric campaign in failing to be elected mayor of Limerick?

No sign of Catherine Martin though, Eamon’s deputy leader who once challenged him for the job and only just fell short of winning. Apparently she only returned that morning from Miami and was incommunicado.

Catherine Martin and Eamon Ryan who are stepping down as deputy leader and leader of the Green Party respectively. Photographs: Dara Mac Dónaill

Seen by many as his natural successor, Catherine surfaced on social media in the early afternoon to confirm she would not be contesting the leadership and is also stepping down as deputy leader. However, she bucked the trend by confirming she is seeking re-election to the Dáil.

Two holes to fill now at leadership level and spoilt for choice.

Finally, as the Minister for Climate treated the waiting media to a selection of weak sunshine, cold wind, fat plops of rain and an occasional drizzle, the double doors opened and at least a dozen advisers poured out and around the lawn to where the lectern was located.

Not long now.

Is there anything to be said for sounding out Paul Gogarty?

Suddenly, applause rang out from the upstairs window and the Green TDs and Senators jammed into it, camera phones at the ready.

Eamon Ryan made his way to the microphone, which wasn’t showily situated on the steps and he wasn’t shored up by his Ministers, who looked sad but not stricken in their eyrie above.

He seemed more at ease with his decision and didn’t appear upset in the way Varadkar did. His address was more reflective; a mixture of gratitude, pride, acceptance and relief.

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Gratitude for the “privilege” and “honour” of leading the Green Party and working in government. Pride in the achievements he said they have achieved and will achieve. Acceptance in one of his “biggest regrets” that a narrative had taken hold that the Green Party was not concerned with rural Ireland. This, he said, is untrue but convincing people otherwise was not easy because of the ongoing “relentless attack” on the party on social media, in particular. And relief because he can now spend more time balancing his environmental activism with his family life. He will not be contesting the next general election.

There were hints of emotion when Eamon spoke of his “parenting commitments at home” and his son with special needs who requires his attention, his wife Victoria White and family and friends, and his voice thickened when recalling the “vile” comments on social media about his father after his death.

Up at the window, they all looked a bit teary – Roderic O’Gorman, Pippa Hackett, Malcolm Noonan and Senator Róisín Garvey among the changing cast of politician and staffers, while the battalion of advisers below on the cobbles watched on with wan smiles.

As would be expected – because it has never been any different with Eamon Ryan over 30 years in politics at all levels – his resignation announcement was thoughtful, measured and dignified.

The slurry of online reaction was not.

He said his decision was not a snap one brought on by the party’s poor showing in the local and European elections. He had been considering stepping back for a number of months now and the people around him were aware of his intention.

Tuesday’s move wasn’t a bombshell revelation.

“Our party is very united at the moment and it’s in real health,” he said.

Around the same time on the RTÉ news, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy was damning the Minister with faint praise, describing him as a “very pleasant person” who is “very passionate about the issues he believes in”. However, he and his Green Party colleagues were “failures in Government”.

Green Party members look on as leader Eamon Ryan announces his resignation at Government Buildings. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

There was more applause from the window as Eamon Ryan made his way back into Government Buildings. He will stay in charge until a new leader is elected in about three weeks time.

Outside the gates, Mattie McGrath was talking to someone on his phone as he waited for a journalist and cameraman from Gript media to come out and interview him on this latest development.

“Aah Mattie, don’t look so sad!” we said to him, as he fished a folded handkerchief from his pocket and pretended to dab his eye.

One suspects Eamon Ryan will be on the right side of history in this one, but without the luxury of a last laugh.

Minutes after he finished speaking to the media and was back inside Government Buildings, a familiar figure emerged from an archway on the other side of the courtyard. It was Tánaiste Micheál Martin, beetling over to pay tribute to Eamon and their “warm personal and professional relationship”.

Still there. Still batting. Still the sturdy original third leg of the stool.

He began reading his script to the sound of laughter and chatter and muted cheers from the Green Party window. Eamon had arrived back among them.

Micheál said how Eamon Ryan was part of a Government “proud to have been a watershed” in its response to the climate change and biodiversity crisis. He had contributed to making “a Government of substance”.

The departing leader says he will serve until the Government runs its course in six months or so.

“All set to go the full distance,” promised Micheál once more, with feeling.

Suddenly, there was a loud squeak, followed by silence.

The Greens had pulled the window down.

Will the by-elections ever take place?

Listen | 27:02