It didn’t take long for Irish politics to move on from the elections.

Eamon Ryan’s decision to step down from the leadership of the Green Party after 13 years in the saddle marks the first step in the run-in towards the next general election.

The new party leader will have some time to settle in before facing into what will be a pivotal election for the party and the country.

I know that all general elections are pivotal, but this will be only the second time that the Green Party will be campaigning as part of the outgoing Government.

It will also be the first time the two traditional behemoths are both part of the Government.


It will be interesting to see what strategy all three parties adopt in the run-in to that election.

Will they hold firm and stand together in terms of the Government’s record? They will almost certainly all campaign as stand-alone parties - I don’t foresee any coalition pact being in place on polling day.

A new Green Party leader would have the opportunity to stand a little apart from what has and hasn’t been achieved since June 2020, but it looks like both Pippa Hackett and Roderic O’Gorman intend to stand full square behind the programme for government negotiated four years ago.

Martin going nowhere

Next Thursday is actually the fourth anniversary of Micheál Martin’s election as Taoiseach. When he rotated out of the role in December 2022, many people seemed to believe that was the beginning of the end for his tenure at the helm of Fianna Fáil. However, this week’s other leadership change announcement leads me to believe that not only will Micheál Martin lead Fianna Fáil into the next general election, he may well still be there in five years’ time.

Like Ryan, Martin has been leader since 2011. Both men took over parties at historic lows following the collapse of the economy under their parties’ joint tenure.

Martin actually led Fianna Fáil into that election following Brian Cowen’s resignation as party leader.

Despite being a veteran of nearly 30 years’ service in the Dáil, Martin is only 63. That’s 18 years younger than Joe Biden and only two years older than Keir Starmer, who is about (barring the shock of all political shocks) to assume the British prime ministry next month.

It’s the obvious explanation for his stepping away from being his party's second in command

The announcement of Jack Chambers as Fianna Fáil’s new deputy leader seemed to be a declaration that Martin is in firm control of the party.

It also all but confirms that Michael McGrath, his constituency colleague in Cork South Central, will be Ireland’s next European Commissioner. It’s the obvious explanation for his stepping away from being his party's second in command.

If Fianna Fáil could replicate their performance in the local elections in the next general election and again be the largest party in the Dáil, Martin could well be Taoiseach again.

There is no obvious challenger to his position as leader - he may well have the rare opportunity of being able to choose his own moment to depart as leader.

And that moment could be a long way off yet - perhaps not until Michael McGrath has returned from Brussels, ready to bid to keep the party leadership in Cork city.

Ryan's tenure

So how should we view Eamon Ryan’s tenure? He belied the slightly woolly image he sometimes conveys to lead his party out of the doldrums and back into Government.

Some lessons from their previous time in government were learned and the programme for government bore the imprint of green fingers on every page.

The climate bill, which many believed would never come to pass, passed through the Dáil within 12 months. The climate action plan was unveiled by the three party leaders in December 2022. That’s a lot more than seemed achievable 10 years ago.

In that decade, being able to ignore the reality of climate change and being able to say that it isn’t Ireland’s responsibility to address its carbon footprint and the effect of society on the natural world have gone from being mainstream positions to being on the margins.

Successes and failures

As Minister for Transport, there have been successes and failures. The main criticism of local link bus services is that there aren’t enough of them in terms of routes or frequency. That is an acknowledgement that the policy is the right one.

Greenways, cycle lanes and pedestrianised zones preceded this Government, but they are much more commonplace and unremarkable now.

There have been failures. The announcement of a sectoral target for the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) sector now rivals the National Children’s Hospital and the rail link to Dublin Airport in terms of being behind schedule.

Ryan has said that changing science is making it hard to pin down a target, but the science - or, more precisely, the scientific data - is constantly changing across almost everything to do with climate action, as measuring becomes more sophisticated and accurate.

The big problem is that this single-sector fudge underpins a much bigger fudge. Once the LULUCF target is revealed, it will become obvious that the combined six sectoral targets won’t come close to achieving the overall 51% reduction in emissions from the non-trading sectors.

Increased targets

The solution most commentators posit is to increase those targets. This is particularly true of agriculture, which has the lowest sectoral target in terms of a percentage reduction.

Two things about that.

Firstly, it is becoming increasingly obvious that agriculture is the sector with the most dynamic action plan of emissions reduction.

Farmers are implementing the marginal abatement cost curve and other measures, as other sectors move from interdepartmental working groups to white papers, feasibility studies and pilot schemes.

The second thing is that farmers uniquely have no ability to pass on the cost of climate mitigation to the people they sell their products to.

Some would say that means they should stop producing. Maybe farmers will, maybe they already have - Tirlán’s announced job cuts have been partly explained as a response to reduced milk throughput. If they do, that is not necessarily good news.

The economics of food production are equally tight the world over, with the same market dynamic meaning farmers have little control over pricing or margin. This is globalisation writ large.

And if farmers in Kerry, Waterford and Meath stop or reduce production, farmers in Koblenz, Westphalia and Messina will probably do the same. And then where are we?

Can a country girl lead the Greens?

Pippa Hackett seems set to be one half of a two-horse race to succeed Eamon Ryan. On one hand, she is probably the outsider - an unelected senator who is at cabinet as a super-junior minister of state, up against a TD who is a full minister.

O’Gorman may more closely appeal to the young, urban voters that would seem to be the Green Party’s natural catchment.

It’s unfair to depict Pippa as a slightly posh girl turned farmer (a crowded space in our fishbowl of politics, considering Holly Cairns - a party leader herself - is often tarred with that same brush).

She’s going to have to show she can get dirt under her fingernails if she wants to convince the 4,000 or so party members that she is the right person for the job.

And not farm dirt either - the voting membership is more urban, I would think, more allotment or window-box lettuce than organic beef or lamb.

It is interesting that no-one has emerged from within the ranks of those who opposed going into Government, the deeper-green harder-left wing of the party, to contend the leadership.

This is partly because many of those - including European election candidates Saoirse McHugh and Lorna Bogue - left the party. But there also may be a sense that a stronger mood for change might exist after a challenging general election campaign - the Green Party are obliged to hold a leadership contest when the next Taoiseach is elected.


There is a possibility that the general election will mirror the local elections, in the sense that it will be similar to the last general election, just as the recent local elections mirrored the 2019 contest.

That might see two of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coalescing. And they may again require a junior partner. It’s possible the Greens will be jettisoned in such a scenario.

Independent Ireland could well have the bones of a dozen TDs and the Social Democrats could also make gains and be a suitable partner for a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin coalition. So we could quickly see the Green Party in opposition under the second new leadership in less than 12 months.

In the meantime, it’s appropriate to recognise Eamon Ryan as a man of decency, integrity and substance.

I didn’t agree with everything he did or stood for, but that is true of all of us Irish with all politicians, isn’t it? And how much better is that than the cult status of leading political figures in other countries? For me, a lot better.