Seen and not Heard: Young Greens Cast Doubt Over the Party's Future

Published on 26 October 2020 at 21:40

The Green Party/An Comhaontas Glas in government has been a contentious issue for many, including their own members, particularly those in the youth wing of the Green Party, the Young Greens/Glasa Óige. Frontier had the pleasure of interviewing five current members of the Young Greens to hear their views on a variety of issues, ranging from their opinions on the party’s role in the coalition government to whether or not they would vote Green in the next election. One thing that certainly became evident during this interview is that there is a real hunger and desire within the Young Greens to change the current trajectory of the party.


All of those interviewed stated with a positive note that they joined the party due to their interest in environmental and social issues, but also the overall ethos of the party, with many joining the party in the run-up to the 2019 Local Elections and the General Election in February of this year. However, when asked about their opinions on the party’s performance in government and the recent budget, members had some solemn words. All members we interviewed all voted against the Programme for Government (PfG) and have been extremely disappointed, if not angry with the party’s performance thus far in government. Members expressed their distaste toward the policy contained within the PfG, and when speaking about the Climate Bill agreed upon in the PfG; now former Chairperson of the Queer Greens and Membership and Events Officer of the Just Transition Greens, Tiernan Mason, stated ‘I think we could have gotten more done in opposition than this programme for government.’  


On the budget, it was acknowledged that there were some victories for the Greens, namely increases in mental health funding and climate initiatives. However, there was criticism across the board regarding the increased funding for the blood sport industry and horse racing. On the increase in Carbon Taxes, now former Chair of the Young Greens, Tara Gilsenan stated that ‘We’ve brought in a regressive carbon tax that is going to hurt lower-income people and people living in rural areas with no public transport’. The consensus among the group is that the budget was very much ‘green fingerprints on a blue canvas’ as the Chair stated, with these fingerprints not worth going into government for. With a general feeling that the party is abandoning its core values and policy, Secretary of TCD Young Greens, Mark Heavey, said he is concerned that there has been a genuine shift to the right within the party, which he stated is disheartening for many members.


There is a sense that there is a lack of communication between the party and its members regarding its role in government and votes in Dáil Éireann, which perhaps is creating even more discontent among members. Sadhb Murray-Donoghue who is Chairperson of the Kildare Young Greens homed in on this saying she feels there is a ‘real disconnect between Ministers (making the decisions) and TDs, and then ordinary members’. With some high-profile members leaving the party recently one would think that communication between the party and its members will be key to keeping its younger, disillusioned members. When asked about what is keeping them in the party, there was hesitancy at first, but Rossa Gilsenan, Chair of Mná Glasa Óige, feels as if she can implement change and get more done from within the party rather than outside it. There was less of a positive tone from the then Chair of the Young Greens saying, ‘I don’t know how much more I can take’, with this being the consensus among the group. 


While talking about members of the parliamentary Green Party who had at one point or another defied the whip those being current Minister of State for Community Development and Charities Joe O’Brien and current party TD Neasa Hourigan the question arose as to whether there were any current Green Party TDs that actively tried to engage with the Young Greens and listen to their voice. It was acknowledged in general that “the engagement has been slim to none and non-existent from some members of the parliamentary party and the leadership” with the Young Greens and while Tara mentioned that “certain ones [reps] have been in contact and certain TDs have been in contact who have said they really want to talk to the Young Greens” when it came to showing solidarity with the Young Greens and actively showing that they had been listening to their concerns “only a few have shown their true colours in this government”. Following on from this Tiernan expressed his anger at the fact that “[their] own party leader didn’t congratulate Tara in any way when she got elected to be chair of the Young Greens, the youth branch of his own party” and that if current party reps “want to engage with us [Young Greens] simply texting young greens, checking in with the chair, asking about what we’re doing, simple things like that will make us feel like we’re heard” and concluded with a final plea that “If you don’t engage with your youth branch then your party doesn’t have a future”.


Over the past year we saw the implementation of a new branch of the Green Party known as the Just Transition Greens (JTG) who have in some ways caused some unwanted division amongst more left leaning members of both the Young Greens and Green Party and those who align more to the centre or centre right of the party. Tiernan who was on the committee for the Just Transition Greens as Welfare and Equality Officer noted that internally a lot of party members saw the JTG as a front to “break off the party” and “split it in two” and that during his time within the party numerous baseless accusations and rumours were thrown at them, one of which being that “there’s members of the JTG that [are] in Sinn Féin” and on this both Tiernan and Sadhb made the point which was echoed by the rest of the members present that “people are scared of the JTG because they’re openly left” and “they’re unapologetic in wanting a just transition”. The Chair of Mná Glasa Óige added that the existence of the JTG wasn’t solely to hold the Green Party to account, although that was a key reason, but it was also there “for the whole ethos of a just transition”.


On where the members see the future of the party going it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of Young Greens want to see massive change within the senior party and there was a unanimous opinion that if the Green Party continued on its current trajectory that its membership and voting numbers would continue to fall. An overwhelming sentiment that was voiced by Mark Heavey was that if the Green Party wants to succeed it must first “change in a way that it communicates with members more” and has to become much “more assertive in government”. The common complaint with the current Green Party was that “there’s no point in having a seat at the table if you’re not getting any food” and if they continue on as they are “[members] can’t see any reason to stay and any reason to believe in [them]”. Tara mentioned that it was a worrying repeat of history where “the Green party have fooled the Irish people once and they’ll hoodwink people again” if there is not a major change in party performance in government.


Given that all participants had given a first preference vote to their local Green candidates in the previous election we were curious to know if an election was to be called again would they give their first preference to the Greens again. Out of the five participants only two of them were sure they would vote for their local Green candidate with Sadhb stating outright that she had no intention of giving a first preference vote to her local candidate due to the fact that since the election their “opinions have completely clashed”. The remaining two participants were unsure as to whether they would vote Green again. Mark while being a member of the Dún Laoghaire constituency said he was happy with the work of his local Green councillors but wasn’t overly gone on any of the current party members putting their name forward for election with Tiernan saying “it’d be for the candidate not the party” which might get him to vote Green again but that he was still unsure.


It seems clear from our discussion with members of the Young Greens that the divide that existed between the youth wing and the senior party coming up to the vote on the Programme for Government has only grown, especially now with the resignation of both the Chair of the Young Greens Tara Gilsenan and the Membership and Events Officer of the Just Transition Greens and Chairperson of the Queer Greens Tiernan Mason. The question now is will we see an attitude change amongst those in the Parliamentary Party or will business go on as usual and will adequate measures and transparency be brought forward to deal with the quickly falling membership of the Young Greens? Only time can tell.

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