“This time around, there’s a realisation from councillors and other groupings that the Greens are not mad. They’ve got something valid to say, and they should be listened to and responded to,” said recently re-elected Green Party city councillor Dan Boyle.
When he first entered the Council Chamber in City Hall back in 1991, the Greens were a fringe party that was largely ignored by the powers that be and the public at large.
In 2019, as he makes his return, the Green Party is in a much stronger position, and he believes it will be a major force in Irish politics in the years ahead.
The ‘green wave’ swept through Cork city during the May elections, with Mr Boyle and three other Green councillors getting elected, putting them just behind Sinn Féin as the fourth biggest party in the chamber.
A deal with Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and an independent allowed the party to gain some of the spoils of City Hall too, focusing on their key concern — the environment.
It was a similar story around the country.
The Green Party was always a marginal group, and its one stint at the centre of power — the disastrous 2007-11 coalition Government — left it maligned by the electorate.
But with the climate crisis moving to the fore of political discourse and a renewed energy within the party, its fortunes changed rapidly.
The last time Mr Boyle won an election was 2002, when he was elected to the Dáil. He failed to get over the line in several campaigns since — until now.
Despite that record, this was his most comfortable victory yet, finishing just a few dozen votes short of the quota.
He was pleasantly surprised by the county results too, where the party won two seats, part of a larger trend where approximately half of the traditionally Dublin-centric party’s seats came from outside the capital.
“While still very urban — that has to be accepted — it’s the first time we can truly describe ourselves as a national party.
“We have a councillor in Clare, we have two in Limerick, we have two in Waterford. We have someone in Kilkenny, someone in Offaly.
“What the European and local elections show is that we can viably pitch ourselves as the third party in Irish politics. Four or five years ago, we were grateful to be the fifth.”
Though he’s served as a TD and Senator, he had no ego about returning to local politics.
“I don’t see life as climbing up a ladder and falling back down again. I think you have to be prepared to go up, to go sideways, to go down, and use your experience.
“When I was elected first as a 28-year-old, the person that got the very last seat was former Tánaiste Michael O’Leary. He scraped the last seat. I use that as a template. The idea of representing people in whatever context and whatever platform it is. I think it’s always a privilege to represent people at any level. If there were town councils again and I found myself in the right position, I would probably put myself forward for that as well,” he said.
He said that where he might have lost his focus or his temper when he was a newbie councillor, just 28 years old, he has experience on his side another 28 years on.
“If life has taught me anything it’s that you can convince people a lot more easily if you talk softly and apply the force of your argument.
“I’ve recognised that the strongest asset of being a public representative is the platform. The ability to use power is often very circumscribed and compromised, and what you’re trying to do is influence the wider group of people involved in making decisions — the public, officials, or other politicians,” he said.
Through its power-sharing deal in City Hall, the Green Party has already achieved wins on some of their key policies.
In exchange for supporting Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and independent Lord Mayors, Mr Boyle was made chair of the council’s environment committee, and a new climate action committee was established.
“We have the climate action committee established, and it will be chaired by a Green. Its agenda will include things like the response to the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy. It will include the climate adaptation plan that’s coming. It will include, at our insistence, a re-look at the city wall scheme,” said Mr Boyle.
However, the deal attracted criticism immediately, even within the party, where Cllr Lorna Bogue broke with her colleagues on a number of votes.
The Greens were heavily criticised from the left, both inside and outside the chamber, for backing the two Civil War parties, but Mr Boyle hit back at his critics and said it was the price of making progress on environmental goals.
“We’ll have a honeymoon period of six months to a year, and if we’re not seen to be delivering, people will be justified in criticising us.
“There is a proportion of the electorate that is sick of the politics of constantly saying ‘no’. You have to be seen to be doing things. If you don’t, you pay a political price for that.
He adds: “The idea that we’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys doesn’t wash with me. In fact, the idea of left and right doesn’t wash with me. You’re either progressive or reactionary, and you can be right-wing reactionary or left-wing reactionary.
“You either want to get things done or stand in the corner saying: ‘Woe is me, it’s all their fault.’
“It’s not all their fault. Some of it is your fault. All the responsibility is collective.”
Though the party is still only getting to grips with its surge, a general election will be coming up soon and the party could find itself as the kingmaker for a coalition.
The UN says that the world has about 11 years to tackle the climate crisis, so the Greens may not have the luxury of staying out of Government.
Mr Boyle, who was chair of the party during the last coalition, said that he would be comfortable going back into Government if it meant delivering for the climate, even if it meant the party losing seats afterwards.
“As regards to what happened in 2007, I would do that again. I would take the opportunity of being in Government, because in Government you can achieve the most change.
“Traditional parties have a paternalistic vision. ‘Vote for us and we’ll look after you.’ That doesn’t cut it anymore.
“The Greens’ perspective is ‘Vote for us and we’ll work with you’.”