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'I'll put my hands up - I went to climate summit in Spain by plane' - Green Party leader Eamon Ryan

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan wants to change the world - without voters having to suffer for it, writes Niamh Horan


LAID BACK: Eamon Ryan, keeping it casual on his downtime, says the Greens can win over Ireland without guilt-tripping consumers. Photo: Owen Breslin

LAID BACK: Eamon Ryan, keeping it casual on his downtime, says the Greens can win over Ireland without guilt-tripping consumers. Photo: Owen Breslin

LAID BACK: Eamon Ryan, keeping it casual on his downtime, says the Greens can win over Ireland without guilt-tripping consumers. Photo: Owen Breslin

Eamon Ryan has a warning for those who want to get into politics: "I tell people to be careful, that it can be addictive. You get an adrenalin rush from doing a radio interview or speaking at an event. It's human nature."

What is addictive about it? "I guess it's vanity," he laughs, his face abashed.

If anything, his honesty is endearing. Even when we last met, and his personal habits came under scrutiny, the meat-eating, milk-drinking, gas-guzzling, leather-wearing, jet-hopping environmentalist lifted his hands and pleaded guilty as charged.

"I am a top sinner... sinner is the wrong word... but I am not as white as the driven snow," he said at the time, when informed that his own footprint rang in at 13.5 tonnes - far above the ideal two to three tonnes per person.

Four years later, and not much has changed. He hasn't given up his meat or dairy, despite the fact that scientists now know avoiding both is the single biggest way a person can reduce their impact on the planet. And he hasn't parked the 2.5-litre gas guzzler van - although he promises his next car will be electric.

"I do all the wrong things," he says of his fallibility. And it's not just on the road: "I'll put my hands up - I flew to the climate summit in Madrid in December." Asked his feelings about this, he says: "It's complex."


ON YER BIKE: For Dublin Eamon Ryan wants a transport model similar to that in cities such as Amsterdam

ON YER BIKE: For Dublin Eamon Ryan wants a transport model similar to that in cities such as Amsterdam

ON YER BIKE: For Dublin Eamon Ryan wants a transport model similar to that in cities such as Amsterdam

However, before cries of hypocrite ring out, he is keen to stress that none of this goes against his own party's ethos. And this is how the Greens plan to win over Ireland. No more guilt-tripping individuals about their behaviour. To beat the climate crisis, Ryan wants to go after the system.

Given that many of us are morally-inclined but flinch at the thought of taking on pain for the planet, his disinterest in punitive measures coupled with the party's focus on the bigger picture could be their strongest selling point. That and the Green leader's relatability.

As Ryan says of his environmental endeavours: "I try to do it in a way that I am not beating my chest or in a way that makes me a craw- thumper."

Over three decades he has learnt a hard lesson. "We made the mistake of focusing so much attention on the individual, but it doesn't work. It tends to make people feel guilty and shamed. We were saying 'the world is burning and if you change the light bulb…' so [now] the environmental movement has learnt to say 'look at the source of the problem rather than the consumer'. Let's change the system so that it is easier to do the right thing."

One of the key components of the Greens' manifesto will be its pledge to retro-fit 1.5 million Irish homes to make them 'passive' dwellings with solar panels, heating pumps and insulation - at no extra cost to the taxpayer.

Ryan asks voters to imagine a life "where you can go downstairs on a cold winter morning and the house is still warm". On how the Greens plan to finance this, he wants the European Investment Bank "to provide the initial tranche of capital and guarantee the first quarter of the loan", with the view that the savings on Ireland's fuel bills would cover the project's €50bn cost.

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Elsewhere, in response to farmers' woes, he also wants to re-wet Ireland's blanket bogs, then introduce sheep and cattle to graze. He believes the livestock "will do a good job for the climate by keeping down the birch trees" which drain the bogs. "Those bogs are the best storage of carbon we have, bar none," he says. Farmers, he envisions, will then be able to sell the meat for "a really high premium" to consumers who will pay top dollar "because it will be part of a sustainable system".

In transport, he wants to switch from widening the major roads to Dublin to providing "really high-quality transport solutions" all over Ireland and move the capital toward a model "similar to Dutch and Danish cities". If you want to see Ryan's vision, he says "go to Baggot Street Bridge at half five on a weekday evening. There are hundreds of bikes heading in every direction".

In addition, he will seek to introduce cost rental public housing - similar to the Vienna model and reintroduce the windfall tax on rezoning profits from land.

He dismisses the argument that governments shouldn't interfere with the market, saying: "Those days are over. We have to interfere because the market isn't working."

Everyone remembers the Green Party's alliance with Fianna Fail as the country went bust, but Ryan insists this time would be different. If the parties come to a power-sharing agreement again, he says the Greens would follow their convictions. "It's collective cabinet responsibility but that also gives you collective cabinet authority. You can stop anything."

How much responsibility does he take for the crash? "A lot," he says. Although asserting that the crisis had been set in motion when they took office, he admits: "We also had responsibility within government to try and address it - and we were involved in it."

As for his wish list, Ryan won't be drawn on what departments the Greens will seek if they enter a new power-sharing agreement. And he also refuses to say what ministerial job he is eyeing up. "If anyone is saying 'I would like to be this or that', well 'you and whose army?'... show us the votes first."

He also predictably dodges questions on which party leader he would prefer to work with. So instead I ask him to describe each man in three words. Micheal, he says, is "healthy, lean and decent", while Leo is "smart, competent and respectful".

On the fact that he has focused on one man's external virtues and another man's internal qualities, I wonder if it means anything. But he dismisses the point outright.

So what about Fine Gael's stinging remarks about his idea to reintroduce wolves in Ireland and then, again last week, Minister of State John Paul Phelan's comments that some Greens are "nutters"? Does he think Fine Gael looks down on the Greens? "I don't know whether that was off the cuff or if that is the way Fine Gael is going to run the election - we will see," he says.

"In politics, you have all sorts of barbs going back and forth and it's our general philosophy that the world is full of all sorts of trolling online. Do [we] want to add to it? No."

Ryan has been knocking on lots of doors and describes "a weird human thing" where "you can tell in a millisecond" how politician and voter have read each other. The biggest misconception about him he comes across is that he is a 'Dub': "I am as south Dublin as you can get, but scratch [the surface] and you find a country person underneath."

It's his eighth election and on a personal note, he remarks that politics is "tough on families". He has a rule not to talk about them, but the challenges he and his wife have faced with their son - who has autism - are well documented.

Although the school system is good, he says: "You fall off a cliff again when they reach 18." This is the stage the couple are at now: "It is a leap into the unknown and we are in the middle of that... we haven't landed yet."

He says his children keep his feet on the ground with routine slagging but it his mother who is "my greatest critic". After leaving Dublin at the age of 19 "a yuppie and returning a hippie", he came back from his world travels in his 20s, shocking his southside parents with a wardrobe full of eco-warrior-style colourful clothes and bandanas. "I think there were feathers in my hat," he adds.

His mother has since kept him on a tight rein. "She watches everything," he says, "She is very concerned about what I wear. On my first day in the Dail I didn't wear a tie and she said [putting on a very grand accent] 'if you believe in euthanasia you will go in to that Dail without a tie - because it will surely kill me'."

If she wanted to make her son the respectable face of green warriors, she has certainly managed it. As the sharp-suited Ryan who sits here today says: "We are all over the country. I think we are going to surprise people in this election. [It's going to be] a green wave."

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