May 26, 2019 / 12:41 PM / 6 months ago

Ireland's Greens eye return to government after local bounce

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s Green Party will consider playing a role in the country’s next government, pushing to overhaul environmental policy, if its surge in this week’s local and European elections is repeated in the next parliamentary poll, its leader said.

The Greens were left bruised by their only term as a junior government partner a decade ago, when Ireland’s financial crisis cost them all their parliamentary seats and left them with just three out of 900 councillors around the country by 2009.

However after a quarter of local council seats were filled on Sunday, they had already achieved eight times that amount.

Exit polls suggested they were the fourth largest party with 9% of the vote after the governing Fine Gael and opposition Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein parties, and also set to win as many as three of the 13 European seats up for grabs.

“If we’re saying on the one hand there is a (environmental) crisis that we have to react to in the next 10 years, do we say come back to us in 10 years and we might be ready?” Eamon Ryan told Reuters in an interview at one of Dublin’s vote counting centres.

“I think it’s going to be very hard to form the next government. I’ve always said you need to be strong in government and we need at least six seats. Don’t go in if you can’t do it but we’ve never ruled it out.”

Ryan was one of two Green Party lawmakers returned in 2016’s parliamentary election when Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael and a small number of independent politicians formed a minority government facilitated by Fianna Fail, the largest opposition party, a deal due to expire early next year.

Sunday’s results suggest a similar arrangement is highly likely after the next election, which is due by April 2021 but widely expected once the current governing arrangement expires, with independents or a smaller party like the Greens necessary for either of Ireland’s two main parties to form another minority administration.

Ryan, who said his party had won support in new parts of the country and from parents and grandparents responding to younger people’s environmental concerns, predicted the wider change in public consciousness would continue to permeate throughout Europe.

“When we lost all our seats, we were some way reassured by the fact that pretty much every Green party that has gone into government in Europe lost all their seats first time out and they’ve all come back,” the one-time government minister said.

“I’ve always said we’d come back, we had to because there is a distinct political philosophy. It’s also evolving. We, the environmental movement, made mistakes over the years, we didn’t get the messaging right and I think we’re waking up to that.”

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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