The Irish Green Party (Green Party / Comhaontas Glas) wipeout in the Irish general election earlier this year has precipitated an existential crisis within the party, to which I am half-observant, half-participant. The close all-Ireland link between Comhaontas Glas and the Green Party of Northern Ireland grants me, a ‘nordie,’ a vote in the upcoming leadership election. It would probably shock many that Northern Irish members were able to vote on going into government with Fianna Fail, over the renegotiation of the programme for government, and ultimately for the Southern party’s leader.

The candidates that have come forward to become the next Comhaontas Glas leader are indiciative of the deep pain of electoral rejection and the crisis over the future direction of the party.

This started off as a much longer article before I realised I had way too much to say about the Irish Green experience in government, and decided to just confine myself to the leadership election, and who I think is best placed to rebuild the party. I feel for my Southern chairdre glas – many of whom I know well – and am saddened to see them lose the Dail representation they have enjoyed since 1989. The party’s achievements in government are, unfortunately, hugely outweighed by the mistakes and misfortunes.

As someone who knows many of the people involved, I’m also saddened to see the way some of their fellow Green travellers treat them. I’ve witnessed some pretty nasty mud-slanging over the last few years coming across the water. The Irish Greens are ‘corrupt’, ‘fucked up’, a ‘disgrace.’ Comhaontas Glas members shouldn’t be treated like monsters. Absolutely, take note of where mistakes were made, but there’s nothing more disheartening to hear that even your fellow travellers don’t think much of you. I know I’m only addressing a minority here, but it’s still worth saying.

Still, this remains a leadership contest that nobody really wanted to have. Deciding how to vote in this election forces everyone with a ballot paper to examine how they view the experience of being in government. The next leader of the party must be a person who can repair the Greens’ shattered reputation, recruit new members to the party, overcome the shock of mass staff layoffs, find solutions to the challenges of having zero state funding, and, crucially, rebuild the party in time for the 2014 local elections. The Green message is still relevant and still badly needed in the Dail – it must be the new leader’s mission to put it back there.

The three leadership candidates are:

Phil Kearney: Founder member of the Greens. Phil stood for party Chairperson a few years ago. Perhaps this isn’t the words he would use, but he is unashamedly a ‘fundi.’ I remember he began his 2007 Chair hustings speech by praising his three opponents. His Youtube election address for Dublin Central in this year’s general election began by him, feline friend in lap, saying he knew he would not be elected. A nice fella, but I won’t be voting for him because this isn’t the image or way I want a Green leader to communicate, ever.

Eamon Ryan: High-profile former Energy Minister and TD for Dublin South. Eamon is a good communicator and arguably the Greens’ best achievements in government were in his portfolio. However, for me, it’s important we have a complete break from the previous leadership if the party is to be ‘de-contaminated.’ With respect, I won’t be voting for him either.

Malcolm Noonan: Kilkenny County Councillor. For me, the most promising person on the ballot. As the only candidate holding elected office, and a popular local councillor, he may be the candidate best placed to be leader. I can’t say I know too much about him, but his plain-spoken nature, local track record and his separation from the toxic factor of government will probably earn him my vote.

Of course, this is only my view. I can’t get much sense about whether I’m in the minority or majority opinion, but there does seem to be consensus that a different approach is now needed than in the past if the Greens are to remain relevant and if political environmentalism is to stay on the agenda in the Republic of Ireland.

After years looking down south in admiration at six Green TDs, scores of councillors and extensive staff resources that we could only ever dream of up North, it’s strange to have the South looking up north with admiration and hope.

Good luck to all the candidates. It’s an tall order, an unenviable task.