The events of the last six months helped put this past Wednesday in perspective for Neasa Hourigan.
Her husband Colin had been in hospital “quite ill” most of the time and only returned home in the last few days.
“There’s a lot of running from the Dáil to pick up kids from school because I have three kids under 10 so it’s been a stressful time,” the Dublin Central TD said on Friday while sitting in their plant-decorated Leinster House office sat. “Sometimes life doesn’t plan itself in a very helpful way.”
Their daughter, the eldest of the three, has been blind since birth and, according to Hourigan, needs “a lot of support”.
All of this leaves her decision to vote against the government last week – and earn a six-month suspension from the Green Party in the process – far behind other priorities in life.
Last Wednesday in the Dáil, she and her Green Party colleague Patrick Costello backed a motion by Sinn Féin calling for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to be built on land owned by the state.
After signing controversial plans to move the NMH to a site at St Vincent’s Hospital, which will be leased for 299 years, the coalition abstained to stave off a backbench rebellion. It wasn’t enough for Hourigan and Costello.
Within 90 minutes of the vote, Hourigan learned from an opposition TD she spoke to in the Dáil bar (she declined to name them) that the party had decided on Twitter to close her and Costello for six months suspend.
She checked her phone and sure enough there was a missed call from Green Whip Marc Ó Cathasaigh and a text message confirming the news.
“I think that in most situations where you are sanctioned, you would have the opportunity to make your case and I’m surprised we weren’t given that,” she said.
She did not speak to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan before or after the vote. “He’s a busy man,” Hourigan said. In contrast, Vice Chair Catherine Martin “checked in to see if I was okay, which I appreciate”.
Hourigan is unsurprised by the severity of her punishment and accepts it, having voted against the stick for the second time in two years, but was surprised Costello was given the same sanction given it was his first “offence”. “It’s like any political party, we are all equal but some are more equal than others,” she said. “That’s all I’ll say about that.”
She and Costello have long been considered members of the Greens’ clumsy squad. Costello is suing the state over the EU’s free trade deal with Canada, while Hourigan spent several weeks negotiating the government’s 2020 program and then fighting the deal.
The NMH application went through the Dáíl on Wednesday, but it is non-binding and effectively meaningless.
However, Hourigan argued, “This is a 299 year deal and I want it to be held for 299 years that I think that was a very bad idea.”
Their concern is less about religious influence—a point flatly denied by project stakeholders—and more about the procurement process.
How, she wonders, building a public hospital on land not owned by the state fits into Sláintecare, the bipartisan plan to remove private care from publicly funded hospitals?
“This secures public-private contracts for generations to come,” she said.
She foresees Public Accounts Committee hearings on the hospital project in the coming years and believes there are “deep concerns” about the issue among party members.
The politics of Hourigan, the daughter of former Fine Gael Limerick Mayor Michael Hourigan, is to the left of her party but, she argues, is “very closely aligned with membership”.
Interestingly, she believes her experience in the party might have been different had a “different cohort” of TDs been elected two years ago.
For example, she finds it difficult that in a Dáil cohort of 12 there are only two female Green TDs. But there are three female senators, including party leader Pauline O’Reilly, Róisín Garvey and Pippa Hackett, who is a cabinet minister.
Although she describes some of her work in the Seanad as “excellent”, it is clear that relations between them are not good.
“I respect them as colleagues,” she said after realizing it was a tough question. “I wouldn’t have any particular personal … That would apply to a lot of people in politics, nothing is personal.”
She believes that some in the party feel they “need to monitor people like me, which I think makes it difficult to continue”.
Last year, O’Reilly, Garvey and Hackett led efforts to oust then Dublin Mayor Hazel Chu as party leader after she opted to run as an independent in the Seanad by-election. Hackett, a Ryan ally, accused Chu of being “deeply divisive” and undermining the government.
It was a bitter dispute that was only resolved when the application was withdrawn at Martin’s urging. Hourigan describes what happened as “really unfortunate,” before bluntly observing, “I think McCarthyism isn’t great in any political party and it’s really vicious… I think that was a shame.”
Additionally, she argues that her experience as a TD is different than as a senator who has “no actual voters” and doesn’t have the “same level of interaction and immediate relationship with the people who put her in her elected space.”
“They have no direct responsibility to the people. I have immediate responsibilities and live in a terraced house. I’m not behind any big wall. I meet people every day and they honestly tell me they’re not happy,” she said.
While her comments indicate deep tensions, Hourigan has no intention of leaving the Greens.
She intends to vote with the government in the coming months and plans to rejoin the party in November when her suspension expires – although the latter, she said, is conditional on staff at her office not being consulted on internal Greens discussion forums about it to be isolated, what happened in government.
“I expect and plan to vote with the government, including through motions of confidence,” she said.
During the interview, Hourigan spoke several times about her “vision” for the Greens, which could lead to speculation that she has plans for leadership.
This question led to a rambling response about green politics and the view of some that it is an adjunct to normal politics.
She recalled a recent Ibec conference where she heard the need to balance the climate emergency with the needs of business.
“You have no business on a dead planet,” she said. “You have to shift your focus”
And on leadership? “It’s not really on my agenda. It’s not my approach, it’s not a focus for me, I’m not particularly motivated by leadership,” she said, without explicitly excluding it.
She hopes to run as the Green Party candidate in the next general election, but there are rumors she could become independent or even join fellow constituency Mary Lou McDonald on the Sinn Féin ticket.
At first, she answered “no” to the idea, before noting that “anything could happen in the future.”
Hourigan surmises McDonald has no shortage of excellent candidates to become her running mate. But could she be one of them?
“I don’t intend to.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/mccarthyism-is-not-great-in-any-political-party-its-really-malign-41675111.html “McCarthyism isn’t great in any political party – it’s really vicious”