The Green Party leadership contest started this evening with a hustings via Zoom for those members in the South constituency.

Ballot papers will be sent out to all members this week and must be returned by Wednesday 22 July. 

The announcement of the winner of the leadership contest will be made on the following evening, 23 July.

The party's deputy leader Catherine Martin is challenging leader Eamon Ryan. 

In her opening statement, Ms Martin paid tribute to Mr Ryan. 

She said it was through his leadership that the Green Party "has risen from the electoral ashes" to be in a position now where it can exert meaningful 'green influence'. 

She described how being a teacher was some of the happiest and rewarding times of her life and she spoke about joining the Green Party when she became a mother.

Ms Martin said she does not believe in loud leadership; that it is more about providing support and encouragement.

She said the 'Green vision’ is the most important political vision. 

She said it was different because it is global, but to make it real, it has to be felt by individuals. That is the challenge of Green Party leadership, she said.

"The ambition is not to settle for being the fourth largest party; the climate emergency demands that we go big or we go home."

Ms Martin said she would like to be negotiating a Programme for Government at some point in the future but next time with 20 or 30 TDs. 

In his opening address, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he turned 'green' when he was 16 which he said was 'a long time ago' and that later joining the Green Party made him feel like he was coming home. 

Eamon Ryan said real leadership today is about listening, about being truly empathetic in terms of what people are suggesting. 

Mr Ryan said there has to be patience to deliver the change needed.

He said it is about an emotional change for people and that inclusivity is important. He said the scale of the work is so great that it will only work if there is lots of support for it. 

He said the main skill for the job is his experience and that he knows how the European Councils and local and national government works.

The candidates were asked various questions from those party members who were tuned in via Zoom. 

Among the questions asked were: 

How do you bring the party together?

Catherine Martin said it was important to reach out to everyone in order to heal any divides within the party after the last few months.

Eamon Ryan said it was a very tough time, and that the key way of uniting as a party was to deliver practical solutions that improve people's quality of life. 

How do you get away from those who say the Green Party is a Dublin-centric party? 

Eamon Ryan said he did not buy this 'division' and that he is as 'Dub as Dub can be' but that he has spent many years travelling the country. He said he would like to get out of Dublin again in his new Ministerial role.

Catherine Martin said she would commit to never speaking for rural Ireland without consulting with someone from the Green Party who is from that area and who has a deep understanding of the issue.

What is the plan to ensure more young people are in the Green Party?

Ms Martin said the recent success of the party is down to young people and children with climate action protests and that they continue to be appreciated. 

Mr Ryan said he has listened a lot to young Greens and that it was 'absolutely right' that a lot of them were saying 'don’t go into government' because they were looking for real change. 

He said he believed that the change they were looking for in the election was about housing and the Government will have to deliver that. 

What is your view on term limits for party leaders? 

Eamon Ryan said he would not be opposed to term limits, and that there should be flexibility in terms of leaving and coming back.

Catherine Martin said it is something to explore for the party and that it is important to get the balance right between "holding on to expertise and experience and bringing fresh eyes and encouraging people to step up".

On promoting gender diversity in the party?

Catherine Martin said the party needed to be ready, willing and able to promote those who have proven their strength, worth and value to the party and to never overlook them. She said she set up Mná glasa and is committed to doing more.

Eamon Ryan said a reason for hope is the large number of councillors, some of whom were women and came very close to becoming TDs. He said the party should be looking for 20 seats in the next election and that the Green Party has always had the most female candidates in elections.

Are you willing to pull the plug on government coalition if the green issues are sidelined?  

Catherine Martin said yes she would be and that would not be a surprise to the government partners. 

She said as leader she would agree a set of "tangible measures" that would hold the party accountable in terms of the Programme for Government - such as assessing the situation every few months.

Eamon Ryan said yes - he said his experience shows it is hard being in government but working together with collective responsibility is part of it. On working with partners in government, he said you do it with reason and respect.

Catherine Martin said her leadership style would be in collaboration with others, that she takes time to decide but she is guided by herself.

How will the relationship with the Labour and Social Democrats be developed?

Eamon Ryan said as leader he sat down with lots of parties after the election, that a lot of green transfer votes go from those centre-left parties. He said he regrets both parties did not take up the offer to join government.  

Catherine Martin said the party always works across the board. She said the party should be positioning itself clearly as a party of social justice and that it is a rural and urban party.

In her closing statement, Catherine Martin told the party members over Zoom that she was ready for leadership of the party 

"I am ready and I am eager to lead and I really get it and understand - green leadership means supporting, guiding and listening.

"We must learn from the mistakes of the past; we must ensure there is no divide between the elected and the members of our party."

She thanked members who helped her get elected as a county councillor when the party was "knocked down" but far from given up.

Ms Martin said the green movement is the most important movement of our time and she asked the members to choose a new energy and a new leader.

Eamon Ryan finished up by saying that it was good that they can contest for the leadership in a collaborative way while both getting into their new roles as Ministers. 

He said difficult steps are being taken and that listening is very important within the party.

Mr Ryan said he wanted to win over the Irish public and he said he hoped to continue as leader because he has walked this path before.