OFF TO EUROPE Maria Walsh celebrates with her parents Vincent and Noreen after it was announced at the Castlebar Count Centre that she had been elected to the European Parliament as an MEP for the Ireland Midlands North West constituency on the 13th count Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Shrule native ‘honoured and excited’ to represent Mayo in Europe
THAT old adage ‘a week is a long time in politics’ can be thrown out the window when the vagaries of the PR system are in play during those marathon counts here in Ireland. But in the end, newcomer Maria Walsh’s race over the line became very straightforward when she received a whopping 6,036 transfers from her Fine Gael running mate, Mairéad McGuinness in the Midlands North West constituency.
However, the former Rose of Tralee’s unconventional journey into politics had started a year ago.
“I felt there was an opportunity for real change and to challenge our perception of Europe and the work of an MEP,” Maria Walsh told The Mayo News this week. “And throughout the months and weeks that feeling of positive disruption was building. For me, putting my hand up, getting involved, being vocal about why I decided to run and why I am passionate for the west and north-west steadily built up.”
She said that when she closed her hall door on the night of Thursday, May 23, the day before the poll, she said to her team: “I couldn’t have done anything more. We covered as much as we could, we spoke to as many as we could and now, democracy needs to happen.”
And it did. The 31 year-old Shrule native was the third to be elected with 107,198 votes, along with rivals, Luke Ming Flanagan (Ind) and Matt Carthy (SF) after the 13th count, shortly before 9pm on Wednesday last, May 29.
Fine Gael’s Mairéad McGuinness had been elected after the first count on Monday with the highest vote in the country. She had received 134,630 first preference votes, which left her 15,644 over the quota.
OF course, Maria Walsh was not the only newcomer to the political stage who was up against the odds in this vast constituency. The Green Party’s Saoirse McHugh became ‘the story of the election’ after taking on Peter Casey on a live TV debate. Unsurprisingly, Walsh feels a bond with the Achill native, who, like her, was new to the nuances of the party-political system.
“I first met Saoirse McHugh at a NorthWest 50/50 event in Sligo. It was a hustings event supporting females in politics, and I said to my team afterwards: Saoirse is going to change and challenge this campaign. She is a fantastic representative and I fully believe she has created a movement for not just our county, but country.”
While Saoirse McHugh must now wait for another day, Walsh is not daunted by her new role as an MEP.
“The reality of becoming an MEP is not daunting. There has been an excitement to this journey. I am honoured to represent our communities. I am eager to step into the workload now, to hit the ground running and get work and make my voice heard for the constituency.”
Asked by The Mayo News, if she had to go to Ballinrobe Mart this week, what could she realistically promise the farmers there, Walsh said: “We have a lot of work to do over the coming months to ensure all representatives from across the entire farming community are working together. The balance and understanding of the new CAP reform is integral for the survival of small farmers in the West and North-West.
“Generation renewal is a priority, as well as the inclusion of more female farmers, but we can only continue to farm the lands that built this country if we have a balanced and fair CAP reform. And this is where the working together needs to happen. It can’t be done with just a small sector of leading organisations from one portion of our constituency, it has to be fair.”
Walsh has also urged ‘people to stay involved or get involved in our political landscape’.
“We need to ensure the pressure remains on our climate and biodiversity emergency. We have to urgently look at how we treat our environment; individually,community and corporation wise. Projects and opportunities to connect investment needs must happen across all sectors and in our towns and villages but it can only happen if community groups work with our representatives, local, national and European,” she continued.
Congratulating those candidates, across all parties, who were successful in retaining or getting a seat a local level, she said she was looking forward to working with them for ‘our communities’.
“And most importantly for those who weren’t successful this time, please don’t step away from being advocates. Now more than ever we need to work together to protect our environment, tackle the negative stigma around mental health and get opportunities for our communities,” Maria Walsh added.