FUTURE PLANS Green Party European election candidate Saoirse McHugh has yet to fully decide if her future lies in politics. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Achill’s Saoirse McHugh is considering a general election bid after an eye-catching performance in the European elections
It wasn’t a great 24 hours for Saoirse McHugh. On Tuesday night, May 28, she was officially eliminated from the count for the Midlands-North-West European Parliament constituency at the Royal Theatre in Castlebar.
The following day she was in Westport for an NCT for her car. She failed there too.
But her car will live to fight another day and there’s little doubt the 28-year-old from Achill will too.
McHugh proved you do not need to be elected to be considered a success. Her first preference vote was a five-fold increase on the Green vote in Midlands-North-West five years previously.
And the young Achill Islander was the talk of the nation during a rollercoaster week.
She went from a 50/1 no-hoper to being third in an exit poll and on course to take a seat, on the back of a stellar display on the RTÉ Prime Time debate three days before the election.
The exit poll proved short of the mark but even in defeat, McHugh won praise, including from her Fine Gael rival Maria Walsh.
It was quite the turnaround. A week, indeed, is a long time in politics.
“It was a total whirlwind. For somebody like me who doesn’t naturally feel comfortable with attention I found it exhausting,” she told The Mayo News this week. “I found myself getting anxious about meeting journalists in case some were just looking for controversy. It felt like everybody was talking about somebody else, not me!”
The big question now though is what does the future hold for the 28-year-old from Dooagh.
“I think I will probably run again,” she admitted. “I’ll have to think about it but I definitely feel that there’s a space in politics for something different.
“If I don’t run again I will continue working with different groups like the Organic Growers of Ireland, Talamh Beo etc to promote and encourage a different way of looking at agriculture,” she added.
So is a general election run in Mayo on the cards or would she look to run somewhere with a stronger Green tradition? Does McHugh feel Mayo, traditionally a conservative constituency, could elect a Green Party TD?
“If I ran again it would have to be in Mayo. It would feel mental running in a different constituency. I’m from Mayo, I live in Mayo and I love Mayo!
“I think Mayo would elect a green candidate, so many issues around climate breakdown etc will affect the communities in rural Ireland first and most severely and people recognise that unless we are planning and preparing for that, the results may be unnecessarily negative.”
Running for the Dáil might be a challenge but then so was running for Europe on a shoestring budget with, largely, just her partner and campaign manager Colm Cafferkey for company.
Her next challenge is a very different one. She signed up with a group from PB Fitness in Achill for a power lifting competition in Monaghan in August. That might be a cakewalk after covering 40,000 or so miles in a gruelling election campaign.
She hit the ground running for it though - taking and participating in a gym class at 6.45am at PB Fitness the morning after being eliminated.
Right now, she’s preparing for holidays in Croatia before returning to work as an outdoor instructor in Coláiste Acla Irish summer school in Achill for the rest of the summer.
In the accompanying piece, McHugh is critical of the platform given to Peter Casey in the media and is quite critical in general of elements of the fourth estate.
“I was quite taken aback at the effort to sensationalise everything by elements of the media at the expense of in-depth discussions about policy and our future. The media can really decide who gets exposure and who doesn’t. They’re the king makers in a lot of ways.
“Similarly, I had guessed about the role money plays in elections but many papers and radio stations will look for advertising and if you don’t advertise you are less likely to get a press release published or get an article about you. Now, that is not all papers and radio stations. Some are very good and go out of their way to provide equal exposure to all candidates,” she said.
McHugh says she is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach about how the Greens will do in the future but is hopeful that, regardless of the party’s success, ‘green policies will be a big factor’ in future elections.
Asked if she had a message for the four MEPs elected in Midlands-North-West, McHugh could talk all day.
“Climate breakdown and biodiversity loss needs to inform everything. The EU should move away from militarisation towards social justice. Our trade and tax deals need to be redone putting people and the planet at the centre of them and removing profit as the driving force behind decisions. I would say so much to them but I really hope they will act and vote in a way that protects and prioritises the environment and our communities.”