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Achill woman running for Europe


TIME FOR ACTION Saoirse McHugh will run in the European election for the Green Party.
Saoirse McHugh to be Green Party candidate in Midlands North West constituency


Edwin McGreal

Achill islander Saoirse McHugh will run for the Green Party for the European Parliament elections this May.
The 28-year-old will be the party’s candidate in the Midlands North West constituency and is the first Mayo person to declare their intention to run in the constituency.
Running for political office was not part of McHugh’s grand plan but having been involved in lobbying on environmental issues in recent times, she was encouraged to put her money where her mouth was.
“Honestly I never ever imagined stepping into politics and I came to it in quite a roundabout way,” she told The Mayo News this week. “I had been badgering lots of different politicians about food production, climate action and biodiversity loss when it was suggested to me that I put myself forward for the European elections.
“After the first reaction of ‘oh my God no!’ I started thinking that there was no reason I shouldn’t. There is nothing I care about more than the protection of the environment on which our lives depend and running for election is a great way to voice what is most important,” she said.
Saoirse McHugh was born in the United States but her parents moved home to her father John’s (Manager of Custom House Studios in Westport) native Dooagh on the western end of Achill Island when she was two.
She did her undergraduate degree in Genetics in UCD and did a Masters in Lancaster University in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security. She currently works as an instructor with local Irish language college, Coláiste Acla in Dooega and is involved with various groups including Food Sovereignty Ireland, the Organic Growers of Ireland, the Irish Seed Savers Association and Achill Community Futures.
It is clear from talking to her just how passionate she is about the environment and the dangers of climate change.
“I decided to go for the election because we are running out of time and I have to act in any way I can to affect change. The environmental crisis we face needs to be top of any political conversation. Everybody now knows that this is an issue that we avoid to our detriment.
“The World Economic Forum has just published it’s annual Global Risks report and their findings are unequivocal. Biodiversity loss, failure of climate change mitigation and adaption, extreme weather events, natural disasters, and man-made natural disasters feature in the ten risks rated by impact and likelihood. Only weapons of mass destruction have a higher impact rating,” she states.

Local impact
McHugh said she saw only too well the impact of climate change on Achill Island when her aunt Anne’s house, across the road from her own, was destroyed by storms and high tides in early 2014. The house is no longer lived in.
“We’ve all seen the changes happening around us, the extreme weather, the drought, the freeze, flooding, massive storms and it has been made clear that we are totally ill-equipped to deal with these weather events. Pretending that this isn’t happening doesn’t change it, it just means we are less prepared.
“Anne is my aunt and was forced to leave her home after a huge storm, it was scary and horrible and should serve as a wake up call to us all. There is no doubt that there will be more and more situations like Anne’s in the future. People’s homes being ruined by flooding, livelihoods being decimated by extreme heat or cold, and storms destroying property. We are indeed vulnerable here on the west coast but we also have a massive opportunity in transitioning, to generate our own electricity and fuel, to revitalise our biodiversity, to protect and regenerate our communities, to save ourselves,” she argues.
McHugh disputes criticisms from certain quarters that the Green Party is a single issue party lacking broad policy.
“Voting for the Green Party is voting for a pro-EU party that has always held true to its beliefs. The Green Party believes in balancing the environmental, social, and economical development in order to ensure the common good.
“The Green Party is a highly democratic party where the members contribute to policy. I would say that those critics should visit the Green Party website where there are comprehensive policy documents on housing, energy, health and disability, the Irish language, urban transport and many others,” she said.
McHugh says she is ‘running to win’ but would also consider making the campaign more about policy changes needed ‘a great accomplishment too’. To this end she is highly critical of the current Fine Gael-led Government.
“They’ve shown a lack of real will to act on the issues by repeatedly blocking bills by other parties such as the SF [Sinn Féin] micro-generation bill, the Green Party waste reduction bill, Brid Smith’s climate emergency bill, Grace O’Sullivan’s bill to ban micro-beads. The recommendations of the Citizens Assembly were totally ignored.
“Now, coming into 2019, facing enormous fines from the EU and several EU directives, including the banning of single use plastics, Fine Gael have begun to give lip service to climate action. They are currently looking at adopting a Green Party cash refund carbon fee, they are giving up straws and single use plastics in their offices, and talking about how they are going to be serious on the environment. I think it’s great that they’ve finally acknowledged the seriousness of the situation but I also feel that they have had their chance and I am not willing to bet my future on their promises,” she concluded.