Tuesday 15 October 2019

Youth protests praised for raising eco agenda

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan in the RDS. Photo: PA
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan in the RDS. Photo: PA
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The green surge has put the ailing Green Party back in the political game. From wipe-out in the 2011 General Election when it lost all of its TDs, the Green Party was poised to herald three new Green MEPs and a raft of councillors across the country.

Ciaran Cuffe was poised last night to top the poll in Dublin. The party secured 9pc of the vote - almost one in 10 of the electorate - an "extraordinary" outcome that he never thought he'd see, he told RTE.

Saoirse McHugh and Grace O'Sullivan are in strong contention for seats in the other two constituencies. Green councillors were leading the way in several wards in Dublin last week, and around the country.

Mr Cuffe suggested last night that the surge came late in the day. He told RTE that he detected a change in the last 10 days, particularly in the number of older people who told him they would give the Green Party their number one vote.

Mr Cuffe and party leader Eamon Ryan have acknowledged the forces of change at work beyond these shores. Working their way back from the brink of wipe-out, the party has cautiously and quietly been rebuilding at a time when public consciousness of the perils facing the planet have never been greater.

Mr Cuffe listed the "extraordinary leadership" of Greta Thunberg, the teenager who started a school strike in protest at government inaction on climate change and is now a nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Ryan said it has been building for the past year.

"It's palpable, people responded to science reports saying we have to act now. They were heartened by young people who were going out on climate strike - they wanted a secure future. Older people reacted to that. They watched David Attenborough on television saying nature is in peril, which it is."

Climate debate in Ireland has moved beyond the debate on water charges and water conservation that dogged the Greens in the past. Alarm bells triggered by a series of scientific reports warning of the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change are getting louder.

Most recently, a leaked study of life on earth - the largest ever undertaken - warned that up to one million species are at risk of annihilation, many within decades. The Oireachtas declared a climate emergency earlier this year and a government climate plan is due to be published in the coming weeks.

Whether the support for the Green Party is momentary or enduring remains to be seen.

The surge suggests that growing number of voters don't trust the mainstream parties on the environment. Several commentators suggested yesterday that being Green is a luxury that only middle-class urban voters can afford to buy into, that they occupy the new alternative space once filled by Sinn Fein and other Independent groups.

Kevin Humphries, of the Labour Party, said he believed that his party lost voters to the Greens.

Mr Ryan said his target for the next general election is for the Green Party to win six seats, up from the current two. "If we got that it would be a good day. Anything further would be a bonus."

Sunday Independent

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