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Meet the new Green wave: the young island activist, the eco-warrior and the urban planner



Grace O'Sullivan pictured with a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise

Grace O'Sullivan pictured with a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise

Saoirse McHugh on RTE Prime Time debate.

Saoirse McHugh on RTE Prime Time debate.


Grace O'Sullivan pictured with a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise

At the Green Party conference before the last general election, John Gormley wistfully joked that nobody knew who he and other veterans were in the party anymore.

The former party leader was self-deprecatingly pleased to see the party was moving on and a new generation was joining its ranks.

A decade after its darkest days, the Greens are poised for one of their greatest election successes.

The Celtic Tiger and its subsequent collapse were not of the Greens making. But joining Fianna Fáil in government in 2007 would prove hugely costly.

In those coalition negotiations, the late Seamus Brennan warned the party they were “playing senior hurling now” against fellahs with All-Ireland medals.

In the 2009 local elections, the party was almost wiped out, losing 14 seats and keeping just three county councillors in the backlash of the turmoil from the impending economic crash.

Two years later, the Greens lost all five of their Dáil seats.

It was a long road back for party leader Eamon Ryan and a dedicated group of party activists who kept the show on the road.

The dedication to the cause is now paying off.

Climate change has become the most important issue for a generation intent on making their voice heard.

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And the Greens have now capitalised, poised to win three seats in the European elections and on track to make significant gains in the local elections.

Meet the new Greens riding the wave of support for tackling environmental issues.


Saoirse McHugh: the young island activist


Saoirse McHugh

Saoirse McHugh

Saoirse McHugh

The epitome of the Green wave.

The party has never had a TD or MEP west of the Shannon.

Now they’re on the brink of electing a first-timer from Achill island in Co Mayo.

She describes herself as an environmentalist, a democratic socialist, and a grower.

The 28-year-old from Dooagh on the western edge of Achill Island is the youngest European candidate in the country.

She holds a degree in Genetics from UCD and gained knowledge of the environmental challenges by working with people saving seeds, planting trees, and restoring soil.

She went on to complete a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Lancaster University. She focused on the politics of food production and ended up working with the Irish Seed Savers Association in Co Clare, from there getting involved with Food Sovereignty Ireland and the Organic Growers of Ireland.

McHugh supports the creation of a Common Food Policy for the EU to replace the Common Agricultural Policy. I have been working with the community environment legal defence fund (CELDF) in the US on the possibility of getting a ‘Rights of Nature’ bill into the Irish constitution and have been relentlessly badgering politicians about issues such as climate change, community resilience, and biodiversity loss

She has made the impact of climate change on rural areas a cornerstone of her campaign.

“Politics was never part of my plan and to be honest, I am afraid. More than fear, I feel determined and confident that I can be a progressive voice that speaks for the MNW and embraces positive change as opposed to resisting it. I’m exercising my citizenship and I encourage everyone to do the same,” she says.

Already impressing with her campaigning style, McHugh burst into the national limelight this week on the RTÉ Prime Time debate through her clashes with Peter Casey.

Speaking about people in direct provision McHugh said they should have been allowed to work and be treated with dignity and respect.

When interrupted by Mr Casey, she said, "millionaires scapegoating migrants is an old trope and it's boring".

Mr Casey continued to express concerns about migrants and denied that he is scaremongering.

Ms McHugh said she had a problem with platforming "incoherent fear monger views", adding, "It looks like it's just for attention Peter.  You haven't an idea what you are talking about.  You are an economic migrant yourself."

She accused Peter Casey of inventing the issue and said, "Go on Dancing with the Stars if you want attention".


Grace O’Sullivan: the eco warrior

She once climbed barefoot up the anchor of a Russian warship.

And Grace O’Sullivan was a crew member on a celebrated Greenpeace ship when it was infamously sunk by the French.

The mother of three lives in Tramore, Co Waterford and is currently a Green Party Senator.

The Ireland South candidate is on her second run in the constituency covering Munster and half of Leinster. She ran in 2014 just two months after joining the party in Ireland.

But she has been an environmental campaigner all her adult life.


Grace O'Sullivan climbing up the anchor chain of a Russian warship barefoot. Photo: Greenpeace/PA

Grace O'Sullivan climbing up the anchor chain of a Russian warship barefoot. Photo: Greenpeace/PA

Grace O'Sullivan climbing up the anchor chain of a Russian warship barefoot. Photo: Greenpeace/PA

She spent a decade working in the Greenpeace headquarters in Amsterdam and after her return to Ireland, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan approached her to join the party and become a MEP candidate.

She spent a decade travelling the globe as an activist with Greenpeace, including a stint on the 'Rainbow Warrior'. The ship was sunk by the French secret service while in harbour in New Zealand. The ship was due to sail on to Muroroa where the French were testing underground nuclear bombs.

The infamous bombing killed one of our crew members.

“Luckily, that night I was off the ship. Half of us had gone ashore so we weren't on board,” she says.

On another occasion, she protested against nuclear weapons by climbing up the anchor chain of a Russian warship – barefoot.

She was elected to the Seanad in 2016 and focuses on marine, ecological and social issues.

Oh and she’s a former Irish surf champion.


Ciaran Cuffe: the urban planner


Green Party councillor Ciaran Cuffe

Green Party councillor Ciaran Cuffe

Green Party councillor Ciaran Cuffe


Not exactly a new name on the scene, Cuffe is a party veteran at this stage.

The 56-year-old is a former junior minister and served as a TD for Dun Laoghaire from 2002 until the 2011 wipeout.

He is currently a Dublin City Councillor for the North Inner City and is chair of Dublin City Council’s Transport Committee.

Cuffe lives in Stoneybatter with his wife Jackie and their teenage children. His main focus is on urban planning and transport.

He holds degrees in architecture and urban planning from UCD and studied urban conservation and re-use at the Instituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia, Italy. And he recently completed an MSc degree in Cities at the London School of Economics.

He served as Minister of State with responsibility for climate change, planning and sustainable transport and travel from 2010 to 2011.

Back in 2003, he resigned as the Green Party's environment spokesperson after it emerged he held shares in a number of oil companies which he had inherited from his late mother’s will.

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