Thursday 17 October 2019

Meet your new Green Councillors


Pedal power: newly elected Green Party councillor Michael Pidgeon. Picture by Frank Mc Grath
Pedal power: newly elected Green Party councillor Michael Pidgeon. Picture by Frank Mc Grath
Vincent P Martin
Alastair McKinstry
Una Power
Lorna Bogue
Renewed interest: Pippa says savings can be made in farming while becoming green. Picture by Gerry Mooney

Voters in the Republic Ireland elected 48 councillors to local authorities last weekend. Let's meet some of them....

Michael Pidgeon (31)

Dublin City Council

The Dubliner got up close with environmental politics when he spent three years working with Friends of the Earth in Brussels. After a stint in London working for mayor Sadiq Khan, he returned to Ireland and is now head of communications for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

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Michael says he is driven by environmental beliefs, social justice and concerns over "the Peter Caseys of this world". He lives in Kilmainham, not far from the heart of the city, and he says he will push for more green space and better cycling infrastructure.

He cycles to work and frequently uses Dublinbikes. He says the shared bike scheme is an example of how people can be incentivised to leave their cars at home. "The scheme is very popular, but not enough funding is being made available to it so it can be expanded further."

Pidgeon does not own a car, but when he feels the need for one he uses the GoCar service, which allows users to drive and pay by the hour. "It's all I need at the moment," he says.

He says there was a two-year period in which he actively tried not to fly anywhere due to the airline emissions, but he has relaxed that stance. "It's how do we enable people to lead a less impactful life - rather than simply talking about individual responsibility, it's about changing an entire system."

Be More Green: "Look at how you get around if you're in Dublin. People rightly complain about the bus service, but it's worth having a look around at alternatives. Borrow a friend's bike, if you don't have one, or try Dublinbikes."


Vincent P Martin (50)

Kildare County Council

Vincent P Martin

The Monaghan native is a brother of Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin. A senior counsel by profession, Martin has been involved in green issues for years and he topped the poll in the Naas electoral area.

"Transport is a huge issue in Co Kildare," he says. "There aren't enough trains and there's a massive shortage in car parking spaces in places like Sallins train station. The upshot is that commuters going to Dublin feel they have no choice but to take their cars and face the gridlock on the M7."

Martin says he tries to get the train as much as possible, but he finds himself driving due to the shortage of rail services at the times he needs. Earlier this year, he purchased a BMW i3 electric car so he says he feels less guilt than before when sitting in traffic on the motorway. "Electric cars are all well and good, but I would much rather be sitting in a train when going to work," he says.

He says he tries to be as self-sufficient as possible in his personal life and, as an avid beekeeper, he gets to see one of the wonders of nature at first hand. "It's nice to know that the honey you're spreading on your toast came from the bottom of the garden rather than incurring any air miles. If we stopped to think about where our food is coming from and made choices based on how close it's grown or produced to us, it can have a really positive impact."

Be more green: "I think limiting our use of plastic, especially packaging, is something that can make a big difference, collectively, and even something like bringing a KeepCup whenever you get a takeaway coffee can make a difference."


Alastair McKinstry (50)

Galway County Council

Alastair McKinstry

The Dubliner stood for the local elections once before, in 1991, but failed to win a seat. "The Green Party was comparatively young then and issues were much more localised than they are now. When I joined the Greens in the late 1980s while at college [in Trinity] there was a lot of focus on air quality because Dublin had such a severe smog problem, but today people are looking at the global picture."

McKinstry is a climate change scientist based at NUI Galway and he attracted both praise and criticism this week for his opposition to a new ring road for Galway city. "The priority should be public transport and making it a viable alternative to the car," he says.

His preferred mode of transport is bicycle but as he lives in Connemara, he admits to having to use his fossil fuel-run car. "I use it as infrequently as possible," he says. "My next car will almost certainly be electric but, at the moment, they are expensive to buy."

He is ruthless about recycling and has been since first joining the Greens more than 30 years ago. "I think it's a basic thing that we all can do," he says, "but I think we need to educate ourselves about what can be recycled and what cannot, because there's still confusion in that area."

He is heartened by the conversation on the ills of single-use plastic. "We are seeing the harm it has done to our planet and it's good to see that people are actively changing their shopping habits."

Be more green: "Retailers are obliged to take back any packaging, so I would encourage everyone to do just that," he says, adding that the more who do just that will effectively force retailers to minimise unnecessary packaging.


Una Power (32)

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council

Una Power

Living close to nature in Co Waterford fostered an eco-awareness for Power from an early age. Today, she is steeped in green politics, thanks to a day job working for Catherine Martin TD, the Green Party deputy leader.

"The green movement has really seized the imagination of young people," she says, "but it's also something that's of concern to all ages now. That was certainly the sense I got when canvassing - I didn't encounter many climate change deniers."

Pedal-power is her preferred way of getting around Dublin, but she says she is forced to use her car due to gaps in the public transport. "It's a regular car," she says, "I would like an electric car but, for many, they are prohibitively expensive and then there's the concern that there aren't enough charging points on the streets. I know the number of electric vehicles sold in Ireland went up a lot this year, but the infrastructure has to be there to make it a viable option for many."

Power says she strives to live an evermore sustainable life, but admits it can be difficult on occasion. "I love clothes, but fast-fashion is really bad for the environment," she says. "We need to get away from this idea of buying clothes that we wear only a handful of times before discarding." And, she says she finds the practice of buying clothes online, wearing once, and then returning to the retailer to be especially abhorrent. "We all have a part to play and we need to think about the effect of our actions."

Be more green: "I hate this throwaway culture," she says. "I always ask myself, can something be repaired or donated. And when it comes to clothes, I buy less and spend more for quality."


Lorna Bogue (27)

Cork City Council

Lorna Bogue

Lorna Bogue likes to speak her mind. "A while back I did an interview and I said, 'I'm tired of middle-aged men pissing away my future all the time'. It got a bit of attention, but it's something that I absolutely believe and I think the reason the Greens did so well in these elections is because lots of other people feel the same way, too."

Bogue grew up in Co Wicklow and felt a close connection to nature from an early age and when she was canvassing, she took to offering those who answered the door to her bee-friendly pollinator plant seeds for them to grow.

"There was a great reaction to it," she says. "It's a small step that we all can do. I don't want to preach to people about how to be more environmental, to be a professional scold, and I think a lot of us are making good choices anyway, whether that's cutting down on single-use plastic or opting to cycle rather than take the car.

"For me, I've reduced the amount of meat I'm eating and I generally only buy second-hand clothes. I actively buy less plastics than I used to - I'll buy glass bottles and jars instead. But, the truth is, nobody's perfect."

Be more green: "If people really want to get serious about sustainability and climate change, they have to stop voting for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Individual changes are happening and are all well and good, but real change comes from government and this government doesn't care. You could see that when they gave licences for oil exploration this week."


Pippa Hackett

(46) Offaly County Council

Renewed interest: Pippa says savings can be made in farming while becoming green. Picture by Gerry Mooney

If the Green Party and the farming community have sometimes been perceived to be at loggerheads, Pippa Hackett is keen to show that they can work together, hand-in-hand.

The organic cattle and sheep farmer - originally from Co Mayo - believes the Irish agricultural sector can greatly reduce its carbon footprint but she reckons it involves a mindset-change.

"In the past, it was all about productivity and maximising the potential of your farm," she says, "but that sort of intensive approach has damaged biodiversity and when we moved our farm to organic about seven years ago, it was the best thing we ever did because it reignited an interest in farming again."

She says that she and her husband actively use their diesel tractor far less than before - "you don't have to take it out to spread artificial fertiliser now" - and organic practices mean that far less intervention is needed on the land.

Hackett, who is the Green Party spokesperson on agriculture, says savings can be made while also becoming more green. "We have let the hedges grow, rather than trimming them back all the time. Getting them trimmed can cost up to €1,500 so that's quite a saving. And it's a really good thing to do ecologically and the cattle love putting their heads into it too."

She says she lives as sustainably as possible, although some concessions have to be made: her car is fossil-fuelled. "I think the next time we're changing the car, we'll go electric. A lot of people would have had range anxiety in the past, but electric cars are capable of going so much further now on a full charge."

Be more green: "Consider shopping at charity shops," she says. "You save money, it's going for a good cause and you're helping to prolong the life of a product. It makes you realise how much of our culture is throw-away.

Case studies by John Meagher

Indo Review

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