Wednesday 23 October 2019

'One of the biggest things we can do is vote differently'

Greener Living: As part of our special on easy ways to tread softly on the planet, Saoirse McHugh, environmentalist and former Green Party candidate in the May 2019 European elections, says the power remains with the people

Saoirse McHugh: ‘There needs to be top down change’
Saoirse McHugh: ‘There needs to be top down change’

What I do is a lot of the usual. We try and grow our own vegetables, and then we just "forsake", but it's nice, it's almost like a bittersweet forsaking of things like tomatoes when they are out of season. I don't eat meat. I desperately try and reduce my dairy intake, but it's just so delicious. I reduce my flying as much as I can. None of these things is perfect. Ferries still have emissions. You can never be perfect.

I suppose I just do the best I can. It's taken me a long time, settling into accepting that, just short of moving off-grid and wearing a pelt that I made myself. I will be involved in these systems as they are.

Trying to find a place where doing what I can is positive, rather than not good enough, has probably led me to going into politics. Because I believe that so many people want to do what they can but we are so restricted by our transport systems, our housing systems, everything - the way we live - and there needs to be top down change.

Personal action obviously is important, but it will only get us so far, and one of the biggest things we can do is vote differently.

I had been going to different politicians and saying we need a better environmental policy that everyone can sign up to because it seems like at the moment everyone is playing point scoring against each other. Eamon Ryan just suggested to me I run.

I had never thought of becoming a politician. Because they act differently, they move differently, they talk differently, they come into a room with a bluster that's totally alien to most normal people. So you say, "They are politicians and we are normal people" but actually they are supposed to be representing us and often it doesn't feel like they do. It feels like they rule us more than work for us.

Is it more difficult for women in politics? I am only going to speak for myself - I had chronic self-doubt and chronic imposter syndrome and a feeling of "who do I think I am?" It was really hard to overcome, the exposure, the photographs, everything. I feel like it was just a cannonball sitting in my stomach. I don't have thick skin. And I think it's probably more common in women, that lack of confidence, and the less of yourself you see represented in a certain area, the less it occurs to you that "oh, I can do that."

I had somehow internalised the idea that I was not a politician. Getting over that was the biggest challenge for me.

What next? I'd like to run for the Seanad, and then in the general election when the time comes."

Saoirse's tips for getting engaged

1 Check not what a politician says, not even what their policies are, but the way they actually vote. You can go through parliamentary questions and find out what bills are proposed, by whom and why they have been blocked. Then choose who to vote for.

2 So many people are already political but might not think so - if you are working and you want better, or you are involved in a group that is pushing for better, or if when you shop, you choose what to buy based on Fair Trade or organic - they are all political actions. Realising that might make the movement into politics easier.

3 Research and read and get involved with groups that are political but may not be in the political realm - groups that are campaigning - because not everyone can go into politics but everything is political.

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