Monday 17 June 2019

Editorial: 'Votes influenced by two women not on ballot paper'

Factor: Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: Reuters
Factor: Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Photo: Reuters


They weren't on any ballot paper but two very different women had a huge impact on the outcome of the local and European elections.

Described on the cover of this week's 'Time Magazine' as the "girl who went on strike for the planet" 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg was the inspiration behind the walk-out from classes by countless students in 133 countries in March.

She addressed the UK parliament in London, the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland in December, and berated billionaires at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.

She's forced climate change up the political agenda around the world, indirectly boosting Green Party candidates in many countries including Ireland, where a green wave has washed over a moribund political system.

Their success has made it a little easier for the Government to introduce higher carbon taxes in the next Budget with wider political support than would have been possible even a year ago.

While Greta's story is one of inspiration, that of Maria Bailey TD is dispiriting.

Yesterday she portrayed herself as a hard-working and decent person who "shoots straight".

However, her handling of an injuries claim against a Dublin hotel for falling off a swing was naive and foolish - a classic case of shooting herself in the foot.

Her attempt on RTÉs 'Today with Seán O'Rourke' show to shoot the messenger by attacking Independent newspapers, which disclosed details of her claim, badly backfired.

This was a matter of public interest as people are fed up with soaring insurance costs - too many small businesses have been driven to the wall by huge premiums. The public is also tired of political promises of action to tackle massive claims and costs.

Her colleague Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty pulled no punches by immediately saying it was a "tremendous pity" the Dún Laoghaire TD had come on radio and that she had done herself a disservice. Others soon followed, including Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Health Minister Simon Harris, who said it would have been more appropriate for the TD to speak to Leo Varadkar before going on radio.

The Taoiseach has acknowledged that publicity about the case had an impact on voting. An early meeting between the two is on the cards. Fine Gael did not do as well in the local elections as it hoped and Maria Bailey is partly - but not entirely - to blame for that.

The neophyte TD struggled to explain yesterday that she had pursued the case on legal advice. She had also been advised not to withdraw the claim sooner because it might have been seen as a cynical move just before the election.

But there is one thing about advice she has learned the hard way - you don't have to take it. You can make up your own mind.

Irish Independent

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