Chairman of the Kerry Green Party Paul Bowler believes it is the only party serious about climate action. He insists a new generation is emerging that is in tune with the threat of climate change, and who want to see change.
It’s not stretching it to say the Green Party message in Kerry is similar to a jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing: people get the picture, but the full message isn’t quite complete.
Whether they realise it or not, a majority of people understand the ‘green agenda’ in essence, but presenting it in a way that draws votes and political representation is still a mountain to climb for the Kerry Green Party.
This quandary is noted by party personnel as it looks to bolster its message for two years’ time, when candidates will contest the local elections.
Kerry Greens came within a whisker of taking the seventh seat on Kerry County Council (KCC) in 2019 when Anne-Marie Fuller was just 310 votes short in the Tralee MD area. This creates a target at which to aim for greater gains.
Most agree with the need to halt climate change, which is now an indisputable fact. Science pays no heed to emotive, political responses on climate change. It is what it is: real and ever-present, regardless of who you vote for. In many ways, the Green Party is living rent free in the minds of some Kerry politicians as a result of this. At council meetings, its name is frequently raised in relation to environmental issues.
Getting a Green Party candidate elected to KCC, so it can defend its own position, remains the objective of Kerry Green Party Chairman Paul Bowler.
“We don’t have anyone elected yet, but we are part of the conversation, people are aware of us. The issues are becoming more relevant and that we need to start doing things. The only party at the moment who are advocating actions to address the climate crisis is the Green Party,” he said.
A social-care worker and self-proclaimed political activist, Paul’s concern for the environment initially pivoted him towards the Kerry Greens.
He tells me he is concerned for the future of his nieces and nephews. He feels the planet they will inherit will be uninhabitable and hostile if things don’t change.
He also believes the current war in Ukraine, and the global food and fuel shortage it is creating, gives a sense of what escalating climate disintegration will look like.
“For the past 200 years, we’ve been taking coal and oil out of the ground. Nobody in history has been better off than we are,” he said.
“But the price we’re paying now is that we are destroying the environment, the science around this has been known since the 1970s, and we’ve been putting it off. Everything we took for granted is going to end. I find that quite scary.”
Born and raised in Lixnaw, it annoys Paul whenever the Greens are presented as an urban movement intent on closing down rural areas for the greater good of biodiversity, something that is routinely and incorrectly trivialised.
“I’m as rural as they come. I grew up in a farming area. Kerry is where we are from. I get angry when some in Kerry politics accuse us of being outsiders,” he said.
“This is our home, and we have a growing party membership. We are relevant and we’re seeking to protect our home. We are offering solutions to a problem. Dismissing us as not being relevant is not fair.
“Kerry issues are relevant to us; the Green Party is relevant in Kerry. People have been talking about us a lot here because we are part of this conversation on climate change. Our planet is facing an existential crisis,” he explained.
Paul is confident the Kerry Greens can get its message to voters in 2024. In Kerry, where boundaries between agricultural and urban life are often less defined, it can be hard trying to sell climate solutions, particularly when there is a generation gap.
“Many of us who are scared of the climate crisis recognise there has to be change. You have people who have been living a way of life for a long time and being asked to change how they live, that is scary. It’s about trying to ease those fears,” he said.
“In climate change, we are sometimes asked to address something that is invisible to most. [Minister] Eamon Ryan spoke recently about decarbonising Killarney. It’s conversations like that which will need to be had.
“We are all scared and I think young people are increasingly becoming aware of the threat to their future by the climate crisis,” he said.
Paul agrees that the Government’s retrofitting strategy is welcome but needs to be made cheaper for ordinary working people. He calls this the ‘first phase’ of the retrofitting roll-out.
“I think people who can afford it now will have it done. But further down the line, more money will have to spent on it,” he said. “This is a fundamental change in how we operate; it’s heavy investment up front that will mean savings long-term. You can’t do it all in just five years; this is a strategy that will take more time, but we have to start,” he said.
The impending decision on Shannon LNG is the elephant in the room for the Kerry Greens. Whether or not this prevents it from gaining the electoral breakthrough it desires is unknown.
“It’s a hot-button topic and there is no easy way around it. North Kerry has been promised jobs for generations, but they never arrived. LNG was promised as the panacea for this,” Paul said.
“If I was unemployed in North Kerry, I would struggle to have any sympathy for the Greens on this particular point.
“But the other side of it is what’s being promised was an already obsolete piece of infrastructure based on a filthy resource that harms communities in America: fracked gas. This is a horrible resource.”
He continues: “What is more realistic is offshore wind turbines. These turbines float on the surface as opposed to being anchored. It’s a new technology that the Shannon estuary would be excellent for.
“The maintenance of these turbines would be well-paid jobs. It’s a difficult one to call. I will argue that Shannon LNG is the wrong way to go. But I fully understand the other side of the argument, that North Kerry has been neglected for a long time.”
Paul says he understands why some politicians in Kerry may be reticent when it comes to endorsing green policies as change is seldom greeted favourably, despite the fact it is well intentioned and necessary.
“If we don’t do it now, the task will become increasingly more difficult year on year. The Green Party will support anyone who is trying to address the climate crisis, just offer solutions. Don’t just dismiss us, as it’s my village that will be under water if we don’t do something,” he said.
“There is a strong possibility we can make a breakthrough in the next local elections. It’s becoming more apparent that if things don’t change, we will be in trouble,” he said. “We are still the only party trying to make the effort. At some point other parties will take it on, too, and solutions may no longer be politicised. I think people should watch the Greens in the next locals, it will be very interesting to see how we do.”