In a year where she emerged as one of the shining lights in Irish politics, the Green Party’s Saoirse McHugh is cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead.
The Achill native told the Mayo Advertiser that her whirlwind European campaign has given her some encouragement to keep going. “With a new decade you get a chance to look back and see what was good or bad, then plan for another one. It feels like 2019 was a turning point and that we might start moving in a better direction, protecting our environment and our most vulnerable, putting life back into rural communities.”
McHugh, who shocked the nation by taking 64,000 votes in the 2019 European elections, believes that austerity has rattled Mayo but all is not yet lost, saying: "Rural areas and the smaller towns have been decimated, garda stations and post offices are closing, a whole generation has left, small businesses and farms are struggling. We’ve had another so-called economic boom but it didn’t reach Mayo. I think the conversation now needs to turn to where we would like to be in ten years time and for people in Mayo to take control of it."
Passionate about agriculture and the environment, McHugh laments the depopulation of her native Achill but believes that the rise in remote work offers great opportunities and hope saying: "With the correct broadband infrastructure, better town planning and improved public transport there’s no reason why Mayo can’t burst back to life. People are only dying to get out of the cities.
"Then if we add in things like community energy ownership and localized food systems, you start to imagine a very different Mayo. We can benefit from climate action but we have to move now."
The first step for McHugh will be trying to win a Dáil seat in the upcoming election, whenever that may be. In a constituency where either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael have won twenty two out of twenty four seats in the last five elections, she’s aware that this will be no easy task, saying: "Both major parties have been strong in Mayo, they’ve got big teams and lots of resources and I know I’ll have to work very hard to compete. I’m looking forward to the challenge and every time I canvass I meet people who are genuinely worried about our future and feel they’ve been let down by successive governments. I believe people are really looking for an alternative and I intend to offer them one.”