Grace O’Sullivan, Green Party MEP candidate for Ireland South, visited Wexford last week for the first formal visit of her campaign. With a jam-packed schedule O’Sullivan hardly had time time to draw breath between meetings, walkabouts, photoshoots and a visit to the local radio station.
The popular Tramore-based environmental activist knows she has her work cut out ensuring she is first to get her nose across the finish line in her bid to get to Europe, but she says she is up for it. And, as her background shows, if there is one thing Grace relishes it is a challenge!
The mother of three is a former national surf champion greatly respected by her peers for her fearlessness and skill. No gnarly “humpback” was too big, no “tube” too long and, if she was seriously pumped, a spot of aerial “hobble bobble” was not out of the question! Far as she was concerned – the bigger and scarier the waves the better. The still super-fit Grace still takes to the waves whenever she can albeit now it is strictly for fun. With the decision to throw her hat into the political ring, and in the process enter waters which one imagines are no less shark-infested, Grace now plans on generating some waves of her own!
Having spent over ten years on Greenpeace ships, including the Rainbow Warrior (blown up by French Secret Service in NZ), Grace is an internationally renowned environmentalist. She describes her activism as fighting injustice against the environment and communities. She claims to be contesting this election to ensure that the environmental rights and concerns of her community are represented on the European stage.
While Grace may be a seasoned campaigner she is relatively new to the political game. Until the leader of the Green Party Eamonn Ryan approached her with the suggestion that she be the Green Party’s EU candidate in the Ireland South region she had not given serious thought to standing for election. By her own admission she has a pretty jaundiced view of most politicians finding them to be short-sighted, self-serving, talk-the-talk “yes” men! If she disagrees with your viewpoint she will waste no time in letting you know – even party leader Eamonn Ryan has, on occasion, found himself been put straight!
It is this refreshing straight-talking honesty and continuous striving for sustainable solutions that Grace hopes will get her to Europe and will stand to her when she gets there. Deeply principled and hard-working she hopes to use her lifetime of environmental campaigning and activism as a springboard to ensure that Ireland South is properly represented in Europe.
While in Wexford she met a couple of dynamic and influential women who have altered, for the better, the arts and cultural scene in Wexford. Elizabeth Whyte, CEO of Wexford Arts Centre, brought Grace up to speed on the current state of the arts in Wexford and how the Arts Centre is making a difference. The Blue Egg Gallery’s Mary Gallagher explained how her small-is-beautiful, focus-on-excellence and attention-to-detail approach has helped her gallery achieve the success it has.
Grace, accompanied by Green Councillor Danny Forde, engaged with a number of business people on her walkabout hearing of issues that, at this stage, we in Wexford all know so well. She was able to tell them that the same issues are evident everywhere she goes from Kerry to Waterford and from Clare to Wicklow. Protecting the high street and helping indigenous industries are a priority for O’Sullivan.
The morning itinerary included a trip to Wexford Opera House where Grace met staff and was given a guided tour of the World famous theatre. The view from the top floor over Wexford Harbour led to Grace bringing her retinue for a stroll along Wexford’s fabulous quay front. Her eagle eyes were drawn to the flood barriers at the rear of Shaws. She surmised that, given projected rises in sea level over the remaining years of this century, they might just be high enough to keep out the worst of the storms.
From there Grace, along with fellow Green Trevor Sargent, went on to join Alan Corcoran at South East Radio. A wide-ranging interview covered everything from clean energy, to “green” jobs, low standards in high places, shoddy political practise, and how the present government has undone much of the good brought in by the Greens in government. The party’s poor performance in the last general election was, of course, raised and dealt with in very strong terms by the former Minister for Food. Mr Sargent said that, unlike other parties, we have the courage of our convictions and are not afraid to put country before party. That, he said, is why the Greens agreed to enter government and why they subsequently paid such a heavy price. He went on to say that FG and Labour could, if they had wished formed a government coalition back then but they, putting party before country, declined to do so.
Both O’Sullivan and Sargent felt that the party was now resurgent and winning back support. Sargent spoke about the need to focus, now more than ever, on clean energy and environment even as we strive to create more jobs. Grace O’Sullivan spoke about how much she has been influenced by her campaigning days with Greenpeace, and especially how her eyes were opened during her time in the Arctic Circle. She intimated that with her track record, knowledge and zeal the region could be sure of a strong voice in Europe.
Interview over Grace and Trevor Sargent met with traders at the Farmers’ Market and The Bullring Market. Needless to say she was as happy as a pig in manure to both places, as was Sargent, as both are big supporters of locally produced organic foods and crafts. Cue photoshoot!
Grace’s final engagement of the day was a meeting, accompanied by Cllr Forde, with residents of Glenbrook estate who have, for some time, been pushing for official action to be taken on an illegal and potentially hazardous medical dump on the nearby grounds of the old hospital (see piece at www.wexfordgreenparty.com). She promised to do what she could to get the authorities to treat this matter with the urgency which it requires.
Grace O’Sullivan returns to Wexford later this month.