Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Saturday 30 September 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# grace o'sullivan
Meet the former Rainbow Warrior hoping to help the Greens surf back to electoral success...
Former surf champion Grace O’Sullivan’s prioritising jobs in the area of maritime tourism, as she bids for a seat in the ten county ‘Ireland South’ constituency.


With party leader Eamon Ryan in Tramore earlier this month [Grace O'Sullivan via Twitter]

THE GREEN PARTY’S candidate in Ireland South says she’s under no illusions as to the scale of the task she faces in the massive ten county constituency.

“It’s very hard to predict,” she says.

I am an outsider in one sense. But I’m an insider in terms of the environment. I’ve been part of the movement for 35 years now.

Speaking to at the party’s HQ just off the bottom of Grafton Street, the former surf champion and Rainbow Warrior crew-member insists there’s still a huge interest in green issues amongst the Irish electorate — and cites the problems caused by flooding at the start of the year as one of the ways global environmental concerns are affecting people’s day-to-day lives.

On the issue of climate change, she contends “it was something abstract — but it’s now something with us”.

We have to have strategies as a nation. We can’t continue to build on the flood plains. We can’t continue poor planning. We have to regulate, and we have to make sure we’re prepared.

O’Sullivan contends that her experience as an activist, “as a mother, as someone who genuinely cares about the environment” means she’d make an ” interesting Green MEP”.

On why she’s running…


On her activist past…

It’s probably fair to say O’Sullivan’s one of the few MEP candidates running this May to have been arrested (and almost bombed) by French authorities.

The Tramore native says she was always “enthralled” by the sea. She took an active interest in pollution problems and other environmental issues from a young age, and signed up to join the Greenpeace crew aboard the original ‘Rainbow Warrior’ at the age of 20.

She had a lucky escape when two French agents detonated limpet mines and sunk the vessel as it sat in Auckland Harbour in 1985. Fernando Pereira, a photographer, drowned on the sinking ship.

Half of us went ashore that night. Luckily. Half of us weren’t there.

The French Government later admitted its secret service had ordered the attack, and the defence minister, Charles Hernu, resigned.

“It was a time where I had to question what I was doing,” O’Sullivan says.

My own family said ‘look, time to come home now — you’ve done your bit for the environment’.

Her activist days weren’t quite over, however.

Shortly afterwards I sailed on a small yacht from Aukland to Moruroa in French Polynesia, where the French were conducting underground nuclear testing.

Four of us sailed in and were arrested and deported back to our countries of origin. Not charged though.

So does she have a criminal record of any kind?

I don’t. I’ve never been charged. I’ve had a colourful life in many ways but I’ve always kept on the straight and narrow.

imageO’Sullivan climbing the anchor chain of Russian nuclear warship [Greenpeace]

On what she’s been doing since…

After a decade on the waves O’Sullivan returned to Amsterdam, where she took up a position at Greenpeace headquarters.

Eventually “because of my love for the country and my roots” she decided to resettle in Ireland. For the last few years, she’s been been working with the Heritage Council on environmental education projects.

O’Sullivan says her recent experience means she knows first hand how tough life has been for those who’ve been suffering as a result of the downturn.

“I’m divorced. I have three children who I care for. What I have done is supplemented my lone parent [payment] with work in the field of environmental education,” O’Sullivan explains.”You have a certain amount you can earn per week to supplement your income.”

On how she’d like to help…

It’s been a really, really horrific time for people.

The basics of just warming your house, of just security in so many senses has been really really difficult for people, so I really empathise because I’ve had to go through it as well.

The former Greenpeace activist says she’d like to use her experience in the environment sector to help create more tourism jobs here.

The European Commission recently published a report stating that the maritime tourism was expected to grow by between 2 and 3 per cent by 2020.

That’s an area I’ve worked in.

There’s 3.2 million people across Europe employed in that area. That’s what I’m interested in — jobs for people here in Ireland in the coastal communities.

O’Sullivan’s highlighting the need to safeguard Ireland’s “small, micro-enterprises” and the importance of looking at the economy in a “holistic” way.

The core of everything is people. What we need is not top-down management, but bottom up. We need an inclusive process so communities can be involved.

On the Green Party’s time in Government…


The Greens pull out of Government in 2011 [Photocall Ireland]

The Greens were wiped out in the last General Election, but O’Sullivan insists they’re now steadily rebuilding.

Of their time in Government, she maintains: “The Greens stayed true to their principles. They joined Fianna Fáil at a time when we were going into a massive freefall, into a recession.”

She describes the coalition’s period in power as “a most difficult time”.

From what I understand the party was almost in a hopeless situation because the economics were so dire.

But she insists that in terms of policies “the Greens continued to put forward good planning measures…  Also in terms of retrofitting houses, and in terms of energy efficiencies they were very proactive”.

Of her chances of being elected…

It is hard to predict, but I hope I can get the message across.

I hope my experience down through the years comes through —- my experience as a mother and as someone who genuinely cares about the environment, and people, in terms of jobs in the environment.

O’Sullivan reckons she’d be well qualified to work in Europe’s corridors of power…

I understand nuance. I understand innuendo in different cultures. These are almost tacit skills that someone like myself could bring to the table.

I’m also a Dutch speaker and I have good Spanish. And I’ve worked in multi-national and multi-cultural environments.

I’m not daunted by the prospect of getting to Europe. I would dearly love the opportunity.


The European parliament building [John Walton/PA Archive/Press Association Images]

And finally, on European politics facts and figures…

As we build up to the 23 May polling day, TheJournal.ies been giving each European Election candidate we interview a quick pop quiz on the institutions.

Some of them have done better than others. So…

How many EU Commissioners are there?

28 (correct)

How many seats will Ireland have after the election?

11 (correct)

Do you know when the Euro came in?

I don’t (the banknotes and coins were introduced in 2002)

Who is the President of the European Parliament?

Martin Schulz (correct)

Read: ‘I rely on guys with vans and ladders’: Marian Harkin on running as an Independent

Related: ‘Labour deserve to be slammed’: Socialist Party MEP on being a voice for the working class

Also: Pat ‘The Cope’: Fianna Fáil’s European election strategy could be ‘dangerous’

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.