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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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'Saoirse McHugh had a big personal impact': Why has Ireland gone Green for this year's elections?

The Green Party could be in for a record-breaking election.

McHugh performed well in the debate earlier this week, which may have contributed to her vote.
McHugh performed well in the debate earlier this week, which may have contributed to her vote.
Image: RTÉ

EARLY TALLIES AND poll results are showing a Green Wave (TM) spreading across the country in this year’s local and European elections. 

The RTÉ/TG4 exit poll has shown huge support for the Greens across the country.

Results from that are showing that Ciaran Cuffe is set to top the European election poll in Dublin and candidates Saoirse McHugh and Grace O’Sullivan are in strong contention for seats in the other two constituencies.

Meanwhile, in the local elections, support for the Greens is being put potentially at 9%, a huge jump on the 1.6% the party secured in 2014.

The party had just 12 councillors elected in 2014, after being all but wiped out in the 2011 general election when not one TD was reelected. 

With just over 90 candidates put forward for the local elections – and with just 14 seats over the past five years – huge gains are likely for the party.

But why has Ireland decided to go for the Greens? What’s the cause of the jump in support? And was this expected? 

Opinion polls 

Earlier opinion polls signalled support for the Greens among the electorate – but less than last night’s exit poll. 

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll from two weeks ago put Ciaran Cuffe battling for a fourth seat in Dublin at 9%, significantly lower than the 23% support he was shown as having last night. 

Meanwhile, McHugh and O’Sullivan were barely put in the running for seats. But last night’s poll shows both women are now well in contention for seats at 12% apiece. 

So did the polls just get it wrong? 

Not necessarily, said Eoin O’Malley – associate professor in political science at DCU’s School of Law and Government.

O’Malley told TheJournal.ie that polling showed that Cuffe had support in Dublin, and while the size of the support may have been off, there were a number of factors at play. 

“It might have just been the case that people hadn’t opened their minds [when polled] and they were opened to the Greens and people made a last-minute decision when voting,” he said. 

And it could have been the case that Saoirse McHugh had a big personal impact. Her contribution to the [RTÉ Midlands North West] debate earlier in the week was viewed by a lot by people. 

McHugh was credited with a very strong performance in the debate earlier this week, in which she took aim at Independent candidate Peter Casey, the clip of which was shared widely on social media. 

Support for the Greens was also shown to be on the rise in opinion polls from the Sunday Business Post and the Sunday Times last week, which signalled their success. 

Why Green? Why now? 

Climate and environmental issues have been at the forefront of people’s minds and the political debate over the last few months. 

Widespread national and international student protests (including a demonstration outside Government Buildings in Dublin city on the day of voting) and the recent publication of the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action final report has focussed public attention and made climate change a significant issue for the electorate. 

An all of government climate plan – which is likely to signal significant steps towards reducing Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions – is due to be published by the government in the coming weeks. The Oireachtas also declared a climate emergency earlier this month. 

As well as this, figures like Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, the Extinction Rebellion international youth movement, and successive reports pointing towards catastrophic biodiversity loss and rising worldwide temperatures have all put the climate in people’s minds like never before. 

“It’s a message that people are saying we are interested in this,” said O’Malley. 

The climate issue has been dominating the media coverage and people have been talking about it. It’s been a big issue on people’s minds.

Speaking on RTÉ earlier, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that support for the party and awareness of the issue was rising once again, after the party was decimated in the 2011 election when it lost all of its seats after being in government. 

“I remember the difficult days back in 2011, that time, the darkest hours, a tough time for us,” he said. 

I think the tide comes in and comes out, in terms of green thinking, but it continues to rise, the overall level of consciousness thinking. We have to make this leap. 

Protest vote?

O’Malley said another factor that may have contributed to the Green wave is that the party are an “easy protest vote”.

Citizens upset with the government or the status quo could vote for the Greens to express this and it would be “a safer vote”.

“It’s not like Sinn Féin… or like People Before Profit… if you want to send a message for the government without hurting yourself,” he said. 

So I expect there were elements of protests there and the Greens hoovered that up.

The results haven’t even started being announced yet, but if polls and tallies are to be believed, Ireland is turning Green. 

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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