This article was written by Jennifer McKeon who has an interest in the field of social justice and hopes to work in the community and youth sector one day. Until then Jennifer continues to enjoy travelling the world, once it opens again!
Saoirse McHugh first came to prominence in my world during the European elections debate on RTE in 2019. It was during this debate that Saoirse pointed out the flaws in the Independent candidate Peter Casey’s misguided remarks about the people living in Direct Provision, when she retorted that “millionaires scapegoating migrants is an old trope and it’s boring”,(i) in an attack against Casey’s Trumpian-esque demeanour.
Having reached out to Saoirse via social media about the possibility of taking part in our celebration and recognition project, the first thing she humbly responded with was “I would be honored, although I don’t feel like I’ve done many things successfully at all!”.(ii) This was the first insight I got into the type of selfless person Saoirse McHugh is. Saoirse’s caring nature towards the natural world is what has inspired her to take on projects focusing on sustainability and environmentalism. I had thought that Saoirse is what we would typically describe as an “activist”, someone who is in fact an agent of social change. It is clear through speaking to Saoirse that this is a term in which she prefers to not be referred to, as it leaves too much room for interpretation. Saoirse elaborated “I don’t particularly like talking about activism, in general as it can mean everything and nothing”(iii). Instead, she likens herself to what is known as a “socialist” or “environmentalist”, as she feels these titles are what best describe the role she plays in society.
When asked about her impact on Irish society, Saoirse humbly responded that “Sometimes I think I’ve had no impact, as it can be an uphill struggle”.(iv) Without a doubt Saoirse is up against an extensive list of struggles in the fight towards sustainability in Ireland. Saoirse admits that sometimes she fears she is being useless or is making things worse. Understandably so with barriers such as legislation proving difficult to make any clear change in the country. It’s difficult for Saoirse to see just how impactful she has been in her crusade toward a more fair and just society, with sustainability at its fulcrum. Whether tangible or intangible, Saoirse has done far more than she realizes. Her passion for empowering communities to come together for the collective good is clear.
Saoirse says she doesn't feel as though she has had much of a career if she is being honest. However, I beg to differ. Saoirse tells of her interest in sustainability being sparked for the first time when she read about food sovereignty. This interest in food sovereignty and her verve for agriculture and the environment led to her studying the Science of Genetics at UCD and then following that on with a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security from Lancaster University. Her time studying in Lancaster led her on a path with a clear focus on the politics of food production. She is on the Organic Growers of Ireland and has gone on to work with the Irish Seed Savers Association in Co. Clare.
The concept of one good adult is one we are becoming more familiar with this in mind seeing the outspoken unapologetic and brave young
woman Saoirse is, it sparked a thought that she herself must have had the influence of a role model throughout her journey. Saoirse acknowledges that she has always found people are generous with their time and knowledge, and that she had and continues to have various role model figures. Now, Saoirse is becoming a role model herself through the work she’s involved in and an inspiration for future generations of young women. From an outsider looking in, it’s obvious she has paved the way for a younger generation of agents of social change. Through her bravery in running for election to changing things at a government level, to leaving a political party she no longer felt aligned with her own values, Saoirse not only empowers me to be fearless in speaking up about what I believe in but for many young people across the country.
Since the establishment of the SDGs in 2015, we have the push for social movements to engage with the 17 goals, which outline sustainable solutions which the planet needs when addressing the major issues of our time such as poverty, inequality, and climate change. After recognizing all Saoirse’s efforts to create a more sustainable society in Ireland, I decided to ask her an obvious question, whether these SDGs influence the work that she does? Saoirse interestingly said, “I often don’t think about the Sustainable Development Goals, but when you read them, they seem like a guide to a perfect little world”.(v) She went on to say, “Without being intentional, I am always doing my best to work towards several SDG goals”. Saoirse aligned the work she does with the following goals. 1.No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 3. Good Health and Well Being, 6. Clean water and sanitation, 13. Climate action, 14. Life below water and 15. Life on land.
Saoirse believes that everyone on this earth is emotionally engaged with something, so tactfully Saoirse attempts to liken the environment to that thing or things that they already care about. “Drawing the linkages between climate breakdown and every aspect of our lives is a good way to get people to realize that they do in fact already care about the environment,”(vi) she says. As the topic of climate change or environmentalism can be overwhelming to some, Saoirse makes a very valid point in meeting people where they are at and drawing links to help informally educate individuals.
Recognizing the great lengths Saoirse has gone to for the greater good of society. I spoke with her and asked what the most rewarding thing is about doing so? she told me, it was watching people's conciseness being awakened. "Seeing more and more people come to the realization that capitalism is destroying the planet, we need to survive, and it cannot go on.”(vii) People are becoming more aware of the injustices in our society and what that means for them such as barriers to becoming more sustainable.
Saoirse McHugh has certainly become a national inspiration for a younger generation of agents of change, as more and more young people are becoming involved and are acting in the fight towards climate change. I asked Saoirse If she had and had any advice to those wishing to follow in her footsteps. “Try not to be blinkered to one topic as I was for years, in order to tackle climate breakdown successfully it will require tackling racism, capitalism, health inequality, biodiversity loss etc. Because the situation is such a complex one, therefore the solutions will also be complex and anybody trying to sell you a simple answer is lying".(viii)
(i) https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/green-party-s-saoirse-mchugh-unexpected-star-of-european-election-debates-1.3901147 European elections debate on RTE [Accessed 19th March 2021]
(ii) Interview questions answered by Saoirse McHugh [18th March 2021]
(iii) Interview questions answered by Saoirse McHugh [18th March 2021]
(iv) Interview questions answered by Saoirse McHugh [18th March 2021]
(v) Interview questions answered by Saoirse McHugh [18th March 2021]
(vi) Interview questions answered by Saoirse McHugh [18th March 2021]
(vii) Interview questions answered by Saoirse McHugh [18th March 2021]
(viii) Interview questions answered by Saoirse McHugh [18th March 2021]