Extra colour in Laois-Offaly as Greens enter race

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THE Green Party candidate for Laois-Offaly in this year's general election is relishing the prospect of knocking on doors before the forthcoming poll.

“I'm just looking forward to hitting the road again, greening Laois and Offaly again,” said Senator Pippa Hackett, speaking at last month's campaign launch in Tullamore.

“I think we can do it, I think we're on a cusp of a good wave. I think we just need to bring people along; for people to think they are achieving something.”

Senator Hackett, who was the first Green Party candidate elected to Offaly County Council when she won a seat in May, before being elevated to Seanad Eireann in an uncontested bye-election, aims to create another record by winning a Dail seat in Laois-Offaly.

After being split into two stand-alone constituencies in the 2016 election, Offaly and Laois have been reunited (without Portarlington) and will return five TD's to the Dail this year.

Offaly and Laois were both three-seaters on the last occasion, and if all the outgoing deputies seek re-election – Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Charlie Flanagan (Fine Gael), Barry Cowen and Sean Fleming (Fianna Fail), Carol Nolan (Independent, formerly Sinn Fein) and Brian Stanley (Sinn Fein) - one is certain to lose out.

Deputy Nolan is the 'extra' TD compared to 2011, the most recent election when Laois-Offaly was a five-seat constituency.

The next general election, which could be as early as February or as late as May, will also see Cllr John Leahy from Kilcormac run again as an Independent, while in the south of the county Cllr Peter Ormond is on the Fianna Fail ticket.

For most of its history, Laois-Offaly was exclusively Fianna Fail and Fine Gael country. Then Labour's Pat Gallagher won a seat in 1992, Tom Parlon for the PD's in 2002 and Brian Stanley in 2011.

The Green Party has not performed well in Laois-Offaly but its candidate in Laois four years ago, Sinead Moore, received 1,541 first preferences, a 4 per cent share of the vote.

In Offaly, Christopher Fettes, party founder in Ireland and a neighbour of Senator Hackett near Geashill, got 525 number ones.

Senator Hackett won a council seat in the Edenderry Electoral Area but she accepts her support will have to multiply if she is to win a seat in the Dail.

At the same time, she believes there is a “good Green vote out there”, a vote which was not exploited in the local elections because there were no candidates on the ballot papers in most areas across both counties.

“I think there's a huge green vote in Laois which hasn't been tapped,” she said.

“I believe I'm trying to represent something a bit different, something that has not been in Laois or Offaly before,” she said.

“I will challenge the status quo, I will try and change the business as usual approach because I don't think that suits us, it doesn't do us any favours, it doesn't do our country any favours.

“I don't think it's doing our rural communities, our farmers, any of those, any favours. So I think it is time for a shift in direction.

“I think there's a hunger out there for it and I just hope I can lead that challenge from this constituency at least.”

Senator Hackett said the Green Party was first off the mark in addressing the looming Bord na Mona and ESB crisis, drafting a Just Transition Bill which she says gained “cross-party support”.

The so-called 'just transition' aims to cushion the blow on fossil fuel dependent communities in the move towards a lower carbon society and economy.

Offaly will be especially hard hit, with the closure of peat-fired power stations and the cessation of industrial-scale turf cutting by Bord na Mona.

Critics of this element of the 'green agenda' have questioned why Offaly should be ending the use of peat, when other countries are expanding their use of coal. The candidate stresses that action must begin at home.

“Sometimes it can seem so futile, helpless, 'shure what's the point?', because China is burning off all its coal,” said Senator Hackett.

“What's the point? But the point is, in a way, think local. Think global, act local, but think local too. The things we improve around us that we can see will have a knock-on effect for everyone in our own areas and beyond.”

The Senator, an organic farmer and mother of four, said voters should think about their children's future. Her husband Mark was co-opted to her seat on Offaly County Council.

“We really need to start getting our act together by doing what we can and changing things.”

A 'transition forum' for the Midlands has been set up at the instigation of Offaly County Council and has brought together local authorities, Bord na Mona and State agencies like the IDA.

Senator Hackett said there are no environmentalists on the forum and added that the Government's €20 million fund announced in the last budget is “probably not near enough”.

The Green Party is a strong supporter of wind energy and while turbines have been particularly controversial in Offaly, the candidate says “not every community is anti-wind”.

“I met people when I was canvassing, they view them as a progressive, futuristic thing they've seen on the continent in Europe and they're actually delighted to see it coming to Ireland.”

At the same time, she sees a move towards more offshore wind farms in the future and would like to see community ownership of the onshore facilities.

If winds of change are to whip up a green wave in the general election, as happened in the council and European polls in May, the breeze will have to be especially strong in Laois-Offaly for Senator Hackett to be successful.

“I think the green wave is here and I think it's time for a Green TD here in Laois-Offaly in the Dail,” she concluded.

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