With election day locked in for the 26th February, we thought a quick catch-up with Fergal Smith was on the cards. Fergal is running for the Green party in County Clare, a progression from his recent ventures in organic farming and community projects such as the Moy Hill Community Garden.
SAI: When did the penny drop with you, when did it click that running in the general election with the Green Party was the next step in your life?
F.S.: I was asked to stand with the Green Party before Christmas my first thought was no way! But then when I thought about it and looked at the way our country is being run, I felt I had to stand. Being a father and seeing our environment not at the top of the priority list, I felt it’s too important that someone needs to stand up for our children’s future.
SAI: What are your main goals if you achieve and are elected to Dail Eireann? What outcomes will let you reflect in 4 years’ time and think, ‘I’ve made a positive, substantial change’?
F.S.: If I get into the Dáil I will be shouting for our environment of course. I want to show solutions that are working around the country and abroad and educate and implement them. Its all about adopting to the changing times, I think the majority of people would love to see positive change but people don’t know where to start. The Green Party is the only party that has a long term plan to take us into the future so I would be making it my mission to implement there policies. I would love to see, after four years of hard work in the job getting these ideas across, an uptake of farmers diversifying.
I would love to see more vegetables grown in our country and more young people on the land. I would like to see no more planting of non-native trees and planting native trees instead to combat flooding and carbon capturing. I would like to see more community gardens and other community building ideas spread, such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, community owned energy, local farmers markets and co-operatives.
SAI: How different is this challenge to taking on some of the biggest and most dangerous waves around the world? Which pushes you more out of your comfort zone?
F.S.: In some ways it is actually quite similar as going on a big swell. It’s easier and safer to stay at home but you never know what you can achieve if you don’t try.
Waves are a lot scarier but I would much rather be out in the waves than in a debate all night in a hotel.
SAI: As a pro surfer you’ve always taken a different approach, not going mainstream, keeping in the shadows of the media so to speak. Has this been a detriment or advantage to your current campaign? Would it be easier if your face was widely known or if you had continued on the professional path you were on?
F.S.: I think not being too pushy has worked for me in my surfing and it also has been positive with the campaign. I don’t like ramming things in peoples face, I have said my piece and if people are interested and want to meet me we are putting on lots of events for people to come out. I am trying to be as honest and human as possible I don’t want to peer pressure people to voting for me.
If you believe in what I stand for that’s great.
SAI: Based in a rural area and with a background in a non-conventional Irish sport, how do you intend to compete with other candidates from urban areas, candidates with a history in GAA or those who were born and bred in Co. Clare?
F.S.: The same again, I am not trying to pretend to be someone I am not. I am father living in Clare eight years now. I started the Moy Hill Community Garden and I am running a Community Supported Agriculture Farm (Moy Hill Farm). I am all about community and keeping everything local so if people are into that hopefully they will vote for me.
SAI: Ordinary people are still hurting and battling each day since the economic meltdown, especially in the West. How will you ensure that your principles will make these people and their families better off? How do you intend to illustrate that the environment, health, food and the basics of life are more important than industry, job creation and wealth?
F.S.: We need to have our basic needs met; clean air, clean water, local organic food. That is the foundation of a healthy community and economy. There is huge scope for more employment in farming if we are to produce our own food, 70% of our food is currently imported. Energy is a big topic for the future, as we need to get away from fossil fuels and into green energy, again this area will create much more jobs than burning coal and make us a greener healthier county.
We need much more support for our small to medium businesses, which is not going to the chain stores and allow them planning into rural towns.
SAI: The Moy Hill Farm seems to be a success, but maybe a small piece of the puzzle. How do you intend to bring this farming and sustainable approach to the wider public and ‘sell’ its advantages?
F.S.: I think the community gardens and CSA farms really do build community and they offer a whole load of solutions to issues surrounding rural life in Ireland; food, education, the community spirit it brings, and the jobs then after. Small projects like these really do change things, we just need to encourage and create more of them.
There is no one big solution from Dublin to fix all our problems, every community has a range of different needs so they need to be tackled on a village-by-village basis.
SAI: The influence of the E.U. in Ireland has received mixed responses from the people of Ireland. Tighter controls on farming, pollution, fishing quotas, wildlife & environmental protection have had implications for the economic well-being of existing rural industries. How can the balance be achieved and what is your position on the influence of the E.U. on Irish policies?
F.S.: Once again, our decisions to sort out local issues cannot be made from the EU, it just doesn’t work. It’s great that there can be more guidelines for people to follow but decisions need to be made at a local level. We need to take the power from the top and get it into the hands of the people on the ground who know what needs to be done. We see time and time again silly things happening because of red tape and rules from Europe.
We need to empower our communities to take on their own challenges and give them the respect they deserve to make the right decisions.
SAI: Are the Green Party just about saving the environment and protecting nature? How do the policies of the Green Party interlink with issues such as school infrastructure, the health system, rural Garda stations, etc.?
F.S.: The Green Party are about so much more than just protecting the environment but thankfully they put the environment at the top of there list because it should be. They have great policies in regards to all aspects of running this country, if people are interested please go onto the Green Party website and have a read as they spent a lot of work on them and are really worth reading.
SAI: Closer to home, there have been many issues affecting the coastline in Co. Clare in recent years such as raw sewerage discharge at Liscannor, coastal erosion and flooding, the construction of a new pier at Doolin and the re-development of Doonbeg Golf course. How will you approach similar issues in the future which can often divide communities?
F.S.: We need to look at issues like this in the future logically on how they will affect the environment in the long term. It can’t just be about making money, if it’s at the cost of the environment, we need to look at the big picture for everything.
SAI: Finally, if you are elected will it mean there’ll be more waves for everyone else in Clare?
F.S.: Yeah you can all catch a couple for me while I’m up in the Dail.
Relevant contact details for Fergal and his campaign: