Greta Thunberg was a last-minute addition to the slate for the honorary freedom of Dublin City after being nominated alongside Irish environmentalist Duncan Stewart by Lord Mayor Caroline Conroy on Wednesday. It is the first time the city has used the award to acknowledge the role of environmental activists.
Speaking on Wednesday, Ms Conroy, a Green Party councillor, praised the passion of both nominees for raising awareness of the “huge issue” that is climate change.
“Greta has been a significant presence on the international stage, particularly in rallying young people to the climate challenge. I am a huge admirer of both Duncan and Greta. They are absolutely passionate about raising awareness of this huge issue,” she said.
“Our city has never before used this award to celebrate the role of environmental activists. We must recognise the incredible work done across generations to protect our shared city and planet.”
The nominations were made on Wednesday morning at a meeting of Dublin City Council’s Protocol Committee. They are subject to approval at DCC’s next monthly meeting on June 12th.
Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, first rose to prominence aged 15 when she publicly called on her government to take stronger action on climate change. She has spoken before the United Nations, most notably in 2019 when she called on world leaders to action on climate change, chiding them: “How dare you?”
Thunberg has inspired a number of young people to engage in protest in their own communities in order to demand more urgency from governments. In 2019, students from over 1,000 cities worldwide staged a mass walkout from schools to protest climate change.
Now aged 20, Thunberg has been included in Time’s 100 most influential people, Forbes’ list of the world’s 100 most powerful women and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Duncan Stewart is an architect and environmentalist best known for his role as a presenter on Eco Eye, an RTÉ television programme that focused on the Irish environment. Mr Stewart presented the programme from 2002 until it was discontinued earlier this year.
In a memorable radio interview in 2014, Stewart criticised the media’s coverage of climate change, saying outlets refused to sufficiently engage with the subject “because it’s not popular, it doesn’t bring in ratings”. He threatened to walk out of the same interview if he was not granted more time to discuss the matter.
The list of the freemen and freewomen of Dublin already includes US presidents John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, entertainer Maureen Potter, former Dublin football managers Kevin Heffernan and Jim Gavin, broadcaster Gay Byrne and poet Thomas Kinsella.
The last time the freedom of Dublin was awarded back in 2022, Olympic gold medal-winning boxer Kellie Harrington, LGBTQ+ activist Ailbhe Smyth and Prof Mary Aiken were the recipients.
According to Dublin City Council, freemen and freewomen have the responsibility to “defend the city from attack and join the city militia at short notice”. Among the ancient privileges afforded to recipients is the right to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates without paying customs duties, the right to keep sheep on common ground within the city boundaries and the right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections.