Environmental activists block traffic in Dublin city centre

‘Clean air action’ taken to highlight need to address city’s levels of air pollution

A coalition of transport and environmental groups blocked  Dublin’s South William Street to traffic from 10am on Saturday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

A coalition of transport and environmental groups blocked Dublin’s South William Street to traffic from 10am on Saturday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

A group of environmental and transport activists have blocked traffic in Dublin’s South William Street to highlight the “urgent” need for action to address the city’s air pollution.

Demonstrators erected temporary traffic measures that included tables and chairs to create a car-free zone between Chatham Street and Wicklow Street for a number of hours on Saturday.

The “clean air action” was organised by members of Dublin Commuter Coalition, Dublin Cycling Campaign, the Irish Pedestrian Network and Extinction Rebellion Ireland who are calling on the Government to take immediate action to reduce motor traffic and create clean air zones throughout the city.

Neasa Hourigan, Green Party councillor and co-founder of the Irish Pedestrian Network, said the capital’s poor air quality was “costing lives”.

“It is beyond time that the Government starts listening to groups like ourselves because the inertia we’ve seen from Government and local authorities on introducing low emission zones, clean air zones and pedestrian areas has resulted in the report from last week where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited dangerous levels of pollution in our city,” she said.

“We do a huge amount of work on road deaths in terms of traffic, we don’t anything in terms of air pollution and that is costing people their lives . . . We need to do more work on it. We need to take it more seriously and that can’t come fast enough.”

Possible health risk

The EPA report found that the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air in Dublin represents a possible public health risk and may be exceeding the annual limits deemed safe by the European Union.

Ms Hourigan said the group will continue to hold protests until measures to combat air pollution are introduced.

“When we’ve reached a point where we’re chocking on the air that we breathe, where children are developing increased cases of asthma, where people are struggling to breathe in the city, it is time to revisit this,” she added. “We are choking.”

She added that other European countries were taking action but said Ireland was lagging behind, making changes “at a snail’s pace”.

Janet Horner from the Dublin Cycling Campaign said: “We’re facing a climate emergency and we’re facing a public health emergency in terms of air pollution.

“Urgent action is required . . . Reducing traffic in the city works for everybody and it’s important on so many different grounds.”

Colm and Ruari (9) Walsh from Rathmines enjoying some couch time on Dublin’s South William Steet during the protest. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Colm and Ruari (9) Walsh from Rathmines enjoying some couch time on Dublin’s South William Steet during the protest. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Ms Horner said about 1,500 deaths a year are caused by air pollution in Ireland and that figure does not include all those impacted by respiratory illnesses.

“We know that the nitrogen dioxide in the air in the city is dangerously high,” she said.

“We need to reduce the traffic in our city centre, we need to do that for climate reasons, we need to do that for public health reasons and we need to do that for safety reasons. Out streets aren’t safe so we want to change that.”

She said it had been “obvious” for more than a decade now that South William Street should be pedestrianised to make it safe for people to walk and cycle along.

“It makes sense for businesses, it makes sense for pedestrians, it makes sense for shoppers,” Ms Horner said.

“The only party it doesn’t make sense for is the people who are making a lot of money out of a car park . . . There are simple obvious things we can do. And this is one of them. Pedestrianise this street, give it back to people of the city and allow us to enjoy it and stop holding us to ransom by polluting vehicles.” – PA