Climate change: Ireland’s youth take charge of the Dáil - for a day

First Youth Assembly convenes to debate issue and advise Government

A total of  157 young people have been selected to take part in a one-day Youth Assembly at the Dáil on climate action. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A total of 157 young people have been selected to take part in a one-day Youth Assembly at the Dáil on climate action. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Chances are at least one or two future TDs are among the delegates at the first Youth Assembly on Climate Action taking place in the Dáil on Friday.

A total of 157 pupils aged 10 to 17 from all across the country are attending the assembly, the same as the number of TDs in the House, along with Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

The Ceann Comhairle issued the invitation for an assembly as part of the centenary celebrations of the first Dáil, and he told the delegates - the same as the number of TDs in the House - that “the Government has said it will listen to what you bring forward.

“Speaking as the oldest person in the room I admire you enormously for your achievement in what you have done to get you here today.”

But he cautioned them against a climate of fear. “We don’t solve problems by frightening people.” He said that “generating fear, worry and upset will generate headlines”, but he urged them to “leave fear at the door and enter your discussions with optimism and realism”.

Liz Noone of Worldwise Global Schools is a member of the steering group co-ordinating the day-long event. She said the pupils were selected from more than 1,000 applications, which was then cut to 250. Then an expert group chose the 157 participants who will debate 10 proposals, two from each of the categories environment, food and farming, economics, power and energy.

One of the participants Beth Doherty, a 16-year-old student at Alexandra College in Dublin, is passionate about the issue and not averse to becoming a TD.

“We are not seeing the kind of action that we need to see from our Government, and we’ve been coming out on the streets and we’re still not being listened to.

“So at this point we are going into where they work, and we’re going to tell them what they need to do, and if they don’t do it, well we’re not going away. We’re going to keep coming out.”

A member of the economics group, her sights are set on international corporations in the context of a tax system operating in Sweden, where emissions dropped by 25 per cent.

“Twenty companies cause one-third of global emissions, and 10 are in Ireland,” she said. “I don’t think it’s acceptable for our Government to allow them to continue killing our planet in that way.”

She suggests the tax should be decided in consultation with the climate advisory council and based on the European Emissions Trading scheme. “The bottom 80 per cent are taxed at €24 a tonne and top 20 per cent are taxed at €50 a tonne [so] you can bring in €3 billion for climate action.”

As for what she is prepared to do to save the planet - “I cut down plastic waste at home; we use a hybrid car”.

But she also believes in “pressuring politicians for structural change because we need individual change, collective action and structural change”.

“We haven’t gone on any international holidays long haul in a while because of flying [carbon emissions]. So we just stick to Europe where we can take boats.”

Also in the economics group is Yvonne Farrell (16), a student at Mount Sackville in Dublin.

Attending the assembly “is an amazing opportunity to get our voices heard”.

She is “in a privileged position where I can afford sustainable products, but not everyone can afford them, and carbon tax is targeting lower-income families.

“What we should be doing is improving electric cars and making them cheaper to buy,” she said.

She also believes businesses should be incentivised to be more eco-friendly and penalised for excessive emissions. “Fast fashion” is inexpensive to the consumer but unsustainable for the climate and should be taxed, she said.

The Youth Assembly will vote on the best proposals, which will then be presented to the Government. It has been warned.