‘We call on you to listen’ – Youth Assembly on climate held in Dáil
Older politicians bear brunt of blame as young activists take over Oireachtas chamber
Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghaíl TD, and RTE Director General RTE Dee Forbes with young people taking part in a one-day aYouth Assembly on Climate at Leinster House.Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
The exuberance and chants on the Kildare Street plinth were quickly replaced by quiet whispers once in the Dáil chamber, but young climate change activists did not hold back when they stood up to declare in unison Ireland is not doing enough to address the existential crisis they face.
The 157 young Irish people, representing all 26 counties and aged from 10 to 17 years, sat in the seats of their TDs to focus and debate on climate disruption’s growing impact on environment, economics, food and farming, energy and education.
The event was chaired by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and broadcast live in two sessions: the first setting the agenda, the second to ratify a climate proclamation – coinciding with the centenary of the first Dáil. In between, committee rooms were taken over to generate their key recommendations.
Their host urged them to park the fear factor so often associated with accelerating climate change and to apply “optimism, realism and knowledge” in generating recommendations.
The symbolic gathering marked a shift “from the streets to the seats”; from unprecedented protests across Ireland over the past year – prompted by the FridaysForFuture movement and school strikers – to their representatives taking over the powerhouse of Irish democracy for a day.
Sioda Monaghan (14) from Claremorris spelled out the consequences evident already – tropical storms, extreme flooding in rural areas and lives lost – and asked: “How much do we have to lose to call climate change an emergency?”
Conal O’Boyle (17) from Donegal said he was ashamed to have to be present to highlight failure to address an issue that should serve as “a massive embarrassment for politicians”.
Eric Ehigie (17) from Longford underlined the role of education in arming everybody in the “eco-friendly fight to address climate change”, while the youngest speaker, Katelyn Culleton (11) from Ballinasloe, highlighted global impacts, especially on the poorest people, and the need to end fossil fuel use, deforestation and biodiversity loss.
We are not experts . . . we offer ideas but we do not have all the answers
The recommendations included setting aside 10 per cent of agricultural land for forestry; legislating for ecocide; increasing tax on carbon-intensive multinationals; and layering sustainability education into education.
The assembly also called for investment in industrial hemp production to provide a sustainable option for farmers. On energy, it endorsed banning importation of fracked gas and ensuring shops install glass doors on open refrigerators.
“We are not experts . . . we offer ideas but we do not have all the answers. It is a starting point for adults and particularly for those elected to protect and progress our society. We call on you to listen to the science, to take on board our recommendations and to work on our behalf to ensure that we – and you – have a future,” their formal declaration states.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl assured participants he would take Taoiseach Leo Varadkar up on the offer to meet them and consider their recommendations. As for future political configurations in the House, he added: “Many of you will be back. I’m sure of that.”