Protesters at Ballina climate conference repeatedly heckle Mary Robinson and Eamon Ryan

Protesters highlight Ireland’s failure to address climate crisis as Ryan says communications over past 35 years have failed to deliver necessary response

During the Mary Robinson Climate Conference in Ballina, Fridays for Future activists demanded that Green Party leader Eamon Ryan expedite climate action measures. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins Photos

Former president Mary Robinson and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan were repeatedly heckled at a conference in Co Mayo on Friday by three protesters highlighting Ireland’s failure to adequately address the climate crisis and the Government’s facilitation of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Speaking at the Mary Robinson Climate Conference in Ballina Arts Centre, Mr Ryan was interrupted by Fridays for Future activists who chanted “Get up, come off it, our land is not for profit” and “From the rivers to the sea, we don’t want your LNG”.

They demanded that Mr Ryan expedite climate action measures, with one adding: “We know the solutions to the climate crisis and yet, year after year, the climate crisis worsens and Ireland’s emissions grow. We are one of the worst states in the EU. There is no way we should be still philosophising about solutions.”

“We’ve been at this for years, and nobody cares,” said another activist, who accused the Government of only being interested in “profit and maintaining the neoliberal systems that brought us into this mess in the first place”.

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The women – who were accredited to attend the conference – were not removed from the venue and were applauded by some other attendees for their remarks, the Mayo News reported. Mr Ryan was eventually allowed to finish his address and engaged with the activists afterwards.

Maura Harrington, from the Shell to Sea campaign, criticised Ms Robinson – whom she referred to as “Madame Elder” – for not making any public comment on the controversial Corrib gas project.

She demanded that Mr Ryan not facilitate Europa Oil & Gas’s plans to progress the Inishkea gas prospect, located 11km from the Corrib gas field off the Co Mayo coast. The UK-based company recently gave a presentation to Mayo County Council’s economic development strategic policy committee, which lent support to their proposals.

Mr Ryan did not specifically address the Inishkea project, despite repeated interruptions by Ms Harrington, but said the Government needed to engage with people “from the bottom up, not the top down” on climate issues.

Addressing concerns about how the climate crisis is communicated, the Green Party leader said the Government should not “blame, shame or terrorise” people in addressing the issue. He agreed that communication was central to addressing the climate challenge but “the communications we’ve been doing to date hasn’t worked to steer the response to that scale of crisis”.

The basic science had not changed much since the 1980s, he said. “We’ve been banging on this drum for those 35 years and not delivering the scale of public response that one would expect, given the self-evident reality of the crisis.”

Fear was understandable in the face of record world temperatures, rapidly increasing ice melt in Greenland and having to close the river Moy fishery recently “because the water was too hot”, he said, adding that the alternative pathway for the world was clear, especially in adopting renewable energy.

Oisín Coghlan, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said he was increasingly scared about climate change and that “being moderate about the issue has not worked”.

Addressing the conference, he added: “Disruptive direct protests and actions clearly have a role to play. Actions need to be increasingly unreasonable in order to save the future for ourselves and our children.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times