Saoi O'Connor (c) during climate strike March 2019 Photo: Kayle Crosson

Key student striker rejects Leo’s support until urgent climate action taken

March 12th, 2019

A prominent pupil in the Irish climate strike movement has rejected the Taoiseach’s recent endorsement of students until he acts appropiately to tackle our runaway emissions.

Speaking during leaders’ questions in the Dail last week, Leo Varadkar said it is positive that young people are going to protest as part of the School Strike for Climate Action this Friday.

Since December, climate-themed protests led by school students have taken place across the country as part of the global Fridays for Futures movement inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

As well as marches in Dublin and Cork, there will be strike events outside local authority offices in counties from Kerry to Donegal, Meath to Galway, and locally at school gates across the country.

“These are young people who are standing up to adults. They are children, pupils and students telling all of the adults in all parties to get their act together and do more about climate change because it is their future that is in jeopardy,” Mr Varadkar said.

Action must follow rhetoric

Saoi O’Connor (16), one of the country’s most forthright student strikers, said that the movement could not accept the Taoiseach’s support until he backs up his rhetoric with concrete action.

“If you’re not supporting immediate radical climate action, then you can’t be supporting the students walking out and right now [the Taoiseach is] not doing that so we can’t accept his endorsement,” she told The Green News.

The Skibbereen Community College student has led weekly protests outside of Cork City Hall since the start of 2019 to protest about Government inaction to tackle climate change.

Saoi says that her long-standing interest in climate change was peaked with news that the climate strikes hit Ireland late last year.

“When I saw this was happening, I was like ‘okay, gotta make a banner’,” she said. “It wasn’t above would we do it, it was about when and how.”

She said that it is “kind of sad” that students have to take it upon themselves to push for policy changes “to ensure that our future is protected”.

“We shouldn’t really have to be doing this. If our leaders on a global and a national level were doing their jobs properly then we wouldn’t have to strike.”

Student climate protest February 2019 Photo; Kayle Crosson
Student climate protest February 2019 Photo; Kayle Crosson

List of Demands

She said that two of the major goals of the student movement are for the Irish State to align climate policy with the goals of the Paris Agreement and for a declaration of a national climate emergency.

Last week, a group of 40 students from across Ireland, including Saoi, met in Dublin to expand on these ideas and decide on a list of climate actions they want politicians to take up.

The students later presented six key demands to TDs and Senators at Daíl Eireann based on their discussion and a survey sent to students across the country.

The students said that they want the Government to ensure that all fossil fuels are left in the ground and called for a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure.

They also want the State to communicate the “severity of the ecological crisis to the general public”, including a reform of the education systems to “address the need for ecological literacy”.

The rapid implementation of the entire Citizens’ Assembly suite of recommendations on climate change is also demanded by the students, as well the policy changes to ensure a reduction in emissions from agriculture.

By Kayle Crosson

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