A proud day to be Green: Divestment Bill the first step on ladder to climate leadership

Published by Niall Sargent on

July 13th, 2018

The Irish cultural landscape has received a progressive shake-up in recent years, from the marriage equality referendum to the recent two-thirds majority vote in favour of removing the constitutional ban on abortion.

Quite appropriately, both issues received international attention, drawing flocks of journalists and TV crews to the streets of Dublin.

Environmental policy moves, however, tend to receive little attention outside of Ireland – let alone outside of environmental circles.

Yet, yesterday was different, with global media outlets from The Guardian to the New York Times all honing in on proceedings in the Dail over a Private Member’s Bill on fossil fuel divestment.

And for good reason, as Ireland’s lower house voted in favour of Independent Deputy Thomas Pringle’s Bill to make Ireland the first country in the world to fully divest from fossil fuels.

Once signed into law (it is expected to easily pass through the Seanad later this year) Ireland’s €8 billion sovereign investment fund will have to start dumping its oil, coal and gas assets.

The Bill will also prohibit the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund – which currently has over 300 million both directly and indirectly in fossil fuel companies – from any future investment in the industry.

Bill McKibben, possibly the world’s most famous environmental activist, wrote yesterday – with a Guinness “clutched in one hand” mind you – that Ireland has given the global divestment movement a “big reason to celebrate”.

Mr McKibben’s overzealous joy was too difficult to control, leading him to tweet in “CAPSLOCKED” for the first time ever.

And the Irish people should be just as excited to know that our small island nation on the outskirts of Europe can now act as an inspiration to activists, NGOs and climate-aware politicians the world over.

This was already evident within hours of the vote going through, with people showing up at Irish embassies in the US to say Slainte and activists in New York City delivering a Guinness to the State Comptroller in a bid to encourage him to bring New York in line with the old country.

And we should also be proud – or just a little less embarrassed – to know that there are positive headlines in the international press about Ireland’s climate record for once.

Just this week, a well-respected international report found Ireland to be falling behind on our environmental commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals.

The report states that we are performing particularly poorly on climate action, with numerous other international reports in the past year putting Ireland near the bottom of the table over our poor climate record.

So the international headlines are a breath of fresh air, and it is rewarding to see the media attribute credit where it is due to the likes of Mr Pringle, the Greens, Trócaire and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition who played a large role from day one in getting the Bill over the line.

First step on the climate ladder

It is hoped that our Government will recognise the positive image yesterday’s vote painted of our small island in the battle against climate change, and change tack to support Deputy Brid Smith’s proposed piece of legislation to prohibit any new licenses for oil and gas exploration in Irish waters.

We also need joined-up thinking on the fracking front and combine our much-lauded ban on fracking with the prohibition of the importation of fracked gas (LNG) from the US.

At present, a major LNG project close to the Shannon is still in place and the Port of Cork Company has an agreement to explore the importation of LNG from the US fracking industry.

In the same week that the Oireachtas passed the disastrous Heritage Bill, the progress of Mr Pringle’s Bill is much welcome news to anyone interesting in seeing Ireland move from climate laggard to climate leader.

While we do have some way to go to ever be called a leader in tackling climate change, the move to take State money out of the fossil fuel industry is a pretty solid stride in the right direction.

So for now, I think Bill McKibben is onto something – a Guinness does sound about right…

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London