Saoi calls on MEPs to stand with the Irish youth on climate

Published by Shamim Malekmian on

April 19th, 2019

Cork’s leading teenage climate activist has urged MEPs to stand with the Irish youth and advocate for meaningful change in the European Parliament.

Speaking at a seminar organised by Sinn Féin yesterday, 16-year-old Saoi O’Connor told sitting MEP Liadh Ní Riada to fight for the demands of the student climate action movement.  

“People regularly tell me that it is pointless to strike, that standing outside City Hall with a placard will not achieve anything,” she said.

“But they are wrong because the point of striking is to get across to people like you because you do have the power to achieve the things that we are demanding.”

Ms O’Connor, who has been holding a climate vigil outside Cork City Council every Friday for the past two months, said that politicians hold the future of Irish youth in their hands.

“My future is in the hands of people like you, as is the future of those 5,000 young people,” she said, referring to students who protested in March in Cork City to demand a radical change in climate policy.

The upsurge of students’ participation in the fight against climate change is inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, who refused to attend school on Fridays and sat before her country’s parliament instead.

Teenagers around the world, including Ms O’Connor – arguably Cork city’s very own Greta – have joined Ms Thunberg in demanding a better future from adults.

MEP Liadh Ní Riada Photo: Shamim Malekmian

Climate Emergency Manifesto

Launching a Climate Emergency Manifesto from GUE/NGL – the left group in the European Parliament to which Sinn Fein belongs – Ms Ní Riada said that lobbyists and big businesses are sizeable roadblocks on the way to tangible change.

“There are a lot of lobbyists who come to Europe, and they are the big oil companies who have carbon credits, this issue is not tackled,” she said.

Ms Ní Riada criticised what she described as an “alarming hypocrisy” from her Fine Gael colleagues in the European Parliament when it comes to adopting a more radical climate change strategy.

“The idea seems to be that let’s pay the big corporate polluters to carry on business as usual but then publicly express support for climate action,” she said.

Earlier in March, European lawmakers voted in favour of a non-binding resolution to boost the bloc’s 2030 emission reduction target to 55 per cent compared with 1990 levels.

An analysis of voting records on specific amendments, however, later revealed that all four Fine Gael MEPs voted against key amendments, including one to increase the 2030 target.

“At the same time then, they talk about the needs and they walk with our schoolchildren,” Ms Ní Riada said. “And to me it speaks a thousand words in terms on their intentions.”

Ms Ní Riada is set to join other European election candidates at a public debate in the Metropole Hotel in Cork on 10 May.

Organised by the Environmental Pillar coalition, the event will allow citizens to gauge where candidates stand on key environmental and climate issues before the polling stations open on 23 May.

The event will be moderated by Bernadette Connolly, the Coordinator of the Cork Environmental Forum, whose colleague Dr Darren McAdam O’Connell called for MEPs to push for more radical policies in Brussels at the Sinn Fein event yesterday.

Shifting the blame

Dr O’Connell criticised the idea of shifting the blame for climate change on ordinary citizens. “People don’t get up in the morning thinking, ‘I’m going to destroy the Environment,’” he said.

The environmental scientist said that “spatial planning” by redesigning rural and urban areas to fit a sustainable lifestyle is key in tackling climate change.

He said, however, that ordinary citizens have little say in how their place of residence is designed.

“Our behaviour is determined by two things our social contacts, what other people do and the environment we’re in. People don’t make the choices to destroy the environment it’s made for them.”

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Shamim Malekmian

Shamim is a Senior Reporter at The Green News and a contributing writer to the Irish Examiner, Cork Evening Echo and the Dublin Inquirer.