I’ve done a lot of reflecting over the weekend and to say I am proud and awed by the young people of Waterford, Ireland and the entire globe is an understatement. To think that the actions of one young woman, the brave young warrior Greta Thunburg, rippled into this mass global action is staggering and it gives me a sense of hope.
As an MEP, most of my working time these days is spent in Brussels or Strasbourg. I travelled home to support the climate strikers who took to the streets of Waterford on Friday. Of course I was questioned on my carbon footprint. I am compelled to fly to do my job at the moment. It’s a dilemma that does not sit well with me. But as a working mother who has to juggle home-life and my commitments to my daughters with a job that is largely based overseas, it’s not feasible to commute by sail and rail. I’ve tried it. I take public transport wherever possible and never use the chauffeur service available to MEPs in parliament. I have to say it was a shock to learn that such a thing even existed, and an even bigger shock when one of the other MEPS claimed to have never travelled by public transport in Brussels. But I digress; that’s another days work.
Over the weekend I saw some negative commentary about the student strikes. To those of you who are cynical and unkind enough to criticise the actions of these amazing young people I say – shame on you. Shame on you for not opening your minds enough to realise the seriousness of what these international heroes are doing. The short-sighted amongst you will say that it was all just a big joke, the chance of a day off. Were you there? Did you see and hear the passion, the depth of knowledge and conviction of these young activists?
And frankly, so what if some of them were there for the day off. So what if their mothers and fathers drove them to school in petrol-guzzling vehicles wearing the latest designer brands. So what on the day that was in it because change is a step-by-step process and those battles were not the focus on Friday, they are fights to be taken on on another day.
I spoke to some youngsters on Friday who didn’t really know what it was all about. They were in the minority. But let me tell you this. By the time they had listened, with dropped jaws, and heard the words spoken outside the Theatre Royal by many young leaders incuding Mary O’Donoghue and Isobel Tiernan, their knowledge and their own fires were ignited. By the time they had joined in the chants led by young Amelie O’Kelly Brown, and followed in the wake of Caoimhe Murphy and Josh Gallagher and the others who led the march from John Roberts Square, along the Quay and up to City Hall where drivers respectfully drew their cars to a halt as protester spilled onto the streets of the Mall, they knew exactly why they were there. I sat down with three of their young representatives who met with the Mayor, who listened to their concerns and promised action. ACTION. Steps. Change. Ambitions at the heart of their protests.
This day. That day. Friday September 20th 2019 was not deserving of petty, misinformed negativity. Friday September 20th, and the MASSIVE youth-led global action that has such important work to do, was deserving of nothing, in my view, NOTHING but absolute fullsome praise.
So what was it about then? It was about creating a surge of citizen protest on such a scale that those with the power to make the scale of change that is necessary to allow these young people to survive into the future, will be compelled to listen and COMPELLED to change.
These are the voters and leaders of tomorrow. Many are of, or on the verge of being of voting age. The young people who carried banners, and spoke with panicked, desperate, heart-wrenching passion and conviction are more clued in to the imminent danger we are in, than the brain-washed generations who have been prepared to believe the bullshit notion that we are safe, in the hands of the current powers-that-be at Government level throughout the world. The same powers-that-be, that are in the pockets of power and money-hungry capitalism and earth-wrecking economically-focussed practices. These children get it. They GET IT. They understand that the skewed unbalance in favour of money over human and ecological safety can mean only one thing. These people will sacrifice the future of their own children in order to make more money.
The young people who took to the streets are our hope. But they are cornered. They are doing what any cornered animal does when it knows its life is on the line. They are shouting for help; they are struggling for survival; THEY ARE FIGHTING FOR THEIR LIVES.
I am not being melodramatic here. I am not. I know this stuff inside out. As an environment and peace activist I have been fighting too, for over 40 years on this issue. Sadly, science is backing up the valididy of the young activists’ panic and fear. Science has been verifying that they ARE in fact…in FACT…fighting for their lives.
It is stark, and it is startling, and it is terrifying to contemplate. These children have more cop on than the powers that be. Fact.
In the European Parliament this week we debated the horror that is the burning of the Amazon rainforests. When we got to the end of the debate my colleagues in the EPP and Renew groups in the European Parliament said they would refuse to vote on a draft resolution on the fires that are a massive threat to the planet. To put this in context: In the parliament Ireland has 11 MEPS at the moment. Five of us are members of more socially/environmentally-conscious, left-leaning groups. Myself and Ciarán Cuffe are in the Greens/EFA group. Then in the GUE-NGL group we have Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Matt Carthy and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan. The other six MEPs are members of more centre-right leaning groups. The five Fine Gael MEPs (Mairead Mc Guinness, Frances Fitzgerald, Sean Kelly, Maria Walsh) are in the EPP group, and the Fianna Fail MEP Billy Kelleher is a member of the Renew Europe group. So in a nutshell – six out of the 11 Irish MEPs said they would not vote on a resolution on the burning of the Amazon rainforests, this environmental catastrophe that has implications for the entire globe. I’m all in favour of collaborative politics, but I have to say we are at odds on this one and I find it staggering that their groups chose not to do th