The 15th March 2019 marked the day when thousands of children in schools across Ireland dropped their pencils and marched through the streets demanding urgent climate change action. The sight of children dropping their books that teach them about the impact of climate change and instead taking it upon themselves to march to demand climate justice brings a new era of ideological thinking to the fore. Protests were staged around Ireland in big cities such as Cork and Dublin as well as in towns including Tullamore Co. Offaly, Ennis Co. Clare and Lifford Co. Donegal. It brought business to a standstill as the protesters marched through town centres and made their voices heard. In total, 37 marches were staged around the country.
In both Cork and Dublin the power of social movement for action on climate change was clear for all to see as people waved signs, banners and bunting. Students across the country are demanding the Irish government declare a climate emergency and present the severity of the climate situation to the Irish public. It was not just the Irish population that spoke out about this crisis. These marches were held in tandem with strikes in 1,659 towns and cities in 105 countries across the world. It cements the idea that this is more than just an issue for Ireland, this is an issue that will affect humanity on a global level for years to come. It is estimated 5,000 students attended the protest in Cork while it is estimated another 11,000 people marched in the climate action protest in Dublin. The movement gathered global momentum online initially under #fridaysforfuture in August 2018. When it gathered pace and moved to school strikes in Ireland the label morphed into #schoolstrike4climate.
The march in Cork began at Emmet Place, just outside the Opera House and protesters were then lead towards Cork City Hall. There was a feeling among protestors that this was only the start of the movement as one of the speakers, Samhain Mohally-Casellano voice echoed faintly over the crowd. The Cork march was coordinated loosely by the second-level schools in the area, yet the protest was attended by a blend of primary, secondary and university level students. UCC Equality Officer, Maeve Richardson commented that “third level students feel really strongly about this, as do second level students”. Politicians such as Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer supported the Cork march while Green Party activist Dominick Donnelly paid tribute to it calling it one of the largest marches that he had witnessed in Cork in years. “I’ve been on many protests here in Cork and this is the biggest I’ve ever seen – organised by the kids themselves – the kids are shouting at us adults – sit up and listen. We need to change.” The large turnout to the Cork march alone exemplifies how much people are crying out for a change of policy towards the planet we call our home.
Minister for Communication, Climate Action and the Environment Richard Bruton endorsed the passing protesters saying “They are making a call that countries have to heed. Our Government needs to heed it, and we are developing a plan to do just that.”
This global movement was sparked by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg in August 2018 when she staged a strike outside the Swedish Parliament. Her protest, as well as similar protests in the UK the previous week, has kickstarted the political pendulum that is climate awareness. At the end of February of this year, it became clear from a European Commission report that Ireland was drastically falling behind in our process of decarbonisation in comparison with other European countries. The Climate Change Performance Index ranked Ireland as the worst performing EU country. However, in response to this strike The Irish government has pledged to generate 70% of the country’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. This figure is up from a previous commitment of 55% renewable energy sources by 2030.