- with reporting from Eoin English and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Angry students flooded the streets of Cork yesterday, demanding that Government acts to protect their futures.
“We'll stop taking time off school when they stop taking time off our future,” said Caoimhe Horgan, 15 from Macroom.
“I'd like to see the government understand that there is no time left to ignore climate change. All our lives are now on the line.
“There's no point in learning for a future that we will not have unless emissions are reduced now,” she said.
More than 5,000 people marched through Cork, lamenting the slow response of governments to protect them from what they say is a fast-ticking climate timebomb.
“It's disgraceful that we have to miss our education to do this,” said Aoibhinn McAdam O'Connell, 15, from Cork.
Children spoke about combing beaches looking for seaweeds to replace plastics, and of their fear that mass extinctions, triggered by climate change, would not leave many animals left.
Many students said that Swedish environmentalist, Greta Thunberg, 16, who began striking from school to force her government to address climate change, had been a huge influence.
One teenager, Saoi O'Connor, 16, from Skibbereen, has even taken time off school to campaign fulltime on the issue with Greta.
Addressing the crowds after the march, Saoi said: “It's terrifying seeing so many of you here today. Because you are a force to be reckoned with.”
Speaking after the speeches she said: “We can march now or swim later.
“I'd like to see Government wake-up. At the bare minimum, we ask for the right to exist.”
The banner waved by 10-year-old Fionn Buckley echoed her words.
'You will die of old age, we will die of climate change,' the slogan read.
Ailsa Hatchett, 11 from Kilmeen National School, Rossmore, said that seeing baby seals washed up on her local beach after increasingly violent storms made her very aware of climate change.
She said: “I live next to the beach and I've seen baby seals washed in with all the plastic after storms. The mummy seals wait for ages in the water for them. I've really noticed changes, there are more storms than before.
“I don't like what's happening – the way people are still making plastic. We could use other things instead – like metal or paper or hemp.
“My friend and I have been looking on the beach for seaweeds that could replace some plastics.
“It's important that young people act now,” she said.
'Make earth cool again' 'Fossil Foolz', 'Our House is on Fire' and 'Up with this sort of thing' were some of the witty slogans emblazoned boldly on placards and flags throughout the march.
Others appealed directly to individual politicians, with one reading: 'Roses are dead, violets are too, climate change is real, so Leo pull through.'
Dogs even joined the protest, with Robert the Greyhound sporting a sign saying ''Humans should pick up their own s**t too.'
Daragh Hurley, 16, from Cork, explained his motivation for marching. He said: “Our planet was always thought of as this blue pebble, full of life. I'm here because I don't want it to be remembered as just a pale grey dot.”
Tánaiste Simon Coveney congratulated the students for marching.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted his Government is listening to nationwide warnings from protesting school children urging climate action, saying "I'm committed to doing that" and that the criticism "really spurs me on".
Speaking from Knock, Co Mayo, Mr Varadkar - who is flying to the New York this weekend to attend a special UN climate change summit where campaigner Greta Thunberg will also appear - said he understood the concerns.
"I have to say I'm inspired by the fact millions of young people throughout the world have come out to say they want governments all over the world to take climate action, to stop climate change.
"In the past few months the Government introduced our climate action plan, we now need to implement that.
"That means changing our electricity system, changing our transport system, greening our culture, insulating our buildings.
"I'm committed to doing that. And the fact so many people, particularly young people, want us to do that are sending us that message, really spurs me and spurs people on," Mr Varadkar said.