Bríd Ní Chumhaill: We can’t trust the powers that be... it is up to us

Bríd Ní Chumhaill: We can’t trust the powers that be... it is up to us

Bríd Ní Chumhaill: We can’t trust the powers that be... it is up to us

The first time I joined others to protest for the safety of the planet was back in 1979 when I participated in an anti-nuclear rally at Carnsore Point in County Wexford. I travelled down from Dublin and camped with the other protestors.

In the 1980s, I joined the Dublin North East branch of CND. We demonstrated as part of a worldwide movement, demanding de-escalation of nuclear weapons. The threat of nuclear war between superpowers was a global concern.

Greenham Common was a focus because of plans to bring Trident missiles there. I travelled there from Ireland to participate in a mass women’s demonstration against that.

Back then, I’d never have described myself as an activist or an environmentalist. Those terms weren’t really of that time.

But I was always the sort of person who would, on seeing the danger, try to stop it. It seemed obvious to me that you do what you can to protect yourself and your kids against the threat.

People often feel they’re close to powerless when vast change is needed. But that isn’t so.

Mass movement delivers a great chance of success. That’s what stopped the building of the nuclear power station in Carnsore. That’s what stopped apartheid in South Africa.

You only need about 3% of the population to create a mass movement a government cannot ignore. Just 3% of the people going out on the streets. A critical mass of people protesting.

The Extinction Rebellion movement works to move people emotionally, practically and intellectually. Everyone needs to know it’s now or never to make a change, that there won’t be another chance. I encourage everyone to attend one of those meetings to hear the scientific facts and find out what they can do to help give us a viable future.

The UN has highlighted how catastrophic the climate emergency is. We’re heading into the sixth mass extinction of species and it’s down to human activity.

Respected, peer-reviewed scientists agree we’re losing two hundred species every 24 hours. It’s absolutely impossible to exaggerate how dire it all is.

My father was also involved in CND. We were members of the same branch at the same time. He was a

retired teacher. I can’t remember if I influenced him or vice versa. But my activism had started long before, at Carnsore.

Nobody expects to see their father amongst the crowds at a disco they’re attending. But I did and I caught him smoking. It was a CND fundraiser. I approached and said: “Dad, you’re smoking!” With a smile, he replied: “Ah Bríd, I only smoke at discos.” I think he and my mum would really approve of the life we lead at the ecovillage; that they’d have loved to have lived there.

We moved to Cloughjordan in 2007: my lovely husband, Martin, and our two young children. We made a commitment then, to live more sustainably, to walk the talk. We felt drawn to and excited by it. The move gave our lives another level of meaning.


Our daughter, Ruth, is 27 now. Our son, Danny, is 20. All four of us are concerned about the threat we face. We’re all doing our best to ensure our future. We work to create the change we want.

We moved to the ecovillage just before the crash. But I never once wished we hadn’t done it, even through the hard times when we felt tired and overstretched. Life there can be wearing. We do lots of trying out. It might be about transport or food initiatives. There’s a lot of consensus decision-making. But it’s so rewarding, that I feel lucky our family is one of the sixty or so that live there.

There’s space for roughly the same number again at the ecovillage. We thought more would be built around the country, that more would start to live that way. But change is far too slow.

We really have to collapse the way we do things, create alternatives.

Recycling properly is important. I’m a recycling nut. I tear the plastic rectangles from brown envelopes so as to recycle those separately. Our meat and dairy are organic and locally sourced. My husband, Martin, grows vegetables. But much greater change is needed, so great is the threat that needs to be fixed.

Tinkering around the edges of the planet-damaging systems we have in place is not enough anymore. High-level change by governments and global corporations is required.

We need to change how we produce and distribute food, and completely change our power sources. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground and stop granting mining and exploration licences.

We have to stop flying. Every flight contributes to rising sea levels and islands disappearing beneath the water. Every flight directly hurts the people who live in the parts of the world most impacted by that. They’re the victims of the lifestyle we have in the West.

We’re all busy. But we have placed too much trust in governments and corporations that they won’t neglect our well being. We have trusted our well being to the powers that be, trusted they would keep us safe.

But they haven’t and they aren’t, so it’s up to us.

- Interview: Rita de Brún

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