More than 15,000 Irish schoolchildren marched out of classrooms yesterday to join a global mass movement of climate change demonstrations.
Secondary school students teamed up at more than 30 locations nationwide to send a message to lawmakers that “enough is enough: It’s time for change”.
The movement was sparked by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who called on teenagers to send a message on climate change. By mid-morning, hundreds of thousands of young people had walked out of classes to join the movement, with rallies staged in more than 100 countries.
In Cork, the protest grew so large that gardaí told the organisers to ask the crowd to disperse before speeches could even take place.
Traffic was diverted away from the city centre as the students marched up St Patrick’s St, along the Grand Parade and down South Mall.
Gardaí estimate the crowd size at 4,000-5,000, the vast majority of whom were secondary school students.
Many of these were supported by their parents and teachers.
They gathered at Emmett Place, outside the Cork Opera House, and brought their message to Cork City Hall, with the Lord Mayor of Cork, Mick Finn, committing to bring their demands to the attention of the Government.
“This is just the beginning. I believe that we can make a difference. They have to start listening to us,” Cork Educate Together student Samhain Mohally-Castellano told the crowd, barely audible above the cheering, drumming, and singing of the thousands gathered on Anglesea St.
Homemade signs made the message clear that it is time for action on climate change.
Slogans such as ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it’ showed that these students have had enough. Others, such as ‘The seas are rising — and so are we’, made it clear that the march was not just an excuse to skip school.
“There is no planet B,” primary school children in Dingle warned as an estimated 200 primary and secondary students marched and assembled at the much-loved Funghi the Dolphin statue on the quay.
Finn Slattery-Dunk, 12, of Cill Mhic Domhnaigh NS in Ventry, was one of the main organisers in the most westerly town in Ireland. He distributed fliers around Dingle some weeks ago and said yesterday he was delighted with the reaction.
In Tralee, 200 secondary school students were outside county buildings in Aras an Chontae at Rathass for a five-hour vigil.
Several of those at the event are in Leaving Cert, including the three event organisers, Niamh O’Shea, Ciara Boyd, and Barry Sugrue.
“We just want to show how important this is to us. We picked school time because what’s the point in going to school for a future that may not be there?” asked Barry.
As part of the preparation, suggestions from 250 students were gathered and 10 main points compiled and emailed to all of Kerry’s 33 councillors. The Tralee students were visited by Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.
In Dublin, students gathered on St Stephen’s Green, chanting: “What do we want? Change! When do we want it? Now!”
Gardaí estimated that the crowd in Dublin numbered around 10,000 people.
They made their way to the gates of Dáil Éireann where they carried handmade banners and posters, some of which read ‘Leo try harder’ and ‘Easy to ignore till the Earth is no more’.
The Government has come in for significant criticism regarding its lack of action on climate change. The country is on course
to miss several major emissions targets and could face hefty fines for doing so.
Environment Minister Richard Bruton was at the Dublin rally. He said it is “great to see the passion and enthusiasm of young people” on climate change.
“I am developing an all-of-Government climate plan to make Ireland a leader,” tweeted Mr Bruton.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted from Washington DC about the protests, saying: “School and student protests are a message to all of us in positions of power and influence that we need to do more on climate action. We will.”
The demonstrations were organised by a loose coalition of pupils in schools across the country, building on the momentum that has grown since last year.
In Cork, a small group of students have been protesting outside the City Hall on Fridays for the last 10 weeks. Alongside the major rallies in Cork and Dublin, huge crowds turned out to show their support in Waterford, Galway and Limerick, and smaller protests took place in dozens of towns throughout Ireland.
The students called for the climate crisis to be declared a national emergency and for Ireland to use 100% renewable electricity by 2030.