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Sunday 8 December 2019

Climate kids slam Leo as thousands march in city

'Our leaders don't care' - city centre at a standstill as young climate warriors demand action

Huge crowds in Merrion Square
Huge crowds in Merrion Square

The call for climate action was loud and clear as thousands of students and their supporters took to the streets of Dublin.

With chants, whistles, drums and placards, they told the Government in no uncertain terms that they do not believe enough is being done to tackle climate change and that the politicians are not taking the issue seriously enough.

The schools strike march began at Custom House Quay and made its way through the city past applauding onlookers to Merrion Square, where a rally took place.

The event, organised by secondary school students, was supported by primary schools, teachers, parents, third-level students, trade unions, academics, environmental groups and NGOs.

Warning

Speakers, all bar one of them schoolchildren, expressed frustration and anger and said the time for excuses was over.

Beth Doherty (16), from Dublin, addressed her comments directly to TDs, telling them they had the power to make real change and warning them it was in their own interests to do so.

"I don't want to have to tell my children that we didn't save the planet when we still had a chance," she told the crowd.

"By the time any of us are old enough to be in power, it will be too late. But in a few years we will be voters and we will remember who fought for our planet and who stood and let it burn."

Salim Kajani, a third-year student at St Michael's College, Dublin, voiced frustration that everyone seemed to know what needed to be done to counteract global temperature rise and yet the necessary action wasn't being taken.

"Humanity is walking into a trap without the excuse of being blind," he said.

Theo Cullen Mouze (16), from Clare Island, Co Mayo, rejected the Taoiseach's words at the launch of the Climate Action Plan in June.

"He said it would 'nudge' people towards action. If your house was on fire, would you nudge people to the door?"

Molly Mercier Redmond, a Junior Cert student from North Wicklow Educate Together, shook off politicians' praise, declaring it "hypocrisy of the highest level".

"You, our Government, have caused me and thousands of others to give up our teenage years because you couldn't do your jobs correctly," she said. "Empty promises and continued lip service - how am I meant to have hope when our world leaders don't care?"

Symbol

Ruby Cowdell (10), from the 'No Planet B' club in Naas, Co Kildare, referred to Blackrock College and its request to parents to keep their sons in class and engage in a symbolic dimming of lights. "Is it better to sit in the school in the dark and learn about history or come here and make history?" she asked.

The crowd was asked to set their phone alarms for 11 minutes to the rally finishing time, symbolising the 11 years scientists say the world has left to make a real effort at tackling climate change.

As silence was called at the chosen moment, thousands of phones beeped, chimed and wailed simultaneously.

The students then brought out a ticking clock and smashed it, declaring their intention to do all in their power to stop time running out in their battle to save the world. Just one adult was selected to address the crowd.

Life-long environmentalist and mother-of-four Suzie Cahn, from Glenealy, Co Wicklow, said that the apology she felt necessary to make for her generation's carelessness with the world it was handing down to the young people in front of her had left her emotional.

"My legs have gone from under me," she said as she descended the speakers' platform. "It's the most honourable occasion I have ever been asked to address - it's the pride seeing these young people do today what I have tried to do all my life and it's also the sorrow that we did not achieve what was necessary and have left the job to them."

This generation might be the one to make a difference, however. "There's more of them. It was a lonely road when I was trying to speak out. It's not so lonely any more," she said.

Her youngest son Finn (17) left as the rally ended to begin a seven-day run to Cork. Running under the #run4yourlife banner, Finn said he hoped to continue raising awareness and spirits around the country.

Others are also planning to keep the message alive until the next big climate strike. Protest group Extinction Rebellion has announced a week of action planned for October 7, when it aims to cause major disruption in Dublin city centre to draw attention to the cause.

Planned sit-ins, sit-downs and "traffic swarming" are causing concern among the city's business community, however, who fear the effect on trade.

Initiatives

The week of action is planned to coincide with Budget week, when the Government will set out its spending plans - including climate action initiatives - for next year.

Speaking about the schools strikes, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was inspired by the young people behind them and insisted the Government would do everything necessary to implement the 183 measures in their Climate Action Plan.

"It means changing our electricity system, changing our transport system, greening our agriculture, insulating our buildings," he said.

"I'm committed to doing that and the fact that so many young people are sending us that message really spurs me and the Government on."

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