By Camilla Kane - 3 March 2015
By Camilla Kane
I attended a briefing day held by Stop Climate Chaos- a coalition of organisations campaigning to ensure Ireland plays it’s part in preventing runaway climate change. I watched over 80 TDs and many more constituents come and go from the Buswells Hotel, all there for one reason, to discuss/debate the need for a stronger Climate Bill.
Although it will be a while before we see the impact these discussions will have on the bill, I am left wondering what is the purpose of lobbying as a young activist, does it really have an impact?
I spoke with two of our members from Young Friends of the Earth who attended the event, Barry McMahon from Dublin North Constituency and Conan Connolly from Cavan-Monaghan constituency. They highlighted their thoughts on the impact of the day.
Barry - “I could see myself looking far more in depth at the amendments being proposed by Stop Climate Chaos than I would have if just sending an email or signing a petition, and found myself reflecting on my own views and values, because I was going to have to present them to somebody else who I wanted to influence. It made me think that if everybody else who was contacting their TDs was also going through the same process then perhaps making a habit of lobbying politicians in person has the potential to not just change policy, but also change and develop the people advocating for it.”
A very positive response from Barry indicates that lobbying TDs in person ignites the activists and leaves little room for passive supporters. This has got me thinking, with such a huge movement of young activist across Ireland today, why wasn't there a bigger representation of young people at this event? Are young people not inclined to lobby their TDs in person?
Barry recalls he was apprehensive about meeting his TD in person as this was his first time, but was reassured by Ciara from Stop Climate Chaos as she supported him with advice.
“I was concerned beforehand that I might be a bit meek in talking to them in person, but when it came to it, I felt that if anything I had the opposite problem. I was determined to have a conversation that was frank, personal, and had some tangible outcome, and I was pleased how upfront the TDs were.”
How easy is it to get a commitment or tangible outcome from a TD?
Conan and Barry both recall their meeting with Olivia Mitchell TD for Dublin South. Despite being under great time pressure, Olivia was very keen to speak with constituents regarding the Climate Bill. She spoke about how she agreed with the need for strong action on Climate Change and elaborated on the various work she has done in areas affected greatly by hurricanes. To prevent the conversation from staying too general Conan put the pressure on Olivia by addressing the issue of Fine Gaels link to the big farmers in the IFA and the influence this has on the weakness of the climate bill.
“Agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland and FGs policy on harvest 2020 and the planned harvest 2025 are at odds with this legislation being strengthened.”
Olivia pointed out it is a committee who make these decisions and recommended speaking to the members of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. Barry persisted and indicated that her access to these people in power is much easier for her than it is for him so requested that she addresses these changes with them. She agreed with this, and suggested she would follow up and let them know how the conversations went.
Conan raised concerns over the current trade agreement being discussed between EU and US TTIP. TTIP is a trade agreement currently being discussed between the EU and US offering jobs and increasing economic growth as it’s tag line, however, the beneficiaries of this growth will not be the people but the large corporations. It raises huge concerns regarding it’s social and environmental impact. Conan was dismayed to find she didn't know more about the impact of this agreement and recalls her response as
“Richard (Bruton - the Minister for Enterprise and Employment) tells me it’s absolutely essential for Ireland”.
Unfortunately Olivia is not alone in this opinion, therefore, it is clear there is a great need for many more meetings to be had to keep pressure on our TDs to take notice to the issue of TTIP, and other environmental concerns, and encourage them to use their power to better the outcome for the people rather than corporations.
These two young activists have really demonstrated the impact lobbying TDs can have on both ourselves as young activist and in influencing your TDs to be more active on issues of concern to you. It has certainly inspired me to find my voice and speak up when approaching TDs. To recognise the power they hold and how to guide this power in the right direction for social and environmental justice.