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16-year-old tells minister Fine Gael is 'passing the buck' when it comes to climate action

Conal O’Boyle said government is trying to hide the fact that they still grant oil licenses while telling people to buy an electric car.

Environment Minister Richard Bruton said the time for rhetoric is over.
Environment Minister Richard Bruton said the time for rhetoric is over.

A 16-YEAR-OLD climate activist from Muff in Donegal got a standing ovation and applause for his speech at the MacGill Summer School in which rounded on Environment Minister Richard Bruton. 

Conal O’Boyle, a student from Crana College in Buncrana, accused Fine Gael of “passing the buck onto the everyday citizen” when it comes to climate action.

“The Fine Gael Party line of ‘every individual has a role to play in tackling climate change’ is a lie. Of course, we have a civic responsibility to recycle and ensure that our towns and
villages are litter free, but Mary in Dingle or John in Castlebar can not pull the plug on oil exploration off the west coast.

“They can not introduce a smoky coal ban or implement policy that will curb our emissions… That’s the job of the legislators in government. Fine Gael are trying to pass the buck onto the everyday citizen of the country, when ultimately, the buck stops with them,” he said.

The young activist said the government “hide[s] the fact that they still grant oil licenses by telling us that the only way to curb emissions is to buy an electric car”.

He added that he had a conversation in a back corridor in Leinster House with Minister Bruton on the 27 March this year:

He pointed to me and said that it was our responsibility to get our parents to buy electric cars and retrofit our homes. What difference is that going to make?

“The point I am making is this: it’s grand if people go to recycling plants and dispose of their waste responsibly, but the real change has to be top-down and by legislative change, and Fine Gael seemingly do not want to do that.”

O’Boyle went on to state that responsibility lies with government.

IMG_5371 Student Conal O'Boyle looks towards Minister Richard Bruton while saying to him that climate change is more important than the national broadband plan.

“What annoys me the most about the plan is its stance on corporate involvement. The
‘private sector’ as it’s known, shouldn’t have any involvement in the process of the decarbonisation of the State. Everything the Government needs to tackle this crisis should be owned by the State.

Every bit of infrastructure, every worker who is employed to retrofit, should all be funded and controlled by the State. It’s why people pay tax. People pay tax for better State services. People do not pay tax to have crucial infrastructure owned by some private organisation that could pull the plug on a project at any time. The taxpayer should be in the full knowledge that their money is going back into State resources and is being invested with their interests in mind.

Delaying the smoky coal ban

Quoting a recent headline, ’Government delays plans for smoky coal ban following legal threats from industry’, O’Boyle told the audience that the government is being told what to do by the coal industry.

“They have postponed a smoky coal ban to serve the many in order to satisfy and serve the few… If this doesn’t scream capitalism, I don’t know what does,” he said. 

It is obvious this needs to change. We need to be a country that serves the many. We need to move away from capitalism. As a country, we can not afford to be bullied by corporations at any time, let alone this time. The Government need[s] to take responsibility for our country and our problems, both domestically and on the international stage, instead of kicking them off down the road, which has essentially gotten us to this point.

Concluding his speech, he said:

I am a 16-year-old boy who cares about the living world. I don’t know why I have to stand up for my future at this age. None of those sitting beside me ever had to do that. I can campaign and lobby and scream and shout all I want, but at the end of the day, the ball is not in my court. I can not vote, so all I can do is make my voice heard. It’s not fun, it’s not cool. But it’s necessary. 

Trinity student Jessie Dolliver also attacked the government for its inaction, stating that Fine Gael is “pontificating” to people about climate change, while at the same time blocking a Bill by TD Bríd Smith that would end the awarding of licences to oil and gas companies for offshore exploration in Irish waters.

Dolliver said the government’s pontificating about climate change is “disingenuous” and “borderline undemocratic”.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who was also speaking at today’s debate, said:

“I will eat my hat if within the year we have not stopped issuing licences for oil and gas exploration, it won’t survive any programme for government negotiations.”

Holding secretary generals to account

Reacting to the criticism levelled at him this morning, Environment Minister Richard Bruton said that shortly after he was appointed in his role he “squared up very clearly to the fact that the target which had been set at the beginning of this decade was going to be 95% off target”.

“We’ve put in a plan now which will make sure we will deliver 100% of the 2030 target, so we will go from delivering five per cent of the last target that was set to delivering 100%, we have put in place the mechanisms that will make that happen, not only aspirational but very much focused on implementation, driven from the heart of government and I think that shows Fine Gael’s commitment in this area.

“I will be judged by our delivery, I am happy to be judged by the delivery on this plan,” he said.

The minister acknowledged that big changes will be needed, adding that the government plans to roll out real accountability.

Bruton said secretary generals often “quake in their boots” when they have to appear before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and it will be the same when it comes to the climate budgets for each department. 

Under the government’s Climate Action Plan, departments will have to pay out of their own pockets if they miss multi-year annual environmental targets.

Bruton said there will be a “strong climate council” and an Oireachtas committee with the “same teeth as the PAC” to ensure there is genuine accountability from department, ministers and secretary generals.

The Oireachtas Climate Change committee will be allowed to reprimand government departments for failing to meeting their climate change targets.

He said the plan will be a “profound test for politics”.

He said big changes are on the way, which will mean the building of more wind farms and more offshore energy. 

The plan also envisages that 33% of the cars on our road will be fully electric or hybrids, and “when you are doing your weekly shopping, all the plastic in your local supermarket will be fully recyclable”, said the minister.

“Ireland has not been lacking in ambition, but in delivery. There has been no roadmap, no coherent strategy that would in fact deliver on the commitments made. We can not countenance another such failure,” he said.

Bruton said the European Union must seek to lead the change that is required, but added that this plan is not about Ireland’s ranking in some European Union or UN league table, but “about ourselves and our children”.

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