Ireland Becomes the First Country to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Executive Director of Trócaire calls the bill “both substantive and symbolic.”

Sunset in Skerries, Ireland.  Giuseppe Milo. CC BY 2.0

Sunset in Skerries, Ireland. Giuseppe Milo. CC BY 2.0

Last July, Ireland moved to take public funds out of fossil fuels. While many universities, organizations, and even cities have made similar commitments, Ireland will be the first country to do so. According to the New York Times, Ireland’s action represents the most substantial advance for divestment in the world.

The bill commiting to divestment was passed with all party support by the lower house of Parliament and necessitates that money from the sovereign fund (8.9 billion euros) be taken out of fossil fuels. According to a statement, the change will be made, “as soon as practicable.” (The phrase likely refers to changes made to the bill: originally it called for divestment within five years, but was altered to give the government more flexibility.)

According to the Guardian, the bill defines a fossil fuel company as one that receives 20% or more of its income from the “exploration, extraction or refinement of fossil fuels.”

The divestment bill will move on to the Senate which has the ability to delay, but not overturn it. According to the aid of Thomas Pringle, the parliament member who introduced the bill, it has the support of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and is thus almost guaranteed to become law. Varadkar’s support is expected, as he has professed hopes that Ireland will become a “leader in climate action.”

According to Pringle himself, the “movement is highlighting the need to stop investing in the expansion of a global industry which must be brought into managed decline if catastrophic climate change is to be averted. Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”

Eamonn Meehan, director of Trócaire, the environmental organization that advocated for the bill, told the New York Times that the bill, “will stop public money being invested against the public interest, and it sends a clear signal nationally and globally that action on the climate crisis needs to be accelerated urgently, starting with the phase-out of fossil fuels.”

Currently, Ireland has over 300 million euros in fossil fuel investments, according to the Guardian. The country's decision to divest is so momentous in part because of its reputation as slacker in fighting climate change. According to a survey by Climate Action Network, conducted a month before the decision, Ireland was was ranked second to last in the category of climate action, followed by Poland. The country’s decision to divest promises a greener future for Ireland.

Now, Ireland hopes that other countries will follow its lead. According to Gerry Liston of the Global Legal Action Network, and drafter of the bill, “governments will not meet their obligations under the Paris agreement on climate change if they continue to financially sustain the fossil fuel industry. Countries the world over must now urgently follow Ireland’s lead and divest from fossil fuels.”

 

 

 


EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

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Systems of Discrimination and Irish Travellers

Irish Travellers in a decorated caravan, 1954. Unknown (via The National Library of Ireland on the Commons).  Wikimedia Commons .

Irish Travellers in a decorated caravan, 1954. Unknown (via The National Library of Ireland on the Commons). Wikimedia Commons.

Travellers are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group, possibly descended from the Romany people, though their origins are somewhat debated. Today, they are found mostly in Ireland, but also live in the United Kingdom and United States. They are also subject to relentless racism in Ireland and around the world.

The exact origins of the Travellers are unknown, but it is believed that they are descended from Irish people who were made homeless by Oliver Cromwell’s military actions in Ireland in the 1650s or by the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. They remained itinerant, choosing to avoid educational and political systems for centuries in exchange for a life on the road, until vagrancy laws made it illegal to live a nomadic lifestyle; even so, many Irish Travellers still live in sedentary caravans. Most are Irish Catholic, and typically marry young and prioritize family and loyalty, though there are of course exceptions to these generalizations. Today, there are about 40,000 Travellers in Ireland, and in 2017 they finally attained recognition as an ethnic group from the Irish government. There are also about 10,000 Travellers in the United States.

Many people outside Ireland first encountered Travellers through the reality TV show, “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding,” a show that portrays Irish Travellers as uncouth, uncivilized, and almost inhuman. When I was studying in Ireland, I was shocked to find that everyone I asked, including other American foreign exchange students, expressed an implicit belief in the fundamental “filth” or “trashiness,” words that they believed characterized all Travellers.

While abroad, I took a class at the National University of Ireland in Galway taught by a Traveller woman—a poised, beautiful, intelligent professor who has spent her life working tirelessly for Traveller rights. In the class, I was shocked to hear Irish students use ethnic slurs to describe Travellers right in front of her face.

It is usually difficult for people who are not from Ireland to identify Travellers, but during my time there, I came to realize that the native Irish are able to pick them out with ease based on specific characteristics, such as fashion choices, mannerisms and dialects. All differences are small—Travellers are white, a characteristic that certainly endows them with levels of privilege of their own—but most settled Irish people not only are able to notice Travellers, but make a special effort to reject and demonize them.

An Irish Traveller in Dublin watches neighbouring children play from her trailer  window.  Photobymack .  Wikimedia Commons.

An Irish Traveller in Dublin watches neighbouring children play from her trailer

window. Photobymack. Wikimedia Commons.

In Ireland, Travellers are often ostracized, rejected since childhood on the basis of their identities. My professor told us that her own daughter was not invited to class birthday parties by settler children simply because she was a Traveller. This early rejection is a precursor of a far larger machine in which systems orchestrated around privilege and the practice of discrimination prevent Travellers from attaining certain access to healthcare, housing rights, and educational opportunities, which compromises their mental and physical health, making it nearly impossible for them to rise out of poverty.

Racism against Travellers is remarkably commonplace and socially acceptable in Ireland. Many Irish people believe that Travellers are all criminals, dangerous social outcasts that cause trouble and stick to themselves.

However, these beliefs immediately create hierarchies that disadvantages those not already privileged, further locking them out of the possibility of accessing healthcare and the tools to improve their own vitality and growth.

Fear is one of the great accomplices of the privileged, and many defend their racist actions on the basis of a fear of Travellers, labeling them as dangerous criminals. However, it is likely that this fear has much deeper roots, roots that stretch back to old wounds stemming from discrimination against the Irish back in the days of English colonization. Fascinatingly, negative stereotypes initially deployed against the Irish by the British—such as the degenerative, false stereotype of the drunk and raucous Irish criminal—seem to have transferred over to the way settled Irish people view Travellers.

This will only end when the cycle is broken and systems are created that allow Travellers and minority groups to have voices and rights that do not hinge on compromisation of their identities and culture. After all, Travellers are no longer allowed to be legally nomadic—so most live in stationary caravans, or some are able to purchase houses. They have been forced to become part of settled society by law. The least settled society can do is give them a chance.

To learn more about Travellers and the struggle for Traveller rights, visit https://itmtrav.ie.

EDEN GORDON is a writer, musician, and avid traveler. She attends Barnard College in New York.