Circling Sharks: In Conversation with Irish Basking Shark Group

Circling Sharks: In Conversation with Irish Basking Shark Group

Circling Sharks:

 

In Conversation with The

Irish Basking Shark Group

 

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly
11th of November 2022

Basking sharks are widely distributed across the world’s oceans, but Irish waters are a hotspot for this seafaring species. The Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG) is a “network of basking shark researchers” that aims to “combine community engagement, advocacy, and research to advance science-based conservation goals for basking sharks in Ireland”. Alexandra McInturf, IBSG co-coordinator and researcher, and Chelsea Gray, IBSG researcher and science communicator, shared how new research contributes to a better understanding of this elusive species.

Photo by Nigel Motyer courtesy of the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG)

“Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish, and they’re one of three filter feeding shark species, meaning they feed on plankton. Basking sharks can reach over twenty feet [six metres] in length. Otherwise we don’t know a lot about them, because they’re hard to study” Alexandra explained. As a postdoctoral fellow at Oregon State University, Alexandra highlighted the difficulties of researching basking sharks in comparison to many other shark species, “For other shark species, you might attract them to an area by baiting or by fishing, or by chumming. You can’t do that with a shark that feeds on plankton. You also can’t bring them onto the boat to put a tag on them, so tagging them is really challenging”. Multi- disciplinary and innovative approaches to research are required to learn more about basking sharks in Ireland and across the world.

Alexandra’s PhD research focused on basking sharks in Ireland and other parts of the world, including the Pacific. This has given Alexandra “a unique perspective and understanding just how important Ireland is for the species. You don’t see them in the same numbers as you do in Ireland basically anywhere else in the world”. Basking sharks tend to arrive around Ireland in April to feed and begin to leave towards the end of June but could be sighted in Irish waters throughout August. Another possible reason for Ireland being an important habitat for basking sharks is “Ireland is a potential mating ground for them but mating has never been observed in this species so far”.

Basking sharks were recently given the status of “protected wild animal” in Ireland under Wildlife Act 1976 (Protection of Wild Animals) Regulations 2022. IBSG has welcomed this development, but “creating a code of conduct, enforcing a code of conduct and then seeing how we can further protect [basking sharks] remains to be seen”. Alexandra highlighted how “it put Ireland on the global stage” for basking shark conservation. IBSG has continued to research basking sharks in Ireland to gain more knowledge on how to protect the species. Several of the research projects completed or currently being conducted by members of IBSG are explored below.

Sightings Scheme

IBSG runs a sightings scheme that members of the public can contribute to as “citizen scientists” by reporting any sightings of basking sharks around Ireland on the website. Alexandra is “analysing the data from that to try to see if there are environmental factors that tend to bring the sharks to Irish waters” such as the amount of plankton or sea surface temperature. Any correlation between environmental factors and the presence of basking sharks helps to understand how these sharks may react to changes in their habitats. These changes include the possible impact of climate change. As Alexandra explains “what does that mean if the global sea surface temperature is changing with climate change? Should we expect those sharks to move?”

Visual Identification Tags

Alexandra also highlighted Simon Berrow’s (IBSG Co-founder) annual work as he tags basking sharks with visual ID attachments. These visual ID tags are large pieces of plastic with numbers printed onto them. Their large size allows them to be read from a distance away so “anybody can see them and hopefully read the number even if you’re not right next to the shark”. The ID tags allow IBSG to monitor if sharks are returning to Ireland and when they are around. Anyone who sees a basking shark with a tag can report the number to IBSG also. If someone wants to view basking sharks in the water however, safety for people and basking sharks is paramount. Only go out on the water if you have the required skills and experience, and maintain distance from any sharks.

Satellite Tags

Photo by Emmet Johnson courtesy of the Irish Basking Shark Group (IBSG)

Another basking shark research project Alexandra is involved in is SeaMonitor. This project is not directly affiliated with IBSG, but Alexandra is collaborating with other researchers including with Queen’s University Belfast. “They’re putting satellite tags on basking sharks, which are basically tags that can connect with satellites overhead and send a location every time that tag pops out of the water. It’s deployed on the dorsal fins of the shark, so it’s out of the water quite a bit because the sharks feed at the surface” Alexandra explained. The satellite tags allow investigation into the capability of basking sharks to travel long distances. For instance, one shark that was tagged with and IBSG visual ID tag at Malin Head in Donegal and turned up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts a few months later.

IBSG is also interested in the social lives of basking sharks. In a recent research paper, Simon focused on a basking shark behaviour where they gather together, “They just swim around in these massive circles together and that’s called a torus.” The torus could be a potential mating behaviour. Meanwhile, “One thing I’m doing is putting these tags on these sharks that can talk to each other so I can see if certain individuals are constantly detecting the same other ones” mentioned Alexandra, “to try to get a better idea of how they’re interacting in these coastal areas, and whether they actually tend to form groups that stay together. Maybe even travel together afterwards”.

Basking Shark Tourism Survey

Chelsea currently is a PhD candidate in George Mason University and completed her Master’s in environmental science there also. Chelsea’s research during her Master’s focused on why Ireland, particularly Malin Head, had a nearly completely undeveloped basking shark tourism sector, but Scotland, especially the Hebrides, had utilised the presence of basking sharks for tourism. The social science approach Chelsea used included surveying residents of Buncrana and tourists on the beach to learn what they knew about basking sharks. “Most people sort of knew that they didn’t eat seals, and that was basically it. They kind of had an idea that basking sharks were big”, Chelsea discovered during her survey. Many people also expressed an interest in going to view basking sharks either from land or on a boat. Chelsea’s research highlights the importance of raising awareness of less well-known species to ensure their protection.

Individual Based Modelling

Continuing with social science research, Chelsea’s PhD project involves using individual based modelling (IBM) to gather results and to develop a method for how to use IBM results to make recommendations to policymakers. Chelsea explained IBM as complex computer modelling which allows for stochasticity (the quality of lacking any predictable order or plan), or “you have agents like I have little individual sharks. My little individual sharks can interact with the environment and they can impact the environment. Or they can be impacted by the environment”. These agents are not mirroring the behaviour of individual real sharks, but each agent has “has a limited perspective, so it can only see a certain distance and then from there it makes a certain series of decisions”. The limited perspective each agent has reflects that “each individual shark ends up doing its own individual behaviour based on what we call bounded knowledge, so that’s that limitation of how far it can see”, and mirrors real basking shark behaviour. Chelsea compares the results from the IBM to the information IBSG has gathered from the sightings scheme and tagging. The behaviour of individual sharks comes together to form a group behaviour and this is known as “emergent behaviour.

Chelsea is also interviewing Irish policymakers to learn how to best convey IBM results to them. The insights gained from these interviews Chelsea hopes will bridge the gap between “how modelers can communicate their model results to policymakers” and “policymakers are understanding the model correctly and then are applying it correctly”. IBM data can be used to inform conservation legislation through providing insights into how changing environments, locally and globally, may impact on basking shark behaviour.

Basking Shark Conservation

There have been several historical threats to basking sharks. These included fisheries in many places, “there was one off Achill Island which is very famous. It was one of the biggest fisheries in the world, if not the biggest for basking sharks” Alexandra explained, “That whole community has really embraced this part of their history, which I think is amazing. [The community] very much recognize and report when the sharks are around now. And family members of former fishermen have been really active in the conservation of [basking sharks] now”. Another threat was the culling of basking sharks in Canada as “there was an eradication effort because the sharks were becoming entangled in fishing nets”. These are historical rather than current threats, but would have affected the basking shark population.

Current problems for basking sharks are harder to pinpoint as research is still ongoing to learn more about the species. Boat strikes and becoming entangled in fishing equipment may result in a few deaths per year, but the impact of these deaths on the population is unknown as “we don’t know how many sharks there are”. Alexandra also highlighted that “another threat that we would be concerned about is anything that’s going on in the high seas because that it can’t be regulated”.

IBSG is a network of researchers voluntarily working towards educating about, advocating for and protecting basking sharks. The capacity and infrastructure do not exist at the moment for members of the public to volunteer with IBSG, but anyone can participate in the sightings scheme by reporting any basking sharks they see. The benefit of drawing together researchers from multi- disciplinary backgrounds in IBSG is clear to Alexandra and Chelsea. Chelsea sees the importance of cooperation to support basking shark conservation as IBSG “encourage a lot of flexibility and creativity” to spread awareness of basking sharks through different approaches.

 Alexandra highlighted “I think it’s very rare that you get to operate at the intersection of research, policy, advocacy and education. I was able to be not only observing basking sharks in the field and contributing to our knowledge of them this year. But then also getting to be a really active voice in supporting their protection and making a very real policy change”.

Thank you to Alexandra McInturf and Chelsea Gray for their support in this article.

 

Featured photo of basking shark torus by Simon Berrow, shared courtesy of The Irish Basking Shark Group

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Horror Movies and Gender Justice

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Horror Movies and Gender Justice

Horror Movies and Gender Justice

Horror Movies and Gender Justice

 

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle

 

14th of November 2022

STAND Student Festival Exhibition on University of Limerick Campus

Over the last eight weeks, the STAND Student Festival and Exhibition has been making its way across third-level campuses in Ireland. This year’s theme of #GenderJusticeNow focuses on the power of collective action to create change and invites students to sign a pledge to become a gender justice advocate. Students who sign the pledge receive an action pack with information about gender justice and suggestions for how to start making change.

Meghan Mickela, this year’s STAND Student Festival intern and graduate of Trinity College Dublin’s Film Studies Masters Programme, supported the inclusion of documentary film screenings on some campuses. She also curated a list of horror films that explore gender beyond the harmful stereotypes we often see in Halloween-related popular culture.

Halloween may be over, but horror is a movie genre that goes well beyond October 31st. These movies tackle many important themes and complex subjects in a way that only horror can. Check out our Instagram Reel where you can hear Meghan talk about each of these films, or read about them below. Enjoy!

 

Ginger Snaps movie poster

Ginger Snaps

For our first film we have Ginger Snaps from 2000. Sisters Ginger and Brigitte are tested when Ginger gets her period for the first time and begins to experience strange effects. As her body changes and she begins to and she begins to experience more and more strange occurrences, Ginger Snaps uses the horror elements of Ginger’s evolution into a werewolf as a metaphor for the evolution of the female body during puberty. Now a cult classic, Ginger Snaps presents two strong female leads who represent the duality of female adolescence; all at once the beauty and the beast. 

 

 

A Girl Walk Home Alone at Night movie poster

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Next up, the film “A Girl Late Walk Home Alone at Night” from 2014 by Director Ana Lily Amirpour. Late at night, the streets of ‘Bad City’ in Iran are haunted by a girl and her skateboard. Director Amirpour creates a rare horror piece that represents an all too real fear that women face; (walking home at night) and flips the role of the victim onto the citizens of Bad City. Our main character, The Girl, serves as an anti-hero to Bad City while representing the ongoing gender politics that continue to plague Iran after the Irainian revolution. Amirpour’s film is a reigning favourite that is still timely today as women in Iran fight for empowerment.  

 

 

Bad Hair movie poster

Bad Hair

This 2020 film presents the challenges that black women face in corporate America. In  the 1990s Anna works at a Tv station hoping to move up the ranks; she is told she can only be successful if she gets a weave. Things go horribly wrong when the hair proves to have a mind of its own. Bad Hair combines dark comedy with horror to further its presentation of classic racism women of colour face in order to look ‘professional’ according to euro-centric standards. With a killer cast of women of colour this film presents an often untold perspective in the horror genre.  

 

 

Fresh movie poster

Fresh

Director Mimi Cave delivers a delicious take on romance, with a twist; sharp in wit while retaining the horror element. Fresh takes on the idealisation of male psychopaths, while pointing out the irony. It’s a common trend to see male criminals being lauded as attractive or sexy after committing horrible crimes, the film presents a young woman’s perspective of a misogynistic dating culture where she is unable to succeed. Themes including horror, dark comedy, or feminine rage, this one is a perfect fit for those friends who are a little too into their true-crime movies. 

 

 

 

For those interested in other titles, check out:

Raw / Bodies, Bodies, Bodies / Thirst / Thelma / Possession / Saint Maude / It Follows / Prevenge

 

Film is one of the many artistic expressions that can help us to better understand why gender justice is so important. So I hope that when you’re picking out scary movies to watch this Halloween or any time of year, you’ll be thinking about gender justice!

For more information on STAND and the #GenderJusticeNow pledge, head over to 10000studends.ie Take the pledge to become a gender justice advocate while you’re there so that you can receive your action pack full of ways for you to take action for gender justice now!!

 

Many thanks to Meghan Mickela for her work in curating this list and describing the films in it.

 

Featured photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Ginger Snaps movie poster from Wikipedia

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night movie poster from IMDB

Bad Hair movie poster from IMDB

Fresh movie poster from IMDB

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Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Contributor Niamh Kelly shares insights from her interview with Fair Seas’ Sinead Loughran about the importance of biodiversity, the challenges posed by climate change, and how to get involved as a “citizen scientist”.

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Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Taking Under Wing: Seabird Conservation in Ireland

Taking Under Wing:

Seabird Conservation in Ireland

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly
11th of November 2022

Ireland provides habitats inland and along the coast for many bird species, both resident and migratory. Irish coastal areas provide nesting and feeding habitats for many seabirds. Sinéad Loughran, marine policy and advocacy officer for Fair Seas and Birdwatch Ireland, discussed in an interview with STAND News, what challenges seabirds and other marine biodiversity face in Ireland.

Sinéad highlighted that “the ocean is one of the greatest allies you could have in the fight against climate change”.  Fair Seas (a coalition of Irish environmental non-governmental organisations and environmental networks) aims “to see Ireland, with a renewed appreciation of the ocean, become a world leader in marine protection, giving [Irish] species, habitats and coastal communities the opportunity to thrive”. After completing a Master of Science in Climate Change: Policy, Media and Society from Dublin City University, Sinéad has taken on a role which focuses on communications about promoting “ocean stewardship”, policy consultation with decision-makers and engagement with stakeholders such as coastal communities (including working alongside the Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss).

Image of two gannets by Clive Timmons, courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

Members of the public can support marine biodiversity by becoming involved as “citizen scientists” by utilising the BirdTrack, an online tool that allows people to record what bird species they observe, and the information collected forms a picture of bird distribution and migratory patterns in Ireland and Britain. Another opportunity to engage with Irish biodiversity is through the annual Irish Garden Bird Survey which runs from December to February. Sinéad spoke of how the survey is a “really kind of hands-on way that people can connect with the nature that’s around them and the bird species that they see in their gardens everyday”.

Ireland is a regular home to over 200 bird species, either year-round for birds such as robins, or as part of a migration cycle for other species such as swallows. Sinéad emphasised a variety of challenges impacting seabirds (and other biodiversity on land and in the sea). These causes are explored below:

Climate Change

Image of Puffin by James West, courtesy Bird Watch Ireland

Climate change has direct and indirect consequences for seabirds. One direct problem is the effect on prey availability for seabirds. For example, “Puffins, in 2007, were recorded feeding snake pipefish to their chicks. There is a greater risk of choking for the chicks on these fish and they’re also not nearly as nutritious in comparison to a preferred prey species such as sand eels”. The increasing abundance of snake pipefish may be linked with warming waters and this species of fish is not the ideal food source for puffin parents to feed their chicks.

An indirect impact on seabirds resulting from climate change is how seabird habitats may be affected by offshore wind farms, as Sinéad highlights “[we] recognises the urgent need to rapidly decarbonize our society and economy, but it needs to be done in a holistic way. We are in a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency. They’re inherently interlinked”. Flight corridors to allow birds to access foraging grounds would minimise the risk of collision deaths and seabirds’ displacement from their feeding grounds. The east coast of Ireland provides foraging grounds for seabird colonies in Wales and Cornwall, as well as Ireland.  Sinéad emphasised “how will offshore renewable energy affect bird colonies. Progress efforts on one should not be to the detriment of the other”.

Habitat Quality

A decline in the quality of coastal and estuary habitats impacts both on seabirds and on wider biodiversity in these environments. Sinéad acknowledges that although a recently released report from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states “coastal waters have the highest percentage of all water bodies in high or good ecological status”, unfortunately “there is still a 9.5% decline in the number of coastal water bodies in satisfactory condition since the last assessment”. Estuaries are faring worse as “64% of estuaries are in moderate, poor or bad ecological health”. A decrease in habitat quality impacts directly on any animal or bird living there and “the interconnected nature of our entire water system. We can’t separate our freshwater systems from our marine environment”, therefore the connection between these different habitats means more species and biodiversity will be impacted than only those which inhabit a single area.

Avian Flu

Image of Roseate Tern in flight by Laura Glenister, courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

An outbreak of avian flu has harshly affected wild birds across Ireland and further afield, particularly breeding seabird colonies in the UK and Europe. People are unlikely to contract this disease from wild birds, but members of the public are advised not to handle any dead or sick wild birds. Infected seabirds may travel further inland than usual because of the effects of the disease and come into closer contact with domestic birds and humans than would normally occur. Any dead seabirds, waterfowl or birds of prey should be reported to the Department of Agriculture to monitor the spread of the disease. Gannets have been particularly hit by the avian flu as “they breed quite late in the year compared to other seabirds in Ireland, and so they were still in their colonies. Their chicks were still there, and this was all kicking off from the end of August. Many of [the gannets] were washing up on the shore”.

As avian flu poses a threat to domestic birds as well as wild birds, Sinéad underlined the potential for “a coordinated response for the collection of dead or sick birds” and “further safeguards for wild birds”. Avian flu is caused by a “virulent strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)” and can severely decrease wild bird populations, particularly in seabird colonies with large numbers of birds gathering close together.

Seabird Conversation Project

Image of roseate tern by Brian Burke, courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

Wild seabird conservation however can make a successful and positive impact on marine biodiversity. Roseate terns nesting on Rockabill Island, near Skerries, County Dublin, compose 85% of the European population for their species. This species is also the rarest breeding seabird in Europe. Small wooden nest boxes have been placed across the island annually since 1989, providing the terns with sheltered areas similar to vegetation or rocky crevices which they prefer to nest in. The wooden boxes provide cover from bad weather and predators, provide more space for the terns to nest on the limited area available on the island and allow more eggs to hatch and chicks to be reared successfully. There are now ten times more breeding pairs on Rockabill Island than when the wooden nesting boxes were first introduced. As Sinéad said “such a small space like Rockabill, it’s only about 0.8 hectares, and when you consider how many birds come, that small area plays a vital role in the European population”.

Large scale challenges such as climate change, habitat quality and spread of diseases can impact on local environments and species, and so protecting birds, biodiversity and habitats in Ireland is important.

 

Thank you to Sinéad Loughran for her support in this article.

 

Click here to read Fair Seas new report on public support for better protection of marine wildlife and their habitats around Ireland

 

Featured photo of two gannets in flight is by Gerry Kerr and shared courtesy of Bird Watch Ireland

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Revisiting the Emergency in Pakistan: Floods and Loss of Life

Revisiting the Emergency in Pakistan: Floods and Loss of Life

Revisiting the Emergency in Pakistan:

Floods and Loss of Life

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

9th of November 2022

Over the summer, Pakistan faced one of the deadliest floods the world has seen since 2017. According to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, more than 33 million people have been affected by the floods, and more than 1,000 have died since mid-June. The floods have been caused by record-breaking monsoon rains and have primarily affected the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. According to Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman, rainfall indexes in these areas increased by 784% and 500% respectively, in comparison with the average rainfall index for the month of August. The situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate through October, and has left the country in a state of ongoing emergency.

The humanitarian situation is expected to worsen, as communities and infrastructure lack crisis response capacity. As the monsoon rains continue to fall, river overflows and landslides further aggravate the crisis: authorities are unable to reach affected areas. According to the disaster management agency almost one million homes were damaged, over 218,000 were destroyed,  and close to 500,000 people have been displaced and are now living in relief camps. Additionally, education authorities in the country stated that at least 17,700 schools have been damaged or destroyed by the floods. As of August 30, one in every seven people in the country has been affected by the floods. “Literally, one-third of Pakistan is underwater right now, which has exceeded every boundary, every norm we’ve seen in the past, we’ve never seen anything like this” Minister Sherry Rehman told AFP news agency

The floods have been compared to the 2010 floods of Pakistan, which is deemed as the deadliest in the country’s history. However, experts have highlighted key differences: while the 2010 floods were caused by river overflows during the monsoon season, the current floods are a direct result of climate change. Not only have they been caused by the alterations in rainfall patterns, but also by burst glaciers, lack of infrastructure, and unfit urban planning. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, an Islamabad-based independent expert on climate change, told Al Jazeera that different flood types can be identified, such as riverine floods, urban floods, glacier burst floods, and flash flooding. “Climate change is a threat multiplier”, Sheikh stated. 

The lack of government capacity, development planning, and adequate infrastructure were identified as main issues in the emergency. According to a report by the International Rescue Committee, the government has claimed that it will take at least five years for the country to rebuild and rehabilitate the nation, while in the near term it will be confronted with acute food shortages. Almost half of the country’s cotton crop has been washed away and vegetable, fruit, and rice fields have sustained significant damage, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said. A Flood Response Plan by the Pakistan Government and the United Nations was launched on August 30, focusing on food security, assistance for agriculture and livestock, shelter and non-food items, nutrition programmes, primary health services, protection, water and sanitation, women’s health, and education support, as well as shelter for displaced people.

“This super flood is driven by climate change – the causes are international and so the response calls for international solidarity”, Julien Harneis, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, stated. Developing countries in the global South are especially vulnerable to extreme climate conditions, and sadly, they lack both economic and capacity resources to effectively respond to such crises. The number of affected people keeps rising like the tide, and the question remains: when will the international community act to stop climate change?

 

Featured photo, an aerial view of a flooded residential area in Sindh Province, southeastern Pakistan is from UNICEF and can be found here.

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Contributor Niamh Kelly shares insights from her interview with Fair Seas’ Sinead Loughran about the importance of biodiversity, the challenges posed by climate change, and how to get involved as a “citizen scientist”.

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Fate Un-seal-ed: In conversation with Seal Rescue Ireland

Fate Un-seal-ed: In conversation with Seal Rescue Ireland

Fate Un-seal-ed:

In conversation with

Seal Rescue Ireland

 

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

17th of September 2022

Ireland has a rich and diverse array of marine wildlife, including two native seal species, common and grey. Seal Rescue Ireland (SRI) is a charity whose goal is to “rescue, rehabilitate and release native seals found sick, injured or orphaned from across the coast of Ireland”. Aoife O’Donoghue, who started as an animal care and conservation intern in SRI and has since taken on the role of donations and membership coordinator, highlighted in an interview with STAND News, how various human activities have impacted on the individual seals SRI has rescued, and also on wider marine biodiversity.

Photo by Aoife O’Donoghue. Finnegas, a male common seal pup, on his first day of fish school.

Aoife explained that “if you counted our marine territory, Ireland would be the same size as France”, and this large environment provides suitable habitats for many marine creatures, including seals. Ireland has a population of about 8,000 – 10,000 grey seals, and despite the name, a smaller population of about 3,000 – 4,000 common seals. Common seals, also known as harbour seals, have a wider geographical spread across the globe than grey seals, leading to their species’ moniker. An aid for the novice seal-watcher to differentiate between the two species that Aoife recommended is their similarity to household pets, “If it looks like a dog, it’s a grey seal. If it looks like a cat, it’s a common seal”. Grey seals are found most commonly in areas such as Dalkey and Howth, have long muzzles, and as their name suggests, have a grey coat. The west coast of Ireland is the most likely location to see common seals and this species have V-shaped nostrils. 

SRI is dedicated to helping seals from around the Irish coast that are ill, hurt or left without a mother to care for them. With capacity to care for up to fifty-five seals at one time and a volunteer network of around 800 people trained and licenced to rescue seals, SRI has observed six reasons why these animals are in need of rescue and rehabilitation before being released. These causes reflect larger global issues resulting from “anthropogenic activities” (human activities influencing the environment) affecting marine environments and biodiversity, as well as Irish seals, and are listed below:

 

Plastic Entanglement

Fishing equipment such as fishing nets that are lost or broken at sea still continue to catch fish, even though the nets are no longer in use for fishing. The fish trapped within these “ghost nets” attract larger predators such as dolphins, sharks and seals. Seals become entangled with the fishing equipment and any attempt to escape can worsen the situation. The entanglements can also restrict a seal’s movement, and this, in turn impacts its ability to hunt, and can result in starvation. Also, if a plastic entanglement begins to cut into a seal’s skin, it can cause infections and injuries.

Illnesses

Healthy seals are usually able to fight off parasites and illnesses, such as seal pox, by themselves. Aoife explained that “poor water quality lowers [seals’] immune system, and it can turn these illnesses quite deadly”. This poor water quality also impacts the wider marine environment habitats and inhabitants. Products that enter the seas from human activities such as “pesticides, herbicides, industrial harbours with metal in them, and raw sewage points” can have a negative impact on the health of any marine creatures living in affected areas.

Injury

Seals haul out onto beaches to rest, but during storms they can become injured if they are dragged out to sea and thrown against rocks or cliffs. SRI rescue seals with “broken bones, bruises, abrasions”, and after Storm Ophelia, more seals required help from SRI than the charity had capacity to accommodate. After taking in an additional eleven seals, bringing the total being cared for to sixty-six, SRI was unable to take in more seals as they “couldn’t ensure the best quality care if [they] kept taking them in”. These seals were rehabilitated and returned to the seas, but SRI hopes to not be in such a situation again of being unable to take in any seals that require their help. Aoife pointed out that “we’re getting way more storms in the last few years and they’re actually way more intense because of climate change”, and the injured seals are one local example of the impact of a global issue. Increasing frequency and intensity of storms may place SRI and other organisations in a position of more marine animals needing rescue and rehabilitation at one time than can be accommodated properly within an organisation’s resources and facilities.

Emaciation

Seals can come into SRI underweight and dehydrated if they are not able to find enough food. These sea mammals then begin to use their energy reserves known as blubber (a layer of fat that insulates the seals and helps to keep them warm). Ireland’s marine environment includes cold coral reefs. These cold coral reefs provide a habitat for the seals and the fish that they prey on, and are also “essential for hatcheries and fisheries. We’re not only fishing unsustainably, but we’re also destroying [cold coral reefs] with our fishing practices” as “bottom trawlers are dragging weights across [cold coral reefs]”. The destruction of these habitats, as Aoife explains, means fish stocks are being depleted, and the way to replenish fish stocks is also disappearing, because the cold coral reefs provide an environment for fish to reproduce. A decline in fish can result in seals being unable to find food and feed

Orphaning

Seal pups can be left without a mother naturally, if she dies, but often if people come too close to a seal pup on the beach, the mother will choose to abandon the pup to ensure she survives to have more pups in the following years. Seal mothers will leave their pups to feed in the sea and return to feed their pups afterwards, so unattended pups are not always orphaned pups. SRI is educating the public on how to respond if they see a seal pup by itself on the beach, and ask that people maintain at least a 100 metre distance, keep dogs on leashes and to ring or Whatsapp SRI if they have any concerns. Seals are protected under both EU and Irish Law (Wildlife Act, 1976) and It is illegal to harm or harass a seal in Ireland. SRI, and their trained volunteers, are licensed under National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) to legally handle seals, but will only do so if life-saving measures are deemed necessary Seal pups are monitored for a 24-hour period before being moved to the SRI facilities in Courtown, Wexford to guarantee the mother has not return to the pup, because as Aoife explained, “[seal pups] are at a crucial stage, they need to be with their mom. [SRI] do are best, but we’re secondary in care compared to a mother seal”.  

 

Photo by Chris Parkes. A grey seal pup on beach in Wicklow. The pup still has his lanugo (fluffy white coat) so less than 3 weeks old and still dependent on his mum for milk.

SRI not only helps seals that are ill, injured or orphaned, but engages in other work such as community outreach, education and habitat restoration. Guided educational tours of the centre for the general public are offered by SRI and seal feeding enrichment experiences which provide a behind-the-scenes look at SRI’s work. These tours, as Aoife said, highlight that SRI is “not a sanctuary. All of these seals that come into our care, they go straight back out to the wild once they’re healthy and up at a good weight again”. SRI also work with other organisations such as various county councils. These partnerships allow surveys of the seal populations to be conducted and beach areas can be closed off during the pupping season if necessary. SRI also had a community outreach stall at Bloom festival in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

Finally, the conservation centre is aiming to plant 20,000 native Irish trees before the end of the year and hosts tree-planting events. Animal care such as feeding the seals, cleaning out the pools, applying wound care, administering medications and providing enrichment are essential in SRI, but the charity takes varied approaches to achieve its goal of helping seals. Their volunteering and internship opportunities are another example of this commitment. Aoife joined SRI after completing a Bachelor of Science in biology in National University of Ireland, Maynooth and later on, a Master of Science in Global Change: Ecosystem Science and Policy in University College Dublin. She stresses, however, that people from many backgrounds volunteer and work with SRI, “if you have an education background, if you’ve marketing, media, community engagement, obviously animal care and conservation, [SRI have] all those internships”. Aoife has developed professional connections and also strong friendships through her involvement with SRI,  “but honestly, it’s the seals that are the best part. Most of them come in and they’re quite poorly, quite lethargic. It takes them a few weeks obviously, and then suddenly, when they’re starting to feel better, their whole personalities come out”. After the seals are ready for release, “they will just galumph out of their cage and there’s no looking back for them. They’re just straight out into the water”. 

SRI are conducting rewarding and challenging work to rescue seals impacted by various “anthropogenic activities” and showcase a dedicated local response to protecting marine biodiversity. Global challenges such as climate change, plastic pollution and preserving marine environments have far-reaching effects, including on Ireland’s native seals. 

 

Thank you to SRI donations and membership coordinator Aoife O’Donoghue and executive director Melanie Croce for their support in this article.

 

Featured photo by Chris Parkes of Ilia Pika, a female common seal pup, with interns cleaning one of the deeper pools.

This article was supported by: STAND News Intern Brianna Walsh and Student Engagement Manager Aislin Lavin

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Decarbonisation is a political and ecological project: the EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers to change in Ireland

Decarbonisation is a political and ecological project: the EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers to change in Ireland

Decarbonisation is a Political and Ecological Project:
The EU Taxonomy, gas and other barriers

United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
Louie Lyons
17th of August 2022

Europe’s energy transition requires large-scale private and public investment in low-carbon technology. On the 7th of July 2022 Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of a proposal to include gas and nuclear energy in the EU Taxonomy, a classification system created to clarify for investors what constitutes a sustainable investment. The EU Taxonomy is a tool that hopes to counteract, in combination with subsidies, the failure of the market to incentivise investment in renewables. 

The proposal, put forward by the European Commission, triggered intense debate between member states. Austria remains deeply opposed to the expansion of nuclear energy, while Poland insists their use of gas is essential to quickly phasing out coal. The energy sector relies heavily on fossil fuels, and the transition to renewable energy is critical to reducing emissions; this is an immense project and is beginning to be fleshed-out in plans like the European Green Deal. The urgency surrounding Europe’s energy transition rapidly increased in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which contributed and was exacerbated by the continuing shortage in global gas supplies.

Ongoing heat waves across Europe provide an alarming backdrop to recent debates; suddenly the impacts of climate change carry a sense of immediacy for Europeans, an immediacy apparent to people throughout the global south for decades. Changing weather patterns, food insecurity, habitat destruction and pollution caused by extractive industries are just some of the impacts of climate change in the global south. Many schools and health centres in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, still do not have power. As Europe grapples with the question of how to build low-carbon economies, the question of whether energy transition will result in improved global energy access and inclusion is far from certain. 

Seven Irish MEPs voted against the proposal to include gas and nuclear in the Taxonomy, with five voting in favour and one abstention. All Fine Gael MEPs and one Fianna Fáil representative voted to include gas and nuclear energy in the taxonomy. The result of the vote generated strong reactions from some Irish MEPs, activists and researchers. Taken together they capture the contested and uncertain path to transition in Ireland and Europe. 

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Grace O’Sullivan by Roisin O’Donnell

Beyond dirty versus clean, what does transition mean?

Ireland is at a crossroads; there is massive potential to produce renewable energy, but our reliance on imported gas has prompted concerns over energy security. Meanwhile, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) projects are being proposed by fossil fuel companies in various locations across the country.  

During our interview, Brian, a representative of the ‘Not Here Not Anywhere’ (NHNA) Campaign, fighting LNG expansion in Ireland, was unflinching in his criticism of the EU decision: “anyone I’ve told about last week’s vote was shocked and outraged  – but the problem is that not enough people knew about it”. He stated clearly that:

 

“On an issue that has such a clear mandate from the public then I would wonder how [the MEPs] could justify their actions…It really makes you wonder who this legislation was for?”

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), Ireland’s energy and water economic utility regulator, recently argued for the critical role of liquified natural gas (LNG) in Ireland. Ms MacEvilly, the CRU spokeswoman, said that ‘there was a need to explain to communities  in a better way why this was needed…we will not decarbonise without this infrastructure.” Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh also emphasised the need to communicate the “reality” of transition:

“It is essential that we communicate and engage with the Irish public to ensure that they understand that member states are at different points in decarbonisation… Transition fuels are a means to an end. They are not the end in itself.”

The attempt to frame LNG in Ireland as a pragmatic solution to energy transition in Europe seems misleading. The reality of transition in Ireland is understood by many communities across Ireland, through their experience of decarbonisation and renewable energy projects. Their experiences highlight how we need to keep interrogating dominant approaches to transition in Ireland and Europe.

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Conchúr Ó Maonaigh by Roisin O’Donnell

Liquified Natural Gas in Ireland: means of transition or lucrative transaction?  

The influence and power of the fossil fuel industry, specifically those invested in the continued use of gas, was highlighted by Irish MEPs and activists. Brian, from NHNA: 

 

“[the] fossil fuel industry… use their influence to ensure no reduction in their activities. When it comes to LNG terminals being built in Ireland we see similar underhanded tactics being used to fund the Shannon LNG terminal by using European PCI (Projects for Common Interest) list funding.”

MEPs McManus and Daly, when asked to respond to the result of the vote, made reference to “powerful if silent interests” and the influence of “big lobbies here in Brussels”. Academics and activists insist that the fight against the fossil fuel industry is the ‘sine qua non of climate politics’ . Grassroots campaigns, including ‘Keep Ireland LNG Free’ focuses on the role that private companies will play in the expansion of LNG infrastructure, increasing our reliance on fossil fuels and unpredictable gas markets.

Shannon LNG, a subsidiary of Hess Corporation, has applied for planning permission for an LNG terminal on a site in North Kerry. In response, Kilcolgan Residents Association was established, including a website—‘Safety Before LNG’ (SBL) —that provides a ‘resource of information on the strategy used to develop an LNG terminal’. They describe a coordinated approach on part of Shannon LNG, the statutory body Shannon Development company and local politicians to convince residents of the potential of the project for the area, including a newsletter that described LNG as an “environmentally friendly fossil fuel”

Climate Camp Ireland, a week-long event was held from the 2nd-7th of August near the location of Shannon LNG’s proposed site. The camp, involving workshops and family-friendly events, was envisaged as a way of challenging Shannon LNG, but also an attempt to create ‘a space that is a model of the kind of society we want, and need, beyond capitalism’. 

 

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

Portrait of Patrick Kirwan by Roisin O’Donnell

“We need a new politics—not just new technologies and policies” 

Speaking with Patrick Kirwan, secondary school teacher and climate and biodiversity activist based in Waterford, I wanted to understand how decarbonisation is discussed in schools. He highlighted how “the education system doesn’t cover politics, how to engage with government reps…It isn’t dynamic because teachers lack time and confidence on these topics. But it could be different. We know that what we teach students leaches out into the community”. When I asked about the topic of just transition he was clear that, “to answer your questions students would have to have a good level of knowledge about the different aspects of climate…the students I work with closely, their knowledge is growing.  They just want to take action! They want to learn about the twin climate and biodiversity crises in a practical hands-on way”. 

Sinead Mercier and Patrick Bresnihan, activists and lecturers in Maynooth University emphasise that our current approach ‘prioritises and assumes private, corporate ownership of renewable energy production’. Sinead Mercier’s work compares transitions in Germany and elsewhere, highlighting the need for ‘social dialogue’ that facilitates an ‘inclusive, iterative, place-based, context-specific approach’, and the damage caused by a poorly implemented transition. Wind farms—a critical source of renewable energy in Ireland—have been resisted by communities that were excluded by developers and felt that private companies and their far-flung investors were the primary beneficiaries. 

Conchúr Ó Maonaigh, Phd student at Maynooth University, provided me further insight into the challenges of decarbonisation in Ireland, highlighting how it “ [relies] on spatial divisions of power that can undermine the so-called just transitions pursued by the state. There are clear sacrifice zones… [that] governments, activists, and the public do not consider in the discourse on decarbonisation”. He suggested that activists, particularly on the left, needed to “draw attention to the complex chains of ownership and resources that form the basis of renewable futures”.

The responses of committed people and organisations demonstrates the complexity of the energy transition, but also importance of continued interrogation of decarbonisation, a process that does not guarantee a just transition or dissolution of vested interests.

 

Featured image and portraits included in the article by Roisin O’Donnell.

This article was supported by: Interim Marketing Coordinator Criomhthann Morrison & STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin.

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The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?

The UN: Compromise or Compromised?
United Nations humanitarian aid workers unload supplies from their vehicle
Louie Lyons
17th of August 2022

Russia vetoes humanitarian aid resolution

On the 12th of July, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution jointly proposed by Ireland and Norway. The resolution aimed to provide crucial humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians, who continue to experience the devastating impact of conflict between the al-Assad governing regime and rebels. This provision of aid would have lasted for twelve months, a period of time that the Irish ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Byrne, claims “actors on the ground… needed”.

However, the bias of Russia, a prominent supporter of the Syrian government, was on full display. The Russian Federation used its power to veto the proposal and in turn proposed its own amended resolution that passed with a vote of 12 members in favour and 3 abstainers (France, United Kingdom, and the United States). Aside from these votes, the only country to vocally support the amendment was China. The final resolution now sees humanitarian aid travelling from Turkey to Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing in Turkey for only six months as opposed to the original twelve. This is a replay of events in 2020, when Russia similarly pressured the Council to cut the period of aid delivery to Syria from twelve months to six.

The 2020 resolution also limited the UN’s access to a number of borders into the country, reducing entry from four borders to just two. The Syrian civil war has been a continuous conflict since the Arab Spring protests in 2011, where tension grew between government and rebels, and has led to a major international refugee crisis. In 2021, a total of 13 million people had been internally or externally displaced. The Syrian civil war has, since its inception, spiralled into an international conflict with Russia, Iran, and the terrorist organisation Hezbollah supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government, and the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands, Britain, and France as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel supporting Syrian rebels.

 

Many are heralding this recent settlement as a necessary step towards helping the 2.4 million Syrian people reliant on cross-border humanitarian aid. Proponents of the Russian amendment also point out that it does not preclude the possibility of a renewal of aid in six months.

However, others view this as a compromised resolution.

Critics say it reduces the certainty and confidence surrounding aid, with French ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, claiming that we are now relying on a “precarious renewal”. The American ambassador, Richard Mills, also commented on the matter, stating “[this is what happens] when one Council member takes the entire Security Council hostage” and that Syrian civilians will be negatively impacted by the downgrade in the quantity of aid. Ambassador Mills went on to detail the general Russian stance on Syria, “Russia is so brazen in its disregard for Syrian lives that it has not even bothered trying to justify its stance on a humanitarian basis. This is an immoral and cynical approach to humanitarian needs.” Russia and China have both defended their positions on halving the guarantee of aid as a means of protecting Syrian sovereignty – that is to say the Syrian government’s autonomy and right to act however they wish within their own borders.

The irony of Russia’s claim to be a protector of sovereignty has not been lost on many. The impact of the new resolution may mean that, by the time UN agencies and NGOs working in the area will have organised to begin their operations, their authorisation will have expired. This will force them to spend valuable time and resources every six months working to apply for renewals and will diminish the amount of focus they can give to aid distribution on the ground.

The Security Council’s veto examined

Russia’s veto is part of a larger trend that sees the permanent members on the UN Security Council ally with brutal regimes by stalling action proposed by the UN. This trend applies to two states and two regimes in particular – The U. S’s defence of Israel and Russia’s defence of Syria. With regards to Russia, this is the 17th time they have used their veto to defend Syrian sovereignty despite that sovereignty being used to justify atrocities such as the Syrian government engaging in biological warfare against its citizens. Similarly, Russia and China both also used the veto to protect North Korea’s nuclear programme in 2022.

The situation between the U.S and Israel mirrors that of Russia-Syria but has been going on much longer. The U.S has used its power to veto 53 resolutions that would have sanctioned Israel over the past 50 years. Amongst those 53 exist a veto opposing investigations into the murders of seven Palestinian civilians by an Israeli soldier in 1990 and Obama’s veto of a resolution that would have denounced Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank in 2011. The U.S’s blanket support for Israel is tantamount to a war crime get-out-of-jail-free card and unquestionably sends a message to Israel that international law does not apply to them. China for its part has also used it’s veto twice to block UN aid to countries that are diplomatically engaged with Taiwan. Threats on the global stage is the main way in which China exerts indirect control over Taiwanese foreign policy and waving the veto around is one means of intimidating states looking for UN support.

 

This all begs the question – why are certain states given a veto at all, especially when vetoes are mostly used to defend the indefensible actions of friends?

A United Nations humanitarian aid worker checks the heartbeat of a baby, while two women look on fondly

An Austrian battalion doctor comforts a young patient in Damascus (United Nations)

Why is there a veto?

The veto was added to the UN charter as a way to persuade the Great Powers to join the UN. The Great Powers made it clear that there would be a veto or there would be no UN. In the wake of two devastating World Wars, the appetite for supranationalism and global governance was big. The veto was a bitter pill worth swallowing to establish the UN, binding the power in compromise from the very beginning in the hope that five countries would at least sing from the same hymn sheet on such serious matters. But in reality, over the near 80-year history of the UN, it has become an insurmountable weapon of war, the very thing the international organisation sought to prevent.

The veto is a barrier preventing the world from progressing past our former colonial global system. For four former western colonial powers to hold elevated influence over what regimes are worth keeping or what ones ought to be changed around the world is clear neo-imperialism. The list of permanent members on the Security Council includes only one state outside of the conceptual West. Similarly, the Security Council contains no representation from Africa, South America, or Oceania – yet three from Europe. This issue of Security Council representation too is a matter for debate.

Both Turkey and Brazil have at certain stages in recent times advocated for the abolition of the veto and have called for nations such as Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, and India be added as permanent members to the council. In April 2022, the UN General Assembly voted that the General Assembly must convene within ten days of a veto, at which the vetoing state would be required to provide greater justification and a debate would take place around the use of their veto. This is a first step but it is doubtful that the General Assembly will have enough power to either convince or shame a permanent member into reversing their veto. The outcome of this reform is that procedurally, vetoes will now take longer but will still have the same effect of facilitating war crimes and authoritarian regimes. Efforts to reform international laws that would place responsibilities on third-party countries to ethically intervene in conflicts have also suffered under the political curse of compromise: legislation has been clumsily worded and operationally impractical.

 

 

Veto reform is merely polishing the veneer of something that is broken on the inside; abolition is the way forward.

Unfortunately, the five permanent members are likely to balk at any further diminution of their power and the loss of any of the five permanent members to the UN would be a great blow – see the League of Nations without America. The permanent members are significant contributors of financial aid to the UN and consequently, many members see the veto as a necessary evil to keep the UN together.

Ireland’s role

Ireland was among five states, the others being Algeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Mongolia, who called for an outright abolition of veto powers back in 2018. Italy as part of the Uniting for Consensus Group also noted a desire amongst member states for the abolition of the veto. In relation to the Syrian civil war specifically, on top of their proposed resolution Ireland pledged €23 million towards humanitarian funding for Syria at the Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region conference in Brussels in May 2022 – the sixth conference of its kind. The funding will be provided to a number of humanitarian agencies. With this pledge, Ireland surpasses the €200 million mark in total humanitarian funding provided to Syria since 2012. While aid is stifled by a paralysed Security Council, the UN is forced to build peace with one hand tied behind its back. Of course the various reasons that cause Western democracies to prop up authoritarian regimes in the first place will still exist. However, in a veto-less world, the ways in which they could do this would be reduced by one.

 

Featured Photos by United Nations

This article was supported by: STAND News and Communications Intern Brianna Walsh and STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

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From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

From Wheatpaste to Home Fries: Looking Back on Climate Camp Ireland

People standing around in a circle in a field surrounding other people lying on the ground making up the words frack off lng
Penelope Norman

14th of August 2022

Early in the morning, I climbed out of my tent to head over to the kitchen. The night before, around the fire, I had promised my friends, ‘the best potatoes any of you have ever eaten in your life,’ and I aimed to deliver. We had two bags of freshly grown spuds which needed to be washed, chopped, and fried with only a couple of hours to do it all before the entire hungry camp rushed towards our door.

Slí Eile’s climate camp was set up during the first week of August in a field between Lislaughtin Abbey and Saleen Pier, just outside of the town Ballylongford, Kerry. The goal of the camp was to demonstrate organised resistance against New Fortress Energy’s (an American fossil fuel company) proposed Shannon LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) project. The project site the terminal would be built on was a fifteen-minute walk away from camp and, at the time of publication, it is currently leased as field space to a local farmer. The camp consisted of three large marquees which hosted a kitchen, a canteen, and event spaces. The other half of the field was kept for people to pitch their tents.

I went to the tap outside the kitchen to wash yesterday’s dishes and get to work. In addition to my potato-craving comrades, I had to worry about getting the meal cooked before our daily plenary meeting and my friends’ morning workshop about the benefits of Mutual Aid. Luckily, a few other early risers were around to help me with the cleaning and a number of the other kitchen crew were able to work on their contribution to breakfast. I easily found the tools that I needed to get the dish prepared.

 

 If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention.

The campers were a mix of people from different campaigns ranging from climate organisations such as Futureproof Clare and Fridays for Future to broader groups such as MacramÉire and Community Action Tenants Union, among others. Many had been a part of Extinction Rebellion Ireland at some point during their lives, though most had moved on to other ways to combat the climate crisis. Politically, there were two things which connected everybody who was there. We all cared about the crisis, with a hope to stop the methane-leaking LNG terminal which would exacerbate it. We also wanted to take active steps to move towards a world that was actually survivable, though there were disagreements about how much change would be required to get there. The camp and its mission were kept together by a fundamental bond, the shared experience of living in a specific space at a specific time which was only possible because we were able to rely on one another for basic requirements such as food, shelter, waste disposal, and warmth.

When I began to chop the potatoes into small chunks, I noticed how fatigued I was. From the moment I had asked if there was anything I could help with when I arrived Monday afternoon, I was swept from task to task in a way that I hadn’t been used to since I’d worked in a hospital years ago. If the dream of the camp was going to be kept alive, it needed to be fed with care and attention. That’s not to say that I didn’t have time to rest, it’s just that every action from the most intense work to the special moments of relaxation were deliberate and filled with meaning in a way I wasn’t used to in the city. Community feels different when you’re living apart from the people you build it with. We had weaved a fragile net of mutual reliance on each other; I didn’t have the time or need to dissociate to the same degree as usual. In the city, I tried my best to disappear; in the camp, with the support of others, I tried my best to actively live in the present.

People doing the jobs required to run the camp had a wide range of experiences. In my working group, there were campers who had worked in restaurants, cooked for friends occasionally, or maintained kitchens at other climate camps; we all taught each other the skills and recipes necessary to keep the camp fed. A task to install some complex solar panels turned from a specialist activity into a workshop where everyday people learned how to do it themselves. Direct action and media training workshops both helped people gain the confidence to engage politically for themselves and provided the space to share experiences and raise people’s awareness about various aspects of the struggle against Collapse. Even free transport to and from the nearby town of Listowel became an opportunity to learn about one another along the way and form the bonds necessary to maintain our community. The activities of the camp worked to empower each of us to participate in every part of camp life rather than separate us and disguise the labour happening around the site.

 

While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

I needed help to light the stove we used to cook. While someone lent me a hand, I worked to create a spice mix of black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and sea salt to add to the potatoes when they were ready. Someone else helped me carry the heavy pot full of water to the tent so I could boil the sliced tubers before sauteing them. While I waited for them to boil, I was able to chat and share a coffee with a number of people who’d come into the marquee’s social area, including a number of friends from the previous night and new people who’d arrived in the morning. A couple of them helped me drain the potatoes while we reflected on yesterday’s Céilí and the upcoming events. While the dish was my responsibility, I never had to hold that responsibility alone. We all pitched in where we could and managed to get things done that we never could have imagined possible before.

For an extended encounter between a group of exhausted Irish leftists in a field, there was shockingly little drama. When a number of issues inevitably came up, they were handled without resorting to calling the gardaí (which would have put some of the campers at risk of violence.) We would find people who could empathise and communicate with the people involved in trouble and move through it without resorting to exclusion or violence. A lot of this came from a mutual respect we held for each other and our shared interest in maintaining the camp and its mission. A number of people did get tired, and conflict grew over space and scheduling. We knew the only way we were going to get through conflict without turning to older systems of punishment was recognising the worth in each other and pushing through to do the difficult work of compromise. This labour was just another job that kept the camp together, and one of the most hard-won successes we brought into reality.

I was able to fry the ingredients and serve them. Everybody made sure to thank me for the work and I in turn thanked them for what they’d done over the week. We all kept the old phrase ‘you are what you eat’ in mind while enjoying breakfast. We were eating locally produced food made by our friends for the purpose of keeping the camp going. We were a community, politically and gastronomically. The burner I made the potatoes on had been used the day before to create a glue out of boiled wheat flour called wheatpaste. Our actions and our meals were made by the same people in the same place, the heart of the camp as one friend put it. I don’t see these processes as distinct, separable parts of our camp, but different faces of the same fantastic gem. At the end of the day, it was a bold experiment in dreaming a better world into reality.

Featured Photo by Slí Eile

This article was supported by: STAND Student Engagement Coordinator Aislin Lavin

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Travellers and Access to Education

Travellers and Access to Education

Travellers and Access to Education

Traveller Women Graduating from UCC
Louie Lyons
15th of July 2022

Travellers, recognised by the Irish government as an indigenous ethnic group in 2017, have been victims of systemic and structural barriers to education that have seen them experience some of the lowest rates of participation in third level education of any demographic in Ireland. In December 2018, The Irish Times reported that only 1% of Traveller children go on to third level education. By comparison, in the same year, The Irish Times published an article entitled, “Are we sending too many young people to third level?” in which the education editor, Carl O’Brien, opined that there may be too many students (over 60%) from the settled population of school-leavers attending university. This dichotomy was how things stood back in 2018 and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, this disparity between settled and Traveller students has been exacerbated by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. An entire ethnic group left out of the Irish education system begs the questions, why and what needs to be done to tackle this inequality?

The lack of access to third level education arises from historical discriminatory processes of educational segregation of Travellers from their settled counterparts at the primary and post-primary level. Throughout the 1960s, and right up to the 2000s, Traveller-only schools were an accepted norm. A common belief throughout this time, and one that prevails to this day according to Bernard Joyce, Director of the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM), is that Travellers had no interest in education. The reality, as Mr Joyce points out, is that this is a harmful stereotype, externally imposed upon them, and that attitudes towards education are overwhelmingly positive, with all levels of education being valued within their community.

Government-sponsored and independent research into segregated educational institutions have repeatedly stated that it would be beneficial to integrate Traveller students into mainstream schools. Some progress was made towards this goal in the 2000s, which saw efforts to integrate and desegregate education with the introduction of resource teachers and visiting teachers into mainstream schools. Resource teachers assisted schools in meeting the needs of Traveller students and visiting teachers advocated on behalf of Traveller students and aided parents and communities with enrolments and entitlements. However, progress ground to a halt when funding for these positions was decimated during the post-2008 recession and the ensuing austerity, with spending on specific Traveller educational needs cut by 86.6% between 2008 and 2013, as outlined by Pavee Point in their report, Travelling with Austerity.  

An entire ethnic group left out of the Irish education system begs the questions, why and what needs to be done to tackle this inequality?

More recently, there has been financial support for Traveller progression to higher education. In 2021, €300,000 was provided by the government through the Dormant Account Fund to Higher Education Institutions for “Traveller progression to and retention in higher education”. Further financial support is on the horizon in 2022, specifically €450,000 is being allocated to HEIs for similar purposes of transfer to and retention in higher education. Now that it appears funding is returning to the project of Traveller integration, it is appropriate to discuss with experts in the field such as Mr Joyce, as well as Ms Grimson, coordinator of the Trinity Access Programme (TCD), both of whom agreed to be interviewed, what the best use of this money will be.

On the face of it, it may seem that a return of financial investment ought to lead to considerable improvements in the welfare of Traveller students and result in growing numbers making the progression to third level. However, both my interviewees agreedwere in agreement that the amount of investment is still not sufficient to current needs and as Mr Joyce made clear, it is not enough to target third level institutions as by that time many Traveller students have already left the education system.

The stated goal of the funding for HEIs reflects an inclusive agenda but by the time Traveller students have reached third level they have already endured years of social exclusion and torment from their peers, teachers, and schools at both the personal and structural levels. Tackling the apathy of the education system towards Travellers must begin at a younger age and must involve a greater amount of cultural and social investment in Traveller students, not just the economic. “From the leaves and branches to the grassroots, Traveller children don’t feel comfortable or welcomed [in schools] as not only have they to contend with the schoolwork but they also have to contend with not being happy” Mr Joyce said.

For many Traveller students it may seem that they are actively being pushed out of the educational system by having low expectations imposed on them by their teachers and schools, leading to an insecurity on their part in relation to their abilities. Mr Joyce pointed to instances where Traveller students were given textbooks of lower academic levels and were not expected to keep up with the same standard as their peers. This is further rendered problematic for the students in question as they fail to see their culture reflected amongst their peers, or within the school curriculum. Traveller students note that there is even a lack of Traveller-focused representation on the school’s cultural walls (which are a feature of most primary and many secondary schools in the country), further compounding the sentiment that they are not in an institution which is welcoming to either them or their culture. These exclusionary elements have a negative impact on school performance and attendance. And all of this assumes that Traveller students are being encouraged by the school itself to attend, even when enrolled. Mr Joyce highlighted that in 2021 it was discovered that many Traveller students were being targeted for reduced-hour timetables, a practice that ITM argues must be eradicated since it is an overt example of structural discrimination.

The stated goal of the funding for HEIs reflects an inclusive agenda but by the time Traveller students have reached third level they have already endured years of social exclusion and torment from their peers, teachers, and schools at both the personal and structural levels.

Another aspect of this debate that Mr Joyce outlined was the difficulty for Traveller students in separating the struggle in school with the struggle they face at home. “Traveller accommodation is often isolated from schools and may lack working showers, etc, so children are having to contend with school with fewer resources at home than their settled counterparts.” In 2019, the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance condemned Ireland for the amount of funding being provided for Traveller accommodation. This disparity between at-home resources has become more apparent with the onset of the 2020 pandemic and at-home schooling where access to wifi and technology was of paramount importance, as Mr Joyce observed “many Traveller students have not returned to school since the reopening of schools.”

Returning to the question of the number of Travellers making it to third level, what can be done to tackle this culture of discriminatory disinterest in Traveller students? It is evident that the core issue is the necessity to increase the numbers of those completing second level education and all solutions must occur in tandem with primary, post-primary, and third level institutions.

The lack of representation at the primary and post-primary level was presented in the Government’s National Traveller Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017/2021 (NTRIS). This report acknowledged the lack of Traveller and Roma history and culture being discussed at the primary and post-primary level which contributes to a poor school retention rate on the part of students from both communities. Despite this explicit acknowledgement, implementation of the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018, has been unbearably slow. Representation, is a vital tool in combating racism and discrimination but, as Deputy Thomas Pringle pointed out in a Dáil debate on the 2018 Education Bill, “only if it is taught by teachers who are trained and culturally competent.”

This raises a point regarding the necessity for an increase in anti-racism education, workshops, and talks for teachers and students at all levels of education. Organisations such as ITM and each equity, diversity and inclusion office within the nation’s HEIs must ensure that environments of bullying or alienation are eradicated in lecture theatres and classrooms through anti-racism and cultural awareness teaching, echoing the calls of many student unions around Ireland. Speaking with Christine O’Mahony, DCU’s Diversity and Inclusion Officer who has long campaigned for anti-racism training in universities, she said “Anti-racism training is essential for universities. It should be aimed at the staff that don’t fully understand racism and microaggression… and help them realise that things that they are doing could be offensive to minority groups. Anti-racism training assists in making universities a safe space for minority students.”

Once the environment is comfortable enough only then can programmes such as the Trinity Access Programme look to increase capacity building in schools and allow for a return of the resource and visiting teachers, bolstering mentorship programs to handle the logistics of third level for students who may have no prior information about how to navigate registration, module enrolment, joint honour systems, etc as Ms Grimson said TAP wished to do.

The €750,000 made available by the government in recent years is merely the right amount to tinker around the edges of the educational system but is not the overhaul of a pervasive dismissive culture that leaves Traveller children behind from the youngest age, with long-term negative repercussions not only for the individual and community alike, but also for the nation as a whole.

Featured Image by Virgin Media News

This article was supported by: News & Communications Intern Penelope

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The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

Mrs. Maisel looks toward the camera in a crowd of men dressed in grey
Deepthi Suresh

13th of July 2022

A few summers ago, I came across a gem of a show, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a Prime video series set in the 1950s that revolves around a privileged New York woman who suddenly finds herself single when her husband leaves her for his secretary. As I excitedly allowed myself to fall into the 1950s stand-up scene in New York through the show, I knew I had hit a jackpot of clever wit. It was a journey of a woman coming of age into the smokey comedy clubs, trying to speak her voice when all hell broke loose in her life. This was a perfect combination of entertainment, clever writing, phenomenal performances by the cast, and a story that inspired me. However, as I began my research for this article on female stand-up comics, I was bombarded with articles pointing toward the seemingly common topic, “ Why are female comics not funny?” At first, it seemed odd. I wondered whether there was any truth to it. In my personal experience, I have mostly tuned into male comics’ specials on streaming sites. But why was that?

The 1950s was a time when comedians had begun to transition into observational humour, which is still in vogue today. The lead actress of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan, strikes an important note wherein she says, “History is generally told by men about men. To have a period piece being told by a woman about an extraordinary woman is exciting.“ That is exactly what the makers of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel set out to do. The woman at the centre of the show, Miriam Maisel, on the night of her breakup with her husband, ends up at a comedy club that she used to frequent with her husband to support him. He was an uninspired aspiring comic, and Miriam, being the devoted wife she is,would take notes and help him with his performance. Her rant about how her life turned out on that fateful night sets the stage for her accidental birth as a stand-up comic. She then embarks upon her new reality of juggling two jobs – professional stand-up comedy and single parenthood. Her first comedy routine ends up with her being dragged by the police for flashing the crowd while drunk and furious at the way her life has turned upside down. However, as time passes by, one can’t help but notice and revel in the charm with which she delivers jabs at unruly audience members or the police. She gets arrested not once but a few times throughout the series. It screams out a sure sense of self-assuredness that you normally don’t find in a female (comic) lead of a television series set in the 1950s.

It is interesting to note that Maisel’s character might have been heavily inspired by a Jewish female comic and singer, Belle Barth. Interestingly enough, Lenny Bruce’s character (a phenomenally played by Luke Kirby) acts as a mentor of some sorts to Maisel while in reality Bruce used to open for Barth early in his career.  Barth had been arrested and charged for lewdness in 1953 and was eventually banned from radio and television. But this didn’t stop Barth from achieving commercial success. Similarly, Miriam struggles to find her footholding in the field. She refuses to follow a set and expected style of comedy meant for female comics of the time. She refuses to apologise for her lived experiences and instead churns out spectacular recipes of relatable comedy with it. In the show it is clear that a woman faces bias in terms of finding space in the bill or male managers complaining about their material drawing in more women than men. But she cleverly convinces them that women can be a spending audience too. This is portrayed delightfully well in season 4.

An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall?

 

Although Mrs Maisel takes place in the 1950s, the show cleverly depicts alternatives to perfection, keeping in mind that women were still encouraged and pressured to strive for the latter then just like now. In Miriam’s case, her pathological need to be perfect is displayed when she keeps tabs on her slim figure by taking measurements every single day, and secretly removes her makeup after her husband sleeps just to put it back on before he wakes up. Perfectionism takes centre stage in Miriam’s life as she constantly walks on a tightrope of the expectations of her femininity while being a single mom as she ventures into the male-dominated field of comedy. She mines for her material through expectations that women are familiar with even today! Having faced setbacks and life experiences throughout the course of her journey to be a comic, she realises one important factor that sets her apart when she tells her manager, “You know what is great about me. It’s when I am me!” For Mrs Maisel to thrive, she had to let go of the never-ending quest for perfection. Her perfect life had to blow up in her face. This gave birth to her authentic self, a voice that tore upon the typical female caricatures that were quite in fashion among the rare female comics who had made a mark with self-deprecating humour.

Maisel learned to embrace the unpolished realities that she encounters in her daily life. She began to make choices that may have been unprecedented within her family. She was afraid of letting go at times but bravely managed to hold her ground even when the going got extremely tough. The most uncomfortable truths sometimes make the best material for comedy. Why? Because you and I are able to relate to it! For example, it is evident with Mrs Maisel’s entry into comedy where she ends up insulting her family sometimes in her act. She insults her Jewishness at times. She even insults the, ‘dumb secretary’ that her husband leaves her for. But would a male comic have to think twice before he spins out jokes about insulting people, family, or a community? 

Stand-up comedy has a tradition of breaking norms, morals, and political conventions. The question that arises in my mind is whether women are scrutinised a bit more than their male counterparts. Comedian Kim Wayans however, observes that with men, “the audience is eager and ready and then he has to prove that he is not funny and then they back off, but with a woman, you have to come out and win them over.” However, in a study by Alice Sheppard regarding social change and audience response to female comedians, she was able to find that there has been a considerable change in contemporary evaluations of women comedians, whose ratings now equal those of male comics. The pressure that a female comic faces in the field may have reduced due to increased awareness of gender problems and inequality in society. An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall? I would say it should be our duty as the audience to encourage and watch female comics’ specials on streaming sites and create a demand for their humour!

Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle.

Sumukhi Suresh, Prashanthi Singh, and Urooj Ashfaq, distinct voices in the Indian comedy scene, share their experiences as comics in an interview with Cinema Express. When asked whether questions about women in comedy get tiring after a while, Ashfaq and Singh are of the opinion that pressure to not fail publicly is harder on women than men. Suresh also expresses her displeasure with the usage of the tag, “female comedy,“ which has become a genre of comedy. Meanwhile, Singh understands that with her profession, she gets a chance to be vocal and be the voice for other women, and that is why she believes that questions about female comedy will continue to be asked. In my conversation with Ellen Corby, an Irish comic from Dublin, when asked about safety issues that female comics may have to face, she said, ”If the act is not necessarily in a city or if it is somewhere more in the country. It is funny that you mentioned it because I hadn’t realised it but in the last two gigs that I have been on, I haven’t drank and I have driven home myself. I usually know people on the line up and I don’t feel like I am on my own. It is something as women, we do automatically, we factor these things in constantly. It shouldn’t have to be. It is like second nature for us.” Eurydice Dixon was an Australian comedian and an actress who performed regularly at comedy venues in Melbourne, Victoria. She was found murdered at Melbourne’s Princes Park on June 13th, 2018 on her way back home from a gig. Comedy gigs usually take place at night, and the lack of affordable transportation puts women in an unpredictable dangerous environment.

In an interview for the Belmont theater district, Chicago’s largest theater district, when asked what was the best thing about being a woman in comedy, Jeanie Doogan, a stand up comedian who has set herself apart with her quick observations, says that she gets to amplify women’s experiences and parenthood through comedy. For Correy Bell and Sarah Perry, comics from Chicago, it was the freedom to speak their mind, that was the best thing about being a woman in comedy. But there is unfortunately a negative connotation to female voices in comedy. Common criticism is that female comics only talk about period, cramps, sex, etc.

Ellen Corby however, has an interesting take on this wherein she says, “You get the stereotypes about if you are a woman, you only talk about ‘women things’. I still get those kinds of comments even now but thankfully they aren’t that common or at least people aren’t saying it directly to me … but because I am a sex-ed teacher … people go like are you going to talk about vagina? I kinda lean into that a little bit but at the same time, men talk about dating, sex, and their penises all the time. I don’t even mind that humour. It is something that everyone can relate to or understand. I think it is a human nature thing and I don’t think it has anything to do with gender.” She says there are also a number of female comics who are incorporating various styles in their performances and that women have always pushed the envelope. In Ireland, according to Corby, there seems to be much more awareness with regard to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour. It is heartening to know that most promoters want to be more inclusive and include people from all genders. She says, “It has become particularly undesirable to have an act that is all just the same kind of looking males. It is much more attractive to people… I think now to see a bit of a variety there.” It seems like Ireland is the place for female comics to perform and grow together.

Today, more female comics are at the top of their field than ever before and they continue to make original and pioneering contributions to the genre. Ali Wong’s 2016 special, Baby Cobra, made headlines as the first comedy special filmed while pregnant. Wong described the challenges of fertility treatment, miscarriages, pregnancy, and childbirth while 8 months pregnant. Tig Notaro, in her 2015 special Boyish Girl Interrupted, performed shirtless in the final 20 minutes of her act, putting her mastectomy scars on full display. Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle. As Corby rightly points out, it’s just human nature. There are plenty of laughs and more to go around. Female comics have displayed an immense range of creativity and courage by using their lived experiences of being women in their acts. Future comics, regardless of gender, must use this rich universe of stories as an inspiration. These stories were told by fearless women who have successfully paved the way to enrich the fine art of story-telling in stand-up comedy!

 

Featured Image by Amazon Prime Video

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Global Citizenship in a Changing World – Reflections from the 2022 IDEA Conference

Global Citizenship in a Changing World – Reflections from the 2022 IDEA Conference

Global Citizenship in a Changing World – Reflections from the 2022 IDEA Conference
Protesters Attend March for Refugee Rights
Criomhthann Morrison
8th of July 2022

970 Years and 1 Month

Graduating mid-2020 and working amidst spikes and lockdowns, I have been fortunate to find opportunities to connect with people from across Ireland and the world through various online programmes and groups. While Ireland-based activities have gradually introduced in-person components, it’s no surprise that the annual IDEA Conference in June 2022 was the first in-person conference since the pandemic outbreak for many, including myself. Titled “The Future of Global Citizenship – educating for a changing world,” those attending were invited to look ahead to what global citizenship could look like across every facet of life for all.

The conference opened with the usual ‘long time, no see’ natter, and the facilitator Charo Lanao brought everyone together with groups physically crafting ‘‘living sculptures” of their visions for the present and future, as well as reflections on people’s experiences and backgrounds. A tally counted 970 years and 1 month of collective ‘global citizenship education’ (GCE) knowledge in the room on that one day. So I expected to pick up a thing or two.

Panel Exploring Polarisation and Systems Change

 

 

Biographies for each speaker can be found here on the IDEA website.

 

The opening panel dealt with the structural and systemic problems in our societies, workplaces and governments and how individual actions and lived experiences fit within solutions to address these. Dr Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, highlighted how GCE practitioners can consider the polarisations around them and their participants, and the pursuit of ‘positive’ peace and ‘negative’ peace (“the promotion of peacefulness through positive interactions like civility, cooperation and care” peace” versus “the absence of violence, destructive conflict, and war,” bold added).

I found this distinction a helpful example of how even the most seemingly straightforward ideas can contain quite diverse and even incompatible assumptions and expectations, depending on the people ‘in the room’. This awareness of what we bring to the conversations and groups we find ourselves in is always worthwhile, helping us identity and talk through sometimes subtle yet substantial differences in how we understand the problems and worlds around us.

Dr Ebun Joseph, Director of the Institute of Antiracism and Black Studies (IABS), amongst many other qualifications and roles, also emphasised the importance of ‘healthy conversations’ for addressing the sticky behaviours and systems of oppression we haven’t fully shaked off yet (a purposeful choice of words, as opposed to ‘difficult’ conversations, which can prime people to resist, defend, or fight). Using an instance of racist descrimination between colleagues in a workplace as an example, Dr Joseph advises that the whole workplace should be involved in the resolution, not just the people directly involved. When discrimination happens within any context, whether at work, in education, or in public, we need to explore how and why it was enabled in the first place, and then actively change the structures and behaviours which allowed discrimination to happen. 

Most of us can name a dozen angles from which we do not face barriers and discriminatoin in everyday life like other people do, and we all have a responsibility to be part of the movements to rid of prejudice and abuse. Demanding healthy and meaningful conversations from ourselves and the spaces we’re in is one vital step in being part of an equitable, just and sustainable present and future for all.

 

Director of IDEA Frank Geary and Irish Sign Language Interpreter during the Opening Remarks.

 

Panel Exploring Challenges in the GCE Sector

 

 

The second panel gave space for 4 speakers to share their insights on key issues in the GCE sphere and the directions the space is moving in, followed by some questions from attendees. To briefly summarise some really rich sharing:

Ikal Ang’elei, an environmental activist, spoke about the importance for practitioners and activists to always work with and alongside affected communities, citing her experience as Co-Founder and Director of Friends of Lake Turkana, which works for social, economic and environmental justice for the lands and people in the area. It is an easy though grave error for genuinely enthusiastic and well-meaning individuals and groups to get caught up in their visions for their solutions instead of constructing these in partnership with the people impacted. The phrase “Nothing about us without us” springs to mind.

Mamobo Ogoro, an award winning scholar, social entrepreneur, activist and artist, followed by emphasising inclusion and belonging as key elements to reaching these visions GCE practitioners often strive for, naming dialogue as fundamental to her work with her digital media start-up GORM Media and her PhD research with minorities in Ireland. This calls for practitioners to challenge box-ticking exercises of simply getting certain people are ‘in the room’, asking if everyone in the room is fully able participate in conversations and decision-making, and what we need to do on the individual- and system-level to promote this ‘belonging’ for all. 

Dr Audrey Bryan, Associate Professor of Sociology in DCU, then raised critical questions about the individualisation and prescription of GCE in Ireland. She also cautioned the increasing focus on measurable technical skills to the detriment of considering holistically the relationships between individuals, their communities, and the challenges faced across society. Dr Bryan spoke to these ideas and more at the recorded webinar Future Trends in Development Education hosted by IDEA in Dec 2021.

Bobby McCormack, Co-Founder and Director of Development Perspectives, talked about developing the ‘innovation ecosystems’ within the sector and emphasised the opportunities for partnership especially with less obvious colleagues, sharing the example of Development Perspectives working with EirGrid to host community forums to include their voice in several energy projects. This suggests interesting opportunities outside the normal bounds of what organisations consider GCE and their roles in a changing world, offering bridges between areas of life not typically linked, from the energy system to community health to agriculture to far more.

During the Q&A, I found one moment worth noting: one attendee asked for suggestions for teaching useful and abstract tools like systems thinking to children, and another attendee quickly took the microphone to share resources produced by their own organisation for exactly this purpose. While a small interaction, it was hardly minor, and just one reminder from the day of the value of sharing these open spaces with our peers. Someone sitting behind you often has something that will help you, even before you realise you need help.

 

Conference Facilitator Charo Lanao speaking to the 70+ in-person attendees.

 

Panel Exploring Challenges in the GCE Sector

 

 

The second day of the conference ran online with two sets of workshops running parallel, which posed me the challenge of which to sign up for! The first I chose was Ecosystem Restoration and Development Education: Regenerating people and wider nature with Gareth Conlon and Karen Jeffares. I managed to catch the latter half which explored the lands, organisms and food around us, and how as GCE practitioners, mindsets should focus on bringing about positive transformation within communities, not particular solutions per se. Group discussions included reflections on how workshops with schools often implicitly task children with convincing the adults in their lives to make changes and the challenges this entails regarding justice and responsibility. Topics also arising included ‘pedagogy of hope’ and potential routes for collaboration across sectors, for example GCE and farmers.

This session posed important questions about our responsibilities as practitioners to the people and groups we work with, who we engage with in the first place, and why. Our answers can inform how we approach our work and help us to see the groups we work with (and don’t work with) as multifaceted and feeling pressures from various directions. What does this mean for fostering space to communicate, build skills, and perhaps sow seeds for peace – and which kind?

The second workshop I attended was Global Business and Human Rights with Mark Cumming. Business is an area many in GCE spaces are averse to, so the workshop sought to highlight the importance of working for human rights in the business realm, and to equip attendees to do so. We explored power of and accountability within business spaces, the state of affairs in Ireland, and what practitioners and the sector can do now and moving forward to better engage with the private sector. One key point made is the importance of building communities and movements for change, including encouraging people to join communities for their passions, and even trade unions, which the large majority of attendees reported not being part of. 

Early in the final workshop, Cumming referenced the Audre Lorde quote “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” This is a challenge for all GCE practitioners in their work: to what degree does the work we do uphold existing structures and systems despite best intentions, and to what degree does our work truly enable communities to achieve their visions within – dare I say – a changing world? Don’t worry, I don’t have a clean answer either.

 

 Lizzy Noone from WorldWise Global Schools speaking during a Q&A.

 

The Value in Sharing Space

 

 

I didn’t get the chance to attend the other two workshops, Transformative Education in Times of Crises with Tereza Čajková and Aurèle Destrée or War, Peace and the Future of Development Education with Zelalem Sibhat, Dr Gerard McCann, and Dr Gertrude Cotter, though from the titles alone, it’s clear GCE practitioners are working hard to locate their work across the different aspects of global and local challenges communities are facing around the world. That said, judging from my conversations with several speakers and attendees, perhaps people were most excited to simply share space with each other and feel more connected with and part of a larger whole.

What I am most excited about are the coming weeks and months, when the conversations and ideas shared will percolate in my mind and influence my work in obvious and subtle ways, some examples of which already spring to mind. And so what are the next steps for global citizenship and educating in a changing world? Healthy conversations, critical reflection, and collaboration across sectors may not be novel suggestions to some or most, but are nonetheless vital to achieving a present we can stand over.

Feature photo caption: From the left: unnamed, Susie Spratt from An Gáisce, Tahla from Amnesty, unnamed. Contact [email protected] if you feature in this photo and would like to be named.

Featured photos by Méabh Hennelly with permission from IDEA.

Connect with Criomhthann over LinkedIn or Twitter.

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin and STAND News & Comms Intern Penelope Norman.

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Meet Treasa Cadogan, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Meet Treasa Cadogan, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Meet Treasa Cadogan, United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland

Protesters Attend March for Refugee Rights
N K Initials for Niamh Kelly

6th of July 2022

Treasa Cadogan is a United Nations Youth Delegate for Ireland for 2021-22, and “a very proud Cork person” from Cape Clear Island (with a population of less than 200 people, according to the 2016 Census). The United Nations Youth Delegate Program began in Ireland in 2015 with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and National Youth Council of Ireland. The goal of the program is to empower young people “to be active global citizens contributing to building a world of justice, equity, and dignity.”

 

Treasa’s Journey to the Role 

Treasa’s journey to becoming a Youth Delegate was an accumulation of previous experiences and undertakings. “Nothing stands alone, nothing stands by itself”, according to Treasa, whose first involvement in community work began at a young age when helping her mother with local family fun days to raise money for charity. Later on, Treasa engaged with more local issues and joined the board of the Cape Clear Island Development Co-Operative. Alongside her growing interest in community work, Treasa became more involved in advocacy when completing a Bachelor’s degree in International Development and Food Policy in University College Cork. Her studies helped to lay the “foundations for becoming a youth delegate” which combined with her local community involvement and learning more about global issues.

A rural upbringing on a small island has surely influenced Treasa’s areas of interest including “rural development, youth participation and getting young people involved”. The limited number of people on Cape Clear impacts on who interacts with who, what everyone talks about, and how often these interactions occur. Treasa notes that intergenerational learning is a huge part of her rural community, and that the benefits of sharing different perspectives (particularly across generations) and learning from each other are integral to local, as well as international, development.

Treasa also has “an interest in food systems and sustainable farming, which, obviously coming from rural area and from a farm, it kind of goes nicely into that kind of climate action that [she] feel[s] like our whole generation is really interested in”. Treasa was awarded the Climate Ambassador Outstanding Achievement Award in 2020 for her work on local climate action in Ireland, and becoming a Youth Delegate has given Treasa the opportunity to see how these local issues are a microcosm of global problems such as climate change.

Since becoming Youth Delegate, Treasa has become more aware of issues beyond Ireland and what is reported in the Irish media. For example, a few weeks after the beginning of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Treasa attended the United Nations Security Council and heard about conflicts in other countries she had not been aware of. Learning about other issues does not subtract from what someone already knows, but as Treasa explains, there is “so much going on and you’re forever learning. I think that’s one thing that I enjoy after leaving college, that I still am continually learning”. The willingness to investigate topics for yourself and openness to gaining new knowledge and understanding are essential to move beyond preconceived ideas about global issues.

Treasa has utilised her role as a United Nation Youth Delegate for Ireland to showcase to others the UN’s impact on their own lives, from the  local to the national level. She highlights “how the UN-level policies influence Irish policy, which I don’t think many people know. They just see it as this big kind of institution that kind of talks every so often” and her role as a Youth Delegate entails “bringing other people along on the journey and hopefully informing other people of what we’re getting up to”. During her time in UCC, Treasa co-founded the UCC Fighting World Hunger branch and she is now involved in the Sustainable Development Goals including Zero Hunger. These initiatives have similar aims but are happening on different levels. Similar to the top-down influence of international organisations and governments on policies, local movements also influence from the bottom-up.

 

Policymakers do notice things like that. The government, TDs and MEPs. They will notice these grassroots initiatives which will hopefully create movement in government level policies and local policies.”

 

For example,the formation of the UCC Fighting Hunger branch by Treasa and other students prompted the UCC Student Union into action. UCC Fighting Hunger highlighted the struggles for some students to access affordable food and in response, the UCC Student Union started a food bank to support students in this situation. Grassroot initiatives can draw the attention of larger organisations and leaders to issues that would benefit from their involvement. Local movements can bring about change to government policy, just as governments decisions have local effects, by emphasising issues that impact both levels. As Treasa phrased it, “it’s kind of that bottom-up or top-down. They have to meet eventually in the middle”.

Treasa has also enjoyed meeting Youth Delegates from other countries and expanding her network far beyond Cape Clear and Ireland. A standout moment for Treasa as a Youth Delegate has been attending the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, during which she also attended the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly. Treasa has also given speeches to the European Parliament about youth participation in rural development. She has organised UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogues and spoken at events such as Oxford Real Farming Conference and Girl Up India.

 

“The best thing is to just take the first step…”

 

If Treasa’s work as a Youth Delegate and beyond has inspired any young people to become involved in foreign policy and diplomacy, her advice is that “the best thing is to just take the first step” and to join youth organisations such as Comhairle na nÓg or Foróige (if under eighteen), or college societies. Treasa acknowledges that “it’s always so intimidating”, but “these organisations only want to see you improve and thrive”. The smaller steps will build up over time and individuals can learn from their experiences, so “Take the leap!”

The next steps for Treasa include another few months as a Youth Delegate and contributing to another event in New York. In the longer term, Treasa hopes to go into more humanitarian work. Two previous plans to do this were halted because of Covid-19, but Treasa is adamant about going “out in the field, out on the ground”  as “I never want to be the person who speaks about a development issue, but I’ve never actually experienced it in the country it’s happening”. Whether it is a community project on Cape Clear or international work as a United Nations Youth Delegate, Treasa continues to work to bring about positive changes on the local, national and international levels.

 

If you enjoyed this article, you can also read about STAND Contributor Patricia Gonzáles’ Instagram Live Chat with Diandra Ní Bhuachalla, the other UN Youth Delegate for 2021-22, by following the link. You can also watch the full Live Chat with her on our Instagram page @stand.ie, or directly reach it with this link

This article was supported by: STAND News and Comms Intern Criomhthann Morrison

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