The uncertain future of Children and Youth Affairs in Ireland
11 June 2020
The uncertain future of Children and Youth Affairs in Ireland
11 June 2020
The Emerald Isle? Taking a Closer Look at Dublin’s Biodiversity
22 May 2020
“Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.”
From Patrick Kavanagh’s Canal Bank Walk
‘Green’ is a word synonymous with Ireland. From the promotional videos used by Fáilte Ireland down to the shamrock bowl presented to the White House every March 17th, Ireland prides itself on this association. Green is also a word associated with environmentally-friendly practices, but the ‘green’ that Ireland prides itself on is certainly not of the ecological variety. Firstly, Ireland ranks among the worst in Europe in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per capita and is consistently accused of being a ‘climate laggard’. Secondly, we have a poor record on the protection of natural landscape and the biological diversity within them; even as the world declared a Biodiversity Crisis we still fare comparatively poorly. With people realizing the importance of nature and green spaces during their confinement in lockdown, and it being the International Day for Biological Diversity, let’s see how Dublin city stacks up.
Planning for Biodiversity
Dublin City has a biodiversity action plan which is the main tool used by Dublin City Council when considering biodiversity in the city. The language within the plan is non-committal and weak, and many key objectives such as ‘ensure that all plans, programmes, strategies, works, and permissions within Dublin City, comply with biodiversity legislation’, are legal requirements regardless. The plan was criticized by environmental groups when it was released, saying it would not be enough to prevent biodiversity loss and that it lacked ambition in its scope. This is a general trend for such biodiversity plans, where little resources and ambition are put into considering how biodiversity can exist in urban environments. It is estimated that 90% of Ireland’s protected habitats are in bad condition, yet Dublin’s action plans are aimed at maintaining current levels of biodiversity and habitat conditions, rather than improving them.
“There is simply no sufficient space for biodiversity to be improved in Dublin where there is a lack of habitat for humans, let alone wildlife”
Dublin city appears to tick the box on green spaces, with Phoenix park being the largest capital park in Europe, but green spaces do not equate with biodiversity. Monoculture parks of mown grass host very low biodiversity, and lack of education and awareness play a part in this. This lack of ecological awareness is both top-down and bottom-up. One element of the Irish Climate Action Plan is to plant 8,000 hectares of new forestry annually, most of which will be outside of Dublin. However, 70% of this will be coniferous trees which do not host as much biodiversity as native broadleaf forest – yet such plantations are more commercially profitable.
Citizens taking the lead
There is a wealth of wonderful initiatives led by citizens to promote biodiversity in Dublin, including (but certainly not limited) to the All Ireland pollinator plan, Crann, Birdwatch Ireland, and the herpetological society. The National Biodiversity Data Centre also has a plethora of workshops and information on recording and encouraging biodiversity. The amount of grassroots initiatives for biodiversity conservation in Dublin shows that the public will is there, the government just needs to harness this and foster it. Education is also an important component as people may be willing to, for example, plant wildflowers but they may plant invasive species and end up doing more harm than good.
The biodiversity action plan helps Dublin maintain its biodiversity – but there is not much of that in the first place. The number of resources that it would take to make Dublin more biodiverse may be better spent in targeting areas which have small human populations. There is simply no sufficient space for biodiversity to be improved in Dublin where there is a lack of habitat for humans, let alone wildlife. In the meantime, initiatives to preserve what is already in Dublin, such as the UNESCO biosphere reserve North Bull Island, should continue and be encouraged by the government. Preserving these habitats is important not only for the intrinsic value of biodiversity but also in preventing further Zoonotic disease outbreaks and supporting overall ecosystem functionality. So, celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity by going for a walk or cracking the window and listening to the birdsong. Then begin plotting how to make one of the next Irish government’s priority improving biodiversity, to make Ireland truly ‘green’.
Featured photo by Freddie Ramm
The first Earth Day in 1970 involved millions of people across the world coming together in solidarity with the natural world and is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The 50th Earth Day will be celebrated this Wednesday the 22nd April – although this is a day usually marked with creative in-person parties, workshops and marches, there are still many ways to mark the day in the time of social distancing! Below is a selection of activities and ideas on how to celebrate Earth Day, the theme for which is ‘climate action’.
1. Democrats Abroad – Gender and Climate Change
On April 21st, the eve of the 50th Anniversary celebration of Earth Day, the Democrats Abroad Global Women’s Caucus will present a virtual panel discussion on “Women and the Environment”. Tune in to hear about the many linkages between gender and climate change!
2. Sustainable Development Solutions Network – 24 hour webinar
This is a program divided into six sections that aims to explore the many ways in which happiness and sustainability are interconnected. With webinars ranging from issues of mental health to farming solutions for the environment to the role of universities in addressing social inequalities, this is sure to be a very informative event.
3. United Nations Environment Programme
UNEP is hosting an Earth Day observance with religious and indigenous leaders from across the world. This global conversation aims to bring together diverse perspectives and lived experiences of environmental issues from people on the frontlines, and the speakers include Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim and Lyla June.
4. NASA Celebrate Earth Day 2020
NASA is producing a number of events for Earth Day; including a special edition of ‘NASA Science Live’, live interviews with astronauts on their unique perspective of earth, and many interactive challenges for all ages.
1. Climate Collective NYC
Climate Collective NYC is hosting an online ‘Earth Week’ with numerous free activities. These include a ‘climate action clinic’ where you can find out what your climate personality is, an online play and a live online drawing workshop to imagine a positive climate future.
2. Flood The Streets
Creative to the Core is hosting a 24 hour event of ‘art action’, including a virtual art show of earth-friendly art that depicts the Earth in its many forms and from a variety of perspectives.
3. Wyoming Rising Film Festival
This film festival runs online from April 17th through to April 26th. Viewers will enjoy free access to award-winning independent documentary films on nature, wildlife, social and environmental justice.This will be followed by an online Climate Solutions Workshop on Earth Day.
4. The Great John Cage Project
4:33 is a silent composition by American experimental composer John Cage emphasising the sounds of the listener’s environment while it is performed. For this Earth Day edition, contributors from around the world share their 4:33 recordings of their environment in the Coronavirus era.
1. Earth Day Live
From April 22 to April 24, activists, performers, thought leaders, and artists will come together for an empowering, inspiring, and communal three day livestream mobilization. The line-up includes names like Al Gore, Jaoquin Phoenix and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and promises to be an interesting watch!
2. San Diego Zoo
San Diego Zoo will be hosting a number of Earth Day activities. From webinars on the conservation work of the Zoo to livestreams of the Giant Panda and Orangutan enclosures, there will be something for everyone!
3. Sunset Tour of Nature Reserve
Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park nature reserve in Mellieha, Malta is offering a virtual tour at sunset to celebrate Earth Day.
4. Games for Earth Day
Legends of Learning are offering a number of interactive games for free on Earth day – a particularly good way of getting children involved and interested in the celebrations!
If you have had enough of sitting at your computer (which is very understandable this far into quarantine), there are also many ways for you to celebrate earth day offline!
1. Go outside
Why not celebrate Earth Day but getting out and into nature (if possible!) – go and take a picture of your favourite flowers or do a spot of birdwatching from your home! Birdwatch Ireland has some useful tips for starting out and appreciating nature from your very doorstep: https://birdwatchireland.ie/explore-nature-at-home-bwi-garden-games/
2. Watch a Nature Documentary
If you do not have any green spaces within 2km of where you live, the next best thing is exploring nature from the comfort of your couch (or bed, no judgement here). Be lulled by the dulcet tones of David Attenborough in the classics of Planet Earth or Blue Planet, or if you are in the mood for a more challenging watch, then ‘Virunga’ and ‘The Ivory Game’ are tough but very worthwhile watches on Netflix.
3. Climate Action
Why not make a pledge in line with this year’s Earth Day theme, ‘climate action’. This can be anything from cutting down on your meat intake, to planting a native tree, to joining a local climate action group! 350.org has loads of ways to begin your journey of climate action in the lockdown: https://350.org/locked-down-try-organizing/.
To end Earth Day why not celebrate by unplugging? Try switching off by not using any electricity for a while, a la ‘earth hour’. Light some candles and enjoy some contemplative time away from the distractions of the modern world.
For more information on Earth Day in general and the multitude of activities available visit: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2020/
Image source: Medium
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COVID-19 is dominating the news at the moment. Logging into Twitter, Facebook, and even Instagram, you are immediately confronted with reminders on how to wash your hands properly, graphs showing the exponential rise in cases per country, news alerts outlining the latest travel restrictions and, of course, memes. While sitting at your computer it can be quite easy to detach from the current crisis we find ourselves in, even as the panic and restrictions that accompany the spread of COVID-19 slowly seeps into the daily lives of almost every European country.
I found it easy to access information on the science behind the virus and how it would impact infrastructure and services, but I still didn’t have a real sense of how it was impacting the general public of different countries. Judging from the media, it seemed as though other countries had descended into chaos, with businesses closing and toilet roll becoming a black-market commodity. Here in Germany, there has been a generally relaxed atmosphere surrounding the virus. Sure, it is harder to find pasta but my daily life was still going on as usual. So I set out to gain a better understanding of how COVID-19, and the accompanying measures in place, have altered the daily lives of different people living in cities across Europe. The following are contributions that people kindly sent in:
I am an Italian student, currently studying on Erasmus in France. As early as January I started to feel the danger and impact of this virus: a friend of mine, also studying abroad in France, is originally from Wuhan. She described to me the situation and the conditions her family was living in there and I was shocked. Some weeks after this, my own country of Italy applied almost the same policies as China. I came back home to Milan for the Carnival celebrations and during those days the Government decided to close schools and universities in my region since the virus was spreading crazily fast. I planned to stay 8 days in Milan for the holidays, but after just 2 days, I was considering immediately coming back to France. Upon my return, my university suggested that I self-isolate in my residence for 14 days.
In the meantime, the situation in Italy continued to worsen until the total block applied to the national territory. My friends and I began monitoring the number of cases in France and speaking with the administration of our university pushing them to close. Indeed, aware of the deaths and the complexity of containing this virus in Italy, we were hoping that France would move fast so that the policies as harsh as the Italian ones wouldn’t have to be taken. Yesterday morning I awoke to an email from my home university suggesting that I come back to Italy, and do courses online. I waited until the official announcement from President Macron, who confirmed that starting from next Monday all universities will be closed and last Friday I came back to Italy. I decided to come back because if something happens I feel more safe being home with my family in my country and because I didn’t want to face the risk of not having the possibility to come back until the end of the emergency. I am sad that my Erasmus had to finish ahead of time, but I feel like this is what must be done from everybody: trying to contain the virus, following the rules given by the States and be careful for ourselves but for others too.
Dublin has a population of just over 1.3 million people; you can feel the anxiety and how the fear of the virus is affecting your life. This can be seen when people are taking extreme measures, such as going food shopping and buying in bulk, which is causing shelves in shops to be cleared until they are emptied, or willing to spend €10 maybe €11 on a small bottle of alcohol sanitizer which would usually cost €2. We are all feeling the same sense of fear due to the serious nature of Covid-19. The city centre is completely empty, and this is very peculiar which would only make sense if it was the 25th of December while everyone is enjoying Christmas with their families.
Even the Defense forces have been called out to assist the local councils if required for relief work such as helping the emergency services and travel to anywhere in the country isn’t advised. I can’t stress enough that Dublin is not in lockdown, Dublin is not under curfew and the military is not patrolling the streets arresting people. People living in Dublin are just being advised by the Health Service Executive (HSE) against activity that might cause Covid-19 to spread such as attending events or socializing in groups of 100 people or more. Above all, people living in Dublin should stay calm and not do anything that could cause harm to themselves or others. Here is a link to the official HSE website that contains information about the Covid-19 virus: https://www2.hse.ie/coronavirus/
Coming from Kenya in Eastern Africa to Denmark as a student, one of the most developed countries in Europe and arguably with one of the most reliable social security systems, was truly a big step for me and an exciting one. But six months into my stay and this small nation finds itself in a pretty much total lockdown that no one saw coming, with almost 2,000 people testing positive across the Nordic region. This has prompted governments across the region in placing drastic measures in place; like shutting down all educational institutions, closing down places that normally have more than a hundred people like nightclubs, restaurants etc. and also asking a lot of people to work from home. Hospitals have also rescheduled many of their day-to-day operations in order to have the space for any patients who test positive for the Covid-19. This has led to much panic, with people overcrowding shops and pharmacies in order to stock up for the lockdown creating scarcity for basic household items like toilet paper daily food items and important cleaning material.
Being in Denmark and seeing all this unfold in front of me was quite a scene a lot of these measures have affected me personally. I am not sure of when I can return to the normalcy of my university life and at the same time, we are all forced to take exams from home. But on a general level, what I would like to shed light on is the fact that this panic has left many people – vulnerable people – in even more vulnerable situations. Many people, especially the sick, old and disabled, cannot prepare themselves overnight for a lockdown and this left them almost entirely helpless especially when they see empty shelves in supermarkets. As much as this period tests our endurance it is also the time where we should find ways to take action. This can be simply done by helping others around you, maybe by bringing an elderly neighbour their groceries or medication. The goal for now should be to strengthen social solidarity as well as reduce panic.
Returning to Italy from Ireland, and planning on leaving again in just a month, I would have never expected to be stuck in a nationwide lockdown. On my plane back, a bunch of Italian high schoolers were worried about Coronavirus and making nervous jokes, and I vividly remember thinking that they were blowing the situation out of proportion. Fast forward two weeks, my family and I are stuck in our house. Throughout the day we are all doing our own thing, but we find the time to come together, mainly sitting around the table for warm bowls of pasta, waiting to hear the news, and to play cards and board games.
Life has definitely gotten slower, and some may say even boring, but it could definitely be worse. The general sense is that, by not leaving the house and by being careful, we are all making a sacrifice that is worthwhile. In times like these, it’s inspiring to see how resilient we are as a country. Don’t get me wrong, there have been days where you could not find anything on supermarket shelves. But people are now adapting; most of the pharmacies deliver prescription medication at your door, there are no longer problems in supermarkets, and most people are respecting the instructions. No one knows what is going to happen in the upcoming days or weeks, but talking to people, this is almost unanimously considered the best course of action. “Andrà tutto bene!”
My tube to work is still crowded in the morning, but I’ve heard that some lines are empty. I’ve seen pictures of people on the underground with all types of home-made masks on their faces, from a beekeepers suit to a Tesco bag. Where I work, they have bought 150 laptops to prepare for the case that we need to work from home. I feel it’s only a matter of time before all the schools in the UK are closed and a similar lockdown to Ireland is introduced. I went to ASDA last night and the shelves were cleaned out of pasta, toilet paper, and bread. When this happened during the big snow, it was all a bit of craic. This feels very different.
A week ago, everything was normal with people going to work, shops and bars. Last weekend was also normal. However, on Sunday evening, our regional government closed all schools. Then on Monday, the national government placed a ban on all public events for the upcoming 2 weeks. In the following days, new cases of COVID-19 appeared. On Thursday, the government banned all public events until the end of March, all schools are obligatorily closed, travelling in and out of the country is forbidden for tourists. Slovaks who come from abroad are obligated to be quarantined for 14 days. Some people react as they should; staying at home and not going to work, wanting to avoid public places. On the other hand, some do not seem to care at all, going to restaurants for a coffee and meeting with friends in large groups.
Day to day life in Edinburgh is fairly unaffected at the moment, which seems a stark contrast to the experience of friends and family elsewhere in the world. NHS Lothian, which covers about 1500 km2, has 20 positive cases at the time of writing. Shops have run out of hand sanitiser but otherwise remain stocked and open. Most people continue to go to work and schools remain open. Although yesterday the University of Edinburgh cancelled all field work and non-essential travel, it is continuing to say it plans to remain open. Having watched universities in my home country of Ireland move to online teaching and fully close this week, Edinburgh’s approach seems somewhat lax.
Over 50% of my masters course are from China. They are understandably very scared, having watched COVID-19 spread through their country in the last months. They have voiced concerns about the university continuing lectures and not applying more measures to reduce chances of infection. Many have now chosen to wear face masks, and in doing so some have received racist remarks. The degree of preparation here does not seem on par with that of Ireland. In a local pharmacy yesterday, I offered to deliver medication to those in the high-risk category who will not be able to collect prescriptions themselves. I was told to come back in a couple of weeks as they had not yet thought about such a scenario. As cases are only set to increase, I really hope that preventative measures are applied and appropriate preparations made.
For me, there has been a very relaxed approach to the coronavirus in Germany. It was vaguely mentioned in my office in the UN campus last week, and I heard here and there that Germany had a lot of cases but overall it only featured as a conversation filler in the lunchroom. It wasn’t until last weekend that I decided to investigate where exactly the COVID-19 cases were in Germany. Ah, North Rhine-Westphalia – the state that Bonn is in. Oh, it’s considered a hotspot you say? Interesting. Cue panicked phone calls from my mother. Considering the response from the rest of Europe I was expecting Germany to take decisive action and close schools, and for my work to instruct that people work from home imminently.
Each day I scanned the news and saw an exponential rise in cases yet no substantial changes came. ‘We will just wait and see what happens…’ many of my co-workers shrugged. I agreed but internally I was thinking ‘We have seen what happens when governments don’t take this seriously – health services become overwhelmed’. As I write this on Friday the 13th there have been very little alterations to my daily life here in Bonn. My workplace is still busy, public transport is popular as ever and schools in the region are still open. Gatherings over 1000 people are banned but as many have rightly noted – more than 1000 people go to many of the schools and universities in the area. It does seem as though serious changes will be put in place as of next week, with schools expected to close from Monday the 16th of March and more and more companies telling their staff to work from home. In light of this I was faced with two choices; work from my tiny apartment in Bonn or work from my home in Dublin. This wasn’t exactly what I had envisaged my time at the UNFCCC looking like but these are exceptional times, and ones that really highlight the importance of home. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin.
I live in the countryside, in the Southeast of Slovenia, roughly 5km away from the town of Metlika, where one of the first cases of COVID19 and the most scandalous one in the country was confirmed. We wrongly thought that the virus could not reach us as we are far from the city centre, but our local doctor brought it back from his holidays in Italy. The whole town was on edge due to misinformation on social media even before there was an epidemic officially declared. People from the municipality of Metlika are being sent home from work as a preventive measure for an undetermined time and schools, kindergartens and public buildings have been shut down.
The infection spread among local people (over 15 cases confirmed in just a few days) and there have been threats made to those infected, showing a lack of empathy and unacceptable behaviour in this time of crisis. Many people in my surroundings do not care about the virus and are continuing their social life as usual, but others are extremely anxious, emptying store shelves and prepping for a complete shutdown. As a mother of a newborn, I am concerned for the health of my baby despite the virus being mild on small children. Now, instead of social interaction, I am rather spending my time going out in nature and I am daily advising my loved ones to do the same. Self-isolation is now crucial to stop the virus from spreading. #stayathome
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash
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The Irish General Election had a shaky start with climate, with the issue barely featuring in initial debates and when it was mentioned, it seemed to solely focus on the contentious problem of whether to reduce the national herd. After public pressure on social media, RTE aired a special ‘climate debate’ with representatives from the main parties and concerned Irish citizens. The Primetime leader’s debate on Wednesday seemed in danger of skirting the issue altogether but in the last segment, coincidentally when most viewers tend to tune out or go to bed, Varadkar, McDonald and Martin were probed on environmental policies. However, it does seem that the ‘Green Wave’ that swelled in Ireland for the European elections in May has subsided for the time being.
The bread and butter issues of housing and health have remained front and centre in all debates and party manifestos, and while they are problems that absolutely have to be addressed it must be questioned why climate change hasn’t become part and parcel of this discourse. The RTE climate debate was comprehensive on certain issues such as agricultural emissions and the retrofitting of homes but there was scant mention of important elements of tackling climate change such as biodiversity, greening public transport and solid measures for a just transition in agriculture. Much of the debate, as it often does, descended into finger pointing and dismantling of proposals from opposition parties. As Catherine Martin, the Green candidate for Dublin Rathdown, rightly pointed out; solutions to climate change need to be framed in a positive, solutions-focussed manner for them to be effective.
Certain parties have been accused of ‘Greenwashing’ their manifestos and using the climate issue for political clout, rather than with the intention of truly making a difference in emissions and environmental issues. It must be acknowledged that compared to the 2016 election, environmental policies feature much more prominently in all parties, but the sense of urgency does not match that which is required to tackle climate change as recommended by institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This lack of urgency seems to come from both the government and the general public, with only 7% of respondents of an Irish Times opinion poll saying climate change was of high importance to their vote.
It is interesting that climate is seen as a ‘party issue’ when in reality it should be integral to every parties’ core manifesto seeing as it is a cross-cutting and multifaceted issue. For long enough, climate change has been relegated to being a problem for environmentally-focused parties such as the Greens to grapple. However, it is becoming more and more accepted that it is inherently connected to social and economic problems and the sooner that all parties realize this, the easier it will be to solve. It remains to be seen what parties will constitute the next government but no matter what conglomerate enters the dail in a few weeks, I hope they keep the Irish environment in mind.
For more information on party manifestos and climate action you can read this handy article written by Cara Augustenbourg: https://greennews.ie/ge2020-manifesto-analysis-climate/
Photo by Markus Spiske
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