The National TD Lobby on December 7th - This Is What Democracy Looks Like!
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Watch the video below to find out more:
What is lobbying?
As defined by Transparency International lobbying is:
Any activity carried out to influence a government or institution’s policies and decisions in favour of a specific cause or outcome. Even when allowed by law, these acts can become distortive if disproportionate levels of influence exist – by companies, associations, organisations and individuals.
Two of the most powerful lobby groups in Ireland are IBEC, which describes itself as Ireland's 'largest and most influential business lobby' and the Irish Farmers Association (the IFA) 'Ireland's largest farming representative organisation'. As reported by the Business Post:
There have been 40,000 lobbying returns since the lobbying register was set up four years ago. Ibec and the IFA are way out in front when it comes to pushing for changes for the benefit of their members.
Another powerful lobby group in Ireland are the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (the IOOA). The Chief Executive of the IOAA is former Fianna Fáil government adviser Mandy Johnston. Johnston was formerly a government press secretary and an adviser to Bertie Aherne.
Every year, the world's five largest publicly owned oil and gas companies spend approximately $200 million on lobbying designed to control, delay or block binding climate-motivated policy.
In 2018 the Business Post reported on a sevenfold increase in lobbying by oil and gas firms. This increase was largely in response to People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith’s Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018 which seeks to end all oil and gas exploration in Ireland.
The IOOA was represented by public relations firm Edelman in a number of lobbying returns. A portion of Edelman’s lobbying activities on behalf of IOOA were carried out by Feargal Purcell, former Fine Gael government press secretary and senior adviser to Enda Kenny.
In the same month, myself and four other members of Extinction Rebellion glued ourselves to the Department of Climate Action to try and bring public attention to the undemocratic blocking of the bill.
(Side note: Cormac's face was painted like that as he had just rushed from a separate protest at a Forestry conference - again trying to raise public awareness).
As reported in the Irish Independent at the time, concerns were raised about the contact between former Fine Gael lobbyist Feargal Purcell and Hildegarde Naughton, the chair of the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee.
Text messages show how former government press secretary-turned-lobbyist Feargal Purcell contacted Hildegarde Naughton, the chair of the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee, a dozen times and sought details of the committee's private deliberations on legislation to ban fossil fuel exploration off the coast.
So what is the national TD Lobby for Faster and Fairer Climate Action?
As outlined above, professional lobby organisations have a huge amount of power, resources and access to TDs which they use to try and influence government policy for the benefit of their members.
The national TD Lobby for Faster and Fairer Climate Action is a chance for the general public to re-balance the scales. It has been organised for a number of years now by the civil society coalition Stop Climate Chaos and I attended my first one in Buswells Hotel in Dublin city centre in 2018.
My experience of the TD Lobby in 2018
Before 2018 I had never spoken to a TD before about anything so I went to the event with a fair few butterflies in my stomach. I imagine many people might feel the same sort of anxiety about speaking to their TDs so I am sharing my experience here to assure you that you have nothing to be concerned about. TDs are people just like you and me and it's important to remember that they are in government to represent your concerns. In essence they are there to work for you.
When I arrived in Buswells I was delighted to see the hotel was packed with constituents waiting for their local TDs. I sat down at a table assigned to Dublin South West and any fears I had of being stuck for something to say disappeared as there were loads of fellow Dublin South West constituents ready to talk.
In our constituency in 2018 we were represented by Paul Murphy (RISE), John Lahart (Fianna Fáil), Colm Brophy (Fine Gael), Seán Crowe (Sinn Féin) and Katherine Zappone (Independent). Seán Crowe and Katherine Zappone had sent emails to say they wouldn't be able to attend because of prior engagements, and I never received an email from Colm Brophy to say whether he was coming or not (in the end I don't believe he did).
The first TD I actually got to speak to was Paul Murphy. Paul was in opposition at the time (as he still is at the time of writing) and I believed he was clearly as concerned as the rest of us on the government's inaction on climate change. I found him very easy to share our concerns with. Paul told us that he is actually married to a climate scientist so he is well aware of just how serious the climate crisis is.
After chatting with Paul we met with John Lahart. When John arrived it was standing room only in the hotel so we had to speak to him in one of the hallways. As I laid out in my first post on this blog our conversation with John was illuminating. He told us of the trouble he had with removing a traffic lane from the Orlagh roundabout in Dublin South West to favour cyclists. I realised that if the general public don't fully understand the importance of trying to reduce traffic pollution on our roads, or any other environmental action for that matter, then they won't support politicians who are trying to take necessary environmental action. If the general public don't support them then our politicians will fear losing their jobs for simply doing what is necessary.
So what are the key asks of the 2020 TD Lobby?
As a constituent you are free to ask your TD about any environmental concern you might have, but Stop Climate Chaos have 5 key demands for TDs in 2020.
Stop Climate Chaos' 5 Key Demands
1. Close The Loopholes in the Climate Bill.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is a key part part of the Program for Government negotiated between the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. In November of 2019 the United Nations told us we need to reduce global carbon emissions by a minimum of 7.6% per year for the next ten years. For some reason the Green Party settled on a carbon emissions reduction target of 7% per year - already undershooting the minimum. Regardless, 7% reductions would be huge. I put together the video at the top of the page to explain why they are important. Here it is again to save you scrolling back up:
As outlined it is vital we stop adding to the carbon in our atmosphere as soon as possible. The current draft bill is full of vague language and loopholes which would allow the government to continue as normal without actually having to achieve those 7% reductions. That is why one of the key asks of the lobby is for them to close the loopholes in the bill to make sure those targets are actually achieved.
2. Do our fair share: Ireland and the EU must take a strong position on climate action
Ireland has the third highest emissions of greenhouse gases per person in the EU. For us to not achieve the bare minimum of 7.6% is to expect someone else to pick up the slack for our pollution. In fact we should be aiming to beat the 7.6% level by as much as possible as that percentage is shared out equally amongst much smaller and poorer countries who do not share an equal responsibility for the level of carbon in our atmosphere. Surely if it's our mess, we should be responsible for cleaning it up?
3. Act urgently to cut emissions in all sectors
Agriculture accounted for 35.3% of our emissions in 2019 but already the IFA are lobbying for special treatment for the Agricultural sector. As the Irish Farmer's Journal reported Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue (Fianna Fáil) has said:
“The special economic and social role of agriculture and the distinct characteristics of biogenic methane as described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be fully recognised in plans to achieve these targets.”
Biogenic methane is a gas produced by cattle when they burp and fart. There are 7,314,400 cows in Ireland according to Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures. Methane is the main reason why emissions from the Agricultural sector are so high. Methane is more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping the suns heat over the first 20 years of it's lifespan. After twenty years it drops to being about 28 times as powerful. Professor John Sweeney, a regular contributor to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has described as "disturbing" the use of the term "biogenic methane" in the programme for government because, he said, the "atmosphere recognises no such distinction." It doesn't matter what we call, it still heats the planet so we need to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector just the same as any other sector.
However, as noted in the graphic above, it's not the farmer's fault. We can't blame farmers for wanting to protect their livelihoods without offering them any real alternatives. This leads nicely into the 4th demand for TDs.
4. Make climate action a part of a Just Recovery that reduces poverty and protects nature.
Making the emissions reductions needed will require a massively ambitious rethinking of how our society currently works. We cannot expect farmers, or people employed in any sector that would lose out from a transition to a low carbon society, to make the changes needed if the changes are not made in a fair way. It is rightly said that farmers are the stewards of our land. Our soil, our trees and our bogs are the best technology we currently have for taking carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere. If farmers need to reduce their herd sizes they should be rewarded in kind for managing the land that will reduce the carbon in our atmosphere.
Also, we cannot export our problems overseas. We have to be careful that efforts to reduce emissions do not result in the exploitation of people in poorer countries. The batteries for electric cars for example are created from mined cobalt often sourced from places like the Democratic Republic of Congo where children are often doing the mining.
5. Start a proper dialogue with citizens and stakeholders
As highlighted by John Lahart's experience with the Orlagh Roundabout mentioned above, if people don't understand the necessity for change then we won't see the action needed. The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the vital importance of public communication for emergency action. A national dialogue on the climate crisis has to be a cornerstone of our climate action. Every community across the country needs to be involved so that we have a full understanding of who will be hurt and how we can support each other. Without public buy-in we're lost. A national dialogue is key for the success of any climate action plan. We have to talk about climate with the same level of engagement from government and media as we see with Brexit or the pandemic.
Climate is not a single party issue
We would never think of the pandemic as being the job of a single party to fix. For too long The Green Party have been the only party many people think of when they think of climate action. That cannot continue to be the case. The Green Party can't, and shouldn't be expected to do it alone.
Before the last general election the anti-fossil-fuel campaign group Not Here Not Anywhere (NHNA) trawled through Dáil records to score parties and candidates on how they voted on climate relevant bills.
You can visit NHNA's website here to see how your local TDs have voted in the past. Imagine again if we did treat Covid-19 as a single party issue. We have to put pressure in particular on those parties that have consistently voted against climate action. If you have voted for some of the lower scoring parties then your voice is particularly important. Please let your TD know that you voted for them and that you expect them to do better going forward.
In Dublin South West this is how our local TDs have voted:
Unfortunately I will not get the chance to tell Colm Brophy what I think, as he has informed us he will not be attending the lobby on Monday due to a prior engagement (our local group has informed him we will make ourselves available at a future time at his convenience).
Reasons for Hope
There have been OneFuture groups popping up in constituencies all over the country in the past few weeks. I've been really encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm of people ready to flex their democratic muscles in the battle to preserve a future for our children. I've joined my local Dublin South West group and it has been great to see new faces getting involved.
If you haven't joined one yet please consider doing so by registering for the TD lobby at bit.ly/tdlobby. I suspect these local groups will have a life long after the lobby day itself.
Hopefully some of what I've shared above will give you some idea of what you might talk to your local TDs about, but even showing up to a meeting with your TD is enough to let them know that people actually care. It can be easy to get disheartened by the enormity of the problem we're facing but if we don't use our democratic process to make our voices heard then we just leave that space to be filled by the voices of the powerful lobby groups mentioned above. We need people power now more than ever. We need solidarity with each other as Irish citizens. As the protest chant goes, 'The people united, will never be divided!