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New bill a testament to the power of campaigning

Loud applause and cheering broke out in the public gallery of the Dáil at around 4pm yesterday with the historic passing of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill. The bill was passed with all-party support and there was widespread applause in the chamber too. A perfect way to end the Dáil term!

It was truly a historic day as it makes Ireland the first country in the world to commit to selling off its investments in fossil fuel companies, the industry most contributing to climate change.

The state’s €8 billion national investment fund will be required to sell all investments in coal, oil, gas and peat “as soon as is practicable”, which is expected to mean within five years. The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund currently holds more than €300 million in fossil fuel investments in 150 companies.

It was a privilege to witness history in the making. Trócaire has been working hard with independent TD Thomas Pringle over the past two years to bring about the ground-breaking legislation and, as partners with Trócaire, Irish Girl Guides signed a letter sent to TDs last month urging them to support the bill.

Such a bill was urgently needed! Last month Ireland was ranked the second worst European country for climate action in a Climate Action Network report and we are set to fall well short of our EU emissions’ reduction targets for 2020.

Hopefully the bill will pass rapidly through the Seanad, meaning it will become law before the end of the year.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has grown rapidly in recent years with the widespread recognition that there is a need to move away from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy instead. There is clear evidence that the vast majority of remaining fossil fuels must remain unburned if the temperature limits adopted in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change are to be respected. Cities, universities and churches have committed to divest from fossil fuels but Ireland is the first country to make this commitment.

The sad reality is that it is those contributing least to climate change who are suffering most from the consequences. Droughts, floods and storms have already contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries, with millions more facing hunger and displacement.

The passing of the Divestment Bill is good news. It is only right that Ireland takes on its fair share of the burden of climate action – that we move away from fossil fuels and invest in a cleaner, greener future.

Let’s hope that Ireland sees through its commitment to divestment and that other countries will follow.

Many of the TDs who spoke in the Dáil yesterday praised the work of Trócaire and other NGOs who have campaigned on the issue of climate change and talked about the hundreds of emails they had received from concerned constituents, which goes to show that speaking out and taking action can not only change minds, but can also lead to important new legislation.

Well done to everyone who raised their voices on this issue and helped make history!