Heralded as a victory for people power and the environment a bill to prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing was passed through the Dail unanimously to its next stage in a rare show of cross party co operation, on Thursday, October 27th.
As the banners were unfurled campaigners from the west met those from the east, both young and old mingled outside the gates of the Dail under the Back the Bill cause. People power figured greatly inside the Dail debate on fracking too as communities especially from the effected area were commended on their tireless work on the issue.
Tony McLoughlin stated that he had sponsored the bill as a direct response to "public health and environmental concerns" brought forward by his constituents and community groups like Love Leitrim and GEAI who "to their credit raised the issue." He had signed a "pledge to ban fracking" before the election and he was standing by that pledge.
Local groups were congratulated on a number of occasions and some singled out like Love Leitrim by Eamon Ryan TD for the positive campaign it ran. That commitment of people power was once again alluded to by Martin Kenny TD. It was, he said, "a victory for the ordinary people standing up." And added, "People's lives matter, people deserve a future; people can’t be bought."
To any onlooker it seemed like this was the day that Ireland moved out of the shade and stepped up to the challenge of climate change. Speakers from all sides of the house mentioned time and again that fracking was ‘inextricably linked’ with climate change and how if introduced it meant Ireland couldn’t meet its low carbon goals.
"I don’t think we can separate the fracking debate and the climate change debate," said Maureen O'Sullivan TD.
Fresh from ratifying the Paris agreement earlier in the day it may have been indelibly etched on their mind. Having started the day by passing the Paris agreement TDs ended it by moving forward the bill to ban fracking. Environmental issues had become centre stage, Ireland could soon become a leader on it.
The launch of the independent Sustainable Water Networks (SWAN) report the previous day was timely and featured strongly in the rhetoric of TDs. Tony McLoughlin along with the majority of the politicians speaking had taken on board Swan’s take home message that fracking was "incompatible with good water quality."
Fianna Fail's Eamonn Scanlon, while stressing his concerns about the risk to public health and Ireland's food industry, also referred to the New York ban. He did not want Ireland to be at risk of "fractured communities." Scanlon said if fracking were to be allowed, he said of our rural culture, "We lose what we have and we lose why we live there."
The EPA report came in for scathing criticism from all sides of the house particularly a passionate contribution by Richard Boyd Barrett referring to it as been conducted by a company "up to their necks pro fracking." The research would not answer the right questions. "What is the point of it?" he asked exasperatedly, "if it won't even know if it effects health."
From the success of the public response to the email campaign and the twitter storm that trended, including Hollywood star Mark Ruffalo coming on board, there was an air in the Back the Bill community campaign that an appetite was there from politicians to seize the moment. And even with a last minute promoted government amendment that might have derailed another bill, this was not to be the case with this bill. The momentum was too great, and Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein pledged that they would not be supporting such an amendment. TDs were listening to their people, and they had seized the vision for Ireland and a cross party consensus decided to lead on it.
There would always be a need for vigilance and a journey for the bill still to come, one victory to savour but with the promise of something greater to come. But with a climate of last minute amendments and CETA ringing in the air, Clare Daly’s warning, "don’t put away your placards just yet" seemed wise as campaigners made their way back to different corners of the country.
The overall view from campaigners was that democracy worked for the people
Nuala McNulty of Love Leitrim said, "As many people in Ireland currently feel disenfranchised this is something to take heart from."
And wanting to seize that sense of history another campaigner Scott Coombs added, "The world will notice how, through persistence and quiet persuasion, the people of Ireland, through its politicians, fully expressed its will in the interests of the health and future generations."
Time now for politics to deliver.