As the world toboggans towards an environmental catastrophe created by the capitalist system, how is Ireland – one of Europe’s most polluting nations – responding to the crisis? By using state repression against young environmental activists. We say: protest is not a crime! Drop the charges against climate activists!
On 19 March, Orla Murphy (then aged 19) walked up to the Department of Foreign Affairs building in Dublin and splashed pink paint against the building before spray painting the words, “No More Empty Promises” on the front of the building. Meanwhile, her friend, fellow activist and supporter of the Irish Marxists (the IMT in Ireland), Zac Lumley, live-streamed her protest.
For this justified protest at the inaction of the Irish state, gardaí arrested both Orla and Zac, applying extremely harsh bail conditions amounting to €3,000. Zac was, naturally, unable to get this money at short notice and as a result spent three nights in prison, while Orla refused to sign her bail conditions and was imprisoned for five weeks. Since their release, both have had to face harsh bail terms. These include Zac being banned from much of Dublin city centre and Orla being banned from Dublin entirely, being banned from approaching government buildings, and having to sign in at a police station every day – Zac alone has had to sign on 112 times since March. The latter condition has only recently been relaxed in Zac’s case so that he can continue his studies in Oxford, Britain.
Orla and Zac were arrested following a protest at the Department of Foreign Affairs against the inaction of the Irish government on climate change / Image: Extinction Rebellion Ireland
The two now face serious charges of criminal damage, which could potentially include custodial sentences. We believe this outrageous prosecution of two activists – who caused an insignificant amount of superficial damage to a building in their fight against the cataclysmic damage the ruling class are doing to our planet – is an attempt to intimidate young environmental activists across Ireland.
It proves once more that the first job of the capitalist state – in Ireland and elsewhere – is not the defence of the democratic right to protest, nor the right to a civilised existence on this planet free from the horrors of climate change. Its sole purpose is to defend property and the right of the very profiteers who have caused the environmental crisis to go on enriching themselves.
We call upon environmental activists, socialists, and trade unionists internationally to raise their solidarity with these young comrades and to help repel this assault on the democratic right to protest. Scroll to the end of this article to find out how you can help.
‘No more empty promises’
Like millions of school students worldwide, Orla and Zac had been involved in the school strike movement from its inception. In her last year in further education, Orla undertook this action to bring attention to the fact that Ireland, which currently holds a seat on the UN Security Council, and indeed holds the presidency of that UN Security Council, has done nothing to highlight the biggest threat to the “security” of billions of people: the degradation of the environment by the capitalist class. The climate catastrophe that the world is being plunged into by capitalism threatens to displace hundreds of millions of people, to wipe small island nations off the map, to increasingly stoke national wars for limited resources – in short to rob the youth of a future and to plunge humanity into barbarism.
Among the nations of Europe, Ireland is the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gas per capita. Only a year and a half ago, the Green Party was elevated in the polls in the January 2020 elections, on the back of the Climate Strike movement and the aspirations of hundreds of thousands of young people. Scandalously, the same party then came to the rescue of the two traditional, pro-capitalist parties in Ireland: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. In their every act since that election, they have utterly betrayed the aspirations of those who elected them. Now the Greens sit at the table of government, defending the interests of the capitalist polluters in the Dáil, while young climate activists face the prospect of jail time for fighting for climate justice.
In its short time in power, this government’s record has been appalling: doling out saccharine promises whilst continuing to give full backing to the biggest polluting capitalists. In 2020, an NGO ranked Ireland the third lowest EU nation in terms of combating climate change. This was actually up from previous years on account of certain verbal commitments by the Irish government to clean up its act. But these verbal commitments aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. In Orla’s words, which she painted in bold letters on the side of the Foreign Affairs building, we say, “No more empty promises!”
The only concrete ‘environmental’ proposals that have emerged from this FF-FG-Green coalition have merely been disguised, ‘green’ austerity such as taxes on fuel aimed at ordinary commuters. Meanwhile, new energy-intensive data centres are being opened in Ireland, with some predicting that these server farms could consume 70% of Ireland’s electricity by 2030.
What are the government doing to ensure that the surge in electricity usage that it predicts from these data centres won’t come at the expense of greater fossil fuel burning? Well, they are currently looking into what they call ‘Corporate Power Purchase Agreements’ (CPPAs), which would allow massive corporations to buy power directly from renewable suppliers. These corporations would then be able to flaunt their ‘green’ credentials, whilst the rest of society will take whatever energy is left (if there is any!) from the grid. Such agreements don’t imply any extra green electricity supply. They literally amount to a policy of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as do all the policies of the ruling class.
For mass action! For a socialist solution to climate change!
The eye-opening figures of electricity usage by the giant server farms dotted across Ireland further demonstrate that the real polluters are the capitalist giants of the IT industry, agribusiness, and other sectors. No amount of individual lifestyle changes, or for that matter ‘green austerity’, can ever make a dent in emissions or environmental degradation. On a world scale, 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions, whilst just 20 companies are responsible for 55% of single-use plastic waste.
The only solution to this crisis lies in the complete, planned reorganisation of the world economy to place human need and the environment at its heart. The problem is there is no planning under capitalism. The market is completely anarchic, with each capitalist operating only for profit. Indeed, each capitalist must operate to make the greatest possible profit if they are to outcompete their competitors and stay in business. Everything that fails to appear on the balance sheet is an ‘externality’ to be ignored.
Only by taking big agribusiness, the IT giants, and all the other monopolies, including and above all the big banks, out of the hands of the tiny clique of private capitalists who now own them and uniting them in an economic plan under the democratic control of the working class can we bring about the sharp change of direction needed to mitigate climate change.
Orla (left) and Zac (right) were subject to harsh bail conditions and now face serious charges of criminal damage for their protest / Image: Extinction Rebellion Ireland, Twitter
But the Irish ruling class will not give up their wealth voluntarily. And the Irish state exists to defend that wealth. As Zac explained, “Under capitalism, action on the climate and ecological crises is impossible, as profit accumulation is sought at all cost to the environment, health and human life. The only solution is revolution, with the working class taking power to plan the economy democratically, for the interest of humanity, not profit.”
Only the mass mobilisation of the working class around a socialist programme can challenge the capitalist polluters. But without a fighting lead from the labour movement and with no party offering a clear way forward, it is no wonder that young people will bravely attempt to take matters into their own hands through individual acts of direct action. This is wholly understandable, but in itself it does not contain the solution to the crisis.
The state and the ruling class will happily ignore such individual acts. In other cases, as we see with Orla and Zac, they will even attempt to demonise, criminalise and make an example out of militant youth. Groups like Extinction Rebellion have made a principle out of the tactics of direct action and civil disobedience. However, our tactics must flow from the movement’s political programme.
Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party. His party did well in the 2020 election on the back of anger amongst young people regarding climate change. However, the party subsequently helped prop up a FF-FG government / Image: Oireachtas
Only the organised working class can challenge the capitalist system and the destruction it is wreaking by carrying out a socialist revolution. It is therefore necessary to move forward from individual direct action to mass direct action. The school strike movement has shown the way. Again, however, the ruling class has simply ignored striking school students and could continue to do so.
However, should the working class more broadly, taking its lead from the school students, also commit to a programme of strike action and mass mobilisation, the ruling class would have to sit up and pay attention. Not a lightbulb shines, not a wheel turns without the kind permission of the working class. Ultimately the power not only to bring this system to a halt, but to abolish capitalism and reorganise society on a socialist basis lies collectively in the hands of the working class.
The tactics of the movement must follow from this understanding about the role of the working class in transforming society. Mass strike action by the school students generates sympathy amongst working people in general, their parents. That sympathy can and must be transformed into active participation and action. It should also be noted however, that certain acts of direct action and civil disobedience tactics by the environmental movement can have the opposite effect.
The Fridays for Future movement and young environmental activists can play an important role in this process by connecting up with the workers’ movement, injecting the same militant, fighting spirit that we’ve seen among school students. The most radical workers and youth need to get organised and bring revolutionary, socialist ideas and militant methods into the workers’ movement.
Protest is not a crime!
In the past few years we’ve seen a number of instances where the Irish state has attempted to beef up its repressive powers and to resort to police methods to criminalise protest.
Just a few years ago, in 2014, we saw peaceful water charge activists including Paul Murphy TD accused of ‘false imprisonment’ after staging a sit-down protest in Jobstown in front of a TD’s car. The defendants faced collusion by politicians, gardaí, the media, the court system and the whole establishment in an attempt to secure extremely serious convictions. Only public outrage following a campaign in solidarity with the accused scuppered the wrath of the establishment and secured a verdict of ‘not guilty’.
Faced with the repression of the Irish state, we call upon environmentalists, socialists and trade unionists in Ireland and internationally to raise their voices in solidarity with Orla and Zac. The establishment wants to turn protest into a criminal act. The real criminals are big business, who have committed wanton destruction to the environment in their pursuit of profit, and the millionaire’s club of politicians who have aided and abetted them.
- Send an email to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Minister for Justice.
- Hand in letters of protest to Irish embassies and consulates on 12 October.
- Post pictures and messages of solidarity with Orla and Zac using hashtags #ClimateProtestNotACrime and #NoMoreEmptyPromises
We say: Drop the charges! Protest is not a crime!
Copy in: [email protected]
We are writing to you to express our alarm that the state has decided to prosecute two young environmental activists, Orla Murphy and Zac Lumley.
It is a scandal that at a time when the world is careening towards a climate catastrophe that the state in Ireland is subjecting young climate activists to harsh bail terms and serious criminal charges. The superficial and insignificant amount of damage caused by the protest that led to Orla and Zac’s prosecution pales into utter insignificance next to the destruction being wrought to the Earth’s climate.
We call upon the Justice Minister to intervene and for the DPP to drop all charges against Orla and Zac immediately.
With COP26 around the corner and Ireland among the worst polluters in Europe, the eyes of environmental activists, trade unionists and young people everywhere are on the Irish government.
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