Ireland’s Care for Our Common Home

During the summer 2018, four public meeting were organised by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) to give people an opportunity to articulate what they would like to say about the Catholic Church in Ireland.
I would like to broaden the discussion to including the Irish response to his extraordinary encyclical Laudato Si’ On Care for Our Common Home.  In that encyclical he writes that “Christians realise that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.” (No 64). Unfortunately, that aspect of Catholic faith had never been developed or preached right across the Catholic Church.  In the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church, only 15 pages, out of a total of almost 500, are devoted to ‘safeguarding the environment.” Important issues for the well-being of the   planet, such as climate change and the destruction of biodiversity globally, only merit a half paragraph each. All of these issues and many other justice and ecological topics are discussed in Laudato Si’.

How is Ireland fairing?  Ireland’s position on global warming is confused and contradictory.  On the positive side, Ireland is set to become the first government in the world to divest public money from fossil fuel assets. This means that, the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, introduced by Thomas Pringle will compel the Ireland Strategic investment fund (ISIF) to sell off its investments in the global fossil fuel industry which as of June 2017, amounted to €318 million. The most pleasing aspect of the bill is that it was backed by the Irish Government as a way of aligning Ireland’s climate change commitments with the Paris Agreement on climate change which took place in December 2015.

While that is a welcome sign, in other areas the government is in denial about climate issues.  In April 2017, the Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed told the Dáil that in the five-year period, 2012 to 2016, dairy cow numbers had increased by 22 percent and milk production by 27 percent, while greenhouse gas emissions had only increased by a mere 8 percent.   The problem is that the minister’s figures are incorrect according to data provided by the Irish Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA agreed that Irish milk production had increased by 27 percent, but this has led to a 24 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions during that period.  When An Taisce   uncovered the statistics. it wrote to Minister Creed and told him that he needed to correct the Dáil record.  The Minister admitted that even though greenhouse emissions from the dairy sector had increased substantially, it was “valid for him to consider the sector as a whole in presenting the data.”

In July 2018, a Report from The Climate Change Advisory Council of the Irish Government was damming.  This Council is an independent advisory body whose role it is to assess and advise the Irish government on how Ireland can achieve a transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and sustainable economy by 2050. The report is scathing on several points. The key message is that Ireland is completely off target in terms of achieving its 2020 and 2030 greenhouse gas reduction emissions for which we will pay serious fines in the years to come.

The report is clear that Ireland is not transitioning to a low-carbon economy.  It points out that we are currently heading in the opposite direction and instead of achieving the required reduction of 1 million tonnes per year in carbon dioxide emissions, consistent with the National Policy Position, Ireland is currently increasing greenhouse emissions at a rate of 2 million tonnes per year.  This is a disastrous situation and needs to be turned around as quickly as possible.

The report welcomes the commitment to end the burning of coal at Moneypoint in County Clare by 2025. However, it says that this can only be achieved by raising the carbon tax substantially. The Council recommends that the carbon tax be raised to €30 per tonne in the 2019 Budget and to €80 in 2030.

In early August, the Central Statistics Office (CSO), claimed that Ireland is among the worst performers in Europe across a range of environmental areas.  If our care of the environment is judged by our commitment to vision outlined in Laudato Si’ Ireland is not doing well at all.

Fr, Sean McDonagh, SSC is a Columban priest and president of An Taisce.

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  1. Donal Dorr says:

    Thanks, Sean, for this reminder and for the frightening statistics of failure by government. But we in the Church also need to do much more. We seldom hear of any preaching on care for the Earth by priests. I think we would help a lot if we can help people to develop a sense of wonder about the beauty of nature. That would give local communities an incentive to take action ourselves and to put pressure on politicians to take action, including carbon tax, retrofitting of good insulation for houses, phasing out use of diesel, investing in public transport, insisting that Bord na Mona quickly phase out burning of turf/peat, and resisting the pressure to increase the numbers of cattle – and so much more that needs to be done.

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    This is past the need for preaching. I’m watching another hurricane bear down on a coastal nuclear plant on the east coast of North America. I live on an island surrounded by water – it is our lifeblood here. I promised to never again post on Sean’s contributions on this site because everything I’ve prayed for via this website and my own local diocese has come to pass in the last 7 years. I am forever grateful for this. I asked for a class-action lawsuit (youth led) and it was produced and backed by both the Franciscans and Jesuits. I’ve asked for financial reform to be considered and it has.

    My talent is not only asking for things – it’s giving freely with no expectation of return. My volunteerism is who I am. I created a parish fund raiser in 2015, at the request of a member of the ACI to develop a grass-roots marketing platform that could help distribute important messages/creations among the faithful. This platform was a digital publishing agreement between artists and a fundraising group who would secure solar installations on parish property. Having completed the development of this platform in 2017, I was surprised to find that my own province was providing incentives to churches to move to solar on a pilot project and currently I’m in talks with local political forces and diocesan representatives. It’s not going well because it is seen as too far ahead of the curve. Despite this, my fund raising platform is starting to take shape in self-sustainability circles, globally.

    It’s a simple process. You can find the original document to my local parish here :

    Could Ireland benefit from such a platform? It’s one of the difficult things to do – ask people to do more at time when tax dollars and parish offerings are limited. Each community has to start thinking about self-sufficiency and how small investments can help alleviate ongoing problems. The platform can be tailored to non-profits, municipal buildings, aboriginal councils, schools/universities, and of course churches. The artist residency it creates is done so that rewards can be distributed to donors. It’s a simple system. Give a little – get a little – and watch that investment help communities transition to more stable times.

    Please let me know if a group would like to tackle this issue and bring forth this innovative approach to crowd-funding in their local communities. The other thing that can be done at a local level would be to get in contact with the Our Children’s Trust organisation and make sure that global class-action touches down in your nation. That will pressure governments to act. Our children’s futures depend on it.

  3. Frances Burke says:

    It is good to see this type of initiative been led by Catholics and Buddists religious. Hopefully it will see the light of day.

    Our forests are the lungs of the earth and key to climate change. We all can do our bit for the environment by planting a tree today. If you have a small garden plant a Birch, Rowan or Holly. If you have a big garden plant an Oak. A hedge will also cleanse the environment.

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