Climate Emergency requires a United Front of Galway’s Stakeholders


Drowned Galway photomontage by Joe Lee, a HopeItRains project for Galway 2020

The recent United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report signed off by 195 governments is a truly terrifying read. It makes clear that Global Warming- characterised by more intense and frequent heatwaves, storms, rainfall, flooding and melting glaciers as well as rising sea levels- is due to human activity. It further stated that no part of the world is safe from its consequences and that these changes are accelerating.


July was the hottest month since records began and possibly in over 125,000 years. Temperatures have risen by an average of 1.1 degrees since the Industrial Revolution started. A rise of 2 degrees can be expected and up to 3-4 degrees within the next few decades if urgent action is not taken. Such an increase would make life unbearable in many parts of the globe, causing large scale population migration from areas worse affected as people desperately try to escape to places more climate stable leading possibly to conflict within and between nations. Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary general,  stated bluntly that the report is a ‘Code Red for Humanity’.  


What is particularly poignant is the fact that the causes of these catastrophes, namely greenhouse gas emissions from carbon (deforestation, fossil fuels etc.) and methane (livestock, landfills etc), have actually doubled since the IPCC gave its first report in 1990 and nineteen years after the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change signed by 154 states agreed to drastically reduce these gases.


Linked into Climate Change is the collapse in biodiversity worldwide. The UN has stated there is an urgent need to rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on climate and help save one million species from extinction.


The failure of the global political system to honour these commitments represents a serious dereliction of duty as governments everywhere prioritised ‘development’ in the form of jobs and economic growth with little concern for the repercussions. Many politicians and others wrongly portrayed environmental protection as a barrier to progress. Unfortunately this outmoded and dangerous philosophy still holds a powerful influence today in our city and in our country.


For the people of Galway, Climate Chaos is right here, right now and it’s personal.

Most scientists accept that COVID (and other recent pandemics), which has caused so much disruption and tragedy to our lives, was due to wildlife with their naturally occurring viruses being removed from their ever-decreasing habitats and sold in food markets.

Many Galwegians use to regularly take holidays in sunnier Mediterranean climes. But this region stretching, from Spain to Turkey, is now suffering from unprecedented heatwaves, wildfires and floods, with Sicily experiencing the hottest temperature (48.80 degrees) ever recorded in Europe.


Lying at the political and economic heartland of our European community, Germany and Belgium were devastated in July by flooding which Belgian Minister Annelies Verlinden described as "one of the greatest natural disasters our country has ever known.” It will cost Germany €30 billion to repair the damage caused. Australia and western USA, where so many of us have family members, are caught up in a vicious cycle of  menacing heat, drought and fire.

NUI Galway’s Atmospheric Research Station at Mace Head in Carna recorded its highest ever atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.


Gordon Bromley, climate scientist of NUI Galway, warned that Galway will suffer badly from the rising sea levels and coastal erosion which is already happening, is irreversible and is worsening.


But the battle to save the human species from self-destruction and to stabilise Climate Change will not be lost or won in the shrinking tropical forests or the warming acidic oceans. It is in the cities that the ‘call to arms’ has to be heard and heeded, planetary saving technologies forged and the necessary strategies implemented.

Cities consume two thirds of global energy supply and generate three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions. It is where 56% (and rising) of the human population live and represents the primary markets for the meat and palm oil products responsible for 80% of rainforest loss.


Galway’s geographical position of expansive Atlantic shoreline and fast flowing high volume Corrib waterways, its high level of oil-based energy consumption, its car-centric transport infrastructure, and its urban sprawl means that it is especially vulnerable to the new climatic conditions. Unless there is a drastic cultural shift locally, it is questionable whether we can meet the required targets of a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.


In a time of such a crisis, the need for visionary political leadership and a unity of purpose from all sectors of local societies is called for with everyone being given an opportunity to play their part and where policy makers are leading by example. ‘Think Global, Act Local’ has never been more important.


Is this happening in Galway? On the positive side, Galway City Council has done some great things this year. It passed a motion to declare a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency. Additional state funding, from a government which is prioritising Climate Change, has meant that cycle ways along main roads are being bult, construction will take place of a pedestrian/cycling bridge from Woodquay over the Corrib as the terminus for the Connemara Greenway, the position of a city biodiversity officer has been advertised, the All Ireland Pollinator Plan adopted, Nature for Health and Love Your Beach programmes rolled out, planning is underway for a flood protection scheme and a decarbonisation zone in the university catchment area has been mapped out.  Mayor Colette Connolly and Deputy Mayor Martina O’Connor have publicly declared their intention to make Galway a National Park City, a designation that represents a wonderful opportunity post-COVID to reimagine our city and to build back greener and bluer.


But sadly there seems to be a reluctance by some in City Hall to move away from a ‘business as usual’ model and have meaningful engagement with those from Civic Society who represent a new way forward. The Climate and Biodiversity Emergency motion has a proviso that such a declaration should not interfere with development; policies adopted in 2002 to create a safe city wide pedestrian-friendly cycling-friendly infrastructure and wildlife corridors (linking parks and waterways) have yet to be implemented. Planning for new ‘living’ inner city villages of affordable housing occupied by families and peoples of all ages has not been prioritised. Hydro power as a renewable energy source is not being tapped and there is no plan to ensure that we know what the city’s current (baseline) carbon usage is. The call for the transformation of the Dyke Road (that is below water level) into a largely unique cycling-walking route through a riverine and woodland zone has been ignored.   The council recently failed to buy privately-owned grassland within Terryland Forest Park, which was advertised for sale at €30,000, thus impacting negatively on the city’s capability of planting new woods as per government policy and undermining over twenty years of volunteerism in developing this park as a ‘carbon sink’ and ‘wildlife sanctuary’. There is a refusal to give our main public parks the legal status necessary to protect from being used for future built development.

Some senior officials said that a proposal to include a Galway National Park City (GNPC) designation into the Galway City Development Plan 2023-2029 was ‘premature’ and could interfere with ‘development’ whilst one councillor thought it was ‘airy fairy’.


The GNPC designation with over 100 champions reflecting a wide strata of local society, with President Michael D. Higgins as patron and Duncan Stewart as its national champion is clear, with a mission statement for our beloved city “achieving a Greener, Bluer, Healthier, Safer, Beautiful, Sustainable, Equitable, Harmonious and Wilder environment where people value, benefit from, and are strongly connected to the rest of Nature.” It is about promoting a strong sustainable development ethos in our buildings and neighbourhoods as much as in our open green spaces. Its champions and their organisations are already working together on new exciting cross-sectoral eco-projects around concepts such as the Outdoor Classroom, rewilding, the Circular Economy and renewable energies. It is attracting offers of funding for eco programmes from philanthropists and corporations.

When London became the world’s first National Park City, its Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “This status is a truly fantastic reflection of our vibrant and dynamic city and our amazing network of green spaces, rivers and natural habitats…(will)…help tackle the global climate emergency and ecological crisis and address the decline in biodiversity.”

Lord Benyon, UK Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, stated last month that the National Park City model fitted in with government policies, offering an opportunity to deliver a quantum shift in improving access for all to green spaces, protecting more natural landscapes and helping in nature restoration as well as in benefiting the mental and physical health of citizens.  The government of South Australia wants its capital Adelaide declared a National Park City in time for COP26. Environment and Water Minister Derek Spiers said this designation was a call to action for the people of Adelaide, was leading to increased community involvement particularly in restoring and in enjoying the natural world. Kathryn Tierney, GNPC European Champion and a former policy coordinator at the Directorate General Environment of the European Commission, pointed out that the Galway National Park City, with its grassroots and wide cross-sectoral champions membership base, is the embodiment of  the EU ‘Green Deal’ in action at a local level.


The Climate Chaos that is upon us will impact on all aspects of our lives. Galway can only become resilient and ensure a viable future by an active partnership of all key local stakeholders. ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’. The city belongs to us all and local government cannot do it on its own. City Hall has to reach out and embrace partnership not ignore it. The GNPC membership represents the widest potential collaboration possible with an array of expertise and talents that should be enthusiastically welcomed and be put at the service of our citizenry. Membership of the ‘coalition of the willing’ includes world renowned scientists, engineers and others involved in habitat restoration, renewable energies, climatology, green innovation, waste reduction, marine science, smart technologies; medical professionals who are using Nature as a ‘green prescription’; teachers, artists, community volunteers and waterways advocates; youth wanting to play their part, have their say and implement their ideas; architects promoting new sustainable built development; and businesses using green jobs and eco-industrial processes such as SAP whose strategy is to be carbon neutral by 2023, and Thermo King whose parent company is committed to reducing its customers’ carbon emissions by one gigaton by 2030 – equivalent to 2% of the world’s annual emissions.


Thankfully the council has agreed with our request to participate in a September meeting addressed by Daniel Raven-Ellison, founder of world’s first National Park City, and internationally-renowned UK-based developers (who are supporters of the London National Park City). It will be chaired by Dr. Micheál Ó Cinnéide, ex director of the EPA and of the Marine Institute.

According to legend, opening “Pandora’s Box” unleashed evil forces into the world. But ‘Hope’ remained and Hope springs eternal.  Yet we may still feel that the small population of Galway can have little impact on tackling global Climate Chaos. But not so. For we only have to pay heed to what EU President Ursula von der Leyen, quoting American anthropologist Margaret Mead, said at the  launch of Green Week 2021, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” 


This article first appeared in the Galway Advertiser on August 25th 2021. I wrote it in my capacity as  Convenor, Galway National Park City initiative

Joe Murray - One of life's gentlest and kindest gentlemen is no longer with us. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam

Today I attended the funeral mass for Joe Murray, a true friend and comrade from my student days at UCG.
Joe was our local postman when I lived then with student friends in a rather famous/infamous(!) rented house in Hazel Park. Many's the night Joe would pop in for tea and a political chat when he was out campaigning/leaflet dropping for the Labour Party or earlier in the day after he had completed his postal rounds. It was usually a few hours later that he would cycle off to his homeplace in Shantalla happy in the knowledge that a few of us around a table in a rented house in Galway had analysed and come up with solutions to all of the problems of the world!

We struck up a friendship then that has remained strong over the decades in spite of years apart. He was a man with a heart of gold, an analytical brain, a soft sense of humour and a gentle smile. Friday before last was my final visit to Joe in hospital when we were making arrangements for his bike to be brought to Richard Walsh's Woodquay for repair before I was to cycle it to the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre where it was to be handed over to an African friend of mine that needed it. This was Joe's request to me. He wanted his bike, that was his mainstay for so long, to be given to a person that could really benefit from it. During our bedside chat, after we finished watching the Lions-South Africa test match (he loved rugby with a passion) on his iPad, Joe proudly showed me the letter that he had recently received from our mutual friend President Michael D. Higgins.
It meant so much to him. For Joe was one of the reasons why Michael D got elected multiple times as a Galway councillor, as a TD and finally as President of Ireland. As a life long Labour Party member, he was one of those dedicated, reliable, hardworking, solid foot soldiers that was out there every night and day, hail rain or snow, ensuring that Michael's philosophy of liberty, fraternity and egalitarianism were known.
Our President, being the loyal caring person that he is, was in the church today along with his darling wife Sabina. Neither of them have ever lost contact with their old friends from the early days of struggle and campaigning when we were all (from an array of left wing parties and from no parties) fighting for a better just and more humane world.

Along with chatting to Catherine Connolly TD, councillor Níall Mc Nelis, Andrew Ó Baoill and Nuala Nolan, it was especially lovely today to see so many of the activists from the time when Michael D. was first elected to Dáil Éireann attending his funeral to give their respects- Niall Kelly, Liam Boyle, Pat Hardiman, Peter Kenny, Liz Hackett, John Cunningham.... Joe's friends have been his friends for so long- it was a tribute to his warm endearing character.

Joe was an old style socialist and trade unionist who wanted to ensure that the working class overcame centuries of exploitation to secure political power. It was therefore appropriate and a tribute to Joe’s life-long and deeply held political beliefs that musician Greg Cotter gave a wonderfully powerful moving rendition in the church that he loved of the classic American socialist song ‘Joe Hill’ "...In every mine and mill, Where working men defend their rights, It's there you'll find Joe Hill...". It brought tears to my eyes as it reminded me of many battles fought but not always won.
My last campaigning meet ups with Joe were in December/January when he was gung-ho about ensuring our fellow UCG progressive Mike Jennings got elected to the NUI Galway Governing Body.
Joe knew for many months that he was dying from cancer. We had our last coffee together in June in a café near the hospital where he had just come from one of his regular clinical visits. After the banter and the sharing of stories, I told him that he would of course feature in my book coming out next year on “UCG Student Days & Nights”. The book will be richer for his presence.

The photo is one I took of Joe in 1984 at his summer graduation in University College Galway (UCG). No wonder he has such a broad smile, for Joe and his fellow students made history that day being the first class to graduate from the part-time evening BA programme. This degree was a trailblazer for the university, as it represented an early attempt to reach out to ordinary working people from office, factory and shop in providing third level qualifications.

Rest in Peace Joe


-       Brendan Speedie Smith

The Lady with the Voice of an Angel that sang of a Green Blue World devoid of stupid Wars has left us. Rest in Peace dearest beautiful Nanci


Rest in Peace dearest beautiful Nanci.
I am so saddened to hear of the death of the American country and folk singer Nanci Griffith. A passionate environmentalist, pacifist and progressive activist, her version of 'From A Distance' (see lyrics below) captured my heart and soul when I first heard it in 1988. It just blew me away. Her unique voice put meaning, belief and sincerity into every single line of that song that inspired me then and still does today.
33 years ago she gave us all a reality check; told us all to look at the Earth from outer space; to see its defining characteristics of beautiful blue oceans, green lands and snow capped mountains; to look at what each of us have in common rather than differences of skin colour or creed; to question why we are endlessly fighting each other in stupid wars fueled by greed and hate; and asked us to unite together to end hunger, disease and environmental destruction.
In 2021, Nanci's message was never more important.
There are a few lucky ones probably reading this post that had the privilege to hear her sing, when she first came to play a concert in Galway, in an informal musical session in the legendary and sadly missed Hogan's Bar in Bohermore where Richard poured the best pints of stout and Bridie served the best quiche.
Godspeed Nanci.
The world looks blue and green
And the snow capped mountains white
From a distance
The ocean meets the stream
And the eagle takes to flight
From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land
It's the voice of hope
It's the voice of peace
It's the voice of every man
From a distance
We all have enough
And no one is in need
And there are no guns,
No bombs, and no disease
No hungry mouths to feed
From a distance
We are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope
Playing songs of peace
They are the songs of every man
God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance
From a distance
You look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance
I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting's for
From a distance
There is harmony
And it echoes through the land
And it's the hope of hopes
It's the love of loves
It's the heart of every man
It's the hope of hopes
It's the love of loves
This is the song for every man
God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance

UCG Student Days & Nights– The wonderful Stories that must be told!


Dancing in the Aula on a Friday night, UCG, 1979

A few weeks ago, I completed a month’s leave of absence from my employment at NUI Galway. I took this break for two reasons:
(a) to concentrate on promoting the ‘Galway National Park City’ initiative and particularly to lobby the councillors of Galway City Council to include this designation within the Galway City Development Plan 2023-2029 in order to make our city a flagship for sustainability and environmentalism that other cities would emulate. In spite of the support of many councillors (Niall Murphy, Imelda Byrne, Owen Hanley, Frank Fahy, Terry O’Flaherty, Deputy Mayor Martina O’Connor and Mayor Colette Connolly), that did not happen. A motion to have it deferred to a later date was passed. This is no bad thing as it will give time to prepare further to ensure that City Hall adopts an initiative that has been endorsed by President Michael D. Higgins (our patron), Duncan Stewart as our National Champion, Kathryn Tierney as our EU champion, and over 100 champions from across all sectors of local society. But more on that anon!
(b) to start the research for a book that I have postponed for far too long about student life in Galway during the period of 1975-1981. Over the years, I have gathered together a wonderful collection of photos and stories of that exciting era which I and so many of my good friends were part of.
Thanks to the introduction of state grants for third level education I was part of a first generation of young people from small farming and working backgrounds who got the opportunity to go to university and the technology colleges. We had no idea what to expect. But the change to us personally and to Irish society was monumental. We arrived to what was essentially a large but quiet town in the West of Ireland as starry-eyed young teenagers leaving home for the first time. It was my first time west of the river Shannon.
As the days, weeks, months and years rolled by, we immersed ourselves in the freedoms offered as the campus became an exciting spicy melting pot of radical priests, nuns, monks, capitalists, liberals, communists, socialists, republicans, artists, musicians, army officers, scientists, innovators and so much more. Every issue under the Sun (& beyond) was debated and argued at meetings, over coffee in the daytime and over pints on Thursday nights. By the time most of us had left UCG (later NUIG) and RTC (GMIT) a few years later, it had been transformed beyond recognition into a vibrant cosmopolitan city pulsating with social, political, economic, scientific, technological and artistic activity, made possible by the youthful creativity of its new population of students and those that came to work in its new factories, arts centres and expanded hospitals. We felt like pioneers opening up a new frontier where anything was possible and very little was out of bounds. 
In our time in Galway we were also part of the first wave of Irish youth that discovered the newly unfolding Global Village as we spent summers working as far afield as Atlantic City, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Amsterdam and Munich; or travelling by ferry, train, and camper van to Athens, Berlin, Belgrade, Kabul, Kathmandu and Marrakesh. When we didn’t travel abroad for the summers, we hitchhiked to the many open air musical festivals that started to appear across the country including Lisdoonvarna, Ballisodare, Slane to Carnsore Point. 
In UCG, we studied hard and attended lectures given by inspirational lecturers (Michael D Higgins, TP O'Neill, Pete Smith, Emer Colleran, Gearoid O'Tuathaigh, Iggy O'Muircheartaigh, Chris Stevens, Gerry Humphreys, Nicholas Canny, Mícheál Mac Craith, Breandan Mac Aodha, Ollie Ryan, Rosaleen O'Neill, Owen Bourke, Jim Gosling, Kevin Boyle, Tony Finan, Frank Imbusch, Leo Smyth, Bill Shade, Jim Flavin, Ma Heavey, Tom Boylan, Jimmy Browne, Hubert McDermott…); played sport or organised a plethora of cultural events; often protested, marched and occupied college or state buildings as we passionately fought against discrimination on all fronts both at home and abroad; on Thursday and Friday nights we socialised in the city centre, danced in the nightclubs of Salthill and partied (no drugs, no violence) late into the night in student houses across Galway. 
So it is long past the time that the seriousness, inventiveness, madness and humour of this previously unwritten part of modern Ireland was captured and made known to present and future generations.
I made friendships then that have lasted a lifetime. I owe it to these good folk to ensure our times together will not be forgotten.
Publication Date: 2022.
p.s. Photo was taken at a Friday night Disco in the Aula section of the Quad in UCG. This was a regular event organised by the Students' Union. No alcohol was served. Students just went along to dance the night away!
p.p.s. If anyone feels they may have photos/images or some interesting stories to tell related to the period 1975-'81, please do not hesitate to contact me