They carried images of dead canaries as they stood in a tight group in the lower yard at Dublin Castle chanting enthusiastically in the bright morning sunshine. The fact that they were dressed as coal miners and had smudges of coal dust on their faces and hands was belied by the colourful banners they waved and the garlands of pretty flowers they wore.
The miners garb and the dead canaries alluded to the former practice of coal miners bringing caged birds underground to detect carbon monoxide and other toxic gases that the human nose is unable to sense. If a canary showed signs of distress or died, it was an indicator to the miner to hold his breath and to get out of the tunnel he was in as quickly as possible.
The protesters were from the Irish Wildlife Trust and Extinction Rebellion and their protest was outside the ‘Act Now for Nature’ conference hall. The recent event was the second national biodiversity conference. The first conference was the stage on which President Michael D Higgins made his memorable, insightful and opt-quoted remark alluding to the many indicators flagging the loss of biodiversity: ”If we were coal miners we’d be up to our knees in dead canaries.”
The mood indoors at the packed and booked-out event was more upbeat. No fewer than three government ministers, Ministers Darragh O’Brien, Malcolm Noonan and Pippa Hackett, assured us that the tide is turning and that biodiversity is moving to a better place.
On day two of the conference, Taoiseach Micheál Martin flew home from Strasbourg to deliver the key-note address. He said the time has come for “a new era of stewardship of our natural world.” He acknowledged that mistakes were made in the past and that things had to change: “We must follow the science and urgently turn things around for the good of all people and our planet” he said, before going on to pledge a series of government commitments to address biodiversity loss.
The conference was also address by Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Stefan Leiner, Head of Biodiversity Unit at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment, and a wide range of national experts.
The way forward is clear; the need now it to walk the talk.