Thousands strike for climate change action in NI

Thousands of children and young people took to the streets in Northern Ireland to strike against climate change.

Organisers at the region’s biggest event in Belfast estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 activists marched through the city centre, ahead of a noisy rally in the grounds of City Hall.

In Londonderry, hundreds gathered outside Derry’s Guild Hall to demand political action on global warming.

The protests were part of a day of climate strikes, which saw millions protest worldwide.

Huge crowds descended on City Hall in Belfast for the Climate Strike rally
Huge crowds descended on City Hall in Belfast for the Climate Strike rally (David Young/PA)

While the crowds mainly compromised children and young people, lots of them in school uniforms, there were also many adults taking part.

In Belfast, the event started with a takeover of the Corn Market area of the city centre.

The demonstrators held a colourful protest, with speeches and chants, before hundreds lay on the ground to take part in a mass “die-in”, which was organised by the Extinction Rebellion movement.

The activists then set off on their march through the city.

Young climate change activists take over Belfast’s Corn Market. #ClimateStrikepic.twitter.com/FgiBGYwHLo

— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) September 20, 2019

At City Hall, 16-year-old student Ushnik Banerjee, a pupil at Methodist College in Belfast, was one of several young people who addressed the crowds from a temporary platform.

Afterwards he told the PA news agency: “Initially I was about to cry, but after the entire thing it felt exhilarating and it was amazing speaking to that many people, though I have to admit my legs were wobbling the entire time.”

Ushnik said the turnout had taken the organisers by surprise.

“Gosh we weren’t expecting this much,” he said.

“We had (been expecting) rough numbers of 450, I am hearing reports of 4,000.

“It’s incredible and it’s so inspiring that people realise how important today and how important striking is.”

Climate strike
Climate Strike protesters march through Belfast (David Young/PA).

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International had written to school principals across Northern Ireland ahead of the event, to ask if children could be excused from classes to participate.

“We are so delighted to see the turnout,” he said.

“This is one of the greatest ever political demonstrations in Belfast because it’s been organised by children.

“Amnesty and lots of other organisations have been happy to row in behind and support it, but we are delighted to see the young people mobilise and the adults catching up with them and coming out too.”

He added: “There is global momentum now behind taking action on the climate emergency and the climate crisis.

“The time for half measures on the climate are over.

“We are running out of time, the climate is running out of time and that means humanity is running out of time and if we want to hand over this planet in any way a decent shape to future generations we have to come together and act, and that’s what we are doing today in our thousands in Belfast and across Northern Ireland, and in our millions around the world, and it is time for governments to start listening and act on it.”

An activist dressed as a swan dances in front of City Hall
An activist dressed as a swan dances in front of City Hall (David Young/PA)

Among the speakers cheered at City Hall were city councillors from a number of political parties, including Sinn Fein Lord Mayor John Finucane.

There were boos, too, when climate striker Ellie Crawford told the crowds that the DUP and Ulster Unionists had not replied to invitations to address the gathering.

She referenced a media statement from former DUP education minister Peter Weir, who had said it was “irresponsible” to call on children to be taken out of school for the event.

She was cheered when she responded: “It’s a bit strange when our attendance is being questioned, when Stormont hasn’t been running in two years.”

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