“I’m going to meet the Taoiseach!!!”. I think that’s what I shouted at my mam and dad after I took the call from UNICEF Ireland.
Each year around World Children’s Day, UNICEF organises a #KidsTakeOver event. Kids from all around the world take over key roles in media, politics, business, sport, and entertainment. Here in Ireland, UNICEF helps arrange a meeting with the Taoiseach to give young people, who are passionate about different issues, a chance to advocate for the change they want to see.
This year I won. And I couldn’t believe it. I live in rural Offaly and I am both a farmer and climate activist. I entered the #KidsTakeOver competition because I wanted to talk to the Taoiseach about ways to bridge the gap between the two communities. I wanted the Government to help farmers learn about new sustainable solutions, and also to help share what farmers are already doing, or planning to do, to protect the environment.
I feel I can see both sides of the discussion. I was raised on my family’s farm and had a childhood surrounded by nature. Just by our house, we have barn owls, and buzzards, and rabbits. Being so close to nature made me passionate about protecting the environment. And in recent years, the increasingly unpredictable weather has made all of my family more aware of the effects of climate change on our farm.
But alongside the environment, farming as a way of life is also really important to me. I’ve grown up in a rural farming community. We are surrounded by peat bogs, and I’ve seen how changing farming and energy practices, many of them required to combat climate change, have impacted local families and livelihoods around me.
A way of life
For us, farming is a way of life. It is something to be valued and farmers are custodians of our land. Family farms have been here for generations. And hopefully will be here for generations to come.
COP26 showed us all just why climate action is so important, and agriculture can play a positive role in addressing it.
Everyone knows we need to tackle the climate crisis and make big changes over the next decade and beyond. That’s why being able to speak to the Taoiseach meant so much to me.
Farmers need to be supported and they will be part of the solution. Me and my family spend a lot of time at the kitchen table chatting about what the future is going to bring, and we always say that only everyone working together can do this. We all know we need to change.
Preparing for the meeting was such an important part of the whole experience. It all went so fast. I had lots of chats with the team at UNICEF Ireland. And I also got to speak with a fellow farmer and climate activist called Emma Carroll. Emma was absolutely brilliant. We come from very similar backgrounds and had the same perspective it seemed. She gave me so much insight into the issues and also how to chat to media.
On the day of the meeting, UNICEF Ireland helped me prepare by bringing me to Airfield Estate. It was really interesting. I learned about their education programmes for children, and also met with John, their Director of Sustainability. It was great to get the opportunity to understand more about how farms like Airfield try to be more sustainable. From there we travelled to the Taoiseach’s office in Leinster House. I was a bit nervous of course, but he was very welcoming and we got chatting straight away. It was such an amazing experience. We spoke about how farmers can play a vital role in tackling climate change. And why it is so important that we have positive conversations and understand each other. I do think that most farmers want to do more, but my main message for the Taoiseach was that everyone has to go through this transition together.
Working together for a sustainable future
After that, we also spoke about how we need to make it easy for farmers of all ages to access information. Right now, you have to go searching through a lot of information to find out how you can make a difference and it needs to be simpler.
I also advocated that young people need to learn more about sustainability and the needs of local communities in schools. I like learning about how you can make a difference. In big and small ways. On a farm, you see climate change all the time and you talk about sustainability but in school, it is practically ignored.
For me, we should have more conversations in school about sustainability. We need to talk about these issues every day. You need to be faced with it every day like we are on the farm. Farmers are always looking to the future and thinking of new solutions. They are very creative people! Working together to find sustainable ways of farming is what we need now.
According to UNICEF, to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis, comprehensive and urgent action is required to keep warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. For a while, I found it very depressing to think about climate change. Like what can you do as one person? But now I feel like I’m more positive. I think about what we can do to tackle it. And I think we all need to be more positive. If we all work together we can make the changes we need to make.