Galway political activist’s quest for change: Not all roads lead to the Dáil

By Valerie McHugh

“Why don’t I want to become a politician? I cannot think of a worse use of my time.” These are the words of 24-year-old Galway-based political activist Criodán Ó Murchú who has been campaigning for change in our society since he was only a child.

The People Before Profit member spends his spare time representing the voice of the youth in matters like the cost-of-living crisis, student rights and climate change. Despite his political ties, Criodán says dedicating his time to activism will create more change than heading for a seat in the Dáil.

“Look at the historical changes that have been driven in Ireland in the past few years. See where they originated, and focus on the people who spearheaded those initiatives. Look at the repeal of the eighth amendment, and the marriage equality referendum. That push is being driven by community-based grassroot movements.

“These things didn’t start in the Dáil, particularly the drive for marriage equality, with one of our most prominent, current figures in government (Leo Varadkar) not supporting it at first. But, then eventually changing his tune.”

Having been an integral part of many organisations through the years, including residing as a student advocate on the University of Galway’s Governing Authority, Criodán says that it is still important to have a voice at the table. However, he says becoming a politician can become quite “tokenistic.”

“I am interested in everybody; the community, society at large, working together and working collaboratively in things we face. I don’t think I would get to engage in the things that I like to do if I was a politician.”

The impact of the recession

This desire for representing the voice of the public was born when Criodán was a young child. Growing up in the early noughties, and witnessing the atrocities of the 2008 financial crisis, had huge bearing on his decision to pursue activism in his community.

“I realised from a very early age that we weren’t like other families. A big turning point in my life was around the time of the 2008 recession. We had to move from our quite modest house in the town to a smaller house.

“We were still in a better situation than most, but it meant me sharing a room with my brother. I could see that my parents didn’t want to live there, especially my dad, but because of the financial crisis at the time, that’s what we were forced to deal with.

“I recognised very early on in my life how hard my parents worked to give us the things that we wanted. There wasn’t a lot of cash flow or disposable income when I was growing up, so were taught how to value our things. My parents are also quite political, and they would go to protests and I would go along too. One of the first protests I went to was one about Mullingar Hospital.”

Climate change as a core issue

Criodán continued to nurture his involvement with the community as he grew up, and now holding a Masters in Environmental Science, a particular area of interest for him is sustainability in Ireland. Overall, he says that not enough is being done to save our environment from ruin.

“I think like the term sustainability has completely lost its meaning and what it originally meant to represent. Sustainability in Ireland is all about doing the things we do; whether that be going to work, using technology, eating and growing food. But, doing those things in a way that ensures the earth has enough time to replenish itself.

“Instead, we are releasing tonnes of emissions into the atmosphere, and now we have this unprecedented change in our environment and that is the concern. The urgency has not landed with people.”

Speaking on the government’s approach to tackling climate change in Ireland, Criodán says that there are some politicians who have “good ideas” but collectively, they are completely dragging their heels.

“We’ve seen that as our emissions increased compared to 1990 and 2018, which is the base for our 2030 reductions target, showing we are going completely the wrong direction. Our agriculture is now accounting for almost 40 percent of our emissions share and shows no sign of abating any time soon.

“Also, we are looking at establishing LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) here, which will lock us into decades of fossil fuel dependency. So, I don’t have faith in the current government structure in delivering a sustainable Ireland for the future.”

Criodán’s passion for science and our climate has been injected into his day-job, as he currently works for Midlands Science. The not-for-profit company is working to encourage students to develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills, and engage with the world around them. Working with people is where Criodán is in his element, both in his career and in his work with the community. However, he wishes that he didn’t have to be an activist at all.

“I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like having to do these things. It can be really difficult at times, because I am generally fighting against the grain. I wish people didn’t have to go through these things at all. I wish people already had clean air to breathe. I wish people were able to afford their fuel to heat their homes without running the risk of going into poverty.

“It is hard. Always fighting the fight.”


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