Environmental protesters will take to the streets of Belfast on Friday to voice concerns about climate change and call on the government to take urgent action to help “minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.”
Around 100 people are expected to take part in the “engagement and awareness day”, but Extinction Rebellion Northern Ireland protesters say if their numbers grow they could step up their “non-violent disruption” campaign in the coming weeks.
That could mean blocking roads and disrupting daily life in and around the city centre – action similar to that being undertaken by “climate rebellion” activists in London and other cities in the UK and around the world.
One of the organisers of the local demonstration, Belfast man Joe Campbell, said the campaign is about “forcing the government to listen”.
“We are starting small on Friday. I think it is going to be more of an engagement and awareness day. We are going to have some leaflets to hand out and a petition calling on the city council to declare a climate emergency,” he said.
Protesters are due to gather at Castle Place from 1:30pm to highlight their belief that urgent action is needed by the world’s governments to tackle climate change or mankind is facing mass extinction.
“We are going to have a bit of music and food too, so it is really as much about getting people over to chat to them and get our point across and get them on board as it is about causing a hullabaloo,” Mr Campbell said.
The 28-year-old said there are no plans to disrupt traffic on Friday, but said that is one course of action that “could be on the cards” in future.
“If we had a thousand people who were up for sitting in the streets we would go for it, but what we are looking at at the minute is quite a small group so it’s more about engagement and getting people on board,” he added.
Friday’s event is the only local one confirmed so far, but Mr Campbell said regular protest dates are being considered.
Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion protesters have been arrested in cities such as London and Edinburgh for blocking streets and well-known landmarks over recent days. And Mr Campbell says he is willing to be arrested “if needs be” as “there isn’t really any other option.”
Criticising the disruption being caused by Extinction Rebellion campaigners in London and other cities, DUP MP Sammy Wilson said: “They are complaining about too much carbon dioxide in the air, so what do they do, they disrupt traffic, they cause traffic jams, they cause people not to use public transport but to use private transport to get to work in the morning, so they are creating all these traffic jams and causing noxious gases to go into the atmosphere – the very thing they say they don’t want to happen they are causing to happen.”
Welcoming the arrest of protesters, he continued: “If I went out and disrupted traffic on the Larne Line for some political purpose I’d be arrested, so why should they be exempt from the application of the law.
“The other thing is the arrogance of some of them, who feel that because they are on some kind of crusade they should be allowed to do whatever they want. The government has to apply the same rules to them as anybody else.”
The East Antrim MP, who denies climate change is caused by the influence of man, claimed the campaign’s aims would destroy the country’s economy and impinge on many areas of people’s lives.