Constructive Conversations on Sustainability in Dublin & Belfast

Transition Monaghan members Liam Murtagh and  Mícheál Callaghan recently attended the final event in the ‘Climate Conversations’ in Dublin. Michéal also attended a weekend of open air ‘Civic Conversations’ on sustainability as part of Belfast’s Open Source Festival. The Dublin event focused on how we need to respond to the challenge of climate change while the Belfast event looked at practical local responses that develop community resilience to deal with future challenges.  

Liam Murtagh (left) and Míchéal Callaghan (right) of Transition Monaghan pictured at the recent  ‘Climate Conversations’ event  in  the Abbey Theatre, Dublin

Liam Murtagh (left) and Míchéal Callaghan (right) of Transition Monaghan pictured at the recent  ‘Climate Conversations’ event  in  the Abbey Theatre, Dublin

The Climate Conversations series was organised by the ‘Climate Gathering’ Group working with Christian Aid, IBEC,  Irish Congress of Trade Unions, The Environmental Pillar and Trócaire. The theme was ‘bringing people together for a new understanding on climate change’. The final event was held recently in The Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

What was really interesting about the series of events was the fact that that people from very different walks of life gave their perspectives and suggestions. These included artists, business people, trade unionists, PR people and many others.  Throughout the series there was criticism of the economic model that has brought us to where we are and a realisation that many people and organisations deny or avoid the issue of climate change. The later echoes the theme of the recent book by George Marshall, ‘Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change’.

At the final event the presenters ranged from  Mark Patrick Hederman, the Abbot   of Glenstall to Tommy Tiernan, the comedian. The Abbot highlighted the urgency of our predicament:  “Dear people, the whole wide world is now placed in our hands. It is a hand grenade with the pin out, and the time bomb of the 21st century is ticking away. Tick, Tick, Tick.” Tommy Tiernan reminded us that it not just a problem that is external to ourselves;  “Having a Minister for the Environment makes as much sense as having a Minister for Reality. We are nature. The thing we are trying to fix is ourselves.” Teresa O’Donoghue of Transition Ireland focused on the need for the issue to be addressed by all groups in society,  saying;  “We need to get out and act in our communities.”  This perspective was echoed by Ryan Meade, the Director of Climate Gathering in his concluding remarks; “There is no alternative to collaboration; self-righteousness will not work, individual virtue will not work. Collaboration is the only thing that will work.”

The International Community will meet in Paris in December (for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to reach an agreement on tackling the climate crisis. The sense of the outcome of the Climate Conversations series in Dublin was that this conversation needs to be happening at all levels – from Government down to communities and among individuals both in advance of the Paris conference and afterwards. For recorded webcasts of the climate conversations see

 Civic Conversations as Belfast’s Open Source Festival

Belfast city centre’s Lower Garfield Street was the setting for the recent free, open air ‘civic conversations’, which took place around a long table and under a canopy. The annual ‘Open Source’ event, which was part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, saw people discuss a variety of issues (a mixture of serious and light hearted) and partake in workshops and demonstrations aimed at all age groups. As well as conversations and workshops on sustainability themes such as growing your own food, permaculture, local currencies and community energy production, there was also an art workshop for children and circus performers. The aim was to bring people of all backgrounds together and engage on important issues facing Belfast into the future, with the hope that it would inspire action at grassroots level to build better communities.

One discussion was whether the public should have access to the same kind of data and information that is available to governments. There was also a discussion co – hosted by Co – Operative Alternatives and Northern Ireland Community Energy (NICE). NICE is currently working with charities and community organisations to develop solar panels on the roofs of their premises. Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, who were one of the event organisers are working on engaging people on imagining a more sustainable and prosperous future for Belfast.  To take a look at the full list of events and discussion that took place at the Open Source Festival visit

Origin Green Award for Monaghan Mushrooms despite Industrial Use of Peat

Monaghan Mushrooms has been awarded Bord Bia’s sustainability mark ‘Origin Green’ but questions have been raised by some environmental groups into the use of peat in the mushroom industry. Measures taken by the company such as increased use of rainwater, green electricity and energy efficient lorries have been widely welcomed. However two groups, An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment have been strong in their criticism of Monaghan Mushrooms and also of Teagasc and Bord Bia. Comments on social media from the environmental groups included one from An Taisce saying;  “Unbelievable: How is a heavily using peat business green?”.

Earlier this year An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment set out a challenge to the Irish mushroom industry. They jointly wrote to Monaghan Mushrooms (Europe’s largest producer of mushrooms), CMP Mushrooms (a producer organisation representing 90% of Irish mushroom production and growers) and the IFA’s Horticulture and Mushroom Committees to challenge  what they claim is the industry’s “extensive and unsustainable use of Irish peat”.

The environmental groups refer to an EPA study which says that neither past nor current management of peatlands in Ireland has been “sustainable” and that this has serious consequences in terms of climate change, biodiversity loss and water quality. An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment, in their letter, ask Monaghan Mushrooms, CMP Mushrooms and the IFA’s Horticulture and Mushroom Committees to reveal the mushroom industry’s plans for:

  1. Reducing its reliance on peat in light of the serious negative environmental consequences of peat use, including climate change; and
  2. Ensuring that any peat the industry uses is sourced from companies which have planning permission and all relevant licences for their operations, and whose extractive activities have been subject to environmental impact assessment and appropriate assessment in accordance with EU and Irish law.

Environmentalist Tony Lowes says; “Industrial extraction from Ireland’s bogs remains the biggest unregulated land use in Ireland, if not in Europe. He claims; “The mushroom industry is one of the biggest drivers of literally thousands of hectares of devastation that is increasing each year without licensing or planning permission.

In 2013 Teagasc said; “Currently, Irish mushroom growers are not under immediate pressure to find alternatives to peat as a casing ingredient. However, the Irish mushroom industry is a major supplier to supermarket chains in Great Britain, where peat conservation and peat replacement are the subject of considerable debate and legislation. Given the importance of the British market for Irish mushrooms, alternative materials for use as a peat replacement or as an ingredient in a peat based casing may be required in the future.” The environmental groups say that Teagasc should now be recommending replacing peat as a casing material.  Their approach is “unacceptable and ethically unjustifiable” according to An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment.

Meantime UK food blogger Annie Levy in her ‘Counter Kitchen Culture’ blog has recently written a post entitled ‘Mushrooms Grown with Peat: A Climate Issue’. In it she is critical of the use of peat in mushroom production in Ireland and calls on all mushroom producers to use peat free methods.

Minister Heather Humphreys attended the ceremony in Monaghan Mushrooms to award the Origin Green mark. Later this month she will be attending the ‘Wise Use of Wetlands’ conference in Ballybay Wetlands Centre.   Will Minister Humphreys and the other speakers at this conference see the current way that peat is being used in the mushroom industry as ‘wise use of wetlands’?  Keeping our peatlands intact is hugely important for our biodiversity as many species are experiencing massive decline. Peatlands are also of international importance as carbon sinks. If we keep destroying carbon sinks we are hastening climate change and the destruction of the planet.  This week we hear that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere has hit the 400 ppm (parts per million) level. It should be at 350ppm if we are to keep the planet safe for our children and grandchildren. (See  Perhaps it’s time that Bord Bia took another look at the criteria for awarding the Origin Green mark before it it’s too late. Being accused of ‘greenwashing’ might be one of the milder consequences they will face.

Transition Monaghan Member Gains Inspiration from ‘Green Trip’ to Holland

Barry Mc Carron,  a member of  Transition Monaghan, was one of seven participants selected to travel on a green study trip to Emmen in north eastern Holland earlier this month. As part of the ‘Grundtvig Learning Partnership’, the Tipperary Energy Agency had invited interested parties to compete for a chance of taking part in the trip. Here Barry describes the highlights of his visit.

Barry McCarron pictured visiting a photovoltaic facility in Holland

Barry McCarron pictured visiting a photovoltaic facility in Holland

The  Grundtvig programme seeks to improve the quality and European dimension of adult education and make lifelong learning opportunities more widely available to everyone in Europe. As well as the Tipperary Energy Agency there were five other groups which are active in various energy initiatives from across Europe taking part in the trip. They were from Holland, Turkey, Italy, Belgium and Romania. The trip provided an excellent platform for networking and knowledge transfer and this was cultivated through a series of workshops over the three days.

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Emmen Zoo, a huge tourist attraction in Holland which draws 1.3 million visitors annually. The zoo is part of a plan for revitalising the city centre of Emmen. Following that, it was on to De Cluft, which is a social initiative/community centre in Emmen. De Cluft has been active since 1977 and plays an important role for both young and old with courses such as flower arranging, painting, pottery, computer training, dancing gymnastics and crafts.

Participants on the trip also visited Landgoed Scholtenszathe to the east of Emmen which is a 1000 hectare agricultural enterprise with circa 350 hectares dedicated to forestry while the other 750 hectares are dedicated to the production of potatoes, sugar beet, onions, and rapeseed. The group got to learn about agricultural technology and renewable energy employed on the site which included a 1.4MW solar photovoltaic system to eliminate there total electricity costs. They are also growing and cultivating rapeseed in order to make bio diesel to offset their fuel bill.

The last leg of the visit was to Drenthe College where the participants took part in a workshop and learned about local energy initiatives called “EMMERGY”. This consisted of an overview of the four programmes Sustainable Cycling, Energy Offices, Energy Centre and Zero Energy Houses.

Overall I found the trip really good and enjoyable and one that will inform my work in CREST (Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology) and in my voluntary role with Transition Monaghan. It was a great platform for meeting like-minded people and obtaining expertise and information. The only downside was that the trip was quite short.

This was the fourth of five trips. The first was to a transition town movement in Leuven in Belgium. The second trip saw the participants travel to Tipperary, where they visited Templederry Community Farm, Cloughjordan Ecovillage, Drombane-Upperchurch Energy Team and Gurteen Agricultural College. The third trip saw the participants visit strong examples of low resource use in Italy. A future trip to Turkey is also planned for later in the year. To keep up to date with any future trips see

Successful Cost Efficient Home Event Organised by Transition Monaghan

Members of the public and Transition Monaghan gathered on Saturday morning last to discuss ways in which householders can take measures to reduce their bills in an event organised by Transition Monaghan.

Pictured are the presenters and some of the attendees at Transition Monaghan’s ‘Cost Efficient Home’ event which was held in the Market House Monaghan on Saturday 25 April 2015.

Pictured are the presenters and some of the attendees at Transition Monaghan’s ‘Cost Efficient Home’ event which was held in the Market House Monaghan on Saturday 25 April 2015.

 The event began with addresses by guest speakers Frank Cooney Architect and Michael Hanratty, energy consultant with IHER Services. Frank, who lives in a Nearly Zero Energy Building, spoke of his work as an architect and of the importance in getting the design appropriate to your needs and surroundings, when building a new house. He says it is important to plan correctly when either building or retrofitting a home. He advised that when seeking to make a house more energy efficient, it is best to start with the simplest and least expensive steps, such as sealing draughts before investing in insulation and retrofitting. Investing in renewables should only be done after insulation is maximised.

Michael Hanratty spoke of his work on a European funded project, which involved mapping a profile of the quality of housing stock in North Dublin City. This striking, colour coded map, by geographic area, indicated  the average insulation level in households as well as the overall fuel poverty level. It showed the there is a lot of work to be done to get the housing stock up to adequate BER levels. He mentioned a very useful bit of work which had been done on profiling the housing stock in the country. This study, which categorises the most common Irish house types, illustrates the general level of insulation in these houses, the work which would need to be done to bring it up to a reasonable standard, the costs involved and overall payback time. For example, if you live in a pre 1978, ‘End of Terrace / Semi Detached House’ with cavity walls, you would need to spend a total of €17,920 on an upgrade to bring it up to a standard level, which would give you a payback time of 5.1 years. The cost would be much lower and payback period much shorter if you include SEAI grants. Grant details are listed on the SEAI website  A full list of Irish house categories and required refurbishment is available on under ‘consultancy and research’.

Following the presentations there were two sessions of four workshops (two running concurrently) on key areas of household expenditure. These focused on simple, everyday measures which householders can take to reduce their spending and environmental impact.

On water, Ollan Herr, a reed bed systems and water harvesting professional, stated that the best way to save water is to avoid unnecessary usage. However, failing that, reduced use is the best step, i.e. showering using a normal shower rather than a power shower. He also mentioned more expensive upgrades which are available such as installing a water collection tank on your roof as well as a system for the re – use of grey water.

Jennifer McAree, who recently completed an internship with DIT Green Campus, spoke of the environmental and cost saving benefit of recycling and composting. She stressed the importance of looking carefully at packaging to see whether it is recyclable and also pointed out that cooked food, dairy products and cooked / raw meat are not suitable for home compost bins.

Michael Connolly delivered a workshop on electricity while Barry Mc Carron who works for the Centre for Renewable Energy & Sustainable Technology in Enniskillen delivered a presentation on heat / insulation.  Both workshops focused on techniques and inexpensive investments that can reduce household energy usage and bills.

Transition Monaghan is a voluntary initiative that always welcomes new volunteers. We hope to run further sustainability events in the future. You can find out more by emailing or ‘liking’ us on Facebook.