Threat to deport Irish climate activists entering France lifted

Bus carrying 35 campaigners stopped by French police for three hours in Cherbourg

A bus carrying 35 Irish climate activists was stopped by French police in the port of Cherbourg for almost three hours on Thursday.

The activists, ranging in age from 20 to 72, are all involved in the group Stop Climate Chaos, an umbrella group comprised of 28 environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, Trócaire, An Taisce, Concern and Christian Aid.

They were travelling to Paris to take part in a protest organised to coincide with COP21, the global summit on climate change involving political leaders from almost 200 countries.

As the bus disembarked from the ferry at 5.30pm (local time), it was stopped by police, who told the group they were not being allowed admission to France.


Group members told The Irish Times this evening it they were also told they would be put on the ferry returning to Rosslare at 9pm on Thursday night.

However, just before 8pm local time, they were informed by police that they would be allowed admission and continue on their journey to Paris. No reason was given for the change of mind.

An officer with the French border police in Cherbourg told The Irish Times the group had been stopped under the state-of-emergency legislation which currently banned demonstrations in France.

Speaking before they bus had been let through, the officer said it was expected the group would be returned to Ireland on Thursday evening as they were considered “likely to trouble public order in France”.

Asked how they knew about the group, the officer replied: “We were advised by the Irish authorities.”

The border police later confirmed the position had changed and the bus was being allowed to proceed but declined to comment on the reason why.

A spokeswoman for the campaign group Ciara Kirrane said they initially thought they were being stopped by police because they were a group. But they learned later that police had orders before their arrival to stop them.

“They saw a banner (with a Stop Climate Chaos message) that made them very suspicious. But we learned from others including the boat crew that they had orders from Paris to stop us.”

Ms Kirrane said the police told them that there were emergency laws and informed them they would be turned back.

However, two hours later, a senior police officer at Cherbourg informed Ms Kirrane that the bus would be allowed continue on its onward journey to Paris.

Ms Kirrane said that organisers had been in contact with the Irish Embassy in Paris as well as the French embassy in Dublin. She said that at this stage, their advice was that very little could be done to reverse the decision as it was in the hands of the police.

“We are a mixture of people from ages 20 to 72, and there are professors and doctors here,” she said.

We were travelling to Paris to take part in a protest organised by Friends of the Earth that was sanctioned by the police.

“We have been told by our colleagues in Friends of the Earth that we the only group from anywhere which was stopped entering the country,” said Ms Kirrane.

Among the group is Grace O’Sullivan, from Tramore, who was the Green Party candidate in the European elections last years. She may also be a candidate in the General Election for Waterford.

Ms O’Sullivan spent over a decade as a crew member of the Rainbow Warrior, and was on the ship when it was attacked by French armed forces in French Polynesia in 1985. The attack resulted in one crew member being killed.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor