November 23, 2018; Green News
“The Seanad has passed a historic Bill to make Ireland the first country in the world to fully divest from fossil fuels,” writes Niall Sargent, editor of Ireland’s Green News. Specifically, the bill prohibits the state investment vehicle, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), from any future investment in fossil fuels, Sargent explains. The bill also requires that the ISIF, which has over €318 million (US $361 million) invested presently in fossil fuel companies, to divest itself of all holdings within a 5-year period.
The bill, in parliamentary parlance, was a “private member’s” bill rather than a government initiative. Introduced in 2016 by an independent member of Ireland’s parliament (Thomas Pringle, who represents Donegal), the measure has now passed through both houses of parliament. Prior to passage, Sargent adds, the bill was amended by the Department of Finance to allow for some flexibility in the disposing of assets to avoid losing investment funds in the process of divestment itself.
The main hurdle had been gaining approval in July through the lower house of parliament, known as the Dáil. Still, approval of the Seanad, though expected, was required for the measure to become law.
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Despite the passage of Pringle’s bill, Ireland has not, by and large, been a leader on climate change. Indeed, a report from Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe ranked Ireland twenty-seventh of 28 European Union countries on its actual performance on climate change issues.
Still, the Irish government vote is likely to accelerate an already broad-based international movement among institutions to divest holdings of fossil fuel stocks. A website maintained by the Bill McKibben-backed group 350.org indicates nearly 1,000 institutions, whose holdings total $7.18 trillion, have divested so far.
Of those who have divested, 28 percent are faith-based institutions, 18 percent are foundations, 15 percent are government bodies (mostly municipalities), 15 percent are educational institutions, 14 percent are pension funds, 5 percent are nonprofit organizations, 4 percent are for-profit companies, and one percent are health care institutions. As NPQ noted in September, among these divesting institutions are nearly 40 US universities and a number of cities, including Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco, California; and New York City.
Officially, the bill still requires the signature of President Michael Higgins to become law. He is widely expected to sign. In July, after the measure passed the lower house, Higgins remarked that the bill was “greatly” needed and that its passage was “testament to cross-party cooperation and support.”—Steve Dubb