National Sustainable Mobility Forum – Portlaoise, 23 May 2024 – Report

The Irish Cycling Campaign was delighted to be invited to the excellent National Sustainable Mobility Forum that was held in Portlaoise on 23 May 2024. Even better, our Chairperson Neasa Bheilbigh was invited to address the audience of 200+ delegates as part of the panel on “Community Action on Sustainable Mobility”. 

The National Sustainable Mobility Forum is an annual event which aims to engage with stakeholders on progress related to the Sustainable Mobility Policy in support of walking, cycling, public transport, and shared mobility in Ireland. Originally established in 2023 under the national Sustainable Mobility Policy and related Action Plan (SMP), the first Forum was held in Athlone around a year ago (and we reported on it here) .

The event in Portlaoise was also well attended with senior figures there from government departments, agencies and local authorities, plus representatives from community and user groups. Having such a large room full of academics, officials, advocates and community reps – all brimming with expertise gathered over many years and all strongly supporting the message that active travel is hugely valuable to our society – was a great achievement for the Department. 

Neasa, speaking on behalf of the Irish Cycling Campaign but also the Galway Cycle Bus – Bus Rothaíochta na Gaillimhe, spoke about the enormous physical, educational and wider social benefits of enabling children to cycle to school with their pals. It’s very much an inclusive and sociable activity, and the positive differences to the alertness and the enthusiasm of pupils in the classrooms after they have cycled in is very obvious to the teaching staff. She urged all of the decision-makers in the room and the wider stakeholders to put a special emphasis on creating the conditions for all school children to be able to walk and cycle to their local schools. The greater the extent and quality of the cycle-networks provided, the bigger the positive impact it will have on the health of students and, more broadly, on educational outcomes. 


For Will Andrews from Irish Cycling Campaign’s Executive Committee, his highlights included the following: 

  • Minister Eamon Ryan pointing out the necessity for future governments to keep the 10% allocation of the national transport budget to cycling (meaning then 20% for walking and cycling), and the 2:1 ratio of public transport to roads spend;
  • Dr. Robbie Egan, behaviour change and attitudes researcher in Trinity College Dublin, when outlining his overview of the SMP, describing how negotiations within families affect transport mode choice – a good reminder that choice of mode of transport isn’t just about individuals’ journeys;
  • Niamh Murphy of I-PARC, the Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration, talking about running a large-scale study of the transport habits of 4th and 5th class students, and then 4th and 5th year students, pre- and post-active travel funding. She mentioned that there was a positive change in transport habits towards active travel after the funding, but I’d be very interested to see further results;
  • Finally, there was a great phrase from Eugene Conlon of the sustainable energy community (organised by SEAI). He spoke about bringing stakeholders along the journey to supporting active travel – some are reluctant, it has to be acknowledged – saying what’s needed is to ‘inform and inspire’, which to me is a very powerful summary of Irish Cycling Campaign’s advocacy task.

For Damien Ó Tuama, our National Cycling Coordinator, the prominence given to the youth and community representatives – those most likely to be impacted by the changes envisaged – was very welcome. The presentations given by the younger attendees, framed as ‘Dystopian’ and ‘Utopian Newsflashes of the Future’, were particularly striking. Without the rapid decarbonisation of transport – and other sectors – over the next few years, that generation will have polycrises to deal with, not just one or two.  

Elaine Baker from the Cloughjordan Cycling Group (and wearing other hats as well) spoke from the floor to highlight the lack of independence ‘enjoyed’ by adolescents in rural Ireland, where they are so dependent on seeking lifts from adults for so many of their everyday journeys. But where does that leave families who do not own a car or want to own one? In the absence of regular public transport services in some / many parts of rural Ireland – while acknowledging that it is now improving in some areas – shared cars provide part of the solution. However, we really need extensive and safe cycle networks linking homes to villages and towns and the various places that adolescents want to travel to independently. 

It’s very hard to summarise such a rich day’s discussions covering so many aspects of  the mobility jigsaw, but overall one is beginning to sense the urgency that is needed in transitioning over to public transport and active travel solutions – and in reducing the dominance of private cars in our public spaces and private lives. 

The conversations will continue and Irish Cycling Campaign will be at the table.   

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