25th May 2017

The launch of party manifestos across the UK reminds us that this election is being held against the backdrop of the suspended Stormont talks. If the mainstream parties continue to play political games, instead of putting people first and forming a functioning Executive, sooner or later direct rule will be imposed upon us. That means being subject to whatever whims the Westminster government chooses. The Conservative manifesto makes it clear that the rollout of fracking across the country is a priority for them, riding roughshod over local opinion and democratic decision-making. Their muddle over social care shows that they have no real concern about the needs of ordinary people. And their continued, reckless pursuit of a hard Brexit sacrifices all of our futures.

Our own Green Party in Northern Ireland manifesto will be launched today, providing a positive alternative to both Westminster indifference and Stormont stagnation. We are putting you first, with practical proposals to give you a voice on Brexit and our future in Europe, to meet your healthcare needs, to give your children the great education they deserve and to protect our precious landscape and wildlife. I am delighted to be one of our candidates, along with our leader Steven Agnew, who will be visiting Enniskillen next week.

Now, more than ever, we need to look beyond the old divisions. The Green Party, with its sister parties across the UK and Europe, is ideally placed to speak for the people of Fermanagh and Tyrone. My role model as an MP would be the Green’s Caroline Lucas, who has tirelessly called the government to account, bravely stood up against fracking, against public service cuts and for the interests of real people and the environment in which they live.

19th May 2017

Do you have a baby Noah in your family? The chances are quite high. From being almost unheard of twenty years ago, by 2015 it was the third most popular boys’ name in Northern Ireland. There’s a sad appropriateness about that, because Noah’s generation will know more of floods than any before it. Climate change is a huge shadow looming over our young people, but it isn’t the only
one. Who suffers most from the failure to form an Executive? Our children, with James Brokenshire telling us that education cuts reflect the priorities of the mainstream parties. Who inherits the poison of those unresolved legacy issues? The generation that cannot possibly be to blame. Who will lose the most freedom, opportunities and wellbeing after Brexit? Those who were too young even to vote against it.

When I was first a Green Party candidate, three elections ago, people told me, “It’ll take a long time to change politics here.” They thought that would put me off. But it did the opposite. If something is quick and easy, there’s no hurry about beginning it. But the harder the task, the longer the road, the more urgent it is to start. And the more important it is for others to join. When Noah comes to vote, will FST still be a byword for divisive binary politics? Or will we have broader horizons and brighter hopes? And will you have been a part of that change?

The Green Party is putting you and your families first. That includes protecting our young people from the looming walls of a hard Brexit. It includes giving our children the education and healthcare that they need. And it includes supporting them, whatever their identity, in their hard journey to rewarding work and a home, a family, a future of their own. There are huge challenges ahead that Noah’s generation will not be able to avoid. Let’s at least begin to help them.

 

 

Photo by תהלה הרץ used under Creative Commons licence

17th May 2017

More local papers today. The Tyrone Constitution covered both West Tyrone and Fermanagh and South Tyrone, so Ciaran and I could smile at one another from adjacent pages.  Here we are:

 

 

 

 

 

And the Fermanagh Herald noted that four out of five of the FST candidates are women, and asked us about it.  The article ended with my little bit.

Here, by the way, are the full questions we were asked, and my responses:

 

It’s obviously a very positive thing to have four of our five candidates running in Fermanagh South Tyrone are women, and all but one of our MLSs are women. Do you think there is something in particular about FST that encourages women to engage with politics?

I’m not sure, but my experience as a woman candidate in FST has certainly been very positive, and the overwhelming response I’ve had from people has been both respectful and warm. I don’t know how much that is because I’m a woman and how much it’s because I represent the Green Party, but whichever it is, it makes this marathon series of elections a bit easier to cope with. I hope that the example of my experience as a candidate will help more of the many young women joining the Green Party to feel confident in standing themselves in future elections, in FST and elsewhere.

What challenges, in your experience, do women face in politics, compared to their male colleagues?

I think that the greatest barrier to women’s participation in politics is the false perception that there aren’t any barriers left. In this respect, having female party leaders can actually be a disadvantage to other women. Having one woman at the top of the pyramid doesn’t alter the status quo in the way that equal representation at every level would, and there’s also the danger of a Mrs-Thatcher-style drawbridge effect.

In the Green Party a few years ago we took the time to look in detail at the issue of women’s participation, listening to our members’ experiences and building a strategy to support and encourage women. It was that process which gave me the confidence finally to say yes to being a candidate. The strategy has been an enormous success, so much so that in the past two Assembly elections we have had equal gender balance, and in this Westminster election we are the only party to have more women candidates than we do men. That shows, I think, that the individual challenges, whether they are to do with practical matters, psychological barriers or limited perceptions, can be overcome with determination, respect and communication.

Finally, what advice would you have for young women and girls who would have political aspirations?

Firstly I’d say to anyone, whatever their gender, please don’t think of politics just as a career. That’s the attitude which lies behind so many of the problems we’ve seen coming out of both Stormont and Westminster. But if you care deeply about the wellbeing of your neighbours, if you want to put people first, if you want to protect the earth’s landscapes and inhabitants and make life better for the generations to come, then don’t worry about who you are, just do something about it. That something might be in party politics, if you find a party that shares your values and priorities, or it might be in campaign or action groups, large or small. Whoever you join up with, make sure that they show a genuine respect for all and a willingness to listen and to change. If a party or group doesn’t trust or understand its own women members, it’s unlikely to be able to work effectively for a better life for others. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you have to. And finally, value yourself, look after yourself, don’t be too hard on yourself, and you’ll be able to value, look after and forgive your friends and colleagues too.

10th May 2017

Yesterday Janie and I took the now-familiar trip up to Omagh and the electoral office to lodge our nomination papers.  Outside we met up with our friends Ciaran McClean, the Green Party candidate for West Tyrone, and with his agent Susan (who took the photo here).  Ciaran is a great candidate, an inspiring campaigner for environment and social justice and a wonderful friend and colleague.  Voters in West Tyrone couldn’t possibly have a better representative.

This morning’s local papers, the Fermanagh Herald and Tyrone Constitution, had coverage of our nominations and of the comments by both Ciaran and myself about the tragic and terrible fires which have raged across our counties this week.


 

 

8th May 2017

A letter to the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone

 

Dear friends and neighbours

We’ve been through a lot in the past year, locally, regionally and globally. Twelve months ago today we’d only just got the results from the last-but-one Assembly election, when we were plunged into the last weeks of campaigning on the EU referendum. I was travelling across Fermanagh, South Tyrone and Belfast speaking at events and on the radio about why staying in Europe was the best way of preserving our rights, our economy, our freedom and our futures. A large majority of you agreed with me.

Then we had the RHI fiasco, and the collapse of the DUP/Sinn Fein executive in bitter recrimination, leading to another Assembly election in March of this year, only ten months after the last one. We all know what that led to – absolutely nothing. After weeks of talks behind closed doors, the mainstream parties were no further towards agreement. Putting their political games before your interests was fine by them – and left our already starved public services, our education, our healthcare and our environment, in an even worse state.

We were dreading the announcement of yet another election. And sure enough, just as we (well, some of us) got back to work after Easter, our fears were realised. But it wasn’t another Assembly election, but a Westminster one, called by Theresa May in a breathtakingly cynical breach of her previous promise. She knows that the kind of Brexit she is determined upon will lead to desperately hard times, and she wants to get another five years in the bag before that happens.

So here we are again. You won’t be surprised to hear that I was tempted not to stand again, to stick my head under the duvet and leave my posters stacked in the loft. After all, it will be their fourth expedition up the lampposts – there must be a limit to even our recycling. Why not leave this election to the big parties, with their secret donors and their deep war chests?

But it isn’t their futures that this election is about – it’s yours, and our children’s. It’s time to put you first, and that’s why I’m willing to stand again.

You know me by now. You know that we’ve lived in Enniskillen for eleven years, have made Fermanagh our family’s home and have become deeply embedded in the community. You know that when I stood in the 2015 Westminster election as the first ever Green candidate, other smaller parties didn’t think this constituency was worth bothering about. I was delighted and honoured by the support I received then, and the other candidates and commentators were quite taken aback. But it isn’t really surprising. Green principles – non-violence, a clean and healthy environment, fairness for all and real democracy – they’re the only way we can protect what is precious and at the same time build a better future.

As your Green Party MP, I’d put those principles into practice, putting you first and speaking up at Westminster on the issues that matter to you. They’re the issues that matter to me, too.

Your say on Brexit and our future in Europe. I’ve been consistently campaigning for us to stay in Europe, with all the benefits, rights and positive relationships that EU membership has brought. Unlike some other parties and politicians, we haven’t jumped from one side of the fence to the other. I believe that Theresa May’s Brexit will be a great mistake for the UK, and will do great damage also to the Irish Republic. The border is a huge and urgent issue, but it isn’t the only post-Brexit problem which we face. That’s why we need a representative who will be at Westminster, ready and willing to work with other MPs in keeping our options open and calling for a people’s referendum on the terms of any final deal. And as European Greens, with sister parties in Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland and across Europe, we are uniquely placed to work at all levels to protect you from a hard harsh Brexit.

Your services, your schools and your healthcare. The important things are the things we do together. That’s what those who would divide us always forget. A thriving, positive community is one which cares for our children, for older people, for those who need special help and for the fragile environment which we share. More than ever, across the world, those basic decencies are under threat from greed, fear and ignorance. Here in Northern Ireland, as the main parties repeat their old squabbles, we’re in danger of losing sight of the big picture. Let’s take care of what matters, while we still have the chance.

Your equal rights, whatever your identity. We’ve come a long way, even in my lifetime, in understanding the ways that people are different and in learning to accept and listen to one another. Young people especially are inspiring us with their wisdom and generosity. But we’ve also seen, in the rise of Trump and the global far right, the bigoted resentment of those who would rather build walls than bridges. Rights that we thought were established are under attack, while those that a clear majority want to share, like equal marriage, are denied by those who claim to represent you. Equality isn’t a slogan, or a weapon; it’s the simple and fair basis for everything else that we do, for building a prosperous and peaceful society in a clean environment. When we stop fighting, we have time to do the important things.

We’ve had too many elections in the past two years, and I share your feelings about this one. But there’s one thing worse than having too many elections, and that’s not having any. The world is at a crossroads now; and the loudest voices are shouting for us to follow them towards more division, more greed, more hatred and more repression. The other way, the way of co-operation, of fairness, of thoughtfulness and respect, is the road we Greens have always taken. It’s not so noisy, not talked about by the media or the mainstream politicians, but more and more people are taking that road too, across the world, throughout Europe and notably in this week’s local elections in Scotland, England and Wales.

If that’s a vision that you share, then you’ll understand why I’m here again. It’s time to put you first.

With thanks and best wishes

Tanya

7th May 2017

Some bits and pieces that I’ve written recently:

A post on The Combination: Seven non-violent ways of helping to resolve conflicts such as that in Syria

A post on Bright Green about why the Green Party in Northern Ireland was right to consider an anti-Brexit pact, and right to decide against it

And a letter in this week’s Impartial Reporter

27th March 2017

Since the election I’ve been concentrating on my new novel, rather than writing non-fiction, but I have written one article for The Combination website, part of a series looking at what has been happening in politics and its implications for the future.  My piece asks whether a ‘post-truth’ world is also a post-trust world, and what that means for tackling issues such as climate change and Brexit. You can read it here.

1st March 2017

In today’s Fermanagh Herald:

At the end of this campaign, I’m sure that we in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Green Party have done our very best in the short time and with the small resources available to us. We haven’t been able to visit many houses in this enormous constituency or to compete with other candidates in terms of advertising or publicity. But we’ve had a fantastic group of brilliant, dedicated, down-to-earth and endlessly supportive local volunteers, including several who are completely new to the Green Party.  And we’ve been supported by a wonderful team in the Green Party of Northern Ireland, led by the inspiring Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey. We’ve been positive and principled, making the vital connections between what’s happening here and what’s going on across the world.  We’ve spoken for transparency and accountability, for non-violence and reconciliation and against the insular and xenophobic tendencies of the new populism and a hard harsh Brexit.  Whatever happens tomorrow, I am immensely proud of my Green Party colleagues, both here and across Europe and the world.  And I am proud of all my fellow citizens in Northern Ireland, in all of our eighteen constituencies, who will tomorrow defy the fearmongering shouts, and the narrowminded whispers,  and will vote Green Party Number One.  Thank you all.

15th February 2017

NiamhOn Monday I received an email which, more than anything so far in this election campaign, gave me hope for our future.  It read:

Dear MLA candidate,

I’m a first time voter currently studying A levels in Enniskillen.
Through the study of politics at A level I am extremely aware of the tendency of the northern Irish electorate to vote in a tribal manner – green or orange. I do not want to contribute to this trend, I want to be part of a generation that votes based on policy and capability. I find it frustrating that the same sectarian rhetoric captivates every election, leaving little room for insightful political debate.
Therefore I would like to request a little information about your views on the following issues in order to ensure that I am as well informed as possible about the type of representatives I vote for on March 2nd:
-Abortion
-Marriage equality
-Integrated education
-Brexit and its implications on NI
-Managing the inquiry into the RHI scheme
-The current refugee crisis’ in Syria, Yemen and Sudan
-Fracking

Thank you,
Niamh Mcandrew

I replied yesterday, thanking Niamh especially, because if others of her generation realise the power of their votes, and, as she says, vote on the basis of policy and capability, then Northern Ireland will indeed have a bright and positive future. I asked Niamh for permission to post her letter on this blog and she gladly agreed, believing that if more young people saw the “power in using their voices then our political system would not be dominated by the past.”

My responses to the issues she raised, by the way, were:

Abortion
I believe that abortion should be considered as a health issue, not a matter for the police and the courts. It is a matter of conscience, but of the conscience of the pregnant woman, not of MLAs in Stormont. I therefore support the decriminalisation of abortion, in line with calls from the British Pregnancy Advice Service, so that it is a decision for each individual woman after consultation with medical professionals. I would also call for improvements in education, healthcare and support for families, in order that far fewer women are faced with this difficult and often heartbreaking decision.

Marriage equality
I am a passionate supporter of marriage equality and proud to be a member of the Green Party which was the first to bring the issue to Stormont. Now most of the other parties have caught up with us, and with public opinion, but equality has still been shamefully blocked by misuse of the petition of concern. We will continue to campaign, as individuals and as a party, for marriage equality and against the many other forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Integrated education
I am a strong advocate for integrated education, which was the sector chosen by my own children and within which I am a school governor. I believe that a fully integrated education system would enable all students to fulfil their potential and would be a significant step towards building a genuinely shared society. Unfortunately, costly and divisive segregation of children from the age of four has obvious benefits for political parties which seek to gain votes through fear and mistrust, and many opportunities for integration have been sadly wasted by their inaction and hostility.

Brexit
I believe that Brexit, in the ‘hard’ form favoured by Theresa May, would be a disaster for Northern Ireland and especially for border counties like Fermanagh and Tyrone. I am therefore, with my Green Party colleagues, campaigning for Northern Ireland to have a proper voice in negotiations, for all existing European environmental, workers’ and human rights protections to be written into domestic law and for a referendum on any proposed Brexit deal.

RHI
Steven Agnew, the Green Party MLA raised issues with the design of the RHI scheme when it was first introduced in 2013, concerns that were sadly not addressed by those responsible. The technology and principle of the scheme were sound, but it was scandalously mismanaged. We support a judge-led independent enquiry into the RHI scandal, including into any relevant influence by secret party donors. The Green Party voluntarily publishes all donations of over £500, and I believe that other parties need to do so as well. We would also introduce a windfall tax on RHI payments, and have called for the Assembly Commissioner for Standards to be able to investigate alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct, something which is not presently the case.

Refugees
I believe that we have a strong moral obligation to help refugees,especially children, including, where it is in their best interests, welcoming them to new homes in the UK. In the case of those forced from their homes in the Middle East, our responsibility is especially grave, as our country, by military intervention and the sales of arms, has played a shameful part in exacerbating the wars and conflicts from which people are fleeing. Neither can we escape our responsibility, as citizens of rich nations, for the climate change which is devastating much of the world, and creating more and more refugees.

Fracking
I was one of the founder members of the frack-free movement in Fermanagh and have continued to campaign against all kinds of so-called ‘unconventional’fossil fuel extraction at home and throughout the world and to support the growing divestment movement. I believe that we need a total ban on such techniques, which are destructive of environments, health, economies and communities, which contribute greatly to calamitous climate change and which are totally unnecessary now that clean and sustainable sources are able to meet our energy needs.

 

11th February 2017

0211Many thanks to our friend, filmmaker Michael Brown who spent a clear Wednesday this week making videos with me across Fermanagh.  They cover subjects from political accountability to fracking, and are all available to watch and share on a new YouTube channel; Tanya Jones, Green Party.  Here is Michael at our last location, the Lough Navar Forest Viewpoint.  It was so cold by then that I had difficulty in stopping my teeth from chattering as I spoke, but it was all worth it.