Last Saturday I enjoyed a grand day out. Here’s my letter to the Impartial Reporter:
and a few photos (click to enlarge):
On Monday evening I, along with six hundred other local people (and many more who couldn’t get into the packed room) attended the Enniskillen public meeting of the Reshaping Stroke Services Northern Ireland pre-consultation. During a long, often passionate, sometimes heartrending evening, three key points were made again and again.
This is a question, not just of efficiency, but of justice. As I said in the slogan which is probably my main contribution to the campaign so far, “If it isn’t fast, it isn’t fair”.
The pre-consultation ends this week, so it’s crucial that anyone wanting to protect SWAH’s stroke services gets their response in by five o’clock on Friday 15th September (the day after tomorrow, as I write).
There are three main ways that you can submit your response:
A. By completing the online response form here. This is the simplest way – but beware! The questions in the pre-consultation are carefully worded to sound reasonable and positive. But if you answer ‘yes’ to every one, you will be putting our local stroke services at risk. To find out why, and how best to respond, click here to read an excellent fact sheet produced by the Fermanagh Stroke Support Group Save Our Stroke Services campaign (of which I’m a member). In brief, we’re suggesting that you answer:
B. By email to firstname.lastname@example.org
C. In writing to:
Reshaping Stroke Services,
12-22 Linenhall Street
BELFAST BT2 8BS
(making sure it will arrive in time!)
I have emailed my own personal response, set out below. Please feel free to use any of this if it is helpful in your own submission.
Response to Reshaping Stroke Services pre-consultation proposals
Proposal 1: Give people who are thought to be having a TIA access to treatment at stroke units 7 days a week.
Response: No, I disagree with this proposal. In an ideal world with unlimited staff and funding, seven day services would be valuable. But in practice this would mean losing vital local weekday clinics and forcing users to travel long distances every day of the week.
Proposal 2: Assess people for clot-busting treatment thrombolysis at an appropriate number of hospitals.
Response: No, I disagree with this proposal. As I asked at the public meeting in Enniskillen, I do not understand why these proposals repeatedly use the phrase ‘an appropriate number of hospitals/units’. It is universally acknowledged that in stroke cases time is of the essence, and the most vital factor in successful outcomes is the length of time between symptoms and treatment. It would therefore be much more sensible to talk about appropriately located services, rather than about the number of hospitals or units. Here in Fermanagh we need to retain the excellent thrombolysis service at the South West Acute Hospital in order to give patients in this region a fair chance of receiving life-saving treatment in time.
Proposal 3: Make the clot removal procedure Thrombectomy available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week to suitable patients.
Response: Yes, I agree with this proposal.
Proposal 4: Create an appropriate number of Hyperacute Stroke Units to deliver special early hospital care to every stroke patient.
Response: No, I disagree with this proposal. As outlined above, the vital factor in rural areas is the location of units, not their number. The research suggesting that fewer, larger units have better outcomes was carried out in London and Manchester, and is not applicable where distances and travelling times are much longer. The report’s author specifically acknowledged that the findings were particular to highly urban and densely populated locations. The stroke unit at SWAH already has sufficient specialist doctors to qualify as a Hyperacute unit, and is only not designated as such because it does not have the requisite numbers of nurses and therapists. It provides the specialist early care which local patients require, and which tragically would be too late for many if they had to travel long distances to other units.
Proposal 5: Create an appropriate number of Acute Stroke Units, located alongside hyperacute units where possible.
Response: No, I disagree with this proposal. Again, this proposal uses the irrelevant factor of number of units instead of the appropriate one of location. In rural areas the vital imperative is that patients should reach a stroke unit (by ambulance, so bearing in mind call-out times) and receive treatment as quickly as possible, and certainly within the ‘golden hour’. The SWAH unit provides this service for the people of this region, and it is, moreover, the best performing unit in Northern Ireland. Forcing patients to travel further, to a less well performing unit, would have inevitably disastrous effects on their survival and recovery.
Proposal 6: Provide community stroke services that can give Early Supported Discharge. They will be able to give the recommended amounts of therapy. They will be able to respond over 7 days.
Response: No, I disagree with this proposal. Again, in an ideal world, this would be an excellent aspiration. But to work properly, an early supported discharge team needs high levels of funding and staffing, and access to social care services which we know are not currently available in Northern Ireland. Without these, this proposal would only take scarce resources from current community stroke services, which are in urgent need of proper support.
Proposal 7: Make sure that stroke survivors and carers can get services from Health and Social Care organisations and voluntary organisations when they need them. This will help them to make a better recovery.
Response: Yes, I agree with this proposal and hope that the wonderful work carried out by carers and voluntary organisations will be better recognised and supported in the future.
Tanya Jones, Enniskillen
This is a letter which I sent to the Impartial Reporter this week. Unfortunately the version which appears in today’s paper has been edited and in the process has lost the main point – that we should explore the possibility of voluntary coalition for the Northern Ireland Executive.
As last week’s Impartial Reporter so vividly chronicled, our local services, especially the vital healthcare that we depend upon throughout our lives, are under severe threat. Many of us, from a range of political parties, are campaigning as individuals to save them. But without Ministers, without an Assembly and without access to our full budget (never mind the elusive extra billion plus) it is an uphill struggle.
As Green Party leader Steven Agnew has pointed out, next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and we could reach that anniversary without the Assembly institutions back up and running. After witnessing nine months where the DUP and Sinn Fein seem to be practicing the art of the impossible, a dull, throbbing pessimism has taken over. The tragedy is that this disaster is playing out in the homes of families right across Northern Ireland. The sense is growing that Sinn Fein has no intention of going back into government, deeming it better to be sitting outside and throwing stones than being accountable when Tory austerity and the realities of Brexit begin to bite. Unfortunately, such an approach offers nothing for patients on waiting lists, schools with shrinking budgets or border businesses facing an unknown fate.
We have been served well by the Good Friday Agreement, but our devolved institutions must adapt to survive. It’s time to practice the art of the possible and look for another way. We believe in local democracy and oppose Direct Rule in principle, but also because it would result in unmitigated Tory rule. And another election will achieve nothing unless we change the institutions to which we are electing representatives. Steven is often asked these days why he, his Green Party colleague Clare Bailey, and others who want to see Stormont work cannot form a coalition of the willing. Currently the law does not allow for that as it requires the two largest parties to take up power. However, just as we have had a voluntary opposition – parties who chose not to take up Ministerial positions, we should now move to voluntary coalition.
My experience of campaigning in Fermanagh, on issues from fracking to Brexit and public services, is that individuals from across the political spectrum are ready and willing to work together to protect those in need, our environment and our children’s future. If Sinn Fein have no intention of going back into government, let them step aside, and let those of us who want Northern Ireland to work get on with the job of making that happen. Or, if they are truly committed to a rights based society, let them produce a programme for government around which they can form a cross party coalition.
As the late Labour MP Jo Cox famously reminded us, we have more in common than that which separates us. It is time that our institutions reflected that reality, and provided a framework in which we can work together to end political gamesmanship and put people first.
Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party
Last week I travelled to Lancashire to visit the site at Preston New Road near Blackpool which is currently the frontline for fracking in the UK. The details and history of the site are set out here on the superb Drill or Drop website. Briefly (and notoriously) this is the site where Lancashire County Council refused planning permission to Cuadrilla to carry out fracking operations and where, last October, the Communities Secretary overturned that decision. It was and is a shocking undercutting of local, democratic and accountable decision-making, carried out by a government deeply embedded in the dangerous industry it ought to regulate.
I first met campaigners from Frack Free Lancashire back in the summer of 2013, when they came to Northern Ireland during the run-up to the G8 in Fermanagh, supporting us when it looked as though we might be the first to be fracked. We met again in several campaigns, including in Paris for the COP21 climate change talks and the first ever global frack-free summit.
So when I was asked by the Democracy Center to help give a workshop as part of the July Reclaim the Power Rolling Resistance at the site, I was delighted at the opportunity. I travelled with Jamie Gorman from Love Leitrim, and during our long journey by ferry, train and bus we planned how best to explain what our campaigns had achieved in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, and what lessons we had learned.
We arrived late on the Thursday evening, and our workshop was to take place on Saturday, so we were able to spend time both at the site and in the nearby camp where we stayed under canvas. During the month of July, direct actions had taken place on every weekday, significantly slowing down the progress of the fracking operations and raising awareness and confidence within the local community. Every Friday there was a large-scale, family-friendly mass demonstration, good humoured, positive and celebratory. Last Friday the theme was Carnival, with dancing, singing, circus skills …
… and a huge cycling rabbit adding to the festivities.
Saturday morning, with a few of us sitting opposite the site gates and monitoring its activity, was a time for more serious conversations, informing the discussions at the afternoon workshop, at which we were joined by activists from Scotland sharing their experiences. The level of interest in the Northern Ireland campaign, concern for our uncertain future and joy at the ban in the Republic of Ireland were hugely inspiring, and I was sorry not to be able to stay for longer.
As always, I came away feeling that I’d learned more than I’d shared, and with a renewed determination to do whatever I can to support our fellow frack-free activists wherever they are. Preston New Road is the place in the UK where, at present, fracking is most imminent, the danger to activists most real and the role of the police in facilitating corporate destruction most blatant and shameless. And it is also the place where the strengths and values of the frack-free campaign, and the wider climate movement of which it is a part, are most clearly to be seen.
Central to these, I believe, are three kinds of connection, without which frack-free activism would lose its heart, its voice and its unquenchable spirit.
We must connect with our neighbours, because we are local. Despite the attempts of Cuadrilla’s management to suggest otherwise, I saw that residents and businesses are overwhelmingly on the side of the campaign and against fracking in their area. Whether it was local people walking along to the site with children and dogs to share a few minutes’ conversation, families taking part in the mass actions or drivers honking their car horns in support, there is no doubt of the mutual respect and affection between activists and the community.
We must connect with our friends, because we are global. ‘Not in anyone’s backyard’ is a fundamental principle of the frack-free movement and we share everything: research, insights, encouragement, good news and bad. Whenever political representatives or others claim to oppose fracking in their own regions and yet will not actively support the campaign elsewhere, they reveal the limits of their commitment.
We must connect with our enemies, because we are non-violent. The rows of police and security guards, the vans with slogans like that of the Merseyside Police ‘A force to be reckoned with’, the deception, the acts of actual violence and the potential for them to be repeated: all these are frightening. Retreating, retaliating, refusing to engage would all be understandable reactions. But instead the movement constantly offers peace, humanity and love to those who do the corporations’ work. One of the most moving actions during the month was the slow walk of women in white up to the gates and the still, silent gaze of each woman upon the face of a police officer, looking beyond the uniform and the blank stare at the human person who stood before her.
We should honour, thank and celebrate everyone who is connecting at Preston New Road, who did great things during the month of July and who will go on doing great things. I’d like especially to thank Philippa from the Democracy Center, Coralie from Reclaim the Power, Jamie and Lucy from Ireland, and Barbara, Tina and Bob in Lancashire. And finally I’d like to pay tribute to the amazing truck surfers, who camped for days and nights, through torrential rainstorms, on the tiny surfaces of lorry cabs, only to be arrested as soon as they finally came down. I’ve never seen such courage, or such cheerfulness.
I was delighted to be in Belfast yesterday along with many Green Party friends and family for the Love Equality NI march. A wonderful occasion, but let’s hope this is the last year we need to do it. It’s very clear that a majority of people in Northern Ireland want us to have marriage equality, bringing us in line with our neighbours across Western Europe. When the Green Party first brought the issue to Stormont we were way ahead of the curve, but the only thing blocking it in the last session was the misuse of the petition of concern. Currently, of course, we have no Assembly to consider the issue, and have no way of knowing whether or not it is a feature in the secret negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It is indeed time for change.
I went to Glastonbury last week, via Belfast, Cairnryan, Ayr, Glasgow, Stafford and Stoke and back through Birmingham, Stafford (again), Crewe, Holyhead and Dublin. I decided to take a photograph for every waking hour from when I left the house until I got home; only one, so that if it was blurred, or too dark, or by necessity taken through a reflective train window or just hopelessly random, I’d be stuck with it. I let myself have a bit of fun with the editing, though.
Tuesday 20th June:
(I’ve just realised that this indicates what a Glastonbury wimp I am – all that nighttime revelry is a closed book to me, snuggled in my sleeping bag.)
And finally Tuesday 27th:
Political slogans are always dangerous weapons, hostages to fortune, inclined to go off in the hands of those who wield them. But few can ever have proved so self-defeating as Theresa May’s “strong and stable”. In the shadow of Grenfell Tower, both adjectives are equally ironic, hollowed of their reassuring meaning. It was the ‘strong’ who allowed this horror to happen, unwinding red tape until nothing was left but the naked profit motive and the £2 per square metre saving that may have made the difference, for dozens of people, between life and death. And it was the ‘stable’ establishment which refused to listen to those people’s well-grounded concerns, though they did everything that as responsible citizens they could possibly have done to make their voices heard.
We have no strength now except in our shared sorrow. We have no stability except in supporting one another. And that support requires real solidarity and real change. Sentimental symbols and short-term sticking plasters will not be enough. By the morning of June 9th, as the election results came in, it was already clear that our politics was changing. Despite the almost universal derision of the media, people were voting for the kind of fair, equal, hopeful and far-sighted policies towards which Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party were returning, and for which the Green Party in Northern Ireland has always stood. By the morning of June 14th we understood its urgency.
Now, we know from our many histories, is the critical time. Emotions are raw, hopes and fears seem equally on the brink of fulfilment, and careers, fortunes and ideologies ready to be made or broken. Where are we going, and who is going with us?
On Tuesday evening in Belfast we at the Combination are hosting Election Breakdown, an opportunity to explore our situation and the future of progressive politics. We have invited five speakers from a range of perspectives: Brian Campfield (NIPSA), Geraint Ellis (QUB), Ellen Murray (GenderJam NI and Green Party NI), Liz Nelson (Belfast Feminist Network and Belfast Trades Council) and Robin Wilson (independent researcher and journalist). Join us on Tuesday 20 June, 7.30pm at the Crescent Arts Centre, Workshop Room 4.
And follow us at: https://www.facebook.com/combinationNI/ and @CombinationNI
I said earlier this morning that I was lost for words. I’m not quite, though I can’t guarantee their civility.
Apart from North Down, held by the principled independent Sylvia Hermon, Northern Ireland’s parliamentary constituencies are now divided, in the crudest way possible, between those in the north east, held exclusively by a DUP whose shabby deal to prop up a minority Tory government will impact brutally upon us all, and those along the borders, together with West Belfast, ‘represented’ by Sinn Fein, whose much vaunted concern for ‘the most vulnerable in our society’ will not extend to taking their seats in support of a progressive coalition.
The hearts and dreams of thousands of young (and less young) people across the UK, who voted, often for the very first time, for hope and change have been broken by Northern Ireland’s myopic constitutional obsessions. No one will suffer for it more than our own children here.
And no constituency illustrates the impasse more starkly than my own.
As I wrote on Wednesday evening,
“Every vote is precious, because every one is a real endorsement of what we stand for, and the hope we will never abandon.
But I’d give up every single one of those votes for a progressive government in Westminster from Friday morning. We stand at a crossroads, and what happens in the UK tomorrow will send ripples across the world. Be brave, wherever you are, and vote for what you know is right.”
For a few brief hours last night, we thought that progressive government was on its way. But instead we have something potentially much worse than we had before. I would once again beg the newly elected Sinn Fein MPs to put present human need before historic ideology. And I’d suggest to those socially liberal, tolerant, scientifically aware and basically decent Tory MPs celebrating this morning (and there must be at least a handful) that they look very closely at their new bedfellows before snuggling under the duvet.
I was delighted a few days ago to hear the news that the bill to ban fracking in the Republic of Ireland has passed successfully through the Dail. The new law, which started out as a Private Member’s Bill, ended up as government legislation with cross-party support. It now only requires approval of the Seanad before it can be signed by President Michael D Higgins, and is expected to become law before the Oireachtas starts its summer recess.
This is a good moment to restate, once again, my personal commitment to working at every level to obtain a similar ban in Northern Ireland. Much has been achieved here, through the hard work of many campaigning groups and individuals, but a complete ban has always and will continue to be my unshakeable objective. I am proud that the Green Party in Northern Ireland has a longstanding manifesto commitment to ban fracking and that we have led the way consistently on this issue, ever since Steven Agnew brought it to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the first MLA to do so.
We cannot afford to be complacent. The environmental protections which limit the powers of fracking companies are almost all European directives which, post-Brexit, will be vulnerable to amendment and repeal. The prospect of direct rule from a fervently pro-fracking Tory government is a disturbing one. And the judicial reviews taken by Tamboran to try to recover their licence and overturn the planning presumption against fracking are still ongoing.
Across the Irish Sea, in Lancashire and elsewhere, fracking is being imposed on communities against the wishes of local people and the democratic decisions of their councils. I am proud to stand with fellow Green Party candidates such as Caroline Lucas and my friend Tina Rothery who have bravely risked their own liberty to protest at the injustice, destructiveness and sheer stupidity of the fracking experiment. Green Parties across the UK, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales, all share an absolute manifesto commitment to ban fracking once and for all, and as a Green Party MP, I would make supporting, and if necessary introducing, an anti-fracking Bill in Westminster one of my highest priorities.
One of the particular problems we have faced on a UK scale has been the reliance of the Westminster government on the deeply flawed Public Health England report on fracking. By contrast, we and our sister Green Parties are committed to genuinely evidence-based policy. Reliable studies from across the world have demonstrated the grave dangers of fracking to human and environmental health. Our own county of Fermanagh was included in the Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s report, jointly commissioned by the Irish and Northern Ireland adminstrations, which identified serious potential impacts including pollution of groundwater aquifers, pollutant and gas migration, and gas emissions following well closure. These impacts were rightly recognised by the Irish government as being so dangerous as to require an immediate ban.
The urgency of obtaining a similar ban in Northern Ireland is clear, and Seán Kyne TD, Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources, has stated in the Dail that it is his intention, as and when the Northern Ireland Executive is restored, to raise the matter of a Northern Ireland ban with his counterparts in the North/South Ministerial Council.
In this, as in so much else, the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of the people of Northern Ireland are being sacrificed to the political games that are keeping Stormont silent and stagnant. It is time to put people first, for the traditional parties to reach agreement, restore the Executive and Assembly, and carry forward a Northern Ireland fracking ban. If they will not do so, we may all pay the price.
This afternoon I gave a talk at a celebration of Laudato si’, which turned out to be tragically topical. It’s a bit long to go in a post, but if you’d like to read the full text you can do so here.