9th October 2017

As the Fermanagh Herald reports, the Department for the Economy is proposing to grant a licence to a company called Karelian Diamond Resources to prospect for ‘diamonds and base metals’ across a huge area of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. 

I have several very serious concerns about this proposal

1. We are being given so little information. We do not even know which base metals will be sought, or which areas within this large area will be targeted, so we  have no way of knowing what the potential impacts could be to groundwater, rivers streams and loughs, air quality, livestock, wildlife and habitats and to human health.  We know that mining is the most damaging industry in the world in terms of its environmental impact, so we have to be very careful about what is permitted in our fragile countryside  As the frack-free campaign showed so clearly, we are not prepared for Fermanagh to become a sacrifice zone, with our health, landscape and sustainable businesses made to suffer for the pursuit of corporate profit.  At this stage the notification is only of a prospecting licence, but it is common for the Department to give an undertaking at the same time to grant a full mining lease.  It is therefore essential that we be given the full details now.

2. There is a serious lack of accountability.  As we are all too well aware, at present we have no Minister, no Executive and no functioning Assembly.  Normally when such a proposal is made, I would be able to ask my Green Party colleagues in the Assembly, Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey, to ask questions of the Minister and raise issues in committee.  I do not think it is appropriate for civil servants to be granting new licences during this period, with no political oversight or scrutiny.

3. We are being denied our rights of consultation and participation. Under the Aarhus Convention, people have the right to participation in decision-making processes that could affect their health and environment.  We see no such participation here, only an announcement that the Department intends to go ahead, regardless of our rights or opinions.  The 1969 Mineral Development Act, which governs the licensing process, was drawn up at a time when much less was known about the effects of mining upon human and animal health, habitats and our fragile natural world.  It assumes that the only consideration is how much can be extracted and how much money can be made.  The powers granted to the Department, which it can pass on to a licensee, are very wide and entirely inappropriate to what we know now.

4. The system is not fit for purpose. There should have been a strategic environmental assessment of the whole licensing regime in Northern Ireland, ensuring that it would meet the objectives of enhancing our lives, supporting a sustainable economy and protecting our futures and that of the natural world around us.  Instead we have the current system where ad hoc licences are granted and potentially damaging development authorised, often without even requiring planning permission or environmental assessment.  This is unacceptable.

5. Our protections are at risk from Brexit. Those environmental protections which we do have almost all come to us via European Union directives.  The Westminster government plans to give itself wide powers to alter these, even in relation to devolved matters.  Without a unified voice from our elected representatives, without a say in the Brexit talks, these are at risk.  This is not the moment to be speculating with our future.

Click here to see the few documents which the Department has made public.  I have submitted a Freedom of Information request for further details and trust that Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, which is a statutory consultee, will be doing the same, and scrutinising the proposals very carefully.  It will have to act quickly, as the consultation closing date is on 10th November.

Note: There is another licence proposed to be granted, to Flintridge Resources in relation to base metals in an area southeast of Castlederg, including Lough Bradon Forest.  All the same points apply to this proposal, and I will write further about this very soon. The relevant documents can be found here.

4th October 2017

Less than three weeks since the last health consultation, here we are again, following another huge public meeting, making the same basic points about the need for people in our rural area to have fair access to emergency and critical services. 

The Western Health and Social Care Trust has been carrying out a consultation on its “Savings Plan” and the deadline for responses is tomorrow (Thursday 5th October).  Please make sure that your voice is heard by emailing equality.admin@westerntrust.hscni.net

This is what I have said:

In response to the above consultation, my personal view is that the Trust should:

1. Extend the consultation deadline and publish its notes from the meeting on 2nd October

As the Trust has acknowledged, the arrangements made for the advertised public meeting on 28th September were grossly inadequate and led to that meeting’s being cancelled and rescheduled for the evening of Monday 2nd October.  At that rescheduled meeting many vital and detailed points were made by Trust staff, service users and members of the public. In order for people to formulate full and informed responses to the consultation process they need access to the written records of the meeting, in a format which allows for clarification, amplification and rectification of any errors on the record. They also require a reasonable length of time to consider the issues raised, to seek further information where necessary, and to write their responses. 

2. Decline to make any cuts during the present situation of political and financial uncertainty

We currently have no Health Minister, no Northern Ireland Executive and no  functioning Assembly.  What is more, there are huge uncertainties surrounding any distribution of funds in an October monitoring round, the considerable monies promised under the Conservative/DUP agreement and the latest reports that, on the contrary, further severe cuts will be made.  In these extraordinary circumstances, there is strong justification for the Trust to decline to make any cuts within the timescale demanded by the Department.  For the Trust to carry out its responsibilities to the people it is supposed to serve, it must demonstrate long-term planning, evidence-based decisions and wise medical and financial management.  The making of hasty changes to meet arbitrary requirements shows none of these, and should be resisted. The meeting on Monday demonstrated that the public, to whom the Trust is primarily accountable, is firmly in favour of this position.

3. Ensure that any cuts impact only on those able to bear the burden

If the Trust considers itself unable to take the position set out in (2) above, it should explore cost-saving measures that would not affect the provision of services to the public or the wellbeing of frontline and junior staff.  These should include the temporary or permanent restructuring of payments made under the Private Finance Initiative in relation to the South West Acute Hospital.  It might also be appropriate to consider the levels of remuneration being provided to senior personnel within the Trust.  The Trust’s obligations to its service users must be given priority over its financial arrangements with corporate entities, the extent of which arrangements were neither known of nor consented to by those service users.  Similarly, those who take the decision to make arbitrary cuts must themselves be prepared to share their consequences.

4. Consider the full effects of any cuts imposed

Many of the measures proposed as ‘cost-saving’ have serious consequential effects both financially and, more importantly, upon the health and wellbeing of the service users and staff affected.  For example, the withdrawal of the right to carry leave entitlement forward would result in considerable numbers of staff taking their holidays at the same time, leading to increased risks for patients and additional costs for extra cover. Meanwhile other members of staff would fail to take the leave to which they are entitled, with damaging effects upon their own health and morale.  Further delays to elective surgery would inevitably result in the deterioration of the health of those on long waiting lists, causing them personal suffering and the need for more complex and expensive treatment and care.  The reduction in the number of care packages for those in need would not remove that need, but leave it either unmet, with serious, possibly tragic consequences, or met by ‘bedblocking’ hospital care at a much greater financial cost to the Trust.

5. Secure the future of the South West Acute Hospital’s neonatal unit

Of all the proposals made by the Trust, that to ‘reform’ neonatal care at SWAH has rightly attracted the greatest concern and condemnation.  As was so clearly explained by doctors and nurses at the public meeting, the proposal would be disastrous to the lives and futures of newborn babies and their families.  The specialist neonatal transport team, based in Belfast, is already struggling to cope adequately with the demand for its services. With all the goodwill in the world, the physical constraints of time and space prevent an ambulance from being simultaneously in both Dublin and Enniskillen.  It is impossible to predict when a baby will be born prematurely, when she or he will require emergency care immediately after birth or become seriously sick during those critical first hours and days.  Mothers and newborn babies need to be close together in the first days and weeks, to nurture their bonds of love, to sustain their psychological health and to support the establishment of breastfeeding, Northern Ireland’s rates of which are already the lowest in Western Europe. For all these reasons it is vital that neonatal services are available close at hand. And as was warned, the closure of SWAH’s neonatal unit would ultimately lead to the closure of its maternity unit, with thousands of women having to travel unconscionable distances to give birth, at great cost to themselves, their families and their new babies.   For the sake of all babies, and especially those in direct need of its lifesaving service, we must keep the neonatal unit at the South West Acute Hospital.

I am happy for you to contact me by email in relation to any aspect of this response.

Yours faithfully

Tanya Jones

27th September 2017

At Stormont last week with Owen Reidy of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and Steven Agnew.  We had an excellent conversation about public service cuts, including the desperate position of health services in Fermanagh, about the dangers of a looming Brexit, and about the situation of so many, especially young people, struggling in the dual traps of low pay and zero hours contracts.

We talked about the need for proper investment in skills, and in supporting real jobs and sustainable businesses across the region.  That necessity seems to me particularly acute this morning, with the news about the US decision to impose an import tariff on the Bombardier C-series jet. 

Regardless of the legal detail in this particular case, an economic policy based on giving huge chunks of our limited block grant to large multinational corporations is never going to work for Northern Ireland in the long term.  We have a great tradition of high quality engineering, enthusiastic and hard-working people and unparalleled natural resources.  We can do better than this, and I hope that this news will be an alarm call to Sinn Fein and the DUP to wake up and switch on the vision.  We in the Green Party can give them plenty of ideas.

13th September 2017

https://www.facebook.com/groups/enniskillenfriendsandneighbours/

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.

  1. In the case of a suspected stroke, time is absolutely of the essence.  The longer the delay between symptoms and treatment, the greater the risk of death or permanent disability.
  2. The stroke unit at South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, under the leadership of Professor Jim Kelly, is the best-performing unit in Northern Ireland, and one of the best in the entire United Kingdom.
  3. Without stroke services in Enniskillen, over sixteen thousand people would be excluded from receiving treatment within the vital ‘golden hour’.

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:

1. No.

2. No.

3. Yes.

4. No.

5. No.

6. No.

7. Yes.

B. By email to reshapingstroke@hscni.net

C. In writing to:

Reshaping Stroke Services,
Commissioning Directorate,
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

 

 

 

 

7th September 2017

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.  

Dear Madam

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.

Yours faithfully

Tanya Jones

Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party

 

4th August 2017

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.

Reunited with Barbara and Rose for the first time since we shared a dorm in Paris!

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.

 

 

2nd July 2017

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.

28th June 2017

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:

 

Wednesday 21st:

 

Thursday 22nd:

(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.)

 

Friday 23rd:

 

Saturday 24th:

 

Sunday 25th:

 

Monday 26th:

 

And finally Tuesday 27th: