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