17th June 2017

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

 

9th June 2017

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.

5th June 2017

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.

2nd June 2017

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.

31st May 2017

The sun came out to welcome Steven to Enniskillen yesterday, as did lots of local people who are working in positive and co-operative ways to protect our environment, nurture our children, support our health and build a better, cleaner and fairer future.  I don’t know whether I was prouder of the Green Party or of Fermanagh.  Certainly when the two come together, joyful things happen!

We began at the Castle Museum, talking to representatives of Ulster Wildlife and to local farmers about Brexit, sustainable agriculture, the future of Fermanagh’s food industry, the county’s incredible biodiversity and the Magnificent Meadows project.

From there we went up to the Erne Integrated College, where we saw a small but magnificent meadow in situ, complete with yellow rattle (about which I’m becoming something of an enthusiast).  Fortunately our friend Dara (who writes the brilliant Young Fermanagh Naturalist blog) was there to explain it all to us.

We also met some Year 11 students from the college and talked about votes at 16, fracking, the living wage, trade unions, integrated education, the NHS, the impasse at Stormont ….  They were great conversations, with very thoughtful and articulate young people.

Our next stop was the Aisling Centre, where we heard about the vital work which they have done over the past twenty-six years in supporting the mental health needs of thousands of people in Fermanagh.  We are extraordinarily fortunate to have such a skilled and sensitive service, and grateful to the sisters who had the vision to plant the first seeds.

Finally we ended the afternoon at the wonderful Happiness Trap café where Geoff,  the Chair of the FST Greens was waiting for us.  We restored our energies with delicious veggie food and smoothies, and enjoyed lots more conversation with local people.

It was a wonderful day, and I’m really grateful to Steven and Sinead for taking the time out of his own busy campaign to visit us, to Janie for chauffeuring us and taking the photos, to Jennifer and Eva from Ulster Wildlife, to Jimmy Jackson Ware the EIC principal, to Bridie at the Aisling Centre, Alan and Laura at the Happiness Trap and to everyone who came along to talk to us, ask questions and tell us more about some of the fantastic things happening in Fermanagh and the challenges which they face.  Thank you all.

 

26th May 2017

Steven Agnew MLA, the leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland will be visiting Enniskillen on Tuesday May 30th. From 4.15pm until 6pm he and I will be in the Happiness Trap café to meet you, listen to your concerns, answer your questions and show how the Green Party is putting you first in this election. Please call in to say hello, and share this with your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

 

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.