My interview with Rodney is online now, complete with a photo of me looking suitably scary for Halloween.
Meanwhile I’ve been busy catching up with things (seems to be a lot of that these days) including asking the Roads Agency for an update about the unauthorised tree removal along the Great Northern Way and designing a leaflet for the series of Faith & Politics seminars which the Fermanagh Churches Forum are hosting, beginning next month. More on these to come, except to say that they’ll be led by the brilliant Johnston McMaster and I’m determined not to miss a single one
Cycled into Enniskillen again this morning for a meeting of our Welcoming Group at St Michael’s (the town’s Catholic parish). This sprang from an idea of mine a couple of years ago, that we might follow the example of many churches in England (and some here) in serving tea and coffee after our services. In big parishes such as St Michael’s, where many of the members are related to one another, it’s sometimes hard for newcomers to feel that they have a unique and important place. With the encouragement of Canon Peter, we formed a small group and now serve refreshments after two of the masses, once a month. I don’t do any of the difficult things, like baking scones, but I can manage washing up, and order our tea, coffee and sugar from the fair trade supplier Traidcraft. Until this morning I was also the secretary, but have had to step down from that now as it’s getting very difficult to fit everything in. Fortunately our treasurer valiantly agreed to do both – many thanks, Pauline.
On my way there I’d picked up a copy of the Impartial Reporter and found that, unlike the Herald, they hadn’t forgotten me. As I expected, the headline and first few paragraphs were all about what I’d said about Sinn Fein, as though I’d launched a spontaneous attack rather than just answered Rodney’s questions. They need an angle, though, and it’s more likely to get people reading than “Green party candidate says it would be nice if people were nice” which is what tends to happen otherwise, usually accompanied by the phrase ‘tree-hugger’.
No trees or hugging here, and it was a clear and accurate account of (some of) what I’d said, though not necessarily in the order I’d said it. Some words got mistranscribed, but I think most readers will realise that the Green Party’s foundational principle is social justice, rather that ‘social injustice’ and that it’s corporations, not ‘co-operations’ who shouldn’t be getting massive grants they don’t need.
Here it is, anyway.
After the meeting I dashed home to put the washing on (still behind with that) then out again to Fermanagh House for a memorial service for Anita. I’d found out about it originally on Tuesday from Rodney (thanks again), then followed the trail to Fermanagh House and from there to the Fermanagh Women’s Network which was organising it. Carrie there was very happy for me to invite members of the Fermanagh Churches Forum, so there were quite a few of us there, along with people I knew from many other groups and events.
It was a gentle, low-key and moving occasion, with people sharing their memories of Anita and the many ways in which she contributed both to our community and to us all as individual friends. She was an inspiration and model to me personally, especially when I felt unsure about taking a leadership role, wondering whether I should keep quiet and anonymous, not being a ‘real Fermanagh person’. But no one in that room this afternoon would have doubted that Anita was a real Fermanagh person, as real as you can get, heart and soul. However the next six months work out, I’ll try to make them worthy of her friendship.
p.s. I also got into the Impartial’s Tweets of the Week feature – that must be real fame!
A beautiful autumn morning here, after a very cold night. I cycle into town early to collect this week’s Fermanagh Herald, only to find that they’ve left me out again. They are in serious danger of losing my £1.20, I grumble, if they can’t keep up with these top priority stories. On the way back, three swans fly across the dappled sky and I rediscover my sense of proportion.
Later (7.45pm) – just back from our constituency Green Party meeting (we start early in Fermanagh) – feeling invigorated and inspired by the wonderful people in the group. Fiona has a broken foot, and is hobbling about on crutches, but still enthusiastically organising our newsletter (contact me here to join the mailing list) and fundraising activities. We’ve had quite a few new members in the past week, our little corner of the great green surge – if you’d like to join too, just click here.
Sunset and a small moon over the Racecourse Lough this evening, as Robbie and I come back from our walk. Today began with my being interviewed by Rodney Edwards for this week’s Impartial Reporter. He’s not quite Jeremy Paxman (yet), but it certainly wasn’t an easy ride. I’ve been interviewed by the press and local radio and TV a few times before, but it’s been either about my writing or Gawain‘s chess. “Do you write your ideas down in a notebook?” or “How old was Gawain when he started beating you?” (at the game; I’m not the victim of filial abuse) are a bit easier to answer than, “How would you balance the Stormont budget?” Afterwards I wandered slightly distractedly around Marks & Spencer, thinking of all the things I should have said. Maybe it’ll be easier next time.
Still slightly buzzing after last night’s fantastic screening of the fracking documentary film Unearthed, followed by a Q&A session with the film’s director Jolynn Minnaar. It says a great deal about her passion, commitment and stamina that she’s travelling with the film to venues large and small (last night’s was in Cleenish Parish Hall in rural Bellanaleck) and answering questions late into the night with apparently inexhaustible energy, intelligence and good humour. I won’t say much about the film itself, as I don’t want to spoil it before you all get the chance to see it, but it is professional, moving and wise. Crucially, she identifies the two key means by which the public are misled about fracking: non-disclosure agreements which gag its victims and deliberate ambiguities over the meaning of the term ‘hydraulic fracturing’. Furthermore, she makes the essential connections, as does Naomi Klein (and Green Party policy) between fracking, climate change, democratic failures and the absence of investment, research and action on sustainable forms of energy creation. As she says, we are at a crossroads, which is a daunting, but also an exciting place to be, giving us the opportunity to change the world not only for ourselves, but for all the generations to come. I asked a couple of questions, mainly about how we could help the frack-free struggles in South Africa and Botswana, and we spoke briefly at the end of the evening about the ways in which creative and political action can complement one another in this vital campaign.
Today has been a chance to catch up on everything else that needed doing, including getting the washing machine fixed, and enjoying a great lunch at the Horseshoe & Saddlers in Enniskillen, where we have our local Green Party meetings. Tomorrow I’m back in (local) medialand, being interviewed and photographed by the Impartial Reporter. At least I’ll have something clean to wear….
The clocks going back gives me an extra hour this morning, and a little time to work on the online courses I mentioned the other day. They are both MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and run by European-based Iversity. Earlier in the year I did the European Union in Global Governance course and now am studying Political Philosophy and Governance and Policy Advice.
Not that there’s a lot of time this morning, as it’s our monthly Quaker worship meeting. (I’m a Catholic who likes to be hands on in her ecumenism.) We meet at the wonderful Orchard Acre Farm barn (see above) and share silence, prayer and reflection. In the Quaker tradition, many of us are involved in social and environmental justice campaigning, and after the worship we share ideas and experiences. When times looked darkest for Fermanagh, and it seemed impossible to stave off the threat of fracking, two of us from the group set up a prayer network, setting aside time during each week during which we invited others to join us in prayer, meditation and mindfulness about the situation. The idea was spread by the Christian Ecology Link network, and I later saw it mentioned on the Diocese of Lancaster website.
Then this evening we’ll be at a special screening of Unearthed, an acclaimed documentary about fracking. It was shown last night at the Black Box in Belfast, and I’ve heard nothing but good things, so am looking forward to being educated, inspired, and, let’s face it, probably horrified and a bit depressed. The frack-free movement has done great things in raising awareness of the short-sighted, unnecessary and destructive nature of the industry, but the fossil fuel lobby across the world is still unrivalled in its power and influence. It’s going to take a lot of work, and a lot of Green representation on every level, before we can say goodbye to it for good.
Speaking of which, Tamboran’s attempts to use judicial review to chisel itself back into Fermanagh have reached the courts for the first procedural stages. The next hearing will take place next month and I will report significant developments here.
On the 261 bus* again, beginning the long eastward trek to the GPNI office in Bangor, County Down. I plan to make myself a packed lunch, but run out of time, so I pick up an egg mayo sandwich on my way. In Belfast I switch to the luxury of the train, spread out my Guardian to read about the Green Party surge in Bristol, open the sandwich pack and take a bite. Hmmn. You know the way people talk about chicken and egg situations? Well, this is one of those, except that it doesn’t have any egg. I don’t usually eat meat, but I’ve already bought this, and I am pretty hungry. Throwing it away won’t bring the hen back to life, or recreate the resources used, so I eat it anyway, trying not to enjoy it too much. Don’t believe everything you read, I remind myself, reflecting that it applies to sandwich labels as much as to tabloid headlines.
It’s a great meeting, anyway, a chance to hear what’s going on in the Assembly from our leader, MLA Steven Agnew and to share news from Green Party groups across Northern Ireland. I give the latest figures on our membership rise here – the #WeeGreenSurge, as it’s being called on Twitter – and share the conclusions of Wednesday’s trip to Dublin.
M. has been working in Belfast today, so we get the bus back together, and he eventually coaxes his computer into connecting to the wobbly wi-fi for me. I almost wish he hadn’t, though, as the first thing I see is the news that my friend Anita Mukherjee has died in hospital. Anita has been a great friend since we first came to Enniskillen, and an enthusiastic supporter of all my favourite groups: the Fermanagh Churches Forum, Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network and the Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party. One of the last times I saw her was at our Great Green Sale at the Westville Hotel, when she had a stall herself and brought along colleagues from her Women of the World group to do the same.
“Come over here, Tanya!” she called, as I was skedaddling about, putting out leaflets and carrying boxes of books and cake. “I’ll give you a relaxing head massage.”
“Thanks, but later,” I replied, but I didn’t find the time all afternoon. Now I never will.
A Fermanagh Churches Forum event in the Clinton Centre, with Anita in the middle of the front row.
*Please let me know if you have any comments on this service that you would like me to pass on to the Translink bus services general manager – see the 21st October post. Thank you to those who have already given me their thoughts and ideas.
To Erne Integrated College this morning for Prize Day. I’ve very recently been appointed as a parent-governor of the school and I’m delighted to join the dedicated people in the board. It’s a tough time for integrated education, with the political and religious establishments doing their utmost to discredit and downgrade it. Just this week we have seen assaults from both ‘sides’; the misuse of the petition of concern procedure from the DUP to keep integrated representation off the new Education Authority and a proposal from CCMS (the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools) that the duty to encourage integrated education, enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, be removed from the Executive.
It’s very sad. The truth is that integrated education is hugely popular with parents, students and communities across Northern Ireland. The principal reason why only seven per cent of our young people are educated together is a simple lack of availability. In many regions there is no integrated school nearby; in others they are over-subscribed. Attempts to set up new integrated schools or to help existing schools to become integrated are obstructed, notably from the very top.
Why this hostility from the power-sharing political establishment? It’s hard to avoid the reflection that the main parties in Northern Ireland depend for their continued existence upon tribalism; the maintenance of an entrenched identity defined by fear of and ambivalence towards the other. Educating children separately is one of the very best ways of keeping this status quo. Every day, the route that a child or young person takes, the buildings they enter, the exercise books they write in, the people they sit next to, the very clothes they wear, tell them that they are this and not that. Yes, the worst of the hostility has gone, at least in nice middle-class areas, a few out–of-school friendships are made and shared education initiatives allow them to visit one another or attend a few classes in other schools. But the fundamental division is made, and underlined daily for twelve or fourteen years. Is it any wonder that, at the end of that process, so many vote according to the badge on their old school blazer, rather than their own best interests?
Meanwhile I’ve had a lovely day celebrating twenty years of the Erne Integrated College, and the achievements of present and past students. The aspect of the school that we, as parents, have most appreciated has been the way that each child’s individuality has been recognised and nurtured. In an all-ability school, not all will be academic high-flyers, though some notably are, but each has her or his own talents, enthusiasms and engaging idiosyncrasies. It has been EIC’s vision and practice to identify these and celebrate them, producing a rounded community of thoughtful, generous and confident young adults. Two of these former students were the special guests today, in refreshing place of the usual pompous dignitaries.
Lynn McFrederick of the women’s Northern Ireland football and Fermanagh GAA teams spoke in the morning to the older students, while Anthony Breen, cameraman on Game of Thrones and the forthcoming films Robot Overlords and Miss Julie (shot at Castle Coole here in Fermanagh) talked to the younger ones in the afternoon. The growing success of Northern Ireland in film and TV (the Blandings series was also filmed in Fermanagh) is a great fit with the strengths of both the Green Party and the integrated education movement: the valuing of creativity, technical innovation, the integrity of our landscape and a positive future for our young people. “Filming not Fracking” might sum it up: a sentiment that Anthony himself passionately echoes, as I discovered while talking to him before this afternoon’s session.
Afterwards I met a fellow frack-free campaigner, who’d heard my news.
“I suppose I’d better vote for you, then.”
“That would be nice, if you could.”
“I haven’t voted for twenty years.”
It’s true. Politics in Northern Ireland has become so polarised and so petty that there is a vast constituency out there of people for whom it has nothing whatsoever to say or to offer. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about their society, their environment and their children’s future. On the contrary, they care too much to entrust them to the hacking and haggling of the Executive parties. Many readers of greenlassie will be among this group – I hope to speak for you.
The Erne Integrated College Chamber Choir welcoming us this morning. The choir will be performing at the forthcoming Integrated Education conference at Stranmillis. The white flashes are not light sabres, but the reflective strips integral to the new school blazers.
No buses today, just feet. I spent much of the day catching up on all our new Green Party in Northern Ireland members – October has been a bit of a bumper month for us – and sending out welcome emails. If you’re interested in joining, it’s very easy – just take a look here.
Then this evening was the final session of the film/discussion/reflection series Forgiveness: A Step Too Far, co-hosted by the Irish Churches Peace Project and the Fermanagh Churches Forum. It’s been a poignant, honest and nuanced series of evenings, exploring issues of forgiveness and reconciliation in personal and communal settings. Inevitably there has been much conversation about the Troubles, and about the legacy of division, bitterness and hurt that still pervades much of our society. There is much hard work to be done, at every level, but also a great number of wise and patient people prepared to do it, if those in so-called leadership will allow them to do so.
Back on the bus from Dungannon yesterday I was cold and tired. My plan was to check my emails quickly, make some dinner for myself and the boys and then spend the evening catching up on my online courses. (I’ll tell you about those one day, when we get a quiet moment.)
But it was not to be. One of the emails told me that Tamboran’s judicial review applications were in the Belfast court lists for this Friday. In case you haven’t been following the full convolutions of the fracking saga (and I don’t blame you if you haven’t) I had better explain.
Tamboran, a mini-multinational with aspirations to make a fracking fortune, had a licence to extract petroleum (including gas) in Fermanagh. This licence contained a work programme with a timetable, which the company was supposed to follow. It had got itself woefully behind, perhaps because, as a company, it had never done this sort of thing before, and had already received a six-month extension from DETI, the department which granted the licence on April Fool’s Day 2011.
By this extended deadline of 30th September this year, it should have completed the first part of its work programme, which included drilling a test borehole. This was why lorryloads of security men and fencing arrived at a quarry near Belcoo at dawn one July morning. The company’s plan was to drill the borehole under what are called ‘permitted development rights’. PD rights are a way of avoiding excess red tape for minor and uncontroversial pieces of development, small projects that can go ahead without the need for planning permission or an Environmental Impact Assessment.
However, this borehole was neither minor nor uncontroversial, and the quarry where they planned to drill it had serious outstanding issues with its own planning status. Mark Durkan, the Environment Minister, recognised this, and announced that PD rights could not apply in this case. If Tamboran wished to proceed on that site, it would have to apply for full planning permission.
Of course, the company had left it far too late to do any such thing,within the time left to it, less than two months of the three and a half years it had held the licence. Even DETI minister Arlene Foster, who had appeared an enthusiastic enabler of fracking in Fermanagh, wouldn’t give them any more leeway, and the licence came to an end on 30th September.
It is both of these decisions, of Ministers Durkan and Foster, which Tamboran declared its intention to take to judicial review. Now the Courts NI website showed that they were not just grandstanding, they really do plan to gamble more of their investors’ money on trying to get back into Fermanagh.
It’s not a great surprise; we all knew that we’d only triumphed in a couple of skirmishes. The war won’t be won until we achieve the European Green Party’s aim of banning fracking across the entire continent. (And beyond.) But it really would have been nice to have had an evening off….
12pm, somewhere near Kells Now it’s midday, and I’m on another bus, to Dublin this time, visiting the Green Party offices there with my GPNI membership secretary’s hat on. I’d hoped to be able to get some updates on the Tamboran situation this morning, but the Bus Eireann wi-fi isn’t working and so I doze instead, having been awake since a quarter to five this morning. The bus is very busy, and the nice girl sitting next to me has a giant teddy bear on her knee. I’m tempted to ask to borrow it.
In between writing, nodding off and trying to coax the internet into action, I’m reading Greg Palast’s book Vultures’ Picnic. Somehow the tale of banks’, governments’ and fossil fuel companies’ skulduggery seems appropriate for this grey day. Greg came to Enniskillen a couple of years ago to talk about the book, and the US experience of being fracked, and I chatted to him then about our campaign. So it’s not just a Vultures’ Picnic; it’s a VP with a flamboyant inscription to me, and that raises my spirits.
They were lowered a little earlier when I bought this week’s Fermanagh Herald and found that they hadn’t included the piece or picture about my candidacy (or should it be candidature?). But as it happens (and this sort of thing happens surprisingly often in Northern Ireland), the reporter who wrote the article is on the same bus this morning, and he assures me that it’s probably only been nudged out for a week by the big brothel story. Far be it from me to compete with a big brothel.
9pm, Enniskillen Well, that was a good day. Walking into a room and having someone say “Are you Tanya Jones? I’ve just tweeted about you.” makes up all the self-esteem lost by my omission from the Herald. And Anna and I had a very useful conversation about computer systems. Now that our membership, along with those of the Scottish and England and Wales Green Parties, is surging upwards, I need to find more efficient ways of managing it, and it looks as though I’ve found some of them.
Back on the bus, still with the same wi-fi issues, though I downloaded my email at the Dublin office, so I continued to enjoy the vultures. At the airport stop a stylish Southern Italian woman came to sit beside me until Cavan, where she got off to start a new job and new life. We talked about architecture and pizza and I wished her buona fortuna. Maybe some of it will come back to me in May.