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.
To Dungannon (with a rainbow) for a workshop organised by REPUTE , the Renewable Energy in Public Transport Enterprise. The project covers the European Atlantic Area: the whole of Ireland, western Britain and France, the north Spanish coast and Portugal. One of its partners is the South West College, and so the workshop was held in its fantastic spaceshippy STEM Centre, bathed in soft pink light.
There were speakers from academia, local authorities, business and transport providers; all useful and interesting; though, as tends to happen, the earlier ones overran so that the later talks had to be truncated or, in one case, missed out altogether. I particularly appreciated Mark Mitchell of Wrightbus talking about the company’s electric and hybrid buses which not only reduce fuel usage, costs and greenhouse gas emissions but also drastically reduce emissions of air polluting hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. They recently won the global competition to design and supply the new hybrid London Routemasters after, as Mark pointed out, many years and millions of pounds spent on research. It is this combination of vision and meticulous work that our Executive ought to be supporting, indigenous, responsible and creative industries that benefit us all in both the long and the short term. Their courage and success contrasts vividly with the strategies of desperation coming out of Stormont: slavish pleas for ‘inward investment’ and a corporation tax race to the bottom.
Another of the morning’s speakers was the general manager of Translink’s bus services, who talked about its desire to be led more by its customers and to make decisions based on local needs and priorities. This sounded like potential good news for the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone and so I introduced myself afterwards, and suggested that we have a conversation about the Enniskillen and Dungannon Goldline buses, on which so many of us rely.
He was happy to agree, so I will be arranging this soon. If there are issues about the 261 and 273 services that you would like me to raise with him (I have several in mind already) please add a comment to the end of this post, or send me an email to email@example.com
Home again, to five days’ worth of things to catch up on, and some press releases to send out. Email makes that a little easier than back in the eighties, when I worked in charity PR, but it still takes longer than I expect. Then the Fermanagh Herald asks me to call in for a photograph, so an emergency hairwash gets added in. (Ah, the vanity.) The Impartial Reporter already has a picture of me, taken at Tamboran’s proposed drill site near Belcoo, on the evening of the shared prayer service, when we’d just heard the news of Mark Durkan’s decision not to grant them permitted development rights. (See my decombustion blog for more details.) That was a joyful evening, and definitely no time for hair-washing. Sure enough, they’ve used the picture in their story in today’s online edition. By the way, the dog whose lead I am holding isn’t our Robbie, but my friend Lynn’s Dobby. Lynn took the picture I was actually posing for, the one on the Fermanagh & South Tyrone Greens site.
p.s. (10pm) Sinn Fein have just announced that Michelle Gildernew, the sitting (well, not quite sitting, more staying away – Sinn Fein don’t believe in the House of Commons) MP will stand for them again. No great surprise there; it will be her fourth time and she’s been the MP since 2001. Maybe time for a change now, though.
10am, Stafford station. It was very thoughtful of my parents and sister to stay in Stafford, which has a mainline train station and is therefore easy to both reach and leave, even on a Sunday morning. It won’t be so comfortable at the other end of the journey.
Enniskillen, of course, used to be a major railway junction itself, with trains to all parts of Ireland for business and pleasure. The Headhunters barber shop in the town doubles as railway museum, and is well worth a visit for anyone seeking inspiration as to what could regenerate the economies of border counties. (Hint: the answer isn’t fracking.) Despite the insistence of the Executive parties that all that matters is road-building, it’s no coincidence that the most prosperous parts of the UK, such as the affluent suburbs of London, have the most comprehensive and heavily subsidised public transport. The day after tomorrow I’m going to a workshop in Dungannon about renewable energy and public transport: it will be interesting to see what initiatives are bubbling under the surface, and how I as the local MP would be able to support and encourage them.
Meanwhile, as I check the departures board, I hear a man talking to his companion behind me.
“The National Trust have the most evil bunch of lawyers and accountants. The only ones worse are probably the wildlife trusts.”
This is bizarre, but oddly encouraging. Presumably either the man is a hardcore eco-anarchist or he faciliates a developer in some way. The glimpse of grey suit I see from the corner of my eye suggests the latter, but I don’t turn around. The NT and the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust must be doing something right, though. You don’t get called evil without either being a serial killer or getting under someone’s corporate skin. I was talking to the National Trust’s Northern Ireland director recently about its position on fracking; I think she might appreciate this.
As our train pulls out of the station, passing the back of my primary school and the wild-bird-friendly Doxey Marshes (maybe it’s the SWT’s new hide there that has enraged the suited man), a jolly voice welcomes us in a pre-school TV programme tone of manic jubilation.
“Hel-Lo and welcome to Virgin Trains! Today we’ll be travelling to….” The suspense is double-cream-thick, like wondering which window they’d choose on Playschool. “…. Liverpool Lime Street!” That’s all right, then. It’s five minutes late, but we don’t lose any more time, and make the connection in Crewe.
1pm, Holyhead. It’s windy here, and as the ferry sets off, we’re given a warning of a moderate sea-state, which will apparently require the huge Irish Ferries Ulysses to use its stablisers. I imagine Neptune rising from the Irish Sea to give us a push, like a dad giving bike lessons. It’s getting bumpy already, though; I think I’ll get this finished as soon as I can.
I spent the train ride reading more of the Naomi Klein book, in between gazing out of the window at the beautiful North Wales
coast, enhanced off Colwyn Bay by a cluster of dignified white wind turbines. It’s very well-written and readable, so I haven’t been tempted away from it yet by my other book, Anthony King and Ivor Crewe’s The Blunders of Our Governments, though I’m looking forward to that too. A few years ago I read Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which was a revelation to me, and which I wrote about at length on another blog. This time there haven’t been any major issues which I haven’t known about, but the degree of detail and examples make this book a marvellous resource. So far I’m in agreement with all her arguments, and reassured by the experts she’s consulted, especially Professor Kevin Anderson, with whom I talked about fracking and climate change at an event in Stormont a couple of years ago.
One especially apposite chapter tells the story of Richard Branson and his much-publicised ‘pledge’in 2006 to spend three billion dollars over the next decade to battle climate change. Eight years through the ten, we’ve seen the massive expansion of his airline, the space tourism wheeze of Virgin Galactic and the transformation of a carbon-sequestering challenge into a huge boost for the tar sands industry but, er, not much of the three billion. It isn’t that Branson is uniquely bad or green-washed, just that the idea of what he called “Gaia capitalism”, the corporate world saving us from its own greed and destruction is, like the deceptions of the carbon market, the gestures of philantropist billionaires and the follies of geo-engineering, a species of magical thinking. As Gus Speth says, “A reliably green company is one that is required to be green by law”. Not by the whisper of increased profits, or by its PR consultants, or by any cosy scheme of self-regulation. And to get those laws passed, we need reliably green elected representatives. That, I hope, is where we come in.
(Stafford) In England this weekend, visiting family (parents, sisters, in-laws etc.) and a large quantity of associated dogs and cats. For these two, the canalside footpath is a place of wonder and boundless excitement, with lots of other dogs to meet, barges chugging gently past, the occasional thundering train on the nearby railway line and the ever-present possibility of falling in.
Talking of trains, this trip involves a lot of them (I even had to sprint through Manchester Piccadilly twice yesterday) so I brought along Naomi Klein’s new book on climate change, This Changes Everything, to read. Here’s an early extract that sums up much of what I feel about Green politics and why I’m doing this.
“In other words, the culture that triumphed in our corporate age pits us against the natural world. This could easily be a cause only for despair. But if there is a reason for social movements to exist, it is not to accept dominant values as fixed and unchangeable but to offer other ways to live – to wage, and win, a battle of cultural worldviews. That means laying out a vision of the world that competes directly with the one on harrowing display at the Heartland conference and in so many other parts of our culture, one which resonates with the majority of people on the planet because it is true: That we are not apart from nature but of it. That acting collectively for a greater good is not suspect, and that such common projects of mutual aid are responsible for our species’ greatest accomplishments. That greed must be disciplined and tempered by both rule and example. That poverty amidst plenty is unconscionable.
It also means defending those parts of our societies that already express these values outside of capitalism, whether it’s an embattled library, a public park, a student movement demanding free university tuition, or an immigrant rights movement fighting for dignity and more open borders. And most of all, it means continually drawing connections among these seemingly disparate struggles – asserting, for instance, that the logic that would cut pensions, food stamps, and health care before increasing taxes on the rich is the same logic that would blast the bedrock of the earth to get the last vapors of gas and the last drops of oil before making the shift to renewable energy.” (pp. 60-61)
Many thanks to everyone who has said nice things, either in person or on social media, about my candidacy. I’ve been having problems pronouncing that word, but if I think of it as ‘candid’ and then add the rest, I might manage it. Being candid sounds like a good way to begin an election campaign, anyway, though I’m not sure that it’s universal.