Last Saturday I enjoyed a grand day out. Here’s my letter to the Impartial Reporter:
and a few photos (click to enlarge):
Martin and I are just back from a great afternoon taking part in the Oisín McGrath Foundation’s Run/Jog/Walk for Oisín. It was a fantastic event, with hundreds of people, of all ages and backgrounds, pouring into the village of Belcoo to join in. We both decided to try the 10K, though it was a run for M, and a definite walk so far as I was concerned.
Our prizewinning chances (well, M’s) were scuppered by our taking the announced delay literally and missing the start while we listened to the rugby. (Ireland-Argentina, we really shouldn’t have bothered.) By the time we realised, the rest of the 10K people were ten minutes down the road…
Despite this less-than-auspicious beginning, M managed to overtake a good chunk of the field to make a reasonable finish. I never got near the peleton (if that’s the word) but caught up with the other stragglers, and am pretty sure I finished ahead of a toddler and a small dog.
If I’m looking for another excuse, I could drag in my shoes. M warned me that a fifteen-year-old pair of cheap plimsolls might not be ideal, but I’d walked many miles across the Glastonbury festival in them, and thought I knew what I was doing. It hadn’t occurred to me that the roads of Belcoo, though not exactly motorways, are a bit harder than Michael Eavis’s fields. By 6k the symmetrical blisters on both heels were making themselves known, and by now I can scarcely put any weight on my feet at all.
But it was all definitely worth it, a wonderful experience of Fermanagh’s community at its very best, remembering a truly exceptional young man, a star in every metaphorical sense, and raising awareness and funds for organ donation, brain stem and brain injury research and sports development projects for local young people. Many thanks to Sharon and Nigel, and all the many hard-working volunteers who made this such a memorable day.
2014 in pictures…
Thanks to everyone who made this such a great year, especially Martin and Aidan.
My talk at the Frederick Street Quaker Meeting House today (not exactly as I gave it, but mostly the same).
Thank you very much for inviting us today, and for your hospitality. Thank you too, to my Green Party colleague Clare Bailey, from the South Belfast group, for coming along this afternoon. If you don’t mind, I’ll read what I want to say; there’s quite a lot in it, and hopefully this way I’ll keep the ums and ers to a minimum. I’ll also put the text up on my website, which is called greenlassie.com, so you can refer to it later. I don’t do Powerpoint, so there isn’t anything to look at except one another, but I’m sure we can make faces when necessary.
The basic concept of fracking is one that I think we’re quite familiar with by now. We’ve all seen the little diagram with the well going vertically down, past all the aquifers, then at a right angle so it continues horizontally. Then there’s usually a little icon to indicate the explosives sent down to start fracturing the rock, then the water with sand and chemicals that do the rest. It all sounds quite simple, and looks rather neat and tidy.
The truth, of course, is that it doesn’t look like that, not in messy reality. And the more disturbing thing is that we can’t actually know what it looks like, or even very much about what’s going on down there. One thing that we should have learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is that when you’re doing dangerous things far underground, or underwater, you’re quite literally in the dark. Informed guesswork is about the best you can hope for.
That’s a problem at the drilling stage, when the operators don’t know exactly what kind of geology and hydrology they’re passing through, where the aquifers are, what kind of underground stream network exists – that’s a particular problem in Fermanagh – and what kind of substances they’re coming into contact with. It’s a problem when they’re cementing the wells by remote control, gambling that they’ve got it right, guessing at when it’s going to be dry and safe, with constant financial pressure to do things as fast as possible.
And it’s an enormous problem when it gets to the fracking process itself. A very senior figure in one of the companies said that trying to control where and how far the fractures go, is like dropping a plate on the floor and trying to guess exactly what shaped pieces it’s going to smash into. They just don’t know.
You’ll often hear it said that fracking has been carried out for sixty years or more. That statement, to put it politely, is somewhat misleading. The use of water to flush out the last vestiges of oil or gas from conventional wells has been going on that long, yes. But what we’re talking about now, high volume, high pressure hydraulic fracturing using horizontal wells; that’s new, only around a decade old, and some of the techniques, like fracking on several levels, are even younger than that.
It’s rather like the way in which when you’ve got to the end of a jar of sauce, you might use a bit of water to sluice it out. If you decided instead to use one of those power jets that people clean their gutters with, you’d get rather different results. You might say to the paramedics, as they pick the shards of glass out of your face ‘I’ve been rinsing out jars with water all my life’ but you’d still be an idiot.
Another thing you’ll hear is ‘It’ll be done very carefully.’ I’ve already suggested one difficulty about this; the fact that, however careful they are, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty and guesswork about what’s actually going on down there. I’ll also go on to talk about what is statistically bound to be go wrong, no matter how careful you are, and also about the many negative effects even if nothing whatsoever does go wrong. But first I want to ask the basic question, ‘Who is it that’s going to be careful?’
Is it the gas companies themselves, their directors, executives, managers? I don’t think so. We’ve developed a culture where the only imperative for a corporation is making money; dividends for the shareholders, salaries, bonuses, benefits for the men (and one or two women) at the top. That is literally all that matters, all that’s allowed to matter. Yes, the probability of accident is considered, briefly, it’s a factor in the calculations, but it carries no moral weight. We’ve seen this, of course, in the car industry, where dangerous defects were known about by the manufacturers, but it was more cost-effective to pay out compensation when someone was killed than to fix the original problem.
And the fossil fuel industry is, let us say, not known for being unusually conscientious. So if there’s a risk, they’ll probably take it, and gamble on any accident not being too bad. And if it does turn out worse than they expected; well, they have plenty of friends in government, they always have money for lawyers and if the worst comes to the worst, they can wind up the company and walk away. Tell the people of Bhopal about corporate responsibility.
Okay, you say, but on the ground there are people who know what they’re doing, who take pride in doing a good job. Take the geologists. They’re scientists, after all. That’s what I used to think. When we set up FFAN, the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network, one thing we needed and couldn’t find was expert geological advice. In the end I put a desperate “Wanted’ notice on the website. I received one response to that, from a retired geologist. She explained to us that no one younger, no one who would be looking for a job anywhere, was going to be prepared to help us. It would simply be career suicide.
Naomi Klein, in her new book about climate change, This Changes Everything, points out that while 97% of active climate scientists believe that humans are a major cause of climate change, the proportion of ‘economic geologists’ who believe that is less than half, only 47%. We know it as a form of cognitive dissonance, the inability to process information that conflicts with our own interests. We all have it. We’d struggle to get through the day without it; but we can’t afford to pretend that gas company employees miraculously don’t.
All right, so self-regulation won’t work. That’s all right, we have governments, we have laws. The trouble is, we don’t. From the late nineteenth century through most of the twentieth, the response of democratic parliaments and assemblies to new and developing industries was to look at them carefully and see what regulation was required. That wasn’t in order to punish entrepreneurs, or to tie business up with red tape. It wasn’t even, on the whole, to protect the environment. It was simply to go some way towards safeguarding the health and interests of citizens, those who worked in the industry and those who were affected by its activities.
But from the 1980s onwards, under the influence of Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan, and continued by their successors, that process virtually stopped, at least at a national level. Regulation ceased to be seen as a benefit, a protection for the majority of the people, and was redefined as a burden, something which slowed and jammed the wheels of commerce. The result of that, as far as fracking is concerned, is the fact that there is no specific legislation about it. Shale gas extraction, like any other petroleum production, is governed principally by laws passed in the 1960s, a time when we didn’t know about climate change, we didn’t know about peak oil and the main imperative was getting as much fossil fuel out of the ground as fast as possible.
What legislation on environmental, consumer and worker protection there has been over the past three decades has principally been on a European level. This is not, I’d speculate, wholly unconnected with the growth of Euroscepticism among those currently in power. A diagram was produced, last year I think, showing the connections between the fossil fuel industry and the members of the coalition government. It was, to put it mildly, intricate. I’ll put it on my website if you’d like to take a look later.
Unfortunately Mr Cameron’s government is mirrored by similarly pro-fracking governments in central and eastern Europe, so efforts by the European Greens and others to deal with the problems of fracking within the European Parliament have so far been blocked. There are various directives – on water, habitats etc. – that have some bearing on shale gas extraction, but only incidentally. Sometimes these can be of great help in frack-free campaigning, but none of them deal with the core issues and activities of the industry.
In America, as you may know, government has gone even further, in exempting the fracking industry from even much of the legislation that already exists. The so-called “Halliburton loophole” of 2005 exempted the industry from the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and it is also exempted from some provisions of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and state water use regulations.
There is nothing to suggest that the UK government won’t do the same if it can get away with it. They are going ahead with a fundamental change to the common law of trespass, specifically to benefit the fracking industry, allowing it to frack, run pipelines and inject substances in the ground beneath people’s homes without their permission. A public consultation was held in which 99% of responses were against the change in the law, but this has made no difference whatsoever.
So, it’s done in the dark, by remote control, by an untrustworthy and greedy industry and it’s largely untested and unregulated. What could go wrong? Well, according to most of the news stories, if you’re a redneck American with your own well, you might be able to set your tap water on fire. Except that those boys already had methane in their water, they were just too stupid to notice it before. Nothing to see here, move along.
Only, as you might imagine, that isn’t the whole story. Contamination of private wells from fracking is a known and fairly widespread issue. There’s a difficulty, by the way, both in estimating how frequent these problems are and in the language that we can use about them. If you get the chance to see the film Unearthed, that deals with these difficulties very well. They are:
Firstly, because fracking is exempt from so many regulations, the environmental agencies don’t monitor it, don’t take baseline measurements and don’t keep records.
Secondly, where serious health problems have arisen in people living close to fracking sites, the gas companies have reached out-of-court settlements with them, usually including the provision of alternative water supplies and invariably including a gagging clause preventing the victims from speaking out about what has happened to them. The same sort of enforced secrecy is imposed on health professionals treating their patients; commercial confidentiality prevents them from sharing information about the chemicals which have caused the diseases.
Thirdly, whereas when most of us say ‘fracking’, we refer to the whole shale gas drilling, extraction, compression and transport process, the industry uses it to mean just the stage in that process whereby the water is sent down to physically shatter the rock. Now that stage obviously occurs underground, and has no absolutely direct effect on anyone. The problems happen before and after that, above ground and in the water table. But defining fracking in that very limited way, allows gas company spokesmen to say that it hasn’t caused any health problems. It’s a sort of semantic fingers crossed behind your back, but if people don’t know that, they take it at face value.
It’s also very far from being just a question of escaped methane. You also have the chemicals that are used in the fracking fluid, and are often considered as a proprietorial secret and not disclosed. One thing you’ll hear said about those is that they’re similar to the cleaning products you might keep under your kitchen sink. That may, in some cases be true. However, most of us don’t drink the contents of the bottles under our kitchen sinks, and we do like to discourage our children from doing so. You’ll also hear that the proportions of these chemicals in the fluid are very low. Again, to an extent that may be true. But when you’re talking about millions of gallons of water being used for each frack, a low percentage equals a very large quantity. And they’re often, I believe, mixed on site, so there is the potential for spills and escapes of the concentrated, not just the dilute substances.
There’s also the very important issue of what comes back up after each frack. Of the millions of gallons that go down, a proportion stays underground (this varies enormously) and the rest comes back up, along with whatever substances it has picked up on the way. This can include arsenic, lead, benzene, radioactive compounds and will always contain very high salt levels. This flowback fluid will obviously be highly toxic, and cannot be decontaminated in normal water treatment facilities.
A few moments’ thought will bring to mind a few of the ways in which the original fracking fluid, its ingredients or the flowback fluid could affect humans, livestock, wildlife and habitats. Accidents on the way to the site, at the site, insufficiently cased wells, fractures extending into the water table, spillages while pumping out the fluid, incidents during storage, evaporation, flooding, road accidents while transporting the fluid away, mistakes at treatment plants, insufficient integrity of underground storage; sadly the list is as long as our imaginations.
There are other potential accidents as well. The subject of earth tremors is one that the media like to set up as a sort of Aunt Sally, to knock it down again. ‘Look at these silly Nimbies worrying about earthquakes. We got them all the time with the coal mines.’ They’re missing the point. The problem with the seismic activity that’s triggered by fracking isn’t that it’s going to shake your house to pieces or even knock your ornaments off the mantelpiece. It’s that underground, where the tremor is strongest, is also where the fracking infrastructure is most vulnerable. That concrete drill casing is what separates the gas and fracking fluids from the water table. If that’s being moved in random ways, the results are accordingly unpredictable. And anyone who knows about concrete, knows that it’s not the most reliable of materials.
These problems are quiet, insidious ones, but sadly fracking also has its share of the dramatic. Explosions and fires, both at fracking sites and during transportation are far from uncommon. I did a random search on the internet while writing this, and quickly came across the following, from just three weeks ago:
Oct. 29–A pipeline carrying condensate, a toxic substance produced during natural gas and oil processing, caught fire in eastern Ohio early this morning.
It burned several acres of Monroe County woodland before the pipeline pressure dropped low enough for the fire to burn itself out.
Keevert said the fire started sometime after 2 a.m. near Cameron, in the eastern part of Monroe County and about 130 miles east of Columbus.
It burned for several hours. Firefighters left the scene around 7:30 a.m.
This was one of the minor ones; no one was killed, and it didn’t make any headlines. It was published on firehouse.com, a sort of trade website for firefighters.
Because accidents, in the fracking industry, aren’t occasional occurrences caused by freak conditions or wild coincidences. They’re a part of the everyday operation. Naomi Klein quotes an investigation which showed that during 2012 there were more than six thousand spills and what they called “other mishaps” at onshore gas and oil sites in the United States. That’s an average of more than 16 per day. And it’s getting worse, rather than better.
If that’s the situation in the US, where the population density is low, and fires like the Monroe County one burn acres of woodland, rather than acres of housing estates, what is it going to be like in the UK? Think about our patterns of settlement, our topography; hills, rivers, lakes, the kinds of roads that we have, the stress that already exists on space and resources. If fracking causes problems in North Dakota, why would it succeed in Northern Ireland?
Because it’s not even just the accidents, predictable as they are. There are other things that fracking would bring, even if everything always went right. As I mentioned earlier, each frack requires millions of gallons of water. The plan for Fermanagh is for sixty wellpads with up to 24 wells per pad. That’s 1440 wells. At a conservative estimate of five million gallons per frack, that’s 7200 million i.e. 7.2 billion gallons, to frack each one once. Then they go back and do it again. And remember that a lot of this water will stay underground, and the rest will be pretty irrevocably contaminated. This isn’t like using water to drink, or to wash with, or to water your vegetables. That water stays in the system, it’s treated and comes round again and again. This doesn’t. It’s more or less gone for good, and unless it’s decontaminated, which is difficult and expensive, we don’t even want it back.
In Northern Ireland we tend to take water for granted; in Fermanagh we feel as though we see far too much of it. But we’ve had reminders fairly recently that, though it might fall from the sky, we can still end up short of it. Can we really afford to be losing seven billion gallons at a time? And do we really have safe places to store all that flowback fluid?
And what about transport? Transport of the water, the equipment to build the infrastructure: pipelines, compressors, waste pools; transport of the chemicals, the flowback fluid, the gas itself? We’ve mentioned accidents, but what about the effect of these vehicles on our rural roads, the congestion?
It’s been estimated that each wellpad will require over five thousand journeys by twenty ton trucks for a single frack. For sixty wellpads in Fermanagh, that would be 300,000 truck journeys. I don’t know how many of you have driven on Fermanagh’s country roads, but if you meet a tractor you have to start reversing….
Both this transport and the diesel machinery used at the sites and in between will create huge amounts of noise and more disturbingly, very serious air pollution. This will, quite simply, be fatal to the most vulnerable among us.
Finally we have the social and economic effects. Fracking is a boom and bust industry; it comes into an area, bringing with it drugs, prostitution, division and violence. It leaves, taking away what short-term jobs it briefly offered, and taking away the livelihoods of many who had nothing to do with it. In Fermanagh and the border counties of the Republic, our prosperity, such as it is, depends on agriculture, on food production and on tourism. None of those can co-exist with fracking. A large part of the milk produced in Ireland is used to produce powered infant formula. Whatever we think about Nestlé, killing babies with benzene is unlikely to create confidence in the Irish dairy industry.
Someone, I think it might have been Sammy Wilson, suggested that Fermanagh could instead be a zone for lots more polluting, unsustainable industries. A fertiliser factory was one of his suggestions. In a region notorious for dissident activity, what could possibly go wrong?
The last pro-fracking argument is that all the above may well be true, but we have no alternative. This is variously couched as being because of energy security (avoiding nasty Mr Putin), peak oil or climate change. All are red herrings. The idea has been promoted that shale gas can be a ‘transition fuel’, a bridge between dirty coal and a renewable future. The truth is that, although gas burns in a power station more cleanly than coal, the process of fracking, with its inevitable leaks and flaring, creates a total carbon footprint as large as that of coal, while methane itself is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
And we don’t need a bridge; we could walk straight into our sustainable future if we wanted to. There have been several serious and credible studies, detailed in Naomi Klein’s book, showing how we could move to 100% renewable energy worldwide within the next twenty to forty years. We don’t need fracking to help us do that; we just need the political will, and governments who aren’t deliberately obstructing that future to enrich their fossil fuel friends.
I was going to add a section here about why, as Christians, we should care about fracking. But I’m not going to. I wrote a piece about this a few years ago, and I’ll link to it from my website, but to be honest, for you it’ll be stating the bleeding obvious. Essential Gospel imperatives: loving our neighbour, putting the poor first, bringing peace, caring for creation; they provide the bedrock for why we should respond, and how we do so.
Finally, I think you’d like me to say a little about what’s happened in Fermanagh. Again, I have written about this in more detail, and I’ll link to that. Essentially, a five-year licence was granted by DETI in April 2012 to a company called Tamboran Resources. The licence included an exploratory work programme which specifically included the drilling and fracking of two test wells. If that work was completed, then at the end of the five year period, further licences would have been granted, giving Tamboran the right to frack in Fermanagh for around thirty years or more.
In response to the licence, various actions were taken including the setting up of the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network, of which I was a founder member, and, led by Green MLA Steven Agnew, a motion passed in Stormont calling for a moratorium on the process. Sadly, DETI and the Minister, Arlene Foster, ignored that motion.
In the early stages, people in Fermanagh were cautiously welcoming of the idea of fracking. It was sold with the promise of hundreds of jobs, a promise that was subsequently whittled away until now it’s scarcely mentioned. It was a hard slog, especially in the early days, to collect the information about the industry – there was far less than there is now – and to put it into a form that people would understand and respond to. The very fact that there are so many side-effects of the process, made it more difficult than if there had been only one. Gradually, though, the information we put out did start to filter through, though there was still a lot of complacency and misplaced trust.
By the end of March in this year, the company were supposed to have completed the first part of their work programme, which included drilling a test well. They hadn’t done this, so DETI granted them a six month extension. Steven Agnew tried to get this decision referred to the Executive, but apart from two Ulster Unionists, neither from Fermanagh, no other MLAs supported us.
Finally, at dawn one summer morning, the people of Belcoo were woken up by heavy goods lorries coming through their village carrying security guards and equipment. Later in the day they learned that Tamboran had taken a lease on a disused quarry near the village and was planning to drill its borehole there. Its plan was to use what are known as ‘permitted development rights’ which mean that no planning permission or environmental impact assessment is required.
Several things happened then. A community camp was set up at the gates of the quarry, lots of people came along to support it, local residents who’d ignored the whole business suddenly leapt to their feet and started work, local residents who’d been campaigning for three years got even busier, Protestants and Catholics worked together without even thinking about it and a lot of policemen got a lot of overtime. It was entirely peaceful, despite attempts to suggest otherwise, and an exemplary demonstration of grassroots community.
Meanwhile, away from the campfires, people were looking closely at the legislation about permitted development rights, and realising that what Tamboran proposed to do didn’t fall within it at all. Fortunately Mark Durkan, the Minister for the Environment, came to the same conclusion, and told Tamboran that, if they wanted to drill there, they had to apply for planning permission.
By now they were within a few weeks of their extended deadline, which ran out on September 30th. Arlene Foster decided not to push her luck by giving them another extension, and so the licence quietly breathed its last. Not that it was the last we heard from Tamboran. They then issued judicial review proceedings against both the Department of the Environment and DETI. I was in the High Court in Belfast this week for one of the preliminary hearings. A date has been set in February for the hearing of the leave application in those cases. So, we’re not out of the woods yet. There is currently no valid licence to frack in Fermanagh, but it is possible that the licence could be reinstated or a new one issued. Tamboran also had a licence across the border in the Republic and any fracking there would obviously have direct effects on us in Fermanagh.
There are also potential fracking sites elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Rathlin Energy has a licence for the Ballinlea area, and is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement in relation to its planning application for an exploratory well. It is proposing to use an experimental process of fracking with nitrogen, which I’m going to have to find out about now.
Meanwhile another company, InfraStrata, has been granted permitted development rights to drill close to Woodburn reservoir, which provides drinking water to several areas including Carrickfergus and parts of Belfast. The company says that it is only planning to extract conventional oil, but it is looking at the shale layer….
I’ve probably gone beyond my allotted time, for which I apologise. And I haven’t even talked about what happens, or doesn’t happen, when the well closes down, or about the fact that shale gas isn’t even economically viable, or about lots of other things that will occur to me on the way home. But I hope I’ve given you an outline of some of things you won’t hear from the mainstream media. Thank you very much.
I’m going for the sympathy vote today. After a night of restless shale gas nightmares, I got up early to pack up my parcels. After dropping them off at the post office, I had yet another meeting about the current fracking in Fermanagh licence situation. At the end of that I just had time to cycle up (and I mean up – definitely a bit of anaerobic exercise) to my friend Barbara’s house for a delicious lunch with some of our mutual Polish friends. Not strictly Green Party business, but I did find myself explaining about our four core principles (environmental sustainability, social justice, non-violence and real democracy) and discussing overseas aid, Ukraine and the state of the UK economy. I had to leave before the coffee to get home in time to teach an English lesson and send out press releases for the Fermanagh Churches Forum AGM next week, at which Glenn Harvey from the Irish Churches Peace Project is going to be the guest speaker. It felt like a long ride, from the other side of Enniskillen, and as I turned off the main road, with home finally in view ….
… I fell off my bike. Ignominiously, into the middle of the road. No bones broken, but I do have a swollen elbow of interesting rainbow shades and an actual bloody knee. So now I’m sitting on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and not risking going further than the kitchen.
Meanwhile I see that it’s a month since I started this blog, and that I haven’t explained its title yet. During the summer, when Tamboran were stomping up and down at the Gates of Hell, the people of Belcoo held a public meeting. Representatives from all the major political parties were invited (though there was a notable lack of Unionists on the night) and I was there to speak on behalf of the Green Party. I was delighted to receive a really warm reception, which I’d like to attribute to my oratorial skills and superb sang-froid. Actually, of course, I was shaking visibly, this being one of my first official Green appearances, and the applause was probably more for Steven Agnew and his sterling frack-free Assembly work than it was for me.
Be that as it may, it was at least an opportunity to remind the audience (not that any of them had forgotten) that it had been the Green Party who had opposed fracking right from the very beginning, had led the campaign in Stormont, Westminster and on the ground, and that we had consistent policies on the economy, energy, health and the environment that would keep shale gas irrelevant, unnecessary and out of Fermanagh.
A couple of days later the farmers of Belcoo and the surrounding area made their awesome trek to Enniskillen, and Aidan and I cycled out to meet them. We joined the cavalcade a few miles outside the town and processed back somewhere in the middle, ringing our bicycle bells in time with the tractor horns and pedalling for all we were worth during the occasional fast bits. The main picture at the top of this website shows us on the home stretch and here’s Aidan a bit earlier, during a lull in proceedings.
The rally ended in the car park opposite Lidl, where farmer and FFAN committee member John Sheridan and others made rousing speeches. We leaned our bikes on a friendly-looking tractor and walked over to the makeshift podium on someone’s trailer, greeted by several people who recognised me from the public meeting, As we walked, I overheard one elderly farmer saying to another, “Where’s that Green lassie?”
Did he mean me? I asked, enchanted. It turned out that he did.
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.