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.


 

 

3rd April 2016

I’m having a day out of the election campaign today to travel down to Dublin.  It’s the Irish Junior Championships and I’m giving a talk to the parents of the players, based on my book Survival Guide for Chess Parents which was published by Everyman Chess (long ago).

Meanwhile, here’s a letter of mine in this week’s Impartial Reporter.

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9th March 2016

0508Ciaran and I appear in today’s Tyrone Constitution, calling for Fermanagh & Omagh Council to follow the lead of Belfast City Council (as proposed by Ross Brown) in calling for the disclosure of political donations in Northern Ireland.  Of course F&O Council may feel that they’ve heard rather enough from me about transparency lately….

 

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3rd February 2016

A couple of things in today’s Fermanagh Herald

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29th January 2016

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With Ciaran at the Westminster count last year.

Ciaran McClean, our Green Party colleague in West Tyrone, has been speaking out about the news that more than £170,000 of public money has been spent policing Dalradian’s controversial goldmining operation near Gortin.  No contribution to this cost has been made by the Canadian-based company, which has also received grants of over £300,000 from the Northern Ireland Executive for the project.

image by Tony Hisgett
image by Tony Hisgett

But the reasons why we oppose Dalradian’s activities in Tyrone extend far beyond the financial.  A recent report from Friends of the Earth highlighted ten areas of concern, including the fact that the mine is extremely close to the River Owenkillew Special Area of Conservation, designated for its place as the home of otters, Atlantic salmon and the endangered freshwater pearl mussel. Despite this, no Environmental Impact Assessment was required or carried out.

Meanwhile local policing budgets are being cut, and small and medium sustainable businesses across the region are struggling.  Think what they could do with a fraction of the largesse handed out to this glossily packaged but destructive and outdated industry. It is time for those who hold the public pursestrings to remember whom they are supposed to serve, and for those who administer our laws  to remember what they are supposed to protect.

8th May

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I’ll be brief.  I have had a couple of hours’ rest, but every time I closed my eyes, all I could see were serried ranks of politicians ….

We went up to Omagh Leisure Centre early, to catch the end of the West Tyrone count, which took place immediately before ours.  Our Green Party candidate and friend Ciaran McClean (pictured with me above) did really well, against a very wide field.

0508wtAs we were waiting for the official announcement of the result, the assembled photographers, in the absence of anyone properly famous, noticed that I was the only Fermanagh & South Tyrone candidate there, and there was a brief flurry of flashbulbs (or their contemporary equivalent) which was slightly bizarre for all of us.  Janie slipped behind them for her own version.

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Eventually our count began.  I had thought that this would be a nerve-wracking experience, but there was so much to watch and talk about, that I didn’t have time to worry.  The general consensus seemed to be that I would get around two hundred votes, so I was a little nervous about the prospect of not getting that far.  As it turned out, though, by the time we took a look at my votes table (each of the candidates have one, at the top of the room) it was already healthily beyond that. Here is my final bundle.

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Not that many people were interested in that, though, while Michelle and Tom’s votes were being stacked in their thousands.

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Michelle had been expected to win, and for most of the time she seemed comfortably ahead, but a late surge in the unionist votes caught up and eventually ….

 

0508fstCue enormous consternation from the assembled Sinn Fein notables (who later proved to include Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness) and elation from the Ulster Unionists, whose leader, Mike Nesbitt, suddenly appeared before the announcement, as though in a chaotic episode of This Is Your Life.

Meanwhile I was delighted on my own account, at having exceeded both our and the general expectations, received so many votes despite the intense polarisation of the seat, and outpolled the established Alliance Party.

And there was more good news from the other GPNI candidates, with both Steven and Clare getting their deposits back and Ross continuing to do well in the difficult seat of East Belfast.  Here are their results:

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If only the news from across the water could have been so good.

 

 

8th April

With the sun still shining, I was able to cycle without a coat, for the first time this year, to pick up the papers this morning.  We had some coverage in the Tyrone Constitution:

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and also in the Fermanagh Herald.

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And our polling cards have arrived in the post, which is reassuring.

 

 

7th April

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Well, that was a busy and slightly momentous day.  My friend and fellow Green Party member Janie kindly drove me to Omagh to submit my nomination papers.  Doing it via public transport wasn’t really feasible, as the day-after-a-bank holiday timetable would have required me to go via Ballygawley, so that the return journey would have literally taken all day.  Given my nervousness about the whole procedure, and the tiny timescale allowed for it, that would have reduced me to a quivering jelly of terror.  I was pretty gelatinous anyway, but Janie managed to keep me more or less solid until we reached the electoral office.

Once there, it wasn’t too bad at all.  My photo was taken by a nice man from the Tyrone Constitution, and the Deputy Returning Officer, Mr Fox, was not in the slightest vulpine.  I think I only asked three extra times “Is everything really all right?”  Judging from the number of times I’d read the Advice to Candidates, it jolly well should have been, but I was beyond logic by then.

Janie eventually managed to tear me away from the office, and we emerged into the bright Omagh sunshine, only to encounter my friend and fellow Green Party candidate Ciaran McClean on the doorstep, popping in to check his paperwork for West Tyrone.  There couldn’t have been a better person to celebrate with.

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Back at home I treated myself to brunch (having been too nervous to eat more than an apple beforehand) – Traidcraft Malawi coffee and cake made by the accomplished Michasia, together with a few pages from Val McDermid’s gripping history of forensics.

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A brief excursion into ordinary life, in the form of the post office, building society and Lidl, then back to Green Party stuff with a couple of hours’ canvassing with some of our young Fermanagh Greens.

 

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And now I’m a real candidate!

22nd March

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The plan for today was to have a rest. I managed to spend a good portion of it sitting on the sofa, but between Crowdfunder (more on this soon) and new systems for membership management and canvassing, the repose element has been confined to the physical.  Which is a convoluted way of saying that I haven’t got anything much to write yet.  I’ll show you this jolly picture, though, of the Green Party in Northern Ireland’s 2015 Westminster candidates.  (May 2015, perhaps I should say, in case the pollsters’ predictions of an immediate re-election come true.)

From left: Councillor Ross Brown, standing in East Belfast, me, MLA Steven Agnew, standing in North Down, Clare Bailey, standing in South Belfast and Ciaran McClean standing in West Tyrone.