31st May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

24th March 2016

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Somehow I suspect that ‘Quipps’ of the Impartial Reporter might be a reader of this blog ..

23rd October 2015

1023Last night was the Evening of Celebration at the Erne Integrated College – my second as a governor and last (sniff) as a parent.  Aidan came back briefly from Belfast to collect a couple of awards and a cup, and to meet up with his old friends, students and staff alike.

20th October 2015

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This photograph was taken in January, when Steven Agnew came across to Fermanagh to visit the Erne Integrated College.  Here he is, talking to some of the sixth form about Green principles, being an MLA, and their views of politics and society.  It was just after the ‘Curry my yoghurt’ furore, but none of us knew quite how bad relations between the Executive parties were going to become.

Today Theresa Villiers has published the Assessment on paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.  It makes sobering, but not altogether hopeless reading.  Much now depends on the response of the Executive and former Executive parties.  Will they have the courage and humility to use this as an opportunity to seek common ground, to build more deep-rooted structures and to jettison their prejudices? Or are we back once more to the same zero-sum game?

Meanwhile, the few MLAs on the opposition benches have been trying to keep the Assembly doing what it ought to do – working for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.  As Steven says, on the Green Party in Northern Ireland website and in the Belfast Telegraph:

“I was proud to be elected as an MLA to serve the North Down constituency, as I thought I would be able to work to make a positive difference to people’s lives both there and across Northern Ireland. Not that long ago I was sitting in the Assembly chamber until late into the evening. Debates on welfare reform and planning were lengthy, as they should be, to ensure that a broad spectrum of opinion was put forwards.22

Contrast this with the current situation. Ministers are absent, sometimes. Question time is short. Bills have fallen. The Assembly has risen early in the afternoon due to non-debate. However it’s not all bad news. Those of us on the back benches continue to work to bring forward legislation. For example John McAllister has brought forward his Bill to create an official opposition and Jim Allister continues to bring forward legislation regarding special advisors.

In particular, I am looking forward to the final consideration stage of my Children’s Bill, which is designed to bring about a statutory duty on all Executive departments to collaborate and work together in the commissioning and delivery of children’s services. It will enable the education and health sectors to pool resources so that, for example, a child who uses a wheel chair will be able to access the physiotherapy that they need in school without any argument over budget allocations. The child will be put at the centre of decision making. In short, it will help ensure that our children are afforded an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.

I am pleased that the Children’s Bill has received cross-party support from all sides. It shows that it is possible for MLAs to work together. Up until now I have been working with OFMDFM to ensure that I bring forward a good, effective Bill. Under the current political circumstances that has proved difficult, although I continue to engage with each of the parties individually. I am determined that legislation as important as this should not fall by the wayside. We should not waste any opportunity to bring about positive change for our children.”

 

16th September

President Higgins standing at a lecturn speaking to the school audience.
Photo from Meadhbh Monahan of the Impartial Reporter. You may be able to glimpse the back of my head on the second row.

It was a wonderful experience and a great privilege today to meet Michael D. Higgins, poet, socialist, visionary, human rights campaigner and President of Ireland.  This morning he visited the Erne Integrated College, where his cousin, John Brennan, was head of history until John’s heartbreakingly early death two years ago.

I longed to be able to record the words of President Higgins, which were eloquent, inspiring and passionately supportive of integrated education.  One phrase struck me in particular; that if young people ‘share the good days and the bad days’ they can become ‘great citizens’.

This is crucial, and one of the significant differences between fully integrated education and other shared models.  If people from different traditions only come together for certain activities and occasions, they will always, to some extent, be strangers. It is only by working together when things are awkward, challenging, frightening or merely dull, that we really come to know and to trust one another.

We are seeing this now, writ large, in the current impasses of Stormont.  Power-sharing is a beginning, but it needs to be responsiblity-sharing as well. If this enforced coalition is to succeed as a system of real government, it cannot simply consist of joint photo-opportunities and jaunts across the Atlantic. If, when the going gets tough, the tough walk away or retreat into comforting myth, neither the system nor its participants are succeeding.

‘Sharing’ can mean having things in common, but it can also mean dividing them up – this pile mine, that pile yours.  That way lies nothing but accountancy.  ‘Including’, on the other hand, a key theme in the President’s address, means making no divisions and reaching out to all.  He expressed his commitment, and that of his wife Sabina who accompanied him, and charmed us all with her warmth, to inclusion in every sense, forgetting no one, especially the lonely child on the margin.

It was a good day, therefore, for the launch, across in Stormont, of the Integrated Education Fund’s report “Young People’s Voices”.  The launch was sponsored by Steven Agnew who said:

“A full, well-rounded education is one of the most important things we can give our children and young people. After all, the future of Northern Ireland depends on them. I believe that integrated education is fundamental to achieving a less divided society and this is clearly borne out by the majority of young people who were engaged as part of the Young People’s Voices report. It would be better for our society if our children could be educated together in one school, with no differentiation in terms of faith, ability or socio economic background. This should be the norm rather than the exception. Young people need to be allowed to reach their full potential via our education system and this is sadly lacking. From academic selection in primary seven, to a lack of recognition of vocational qualifications, we, as politicians, need to listen to and take on board the views of young people. It is only by doing so that our education system will change.”

I am proud today, as a member of the Green Party, a governor of the Erne Integrated College, a parent and a citizen, to play a small part in that change.

 

 

24th April

0425I was at the Erne Integrated College this morning for a workshop organised by the Northern Ireland Assembly education service for years 13 and 14 (Lower and Upper Sixth, in the old currency).  The intention was that MLAs would speak to the students about their work and parties, and Phil Flanagan, our youngest local Sinn Fein MLA was there.  I understand that Tom Elliott was also due to attend, but for some reason, he didn’t make it.  This would have meant that Phil had the show to himself, except that I had managed to inveigle myself in as well, just for a little variety.  It was a positive and good-natured discussion, as Phil and I don’t disagree on very much in terms of grassroots action.

I was expecting to have to rush into town afterwards, for an interview with the BBC’s Julian Fowler, but something else had come up, so that’s been postponed until Monday evening.  That suited me, as I had a lot to do in preparation for our trip to Dungannon tomorrow.  One of the tasks was collecting our new banner from L.E. Graphics in Enniskillen.  It was designed by Dale, GPNI’s new graphic designer, and we’re delighted with it.

 

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31st March

That was a busy day – meeting at the Erne Integrated College about Eco-Schools, quick dashes into the post office and library (nearly blown off my bike on the way – I had to get off and push it), interview with Gareth Gordon in Blakes of the Hollow for the BBC’s The View on Thursday, meeting of the St Michael’s Welcoming Group, fascinating conversation with our local MYP (Member of the Youth Parliament) Darragh O’Reilly and a bit more admin in the evening.  A photo with Darragh may be added in due course…

23rd March

Is it normal, to wake up at twenty to seven in the morning and immediately think, it not having occurred to me at all until then, “I need to send a couple of press releases”?  Anyway, I did them, propped up on the pillows, with a strong mug of coffee (or even a mug of strong coffee) before facing the rest of the day.

It’s been a good one, despite the discovery that though I might be a size 12 in M&S, Monsoon is a little less tactful.  After visiting the post office, buying a (size 14) skirt and a lot of cheese (which could well explain the unsize12ness), teaching an English lesson, cycling to the Erne Integrated College to discuss Eco-Schools, finding that the teacher I needed to see wasn’t there, and cycling back, all I had to do was simultaneously to cook dinner and prepare for a school governors’ meeting at seven.  That would have been easy, except that my morning chickens, or rather press releases, came home to roost in the form of two phone calls and two urgent emails from reporters on the local papers.  Somehow I managed to juggle it all, and the aubergine and halloumi pasta wasn’t much the worse for standing a little.

Now I’m back from the meeting, which went extremely well, and have been grappling with our new canvassing system.  It would, of course, have been a good deal easier if I’d realised earlier that the reason I couldn’t type any information into it was that my wireless keyboard’s batteries had given up the ghost.  But there we are.

24th January

The weekend so far …..

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Last night at the Linnett Inn in Boho, at a fundraising event for the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network.  The threat of fracking in Fermanagh is far from over, with Tamboran’s judicial review proceedings against DETI and the DoE in court again early next month.  It will be vital for the local community to have a voice in those proceedings, and so funds are urgently needed.  If you can help in any way, please contact FFAN via its website here.

 

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This morning, at the Erne Integrated College Open Day with Rory, who is a former student there.  We very much enjoyed joining one of the many tour groups led by current students, seeing the fantastic work that is being done, chatting to prospective parents and listening to the melodious Chamber Choir, which today included Aidan. The progressive and positive vision of the College, its excellent teaching and affirming atmosphere have been one of the main reasons why we have felt so welcomed and at home in Enniskillen and Fermanagh.  I’m glad to see more families being introduced to its inclusive community and look forward to getting to know them in the coming months and years.

Tonight I’ll be at a fundraising concert for the Fermanagh/Tyrone Brass Band Summer School, led by Stephen Crooks, another former Erne Integrated College student, and tomorrow morning at the Quaker worship group in the Eco-Barn at Orchard Acre Farm, so there won’t be much time for writing more this weekend.  But please don’t forget to read yesterday’s post about Steven Agnew’s Childen’s Services Co-operation Bill, and to make sure that your MLAs will support it on Monday.

19th January

0119Another busy Monday, gathering more Greenlings (yes, you guessed which fantasy series filmed in Northern Ireland I’ve been watching over the weekend).  I’ve also been sending out invitations to this year’s Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Enniskillen on Thursday, at which I’ll be reading (and washing up afterwards).  Then there was posting books, teaching English (thankfully remembering what a gerund is) and finally spending the evening at a meeting of the Erne Integrated College Board of Governors. It’s the college’s Open Day on Saturday, so I’ll be there to help out, provided that I still have the energy after Friday night’s Leave the Horse Outside, a suitably country fundraiser for the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network. Funds are needed for the frack-free movement’s legal costs connected with Tamboran’s judicial reviews, so it’s a very worthy cause, and bound to be a fantastic night.  You’ll recognise me – I’ll be the one dressed as a cowgirl….