An excellent discussion this evening with some of Fermanagh’s frack-free activists about the current situation, what is likely to happen in the future and how Green Party MLAs can work in the Assembly and elsewhere to keep our county clean and safe. We covered many issues; economic, environmental, international, legal and medical, and discussed the real and sustainable clean energy alternatives which our Executive ought to be supporting.
Just in case anyone reading doesn’t yet know – Fermanagh is definitely the most beautiful place in the British Isles, probably in Europe, possibly in the world. (I’ve heard good things of Iceland and New Zealand, but I’ve certainly never been anywhere lovelier than here.) A few photos from our walk this afternoon.
A few photographs from last night’s celebrations:
The consultation period for the DUP’s so-called ‘Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill’, otherwise known as the ‘conscience clause‘ ends at 5pm tomorrow, with an unprecedented number of people (164,571 as I write) having signed a petition expressing their opposition to the proposed facilitation of discrimination against LGBT people.
Meanwhile it turns out that the ‘cross-community’ justification for the Bill isn’t quite what it seems.
The so-called ‘Catholic adoption agency’ that would have such deep-seated ethical objections to placing needy children with same-sex couples that it would have to close if the conscience clause wasn’t passed turns out to be – not a ‘Catholic’ agency and not in the slightest opposed to same-sex adoptive couples. As the Belfast Telegraph reports:
‘Rosemary Hurl, the chief executive of Family Care Adoption Services (FCAS), said: “We are not a Catholic agency and to put that out is very alarming. The bishops are aware of this. We are not their adoption agency and we are not closing.”
Family Care Adoption Services was set up to replace two existing Catholic adoption agencies, but is legally an independent body serving the whole community. It says it places children with people of all faiths and none and specialises in placing children with problems with single people or families. After the DUP said it would support the “Catholic Adoption Agency”, FCAS’s chief executive stressed the body is not a Catholic agency and would be willing to place children with same-sex couples now the law allows it.‘
A genuine mistake, or a cynical attempt to use the plight of children in care to pretend that this nasty Bill has widespread support and justification?
Meanwhile, more examples of the suffering caused by the self-righteous Right came in the launch today of Amnesty’s report on the abortion law in Northern Ireland. Green Party Northern Ireland Deputy Leader Clare Bailey and Leader Steven Agnew were both there, with Clare speaking with her usual forthright compassion:
“For far too long, local politicians have shied away from this issue leaving women and the medical profession in a state of fear and confusion.
“Abortion must be decriminalised as Northern Ireland has the harshest criminal penalty for abortion anywhere in Europe – life imprisonment both for the woman undergoing an unlawful abortion and for anyone assisting her. That sentence even applies in cases where the pregnancy is as a result of rape or incest, or in cases of fatal foetal impairment.
“Whether certain politicians want to accept it or not, women in Northern Ireland are being discriminated against and hundreds are forced to leave Northern Ireland every year just to access health care to which they should be entitled.
“We are simply exporting the issue of abortion to be out of sight and therefore out of mind.
“That is not a mature, fair or even legal way to treat the women of Northern Ireland.
“Women of all ages, often in very difficult circumstances, are forced to travel to another part of the UK at their own expense and often without the presence of family or friends to access a health service to which they are entitled.
“I believe the Department of Justice consultation does not go far enough in this matter and shows how out of touch so many of the local parties are when it comes to women’s rights.
“Local politicians and the parties they represent are failing the women who they will soon be seeking support and votes off and that is simply not good enough.
“Where women do have a choice currently in Northern Ireland is who they vote for and I would urge them to read this shocking Amnesty report and not give their support to political parties which treat them as second class citizens and not only fail to protect their rights, but actively campaign to suppress them.”
For me, one of the most disturbing findings of the report was how, even within the extremely restrictive regime in Northern Ireland as a whole, women in the western part of the region are unfairly treated. As the BBC website reported:
‘Grainne Teggart, a spokesperson for Amnesty International, said: “One of the most concerning issues to come out of this report is that there is a post code lottery in Northern Ireland and that means that some women can access abortion services and others can’t and that can vary across the various health trusts.
“So, for example, a woman in the Belfast Health Trust has a greater chance of accessing an abortion service than a woman in Fermanagh South Tyrone because of the 2013 guidelines which has instilled a climate of fear among doctors.
“And we heard that from clinicians, doctors, health professionals and also the women trying to access the services.”‘
Whatever our personal views of the ethics of abortion, this inequality is clearly wrong. Women and girls here in County Fermanagh are entitled to the same rights and respect as those in the cities. We live in a beautiful landscape, in close and supportive communities, but these are no protection against the tragic events outlined in the Amnesty report. I’m grateful to Amnesty for highlighting this injustice and to Clare for her support. It won’t be easy, but I believe that together we can bring about change for our sisters and daughters across Fermanagh and the whole of Northern Ireland.
Do you know how sometimes you feel homesick for a place while you’re still there, and nostalgic for an experience while you’re still living it? That’s how I feel this evening, watching the film Battles, Bricks and Bridges, made by the Development Media Workshop. I’m a voluntary director of DMW, and we had our AGM this afternoon, a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves of the fantastic work that Michael has done this year, both here in Fermanagh and across the world. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about his work with the Leprosy Mission Ireland, which is building momentum and offering a real chance to change lives for the hidden millions suffering from the disease and its effects. Our role as directors of DMW is a small one, but being there is one of the links that makes the big things possible, and I’m honoured to be a part of it.
I don’t really want to write any more now, as I really want to get back to the film. If you’re reading this from somewhere else in the world, and you want to know why I’ve come to love Fermanagh so much, just join me in watching it…
To Belfast again today, to talk with Green colleagues about the latest fracking developments. As I said in my Impartial interview, we in Fermanagh are very far from being out of the woods as far as shale gas extraction is concerned, and I’m certainly not going to stop working and campaigning until it’s definitely gone for good. If that means sitting on a dark bus, as I am now, drenched from the shower a kindly lorry driver gave me at the bus stop and trying to work out how to operate the WordPress for Android app, then so be it. Though I am a little concerned that the only way I have found of saving my draft is to drop the phone in my lap. The “smart” in smartphone is clearly not a transferable attribute.
I have written quite a lot on my other blog about the story so far; of the fracking threat to Fermanagh, our campaign and the Green Party’s leadership, so I won’t repeat it all here. When it’s all finally over, and we have a frack-free planet, free time and dry feet, perhaps I’ll write the whole saga, right from the beginning. Meanwhile here is a memory of a rare day when being an activist in Fermanagh was a dry vocation.