A couple of things from the first part of yesterday’s brilliant Green Party conference in Belfast:
Aidan, just arrived from Manchester with two hours’ sleep, presenting the Young Greens’ manifesto with a powerful and moving speech.
Here I’m listening to questions about the Fermanagh & South Tyrone Greens’ motion calling for an integrated flood prevention and mitigation strategy. No audio, you’ll be relieved to know, but what I said was:
In Northern Ireland as throughout the world, floods are growing more frequent, more extreme and more destructive. In my own home constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, we have seen serious damage inflicted: personal misery, isolation, disruption and serious economic loss.
Climate change is, of course, a major driver of these changes, and I’m entirely happy to support the South Belfast amendment. It’s yet another reason why Northern Ireland needs its own Climate Change Act, and why, with the rest of the Green Eighteen, I would be pushing relentlessly for this in Stormont.
But there are other reasons too, reasons more immediately under the control of our institutions. Some of these are obvious, like construction on floodplains, some counter-intuitive, like the dredging of rivers which more often exacerbates, rather than relieves flooding problems.
And some may appear at first sight to have nothing to do with flooding at all, such as changes in farming policy and practice: the removal of vegetation especially from high ground, the decline in ground cover plants, subsidy changes and a veritable bonfire of the regulations which once conserved our soil. The effect of these changes is that rainfall which was once absorbed by our landscape, and slowly released, now flashes off bare hills and compacted ground, thundering in torrents towards our homes.
This is why, valuable as initiatives such as local Flood Risk Management Plans are, they do not go nearly far, or deep enough. In the same way that the disjointed operation of children’s services, before Steven’s Bill, let those very children down, so the isolation and competition within our Executive make flooding more likely, more violent and more destructive.
There is probably no department which is unrelated to flooding, either by cause or effect. Decisions about the location, structure and catchment areas of schools and hospitals are nonsensical without taking into account the likelihood and nature of local flooding. The viability of industries which DETI wishes to support is altered when flooding is taken into account. The risks of fracking, for example, high enough already, are dramatically multiplied.
This motion doesn’t seek to identify the precise policies which would work best in Northern Ireland. That is a fascinating discussion which I hope we will have in the future. Nor does it detail the mechanism by which the duties outlined would be imposed. That, again would be too complex for the time we have available. But if Steven, with the support of the children’s sector, can do it for children’s immediate needs, I think we could do it for their future.
When people are unable to live in their homes, travel to work and school, operate what should be sustainable businesses and make plans for the future, our society cannot function effectively. The effects of climate and agricultural change will, if unchecked, exacerbate these problems to the point of crisis. We cannot afford not to spend the time, thought and resources necessary to take long-term and effective action.
(Photographs by Anne Ramsey)