I was delighted a few days ago to hear the news that the bill to ban fracking in the Republic of Ireland has passed successfully through the Dail. The new law, which started out as a Private Member’s Bill, ended up as government legislation with cross-party support. It now only requires approval of the Seanad before it can be signed by President Michael D Higgins, and is expected to become law before the Oireachtas starts its summer recess.
This is a good moment to restate, once again, my personal commitment to working at every level to obtain a similar ban in Northern Ireland. Much has been achieved here, through the hard work of many campaigning groups and individuals, but a complete ban has always and will continue to be my unshakeable objective. I am proud that the Green Party in Northern Ireland has a longstanding manifesto commitment to ban fracking and that we have led the way consistently on this issue, ever since Steven Agnew brought it to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the first MLA to do so.
We cannot afford to be complacent. The environmental protections which limit the powers of fracking companies are almost all European directives which, post-Brexit, will be vulnerable to amendment and repeal. The prospect of direct rule from a fervently pro-fracking Tory government is a disturbing one. And the judicial reviews taken by Tamboran to try to recover their licence and overturn the planning presumption against fracking are still ongoing.
Across the Irish Sea, in Lancashire and elsewhere, fracking is being imposed on communities against the wishes of local people and the democratic decisions of their councils. I am proud to stand with fellow Green Party candidates such as Caroline Lucas and my friend Tina Rothery who have bravely risked their own liberty to protest at the injustice, destructiveness and sheer stupidity of the fracking experiment. Green Parties across the UK, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales, all share an absolute manifesto commitment to ban fracking once and for all, and as a Green Party MP, I would make supporting, and if necessary introducing, an anti-fracking Bill in Westminster one of my highest priorities.
One of the particular problems we have faced on a UK scale has been the reliance of the Westminster government on the deeply flawed Public Health England report on fracking. By contrast, we and our sister Green Parties are committed to genuinely evidence-based policy. Reliable studies from across the world have demonstrated the grave dangers of fracking to human and environmental health. Our own county of Fermanagh was included in the Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s report, jointly commissioned by the Irish and Northern Ireland adminstrations, which identified serious potential impacts including pollution of groundwater aquifers, pollutant and gas migration, and gas emissions following well closure. These impacts were rightly recognised by the Irish government as being so dangerous as to require an immediate ban.
The urgency of obtaining a similar ban in Northern Ireland is clear, and Seán Kyne TD, Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources, has stated in the Dail that it is his intention, as and when the Northern Ireland Executive is restored, to raise the matter of a Northern Ireland ban with his counterparts in the North/South Ministerial Council.
In this, as in so much else, the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of the people of Northern Ireland are being sacrificed to the political games that are keeping Stormont silent and stagnant. It is time to put people first, for the traditional parties to reach agreement, restore the Executive and Assembly, and carry forward a Northern Ireland fracking ban. If they will not do so, we may all pay the price.