4th August 2017

Last week I travelled to Lancashire to visit the site at Preston New Road near Blackpool which is currently the frontline for fracking in the UK. The details and history of the site are set out here on the superb Drill or Drop website. Briefly (and notoriously) this is the site where Lancashire County Council refused planning permission to Cuadrilla to carry out fracking operations and where, last October, the Communities Secretary overturned that decision.  It was and is a shocking undercutting of local, democratic and accountable decision-making, carried out by a government deeply embedded in the dangerous industry it ought to regulate.

I first met campaigners from Frack Free Lancashire back in the summer of 2013, when they came to Northern Ireland during the run-up to the G8 in Fermanagh, supporting us when it looked as though we might be the first to be fracked.   We met again in several campaigns, including in Paris for the COP21 climate change talks and the first ever global frack-free summit.

Reunited with Barbara and Rose for the first time since we shared a dorm in Paris!

So when I was asked by the Democracy Center to help give a workshop as part of the July Reclaim the Power Rolling Resistance at the site, I was delighted at the opportunity.  I travelled with Jamie Gorman from Love Leitrim, and during our long journey by ferry, train and bus we planned how best to explain what our campaigns had achieved in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, and what lessons we had learned.

We arrived late on the Thursday evening, and our workshop was to take place on Saturday, so we were able to spend time both at the site and in the nearby camp where we stayed under canvas.  During the month of July, direct actions had taken place on every weekday, significantly slowing down the progress of the fracking operations and raising awareness and confidence within the local community.  Every Friday there was a large-scale, family-friendly mass demonstration, good humoured, positive and celebratory.  Last Friday the theme was Carnival, with dancing, singing, circus skills …

… and a huge cycling rabbit adding to the festivities.

Saturday morning, with a few of us sitting opposite the site gates and monitoring its activity, was a time for more serious conversations, informing the discussions at the afternoon workshop, at which we were joined by activists from Scotland sharing their experiences.  The level of interest in the Northern Ireland campaign, concern for our uncertain future and joy at the ban in the Republic of Ireland were hugely inspiring, and I was sorry not to be able to stay for longer.

As always, I came away feeling that I’d learned more than I’d shared, and with a renewed determination to do whatever I can to support our fellow frack-free activists wherever they are.  Preston New Road is the place in the UK where, at present, fracking is most imminent, the danger to activists most real and the role of the police in facilitating corporate destruction most blatant and shameless.   And it is also the place where the strengths and values of the frack-free campaign, and the wider climate movement of which it is a part, are most clearly to be seen.

Central to these, I believe, are three kinds of connection, without which frack-free activism would lose its heart, its voice and its unquenchable spirit.

We must connect with our neighbours, because we are local.  Despite the attempts of Cuadrilla’s management to suggest otherwise, I saw that  residents and  businesses are overwhelmingly on the side of the campaign and against fracking in their area.  Whether it was local people walking along to the site with children and dogs to share a few minutes’ conversation, families taking part in the mass actions or drivers honking their car horns in support, there is no doubt of the mutual respect and affection between activists and the community.

We must connect with our friends, because we are global.  ‘Not in anyone’s backyard’ is a fundamental principle of the frack-free movement and we share everything: research, insights, encouragement, good news and bad.  Whenever political representatives or others claim to oppose fracking in their own regions and yet will not actively support the campaign elsewhere, they reveal the limits of their commitment.

We must connect with our enemies, because we are non-violent.  The rows of police and security guards, the vans with slogans like that of the Merseyside Police ‘A force to be reckoned with’, the deception, the acts of actual violence and the potential for them to be repeated: all these are frightening.  Retreating, retaliating, refusing to engage would all be understandable reactions.  But instead the movement constantly offers peace, humanity and love to those who do the corporations’ work.  One of the most moving actions during the month was the slow walk of women in white up to the gates and the still, silent gaze of each woman upon the face of a police officer, looking beyond the uniform and the blank stare at the human person who stood before her.

We should honour, thank and celebrate everyone who is connecting at Preston New Road, who did great things during the month of July and who will go on doing great things.  I’d like especially to thank Philippa from the Democracy Center, Coralie from Reclaim the Power, Jamie and Lucy from Ireland, and Barbara, Tina and Bob in Lancashire.  And finally I’d like to pay tribute to the amazing truck surfers, who camped for days and nights, through torrential rainstorms, on the tiny surfaces of lorry cabs, only to be arrested as soon as they finally came down.  I’ve never seen such courage, or such cheerfulness.

 

 

5th June 2017

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.

10th August 2016

I’ve had quite a media-ish week, mostly, but not entirely, arising from Theresa May’s bright idea that George Osborne’s ‘shale wealth fund‘ might act as more of an incentive if it were paid to individual householders instead of to local councils.  Obviously, the existence of the proposed fund at all is far from certain, depending as it does on fracking making a profit in the UK, those profits actually being taxed, and there being enough tax revenue thereby for ten per cent of it to mean something.  10% of zero is, of course, zero.  But public support for fracking continues to plummet, and the dangling possibility of a few quid (especially if the equally affected neighbours down the road won’t get it) seems to be what Ms May thinks One Nationhood is all about.

And of course it gave an opportunity to DUP MP (and former NI Environment Minister) Sammy Wilson to wheel out his well-worn anti-Green artillery.  It’s been a couple of weeks since he was last in the headlines, accusing women MPs of ‘voyeurism’ for seeking to breastfeed their babies while at work in the Commons chamber.  That didn’t end too well, with even his party distancing itself, so he was probably relieved to return to the old Green-baiting.  There’s something comforting about a long-established hobby.

Anyway, I was given the job of responding to him, in the original Belfast Telegraph article (see link above), on the Green Party website and on Radio Ulster’s Talkback (begins 45mins in) and Q Radio.  There was also an article about the whole business in today’s Fermanagh Herald (more headline idiosyncrasies – I assume the inverted commas were supposed to be around both the first words, otherwise it appears that Tom and I are definitely warriors but dubiously eco) …

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… and one about the success of the library campaign, too.

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10th March 2016

I’m pleased to see that Roisin Henderson of the Fermanagh Herald has followed up this news on Tamboran, which I sent to the paper last week.  This article appeared in yesterday’s edition.

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To give a bit of background about how we found out about this, here is my original press release:

It has been revealed that Tamboran Resources (UK) Ltd, the company which previously held a licence to frack in Fermanagh, has lodged yet another legal application to support its bid to return to the county.

In a reply to a request for information from the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee, which includes Steven Agnew MLA, leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, a Departmental Response has been produced by DETI’s Minerals and Petroleum Branch.

This contained the shocking news that Tamboran had submitted an application to the High Court to challenge the adoption of the Strategic Planning Policy Statement. This statement, published in September 2015, included a presumption against fracking in Northern Ireland, and was widely welcomed. This is the third application for judicial review proceedings to be launched by Tamboran since its licence was terminated in September 2014, the other two being still ongoing.

Steven Agnew, responding to the revelation, said:

“The community has shown its opposition to fracking in Fermanagh and across Northern Ireland.

“The Northern Ireland Assembly has also voiced its opposition having previously passed my motion calling for licences to be withdrawn.

“Tamboran should stop wasting their time and the community’s patience, with this legal challenge.”

Green Party member and prominent frack-free activist Tom White from Belcoo added:

“This is the type of industry we’re dealing with; one which will throw legal challenges at every opportunity. We saw an inkling of this with the injunction that was issued when Tamboran were on site. The more we learn about this industry, the more it shows itself to have no place in our society.”

Tanya Jones, Green Party candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and a founder member of the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network said:

“I am appalled, but sadly not surprised by this development. The fracking threat has not gone away, and we cannot afford to be complacent about the future of our beautiful county and our children’s health. I, with my Green Party colleagues, will continue to campaign, inside Stormont and out, until this dangerous, speculative and experimental industry is banned from Northern Ireland forever.”

Tom’s excellent blog, The Gasman Cometh (yes, I’m a Flanders & Swann fan too), is, as ever, well worth reading. He has written recently about the implications of Tamboran’s latest financial deal, as well as about these court proceedings.

17th February 2016

0217An 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.

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20th December 2015

1210bMy cold is beginning to surrender, so I managed to finish writing up my account of the fracking summit in Paris.  In other news, we had lunch at the wonderful Pinsapo Spanish restaurant in Tempo.  M was driving, so I was obliged to drink most of the wine.  The sacrifices I make …

19th December 2015

I’ve finally given into the cold which has been stalking me since Paris, and consequently haven’t done much today except to work on updating the entry for 10th December, the frack-free summit.  Even that isn’t finished yet, though.  Blearghh.