It’s half-past ten (in the evening) and we’re just back from the Green Party in Northern Ireland AGM and conference. It was an amazing day, but I have no energy to write about yet, so here’s Alan in Belfast’s excellent Slugger O’Toole report to be going along with,
What I’d rather like to do now, at quarter to five on a Friday afternoon, is follow the cat’s example and curl up on a blanket to sleep. (This particular blanket, by the way, was knitted in response to Oxfam’s Syria appeal and bought by me from their tent at Glastonbury last year. I had it wrapped around me as I watched the Rolling Stones and got to know the incredible activist, nurse and sailor Mike Travis.) Yesterday’s long day meant that I had a wave of GPNI memberships waiting to be processed this morning, along with more books to post. The snow and ice have melted, so I could cycle into town, but by the time I set off back it was wet and blustery, and a bit of a struggle. Anyway, I’ll give you a quick important update (and an easy job to do if you’re in Northern Ireland) and then I’ll conserve what energies remain for tonight’s frack-free fundraiser.
The important thing that I want to tell you about is Steven Agnew’s Children’s Services Co-operation Bill, which is to have its Second Stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday, and what I’d like you to do is ask your MLAs to support it.
The background to the Bill goes back fifteen years, to the tragic death of little Victoria Climbié in London. The subsequent inquiry found that the uncoordinated and disjointed nature of children’s services in the UK at the time was a central factor in the failure to protect Victoria from those who were abusing her. As a result of the inquiry’s recommendations, the Children Act 2004 was passed, promoting co-ordination between official bodies in order to ensure the welfare of children in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, however, apart from legislation specifically dealing with at-risk children, there is no such statutory duty.
Why does this matter? Child poverty is a huge problem in Northern Ireland, with 21% of children living in persistent poverty, double the rate in Great Britain. Despite the fact that government spending per person is higher here than in the rest of the UK, children’s welfare lags behind. Experts and organisations dealing with children’s interests agree that a greater level of co-operation would result in better, safer and happier lives for children across Northern Ireland.
Steven’s Bill therefore sets out a list of outcomes which have been agreed in the Children’s Strategy. These are:
(a) being healthy;
(b) enjoying learning and achieving;
(c) living in safety and with stability;
(d) experiencing economic and environmental well-being;
(e) contributing positively to community and society; and
(f) living in a society which respects their rights.
The Bill requires government departments, local authorities, education boards, health trusts, the police etc. to work together to achieve these, and to report on their progress. It also enables them to pool funds and resources in order to act as effectively as possible.
Before introducing the Bill, Steven consulted widely among relevant organisations, MLAs and MPs. The response was loud and clear, as explained in the note accompanying the Bill:
“Every respondent supported the principles of the Bill and the introduction of a statutory duty to co-operate on children’s services. Of those respondents who directly answered the relevant questions: every respondent stated that the introduction of a duty to co-operate would make co-operation more likely; every respondent stated that there was presently a lack of collaboration within government in relation to children’s services; every respondent stated that greater collaboration between government departments and agencies would improve the outcomes for children and young people; every respondent expressed strong support for an enabling power to pool budgets; some respondents highlighted that they considered an enabling power to pool budgets absolutely essential; and every respondent stated that there was currently insufficient co-operation in planning, commissioning and delivering children’s services and in the pooling of budgets.”
There can be no room, in the vital task of making life better for Northern Ireland’s children, for petty partisanship or a ‘silo mentality’ on the part of government departments. I trust that all MLAs who are concerned about the future of our children will vote in favour of this Bill.
So please contact your MLAs this weekend and ask them whether they will be supporting the Children’s Services Co-operation Bill in the Assembly on Monday. If they are not, you may wonder what on earth they are doing there at all…
p.s. Sorry, I forgot – there is also a petition here – please sign it if you can.
A productive day today, working on fracking and TTIP issues, but it’s Sunday evening and you don’t want yet more bad news. Instead, why not take a look at this inspiring and encouraging blog post from Georgia Grainger, chair of the Young Greens NI. As Georgia says,
“I never became a Green, I just found a term and party for it, and I think that’s somewhat inherent in the reason I am a Green. I’m not just a Green party member, or a believer in Green politics, but I am a Green, the same way I am a socialist and I am a feminist. I think being a Green is a type of politics, not just a party, but it helps that there’s a party to go alongside it.”
I think that is the experience of many people who have joined the Green Party, especially this week, when the combined membership of the Green parties in the UK overtook that of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. Here in Northern Ireland our membership went up by 10% in just 48 hours.
We didn’t decide to join a political party and then talk ourselves into agreeing with its policies; we just followed our deepest beliefs about how people can support one another for the common good, and found that the Green Party was there waiting for us. Green ideas, about social justice, non-violence, grassroots democracy and environmental sustainability, chime with our natural instincts about what is right. The problem has been that so many forces around us: mainstream politics, the media, big corporations, sadly often the churches, who should know better if anyone does, tell us not to trust those instincts. They tell us that they know best, that the way things are is the way things have to be, that we should keep our heads down and follow the crowd.
Well, this week has seen lots more heads raised well over the parapet, and nothing terrible has happened to them. I hope their example will give courage to many others to ask themselves what they really want, and to find ways of working towards those goals. I can’t promise that it will be easy, but you’ll find encouragement, inspiration, strength, friendship and the knowledge that you’re playing a small part in a brighter and better future. That has to be better than a shrug and a sigh.
I thought today was going to be a relatively unbusy one, but it didn’t quite turn out like that, with lots to do, a fair chunk of it for the Green Party. Sadly that meant that I didn’t have much time to talk to Andrew from the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network when he called round for the copy of Fracking Up I’d promised as a competition prize. Andrew, and sometimes Kristina, are doing a great job continuing the work I began on the frackaware site, keeping it as a useful resource on all things frack-free, in Fermanagh and beyond. By the way, if you buy Fracking Up, either in print or Kindle editions, you’ll be contributing to my election campaign fund!
Meanwhile, as I haven’t got anything substantial for you, please let yourself be inspired by my colleague Maurice’s latest post on the GPNI website – on choosing the grey or the Green. As you might guess, we’re not going with the grey…
To Bangor, for the autumn EGM of the Green Party in Northern Ireland. Getting from Enniskillen to Bangor by 9.30 on a Saturday morning was never going to be feasible, so Aidan and I enjoyed the hospitality of Jenny Muir, the GPNI chair, in Belfast on the Friday night. Many thanks to Jenny and her partner Nick for great vegan curry and even greater company.
The big story of the day was the election of our first GPNI Deputy Leader, the brilliant Clare Bailey (pictured with me left). Clare’s work, inspiration and influence have been responsible for much of the Green Party’s success here over the past few years, and it was a bitter blow that she missed out on a council seat in South Belfast this year by only 126 votes. Her acceptance speech summed up everything that is best about her: committed, intelligent, passionate and funny. I can’t hope to capture it second-hand, so do hope that it will be available on the GPNI site very soon.
Other highlights of the day included Jenny presenting our Changing the Conversation strategy for increasing women’s involvement in the Green Party here. This is something that Jenny and Clare have both been working on, with input from the rest of us, and it was great to see it presented so eloquently, received so positively and agreed unanimously. The importance of family-friendly policies for both women and men was illustrated vividly during the discussion, when Steven Agnew’s two-year-old daughter came into the room, looked up at the podium and cried in utter delight, “Daddyyyyy!” She then clambered onto his chair and sat drawing happily while he gave his endorsement to the strategy document. At the end of the session, when the members began to clap, she beamed down at us in complete contentment, accepting the applause with perfect aplomb. No politican could have been more statesmanlike.
It was a wonderful day, very positive and encouraging, bringing it home to all of us how much we have achieved over the past year, and how far our values and principles are resonating with people across Northern Ireland. I’ll just finish with a few pictures, to give you a flavour of the good time we had.
The venue, the excellent Bangor Abbey Parish Centre
Aidan, taking a look at some Green Party information
Clare, giving her acceptance speech
My moments at the lectern
Jenny, presenting “Changing the Conversation”
And the end of the day – Aidan at the fantastic Byblos restaurant in Belfast where we had a quick dinner before getting the last bus home.
We’re out of order today, I’m afraid. I don’t mean broken, or even unparliamentary behaviour, just that yesterday’s post isn’t quite ready yet. I’m sure you can cope, flexible, tolerant readers that you are. Here’s a picture of me at yesterday’s Green Party in Northern Ireland EGM to ponder on while you wait….
Meanwhile I’m having one of those quiet but rather productive days, based around the sofa and the washing machine. I’ve added a Donate button to the blog, in case anyone feels inspired to contribute financially to what I’m doing here (please see the About Tanya page for details of what I can use where) and a Join the Green Party page to make that as easy as possible. Joining the party, especially if you’re in Northern Ireland, is probably the single most effective way that you can help us, whether or not you’d like to take an active part in the campaign.
I’ve also been catching up with my MOOCs, and got to an interesting topic today about the Michigan model of voting decisions. This says that there are three factors which influence how someone votes: party identification, issues and candidates. Party identification is the most stable of these, while the second and third need to be communicated afresh within each campaign. In general, however, party identification has been in steep decline over the past sixty years, so that voters in most western democracies no longer have firm allegiances to a particular party. The lecturer identified three phases in this process, from the pre-modern era of 1920 – 45, when parties only needed to mobilise, rather than to convince their voters, through the modern (1945 – 90) phase of mass media to the professionalised, post-Fordist strategies of today, with intense personalisation, direct marketing and the use of external consultants.
I found all this intriguing when applied to our situation here. In past elections, especially in this constituency, there has been a strong, distinctly anachronistic sense of party identification, and mobilising is exactly what the traditional nationalist and unionist parties have relied upon for their support. There has been little presentation of any issues, beyond the crudest slogans of identity, and individual candidates have been of very little significance within the party machines. In this, though, as in so much else, Fermanagh and Tyrone are changing. Voters are beginning to resent being taken for granted by the mainstream parties and are looking more and more closely at the candidates who seek to represent them and at the policies for which they stand.
I must confess, though, that I gave a wry smile when I heard about direct marketing and external consultants. In the Green Party we’re as contemporary as possible with regard to progressive social ideas and the latest scientific research on fracking and climate change. But when it comes to expensive mailshots and image advisors, I’m afraid that we’ll have to lag behind. Every penny counts in our campaigns, and many of them have to come out of our own pockets. That’s by no means entirely a bad thing; I’m sure that citizens, all of us tax-payers in one way or another, would much prefer to elect politicians who know the value of money. And meanwhile the best things that we can do; listening to people, talking about our vision and policies, sharing in community campaigns and even writing this blog, cost plenty in time, commitment and energy, but not too much in cash. Though the bus fares are adding up…
Finally, I’d like to say hello and thank you to Sue, who’s been following this blog from Alberta in Canada, and is apparently my second cousin once removed. It was lovely to hear about you, Sue, and I’m cheered and encouraged by your kind comments. Alberta, is of course the centre of the notorious tar or oil sands industry, an appalling exploitation of people, landscape and resources for the most inefficient and destructive short-term profit. It’s an issue I’ve been aware of for a long time, before I ever heard of fracking, and it’s heart-breaking to see how it’s still wreaking havoc in this beautiful country. Canada used to be such a beacon of hope, especially for people in the UK and the US, and its recent withdrawal from the Kytoto Protocol was a terrible signal of our global failure to do anything constructive about climate change. (Speaking of which, the latest IPCC report was issued today – I will write more about this later in the week.) The tar sands situation was one that our group Operation Noah Enniskillen highlighted a few years ago as part of a 350.org global action. Here are a couple of us in the Diamond in Enniskillen, using desperate tactics, possibly dodgy stereotypes and very bad artwork to raise awareness of the situation. We got some signatures for the petition, I remember, and gave some children (and a few adults) an unusual picture for the family album.
On the 261 bus* again, beginning the long eastward trek to the GPNI office in Bangor, County Down. I plan to make myself a packed lunch, but run out of time, so I pick up an egg mayo sandwich on my way. In Belfast I switch to the luxury of the train, spread out my Guardian to read about the Green Party surge in Bristol, open the sandwich pack and take a bite. Hmmn. You know the way people talk about chicken and egg situations? Well, this is one of those, except that it doesn’t have any egg. I don’t usually eat meat, but I’ve already bought this, and I am pretty hungry. Throwing it away won’t bring the hen back to life, or recreate the resources used, so I eat it anyway, trying not to enjoy it too much. Don’t believe everything you read, I remind myself, reflecting that it applies to sandwich labels as much as to tabloid headlines.
It’s a great meeting, anyway, a chance to hear what’s going on in the Assembly from our leader, MLA Steven Agnew and to share news from Green Party groups across Northern Ireland. I give the latest figures on our membership rise here – the #WeeGreenSurge, as it’s being called on Twitter – and share the conclusions of Wednesday’s trip to Dublin.
M. has been working in Belfast today, so we get the bus back together, and he eventually coaxes his computer into connecting to the wobbly wi-fi for me. I almost wish he hadn’t, though, as the first thing I see is the news that my friend Anita Mukherjee has died in hospital. Anita has been a great friend since we first came to Enniskillen, and an enthusiastic supporter of all my favourite groups: the Fermanagh Churches Forum, Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network and the Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party. One of the last times I saw her was at our Great Green Sale at the Westville Hotel, when she had a stall herself and brought along colleagues from her Women of the World group to do the same.
“Come over here, Tanya!” she called, as I was skedaddling about, putting out leaflets and carrying boxes of books and cake. “I’ll give you a relaxing head massage.”
“Thanks, but later,” I replied, but I didn’t find the time all afternoon. Now I never will.
A Fermanagh Churches Forum event in the Clinton Centre, with Anita in the middle of the front row.
*Please let me know if you have any comments on this service that you would like me to pass on to the Translink bus services general manager – see the 21st October post. Thank you to those who have already given me their thoughts and ideas.