The launch of party manifestos across the UK reminds us that this election is being held against the backdrop of the suspended Stormont talks. If the mainstream parties continue to play political games, instead of putting people first and forming a functioning Executive, sooner or later direct rule will be imposed upon us. That means being subject to whatever whims the Westminster government chooses. The Conservative manifesto makes it clear that the rollout of fracking across the country is a priority for them, riding roughshod over local opinion and democratic decision-making. Their muddle over social care shows that they have no real concern about the needs of ordinary people. And their continued, reckless pursuit of a hard Brexit sacrifices all of our futures.
Our own Green Party in Northern Ireland manifesto will be launched today, providing a positive alternative to both Westminster indifference and Stormont stagnation. We are putting you first, with practical proposals to give you a voice on Brexit and our future in Europe, to meet your healthcare needs, to give your children the great education they deserve and to protect our precious landscape and wildlife. I am delighted to be one of our candidates, along with our leader Steven Agnew, who will be visiting Enniskillen next week.
Now, more than ever, we need to look beyond the old divisions. The Green Party, with its sister parties across the UK and Europe, is ideally placed to speak for the people of Fermanagh and Tyrone. My role model as an MP would be the Green’s Caroline Lucas, who has tirelessly called the government to account, bravely stood up against fracking, against public service cuts and for the interests of real people and the environment in which they live.
I am writing this on the Holyhead to Dublin ferry, coming home from Glastonbury, and one of the most emotional weekends of my life. When I woke up on Friday morning to the referendum result, chalked on a blackboard outside the campsite information tent, I wasn’t surprised; I’d never been sanguine about the return to the status quo consensus; but I was shocked and dismayed. The fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland both had Remain majorities, though personally consoling, didn’t make the news any better. As the shockwaves passed through the site, strangers and friends sharing stunned sadness, all I could think of was my neighbours back at home. Northern Ireland, I reflected, faces all the anguish and turmoil of England or Wales, intensified by our post-conflict vulnerability and dependence on ‘inward investment’, together with the potential opening of older and deeper wounds. The Scottish festival-goers could be proud and defiant, looking forward to a second, likely decisive independence referendum, but for us there are no easy answers.
I’m not ashamed to say that I spent much of Friday in tears, and what moments I could on Saturday and Sunday sitting in a sea of mud, scanning the pages of the Guardian for coverage of Northern Ireland’s situation. There was a little, but nothing that told me anything I didn’t already know. Amidst the excitement of new (I can’t say ‘fresh’) leadership battles in the two biggest parties, the only real interest in the other side of the Irish Sea is as a source of a potential EU passport.
Now, after the initial shock has passed, I’m more angry than tearful. I’m not angry with the people who voted Leave, not even those who within hours were regretting their protest. Except for a few in marginal constituencies, people aren’t used to seeing their vote count, and they were cruelly and cynically misled. I am angry, though, with those elected representatives who knew what they were doing, and went ahead regardless, for motives only they fully know. When we challenged them, during the campaign, to explain how they would achieve access to the single market without freedom of movement or compliance with European law, or how they would protect our environment, our rights and our economy outside it, they simply accused us of scaremongering. Within minutes of the result being announced, they began to resile on their promises, and the world to show the firm foundation of our fears.
I am especially angry with those who hold responsible posts in Northern Ireland: the Secretary of State, the First Minister, and MPs including my own, who blithely waved aside the concerns of the thoughtful majority. That majority was not convinced, but who knows how much damage they did by giving such cover to the Brexiteers. There are many good and compassionate people across the UK who would have thought again if appealed to do so by a broad consensus of politicians representing Northern Ireland.
But, as the Dublin shoreline appears through the grey sky, I will not be mastered by this anger. Now is not a time for bitterness or rage. There is work to be done; serious, difficult and hard work, salvaging what we can from the chaos around us, using the tools still at our disposal, and building a peaceful and stable future on the ruins of the past. Things will not be as we hoped and planned, but with goodwill, intelligence and compassion we can save ourselves, our neighbours and our children from the very worst. The Green Party has never shied away from acknowledging and preparing for the greatest challenges we face, from climate change to growing inequality. It is what has made us such an exasperating challenge to the establishment in times of complacency. But now, when all the old certainties seem to be crumbling, we at least have the context, the principles and the evidence-based policies to help find a way forward. Join us now to be a part of that journey.
In Belfast today for the launch of our Green Party manifesto: A Zero Waste Strategy for Northern Ireland. It’s probably the last chance I’ll get before the election to meet up with my fellow candidates and Green Party colleagues from across Northern Ireland. Only a fortnight to go until the election now, and it’ll be an exciting one.
I’ll write more over the next couple of days about the manifesto, and also share some more of our local newspaper coverage. Meanwhile here’s a link to UTV’s coverage of the launch (including a glimpse of my red shoes).
It’s been a tiring day, travelling back from Belfast after last night’s hustings, on the phone dealing with lots of car things (I’ll tell you the full saga one day, but just when a car would have most useful, over the past month, we mostly haven’t had one), replying to a couple of tricky emails, and talking to a couple of councillors (Ulster Unionist and Sinn Fein) who knocked on my door canvassing for their candidates (and one of whom decided gently to chide me about the council transparency business).
But the wonderful thing is that the deadline for nominations closed, and all eighteen Green Party candidates, nine women and nine men, are duly registered in their respective constituencies. It’s a great day for the Green Party and we’re celebrating!
It’s great to see so many people in Northern Ireland getting excited about radical politics, about Jeremy Corbyn’s success in the Labour leadership contest and about Bernie Sanders’ campaign in America. It’s wonderful to watch people defy the warnings of the mainstream media in favour of common sense compassion and justice. And most of all it’s heart-warming to feel a little hope again.
Many people in Northern Ireland have recognised that we have the same story here – cynical parties more interested in holding onto power than in changing society, uninspired, uninspiring politicians going through the motions for another term, out-of-control expenses, vanity projects and petty bickering. A waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of opportunity. And many have recognised that we have our own Bernies…
It’s no coincidence that Bernie Sanders’ brother Larry is the health spokesman for the Green Party in England and Wales. And the policies that brought Jeremy Corbyn to top the Labour leadership poll are those that he shares with fellow MP Caroline Lucas. The difference is that she doesn’t have to fight her own party over them.
If you’re looking for sustainable, progressive, compassionate politics, you don’t need to sit around bemoaning the fact that we don’t have a Jeremy or a Bernie. We actually have something much better – not a lone maverick battling against his own neoliberal party establishment, but a whole party united in a vision for a better, fairer, more equal and sustainable future. And a party whose candidates, 50% women, truly represent the people they seek to serve, standing right across the eighteen constituencies.
This election is a fantastic opportunity for Northern Ireland to raise a corner of the sectarian, conservative, secretive blanket that has smothered us for so long. The new Green Party MLAs who will be elected this time – Clare Bailey, Ross Brown and however many more of us you choose – will join Steven Agnew and build on his brilliant work in providing a real opposition to the dreary power-sharing status quo and a real voice for the forgotten and the marginalised.
But there are only a few weeks to go. After this, whatever we choose, we’re stuck with for another five years. It’ll be too late on May 6th to wish you’d got involved. So, if you want to be a part of Northern Ireland’s own radical revolution, tonight would be a good time to take the first step.
If you’re not yet registered to vote, find out what to do here.
If you’re going to be away on May 5th, apply for a postal or proxy vote here.
Find our more about the Green Party in Northern Ireland here.
Share this post, talk to your friends and family, deliver some leaflets, come out canvassing, help our crowdfunder – whatever works for you ….
The next thirty-one days will determine much of what happens for the next eighteen hundred. If you want something more than more of the same, now’s the time to act.
A little more from Saturday’s conference – in the afternoon I chaired a panel discussion, ‘Greens Leading the Change’ with guests Mairead McCafferty, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, John O’Doherty, Director of the Rainbow Project, Dawn Purvis, former leader of the PUP and Alex Kane, the political commentator. We discussed four areas where the Green Party has been to the forefront in pushing for change: the children’s sector, LGBTQ rights, women’s reproductive rights and the need for an Opposition at Stormont. It was a fascinating discussion, with such entertaining and informed speakers, and though I was nervous, they made the job of chair as easy as it could be.
(Photographs by Anne Ramsey)
Still celebrating today – the success of our Green Party in Northern Ireland conference yesterday – will write more when I have time – and the election to Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) of Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and deputy leader Catherine Martin. It’s been a great weekend to be Green!