7th September 2017

This is a letter which I sent to the Impartial Reporter this week.  Unfortunately the version which appears in today’s paper has been edited and in the process has lost the main point – that we should explore the possibility of voluntary coalition for the Northern Ireland Executive.  

Dear Madam

As last week’s Impartial Reporter so vividly chronicled, our local services, especially the vital healthcare that we depend upon throughout our lives, are under severe threat.  Many of us, from a range of political parties, are campaigning as individuals to save them.  But without Ministers, without an Assembly and without access to our full budget (never mind the elusive extra billion plus) it is an uphill struggle.

As Green Party leader Steven Agnew has pointed out, next year will mark the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and we could reach that anniversary without the Assembly institutions back up and running. After witnessing nine months where the DUP and Sinn Fein seem to be practicing the art of the impossible, a dull, throbbing pessimism has taken over. The tragedy is that this disaster is playing out in the homes of families right across Northern Ireland.  The sense is growing that Sinn Fein has no intention of going back into government, deeming it better to be sitting outside and throwing stones than being accountable when Tory austerity and the realities of Brexit begin to bite. Unfortunately, such an approach offers nothing for patients on waiting lists, schools with shrinking budgets or border businesses facing an unknown fate.

We have been served well by the Good Friday Agreement, but our devolved institutions must adapt to survive.  It’s time to practice the art of the possible and look for another way. We believe in local democracy and oppose Direct Rule in principle, but also because it would result in unmitigated Tory rule. And another election will achieve nothing unless we change the institutions to which we are electing representatives.  Steven is often asked these days why he, his Green Party colleague Clare Bailey, and others who want to see Stormont work cannot form a coalition of the willing. Currently the law does not allow for that as it requires the two largest parties to take up power. However, just as we have had a voluntary opposition – parties who chose not to take up Ministerial positions, we should now move to voluntary coalition.

My experience of campaigning in Fermanagh, on issues from fracking to Brexit and public services, is that individuals from across the political spectrum are ready and willing to work together to protect those in need, our environment and our children’s future.  If Sinn Fein have no intention of going back into government, let them step aside, and let those of us who want Northern Ireland to work get on with the job of making that happen. Or, if they are truly committed to a rights based society, let them produce a programme for government around which they can form a cross party coalition.

As the late Labour MP Jo Cox famously reminded us, we have more in common than that which separates us.  It is time that our institutions reflected that reality, and provided a framework in which we can work together to end political gamesmanship and put people first.

Yours faithfully

Tanya Jones

Fermanagh & South Tyrone Green Party

 

3rd June 2016

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Here’s a pro-Remain piece by me published in yesterday’s Impartial Reporter and paired with a pro-Leave one by Socialist MEP Joe Higgins.  For the sake of your eyesight, here is my text:

Not another article about Brexit! The trouble with the so-called debate so far is that, on both sides, it’s so distant from our real lives. Disputed calculations about how much ‘the UK’ pays into the EU, and how much it gets back, bad-tempered squabbles about so-called ‘sovereignty’ and pathetic contests about who is ‘stronger’. No wonder we are fed up.

That’s a shame, because whether or not we stay in Europe will make crucial differences to our lives, in ways that hardly anyone is talking about.

Our health. The environment isn’t just something distant, to do with polar bears and rainforests, it’s the place where we live: the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, wash with and bathe in, and the soil where our food is grown and nurtured. If those are not kept clean and safe, then we and our families will suffer. Almost all of the laws that protect our air, our water and our land have come to us through our European membership. If we left Europe, this Conservative government could immediately repeal those laws, allowing its friends in dangerous industries like fracking to grab our resources freely, ruining both our countryside and our health.

Our local economy. It’s not just our landscape and our health that would be left in tatters by unregulated exploitation, it would be our local businesses as well. Fermanagh’s key economic sectors, tourism and agriculture, depend on a clean and safe environment, on European financial support and on the rights of people to travel and trade across our border. We have worked hard to build those businesses, those relationships, those quality goods and services. Let’s not let them be taken away from us.

Our rights. The laws that protect our health and our environment are underpinned by basic principles: that those who pollute should pay the costs, that development should be sustainable for our children’s future and that it is up to those who benefit from experiments like fracking to show that they are safe. Those principles, along with our rights to freedom of information, our rights as consumers, as workers, as women or as LGBT people, are all under threat if we throw away our European protections. And our children‘s choices to study or work in Paris, Berlin or Rome, with all the wide horizons they offer, could be lost for good.

Of course, things are not perfect. We are working with our Green Party colleagues across Europe to make the EU work better for us, to put our rights and needs as people above those of financial speculators and multinational corporations. That is why the European Greens are campaigning so strongly against the proposed TTIP treaty between the EU and the USA. But if we were to leave, David Cameron would swiftly lock us into the very worst version of this.

So far, especially in Northern Ireland, we haven’t really experienced many of the ways in which Europe can help and protect us. Enforcement of environmental laws here has been a scandalous farce, for which successive Executives must take the blame. But we have the rights, and we have the tools to enforce those rights. Rather than giving them away, I think it’s time to use them.

That’s why I hope that this referendum, instead of just a dreary debate, will be a wake-up call to us. I hope it can remind us of how we, as citizens, families and communities, can use the tools of Europe to defend our health, our businesses, our wildlife and our landscape. And I hope that it will inspire us to play our part in making Europe what we want it to be: a peaceful, fair, diverse and thriving place, a safe and clean home for our children, our grandchildren, and those whom they will love for many years to come.

 

 

11th March 2016

0310x2We did a little leafleting in Dungannon yesterday, and were really struck with the change since this time last year.  Now people know what the Green Party is, many even know who I am, and they’re looking forward to our doing really well in this election.  One especially gratifying experience was talking to people from other parts of Northern Ireland, outside this constituency, and being able to assure them that they would be able to vote Green too.

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Meanwhile there’s more on the Fermanagh & Omagh council transparency story in the Impartial Reporter

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… including a long quotation from me.

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Today I’m off to Belfast for a conference of the Integrated Education Fund.  It includes a hustings, but sadly the Green Party hasn’t been invited, so I will have to do my best with questions from the floor.  The chair will be Alex Kane, in an interesting reversal from the last time.  I wonder whether he will remember me?

 

16th October

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Here’s a picture, from this week’s Impartial Reporter, taken at our recent FCF Conference at the Manor House Hotel, and below is its text coverage. It’s great to have a local press which supports this kind of cross-community peacemaking initiative.

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1016aTalking of the Impartial, Rodney’s book launch last night was a great success, with a smattering of the of the great and the good, and plenty of us ordinary mortals as well.  Here are my feet, relishing the red carpet ….1016

… and Rodney performing one of his dialogues with the irrepressible Fr. Brian D’Arcy.  Meanwhile the video was shown in wide-screen format, not the most flattering, but none of us minded.

I was especially pleased to see a large donation bucket for the wonderful Aisling Centre prominently displayed on the bookstall.  The Aisling Centre is a non-profit organisation which provides professional counselling and psychotherapy, promoting hope, healing and growth.  Many of us in Fermanagh have personal reasons to be enormously grateful to the centre and its staff, and Rodney couldn’t have chosen a better cause to share in his special night.