Okay, so it’s another fortnight until the elections, and the team this time wasn’t the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but Enniskillen Chess Club defeated Omagh (on their home turf) this afternoon, and that’s got to be worth a hurrah. (It’s been a long time coming.) Here I am with our estimable captain and Board One (John in the purple jumper) and other members of the victorious squad.
In other news, the upstairs painting is continuing apace, and I have my top-of-the-stairs mindfulness/prayer space back (just in time).
Here’s the view out of the window. (Well, the view if you open the window to its full extent and lean out precariously.)
Tomorrow I’m off to Belfast to join Ross Brown’s canvassing team in East Belfast for the afternoon. I’ll tell you about it when I get home.
I’m having a day out of the election campaign today to travel down to Dublin. It’s the Irish Junior Championships and I’m giving a talk to the parents of the players, based on my book Survival Guide for Chess Parents which was published by Everyman Chess (long ago).
Meanwhile, here’s a letter of mine in this week’s Impartial Reporter.
Ciaran and I appear in today’s Tyrone Constitution, calling for Fermanagh & Omagh Council to follow the lead of Belfast City Council (as proposed by Ross Brown) in calling for the disclosure of political donations in Northern Ireland. Of course F&O Council may feel that they’ve heard rather enough from me about transparency lately….
I’m very proud today to report that Belfast City Council has supported Ross Brown’s call for the Secretary of State to implement the 2014 legislation to reveal donations to political parties over £7500 and for political parties to go further and voluntarily publish donations over £500.
Ross has said:
“I am delighted that Belfast City Council has supported my call for transparency in donations to political parties.
The veil of secrecy over money and politics in Northern Ireland is toxic when it comes to fostering public trust.
In spite of legislation which gives the Secretary of State the power to bring us in line with the rest of the UK, the Northern Ireland Office has maintained the situation whereby local political parties are not held publicly accountable for their finances. This has created a ‘behind the door’ culture towards political funding.
I believe that the UK legal minimum of publishing all party donations over £7500 too high. This is why my proposal also called for parties to voluntarily publish all donations over £500, in line with Green Party policy.
Given the increased council powers, for example, over planning, financial transparency is key to give citizens confidence that such decisions are being made for the right reasons and in the interests of communities, not the vested interested of developers and big business.
There can be no democracy without transparency. While donations continue to go unpublished, constituents are being denied the appropriate insight to enable them to judge which businesses back our politicians.
The Green Party has been campaigning long and hard to make sure the electorate has the full picture of whose money is supporting political parties before they give their vote. We will continue to lead the way on this issue by publishing all our donations over £500 online.”
An amendment by the SDLP which nullified the motion and cited donors should remain secret until there was greater confidence in the security situation was defeated 27-20. It seems that the attitude of some parties with regard to publishing donations is a bit like that of St Augustine on chastity, “Give us transparency – but not yet.”
I’m in blustery and rainy Enniskillen this afternoon, having just got the Green Party in Northern Ireland’s membership database up to date, but my thoughts are across the other side of the province, in Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus in County Antrim.
I’ve written about Woodburn a few times before in this blog, notably here and here and carried the news to Paris with me in December. Very sadly, despite the valiant efforts of Stop the Drill, some wise and farsighted local residents, Friends of the Earth and Green Party representatives Ross Brown on Belfast City Council and Steven Agnew in the Northern Assembly, the situation has gone from bad to worse. The people of Antrim and Belfast, who rely upon Woodburn Reservoir for their daily drinking water, have been let down by NI Water, which leased this vulnerable catchment area for commercial oil and gas extraction by the ever-shifting group of interests fronted by InfraStrata, by the Environment Minister and his department, which granted permitted development rights for exploratory drilling without planning permission, by the Minister for Enterprise and DETI, which unilaterally varied the terms of the licence in the company’s favour, and by the majority of councillors and MLAs, who are content to see this destruction and potential danger go ahead.
InfraStrata is now ready to begin drilling, and only the presence of brave and committed individuals (including our son Aidan, pictured above) is keeping them from doing so. You’ll understand why I’m wishing I was there. Until I can be, here is a short video made by Friends of the Earth, explaining the situation.
Please share this as widely as you can, support the Don’t Drill Antr campaign, and, if you possibly can, take yourself to Woodburn Forest to help protect it, its wildlife and the safety of thousands of people’s water.
My legs are tired, but my heart is light after another afternoon’s canvassing in Enniskillen. It’s great to see the smile passing over people’s faces, as they hear the words ‘Green Party’ and to listen to their hopes for a better future. One woman told me how impressed she was with the common sense attitudes of our MLA Steven Agnew and how much we need more voices like his in Stormont.
If you agree, and you’d like to help Steven to get re-elected, take part in Ross and Clare’s big Belfast campaigns, or support us here in Fermanagh, please email email@example.com to find out more. Whatever your skills and experience (or lack of it) you’ll be made very welcome, have a great time and enjoy the warm glow of knowing that you’ve really made a difference. This year is going to be a turning-point for the Greens in Northern Ireland – don’t miss out on being a part of it!
I was delighted today to take part in a public meeting about TTIP, held at the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen and featuring James Orr of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland, Rev. Chris Hudson of the People’s NHS Northern Ireland (and All Souls Church) and Martina Anderson MEP. The event was organised by Phil Flanagan, but in the event he had to rush off to Stormont for the emergency pass-the-buck-on-welfare session (more on this later). Michelle Gildernew stepped into the breach, though, and it was good to see her again for the first time since the Westminster elections. It was a great opportunity, too, to meet up with friends and fellow campaigners from the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network, concerned about the dire effect that TTIP would have on the frack-free movement.
I’ve written about TTIP on this blog before, of course, most extensively here, and the European Green Party have a very useful position paper and an introductory video (below).
For those who hadn’t spent quite as much time reading and talking about it as I have, Martina Anderson gave a useful overview, highlighting the threats which TTIP poses to democracy, to workers, to agriculture and food safety, to the environment, to public services and to small and medium-sized businesses.
Chris Hudson spoke next, eloquently and passionately, about the devastating effect that TTIP would have on the National Health Service, forcing many out of their free entitlement into expensive private health insurance (or no provision whatsoever) and making it impossible, once services have been outsourced to private profitmaking business, to return them to the public sector. People’s NHS NI, which has sister campaigns in Wales, Scotland and England, is demanding that health services be removed from the TTIP remit. It is a popular, cross-community and grassroots campaign, supported by MLAs from several parties (including Steven Agnew) and by activists and representatives such as the Green Party’s Councillor Ross Brown (pictured below with families in East Belfast).
James from Friends of the Earth spoke both about the specific attacks on environmental protection which TTIP would mean, especially via the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) procedure, but also of the TTIP mindset which is already prevalent in Northern Ireland. According to this, as he has said, the most “reasonable call for the rule of law is presented as a Maoist plot” and it appears almost as if “TTIP has already happened here”. Destructive activities such as the Giant’s Causeway development, the industrial suction dredging of Lough Neagh, the mining at Gortin and landfill site at the River Faughan are characterised by a systematic failure, an official disregard for the directives and planning guidelines which are supposed to protect our health, our wellbeing, our countryside and the biodiversity with which we share it. In resisting fracking, James suggested, we in Fermanagh are also resisting something much bigger, the TTIP mentality which threatens to infect our imaginations and destroy our future.
I had the chance to say a few words at the end, referring to the long campaign of the European Green Party against TTIP and pointing out that it is not simply an America versus Europe battle. Although in most areas we have better protection than citizens in the US, there are matters, such as the regulation of financial advice, where their current regulations are more effective than ours. In these cases, it would be the European lowest common denominator which would prevail. I suggested that we should be seeking common ground with anti-TTIP campaigners everywhere, building a broad and cross-community consensus. TTIP is not a nationalist/unionist issue: all share the interests which it threatens. Whether we call our home Ireland or the UK, we all work, eat, breathe and hope for a better world for our children. It is not even a traditional left/right division: TTIP threatens individual liberty and national sovereignty as much as it does social justice and environmental sustainability. It is a bigger and more urgent campaign than any other (except perhaps climate change, which cannot possibly be tackled effectively in a post-TTIP world) and, as James said, we need to weave its thread into all that we are doing.
This is turning into an eventful day. Yesterday Queen’s (the Students’ Union, I think – please correct me if I’m wrong) held a referendum on whether the university should divest from fossil fuels. I’ve written a bit about this before – specifically David McNarry (of UKIP)’s response to the campaign – and I’m delighted to see the the referendum result was an overwhelming Yes – over 83%. Pictured left is Green Party Councillor Ross Brown being interviewed about the campaign.
Meanwhile the inaugural meeting of present and potential Greens in Cookstown which I went to recently, has made front page news in the Mid Ulster Mail. Here’s their coverage, and congratulations to Caolán for discussing this difficult subject with so much eloquence and sensitivity.
In other news, the paint in our back yard has dried enough for M to be able to put the chess pieces out. Unfortunately I’m off to a meeting of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation group, so haven’t got time for a game tonight. Maybe the rain will hold off for tomorrow….
And finally, it’s Rory‘s birthday. Happy birthday to the poet.
Here’s an exciting thing happening tonight – if you live any nearer to Belfast than I do, I strongly recommend that you don’t miss it. Comedy, music, performance poetry – and Ross! Stuff doesn’t get much better than that.
Tonight Councillor Ross Brown of the Green Party proposed the following motion at a meeting of Belfast City Council.
“That this council notes that Woodburn reservoir in Carrickfergus provides water to a significant part of the city, expresses concern that Infastrata have been granted permitted development to conduct exploratory petroleum drilling at this location using harmful chemicals, notes that the current law governing permitted development in Northern Ireland is less robust than England where petroleum exploration requires planning permission, further notes that 75% of fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change and does not regard this process as in line with the legal requirement of the DOE in Article 1 of the 2011 Planning Act to further sustainable development, expresses concern that in spite of requirements under European Law to undertake a strategic environmental assessment before the issuing of petroleum licences, no Strategic Environmental Assessment has ever been conducted by DETI and calls on the Minister for the Environment and Mid and East Antrim council to urgently review the decision to grant permitted development for exploratory drilling in Woodburn forest with a view to reversing this permission and for the Minister of the Environment to amend the law so that petroleum exploration always requires full planning permission.”
Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’ve written before about Woodburn and the threat which drilling there poses to Belfast’s drinking water as well as to our climate change commitments. As Ross has said:
“The whole process of drilling for oil near Woodburn Forest and reservoir is concerning on many levels.
“Not only is there a potential hazard to a reservoir that provides water to many thousands of people, I don’t believe sufficient environmental assessments were carried out.
“This exploratory drill was granted permitted development rights and so no planning permission was required. The public have not been granted permission to participate in a process where concerns about this activity could be aired and should have been discussed. This ought to be the very basis of what is required
“From a pollution perspective, 705 streets in Belfast are connected to Woodburn reservoir, including City Hall. It is crucial that the most robust regulatory process is applied especially given the fact that there are a wide range of studies which demonstrate that well casing leakage is a widespread and intractable problem. It has been estimated, for example that 5% of new wells leak in the first year and by 30 years, 60% suffer from leaks
“Climate change is a real threat facing us all. It is easy to dismiss climate change as someone else’s problem, but Northern Ireland needs to play its part.
“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have a Climate Bill to hold us to legally bound targets on the reduction of local greenhouse gas emissions.
“Renewable energy needs to become the norm, not the exception, with resources put into developing solar and wind alternatives to fossil fuels. Simple steps such as insulating our old housing stock would do more to help rather than allowing drilling for oil.
“We need to keep 75% of all identified fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change, not explore and extract more. I believe that, by allowing this process to proceed, DOE has failed to adhere to its legal requirement under the 2011 planning act to further sustainable development”.
The motion was carried by the council with a majority of almost two-thirds, 28-15, Given the political and establishment forces in favour of the fossil fuel industry at all levels, this is a significant reflection of the seriousness of the situation, the commitment of the Stop the Drill campaign and the good sense, hard work and eloquence of our Green Party representative. Thank you, Ross!