Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Lagan Valley Greens create petition for Book of Condolence for Nelson Mandela

The Lagan Valley Green Party has reacted with sadness at the decision of Lisburn's Mayor, Margaret Tolerton, to refuse to create a book of condolence for Nelson Mandela. In doing so we believe she has made Mandela's death a political issue, when there was no need to do so.

Secondly it has tarnished Lisburn's image at a time of year when we need as much goodwill as we can get to foster our town's economy. We believe that the many residents of Lisburn who wish to convey their sympathy and warm regards to the surviving family and those who have felt the loss worldwide should have the ability to do so.

In the past Lisburn City Council has opened these books for Alex Higgins and George Best as well as other prominent figures upon news of their deaths. Why not Nelson Mandela, who is held up worldwide as an exemplary person?

We have created an online petition for all those who wish to have a book of condolence in Lisburn Civic Centre. It can be found, and digitally signed, at:

It is also linked to on our twitter account @lvgreens and at facebook.com/lvgreens  .

We hope common sense will prevail and Margaret Tolerton reverses her decision.

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Time for a Change

This weekend has been another ugly episode in Northern Ireland's recent past. Trouble started at a protest called by the Orange Order, at the decision by the Parades Commission not to allow an Orangemen's march to take place in North Belfast on 12 July.

The protest turned to a riot, with some truly shocking scenes, as police, including reinforcements from GB, tried to enforce the ban. Dozens of police were injured. Nigel Dodds MLA was knocked unconscious. Since that day, there have been clashes between protesters and police every night and not just in the Woodvale Road area.

Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable of PSNI, described the Orange Order's call for a protest as reckless. Although they called for "peaceful protest", it seems extremely unlikely they would not have known violence was a highly likely outcome. The Parades Commission did not make their decision by tossing a coin in the air - they knew the risks and warned us of them.

As with the flags protests earlier in the year, the majority, the peace-loving people of Northern Ireland, watch with deep sadness as their country is torn apart and its image is destroyed yet again, with these pictures of violence being shown in the national and international media. How depressing and yet how seemingly inevitable it has become, for the twelfth July celebrations to descend into anarchy and destruction.

We need to take a step back from here. In 1998 all sides of the Northern Ireland political debate made some sacrifices in order to reach a better future. There were difficult decisions made, but there was an understanding that without these compromises, there would be no peace; the stability that this country so badly needed would never come. Now, we need to remember the lessons we learned in the run-up to the Good Friday agreement. There need to be sacrifices made by the Orange Order. Yes, the traditions are important. But if a peaceful twelfth means sacrificing one or two of the marching routes, this must be a price worth paying.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Response to controversial Lisburn City Mayoral Selection

Despite the political progress in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday agreement, unfortunate reminders of the past resurface from time to time.

In the recent selection of Mayor for Lisburn City Council, it was disappointing to see that the main point discussed by our councillors, in essence, was the candidates view on the Northern Ireland border.

We expect the alternative candidate, Cllr Martin, would feel little pride in being considered for Mayor mostly on the basis that he is not a member of the DUP or Sinn Fein! Whilst we hope that councillors can resolve this issue amicably amongst themselves, we would like to offer a few notes of concern.

The first is that most of the pageantry and decoration around Lagan Valley’s towns, especially at this time of year, comes from one side of the community.

Since our retailers depend from trade emanating from the residents in the Republic of Ireland, especially in Sprucefield, surely we want a shared city.

Many residents of Lisburn City Council who live in areas such as Twinbrook and Poleglass feel closer to West Belfast – meaning Lisburn’s retailers lose their trade.

We are in favour of people celebrating their culture peacefully and respectfully. However when added to other recent measures such as renaming Ballymacoss playing fields as the ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ playing fields, huge pageants celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee and the ill-fated attempt to give the Orange Order the Freedom of the City, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Are we doing all we can to make sure that Lisburn is an open and welcoming place for all our citizens? Are we diffusing very real and volatile tensions within our community? Have our councillors been good stewards of our city and worked for the benefit of all our people?

Many loyalists, after the flags protests, expressed disappointment that the people they had elected to represent them had not represented them properly.

Secondly, we are concerned that this Mayoral appointment does not bode well for the proposed merger of Lisburn City and Castlereagh Borough councils. It has already been dubbed a ‘unionist super-council’ by some and indeed it looks likely it will become a DUP held council. Due to the loss of Dunmurry Cross, it looks like a lot of nationalist seats will go too. Will this loss of representation and equilibrium allow the DUP to go ahead virtually unopposed with measures that the public do not support?

When will politics in Lagan Valley join the modern age, leaving single issue disputes behind? The Green Party in Lagan Valley wants to see a truly shared space, where people do not avoid Lisburn due to its reputation. It is time we put our citizens first and supported our local businesses with some positive PR!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

BBC Spotlight investigation demonstrates why transparency in NI Politics is essential

In the wake of the BBC Spotlight investigation into Red Sky, NIHE and the involvement of senior DUP politicians, Green MLA Steven Agnew has reiterated his long-standing demands for greater political transparency in Northern Ireland.

“This journalistic expose of the behind the scenes dealings of senior DUP Executive politicians on behalf of a discredited private company raises some very serious questions,” the Green Party Leader said.

“Those questions need to be answered openly and honestly and in a timely way if the public are to have any kind of trust in our political system.

“The Green Party has consistently called for greater transparency regarding the relationship between parties and their corporate and private supporters.

“Every political decision in Northern Ireland is open to questions of undue influence from vested interests - from planning decisions to procurement contracts, the question is always asked was this decision made in the public interest or in the interests of party supporters.

“Given the recent power grab by the DUP in regards to the Planning Bill where OFMDFM will be able to call the shots regarding designated economic zones, complete financial transparency is now essential.

“Quite simply, there can be no democracy without transparency,” Mr Agnew said.

“The Green Party in Northern Ireland does not accept corporate donations and was the first Party to publish its donations online.

“We have been campaigning long and hard to make sure the electorate have the full picture of who pulls the strings with political parties before they give their vote.

“We await with interest Minister McCausland's and First Minister Robinson’s responses to the issues raised in this BBC program.”

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Green Party says government is insulting communities with fracking bribe

The Green Party in Northern Ireland has hit out at a government suggestion that communities subjected to Fracking would be offered a 1 per cent share in profits of gas extraction.

“Quite frankly, it is an insult to try to bribe people to accept the unacceptable,” Green MLA Steven Agnew said.

“There may be relatively small windfall amounts of cash available, although we have not seen any actual figures around this, at the start of the fracking process but the fact is gas flow rates from wells deteriorate quickly.

“This is pure economic short-termism which has been the general failure of government.

“I think it is sign of desperation that communities are being offered a small sop to keep them quiet so multinational energy companies can exploit their natural resources at great human and environmental costs to the people living in the areas designated for fracking.

“It may come as surprise to some politicians and corporate interests, but money isn’t everything.

“Government may be dangling a financial carrot but that carrot is rotten to the core.

“Human health and protecting the environment for future generations is not something that should be bought and sold because it suits the Con/Dem agenda who have been fooled into thinking that Fracking is the panacea to our energy needs.

“Gas is the cause of high energy prices – not the solution.

“We need to promote, invest in and develop sustainable energy sources to break the addiction to fossil fuels which profits only oil and gas companies which have no real investment in the future of the communities which they seek to pollute.”

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Green Party Disappointed by Lack of Ambition and Progress on Shared Future

The Green Party has criticized the First and Deputy First Ministers’ lack of ambition and piecemeal approach to a shared future in Northern Ireland.

“This is a piecemeal approach which is knee-jerk reaction to the recent flag protests, the upcoming marching season and the threat by the UK government over funding,” Green Party Leader Steven Agnew MLA said.

“In my opinion, these are not the conditions to lay down solid foundations for a shared future in Northern Ireland.

“Yes, removing physical walls is important but it will be meaningless if communities remain politically and ideologically separated and in conflict.

“If we want a united society where differences are celebrated and accepted, then it must start at grass-roots levels and be applicable to all.

“That process needs to start with integrated education, shared housing and better political leadership where a generosity of spirit and co-operation is demonstrated more regularly.

“Waiting until children are 16 or over and not in employment, education or training to offer them a paid, one-year course on good relations and good citizenship is just not enough.

“In fact, it is a disingenuous move which tries and fails to roll two distinct problems – youth unemployment and sectarian division - into one when they need to tackled effectively and separately.

“What we need is an integrated society not necessarily a shared society because too often in Northern Ireland shared future means shared out.

“It is ironic and sad the plans for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration stalled because the DUP and Sinn Fein could not agree how to proceed.

“After the length of time the Executive parties have been discussing how to create a shared future, I am deeply disappointed that this is the best they can come up with.

“It will fail yet more generations of people in Northern Ireland who deserve a better post-conflict plan than this.”

Sunday, 5 May 2013

UKIPPERS for Breakfast & a Well Done to the English Greens!

The Lagan Valley Green Party congratulates the Green Party in England on their recent increase in seats in local council elections. This equated to roughly ¼ more seats, and no significant losses in any area. This also confirms the Green Party as the 5th largest party represented in English councils – no mean feat!

However, the media clamour is likely to focus on the meteoric performance of UKIP, despite the fact that the real story was Labour's return to form with gains of 291 seats. UKIP’s success is not totally attributable to the public endorsing their policies, which aren’t clear in the first place. If you disagree then answer this - where do they stand on quantitative easing? Welfare reform? The rail network? And so on. Much as the Conservative coalition government was a result of a protest vote at perceived Labour mismanagement, the UKIP gains seem to be a protest vote by an England that has grown disillusioned with the failures of the Tories during their time in power.

People may ask why the Greens didn’t get a larger slice of this protest pie. This is in no small part due to the massive amounts of exposure and free publicity given to UKIP by the likes of the English Daily Mail, Express and other traditionally Tory supporting papers.  The Greens have traditionally not been a hot ticket for the media with their more down to earth approach. As a lot of UKIP supporters noted on their twitter feeds, “The BBC played a blinder” for them trying to make memorable TV debates between UKIP and Tory candidates. UKIP also has seemingly quite a large budget for publicity. Marketing is probably the strongest weapon in getting through to record amounts of apathy filled voters in a climate of poor turnout.

Secondly, as  Boris Johnson has proved, and many a spin doctor knows too well, no one will vote for an old, stuffed shirt conservative a la John Major, Michael Heseltine et al. Nigel Farage has succeeded by having a 'too cool for school' media persona, complete with quips and witticisms. Its unlikely 'BoJo' would have unseated 'Red Ken' if it wasn’t for his mercurial turn on Have I Got News For You, for example.

Thirdly the Greens were hamstrung by not having the resources to field as many candidates. UKIP's shrewd policy of fielding for almost every council seat needed the resources - and potential candidates - that the Greens would not be able to put forward. So a lot of fortuitous things came together for UKIP. 

UKIP's short history has already included a plane crash, several changes in management and numerous Basil Fawlty style right wing gaffes from prominent members leading to expulsion. But what are they likely to offer their constituents? As the UKIP policies are very woolly on everyday life subjects like planning, housing, environmental health and transport, its hard to gauge.

Remember, they were essentially founded as a single issue party - "save the pound" being their main objective, as their logo suggests. Its more the vibe they wish to portray which is significant, as economic liberals with a Euro-sceptic socially conservative bent. Its the fact that keeping so many new politicians, presumably with little previous experience as public officials, on topic which is likely to be their immediate problem.

It was well publicised that UKIP did not have policies that encompassed every aspect they needed to, and also well publicised is the fact that there appeared to be a "lunatic fringe" element with more unacceptable ideas, such as Geoffrey Clark (compulsory abortion) who was in fairness ejected from the party. But then again, more socially liberal elements within the youth section of the party have also been jettisoned - like Olly Neville, seemingly being maligned for supporting same sex marriage. It seems the battle will be for middle ground, and herding such vast numbers of new politicians will be a mammoth task for any whip.

UKIP are also now in control of some councils in very impoverished areas - such as Thanet in Kent. With their focus on economic liberalisation (which surely is what led to the recession in the first place!) and increasing punitive justice whilst backing out of the EU, it will be interesting to see exactly what they offer to the people they have been tasked with looking after.

The Green Party's gains are pleasing and look to be sustainable. People know what they will get with a Green councillor, and appear to be pleased with the results so far judging by repeat terms for many of our councillors. UKIP on the other hand are still somewhat of an unknown quantity. They will do well to be mindful of the old adage "easy come, easy go" and the real test will be whether or not they keep their seats next time round. After all, despite the English vice of being excessively tolerant of eccentricity in their public representatives, their lack of tolerance for incompetence may well mean that UKIP will be the recipients of the next protest vote. In the meantime we are looking forward to watching the new UKIP sitcom, coming to an English council near you!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Greens Express Support for New Wind Turbine

Lagan Valley Greens have issued a statement in support of renewable power generation, following concerns raised by Ravernet residents at a proposed new wind turbine:

The Green Party believes that renewable energy generation is vital to the future of Northern Ireland. Due to the increasing scarcity of fossil fuel reserves, a worldwide energy crisis is a very real possibility within the lifetime of a child born today. Fossil fuel generation also carries with it human health and environmental risks, as became frighteningly clear during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Locally, the combustion of fossil fuels to generate heat and energy has created its own problems. On 6th March 2013, the Guardian reported that Belfast received a maximum pollution index of 10/10 for air pollution relating to these sources.

Robust planning is vital when choosing a site for a renewable energy generator of any kind. The Green Party's definition of environment is the human environment - the everyday life and world of people. Issues such as housing, welfare reform and provision for the elderly and vulnerable are of paramount importance to us. We are keen that the impact on people near to any proposed plant be minimised where possible.

Notwithstanding necessary transport links, access to the energy grid and other required infrastructure, we believe any plant should, ideally, be situated far enough from the community that local residents need not be aware of its existence.

Due to its proposed size, it is likely that the Ravernet wind turbine will be visible to some of the local community. Its proposed location, however, seems remote enough that noise pollution will not be a major problem. When compared with the pollution and effluent generated by power stations such as Ballylumford, and the proposed “fracking” that may soon be taking place in Ireland, perhaps even in Lagan Valley, these concerns do not seem to be on the same scale.

Finally, there are enormous benefits offered by the Green economy. These new technologies employ large numbers of people with a wide variety of skills, such as engineers, electricians and maintenance staff. A new wind turbine equates to new investment and more jobs in our local area. We believe that an investment in renewables is a sound economic decision as well as a socially conscious one. Regarding the Ravernet turbine, we remain hopeful for a resolution satisfactory to all parties.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Lagan Valley Greens Support Business Improvement District Schemes

The John Lewis and associated retail development at Sprucefield has been rumbling on for almost ten years. Arguments both for and against the proposed 500,000 sq ft retail development have been persuasive. While the development could bring 1,500 jobs to Sprucefield, the reduction in footfall could also decimate Lisburn’s remaining city centre retail businesses.

It is clear that Northern Ireland has been hit very hard by the economic recession, and one of the areas that have suffered most has been small business and city centre trade. It is a serious concern that Lisburn is above the national average for vacant retail space.

It is clear that Lisburn City centre needs help to survive. Investment, promotion and a truly local response is needed. To survive retailers will need to help each other on a local level to compete, revitalise their areas and address local issues.

The Lagan Valley Green Party believe that the best way to address this problem lies with the Business Improvement District Scheme (BIDS) currently being considered by the Social Development Committee at Stormont. This legislation has been spoken about favourably by NIIRTA (Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association) and has a proven track record in England, Wales and Scotland.

The Business Improvement District Scheme allows any retailer to suggest a BID is set up in their area. This then is put to a vote, requiring a threshold of approval from other retailers in the area. If successful, a BID area is established. The scheme is financed by the retailers in this area in the amount of 1% of the rateable value per year. This is not a tax on traders who are already struggling. It is best thought of as redistributing some of the money from rates relief and routing it straight back into the scheme with one aim - to increase revenue. As it is local, it is the most sustainable way we have of getting local people back into the city centre - the lifeblood of our local economy. Town and city centres need better planning and more control for local business. We see this as the best way to deliver both.

The Business Improvement District is democratic, a management committee is formed and each trader gets as involved as they want. Examples of BIDS in the UK have included creating a mobile cleaning unit, organising free transport to the town centre, creating festivals and running advertising campaigns. Each BID is reviewed regularly and ends after a set period. BIDS increase revenue and because they are run on behalf of the traders themselves, they are flexible enough to meet local needs.

The Lagan Valley Green Party wants to see Lisburn City centre restored to its full prominence as a place to do business, meet, shop and relax. We believe the best way for Lisburn City centre to be revitalised is for small and large businesses to band together and invest directly in themselves as a group and a product. Lisburn needs and deserves a stable and sustainable local economy for its whole community.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Green Party deeply concerned about Fracking

Green Party in Northern Ireland European candidate and European Shale Gas Working Group co-ordinator Ross Brown said: “Fracking is a dirty extraction process which involves injecting millions of gallons of chemicals deep underground to fracture rock to release gas.

“There are thousands of well-documented instances of environmental contamination and negative health impacts associated with fracking.

“In places where fracking has been permitted doctors are reporting cases of weakness, headaches, nausea, rashes and burning eyes from residents living in the area.

“The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment are just about to grant more prospecting licences which will mean that many areas in Northern Ireland will now be covered. (see map below)

“Fracking has been banned in France, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic and has been halted in a number of other locations including a number of US and German states.

“In 2011, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a Green Party motion calling for the withdrawal of four exploration licences, which had been issued in Northern Ireland at that time. In spite of the real dangers highlighted during this debate, Arlene Foster, the DUP Minister has failed to act.

“The Green Party in Northern Ireland wants to make sure that citizens know exactly what it is happening before it is too late and they suddenly find their areas dotted with gas wells spewing out contaminants and chemicals.

“Fracking is an extreme energy which is akin to scraping the bottom of the barrel to reach gas reserves.

“Concerns are often rightly raised regarding fracking and contamination of water supplies but it must also be remembered that this is a dirty process which also can contribute to significant air pollution.

“Fracking also puts in jeopardy two of our biggest revenue-driving sectors of tourism and agribusiness.

“Not to mention the disruptive and negative impact it will have on people leaving close to well pads who will see their health put at risk and their house prices devalued.

“The people of Northern Ireland now need to come together and make it known to the Department of Enterprise that we do not want the process of fracking destroying our health and environment so multi-national energy companies can make money off the misery of communities living in close proximity to these wells.”

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Greens Oppose Granting of Fracking Licences

Lagan Valley Greens have written to Arlene Foster MLA, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment to express serious concerns about the imminent granting of licences for hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas.

In the letter, Dr Luke Robinson points out that the there are many uncertainties and considerable potential dangers presented by fracking technology, such as contamination of the water system and the possibility of induced seismic activity. The Greens believe that fracking will blemish areas of pristine natural beauty and damage valuable ecosystems.

In addition to these concerns, Dr Robinson points out that we should be moving away from fossil fuel sources of energy and towards more sustainable sources.

He also expressed disappointed at the extent of public engagement, which amounted to a very small announcement in a few local newspapers.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Lagan Valley Greens response to McCulla Ltd's proposed AD plant on Altona Industrial Estate

We in the Green Party agree with Friends of the Earth, the Environment Agency and the Agriculture, Food and Biotechnology Institute that Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a very good, sustainable way of producing renewable energy for local needs. This is considered to be both safer and cleaner than other more routinely used methods of energy generation.

Indeed the AFBI has an AD plant on its Hillsborough site near the famous Forest Park. The fact that many reading this will not be aware of it is testament to the fact that the plant does not create any problems for Hillsborough residents.

We cannot find any examples where an AD plant has caused any health issues as a result of the process and note that the Health and Safety Executive require a full risk assessment.

However, it is clear from the literature that AD plants are usually sited within farmland, well away from housing developments. Whilst we applaud the good business sense of McCulla in investing in renewable energy, we share the concerns of many residents that the externalities of noise and light from a required 24 hour period of operation, as well as the potential for an unpleasant smell, may mean that the proposed location, very close to many houses and businesses, is not ideal.

Again we emphasise we are very happy that McCulla have opted for a progressive option, which should be good for their business and we hope that small scale energy generation by anaerobic digestion becomes more mainstream. We would suggest that McCulla should investigate the possibility of more appropriate sites, including the expanse of nearby farmland.

We also note that the planning application remains open until later this month for general submissions and we hope that McCulla heeds the genuine concerns of their neighbours. We echo the concerns of these residents and businesses and call for any alternative locations that are fit for purpose to be given adequate consideration.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Green Party Endorses Call For ‘Youth Guarantee’ To Tackle Unemployment In Young People In Northern Ireland

The Green party has backed proposals for a ‘Youth Guarantee’ scheme to tackle growing youth unemployment in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has a headline rate of 23% youth unemployment, the highest of any region in the UK, though lower than in the Republic.

The call for a ‘Youth Guarantee’, along with other policies to address the unemployment crisis in Northern Ireland, has been made in a recently launched paper from the Nevin Economic Research Institute.

Speaking after attending the launch of the Quarterly Economic Observer report on the Northern Ireland economy, North Down Green Party Councillor Dr John Barry said: “I congratulate the authors of this report who offer a fresh perspective on analysing our economy, identifying its weaknesses and providing evidence-based solutions.

“The proposal in this report for a Youth Guarantee scheme is very welcome as the aim of such a scheme is to reduce the time young people spend in unemployment and inactivity.

“Such a scheme would provide relevant training, work experience or paid employment for every young person unable to find work, or additional employment opportunities to the person through ‘on the job’ training or to community employment in the social economy.

“In relation to youth unemployment, the report rightly highlights the fact that young people (18-24) have been particularly negatively affected by the recessions.

“Unemployment amongst this section of our community continues to rise to dangerous levels.

“What is particularly worrying is that despite young people emigrating in greater numbers (not least amongst those with qualifications and degrees, representing a great loss to NI), we still see youth unemployment rising.

“The Green Party welcomes and supports the proposal for focused and targeted action to prevent long-term youth unemployment and to reconnect with young people who have become detached from the labour market.

“The report highlights a particular of cyclical unemployment due to the recession becoming long-term structural unemployment amongst young people.

“One of the most startling findings of the report is that based on international evidence the cost of youth unemployment in Northern Ireland could be in the region of £300 million.

“If we are to seriously tackle the escalating problem of youth unemployment there needs to be a strong emphasis on and provision of, literacy, numeracy and ICT skills for trainees.

“There also needs to be better coordination of employment and training services, including cooperation with local based social economy projects and the community and voluntary sectors”.

“However, the NERI report also makes a compelling case that it is vital that any Youth Guarantee scheme avoid the provision of low-quality work experience which adds little by way of skills and useful experience to individuals.

“It also needs to explicitly ensure it is not replacing or displacing older workers by young trainees at lower wages.

“The Green Party welcomes the report’s clear view that any Youth Guarantee scheme should not use compulsion to force young people off benefits if they do not accept a job offer or training place.

Concluding, Cllr Barry said: “Evidence from both Sweden and Finland which have a Youth Guarantee scheme is encouraging in terms of its effectiveness.

“The Youth Guarantee is something the NI Executive and especially those department with most direct responsibility for youth employment – DETI, DEL and OFMDFM – need to explore urgently.

“This report from the Nevin Economic Research Institute is an excellent place to start”.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Green Party launches online poll on 'civic conversation'

To mark the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, The Green Party in Northern Ireland has launched an online poll to gauge public opinion on the best way for citizens to contribute to the future governance of Northern Ireland.

Green MLA and Party Leader Steven Agnew said: “We want people to have a real and meaningful stake in the future of Northern Ireland.

“We believe the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) is the peoples’ agreement, and as such if it is to be refreshed to made it fit for purpose 15 years after its initial inception, then the public must be included and allowed to practically contribute to its updating and reshaping.

“That is why the Green party in Northern Ireland is calling for a ‘civic conversation’.

“We have just launched an online poll to ask people whether they agree that there needs to be public engagement in the political process.

“This means providing formal structures for citizens to engage, discuss and then contribute their thoughts and opinions regarding the structures of governance in Northern Ireland.

“15 years after the GFA, various changes to the operations of the Northern Ireland Assembly have been or are currently proposed - such as a reduction in the number of MLAs, the introduction of a formal opposition and the removal of community designation.

“Recent events regarding the issue of flags and falling voter numbers clearly indicate that there is an increasing sense of public disengagement with local politics.

“Since our local Executive parties have failed to agree on a way forward, the Green Party believes there is now an opportunity to re-engage our citizens with local politics through the process of ‘civic conversation’.

“This means providing the space and structures for citizens to engage, discuss and then contribute their thoughts and opinions regarding the structures of governance for Northern Ireland.

“The GFA was endorsed by the people through a referendum - the Green Party believes that major changes should only be made to the Agreement with the people's consent.

“I urge people, regardless of their political affiliations, to use this poll, which can be found at http://www.stevenagnew.net/, to let us know if they want to see the setting up of a formal mechanism for a civic conversation.”

Monday, 8 April 2013

Green Party leader extends sympathy after death of former Prime Minister

Green Party Leader Steven Agnew has extended sympathies to the family and friends of former Conservative Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher who died this morning aged 87.

“Coming from the other end of the political spectrum, myself and my party are opposed to the policies that Margaret Thatcher promoted and implemented,” Mr Agnew said.

“Those polices still cast a long shadow over UK politics and her vision of society is what underpins the current cuts to welfare provision.

“However, on such an occasion as a person’s passing, it is important to separate the personal from the political.

“Baroness Thatcher’s death will be a sad loss to her family, friends and former colleagues.

“I send condolences to them on behalf of the Green Party in Northern Ireland.”

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Integrated education is first stepping stone to ending segregated communities

The Green Party in Northern Ireland has called for a more robust strategy to extend integrated education provision in Northern Ireland.

Green Party Spokesperson Clare Bailey said: “Integrated education is the primary stepping stone to eradicating segregation and sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

“Schools are for educating our children in the National Curriculum, whereas churches are for fostering a religious and spiritual ethos.

“It is not surprising we still have such a divided society in 2013 when we still have young people in Northern Ireland who do not meet or even interact on a regular basis with people from other communities until they reach work or university.

“If we want a new Northern Ireland, then we need a new inclusive and shared education system.

“There are many parents crying out for this provision as evidenced by the current oversubscription of integrated schools.

“If we are serious about a shared future and serious about cohesion and integration, then we need to get serious about eradicating division and segregation.

“By not addressing the issue of integrated education as a top priority, we are continuing the institutionalisation of sectarianism and division.

“Setting targets for integrated education is welcomed, however, it does not go far enough since in the last 32 years only 62 integrated schools have been set up in Northern Ireland so how can parents have true parental choice?

“Every pupil and their parents should have the option of attending an integrated school in their geographical area.

“It is very disappointing that the new ESA Board does not have representatives from the integrated sector.

“What we do have is a board dominated by the two political and religious ideological blocks charged encouraging and facilitating the development of integrated education in Northern Ireland despite it being against their best interests to do so.

“The Green Party wants to see a fully shared and integrated society rather than the promotion of division.

“This is only going to happen when education, housing and culture are not divided by state-institutionalized sectarianism.”

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Green MLA Challenges Agriculture Minister To Make An Ethical Decision And Ban Wild Animals In Circuses In Northern Ireland

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew has criticised Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill for failing to introduce legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses in Northern Ireland.

Following a question in the Assembly when the Minister said she has not reached a decision on introducing secondary legislation to stop circuses which use wild animals performing in Northern Ireland, the Green Party Leader said: “I am disappointed and angered that Minister will not address this issue directly and urgently.

“I am also surprised she believes that life for animals in circuses is not detrimental to their health or their welfare is not compromised.

“Our developing understanding of animal welfare now means that we know what they need in order to thrive physically and psychologically.

“Conditions for good welfare include freedom of movement, ability to perform natural behaviours such as foraging, hunting and dust bathing, having control over situations, such as being able to escape from frightening events like crowds or loud noises and the avoidance, where possible, of generally stressful experiences, such as transportation and cramped living space.

“With the best will in the world, these conditions cannot be met in the environment of a travelling circus and therefore the welfare of animals suffers.

“Life for circus animals consists of being housed in trucks (restricted to the maximum size of lorry permitted on roads) and small barren temporary enclosures for 90-99% of the day; enclosures are, on average, a quarter the size of those recommended for zoos.

“Some animals are simply tethered to a peg in the ground, unable to move beyond a few meters or socialise with others.

“Loading and transport are stressful even for animals that are experienced on a weekly basis for the 5-10 months circuses travel around the country.

“The Green Party in Northern Ireland made a manifesto commitment to raise standards of animal welfare in Northern Ireland across all sectors from domestic pets, through to indigenous wildlife.

“We want Northern Ireland to lead the way when it comes to protecting vulnerable animals from unnecessary suffering and we believe that ban wild animals in circuses will be a good step forward.

“There is overwhelming public support for the banning of wild animals in circus and it is the morally and ethically correct thing to do.

Of more than 10,500 analysed responses to the UK Government’s 2010 consultation on this issue, 94% favoured a ban, including representatives of zoo and veterinary professions which is a clear indicator of the overwhelming public revulsion of animals performing in circuses.

“The Minister says she has an ‘open mind’ on this issue but if she steps up and makes a moral and ethical decision she could eradicate the inherent suffering of animals in circuses and end this cruel practice in Northern Ireland.”

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Green Party Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Planning Bill

The Green Party in Northern Ireland has described the proposed Planning Bill to be debated in the Assembly as a ‘knee jerk reaction’ which could actually slow down and complicate the planning process.

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew said: “I have grave concerns over some of the details contained in this Bill.

“Firstly, it gives economic considerations greater influence over social and environmental concerns and this therefore contradicts commitments to sustainable development.

“Communities not economists should have control over what happens in the areas where they live and this proposed Planning Bill means corporate interests will be put before the best interests of people.

“Secondly, the Bill is being rushed through before the proposed RPA which seeks to shift planning responsibilities to the new ‘super’ councils.

“This is a kneejerk reaction which will ultimately lead to bad regulation.

“This could be counterproductive to the original aims of the Bill which was to expedite planning as there is likely to be an increase in appeals and judicial reviews.

“Planning is already stacked up against the interests of communities and this Bill fails to address the power imbalance that exists.

“We want to see a planning system which is fair, efficient, transparent and accountable underpinned by the principals of sustainable development.

“Sadly, it would seem that economic considerations have been given supremacy over people and the environment.

“This will inevitably lead to legal conflict and further appeals which will slow the planning process down.”