Monday 2 May 2016

Open Letter to First Minister, Arlene Foster

Dear Ms Foster

Thank you for your recent letter asking for my vote in the Stormont Assembly elections on Thursday 5 May.

I am very happy to vote for your party providing that I can get from you some clarification on your key policies.

Regarding Corporation Tax, why is it important to reduce the rate? This cut will considerably reduce the amount of money brought into the public purse and therefore restrict spending further, in already austere times. You appear to be taking a gamble that the cut in this tax rate will attract more businesses to Northern Ireland; what evidence do you have that this will work? And why do you think it is important to offer a tax cut to big business when welfare cuts are being imposed on the poorest people in our society? Finally, do you not think it is right and fair for big businesses to pay their fair share of taxation to the public finances? Why should tax rates for big business be lower than the level of personal income tax, for example?

Can you explain why your party supports archaic policies designed to prevent women having pregnancy terminations, particularly in the cases of rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities? Is this not another example of Northern Ireland being behind the times, being not only the one remaining part of the United Kingdom with such antiquated laws, but also being among a very small minority of so-called developed countries in the world with such draconian restrictions on a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body?

Could you please explain why your party has opposed equal marriage in our society for so long and continues to do so? Do you think it was appropriate to use a Petition of Concern last year to block legislation on this issue when the majority of members of the assembly were in favour? Do you really think this is the kind of issue the Petition of Concern was introduced to address? If the issue comes before the Assembly again, would you allow your party’s MLAs a free vote?

Can you explain why there remains a ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood? You will be aware that this ban has been described by a judge as “irrational”. You will also know that there is no scientific evidence supporting such a ban.

Can you reassure me that you will, unlike your predecessor Peter Robinson, take appropriate measures and sanctions, against senior members of your party who express homophobic views?

Do you think it is acceptable for the LGBT community to be discriminated against in these ways? Would you be happy if such discrimination were routinely handed out to women, or left-handed people, for example?

On issues of the environment, can you explain your party’s position on climate change? I have heard senior members of your party deny its existence, contrary to all scientific evidence. Can you explain why so little appears to have been done by your government to tackle this issue, which has been described as the most serious issue facing humanity? Will you, for example, be renewing a commitment to the Green New Deal, which would retrofit our aging housing stock with 21st century insulation? This would reduce Northern Ireland’s overall CO2 output, would provide work for thousands of people in the construction industry and would, most importantly, give many of our people living in fuel poverty a decent chance to reduce their fuel bills. Why is it that in Northern Ireland more people per capita die of winter cold than in Finland?

Can you explain your party’s continued support of the fracking industry, in the face of public opposition and the possibility of water contamination? Can you be sure that drilling only 380 metres from Woodburn Reservoir cannot contaminate the water within that reservoir? Were appropriate groundwater modelling studies undertaken to check this possibility prior to drilling commencing?
Can you explain why your party is in favour of leaving the European Union? Do you think it will free the UK – and Northern Ireland in particular – from environmental legislation that is lacking on a national level? Or do you think that it will help big businesses by removing some of the rights of our workers?

Finally, could you please clarify your position on financial donations to political parties? Do you know when the DUP will start publishing a list of all its donors? Do you not think it is time Northern Ireland came into line with the rest of the United Kingdom and made it mandatory for political parties to publish such a list? Or are there any political donations the DUP would not want the rest of the world to know about? You will be aware that there have been hints of improper financial dealings surrounding your predecessor, particularly with regard to property deals. Do you not think that an atmosphere of greater transparency would be in the interest of democracy in general?

In your letter you referred again and again to the possibility of Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister, in an attempt, I assume, to frighten me. However, unless I receive from you satisfactory clarification on the points I have raised, I find the prospect of your party returning to power, and having you as First Minister, equally, if not more frightening.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Luke Robinson
Lagan Valley Green Party