Monday, July 11, 2022
Sunday, April 10, 2022
A few years ago I nominated Antrim Castle Gardens for an award from the Fields in Trust charity and this wonderful legacy for the people of Antrim was named the best park in Northern Ireland in 2016. It is a special place to me and that is why what I witness now is so heartbreaking.
If you park in front of Clotworthy House to the right was a green open space, it was safe and while occasionally used for temporary events it always returned to its multi-purpose people space. Families picnicked, toddlers toddled, children kicked their first football or caught their first frisbee, it was a priceless space to those who used it.
For some in authority however it was valueless and value could only be added by concrete and structure.
The site has been bounded by Portugal Laurel, a non-native species whose leaves are apparently considered poisonous releasing cyanide when burnt or crushed. What was open and safe is now closed and unsafe.
Throughout the Castle Gardens run drainage channels, vibrant areas so recently filled with frog spawn, now tadpoles and froglets should grow, along whose banks ducks will nest.
Those who care for none of this see only somewhere to dispose of the waste from the construction site. Where flora and fauna flourished there is only the dead space of cement washings.
Elected representatives may have been sold a picture of heaven, what has been delivered is environmental hell.
Tuesday, March 29, 2022
So Nicola Mallon, Minister of Infrastructure, has finally taken a decision to refuse planning permission for the Energy from Waste plant for ARC 21 at Hightown. It’s not an unexpected decision as her view on the proposal has been known for many years long before she became Minister. There was certainly no prospect of her approving permission a few weeks from an election. Parish pump politics trumps process every time.So here are my thoughts on her decision, the implications for ratepayers, the implications for the environment but more importantly the undermining of good governance and the loss of confidence in strategic investment in Northern Ireland.
Saturday, November 6, 2021
Friday, August 6, 2021
What happens when the grass doesn't grow? Not such an outlandish thought, indeed recently DAERA issued a warning to the agricultural sector about the impact of prolonged very hot weather on fodder supplies later in the year. Simply put, as climate change means more extreme events, hotter weather in summer, wetter weather in winter and sudden storms will all have an impact on Northern Ireland’s agriculture.
For those who are reluctant to consider any changes to agricultural output to reduce climate change the failure to do so carries a far greater risk to the sector in what is a rapidly shortening time frame. The scale of the challenge is immense, Northern Ireland’s admittedly high quality grass fed beef, dairy and lamb sectors support 2 million sheep and 1.6 million cows. All options to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gases include a reduction in these numbers to reduce methane output.
What is important is that any management of the impact of climate change ensures a socially, financially and environmentally sustainable agricultural sector. That means a proper grown up discussion about how to make changes which protect farmers and ensure long term stability for the sector.
The alternative is not the industrialisation of agriculture, something that has happened already in a number of food sectors. Farmers should not be reduced to being production managers in a factory system, indentured servants carrying all of the financial and environmental risks while shareholders in large multinationals take all of the profit.
While we will face the challenges of extended periods of intense heat and will face sudden and devastating rainfall events which will result in a serious disruption of farming activity we should be supporting farmers now to try and reduce the potential for these events, putting in place an alternative sustainable framework which both reduces the production of greenhouse gases and ensures viability for the sector even when the grass doesn’t grow.
Saturday, April 17, 2021
In his article in today’s Newsletter Ben Lowry states “Unionism is now the only significant movement in Northern Ireland that ever seems to defend the status quo.” I suspect from Ben’s perspective this is a good thing. A few weeks ago I wrote an article in which I stated
“Those who clamber onto the backs of lorries are fond of using a phrase “what we have we hold” it has been a feature of Unionist politics my entire life. It was unchallengeable, but now perhaps is the time to challenge it, for the sake of the union and for Unionism. What if what we have, what if what we hold, is not enough.”
To be clear being robust defenders of the status quo is not a winning political strategy.
Over the past few weeks I heard a number of interviews with young people caught up in the violence arising from protests against the Protocol, for some they believed that the Protocol was making them second-class citizens in their own country. What saddens me is that those same young people did not understand that they are second-class citizens already, like their parents and grandparents before them. The Protocol is an unconscionable act of social, economic and constitutional vandalism by people in power who neither know nor care about its impact but it is not the cause of the generational poverty which undermines the lives of the young people in the streets throwing bricks. Neither are their conditions determined by whether they are unionist and nationalist or whether they are Protestant or Catholic. Institutionalised poverty and deprivation exist and for that reason what we have can never be the status quo that some Unionist politicians and commentators aspire to.
Areas of multiple deprivation have been a feature of government policy and questionable investment for generations. Across a broad range of civic society, community and voluntary sector, churches, schools and sections of government funds have flowed to organisations to address the impact of poverty in education, health, community development, employment, arts and many other sectors. One cannot underestimate the massive impact that those individuals delivering such programs have had on improving the quality of life of people in those areas. But such work comes with many frustrations, there is little long-term funding, projects are funded on a piecemeal basis, pilot projects, even the most successful, disappear because there is no route to sustainability and time after time organisations are expected to reinvent the wheel when all is needed is a retread.
The reality is much of that work is focused on papering over the cracks and we have some of the best decorators available. But the cracks will re-appear and they do so because the foundations are either too weak or non-existent within too many communities, that is the status quo that we cannot sustain. Imagine if we had the courage to take all of that knowledge and experience within people working in those areas and applied it to building a new foundation, if we invested in changing society from the ground up rather than simply saying we must defend the status quo.
In Ben’s article he goes on to say “If there was not a Unionist education Minister, for example, academic selection would be gone.” It’s almost as if Unionism is dependent on academic selection, on the school you go to or the badge you wear. It’s not. For those who live in areas of multiple deprivation they are told that academic selection is the route to be a better future, it is the educational equivalent of the Hunger Games. Many schools, individual teachers and community organisations do all in their power to give those children who wish to attempt selection process every opportunity to succeed but overcoming the impact of disadvantage is a massive undertaking. Levelling up every child’s life opportunity means not accepting the status quo but charting a new path.
I don’t believe that for all its efforts nationalism will bring about a United Ireland but I do think that by default unionism will push society in that direction. We cannot defend a unionism which cannot deliver for working class unionists never mind anyone else. The world around us is changing and in evolutionary terms the saying is “adapt or die” it’s a valid metaphor for political movements as well. For political unionism the challenges remain that for many such evolution is an anathema, controlling the flow of funds to areas of deprivation gives a level of power and control over the populace and importantly too few have the vision, ambition or commitment to truly change the society we live in.
Thursday, March 11, 2021
Today’s Newsletter carries an article by Mr Ben Habib a recent champion of Unionism who has arrived on scene to rescue the union from the worst excesses of a seriously deficient Boris Johnston and the Conservative Party unable to protect Northern Ireland from those pesky Europeans.
When he writes
“The Northern Ireland Protocol has been imposed on Northern Ireland without even a shred of consent from its people, let alone the cross-community consent which is at the heart of the Belfast Agreement.”
he does so without any sense of irony given that he, himself, did indeed vote to impose the Withdrawal Agreement containing the NI Protocol on the people of Northern Ireland when a Brexit MEP.
This is the same Ben Habib who is mentioned in a recent Irish News article,
Mr Habib believes "Northern Ireland has been left behind" and that the Irish Sea regulatory border has disrupted trade between Britain and the region.
"What it said on the referendum paper and what the prime minister promised in his manifesto of 2019 was that the UK would leave the EU – there was no deal that we'd leave Northern Ireland behind," he said.
"It's actually repugnant that we should leave part of the UK behind. It makes me feel sick to the core, which is why I've taken the action I've taken." Irish News 25th February 2021
Yet this is the same Ben Habib who wrote on the 18th February 2020 in the Daily Telegraph
“Undoubtedly the Protocol and associated border down the Irish Sea was an unnecessary and hefty concession made by the British government to get Brexit over the line. Undoubtedly it belies any claim that the UK is leaving the EU whole, in control of its laws and borders. But instead of resisting the inevitable, NI should embrace it and make it work for its own great benefit and that of the United Kingdom.”
Earlier comments in the same article detail why Mr Habib felt that trying to mitigate the Protocol would be wrong
“Many unionists now wish for the future arrangements between the EU and the UK to be as close as possible. They hope that, by diluting the effects of Brexit and staying closely aligned with the EU, they will neuter the adverse implications of the Protocol for the union of NI and GB.
They must resist the temptation to push for close alignment between the EU and UK.”
Any idea that the pure Brexit Mr Habib sought would be lessoned to protect the union was not in Mr Habib’s plan and so the economic benefits of the Protocol as seen by him were writ large for all to see:
“NI has been afforded one major advantage by the Protocol. It will be able to export goods tariff-free to both the EU and GB. This is a unique position, the advantages of which grow the greater the divergence of the UK from the EU.
NI should be the perfect home for businesses seeking to export to both the EU and GB. The British government should assist by ensuring that businesses wishing to locate in NI are able to access cost effective funding and that the tax environment for businesses in NI is made at least as accommodating as it is in Ireland. The rest would happen automatically. Indeed, with the right support NI could and should become a tiger economy within the UK.
If the NI economy does as well as it should, irrespective of the obvious drawbacks of the Protocol, there is every chance of Ireland itself aligning more closely with Great Britain, rather than NI aligning itself more closely with the EU. The border down the Irish Sea should diminish greatly as a threat to the UK’s union.”
So what has motivated Mr Habib to saddle up a white charger and come to the rescue of unionism. Perhaps a clue is to be found in an online interview with Proactive Investors, available on You Tube, on the 10th June 2016, a few days before the referendum, Habib touches on the BREXIT debate, noting he would be “very gung-ho” should the UK vote to leave the EU.
“If we get a vote for BREXIT and if the commentators are right that sterling will weaken and the markets will go into a degree of volatility, we’ll be looking at that as a really great opportunity to buy assets in the UK,” he says.
Of course Mr Habib is first and foremost a businessman indeed while an MEP he apparently earned more from his main employment than any other MEP. His business model was highlighted by BBC Newsnight on Jul 16, 2019 when Emily Maitlis pointed out: “You line your own pockets with everyone else going bust”
Mr Habib depends on volatility and disruption to create the markets conditions in which he thrives. Resolving issues with the Protocol doesn’t deliver for Ben, in fact the Trade and Co-operation Agreement doesn’t deliver for Ben despite the disruption so far. What delivers for Ben is winding things up to create the circumstances where the UK and EU revert to a no deal Brexit over NI. By the way even Ben admits that in those circumstances the Withdrawal Agreement remains.
Should Mr Habib arrive at the offices of the Dept of the Economy with plans for a factory to build gull-wing door cars which can travel in time in a factory on the Shankill there will be unionists who hail him as a hero. I will not be one, like many before he is not here for us, he is here for himself and the profit he can make. When he is done he will be gone and we will have to pick up the pieces of whatever he leaves behind.
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