Green Party NI conference, the visit of Alex Attwood, and criticism of MLAs who can’t read or believe the speeches written for them

I encountered a confidence within the Green Party in NI at Saturday’s conference. Their conference attendance was a tad smaller than the Workers Party event on the other side of Belfast. While the party was relieved to have Steven Agnew elected in Brian Wilson’s vacated seat (running against Wilson’s wife who was standing for Alliance) they were disappointed to only return three councillors in the local government elections.

Speaking to @greenpartyni”s @StevenAgnew after their party conference (mp3)

The party has the best gender balance I’ve seen yet at a party conference, and wide range of ages – from young teens through to retirement. Of course, like any party – or group of human beings – they also have their fair share of personality clashes, frustrations and egos. It’s not easy being green …

On Saturday morning, the Green Party in Northern Ireland held their private AGM. GPNI is a ‘regional group’ of the Irish Green Party – Comhaontas Glas. The Antrim Greens group proposed a motion to cut these ties, but got nowhere near the two-thirds support necessary. Senior party officials seemed happy that this long-standing arrangement had been reviewed, and re-endorsed by conference.

  • The party unanimously agreed (again) to “vigorously campaign and, where possible, vote to extend the right to marry and be legally recognised as such, to same sex couples, and that there be no difference in status between same sex marriage and different sex marriage”.
  • They voted to support “the raising of the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years to 14 years” and called on the “Northern Ireland Executive to introduce a statutory duty on government departments to co-operate in the planning and delivery of children’s services”.
  • They voted to “oppose the reduction in local councils from 26 to 11”, reiterating their strong support for as local representation as possible.
  • Fracking and all oil drilling in Northern Ireland was opposed.
  • They voted to support measures to reduce pensioner poverty, develop a long term fuel poverty strategy, and condemned “continued settlement building by Israel in the West Bank” and urged “Israel and the Palestine Authority to recommence a process of peace talks”.

Alex Attwood …

Environment Minister Alex Attwood addressing @GreenPArtyNI conference (mp3)

Environment Minister Alex Attwood speaking at Green Party conferenceThe public afternoon session started off with a visit from the Environment Minister Alex Attwood. Steven Agnew frequently stresses that he wants to be “constructive in opposition” and not to simply oppose things for the sake of it.

Green Party NI leader and MLA Steven Agnew introduced the minister saying that there had been “a real step change since Alex came into the environment ministry from some previous environment ministers”.

Wearing a natty green tie, Attwood said that “I do appreciate the opportunity” and promised to speak about the environment, but also about the character of government locally. He congratulating Michael D Higgins on his election as president. Attwood characterised the process as “a curious election” and said there were lessons for politics on the island.

If you’re listening back to the audio you’ll hear him lose his train of thought at one point as he realises that the camera light has come on at the back of the room, and Martina Purdy is whispering a piece to camera for her news report.

Attwood is unimpressed with some senior civil servants who overstate their own power and dismiss MLAs:

The mindset that occupies some of the parts of government is not a mindset either to embrace challenging and radical approaches at a time when we need challenging and radical approaches.

Referring back to his youth, Attwood explained that he had Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Anti-Nazi League posters up on his bedroom wall as a teenager. As a nineteen year old going Inter-railing around Europe, his rucksack had a Greenpeace badge. Then he got involved in party politics and constitutional issues, leaving environment in the background until he entered the Environment Ministry portfolio.

He spoke of the quality and scale of Northern Ireland scenery, archaeological and built heritage which could provide employment, as well as attract tourism and tourist spend. He said that this is not fully understood around the Executive table and wasn’t seen as a potential input to economic strategy.

In the very near future, a document will be brought forward about the economic strategy for the next twenty years, developed by a ministerial subgroup of the Executive. And neither then Agriculture Minister, the Environment Minister or the Social Development Minister are on that committee.

Attwood quoted Scottish minister John Swinney: “the single biggest economic opportunity for Scotland was renewable energy”. He added: “If it’s true for Scotland, it’s true for us.”

People know I want to move towards an independent Environment Agency. But I’ve been told – and I’ll be honest about this – I’ve been told by other ministers that the bureaucracy, the cost of it, and essentially the treat to vested interest means that getting that across the Executive table is going to be difficult. They told me already and I haven’t even tabled a paper, never mind tabled draft legislation … We need to get our heads around the scale of legislation and requirements, and the need to have proper coexistence between DARD, Fisheries and the environment in particular, requires that model going forward. It doesn’t have to be an excessively costly model.

He talked about the possibility of a Climate Change bill. He said that while he was keen to bring in National Parks legislation (late 2012/early 2013) but would need the help of the Green Party.

In the Q&A session afterwards, Attwood sometimes found it difficult to answer due to the ownership of issues by particular ministers and ministries. He explained:

If I stray beyond my competence, some minister, but probably peter Robinson, will call me to account, because we have a bit of a testing relationship at times.

In an answer to a long forgotten question, he explained

Out government has been modelled because of the very different political circumstances that we faced. It’s a little known fact I think, but in the near future the DUP and Sinn Fein will want to reduce the number of ministers. They’ll get in a huddle and come out one day and say “that’s the way it’s going to be”. That’s the new political order of things. But what they don’t know is that the reason that we have the number of ministries that we have is because Seamus Mallon insisted upon having the number of ministries that we have. And the reason that he insisted – whether that was the right shape and model of government or not – was that he knew that maximising the ownership of government across the parties was an essential element of political stability and peace going forward. And he knew that if he maximised the number of government departments, then there was an opportunity that other parties would just not be left one ministry, and might have more than one, and have a greater stake, greater influence, greater ownership. And consequently whilst you wouldn’t model necessarily our government in these precise terms, there was good reason why it was and consequently departments were fragmented in a way that didn’t make the most sense. But when DUP and Sinn Fein come along with their recipe for remodelling government and we listen to those arguments, we need to be sure that the areas of policy that are mutual are concentrated where they need to be …

Glyn Roberts – NI Independent Retail Trade Association) praised the minister for dropping PPS24 and making progress towards PPS5 (a new planning policy that will protect town centres, and a policy that the Green Party supports).

Next up, was a question from “Conall from South Belfast” – but not that Conall – about environmental fines. Attwood praised the staff in the Environmental Crime Unit in the DOE.

David Newman had the last question. Postulating that “it’s always better if ministers and officials have a feeling for the lives of citizens” he went on to ask whether Alex “and fellow ministers and maybe some of the officials would give up all use of cars for two weeks and travel everywhere by bicycle and public transport”.

Part of Attwood’s answer mentioned:

Sammy Wilson and myself – again I think this is breaching the Executive’s confidence – Sammy and myself were the only ministers who said we would share a car. All the other ministers, one way or another, said no, they wanted to keep their cars and keep their drivers.

He went on to explain the benefit of being able to work on papers while travelling to far away appointments.

I actually support the principle of a car. I don’t just support the principle of a car all the time … Two weeks? I’ll think about that can I? Can I negotiate you down? (laughs in room)

Conor Quinn, the Green Party’s NI chair, singled Alex Attwood as the “first Environment Minister that his party would share some common ground with” and went on to suggest that there was a theme of

small men with big ideas

across the “short stature” Green Party NI leader, the Environment Minister and even the new Irish President Michael D Higgins.

Eamon Ryan …

Eamon Ryan (leader of Irish Green Party) addressing @GreenPartyNi conference (mp3)

Eamonn Ryan speaking at Green Party NI conference The leader of Irish Green Party – Comhaontas Glas, Eamon Ryan, was next to address the NI party faithful. He commented that his party’s good intention of rotating ministers half way through the parliament went down very badly with voters when they stuck to their promise and swapped roles in the middle of an economic crisis.

Debate: Should nuclear energy be party of the solution to climate change?

The nuclear energy debate was well mannered and never hostile. There was a general trading of statistics, with the Green Party and Friends of the Earth panellists attributing great loss of life to historic nuclear incidents, while the two contributors from Better Environment through Nuclear Energy claimed that “nuclear power is relatively safe”, stating that Three mile Island had resulted in no deaths, Chernobyl was limited to 62 deaths and there have been no fatalities at Fukushima.

Nuclear energy debate (part 1) at @GreenPartyNI conference (mp3)

James Orr from Friends of the Earth said: “Even though it [nuclear energy] is supported by the Vatican, I’m still a very ardent nuclear sceptic and dissenter!” and pointed to radiation-induced cancers leading to deaths, and the problem of Irish terrorism when thinking about building nuclear

Nuclear energy debate (part 2) at @GreenPartyNI conference (mp3)

Shockingly, the average energy consumption of one person in the US is equal to fifty people in Bangladesh. (For comparison, 1 UK = 25 Bangladesh.)

Approximately, 5% of the world’s primary energy supply is nuclear, 5% hydro, 0.5% other renewables (eg, solar, wind, geothermal). The rest is supplied by burning stuff.

Nuclear energy debate (part 3) at @GreenPartyNI conference (mp3)

The pro-nuclear contributors got a solid round of applause – better than just polite – from the delegates and visitors (including a few Young Unionists).

(Coincidentally, Ireland may well be a nuclear energy free zone at the moment with the loss of the two interconnectors to Scotland and the GB national grid.)

Steven Agnew …

Green Party NI policy is to elect a new leader after Assembly elections. Steven Agnew was unopposed as leader and was duly re-elected. Thirty seconds later he was up on his feet giving his leader’s address.

Leader”s speech by @StevenAgnew at @GreenPartyNI conference (mp3)

Steven Agnew at gpni11 conferenceYou can listen to the full speech. Some highlights:

I have been very privileged today to share the top table with two of Ireland’s most able politicians – north or south. I don’t yet share the stature – and I’m not just talking about Eamon Ryan’s height – but I think it is where we should set the bar. Seeing politicians who are willing to go and take on the civil service and make actual change, rather than just deliver political rhetoric.

I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a very positive year for the Green Party, especially given our election results in May. It’s been a long year, from a personal point of view … The election campaign was exhausting, but it was well worth while.

We faced the challenge of building on our success in the 2005 and 2007 elections where we got our first ever Green councillors and first ever Green Party MLA. But it was pointed out to us time and time again that we did that on the back of strong personality votes of former independents who weren’t really Greens, it was suggested. Well now, we’ve gone to the electorate. Each of the candidates who were elected this time around have been long standing Green Party members and I’ve written here “we have truly cemented our place in Northern Ireland politics” – given our principles, maybe it’s better to say “we have firmly rooted in Northern Ireland politics”.

It has been a difficult year for colleagues in RoI. Agnew sees party decision to keep north south relationship intact as positive along and balanced by the party’s east-west (GB + Ireland) relationships.

I am a voice of opposition in a 108-member Assembly where 105 of the MLAs belong to government parties. However I plan to play a constructive role, I will not oppose [simply] for the sake of doing so. I recently spoke at an event celebrating 50 years of Amnesty International and I was reminded of the founding principle of Amnesty; “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” This is a principle that I take with me into the Assembly.

I want to applaud when good things are taking place. That is why I invited Alex Attwood here today, because I do believe that he is at least trying to do a good job in what are difficult circumstances, given his position on the Executive. Alex has shown leadership by engaging directly with the environmental movement and by putting environmental protection at the top of his agenda, despite the opposition he faces around the Executive table. Time will tell how much he can achieve in that regard.

I will benchmark all government policies against whether they are good for the economy, good for people and good for the environment. This was the commitment that was made by the Party in our manifesto and it is a commitment that I want to reaffirm today. I will oppose policies that do not meet these criteria, but only where I cannot offer a better alternative.

This approach is already achieving results. I have tabled two amendments to private members motions, both accepted by the Speaker, and both passed unanimously. In each case, what I’ve been trying to do is to highlight the need for joined up government in Northern Ireland.

Agnew spoke about his planned Private Members Bill:

My Private Member’s Bill, at the heart of it is the need for joined up government. If successful it will introduce a statutory duty on government departments to work together on the planning and commissioning of children’s services. Each government department has responsibilities in this area but they are all working in their own silos. This is incredibly inefficient. A lot of talk in politics is about finding more efficiencies within government … This is a way of creating efficiencies, that won’t cost us money, will in fact save us money, and will mean that through departments pulling their resources together, through commissioning services together, can actually deliver better for our children. And what could be more important than doing that? Currently children in Northern Ireland get a lesser deal that their counterparts in England, Scotland or Wales where some sort of statutory duty exists.

From his vantage point on the Enterprise, Trade and Investment committee, Agnew critiqued the questionable energy strategy of DETI.

On the one hand we have a target for 40% renewable electricity generation, 10% renewable heat and a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, all by 2020. On the other hand, DETI’s overriding policy is to expand the gas network in Northern Ireland.

Prioritising gas over renewable generation? Agnew has influenced a piece of research by the committee looking into switching public sector buildings from oil to gas. The next version of the report will also look at renewables.

Despite all that, I’m enjoying being in the Assembly. It is a challenge, but I enjoy that challenge. There are people in the Assembly who get it. There are good politicians there.

There are some – as far as I’m concerned – who should never have been elected and shouldn’t be there. Not because I disagree with them on policy – that’s fine, that’s what we go to the electorate for – but some of them can’t even seem to read their own speeches that are written for them. That’s the thing that infuriates me more than anything.

I can sit beside Jim Allister and disagree with him all day. At least he knows where his point of view comes from. But some of these people, their point of view is being handed to them on a sheet of paper, and actually – when you talk to them – they don’t even agree with the thing they read out. (applause)

But there are good politicians there in other parties, and it’s important that my team works with them to try and get our policies implemented, because we can’t do it on our own. I can do one Private Members Bill – if I’m lucky, two – and face the challenge of getting them through the Assembly. But ultimately we need to work together with other parties and I intend to do that.

Agnew looked forward to the day when he’ll be joined by other Green Party colleagues in the Assembly. He highlighted the need to widen fundraising from just within the party to include members of the public. He said it was important that the Greens run a candidate in the European election in (less than) three years time.

We’ve had the opportunity to pause for breath and to pat ourselves on the back for the great work of the past year. But I’m afraid to say, tomorrow the hard work begins all over again.

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  • decombustion

    Thanks for this – an excellent summary of the day’s proceedings. Tanya (one of the askers of the long-forgotten questions (there were actually two) to Alex Attwood!)

  • Granni Trixie

    Much as I appreciate Alan’s account of this and other annual conferences, may I also correct the possible impression given above that Anne Wilson stood against Stephen Agnew as the wife of a current MLA. No, she has been an Alliance activist as long as I can remember and a Councillor for some years,the basis on which she was selected to stand.

  • brian a wilson

    I read with interest Alan’s report on Green Party Conference to which I was not invited although as far as I am aware I remain a paid up member having paid fees of over £1000 this year.
    Having spent the last 4+ years building up and funding the party I was disappointed there was no reference to my contribution to the growth of the party.
    In fact before I was elected as a MLA the party had no fulltime staff and virtually no money. In the the past 4 years I have personally contributed over £20,000 and directly or indirectly provided more than ninety per cent of the parties total income which funded the election campaign.

    I was particularly disappointed by Steven’s suggestion

    that our first ever councillors and Green Party MLA were elected on the back of strong personality votes of former independents who weren’t really Green

    I reject this criticism. I joined Green Party in 2004 and was elected a Green Party Councillor in 2005 and Green Party MLA in 2007.I joined the Green Party because I supported its values policies and vision
    * I had a long record of campaigning on Green issues as an Independent.
    * Between joining GP in 2004 and 2011 I supported all GP policies and promoted GP campaigns.
    * I adhered to the agreement that I would not run for a second term as MLA. If I had stood I would have easily elected for a second term.
    .
    * I recruited Steven as my research assistant and for two years took every opportunity to promote him as my succesor as MLA for North Down
    *Turned down media opportunities and substituted Steven to allow him to increase his profile. Indeed I was criticised for lack of public appearances.
    * Paid 20% of my salary to the Green Party.
    * Funded the 2011 Assembly Election Campaign
    I congratulate Steven on his election and I know he will make an excellent MLA but I believe that the party should recognise that without my funding and promoting Steven this success would not have happened.
    I also concurr with GT’s comment regarding my wife Anne
    .She was an excellent candidatehaving served as a councillor for16 years andwith a long record of public service on many bodies.She was also involved in green campaignslong before the GP became active.If I had not kept my agreement with the GP and remained neutral and instead supported Anne she not Steven would now be MLA for North Down.

  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    Brian – thanks for leaving a comment. Two quick observations for clarity.

    (1) I obviously wasn’t present during the AGM in the morning, so I’ve no idea what was discussed or how the year was reviewed during that session, so can’t comment on whether you got an honorable mention in dispatches at that stage.

    > But it was pointed out to us time and time again that we did that on the back of strong personality votes of former independents who weren’t really Greens, it was suggested.

    (2) Steven’s comment clearly attributed the suggestion of “strong personality votes” to other people making that comment, and didn’t suggest it was his his personal opinion.

  • Johnny Boy

    God only knows what they’d be without you.

  • rabiddog

    I just wanted to say that as a resident of Bangor West, I received a few pieces of literature from Brian Wilson during the last election, including one newsletter with a number of pictures of him and his wife Anne (Alliance candidate !!), and also one leaflet picturing an elephant with the slogan “Brian Wilson No 1″ and encouraging me to” please consider Anne Wilson ” – as a Green Party supporter, I was really quite disgusted to see Brian Wilson promote an Alliance candidate, and I don’t see how he can claim that he remained neutral during the election – ??

  • Goughless

    Ach come on now Brian.

    Were you not in the Spectator the days before the election standing next to Ann Wilson? Surely that was an endorsement over Agnew.

    And also if you feel you are so green then why did you ditch the greens to stand as an independent and subsequently back your wife over the greens?

  • joanne.dunlop

    I was the Green Party council candidate for Bangor West in the last election, which meant that I stood against both Brian and Anne. It was particularly odd to find myself standing against Brian as although he was not the Green Party candidate, many of the residents of Bangor West were not aware that he had gone independent (again). This meant quite a few awkward moments at the doors, not to mention a post here on Slugger referring to my having been “done up like a kipper” to which I did not respond at the time.

    As much as I respect what Brian has done for the Green Party in the past, and as hopeful as I am for the future of the party, the reality is that his behaviour nearly cost us this election. It was only the fact that we had a very popular candidate and a really good campaign team that we won – and even then it was extremely close. It is simply not true that he remained neutral throughout; as already stated, his election material mentioned his wife and there are pictures of them out campaigning together. The suggestion that he could ever be neutral is a bit ridiculous – of course he was always going to support his wife, and it is dishonest to pretend that he ever intended to do otherwise.

    Furthermore, as a party which does not accept corporate donations, we rely entirely on our membership to raise funds. Brian was always aware of this, and even with the 20% paid into the party he did pretty well for himself out of his association with the Green Party. Of course, both Brian and Anne continue to bring in two council salaries between them, and are virtually guaranteed to get elected to NDBC for as long as they wish to stand. Which isn’t too shabby!

    Finally, and out of politeness I won’t say too much here [removed – Mod]. When I arrived at the first post-election executive meeting in the Bangor office, Brian and Anne were already in the building and were in the process of removing everything that wasn’t nailed down, despite Brian no longer being the MLA. The four-hour executive meeting took place with half of us sitting on the floor and the rest on the few remaining chairs.

    I genuinely don’t want to seem ungracious and I feel quite conflicted about posting this, but I also feel that these comments from Brian are very discourteous towards the party which finally got him elected to the assembly. Brian did a lot for the Green Party, but he was never bigger than the party, and the disloyalty and negativity so evident in his comments here really says a lot more about him than us.

  • Wasted Ballot

    Awk now B-dog, everyone knows you were fundraising for Alliance in the months coming up to the election. And why you still want to be a member of a party you had so little respect for will baffle everyone who reads this.

  • Junkhead

    As someone who was at conference, Brian I have to say that Steven Agnew did not say “that our first ever councillors and Green Party MLA were elected on the back of strong personality votes of former independents who weren’t really Green” – he merely said that this was what many people thought – which is true, whether we like it or not. The fact is that now there are Green representatives elected who were not elected under another label previously – and that is something we could not say before.

  • Junkhead

    …additionally Brian, I recall your contribution being lauded at pretty much every event I can think of since you were elected as an MLA in 2007. I’ve never felt that your obviously substancial contribution hasn’t been acknowledged. Steven even thanked you in his victory speech at the count centre.

  • Junkhead

    …and finally, I’m sure that all paid-up members were invited without exception.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I have to say I am shocked to read Brian Wilson’s rather self-damning contribution above.

    Perhaps I am naive (ok, well I clearly am naive) but I thought people went into politics out of a selfless devotion to their constituents and to making society better. Rather than putting on record his pride that his hard work has paid been paid off by an apparently successful conference and a successful Assembly election, Brian proclaims his disappointment that people aren’t falling to their knees to kiss his shoes. Apparently, he says, he threw a whole lot of money (personally I just want to puke when people throw around money figures in an effort to promote themselves) around – I have no doubt that is true – and he’s pissed off that people failed to recognize his big-cheeseness.

    Reading between the lines, I see no indication that the party deliberately attempted to snub Brian. Clearly, they fell short of the expectation that the red carpet would be rolled out and some sort of trophy award ceremony take place, but it was certainly clear that the conference was not an invitation-only event, it was open to the public, and rather refreshingly did not charge an entrance fee.

    In any case, I don’t know whether the Green Party internally had some sort of issue with Brian, but to be quite frank about it, given that he supported an opposing candidate for a seat that was always going to be on a knife-edge for them (and as it turned out, it was just that) I hardly think it would have been unreasonable to conclude that he may not have had their collective interests at heart.

    Sigh. Why does this corner of the world, especially the non-sectarian part, produce so many self-absorbed “look at me” prima donnas ? How completely and utterly pathetic, and disappointing to boot.

  • Donnan88

    This kind of rhetoric can seriously damage a person’s credibility in the eyes of the electorate. People don’t want to know how much praise you crave, that’s not what politics is about. It’s about what you can do to help the people who voted for you, believed in you and continue to support you. Brian’s comments here are everything that is wrong with politics in Northern Ireland: careers driven by ego rather than a desire to do good things.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Donnan88, well said. It is one thing to be arrogant, it is quite another to broadcast it to the world believing that it will do you know harm.

  • Rapunsell

    I subscribed a few pounds to the green party over the past 4-5 years but cancelled my subscription about 9 months ago . I used to do a bit of canvassing in bangor and holywood going back about 6 years ago.

    2 – 3 reasons I left, stopped the money and actually don’t think I’d be interested in voting green again never mind canvassing.

    1. The performance of the greens in govt in the south. Absolutely pathetic. How the hell Eamon Ryan ended up as leader of an allegedly socially progressive party after the performance in government? well?

    2. Your man Brian Wilson. A total non entity as an MLA – did he ever actually speak when he was in the assembly. He made no impression whatsoever with the wider NI voting public during his term. I can’t recall one single thing. Maybe some of the rest of you could enlighten me. Considering his recent behaviour I think his former colleagues have been rather gracious to him.

    3. Cadogan Enright

  • brian a wilson

    Oh Dear! It seems I have hit a raw nerve. Let me make it clear. I have no further Political ambitions and I only wish to set the record straight so could someone explain why
    despite my service to the GP
    -I have been removed from the party mailing list.
    -All references to me or my previous campaigns and policies have been removed from all party literature and websites.
    -Green Party bloggers make snide remarks that I was not a “real” “pure” “genuine” Green.
    I don’t crave recognition as I pointed out I often put Steven forward instead of myself in order to increase his profile and benefit the party. Let me make it clear, I devoted four years of my life to promote the Green Party not myself and every action I took as an MLA was for the benefit of the Green Party and usually to promote Steven as my successor in North Down.
    Despite the accusations I did not promote the Alliance Party and during the Assembly Campaign I maintained a neutual stance as agreed with Steven.
    As far as the Council election was concerned I asked voters to give their SECOND preference to Anne as I had done in four previous Council elections .When asked by voters who to vote for in the Assembly Elections I said they should make up their own minds.
    I am surprised at the level of abuse I have recieved for asking this question particularly as the fact is that without my support and funding the Green Party would not have an MLA.
    I am going to watch the News and Newsnight now and may respond to the abusive and inaccurate accusations later.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Brian,

    Don’t change your tune and pretend you don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Your original message doesn’t mention anything about you being removed from party activities or receiving any kind of negative backchat from Green Party members. It simply complains about your perceived lack of recognition.

    I can’t accept that someone who has been in politics as long as you have would put pen to paper as you did above without being aware of the impact you might have. I’d be surprised if you didn’t get media attention for this – but perhaps that was your plan.

  • chewnicked

    I know Brian Wilson from his former life as a lecturer at the Belfast Institute. To suggest that Brian is some sort of glory-hunter is arrant nonsense. Brian eats, sleeps and breathes politics and has always done so, long before devolution opened the door for careeerist politicians like Agnew to carve out lucrative income for themselves.
    The reason why Brian and Anne have such strong and consistent personal votes(a rare thing in itself in fickle North Down, as Steve may later discover) is because of decades of bread and butter constituency work on housing, benefits etc.
    When you see electoral failures such as Joanne Dunlop (who?) castigating Wilson, it is not hard to see why the Greens are imploding and why the electorate will soon consign them to the past.

  • Comrade Stalin

    chewnicked:

    To suggest that Brian is some sort of glory-hunter is arrant nonsense.

    It’s not arrant nonsense, it’s right there in his contribution at the top of this page.

    I mean there are really only two conclusions here. Either Brian meant to portray himself as a person who throws money around and is motivated by people saying nice things about him in public, which is how someone who did not know him would interpret the above, or he is a rather poor misunderstood soul who doesn’t know how to express himself properly, which is rather hard to accept from a guy with several decades of electoral politics under his belt.

    I don’t care that much for the Greens and there is a great deal of truth in the idea that Wilson is/was probably their strongest card due to his established personal vote which would probably follow him into any party. But politicians who whinge in public are pathetic.

  • http://newunionism.blogspot.com Ed Simpson

    I’d like to add my own thoughts to this. I ran (unsuccessfully) as an Independent Candidate in May and, after realising that there was little disagreement in policy & following a chat with Steven Agnew, decided to join the Green Party. So, I come at this with both an original outsiders perspective and, as of recently, a Green Party member perspective.

    I always found it very odd that Brian Wilson chose to stand down as Green MLA & Cllr but decide to run as an Independent Cllr. I didn’t (& still don’t) know Brian or Steven or indeed anyone within the Green Party at that time, but to me it seemed as if Brian knew he could get elected comfortably without the Greens and saw no benefit to staying within the party. Right or wrong, I could see his reasoning. Steven Agnew had recently been elected as leader of the Greens and in effect, Brian’s employee was now also his political boss. While I’m sure there was much more to it than this, it must have had some effect.

    Since joining the Greens, however, I haven’t detected a hint of bitterness about the election from anyone in the North Down constituency and the post above from Brian was quite a shock to me. Yes, there was no explicit acknowledgement of Brian’s contribution at the AGM, but so what? Brian played no part in that election for the Green Party. He points no doubt, to his financial contribution, but as a Green MLA, that is what was expected of him. It is no different to any other parties. At what point, Brian, is it acceptable for the Green Party to not mention your contribution?

    Brian may argue that he did the Green Party a big favour by being a member but in the same breath decries any imagined accusation that his was an entirely personal vote.

    As for promoting Steven Agnew, I’ve no doubt that Brian did help Steven raise his profile, however one thing I always found odd was that the easiest way to raise Steven’s profile would have been for Brian to step down as an MLA and co opt Steven to the Assembly. For sure it would have solved Brian’s problem of having to contribute any more money to the party he intended to stand against in the next election.

    Moving onto the election itself: as a constituent in Bangor West it was clear to all that Brian was campaigning for his wife and I fully understand that. What I don’t understand is the demand that the Green Party thank him for that. Joanne Dunlop, a first time candidate and relative newcomer, was one place away from being elected in a DEA that featured Brian & his wife along with another popular Alliance candidate, 2 long term UUP Cllrs and 2 strong and well known DUP Cllr’s. It is to her credit that she polled 8th in a 7 seat DEA. She did this despite Brian’s (who topped the poll) second prefs going to his wife, her Alliance colleague & a UUP candidate before Joanne.

    It is far more difficult to examine whether Steven’s assembly vote was down to Brian’s efforts for the Green Party while he was a representative or down to Steven’s hard work on the ground. The fact that he secured a council seat quite comfortably in a separate DEA would suggest that he was doing something right independent of Brian’s influence.

    However, all of this is academic now. We know that we can’t rely on the public making a switch to being Green without a huge effort at grass-roots level from members and activists and so we shall set about that task. Brian points out that he is still a member and as such, I can assume he is still on board with the Green Party agenda. Hopefully we in the Greens can all move on from this type of discussion and work to achieve our objectives as a unified party and not as individuals.

  • vanhelsing

    as much as I have enjoyed the discourse could I point out the title of alans blog and the fact that after post 2 it has all been about ‘he said, she said’ and Brian Wilson..

    “Green Party NI conference, the visit of Alex Attwood, and criticism of MLAs who can’t read or believe the speeches written for them”

    The greens were hammered in the Southern election this time round by association and I can’t see them in the near future impacting outside of the ‘gold coast’ in Northern Ireland.

  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    vanhelsing – it’s funny that you can slate fellow MLAs but the sin of omission is where you take the heat!

  • vanhelsing

    Alan – I noticed that myself:)

  • Carville1979

    Brian, darling, let’s be clear about this.
    If you had an issue with the Green Party, there are appropriate channels through which to voice your concern and raise issues/complaints. Snide, childish remarks on an online forum is not one of them. A man of your age, calibre and experience should know this.
    Also I think it is shameful that an elected Cllr would conduct himself in such a way by preferring to attack individual members of the party in such a way that comes across as egotistical, ignominious and reprehensible.
    If you have an issue with a political party in terms of professional conduct, do yourself a favour and raise it through the appropriate channels.

  • brian a wilson

    I have no wish to prolong this debate and with hindsight I accept that the issue could have been handled more diplomatically. However I wonder how my critics would have reacted if the organisation which they had served to the best of their ability for 7 years dumps them without explanation in practice because they no longer need your funding .
    This slight was exacerbated when the party leader in his speech unnecessarily raises a long standing and sensative issue questioning whether I was a “real” Green. While i accept he does not share this concern he did not take the opportunity to challange or refute it.
    This issue was first raised within days of my election as MLA in 2007. A group of senior party members questioned my Green credentials and set out policies and monitored my actions to ensure I followed “their” Green Agenda thereby undermining my role in the Assembly.
    I joined the GP in 2004 because I was concerned about climate change and because GPpolicies were similar to tthose I had campaigned for for many years.I joined the party because I shared its vision .There was no advantage to me as was I already an established councillor but the party benefitted by aquiring an elected representative and increased credability. Throughout my time in the Assembly I loyally carried out party policy because I believed it .Itherefore cannot understand why a minority of members continued to question my Green credentials.
    This questioning of my Green credentials has increased significantly since the election In a recent party paper researcher Andrew Murphy referring to Steven’s election noted “they elected their first member of the Northern Ireland Parliament as a “Green” candidate
    I am a political maverick , I do not fit nicely into any political box. I have never sought political office or to appease the political establishment.If I had I would never have joined the GP. My aim has been to promote my political vision and to serve my constituents who have recognised this by returning me at the top of the poll in Bangor West at the last 6 elections.
    I do not intend to respond to the largely ill informed or malicious attacks on me but feel I should make the following points
    -I was an active MLA both in the constituency and in the Assembly. I made more than 200 speeches. In fact in the final month alone I spoke ten times on issues as diverse as the Plastic Bag Tax, doublejobbing, Wildlife Bill, High Hedges the Planning Bill and the Budget. The fact that none of this was reported reflects on the media and the status of Green Party rather than on myself.
    -I have not worked for, fundraised for, or canvassed for any Alliance candidate including my wife since I left the party in 1997. While I do not recall any photographs of myself and Anne family photographs are common on election material and this would be as expected as the references and photographs of myself on all Steven’s election literature.
    I continue to support the policies and the shared vision which which attracted me to the GP.However if the party feels i can make no further contribution I feel they should have the courtesy to let me know. I can then persue my vision independently.

  • http://www.belfast.humanists.net Democrat

    For the record, the Greens also voted in favour of extending Fair Employment legislation to the whole education sector. No more sectarian mono-culture in school or college staffrooms.

    But it seems that all the serious issues discussed at the AGM have been swept aside by some crabby comments from a disgruntled ex-MLA who seems intent on making an ass of himself.

    There was an excellent discussion of the necessity (or otherwise) of using nuclear power to enable us to cut fossil fuel burning while we make the transition to renewables. That was the highlight of the conference for me. Informed, serious debate with not a single reference to the sectarian squabble that passes for politics in NI.

  • Carville1979

    “But it seems that all the serious issues discussed at the AGM have been swept aside by some crabby comments from a disgruntled ex-MLA who seems intent on making an ass of himself.”

    Here, here.

  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    So rescue the thread – what were the positives about the conference? Were you disappointed at the motions that were rejected? Were you disappointed by the lack of debate around electoral reform? Were Steven Agnew’s jokes better than usual?

  • http://newunionism.blogspot.com Ed Simpson

    Alan – as requested:

    As a first time attendee I was really pleased with the way the day went. Naturally, I thought it was a very positive event, based mainly on the issues discussed and the wholehearted support for progressive motions. In particular I was delighted to see the motion to campaign for gay marriage receive overwhelming support from the delegates and hope this issue becomes one of debate in the public eye. I imagine it to be an issue other parties may struggle to cope with without revealing underlying prejudices.

    The debate on Nuclear power was eye opening for me. I had thought I was alone in my support for Nuclear Power in the party but it appears that many are actually quite open minded on the issue and prepared to listen to the arguments.

    I would have liked an open discussion on electoral strategies to try and generate some ideas and get a feel from the members as to what they think we do well and what we don’t.

    Steven Agnew’s jokes? Well, the least said…