John Barry: “We need legislators, not negotiators…”

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I had an interesting chat today with John Barry. A fellow Dubliner but a far more interesting and indeed public character than that may suggest.

John is a Green Party candidate in the forthcoming Council elections standing in the Abbey ward of the new North Down and Ards Council. He was co-opted onto the existing North Down Council when Steven Agnew was elected as an MLA and will be seeking to retain the Green seat in the forthcoming elections but he is much more than that.

John Barry has been a key strategist for the Green Party in NI since 2003. He was a joint chair of the party until 2009. He is a senior academic and Professor of History and Politics at QUB.

Rather than going over predictable ground such as the traditional Green “boxsets” such as sustainable energy, global warming, and environmental fundamentalism (eg: by the likes of the fundamentalist wing of the DUP). We talked about strategic planning and how the Party intended to develop and grow their vote in the years ahead.

He expressed frustration at how the mainstream media tended to only contact the party when an obviously “Green” issue was at stake. This was interesting given his views below. It was clear to me that John still retains a key idealogical and strategic development role within the party.

We kicked off with a discussion about the All Ireland nature of the party (naturally, given my own bias). John was a prime mover behind the all Ireland nature of the Green Party and I was curious as to why. It was a simple enough matter for him. “The environment doesn’t stop at the border” being the show stopper.

We discussed Fracking in Fermanagh in depth and the need for a cross border public response to this. I need hardly add that he wasn’t a fan. He also pointed out that we are a small Island and we’re stronger (better) together on these non partisan issues.

John also emphasised the east / west importance and commonality of environmental issues and the links between green politics in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England and across Europe.

We moved onto the strategic targets for the Greens in the forthcoming elections at Council Level. I deliberately avoided the subject of the Euro vote as it has been covered in depth by others and the motivations of voters may be entirely different.

Currently the Green Party have 3 councillors. John himself in North Down plus 1 in Castlereagh and 1 in Down. I asked what the plan was for the May elections. John candidly said that 5 seats would be a realistic and achievable objective for this electoral battle. His target seats were interesting.

South Belfast is a definite target seat. A Castlereagh hold is being worked hard on and a possible Lisburn gain is in sight for the party. East Belfast is on the horizon but interestingly Omagh apparently is emerging as a distinct possibility with candidate Ciaran McClean generating strong party optimism west of the Bann. A genuine breakthrough if it happens.

We moved onto the ideological stuff eventually. It was fascinating.  John knows his stats, I’ll give him that. It is well known that the Greens favour reducing the voting age to 16. The 16 year olds agree with that although almost nobody else does but Johns argument was one I would agree with. The average 16 year old is much more politically savvy now than the average 18 year old was 20 years ago. I argued that the Greens would be likely to benefit electorally from younger voters. He agreed. Hmmmmph.

We then went onto another entire strategic planet regarding Green policy on Gay Marriage,  Female choice, trade union rights and some very interesting stuff regarding the Alliance Party and their inability to agree policy on any of the above. Very clear green water was put between both parties- subject for another blog perhaps.

The next topic is one I could write chapters on also. John’s experience as a Dubliner on North Down Council and his thoughts on the administration in Stormont. I have some personal experience of both myself.

When John was co-opted onto the council to replace Steven Agnew he was, understandably, the only Dub on the Council. The most unionist council there is. He was unsure what reception to expect. It was, for the most part, polite and “diplomatic” if not overwhelmingly welcoming. Until, that is, a certain DUP senior member leaned across to pass a smart comment about his “funny” accent “sotto voce”. John leaned back and replied “sotto voce” “I’m your worst nightmare mate. A Taig with a PHD”

Our discussion on Stormont is best summed up with a succinct quote by John which I thought summed a lot up with very few words: “We tend to elect negotiators, not legislators” Enough said.

We ended our discussion with a reflection on President Michael D Higgins meeting with Queen Elizabeth today. As Equals. That is a true Republican ideal. It is also a degree of progress. John thought, and I agree with him. that Martin McGuinness attending the state banquet tonight was leadership and stepping ahead of the electorate.

He made the very astute point that being a step ahead of your consituency was good politics. Being five steps ahead is a very risky place to be unless you are a very confident politician.

May is looking interesting.

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  • Ceisenstadt

    Hey Bangordub, just one small correction. As a fellow prospective candidate, I’d like to point out that the “Abbey” ward actually doesn’t exist any more in ND&A.

    As far as I am aware, Mr Barry is standing in the Bangor Central ward.

  • mjh

    Very interesting Bangordub.

    Omagh is not a totally unexpected place to see Green hopes. Historically there has been a strain of support for non-border orientated politics. Alliance had three councillors there in the 70′s and retained one in Omagh Town through the 90′s. More recently there was the Independent MLA Kieran Deeny for 8 years until 2011.

  • Zig70

    Politicians promote themselves as negotiator’s and rarely mention their legislative CV. Not all the electorates fault. You’ll note John doesn’t mention his legal skills nor his understanding of planning or refuse. Why would a thinker be scary to anyone either?

  • mr x

    another foreigner come to rip off the English taxpayer – rude as well.

  • Red Cortina

    McClean hasn’t the slightest chance of getting elected. Stood as an independent a few times. Last time out he came bottom of the poll with 178 votes. Also, he opposes the A5 road which the overwhelming majority majority of the electorate support

  • zep

    “I’m your worst nightmare mate. A Taig with a PHD”

    What an odd remark. Does he feel like he was being discriminated against on account of religion? Certainly doesn’t sound like it going by what Bangordub outlines. Maybe John has a chip on his shoulder that spurred him into using that sort of language in a council meeting?

    I have been more and more turned off the Green Party by what I have read on here in recent weeks. My vote will be going elsewhere in the next few months I reckon.

  • Bungditin

    “Also, he opposes the A5 road which the overwhelming majority majority of the electorate support”

    Irrespective of how much of a majority support the A5, clearly those who opposed it were correct given that the courts found that DRD had failed to comply with European law, not only putting your environment at risk, but putting the NI tax payer at risk of significant fines by infringing EU laws.

  • Reader

    zep: I have been more and more turned off the Green Party by what I have read on here in recent weeks. My vote will be going elsewhere in the next few months I reckon.
    Maybe the Greens are going on a PR suicide run in order to take the heat off Alliance and Anna Lo.
    Alternatively, it may be significant that their recent bloopers on Slugger have been presented by republicans, who may think there is only room for one all-Ireland party.

  • http://www.wordpress.ianjamesparsley.com IJP

    I think Ross Brown is an excellent European candidate, but too many Greens are frankly illiberal. They also look for discrimination even where none exists. Not that North Down is necessarily a beacon of progressive politics, but it has an essentially cross-community MP and had a Catholic Mayor before Belfast did.

    There was also the matter of seriously misleading comments made during the debate on the Pensions Bill, clearly implying things which were, bluntly, the opposite of the truth (so much for “peer reviewed science”) in order to attract the civil service vote. That’s not “clean politics” nor the “common good”, I’m afraid.

    I’m not sure ruling out fracking completely, given instability to our energy supply growing in the east, is all that wise either. (It is quite reasonable to oppose it until its safety has been demonstrated clearly, but not to oppose it outright to appease the NIMBYs.)

    Ceisenstadt

    If you’re a prospective candidate, you’ll need to know that “Bangor Central” is not a “ward”!

    It’s a “District Electoral Area” (DEA) made up of several wards.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Intriguing.
    To their credit, Green Party are conviction politicians and that can be irritating when they are a bit holier than thou with the whole home made wine, cycle path stuff they do.
    They are as committed to Vegetarianism as DUP are to Creationism.

    But John Barrys comments on Alliance seem worthy of comment.
    Alliance seem to welcome fellow middle ground parties but only to the point where they can be eliminated at election counts and the second preferences are picked up by Alliance.
    NI21 increasingly looks like a beaten docket…they cant break out of their parody of lack of committment.
    Maybe Alliance have more to worry about with Greens.
    If Greens are indeed conviction politicians, it will always limit their potential.
    Ironically it is Alliance lack of conviction…a consequence of being a coalition itself…which is its biggest strength.

  • http://bangordub.wordpress.com/ Bangordub

    Reader,
    May I clarify that I am not, nor ever have been, a member of any political party, nor am I advancing the agenda of any. I think you are suggesting that by publishing an interview with a council candidate I have an ulterior motive. Simply put, I do not. As a matter of fact I cleared the above article with John prior to publication for reasons of accuracy. My own opinions as expressed above are, of course, fair game and yes I am a republican, although, perhaps, not in a sense that you may recognise.
    Thanks to those above who have contributed constructively.

  • Ceisenstadt

    IJP:

    Very true, I apologise for the mistake. I suppose I am still in old-council mode with language.

    Still, the DEA he is running is is called “Bangor Central”, and as far as I know the Abbey ward is no longer around.

  • Reader

    Bangordub: May I clarify that I am not, nor ever have been, a member of any political party, nor am I advancing the agenda of any. I think you are suggesting that by publishing an interview with a council candidate I have an ulterior motive. Simply put, I do not.
    I don’t think you are seriously under the spotlight. I offered up two different theories and indeed I have others (one of them a classic cock-up theory; another trades on a presumed level of Green inexperience and naivety; another considers possible entry-ism. A final one considers that co-option may be the only way of getting worse councillors than even local elections). You needn’t take any of them too seriously.

  • Rossbrown

    I know John’s comment was said in jest but humour doesnt appear to translate very well on slugger especially when everyone has this stereotype of us all as “holier than thou”.

    What inaccuracies on the pensions bill debate?

  • Charles_Gould

    I am frankly surprised that a Professor would also be a local councillor.

    A Professor is a highly demanding job and I have not met any who would want to be a councillor.

  • http://www.wordpress.ianjamesparsley.com IJP

    The Greens made the frankly outrageous and fundamentally misleading argument that public sector workers shouldn’t have to work as long in Northern Ireland because “life expectancy in Belfast is eleven years shorter than in [wait for it] Kensington and Chelsea”.

    This is a deliberately misleading comparison between the inner city on one hand, and the most prosperous borough in the British Isles on the other!

    Here’s the thing: life expectancy in Northern Ireland is 82. And in Great Britain it’s [wait for it] 82.

    A fair comparison would have shown the Greens had no case whatsoever on their own terms. From the party which makes a fuss about using evidence, that was shocking stuff.

  • Rossbrown

    Its fair to say that you’re right that we got the analysis wrong when GB was compared to NI. However, this wasnt a deliberate attempt to mislead and was due to the fact that we looked at the variations between local government districts rather than the average expectancy between NI & GB.

    The reason we looked at those variations in the first place wasn’t actually to compare NI with GB but to highlight the fact that there are life expectancy inequalities between different income levels. While those on higher incomes enjoy longer life expectancy, those at the bottom end do not and universally increasing the pension age ignores this reality. Those at the bottom end pay more, many die before reaching pension age and those who dont get smaller pensions than those at the top who live longer and get to enjoy bigger pensions.

  • Rossbrown

    And just for the record it wasnt just Belfast that had poor life expectancy rates in NI, a number of other areas wernt much better so it was a particularly easy mistake to make.

  • Delphin

    Hi Ross, have you any comment on IJP’s comment on fracking
    “I’m not sure ruling out fracking completely, given instability to our energy supply growing in the east, is all that wise either. (It is quite reasonable to oppose it until its safety has been demonstrated clearly, but not to oppose it outright to appease the NIMBYs.)”
    I would tend to agree with this. Also the carbon footprint for burning fracked gas would be lower than for burning Russian gas.
    Local gas for local people, I say!

  • Reader

    Rossbrown: I know John’s comment was said in jest but humour doesnt appear to translate very well on slugger especially when everyone has this stereotype of us all as “holier than thou”.
    Maybe it will work better on the doorsteps.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Mr Brown,
    I think there are several fault lines between Green and Alliance.
    Not just Left versus Right.
    Not just Conviction versus Fence Sitting.
    Not just Naivety versus Ruthless Professionalism.
    Not just “Young Politics” versus “Old Politics” (Equal Marriage for example).
    Not just the Party Policy versus Opportunism.

    But I wonder if the purist line is in itself imposing a ghetto around the Greens. Not being all things to all people and actually being committed to stuff ….personally as a “conviction” type myself I find that a good thing….but is it actually a vote loser?

  • http://eastbelfastdiary.blogspot.com/ Jenny

    Interesting idea coming out of this thread that conviction politics may be a turn-off. I think that’s true for the chatterati who post on Slugger, but because everyone in an election has a vote, we are also trying to reach the other 99.9% of NI’s population and our candidates are getting a good response on the doors. People who are cynical about snouts in the trough like the commitment to transparency. People who don’t want their countryside destroyed are sympathetic to the arguments against fracking. And many people like our commitment to social justice and a focus on improving services rather than getting the impression we are trying to work out which foot a household kicks with so that we can scoop up their vote without any further effort. We are running a very positive campaign with excellent candidates, and I’m looking forward to the next 6 weeks.

  • zep

    “rather than getting the impression we are trying to work out which foot a household kicks with” – or if they are a ‘taig with a PhD’ to quote your erstwhile representative?

  • Rossbrown

    “If we are serious in our commitment to avoid dangerous climate change, the only safe place for shale gas remains in the ground” – Professor Kevin Anderson at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester.

    It is not a clean source of energy. Leakage rates of methane in the single digits make it worse for the environment than burning hard coal and they have greatly underestimated the rate at which it is leaking in the USA – http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/11/u-s-methane-emissions-far-exceed-government-estimates/

    It is not required to transition to a 100% renewable energy system so why are we even talking about it?

  • Rossbrown

    And this isnt an appeasement to NIMBYs. I was one of the founders of some the campaign groups in NI before anyone else was even interested – i will contest fracking wherever and whenever it is proposed.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    I think Jenny makes an excellent point.
    The Sluggerati are not the Electorate.
    Indeed on Election Day it would be interesting if Slugger opened a thread “how did you vote”

    Interesting to compare the the Electorate with the Sluggerites.
    The open declaration that John Barry is a republican certainly makes him more attractive to North Downs small nationalist population.
    Never actually elected to the old council (hes a co-option) he is presumably the only republican on that council.
    He would certainly be more attractive than Alliance who tend to suck up the small nationalist second preferences.
    And he will certainly get the tree hugging vote.

    So all of a sudden a person like me has a third Party to consider.
    Parties that lean to Left and are nationalist/republican or all Ireland based.
    That does drive a wedge into Alliance.
    The Greens hardly have the number of candidates to fully exploit it.
    But with Alliance people falling over themselves to distance themselves from Anna Lo and resorting to the comfort zone of “dont ask, dont say”…there is scope.
    I daresay that a Leftist leading party like the Greens are “republican” in a global post-1789 sense …and they will hardly offend their core vote by being more overt about it.
    As John Barry is a Politics prof, it stands to reason that he knows the buttons to push…and there is a few quality Green candiates like Clare Bailey who deserve to get elected.

  • Delphin

    Jenny, Ross,
    Europe has the most stringent environmental laws on the planet, so fracking will not be permitted to ‘destroy the countryside’ any more so than quarrying or intensive agriculture.
    As you probably know the jury is still out on fracking in Europe, with unintentional (fugitive) release of methane being identified as a major concern. One would presume that again fracking will not be permitted until this is addressed.

    The best engineers in the world – the Germans – have been unable to meet stringent renewable energy targets and rising prices and potential power cuts have resulted in new coal fired power stations being planned. So like it or not the burning of fossil carbon will be necessary of at least another generation and to reject fracking out of hand is to me foolish.

  • Bungditin

    Fitzjameshorse

    “Indeed on Election Day it would be interesting if Slugger opened a thread “how did you vote”

    I’ll start you off – Green (for the first time)

  • Rossbrown

    Delphin, it would be nice if that were the case but can you tell me if Europe has such stringent laws how did we end up with the situation where unauthorised quarrying at Campsie was allowed since 2001/2 and resulted in the illegal dumping of 500,000 tonnes of waste by 2014? How come 25 other sites (many of which are quarries) are now under criminal investigation? How have we ended up with the situation where 1m tonnes of sand and gravel (25% of NI’s annual consumption) are being extracted from Lough Neigh without any permissions or EIAs? How come 60% of NI’a special areas of conservation are in unfavourable condition?

    Europe does have environmental regulations but they are not being enforced and intensive agriculture is also a major problem. As for fugitive emissions debate – the jury isnt still out on that one – the debate between researchers was previously between reports that estimated emissions – the NOAA report actually measured them.

    As for Germany, they are meeting their renewable energy targets. As for coal consumption – it has been depressed in price in Europe because of the use of gas in the USA and coals displacement making it relatively cheap fuel to use. The failure on the level of coal consumed is with the pricing structure in Germany’s electricity market. There are no technical barriers to an energy transition to 100% renewables – shale gas isnt necessary.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Bungditin….
    I am not a member of the Slugger team…so I wont be organising any straw poll.
    It would be kinda interesting to see how close to/distant from Reality we are.

  • Delphin

    Ross,
    The débâcle at Campsie is down to the regulator not being fit for purpose. Another example of incompetence at Stormont. I wouldn’t want to decide energy policy for Europe on the performance of our local politicians.

    To be clear the jury is still out in Europe on whether fracking will proceed. Fugitive methane emissions have been flagged up as a major concern. This will need to be addressed if fracking is to proceed.

    Germany’s renewable energy sector is to be reformed.

    The reform is necessary to curb a rise in the cost of electricity driven by the rapid expansion of green power under the country’s Energiewende policy.

    The reform will slow the expansion of green energy, which accounts for 25 percent of Germany’s electricity and force new investors in green power to take some risk.

    So Germany as had to pull back at 25% for economic reasons. It may be possible to have 100% renewables now but this would be economically and politically impossible.

    To me the science is unequivocal. The way forward technically is becoming clear – renewables plus nuclear (especially fusion). The big problems with combating climate change are economic and political.

  • DeanBlackwood

    Delphin

    “Europe has the most stringent environmental laws on the planet, so fracking will not be permitted to ‘destroy the countryside’ any more so than quarrying or intensive agriculture”.

    To add to what Ross Brown says…the illegal landfill he mentions is reported to be the biggest in Europe (BBC Spotlight) and immediately abuts the River Faughan Special Area of Conservation (a European designation supposedly afforded the highest levels of environmental protection) for a length of 1.4km. Some two thirds of Derry’s water supply is abstracted 1km downstream of this super dump. Yet unauthorised quarrying and back filling with illegal waste was permitted to continue for many years.

    From what RB says in regard to Lough Neagh (which incidentally is also an European designated site where the most stringent environmental laws on the planet apply), not only does it appear NI has the largest illegal landfill in Europe, but given the extent of unauthorised mineral extraction taking place in the lough, we may also have the largest illegal quarry. Yet this too has been permitted to continue for many, many years without regulation.

    The inability or unwillingness of DOE to protect these two internationally important sites (and many of the other designations which remain in unfavourable status despite stringent environmental laws protecting them) should tell you that environmental governance in NI has systemically failed.

    Your confidence is somewhat misplaced in what is essentially a “politically captured regulator”, with DOE’s first responsibility to protect its Minister rather that the environment.

  • DeanBlackwood

    Delphin

    Just to save you the bother of having to put me right…I see from your most recent comment there is no misplaced confidence in the abilities of the regulator

  • Delphin

    DB, you forgot to mention the inability of Stormont to agree a recovery plan for the Strangford Lough mussel beds.
    I don’t think having an ‘independent’ Environment Agency would make that much difference. The basic problem is that the politically active in N. Ireland are obsessed with tribal politics and really don’t care about the environment. If squirrels were orange and green rather than red and grey, things might be different.