Green Party conference: nuclear power, environmental governance, and a visit from Minister Attwood

Updatepost covering the content of the Green Party conference now published, including audio of the speeches and debates.

Environmental governance and nuclear power … these nearly seem like clichéd themes for the Green Party NI to discuss at their annual conference next weekend. While the two leaders’ speeches will no doubt cover other aspects of Green Party policy, including economic and social issues, the main thrust of the agenda is focussed on traditional ‘green’ topics.

SDLP Environment Minster (and leadership candidate) Alex Attwood will deliver a keynote speech to the Green Party delegates and visitors to share his vision for environment governance in Northern Ireland.

(It is as if the SDLP are deliberately reaching out beyond their traditional voter base! I’ve mentioned elsewhere that SDLP vice-chair Fearghal Mckinney turned in Armagh to chair a Q&A panel at the UUP conference.)

On Saturday, the Green party will get a chance to listen to and challenge Executive environmental policy directly from the politician in charge. Green Party leader Steven Agnew comments:

I think it is important that politicians are mature enough to recognise when others are doing good work – regardless of party affiliations. The Green Party in Northern Ireland is willing to work in co-operation with all other parties to ensure the best outcome for the people of Northern Ireland. While we are a party in opposition, I want to ensure that we are playing a constructive role.

Following his speech, the Alex Attwood will take questions from Green Party delegates “which indicates his willingness to listen to the views of people who passionately care about our environment”.

Steven Agnew goes on to say:

There is a real sense that the Environment Minister is willing to listen to advice on what needs to be done locally to afford the most effective environmental management and protection. This is certainly in sharp contrast to what we have experienced in the past. I applaud Mr Attwood’s commitment to good environmental governance in his tenure so far. This is not to say I won’t be prepared to criticise him and hold him to account if he gets things wrong.

As well as a speech from NI party leader and MLA Steven Agnew, there will be remarks from Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party in Ireland.

It’s certainly a cunning way of attracting media interest to a smaller party conference that would perhaps otherwise have been ignored (or relegates to 50 words or an ‘And finally’ on a radio bulletin).

The final business is a panel debate asking: Should Nuclear Energy Be Part of the Solution to Climate Change?

Recently, the Green Party have been keen to stress their triangle of concern: economy for people and the environment. While nuclear power is an interesting question – and Sellafield has been confirmed as a site suitable for a new nuclear reactor to be built by 2025 – I do wonder whether this is a wasted opportunity. Surely planning, and the balance between the building trade (economy), housing (people) and the countryside (environment) would have been a more practical topic that could have fed into the planning changes being discussed for Northern Ireland?

The Green Party’s conference is being held in Belfast’s Ramada Encore hotel (just behind St Anne’s Cathedral) on Saturday 29 October between 2pm and 5pm. You don’t have to be a party member to attend. (And it’s free!)