Beyond the niche: women in frack-free politics

It might just be the alliteration, of course, but it’s rare these days that I meet anyone east of the Bann who doesn’t say, when I mention where I live, “Fermanagh?  Where they have the fracking?”

Well we don’t ‘have the fracking’, not now, though it’s been a close shave, and, to mix my metaphors, we’re not out of the woods yet.  It has, though, been an extraordinary campaign, not least in the almost complete reversal of public opinion.  Three and a half years ago, when the news of Tamboran’s licence first surfaced, the near-universal response was one of excited delight.  This was a state-of-the-art American, big money industry that was going to bring us skilled jobs, cheap gas and cash pouring down like the Enniskillen rain.  And it was all going to happen underground, where we wouldn’t even have to look at it.

Tanya (far right) With other Green Party members, including Ciaran McClean, candidate for West Tyrone, at Tamboran’s site last August.

Tanya (far right) With other Green Party members, including Ciaran McClean, candidate for West Tyrone, at Tamboran’s site last August.

It took a lot of work to demonstrate that things wouldn’t be quite like that.  At the beginning we were viewed as cave-dwelling Luddites, dogs in the manger who didn’t want nice gas cookers ourselves so set out to stop everyone else from having them.  It was uncomfortable and dispiriting and exhausting, and for a long time it all seemed fairly hopeless.

One of the things that made it so difficult at the beginning was the sheer breadth of the arguments against fracking.  If there had been one single reason why it was a bad idea, we could have repeated that over and over again and eventually it would have sunk in.  But as it was, every frack-free activist seemed to have a different objection.  Mine was climate change; others were the hazards to child health, the dairy industry, wildlife habitats, tourism, fish stocks for anglers, the darkness of the night sky or the silence of the forests.

There were things that always went wrong, like catastrophic levels of traffic on rural roads, things that usually went wrong somewhere, like the integrity of concrete well casings, and things that occasionally went wrong, like full-scale explosions.  There were reasons why fracking was always a bad thing, like the fact that we can’t afford to burn more fossil fuels; reasons why it was especially bad in some situations, like drilling near houses and farms; and reasons why it was a uniquely stupid idea in Fermanagh, like the depth of the shale layer and our complex and uncharted hydrology.

The range of issues was the initial difficulty, but in the end it was our strength, not only in winning the arguments but in building the movement.  We came from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and professions, and were impelled by almost as many different motivations.  Some of us were environmentalists, some social and economic justice campaigners, some Christians ( of either variety) some farmers or tourism operators, some (quite a large proportion) medical professionals and some random people who’d seen fracking in North America or Australia, and didn’t want it here.  Politically, some were Green and some Socialist, with most having no particular affiliation, or none that they talked about.  Those within the Executive parties who were sympathetic tended to keep at a certain distance from the cross-community campaigns.

For a long time I didn’t notice the most unusual thing about the composition of the groups.  I think it was because much of my community involvement had been with the Fermanagh Churches Forum and other broadly faith-based groups.  These groups tended to be predominantly female, so I wasn’t surprised, joining the frack-free movement, to find so many women there.

(When I say ‘so many’, I probably mean around half, but in political terms that’s of course huge.)  What’s more, they were taking on leadership and technical roles, not only doing the support and creative bits.

It was, I believe, the range of issues raised by fracking and of motivations within the campaign which made this possible.  The fact that there was no single party line, no long-established structure and no constant body of magisterial truth meant that a range of strategies and skills were essential.  No one could master the entire corpus of geological, engineering, ecological, medical, legal and administrative knowledge that related to fracking, and so there was no point in anyone trying to do so. Instead, we all found our own niches, areas of expertise in which we felt, if not comfortable, then at least useful.  We were always overstretched, so no one with any sense bothered with demarcation or guarding their territory.

What is being built up, as this experience is replicated across the British Isles, is an informal network of fairly informal groups; a slightly eccentric patchwork quilt.  It’s often makeshift and a bit threadbare in places, but it’s flexible and it’s effective.  And it’s giving women the confidence to enter a more formalised politics.

I’ve been a member of the Green Party for a long time, but this is my first foray into standing for election.  I wouldn’t be doing it if I hadn’t learned, through the frack-free movement, that I was capable of what politics requires.  And I’m not the only one.  Tina Rothery, a leading frack-free activist, is standing for the Green Party in George Osborne’s Tatton constituency, while Jessica Mayo, involved in the Barton Moss campaign, is doing the same in Manchester.

But no discussion of fracking and women would be complete without a final mention of the Knitting Nannas, the Australian (and now British) activists who ‘knit gracefully’ outside fracking sites, during court proceedings and in the offices of local politicians.  It apparently ‘drives elected representatives crazy’.  I do hope they reach Northern Ireland.  Maybe Carrickfergus?

Tanya Jones is a founder member of the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network. She is also the Green Party candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the upcoming elections. She blogs at greenlassie.com

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  • Ruairidh Morrison

    County Antrim definitely need Knitting Nanas. Both Carrickfergus an Ballinlea are under threat of drilling. Rathlin Energy’s plans for Ballinlea include drilling right down into the shale layer and carrying out a mini-frack in that layer.

  • chrisjones2

    Congratulations for driving out fracking and helping ensure your descendants in future generations live in idyllic green tinged poverty in the Fermanagh Bogs. All those grannies knitting organic wool mittens may find their grandchildren need them when they cant afford the electricity bill

    I must confess that I am a bit confused. I assume you are the Green Party of NI and not the Green Party of the UK or Ireland or whatever? Your Website is a bit hazy on this and seems to suggest you are part of some bigger pan-Eurpoean whole. The manifestos are also full of a lot of what I might call dense waffle and few clear statements, so as a voter i am just not sure so can you help me out?

    Can you, for example, confirm that you support the other policies voted on by The Green Party conference yesterday and if not, why not as surely whats Green over there is just as green here and vice versa? So do you support

    * free social care for all children up to 6 years old – hooray – but what is the bill and how will you pay for it – see pledge below on zero growth?

    * free social care for all over 65s – double hooray and whats the even bigger bill – see pledge below on zero growth – though this is a bit of a sneaky promise as after you have taxed them to the hilt during their lives they wont have any savings left to pay for care anyway

    * commitment to deliberate zero growth in the economy – so Fermanagh is to be stuck where it is with no inward investment and its surplus children as its main export to the evil empire of Amerikay where they can send money back to their parents to help pay their tax bills

    * a new wealth tax based on property – that should sort out those Fermanagh farmers with their pigs and cows polluting the atmosphere with methane. So is this a Green Party policy – after all why should they OWN the land, shouldn’t it belong to the state who could look after it much more ethically?

    * completely outlawing the ‘market mechanism’ in the NHS – so no more childrens’ or adult heart surgery in Dublin then? It will have to be done up here thereby accidentally killing more patients as staff lack the skills but sure that is just the price we all pay for high ethical standards .

    * phase out ALL fossil fuel use and replace by renewables – like wind farms which I suppose can take up all the free farmland vacated when keeping animals or growing crops to feed them is banned and farmers are taxed into bankruptcy

    * raise the minimum wage to £10 – ideal in Fermanagh although it may depress employment a bit when wages in the rest of Europe are so much lower but what the hell …its a good policy that will attract the floating voter (and by that I mean the one who has been following your policy on drugs liberalization)

    All good crowd pleasers no doubt

    And what has happened to the other motions before the Green Party Conference this week? Can you tell us? The Greens website is very quiet on these so were they adopted and do the Greens in NI offer fraternal support to

    * Reverse the current Green policy of banning cars. Apparently this is proving “unattractive with the electorate. Well that should go down well in Fermanagh so I assume you will take that one

    * Extending article 5 of the UN Human Rights Declaration to include cetaceans , great apes elephants and all ‘sentient creatures’ . This would outlaw the kidnapping of dolphins but what would the impact be on pigs – who are very intelligent? Cattle? Sheep – have you seen what Shaun gets up to? Sheep dogs? Pet hamsters? Will we see Fermanagh farmers up in court for holding pigs captive against their will or ten year olds locked up because their hamster cage is deemed too small?

    * Banning greyhounds from racing. Presumably it will then be ok to still shoot them to get rid of them once they are deemed to have no further purpose in life or will they just have to be released to roam wild and free claiming Jobseekers or DLA?? Indeed, will they qualify for the £10 / hour minimum wage?

    * Banning all horse racing. This makes sense. They wont have time to train and race anyway as they will all be tied up with their lawyers planning their next Article 5 challenges in the courts. Will we still be able to sell them to the French as food though (or to kebab shops for that matter)?

    * Banning parents from nominating a gender for their child at birth. Well that may cause a ripple in the gay fearing section community in Fermanagh, and perhaps some later difficulties in accessing the showers down the GAA club and deciding who makes the Tea at the lodge meetings and who can stand for Worshipful Master (the clue is in the title and we don’t allow Mistresses in Fermanagh – well not officially anyway, although there are rumours) – but if it has to be it has to be.

    Anyway, can you please enlighten us on these and all the other wonderful policies you will bring us if we vote for you?

  • Brian O’Neill

    So much anger Chris. It’s a lovely day, why not go for a stroll in the sunshine? I am just back from a lovely bike ride myself.

  • chrisjones2

    Not an ounce of anger at all.

    I think the Greens are a modern equivalent of the Monster Raving Loony Party. They are much more entertaining than almost all NI politics though I do dispair a bit of the NI knee jerk that says any development that isnt a new call centre is to be fought at all costs

  • Dan

    I wonder if Tanya Jones agrees with Green Party PLP candidate for Fylde, Bob Dennet, who also opposes fracking, not least because ‘the Government plans to use those bore holes to deposit nuclear waste’.

  • salmonofdata

    Well done on your campaign. Fracking in Fermanagh was always a daft idea on many different levels.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thanks chris, most of this sounds great to me! Might just vote for the first time in my life if we have a Green Party candidate in my neck of the woods.

    Interesting to see someone, somewhere, propose some policies that might just help somebody somewhere instead of simply asking the big corporations either directly, or (more woefully) simply and blindly following those who ask directly, what the big boys might like as policies in the manifesto. With any luck others might just start supporting Green Policy and then we might actually have “future generations” to “live in idyllic green tinged poverty in the Fermanagh Bogs” instead of a few survivors scraping a living amongst the grey cinders of our world like the characters in Samuel Beckett’s “Happy Days.”

  • chrisjones2

    I am sorry but that is just made up nonsense. They already have lots of holes in the ground to dump the waste in, although I can see that putting it in Blackpool might seem attractive from an environmental standpoint

  • chrisjones2

    Why not. Lets all vote green. They are, after all, marginally less economically illiterate than SF

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed! And with better claim to the colour, which was, after all, actually derived from the sea green party colour of the Levellers in the seventeenth century.

  • chrisjones2

    I never even thought of that. It has brightened my day

    As has what Guido Fawkes did to their Green Screen at the Party Conference

    http://order-order.com/2015/03/06/natalie-bennetts-green-screen-speech/

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, they actually did it (buried nuclear waste) up at the Throne in north Belfast…….

    Better a bit of “nonsense” alerting people broadly to what these people can get up to while we are all looking the other way at the old SF/DuUUP see-saw, than the web of silence that usually envelops these activities.

  • mememine

    34 MORE years of climate action failure only makes you “believers” criminals in the history books for your decades of needless CO2 panic.

    And 34 years of failing to achieve climate action is 100% proof that science’s laughable 99% certainty was anything anyone wanted it to be and you libs used exaggeration of vague science as a tool of hate for conservatives and fear for your children. Who’s the neocon?

  • chrisjones2

    I am afraid that if that were written in English it might have more impact. I suggest you edit the second paragraph a bit

  • chrisjones2

    But the Throne was just old hospital waste – very low level and relatively harmless. And anything like that might even have been seen as a positive addition to the North Belfast environment

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Now I was told by a geologist friend that the possibility of fracking anywhere here is simply nilch, and that it was all speculation proposals to pull in loans and bump up company stocks, but he might have been shooting me a line.

    No friend of call centres either, me. I’ll oppose any development anywhere here thats simply a useless waste of time and space. Which is most of what gets applied for here!

    Just for the record, I’m of the opinion that the fracking fantasy is simply another example of our local politicians’ “cargo cult” fixation when it comes to economic matters, which I’d unpacked at some length over on a posting on Slugger a few years back on the “Great Runkerry Golf War”:

    http://sluggerotoole.com/2012/06/13/the-trusts-over-riding-focus-is-the-protection-of-the-environment-and-landscape-within-the-distinctive-setting-of-northern-irelands-only-world-heritage-site/

    I quote two paragraphs to illustrate:

    “In a process called “fetishization” the cult members create non-functioning copies of goods they have seen that mark the more advanced societies, such as radios or cars made of coconuts and straw. These building activities are intended, like the development activities described earlier, to “attract” the actual goods of the more advanced culture with no more effort on the part of the cult members. As cult members conceive the situation there is no further need to develop proper manufacturing or any knowledge of science proper, let along assess what is actually possible in the real world. Does any of this ring any bells yet?

    Even when these building projects, which may cost the cult members exceptional amounts of time and wealth, finally fail to deliver anything this is put down to some magical failure on the devotees’ part. I’m uncertain as to whither they have got around to raising bank loans to pay for such pointless building activity or to the development of bloated public sector employment as a substitute for assessing how to develop a proper manufacturing base yet, however, but I’m pretty sure that unlike our local Cargo Cults devotees, the Melanesian Cult members have not yet got around to paying for professional planning advice that can be willfully ignored as part of the ritual process.”

  • Turgon

    Looks like Chris has presented a critique of Green policies albeit a pretty negative one. “So much anger Chris.” looks like either distraction or from a non moderator might even be called man playing.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You old cynic……

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Chris, is it me? What is the point he’s making?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I actually like the woman, genuinely approve her politics, I know shouldn’t laugh…..

  • chrisjones2

    Oh come. I just outlined what they are (I think)

    They then critique themselves

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And you may actually have persuaded me to vote Green! Thank you Chris!

  • chrisjones2

    Oh come on…the polar bears are funny

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I have a cat just like one of them…..damn! Back own topic next post, I promise……

  • chrisjones2

    I think he doesn’t believe in climate change and think is it a con used for left wing political purposes.

    That last para though is like a thorn bush that needs attacked with hedge trimmers

  • chrisjones2

    I am an optimist …but a careful one

  • chrisjones2

    Good luck. It is a democracy and I respect them and you for your views even though I totally disagree. Good luck

  • chrisjones2

    I will smack my own wrist before Brian or Mick get to me

  • Shaun de Bauch

    Great piece, astutely observed. Our anti fracking campaign at Barton Moss was also female strong with the vast majority of arrests and lock ons being Women..the true heiresses of Greenham Common was a phrase often heard. The reason for this was often pondered using such sweeping generalisations about men being “more cavalier” with life etc but you seem to have cracked it with your piece.

    Its also fascinating isn’t it regarding the true aftershocks of the anti fracking “movement” the effects of which I think will be deeply profound and I’d like to add to your thoughts with a piece that I recently wrote http://wp.me/p5IODN-H

    Once again, great piece and HUGE respect to all of you in Fermanagh..you were an inspiration to us in Salford

  • chrisjones2

    “the true heiresses of Greenham Common”

    so failures then?

  • Brian O’Neill

    Tanya and her colleagues won the battle against fracking in Fermanagh. And while Greenham common did fail in their battle with the worlds largest superpower (not surprisingly) they did have an impact.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/shortcuts/2013/apr/17/greenham-common-outlived-margaret-thatcher

  • chrisjones2

    I disagree. They had zero long term impact. Cruise with many other things helped win the cold war and free Eastern Europe. I have no doubt that for many Greenham Women it had an impact. Good luck to them but in the sweep of history they lost – Regan and Thatcher freed Europe. They were a distraction