Green Party NI conference – tackling waste that holds back Northern Ireland

Green Party 2016 Aseembly candidatesOver the last four or five years that I’ve been covering Green Party conferences, the number of exhibitors, the number of delegates and the confidence of the delegates has been increasing. There were a lot of new faces this year, many but not all of them young.

As Green Party activists south of the border nervously awaited results from the Irish General Election, the conference agenda in the Clayton Hotel in Belfast included encouraging video messages from the Green Party leaders across Britain and Ireland.

Nineteen motions covering legacy issues, prescription charges, TTIP, flooding, rights of access, regulation of live/commercial poker, UK’s membership of the EU, sex and relationship education, retail food waste redistribution, sign language in schools, VAT reduction, votes at 17 and cannabis legislation. Not every motion achieved the required two thirds support but dissenting voices were listened to, challenged and respected within the room.


PanelAfter lunch a panel of four guests were invited to critique different policy issues as well as reflect on the Green Party.

On opposition, Alex Kane said that it was ridiculous that after this election the Assembly might have an opposition of two: Steven Agnew and Jim Allister.

Clare BaileyDeputy party leader and South Belfast candidate Clare Bailey explained that her journey through motherhood led to politics.

I look at their choices, opportunities and options … and more often than not they’re a carbon copy of what I was offered at their age. And that’s not good enough …

The same parties, talking the same language, with the same conversations and sometimes the same faces sitting in the same seats asking “will you vote for me”.

On party growth:

This is our largely party conference to date and over coming years they’ll only get larger as people seek alternative solutions to the almost intractable problems facing our society and world.

Commenting on the absence of a religious divide in the Green Party politics:

We are a political party that demands something else, something more, something better. Green politics is about hope and not fear … We’re using hope to empower the individual and community to know that change is possible. We’re not about the black and white days, but the rainbow of living.

She was applauded when she said she looked forward to joining Steven Agnew in “the naughty corner”. While her party leader may be sometimes characterised as “a little green man”:

He may be little but he has stature and integrity and that’s a rarity.

Clare explained that established parties have continually failed LGBT people, and acknowledged the party’s diverse party membership as well as its appeal to the “queer” community.

She said that the Greens are the only local party wanting to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland which she supported “because I trust women”.

Steven Agnew gpni16North Down candidate Steven Agnew began by reflecting on his five years as leader of the Green Party (which has felt “like a lifetime”). Back then the party worried about having a quorum at conference, now they worry about having enough seats!

But the bigger question is: what change have the Greens made?

  • Belfast City Council – energy policy being developed; support for an animal cruelty register; opposition to oil drilling at Woodburn Forest.
  • Ards and North Down Council – council transparency improved and “subversively” inviting people into the (public) meetings to see what is happening; a ban on circuses with animals on council property; and John Barry’s stand for genuine community workers, standing up to vested interests in communities where for too many years people have been scared to speak out.
  • NI Assembly – successful motion to oppose fracking in NI; exposing unauthorised sand dredging in Lough Neagh and illegal land dumps.

The Greens are traditionally expected to be environmental champions …

… but the planet is only the place where you live … Ultimately as an environmental campaigner I’m a campaigner for people. My Children’s Bill … ensuring resources are not wasted, ensuring joined up working so more resources go to children and families who need them …

gpni16 delegates from backZero Waste is an Assembly campaign slogan.

On welfare reform we secured a better deal. Though to be very honest, it’s not a good enough deal. Welfare cuts are coming to NI and some of the poorest people in our society will receive a further cut due to Assembly’s dereliction of duties by passing control to Westminster. We said numbers wouldn’t stack up and they don’t. Ultimately we brought honesty to the discussion.

We’ve had five Assembly debates on marriage equality. What a waste of time [not because the issue is not important but] because we’re still debating the issue. We could have passed the first motion I brought to the Assembly in 2012 … but instead we see other parties struggle with this issue. We can be proud that we set the agenda and started the conversation. We know that some of the others are on a journey and in our frustration we sometimes we deride parties who claim to be progressive but don’t step forward for progressive policies. We shouldn’t deride them. That’s the challenge of leadership to clear the path for those people. The Greens are used to being ahead …

A vote for the Green Party is not a wasted vote. A vote for the same is the only wasted vote …

Waste is holding back Northern Ireland …

Close to half our population live in fuel poverty. We’re still part of one of the richest nations in the world. Yet more people die due to winter related deaths than in Finland where temperatures reach minus 30. Is it people are tougher in Finland with Viking spirit? … Or is it because [government intervention means] every home in Finland has cavity wall, floor insulation and double glazing. Maybe that made the difference.

Steven Agnew said that Green policies were “good for people, the economy and the environment” and it was “time these were priorities within the Assembly”.

Waste within education system. Segregation of costs … we had the opportunity to have one school and educate our children together. What did our Executive do? Two schools in one building! … Is that the best we can do for Northern Ireland? … Make it more economical, reduce some of the waste of finances, but the greater crime is the waste of opportunity.

Waste at Stormont. Probably the most popular thing we’ve done is to reduce the number of MLAs because people don’t believe that we’re delivering anything. As one MLA from a minority party I introduced legislation that will change children’s lives …

People are frustrated with the waste …

On the party’s slate of Assembly candidates:

We’re putting forward 18 candidates for the first time ever, saying we won’t waste your vote, we will seek change, and everyone in NI can now vote Green. I’m proud that our list of candidates reflects how society is and reflects the Assembly as it should be.

Is it radical that in a society of 50+% women we’d have 50% women candidates?

While other parties argue about quotas, the Greens achieved this with a policy of “a quota of one third women candidates”.

He thanked Ellen Murray for her honesty and tireless campaigning on many different issues including mental health and public transport, and said that as a candidate for West Belfast there was much more to her than her transgender identity.

The Green Party will never have a better opportunity to increase our representation in the Assembly than this election.

Confident post speech Steven AgnewComing towards the conclusion of his speech, Steven Agnew quipped:

Mike Nesbitt once described me as the most dangerous man in Northern Ireland politics – I chose to take it as a complement – I couldn’t help thinking that in an Assembly with Gerry Kelly that’s quite a statement (laughs)

Fielding and administering eighteen candidates will be a challenge for the Green Party. It will encourage supporters who have up to now complained that they have no Green candidate to vote for in a majority of constituencies. The party are confident that Steven Agnew will be re-elected. South Belfast and East Belfast offer other opportunities if bigger party’s votes fragment and the Green candidate can stay ahead long enough in the rounds of exclusions.

Alan Meban. Normally to be found blogging over at Alan in Belfast where you’ll find an irregular set of postings, weaving an intricate pattern around a diverse set of subjects. Comment on cinema, books, technology and the occasional rant about life. On Slugger, the posts will mainly be about political events and processes. Tweets as @alaninbelfast.

  • Turgon

    Do they still have the policy of Full Reserve Banking which they voted on last year? It would make credit much harder to obtain for very large numbers of individuals and businesses. If implemented that policy would make Osborne’s austerity look pretty trivial and would hold back Northern Ireland to an enormous extent.

  • dodrade99

    Are the NI Greens still technically a branch of the Dublin party?

  • I don’t think so. But I’ll let someone from the GP confirm that!

  • Certainly wasn’t on the list of motions this year to remove the policy.

  • aquifer

    Banks are lending too much on property, and not enough to businesses, because the regulations allow this. But lending first time buyers a huge multiple of income makes the whole system more fragile in any downturn or crash. Especially if government refuses to spend money on anything sensible. Full reserve banking sounds extreme but it could just mean the idle rich taking risks with their wealth for a change.

    Mervyn King the former governor of the Bank of England is worried that the next crash could be soon. (if it not already underway) Banks have not been sufficiently reformed since 2008, and Quantitative Easing has pumped asset prices up, risking a rapid price fall.

  • Granni Trixie

    I did not know until I read it in the post that the GP have a policy of wanting to bring the 67 Abortion Act to NI. This is definately a USP which could be their undoing. It also says something about the composition of the membership that they have agreement on this stance by which I mean less diversity than they claim.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Oh it’s underway alright. China crashed last year. World construction and production slowing. Comodity prices crashing. All under reported in the msm of course.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    If an individual were to simply pretend they had ready access to cash, and then charge you interest on a loan of borrowed cash that they could not repay if you defaulted, such sharp practice in an individual would be thought of as a species of fraud. The only reason that fractional reserve banking worked at all to any degree globally is that the fraction of deposits retained actually could meet probable withdrawals. When this failed with the banking crisis the abyss opened, and until the real problems of the fractional reserves ystem are finally addressed, no recovery will be possible, despite the assurances every few months taht it is underway, and that nay deviation from previous practice will cripple a “recovery” which is alraedy utterly crippled.

    It is of some interest that private banks such as Messers C.Hoare & Company work to a very high reserve ratio to ensure credibility with their customers. The high street banks deal usually with far less savvy depositers who can be convinced that the bank should be permitted to play the markets with their money (and what extra money they can borow against loaning out their money) and should in no way be required to actually secure their deposits. That would “inhibit recovery.”

    I agree that full researve banking really needs to be seriously examined, if only to ensure solid credit, and certainly any concept endorsed by Martin Wolf:

    should not be glibbly dismissed without serious examination.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Alan, I think this sort of question misses the fact that the Green Movement does not consider itself as a national movement, but as an international movement addressing issues taht effect the entire planet.

    This sort of “themuns and usuns” thinking is for the parties leading the two factions of the community, and catering for their reservoirs of rancour, not for any party that is attempting to address the real problems faced by the community itself.

    But perhaps to clarify the issue for dodrade99:

    “The Green Party in Northern Ireland is a green party in Northern Ireland which works in co-operation with green parties across Britain and Ireland, Europe and globally. Like many green parties around the world, its origins lie in the anti-nuclear, labour and peace movements of the 1970s and early 1980s.

    Since 2006, the party has operated as a region of the Green Party of Ireland and also maintains links with other Green parties, including the Scottish Green Party and the Green Party of England and Wales.”

  • Discuscutter

    Well they’ll be going in to the Assembly election with a positive boost with 2 TDs under the belt.

  • Discuscutter

    The problem for the greens is that they tend to be very upper middle class.

    They are a good bit more practical than the Greens in England.

  • Gaygael

    There is considerable public support for the extension of the 1967 act. It’s also the right thing.
    We hold it as an equality issue (you know the way alliance profess to have an equality policy on marriage).

  • Gaygael

    I think the boy from Ballybeen as our leader and the girl from clonard as our deputy leader might be some truth which is inconvenient to your or others perception.

  • Turgon

    At which point does human life obtain equality?

  • aquifer

    Interesting character, and Interesting to see Wolf advocating land value taxation, something that other financial authorities are recommending for Ireland to stablise the property market, and to maintain a steadier government revenue stream.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gaygael, if someone began to suggest that the Green party was “too working class” such a comment would be seen as rather scandalous. I’m inclined to think this sort of targeting of any class whatsoever as an automatic criticism of anything should perhaps be treated with the contempt it deserves. But is it not of some interest that the only really radical political thinkers anywhere in our benighted political battery-hen farm should be class identified (wrongly, as you so delightfully point out) in some misguided attempt to dismiss those issues that the Greens support.

    I could not make the conference this year, but noticed last year when I attended that while there were one or two people with a fluting Anglo-Irish accent to match my own, and even a few non-local accents, by far the overwhelming mass of supporters were hardly to be described as Haute-bourgoise by any reasonable person. Perhaps discuscutter should actually come and see for him or her self!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, a most interesting commentator, and one good reason to read the Financial Times! I have family who have banked with Hoares over a few generations, otherwise I would not have perhaps encountered that most endangered species nowadays, the ethical banker.

  • Granni Trixie

    I find it hard to believe that you are not aware that there are not swathes of the public clamouring for abortion on demand or that many people believe abortion is ‘wrong’ bearing n kind that right and wrong are social constructs.

  • Gaygael

    Abortion on demand is such a misnomer. It’s not like going to a cash machine. It’s language popularised by those opposed to choice.

    Here is amnestys poll from 2015, and I would suggest that polls are only going one way in this debate. The least popular change to the law is ffa which is at 60%. Support for change for rape and incest is higher still at 68/69%.

    There is significant popular support for change in the law in these circumstances. These were the recent amendements put to the assembly. I will try dig out information in support for extension of the 67 act.

    Regardless of whether it is right, the executive is currently in breach of womens human rights. It’s important to do what is right regardless of popularity.

    Neither alliance as a party of liberals, nor the SDLP as the party of civil rights could support womens human rights. Hugely frustrating. That’s before you even have to work on the UUP and DUP.

  • Gaygael

    Probably when viable or born.

    Maybe we should introduce religious (only) exemptions anyway!

  • Turgon

    Well which is it: when viable or when born?

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    UK private banking, in common with private education, caters for the select few who can afford its services.

    Read through any private bank prospectus and note the customer is expected to be ‘high value’ in terms of income or assets. If you don’t meet the club rules you won’t get through the door.

    That’s fine, it is after all a big marketplace. ‘Wealth management’, one of private banking’s specialities; ie insuring the customer holds onto as much as possible of their money, including, controversially at times, tax planning, is a service we would all appreciate if only we could get access to a private bank’s legal and financial experts.

    In reality they are a niche market for the privileged few and are not in the same business as the big high street banks. Risk management in private banking is a doddle compared to that in big name banks.

    For some ideologically it may be attractive to restrict credit facilities to those in the upper echelons of society, certainly risk would be reduced. But many working class people, who although they may pose a credit risk on paper are nonetheless able to manage their debts, would be denied access to credit in the first place.

    Perhaps it is that “ethical banking” like the top spots in law, business, the military and the baubles of modern life is just something else that the proles are not entitled to?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The point I’m making is that this kind of personal banking, with a dedicated person who could be consulted at any time regarding possible issues, was available from high street banks within the experience of anyone even in early middle age.

    That it is available only to such people as my cousins nowadays speaks eloquently about just how ready we have all been to barter away ethical banking for what aws sold to us as a “free” banking which has delivered our incomes entirely into the contol of the uncaring and unscrupulious. I’m suggesting that Hoares could provide a good model for a return to ethical personal banking.

    Your other comments prove that although you have an outsiders understanding of some very general aspects of the high end banking sector you are obviously still quite unfamiliar with Messers C. Hoare and Company. I am well aware that there are other businesses marketed as “High Values” banks, but none of them are still functioning as private banks. They operate simply as the subsiduaries of certain high street banks, where the services offered are managed under the old banks names but by busnesses long reconfigured as status symbols for the wealthy, but with the habits of contemporary banking practice. Only Hoares has actual independant control of its banking policy and as such retains older styles of money management including a very high reserve ratio.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gaygael, the real issue here is perhaps more accurately evaluated as a choice between a balance of “survivals”, such as when a doctor must decide who to save between mother and baby, where only one may be viable. The choice in certain abortion situations is between whether a mother will be able to carry a child to full term without its birth ensuring a terribly destructive effect on her life, and if she elects to bring up the child, on the actual life of the child also. In extreme cases such as those where incest and rape play a part, the probability of a lifetimes damage is quite obvious, but there are other less black and white situations where the destructive effect on a life may be just as extreme. Every situation must really be judged entirely on individual cases, because it will be individual women who will have their lives broken and despoiled by the high handed application of the rigidly implacable values of others who have no genuine personal investment in what happens. If the suggested legal changes are correctly applied no-one will be compelled to have an abortion, so the safeguard for conscience is already fully present. Only similar safeguards for the sensitivities of medical professionals would require further thought.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    I agree with you on the aspect that high street banks have moved way too far into a computer-driven model of credit approval and management. The day of the local bank manager knowing his clients on a personal level is gone, other than in “high end” banking as you rightfully call it. That is not to say that the high street banks could not develop more tailored approach to ensure more intelligent credit management procedures.

    Computers are much cheaper than people and ‘free’ banking has opened access to a much wider spectrum of people, many of whom in the past were not in the position to chat with the local bank manger about some financial trifle over a single malt at the golf club.

    I’m sure some in society’s elites look back fondly to the halcyon days when the hoi polloi kept their meagre resources under the mattress and wouldn’t get past the commissioner into the oak-panelled bank hall.

    I am indeed an “outsider” (how very patrician of you to mention it). Happy to be so in terms of private banking. However it is you who displays an ignorance of the realities of private banks, Hoares included. They are institutions for the rich, or “high end” as you put it.

    Nothing wrong with that in itself but to suggest they provide a transferable model for banks offering services to more modest incomes, say those on the ‘average industrial wage’ for example, is patent nonsense.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, the “inevitability of progress” and the “technological hypnotism” of superior computerisation arguement yet again.

    As large numbers of working class people had opened bank accounts with “real” personal banking during the 1970/80s its clear that it was not simply the “Thatcheregan Revolution” with computerisation and faceless call centre banking that first opened banking up to what was still then quaintly called “the Masses”…….

    While for some computers appear to have opened access to banking for those who previously used cash, even where this true it would still be far from being other than a mixed blessing for many off us. This “revolution” has primarily served to ensure a general access to credit, in order to fuel a housing boom where incresingly most young people cannot even begin to afford a home.The benefit to people who previously had all their income to spend, as against currently finding that a sizable portion of income is required to pay morgage interest, credit card interest, etc is still rather above my own head, I’m afraid. Capitalism was never a fair system, but the virtual enslavement of the greater part of the population to debt repayment is to my thinking a refinement of abuse, rather than some empowerment.

    And it’s not as if the savings of computer-rationalisation have actually been passed on to account holders. The banking was never really “free” (don’t try that particular distortion on someone who has been an insider in marketing) and when I’ve added it all up, I’m still paying comparitavely the same bank charges at my high street bank as I did when I could go in and chat about the English Folk Song and Dance Society with my Morris Dancing manager alongside the discussion of my freelance income projections for the coming year. The money is simply being moved into a far less direct charges in a considerably less personal system, with clear disadvantages of its very own. Me, I’d prefer to be dealing with someone who actually knows me rather than a complete stranger over a telephone. While this has (scandaliously) been squeezed into now being only current practice in private banking, its applicability as a real banking service for the broader community is obvious. But it will only be re-learnt from those actually practicing it today, who are accordingly well aware of its benefits from actual experience.

    And, hey, regarding my “ignorance” of these matters, I have, through family, a lifetimes experience of Hoares. I even get to read their chairman’s comments on ethical banking, and to discuss its benefits with those who actually bank there and still experience them. I can see from your comments you do not. But its far from the first time that I’ve been served “the virgin’s advice on sex” line on Slugger. Sorry to be perhaps harsh on someone partly agreeing with me, but I’m afraid the “outsider” comment still carries real weight, and actual experience of something will always beat relying on the second hand generalisations gathered from how others may represent something of which they, in turn, have no personal experience. The real issues here, the general exploitation of quite powerless customers by an unscrupulious banking practice that required bail ins, won’t be solved by such recourse to simplistic class warfare, any more than it will be solved from the shocking recourse to a universal policy of bail ins from private accounts following the practice run with the Cypriot Financial Crisis of 2012/3.

  • Jarl Ulfreksfjordr

    My opening line in the post you replied to above: “I agree with you on the aspect that high street banks have moved way too far into a computer-driven model of credit approval and management.”

    You replied: “Oh dear, the “inevitability of progress” and the “technological hypnotism” of superior computerisation argument yet again.”

    The rest of your ‘contribution’ is simply fluff and anecdotal yarn.

    Having now looked over a number of your postings on this site I realise that hallucinating about what you are reading in others’ posts and then responding to the phantom arguments you have conjured is what you do.

    I expect it’s a predilection of a “creative”. Personally I can’t be bothered wasting my time on your foolishness.

    Still not to worry, I expect you’ll have some alleged random relative’s experience to draw on to help you manage your dismay at a plebeian’s refusal to jump through your manufactured hoop.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Jarl, you agreed with those things over which no reasonable person could even begin to disagree, and then dismissed the meat of what I’d said with some very broad generalisations. I’m unable to assess just how much of a habit this viewing everything in broad sweeps may be as your comment history is, I note, entirely private, However, if you had actually attempted to read the detail of what I’d said you might have noticed that I was simply questioning your actual unsupported assertions. Personally, if I were discussing something with any other poster I’d still feel that any suggestion that the issues raised must be dismissed without any serious analysis simply because “the knobs do it” might be rather suspect as a serious argument. If you took the trouble to actually discover the kind of banking Hoares practice, you might find it offers genuine models of ethical practice for anyone not limited by what I can only assume comes from a quasi-religious belief in the unquestionability of “modernity” (why else suggest that any possibility of personal banking is now superseded simply because it is also convenient to the banking system to generalise?). The current faceless banking practice is something very recently developed and is far from being a thing that cannot be improved upon (yes, I did notice that we are in agreement there) but the suggestion that the concept of personal banking (a resilient model that has only recently been arbitrarily ditched for a culture of impersonal faceless banking) is an unreasonable system for the ordinary punter is a gross generalisation without any real support outside of what I can only think is an unfamiliarity with “small is beautiful” concepts. Try doing the actual sums instead of simply evading the issue by describing it as “patent nonsense”.

    The discussion I was responding to started with the generalised suggestion that Full Reserve banking is somehow equally absurd and dangerous. I was offering the suggestion that, in practice, high level reserves can be managed by small banks, which you choose to arbitrarily characterise as something to be reserved for the wealthy only in this day and age. I still feel that the micro-banking approach merits a serious consideration at a time when a culture of gigantism and globalisation is really creaking under the problems of scale, and has required bail ins which we are all paying for, with national legalisation confirming the right to distrain their depositors accounts in need, (which I’d linked to). I’d also feel that the culture of encouraging crippling personal debt which has been the outcome of recent banking developments is open to serious criticism when it clearly saps the energy of most of the community simply to feed what has become the rapid centralisation of global wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The connections are there, even if you are unwilling to see them.

    I’m a little anecdotal at times, yes, only too delighted to share any experience where it may illuminate something, but, really, but in picking on this you’re simply evading the core point I’m trying to make! You are sketching what may be described as “high end” banking practice in very, very general terms rather than addressing the actual points I’m attempting to make about Hoares as a particular case. All “private” banks are not the same you know, especially as only one of them is actually “private” nowadays. I’ll take serious criticism readily, but feel that there is perhaps even a bit of psychological projection going on in a situation where a person responding to a very particular argument with very broad generalisations then accuses the other of “hallucinating about what you are reading in others’ posts and then responding to the phantom arguments you have conjured”. Although I can easily see why you’d want to stay with the broad generalisation responses……

    I certainly agree you do not have to jump through hoops, but simply distracting attention from what appears to be an inability to actually answer me with a little classic “man playing”* regarding my style of posting, and the distraction of some overt class warfare thrown in for colour, all too obviously avoids addressing the real issues of how the inventiveness of contemporary faceless banking abuses those of the poor and defenceless who are now universally compelled to participate in its total monopoly.

    Just a few reminders:

    *”Play the ball and not the (wo)man. Connect with the subject in hand, and avoid making the person you disagree with the object of your argument.

    Negative comments that bring nothing to the conservation maybe deleted. Examples include ‘This is crap’, ‘you are talking’ nonsense etc.”

  • Sharpie

    The answer doesn’t really matter to you, does it?

  • Gaygael

    I think he may believe that life begins at conception. ‘Every sperm is sacred!’