Green Living – Assembly Review

I find it hard to believe that it is 4 years since we gathered in Ards Leisure centre to hear the returning officer announce that I had been returned as a Green Party MLA for North Down.

Although this historic breakthrough came as a shock to the media I was always reasonably confident that we could take the seat. On the doorstep many voters were expressing the need to leave behind the old divisive arguments about flags emblems and policing and move on to the issues of the twenty first century. These issues included climate change, sustainability and dependence on fossil fuels and often coincided with the Green party agenda.

My first few weeks as MLA were an exciting blur. Congratulations flowed in from Green Parties from many parts of the world .Dozens of interviews followed as the media which for years had ignored my press releases as a Green Party councillor suddenly become interested in my views. Newspapers requested articles and in the case of the Newsletter a weekly green column.

I arrived at Stormont with no support apart from my son Allan who had organised my election campaign. Our initial task was to organise the Stormont Office and find, rent and equip a constituency office inBangor.At the same time I had to take an active role in Assembly debates and questions and respond to correspondence on environmental concerns from all parts ofNorthern Ireland. As the only Green Party MLA issues like tree felling in Fermanagh, quarrying in Omagh and sewage spills in Limavady all arrived on my desk.

As the party inNorthern Irelandhad no paid employees I with help fromDublinto began recruiting staff for my Stormont and constituency offices. NI co –chair Kelly Andrews was appointed as manager of the constituency office. Katrina Doherty who had previously worked for BBC and UTV became press officer and her skills and experience were invaluable in the early days getting the party established. Staffing was completed in November when I appointed Steven Agnew as my research officer.

In the meantime I had been extremely active in the Chamber highlighting issues which had not previously been raised such as sustainability, climate change and feed in tariffs. I proposed a motion calling that sustainable development should be central to all areas of Executive policy and this was agreed unanimously by the Assembly. The Assembly also supported my motion calling for an independent Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately the Executive despite professing green credentials ignored these motions.

The Green Party inNorthern Irelandhad now become a credible political party. We now had an organisation and full time staff to deal with constituency matters, issue press releases and campaign on green and other issues.

However we realized that this funded by my MLA salary and allowances and the party executive recognised that priority must be given to retaining the North Down seat. As I did not intend to stand again Steven who had tripled the Green Party vote in the European election was selected to defend the North Down seat.

Over the next two years in order to raise his public profile I gave  him a leading role in many of our campaigns including the promotion of the Green New Deal, our opposition to the extension at Belfast City airport and the organisation of a petition calling for  Sammy Wilsons resignation following his banning of adverts promoting energy saving. These campaigns raised Stevens profile and credibility with the media and the public and helped him retain the North Down seat for the party.

It has been an eventful four years. I believed we have punched well above our weight and highlighted particularly at the Assembly issues which had previously been ignored. We have had our disappointments like the failure of our bill to abolish hunting with hounds .However we are now firmly established as a political force inNorthern Irelandwith an efficient organisation, an excellent MLA and three councillors. I believe that this success will continue and expand over the next four years. The future is green.

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